HIGGONS, Thomas (c.1624-91), of Greywell, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1624, 1st s. of Thomas Higgons, DD, rector of Westbury, Salop by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Richard Barker of Haughmond Abbey, Salop. educ. St. Albans Hall, Oxf. matric. 27 Apr. 1638, aged 14; M. Temple 1640; travelled abroad (Italy) c.1643-6. m. (1) c.1647, Elizabeth (bur. 16 Sept. 1656), da. of Sir William Powlett of Edington, Wilts., wid. of Robert, 3rd Earl of Essex, 2da.; (2) lic. 11 Nov. 1661, Bridget (d.1692), da. of Sir Bevil Granville of Stow, Cornw., wid. of Simon Leach of Cadleigh, Devon, 3s. 3da. suc. fa. 1636; kntd. 17 June 1663.1
Commr. for assessment, Salop 1661-3, Hants 1661-80, 1689-90, Westminster 1663-9, Devon 1663-74; sub-commr. for prizes, Newcastle 1665-7; j.p. Hants 1665-d.2
Surveyor-gen. duchy of Cornw. 1668-d.; envoy extraordinary, Saxony 1668-9, Venice 1674-9.3
Higgons’s ancestors were settled in Shropshire by the late 14th century. During the Civil War he travelled in Italy, where he acquired enough of the language to translate an account of Venetian triumphs over the Turks. He took up residence at Greywell after his marriage to Lady Essex, the widow of the parliamentary general, and avoided political involvement during the Interregnum, though he represented Malmesbury in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament. His Panegyric to the King, published in 1660, earned him the praise of Edmund Waller I, and probably marked him out for court favour.4
Higgons was returned for New Windsor at a contested election in 1661 on the corporation franchise. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 178 committees, seven of which he chaired. He was teller in 15 divisions, and made 22 recorded speeches. During the first session he married the sister of the newly created Earl of Bath, who had played a leading part in the Restoration. But he did not absent himself from Westminster during his second honeymoon, acting as teller for the unsuccessful motion to lay aside the bill for the execution of those under attainder on 26 Nov., which did not prevent his nomination to the committee. In 1663 he was appointed to the committees to consider the petition of the loyal and indigent officers, to prevent unlawful meetings of dissenters, and to consider the additional corporations bill. Listed among the court dependants in 1664, he was teller on 2 May for the unsuccessful motion for early consideration of a bill to enclose and improve commons and wastes, and three days later reported a similar bill, which had been languishing in committee, for the partition of lands. He was teller in two divisions on the assessment bill in 1664-5, and reported a proviso for better collection in respect of empty houses, as well as a bill to settle the Powlett estate in Hampshire. On 14 Feb. 1666 he was given leave to bring in a private bill to recover £4,550 owed to his first wife by the dowager Duchess of Somerset. Andrew Marvell, describing the court party at this time, wrote:
Then comes the thrifty troop of privateers Whose horses each with other interferes. Before them Higgons rides with brow compact, Mourning his countess, anxious for his Act.
His eldest son was the Countess of Thanet’s godchild, and he took an active part in the bill to settle the family estate, reporting a conference on 28 Feb. and returning to the Lords to ask for another. His private bill was revived in the next session, and steered through committee against much opposition from Robert Steward, but rejected on 11 Jan. 1667 as an infringement of the Act of Indemnity. In the same session his committees included that to prevent voluntary absence of Members, and he was teller for adjourning the debate on amendments to this bill. He was again teller on 29 Jan. 1667 for a motion which enabled the solicitor-general to join in, or rather to obstruct, the management of Lord Mordaunt’s impeachment. On the fall of Clarendon, Higgons was named to the committees to bring in a public accounts bill, to inquire into the miscarriages of the war, to thank Prince Rupert and the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck) for their part in the war, and to report on proceedings in Mordaunt’s impeachment. As chairman of the committee of inquiry into the coal trade, he reported the colliers’ complaints against the ballast monopoly and the abuses of the woodmongers, but acted as teller for deferring further debate till after Christmas. His first recorded speech was on 11 Dec. 1667 in defence of (Sir) John Kelyng who was accused of bullying juries and other misconduct on the bench. Higgons declared:
that the judge was a man of choler and passion ... but no ill man of bribery and corruption. Magna Carta he slighted not. ... Desires it may be remembered what he has done and suffered for Magna Carta, and that his former life may be put into the balance with his present offence.
Two of his committees early in 1668 were those to take accounts of the poll tax and assessment voted for the war, and to prevent abuses in the collection of the hearth tax. In the debate for preservation of timber in the Forest of Dean he spoke much in defence of Sir John Winter, and was teller on 6 Apr. for hearing his petition. It was no doubt to Lord Bath, who as groom of the stole enjoyed great interest at Court, that he owed his selection to deliver the garter to the Elector of Saxony, who gave him a ‘great silver basin and ewer’.5
Higgons was included in both court party lists of 1669-71 among those who regularly voted for supply. On 12 Nov. 1670 he wrote to Lord Bath:
The King’s business in Parliament hath gone on hitherto very prosperously, for they have voted a supply proportionable to his Majesty’s occasions, even when they understood those occasions to require above two millions of money. ... But your lordship will wonder when you shall know that this vote passed without contradiction, which is more than I ever yet saw in the like occasion. It is not but that there were some who had a good mind to oppose it, but finding much the greater part of the House for it, they were so wise as to give way to that which they could not hinder; so all that they can do now is by artifices to delay and obstruct the ways of raising this money by making all means ineffectual, which we can propose, to throw us upon a necessity of the land tax which the House does generally abhor as the most unsupportable of all taxes, and that which will give the greatest discontent to the people.
He was teller on 10 Dec. for preparing further instructions for the committee of the whole House regarding supply. When Steward introduced a bill to regulate wages, Higgons ‘moved that as an expedient to make servants more tractable we might bring into this kingdom the use of negro slaves, but this was not relished by the House nor seconded by any’. Two days later he spoke in favour of taxing offices rather than land, declaring:
Tenants break and lands fall; offices are constant profit, and would have them higher rated.
In January 1671 he reported from the committee on Lord Stafford’s estate bill and carried it to the Lords. As early as June 1672 the Venetian Government was informed that Higgons, ‘a gentleman of very good parts’, was to become England’s envoy to the republic. Secretary Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet) doubted his suitability, presumably because he was too intimate with the French ambassador. In the debate on Irish affairs in the spring session of 1673 he took it upon himself to defend the swaggering adventurer Richard Talbot, and it may be that he was retained in England even after he had been formally accredited as envoy in order to defend the equally unpopular Modena marriage in the autumn.
Marriage in verbis de[i] praesenti is indissoluble: the Princess is on the way. What the King does in his royal function is the act of the people, and the kingdom is bound, this House and every man by it. All kings are concerned in it, to preserve their supreme power. The law of nature is concerned in it, and nothing so against it. Praeterita magis reprehendenda sunt quam corrigenda. We may lament it, and would have good laws against Popery, but would not have the honour of this nation concerned.
Higgons was one of the Members who kept the French embassy informed of proceedings in Parliament during this session, and he was named on the Paston list. Early in 1674 he served on committees to inquire into charges of corruption against Members, to consider the charges against Arlington, and to report on the state of Ireland. He finally left England as envoy at the end of April. He was noted as absent in the list of officials and government supporters, and Sir Richard Wiseman regretted in 1676 that ‘the King loseth a vote by it’. A contemporary account described him as ‘a poor man’s son’ and the author of A Seasonable Argumentcorrectly noted his salary at £500 p.a. and attributed to him £4,000 in gifts besides. He returned in May 1677, but his letters of appointment were not revoked until two years later, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’. In the debate on foreign affairs of 14 Mar. 1678 he inquired:
To put the King upon a declaration of war, what can that hurt the French? It is not the King’s fault that treaties were not sooner perfected. The King of France has a great fleet in the West Indies and our plantations there lie open. If you desire a declaration of war, judge the condition of those places; for your declaration of war will not help the confederates, and Spain will stand upon higher terms with you; and these are the reasons why we should not be so hasty to declare war against France.
He was teller on 27 Mar. for adjourning the debate on the growth of Popery, but was later appointed to the committee to draw up heads for a conference. His name appeared in the list of court party supporters in May. Among his later committees were those to bring in bills to secure the Protestant religion. On the outbreak of the Popish Plot he helped to draw up the address for printing Coleman’s letters. But he defended the Lords’ amendment to exempt the Duke of York from the bill to prevent Papists from sitting in Parliament, demanding:
Let gentlemen who are so earnest against this proviso consider. Should the Duke think himself disobliged and go beyond the sea and the French King support him with a hundred thousand men, could a greater blow be given to the Protestant religion? The heir of the crown to be in Popish hands, the Duke there, and all Catholic princes contribute to his restoration to the crown. What danger is there in his single person in the Lords’ House? ... As we tender union with the Lords, satisfaction to the King and the quiet of those that come after us, let us agree to the proviso.
He was then appointed to the committee to draw up reasons for a conference. Shortly before dissolution he staunchly defended Danby, exclaiming:
So great a minister of the King’s to be impeached! I desire to see better reasons than yet have been offered before he be impeached. One thing is objected against him: his treating of peace with the King of France. It seems by the letter that the conditions were for an honourable peace, and why should any man be ashamed of it? For it is a very ordinary thing for Kings to get money from one another as in Edward IV’s and Henry VII’s time, and there is no ground of this accusation of treason against this Lord.6
Although Higgons was not blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, he did not stand for the Exclusion Parliaments. He was returned in 1685 for St. Germans by arrangement between his brother-in-law and Daniel Eliot. He was moderately active in James II’s Parliament, with three committees of secondary importance. On 12 June he reported a bill to repeal a clause in the Bedford Level Act. On the proposed repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act, he wrote to the lord lieutenant in 1688 that having ‘given his answer to the King, he had had his leave to stay in town’. He remained loyal to James II, but took no part in politics after the Revolution. He died of apoplexy in the court of King’s bench on 24 Nov. 1691, after giving evidence for Bath in his claim to the Duke of Albemarle’s estate, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. His will showed debts of £4,650, but on the credit side he claimed that £1,640 was still due to him for his mission to Venice. His sons were Jacobites, and no other member of the family entered Parliament.7
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar
- 1. B. Botfield, Stemmata Botevilliana, 137; Guildhall Lib. mss 10091/25; Owen and Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, ii. 235; Salop Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. Trans. (ser. 2), vii. 309.
- 2. Nat. Maritime Mus. Southwell mss, 17/15.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 108, 267; Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 352; iii. 265; iv. 166.
- 4. Vis. Salop. (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 240; Botfield, 103; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 145.
- 5. CSP Ven. 1671-2, p. 238; CJ, viii. 555, 558, 577, 582, 592, 684; ix. 22, 35, 39, 40; Milward, 28, 61-62, 132, 163, 171-3, 182; Grey, i. 63-64; CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 447, 564; PCC 213 Vere.
- 6. R. Granville, Hist. Granville Faro. 358; Dering, 33; Grey, i. 326; ii. 127, 192; v. 226; vi. 245, 350; CJ, ix. 194; CSP Ven. 1671-2, p. 238; 1673-5, p. 250; PRO 31/3, bdle. 129, f. 69; Harl. 7020, f. 33; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 428.
- 7. HMC Hastings, ii. 333; PCC 213 Vere; State Trials, xii. 1313; xiii. 192.