ONSLOW, Arthur (1622-88), of Knowle and West Clandon, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



c. Feb. 1641
Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679

Family and Education

bap. 23 Apr. 1622, 1st s. of Sir Richard Onslow, and bro. of Denzil Onslow. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1639; L. Inn 1640 m. (1) c.1647, Rose (d. 2 Mar. 1648), da. and h. of Nicholas Stoughton of Stoughton, Surr., 1da.; (2) by 1654, Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Foote, 1st Bt., ld. mayor of London 1649-50, 4s. 3da. suc. fa. 1664, fa.-in-law as 2nd Bt. 12 Oct. 1687.2

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Surr. 1643-52, 1657, Jan. 1660-80, defence 1643, 1645, sequestration 1643, levying of money 1643, execution of ordinances 1644, new model ordinance 1645, militia 1648, Mar. 1660, j.p. 1651-Mar. 1660, 1661-70, 1671-80, 1681-2, commr. for scandalous ministers 1654, oyer and terminer, Home circuit 1662; conservator, Bedford level 1663-7; dep. lt. Surr. 1670-82; high steward, Guildford 1673-86; commr. for recusants, Surr. 1675, rebuilding of Southwark 1677.3


Onslow was described by his grandson as ‘a man of great plainness and sincerity and of the most remarkable sobriety of life, not anyways formed for the business of the State’. During his father’s lifetime he usually followed in his footsteps, though he was not imprisoned at Pride’s Purge and did not join in the offer of the crown to Cromwell. Father and son were defeated at the Surrey election of 1660, but returned for Guildford. An inactive Member of the Convention, Onslow was marked as a friend by Lord Wharton, but named to only six committees, of which the most important was on the bill for the abolition of the court of wards. Like his father he was appointed to the committee for the restitution of the dukedom of Norfolk. Re-elected in 1661 he was moderately active in the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was appointed to 117 committees, but took no part in the Clarendon Code.

No man was ever more truly or more deservedly popular in his country. ... He was hospitable, generous, and very charitable to the poor; knew more of the law and the constitution, especially what related to the administration of justice in the country, than perhaps any country gentleman of that age.

In Parliament he never aspired to be a debater, leader or manager, though he was respected for ‘his steadiness there to his principles, and in the support of the liberties of the people and the Protestant interest’. His first important committee after succeeding to the estate was for the suppression of Popery, to which he was added on 9 Nov. 1666. Later in the month he was also added to the committee of inquiry into the Great Fire, in which his mother’s valuable London property had been destroyed or damaged. He was one of the managers of the conference on the encouragement of coinage on 10 Jan. 1667. After the fall of Clarendon, he was among those appointed to take the accounts of the taxes voted for the second Dutch war. In the hope of a special remainder to his father-in-law’s baronetcy about this time he made substantial loans to the crown. In 1670 the Treasury was ordered to repay him £1,400, but apparently failed to do so. In the same year he was appointed to the committees on the bill to prevent illegal imprisonment and the additional bill for rebuilding London. He probably favoured toleration, voting against the proposal of (Sir) Adam Browne for fining conventiclers, and temporarily losing his seat on the Surrey bench after the passing of the Act. Having succeeded his father as one of the guardians of the mad Duke of Norfolk, he probably promoted the bill for redeveloping the Howard property in the Strand, his name standing first on the committee list. On 31 Mar. 1671 he acted as teller against forbidding justices to act as governors of workhouses, and a fortnight later he carried the Wey navigation bill to the Upper House. On the collapse of the Cabal in 1673 he helped to consider the test bill. His loan was at last repaid with interest in June, and on 14 Apr. 1674 the patent of the Foote baronetcy was varied in accordance with his petition.4

Onslow came into prominence in the later sessions of the Cavalier Parliament over two cases which occasioned furious debate. He had long been at law with his first wife’s cousin, Sir Nicholas Stoughton, a zealous nonconformist, who in 1675 appealed to the House of Lords. A similar appeal against John Fagg I by Onslow’s cousin, Dr Thomas Shirley, had already enraged the Commons, who ordered him not to appear in his own defence, even though he was prepared to waive his privilege. On 19 Feb. 1677 Bernard Howard petitioned the House for an order to bring home his brother, the Duke of Norfolk, from Padua, where he had lived many years under restraint. Norfolk’s detention could be represented as a plot to enable his Roman Catholic heir to usurp control of the estate, but Onslow protested that he could not be moved without hazard to his life. Fines of the estate had been levied, he admitted, before he took up the guardianship, but they had all been destroyed. He was appointed to the committee to consider the petition, but owing to his mother’s illness he was unable to attend the hearings. In his absence serious allegations were made against his father’s conduct, and on 9 Mar. Sir John Trevor recommended that the Commons should ask the King to have Norfolk brought home. Onslow, described by his colleague Thomas Dalmahoy as ‘a worthy person [who] is in many trusts in his country’, obtained leave to be heard at the bar about Norfolk’s condition and the alleged waste and fines on the estate; but nothing further seems to have been done. He was marked ‘doubly worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. After the Popish Plot he was added to the committee to search Langhorne’s chambers, and on 18 Nov. 1678 he informed the House that ‘ten weeks ago a bull was set up at St. James’s chapel with orders to all confessors to absolve men from taking the oaths and the test’. On 11 Dec. he made default in attendance and was sent for in custody.5

For the Exclusion Parliaments Onslow passed over the impregnable Guildford seat to his son Richard, and stood for Surrey on the country interest. At the first election of 1679 he was opposed by Browne and Lord Longford ( Francis Aungier) for the Court. When Stoughton with a very numerous following arrived at the hustings he was reminded of Onslow’s ‘obnoxious’ treatment of him, but replied:

My lord, it is true Mr Onslow has treated me extremely ill in detaining an estate which I think belongs to me, but I can safely trust him with the rest of my property, and look upon that, and my religion and liberty too, [as] much more secure in his hands than in yours.

Onslow was returned at the head of the poll and marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. Although he made no speeches in the first Exclusion Parliament, he was probably active. He was appointed by full name to two committees, and may have served on 14 more, including those on the bills to amend habeas corpus and to provide security against Popery. He voted for the exclusion bill.6

Onslow was re-elected to the next two Parliaments, ‘but not with the like difficulty and expense’. In August 1679 he did not even appear at the hustings, owing to his mother’s death. He was among the Whigs removed from the commission of the peace in 1680. He was probably again appointed to 16 committees in the second Exclusion Parliament. In the grand committee on the exclusion bill, he moved that it should be read twice a year at quarter sessions and in church. He was among those ordered to consider the repeal of laws against Protestant dissenters and to draw up an address for a fast, and he was the first to be appointed to the committee for the disbandment accounts. He took no known part in the Oxford Parliament, and on signing the loyal address from the Surrey lieutenancy was restored to the commission of the peace. But he made it clear to Sir Robert Howard that he still supported exclusion, and he was again removed. After the Rye House Plot Clandon was searched for arms, and Onslow was bound over to good behaviour, though nothing could be allowed against him except ‘giving a plate to Guildford with the King’s arms on one side and his own on the other’. He stood again for the county in 1685, but was defeated by ‘the arbitrary and partial proceedings of the sheriff’. He died on 21 July 1688, and was buried at Cranleigh:

His funeral was attended by such a concourse of people of all conditions, as even to give some umbrage to the King, then at Hampton Court, as though something else was meant than a bare funeral ceremony.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / J. S. Crossette


  • 1. Did not sit after Pride’s Purge 6 Dec. 1648, readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 54.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1682, p. 548; S. Wells, Drainage of the Bedford Level, i. 456-7; Manning and Bray, i. 41.
  • 4. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 483-5; Keeler, Long Parl. 290; Fire Court ed. Jones, i. 111, 177, 201-3; CSP Dom. 1666-7, p. 381; 1667-8, p. 166; 1673-5, pp. 179, 224; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 568; iv. 169; CJ, ix. 235.
  • 5. Dering Pprs. 85; Grey, iv. 99, 100, 101, 217; vi. 219.
  • 6. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 484.
  • 7. Ibid. 484; True Dom. Intell. 29 Aug. 1679, 25 Feb. 1681; Grey, vii. 432; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 357; 1682, p. 548; HMC 7th Rep. 680.