TEMPLE, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1628-99), of Sheen, Surr.

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



Family and Education

bap. 30 Apr. 1628, 1St s. of Sir John Temple. educ. Bishop’s Stortford g.s.; Emmanuel, Camb. 1644; travelled abroad 1648-54. m. 31 Jan. 1655, Dorothy (bur. 7 Feb. 1695), da. of Sir Peter Osborne of Chicksands, Beds., 1s. d.v.p. 1da. cr. Bt. 31 Jan. 1666; suc. fa. 1677.1

Offices Held

Envoy, Brussels 1665-7; ambassador to The Hague 1668-71, 1674-9; master of the rolls [I] 1677-96; PC 21 Apr. 1679-24 Jan. 1681; commr. for defective titles [I] 1683.2

Commr. for assessment, Surr. 1689-90.

MP [I] 1661-6.


Temple was brought up at Penshurst, seat of the Sidneys, by his uncle, Dr Henry Hammond, the distinguished Laudian divine. During 1649-50 he was travelling on the Continent with Sir Thomas Osborne, of a Cavalier family, whose kinswoman he eventually married, despite family opposition. Her letters during this period are well-known. After useful service in the Dublin Parliament, Temple came to England in 1663 with recommendations from Ormonde addressed impartially to Clarendon and Sir Henry Bennet; but it was the latter who launched him on his distinguished diplomatic career. Strongly pro-Dutch, he was recognized as the principal architect of the Triple Alliance in 1668. He first attempted to enter Parliament at a by-election for Liverpool in 1670, though without leaving his post. He employed his alleged kinsman Sir Richard Temple to write to (Sir) Gilbert Ireland, a fellow Cromwellian, on his behalf. Besides the candidate’s own merits and employment, which rendered him at least as capable of serving the constituency as any of his rivals, it was pointed out that his father and his brother, the Irish solicitor-general, were in a position greatly to oblige Liverpool merchants engaged in trade with Ireland. But he received no encouragement from the voters. As the author of Observations upon the United Provinces, published in 1672, he acquired a European reputation, and during his second Dutch embassy he enabled his old fellow-traveller, now Lord Treasurer Danby, to achieve his most successful coup in foreign policy by negotiating the marriage between William of Orange and Princess Mary. Hence it was to him that the lord treasurer turned when he realized that Ralph Montagu intended to stand for Northampton in order to expose in Parliament the secret negotiations with France. Although Temple had previously expressed interest in obtaining a seat at Westminster, he remained at his post during the election and the subsequent proceedings in the House. There was a double return, but the juggling of the sheriff had been so blatant that it was decided against the court candidate after a short hearing at the bar of the House.3

On his return to England in February 1679 Temple was offered for the second time one of the secretaryships of state, but he again refused, pleading ill health and lack of a seat in Parliament. He was in fact preoccupied with his own solution to the political crisis: a remodelled Privy Council in which the court party should exactly balance the country. The King accepted the proposal, though only as a tactical move, and Temple was himself nominated. He was proposed as court candidate for Cambridge University. His reputation for atheism was something of a drawback, and the bishop of Ely refused his support, nor could he obtain more than a promise of neutrality from the Duke of Monmouth. However, the archbishop of Canterbury and the vice-chancellor were more accommodating, and William Harbord undertook to do him ‘all the good I can’ with the country party. He did not enjoy his journey to Cambridge, but at least he was elected ‘in the best manner that could be, without a voice against me, and with all the honour and compliments that could be upon it’.4

As Temple came to realize that his brain-child would be allowed no real influence over affairs, his attendance decreased, and he was glad to accept the Madrid embassy in September 1680. Before he could leave, however, the King ordered him to attend the second exclusion Parliament. With fourteen speeches recorded, he was one of the few regular speakers for the Court, though his appeals for unity between King and Parliament were not well heard. Recognizing the futility of opposing exclusion in the Commons, he persuaded Thomas, Lord Bruce, not to divide the House on the bill. He began more modestly on 17 Nov. in a debate on the King’s message:

I know it had been more fit for a man so new within these walls as I am to sit still, and I should not have troubled you but upon some foreign considerations I am versed in, which may concern more this business of Tangier. ... I am confident the eyes of all Europe are upon this Parliament, and not only the Protestants abroad, but many Catholic countries who stand in fear of the power of France do think themselves as much concerned in the success of this Parliament as this House, and will be as much perplexed to hear any ill news thereof ... Sir, his Majesty in his message puts you in mind of giving advice as well as money ... Though a King alone cannot save a Kingdom, yet a King alone can do much to ruin it; and though Parliaments alone cannot save this Kingdom, yet Parliaments alone may do much to ruin it. And therefore we cannot be too circumspect in what we do.

This time he was heard out, and appointed to his only committee, which, however, produced an address diametrically opposed to his advice. His defence of Halifax was both timid and awkward, and Sir Francis Winnington described his attempt to gain time for Lord Keeper North (Sir Francis North) as a paraphrase and a lecture to teach the Speaker his duty; ‘but he ought to be pardoned, having been so little in Parliament, and so much abroad’. Temple was further embarrassed by a request from Lord Stafford to attend him in his death-cell. He was careful to obtain the House’s permission in advance, to ensure that he was accompanied by reliable witnesses, and to render a full account of the interview afterwards; but nothing of any significance transpired. Temple was now expendable in the eyes of the Court, and was selected in preference to Sir Leoline Jenkins to inform the Commons that the King had finally rejected exclusion. He performed the task with such ill grace that he ‘expected to be turned out of the House in the morning and the Council in the afternoon’.5

On the dissolution of the second Exclusion Parliament Temple was asked by some of the heads of houses whether he intended to stand for re-election, but the King ‘thought it was well for me to let it alone’. He now retired from politics and was struck off the Privy Council as a follower of Sunderland; nor did he take up the Spanish embassy. Although Barillon had considered him one of the Englishmen closest to William of Orange, he took no part in the Revolution, and his last years were darkened by the suicide of his son, who had been appointed secretary at war under the new regime; but he consoled himself with gardening and literary pursuits. He died on 27 Jan. 1699 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His nephew Henry, who was raised to the Irish peerage as Viscount Palmerston in 1723, sat for various English boroughs as a placeman under George II.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: E. R. Edwards / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. DNB; Her. and Gen. iii. 397, 399.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 80; 1677-8, p. 465; Bulstrode Pprs. 40, 195, 266.
  • 3. T. P. Courtenay, Life of Temple, i. 29-30, 40-41; Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs. and Cheshire, vi. 10*-11*; Clarke, James II, i. 501; HMC 7th Rep. 210; PRO 31/3, bdle. 139, f. 258; CJ, ix. 533, 537-8.
  • 4. J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 25; Sidney Diary, i. 33, 79, 105, 176-7, 179, 186; Temple, Works (1814) ii. 527-8; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 197; Bodl. Tanner mss 38, ff. 57, 62, 64, 65; HMC 2nd Rep. 114; E. S. Lyttel, Sir William Temple, 74-75.
  • 5. Luttrell, i. 53; Temple, ii. 551, 552, 553; Ailesbury Mems. 34; Grey, vii. 374-5; viii. 18-20; 23-24, 47-48, 68, 71, 101-2, 176, 182, 234-5; Exact Coll. Debates, 125; CJ, ix. 687.
  • 6. Temple, ii. 555; Luttrell, i. 521; iv. 478.