WALLER, Sir William II (c.1639-99), of Strutton Ground, Westminster.

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



15 Nov. 1680

Family and Education

b. c.1639, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir William Waller I, being 1st s. by 2nd w. educ. Leyden, entered 1647; travelled abroad (France) 1656. m. 1667 (with £2,000) Catherine, da. of Bussy Mansel of Briton Ferry, Glam., s.p. suc. fa. 1668; kntd. by 15 June 1675.1

Offices Held

Commr. for militia, Mdx. and Westminster Mar. 1660, j.p. 1678-80, commr. for assessment 1679-80; c.-in-c. of militia, Bremen 1683-4.2

Prizer and butler of wine imports 1668-85, 1689-d.; gent. of privy chamber 1689-d.3

Col. (army of Brunswick-Lüneburg) 1684, (Dutch army) to Nov. 1688.4

FRS 1679.


Waller was brought up as a strict Presbyterian. But his father, who had personally supervised his religious instruction, complained in 1660 that he had

gone away from me in a rebellious way, which I have reason to take so much the worse as it is without any provocation at all offered to him, and flatly contrary to his own protestations of duty and obedience made more than once upon his knees, with tears, unto me. ... I have just reason to fear he may quickly form some design ... to debauch his brother. This I the rather apprehend because he hath already attempted it here, and, as the case now stands with him, he hath no other way to secure himself against his brother’s interest, but by involving him in the same guilt.

These fears were soon justified, and under his father’s will Waller and his brother were left in the hands of four trustees. Nevertheless Waller managed to circumvent the terms of the will, and he himself sold Osterley in 1670. He found the prizage of wines less lucrative than he had expected, and complained to the Privy Council that he had got ‘not a farthing of the duty’ from the commissioners of customs. He was at Utrecht during the third Dutch war, and on his return to England was reported as a frequenter of a conventicle in Westminster. Despite a recommendation from his kinsman, the lord chancellor (Heneage Finch I), his application for the post of English minister at Hamburg in 1678, was unsuccessful.5

Waller saw in the Popish Plot a heaven-sent opportunity to repair his broken fortunes. He became a member of the Green Ribbon Club and a close friend of Titus Oates, who, according to a satirist, recommended him as a Middlesex justice, and in whose company he was ‘always hovering in the lobby before the Council chamber’ to make fresh discoveries. As he himself proclaimed, he made it ‘his whole delight as well as his duty’ to seize objects of Popish superstition, and, according to his enemies, to convert them to his own use. In one of his largest bonfires, held in the New Palace Yard on 11 Feb. 1679, he burnt ‘Popish books’ taken at the Savoy, as well as ‘vestments, copes and hoods, most of them of silk embroidered with silver and gold lace, ... crucifixes and images of brass and ivory’, old paintings and ancient manuscripts, including several papal bulls. In the following month he stood against the courtier (Sir) Stephen Fox at Westminster. As Shaftesbury’s agent Harrington wrote:

Though at first Sir William Waller’s number seemed a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, before night it covered the whole heavens, so great is the merit of priest-catching and so little the credit of a courtier among the mobile.

Nevertheless, Waller was defeated after a protracted poll and his petition was not reported.6

In April 1679 Waller intercepted three Jesuits sent over to disprove Oates’s evidence, and was able to invalidate their testimony by extracting from them an admission that under their vows of obedience they were obliged to testify whatever their superiors directed. He stood again for Westminster in the autumn. It was thought that he would carry it ‘five to one’ against any other candidate, but he was defeated at the poll by the Abhorrer Sir Francis Wythens after the King’s servants had been brought up from Windsor to vote against him. He was chiefly responsible for exposing the Meal-Tub Plot against the Presbyterians. In February 1680 he was arrested on a charge of false imprisonment by one of his creditors, but promptly released. In the next month, accompanied by some 80 supporters, he presented an address to the lord mayor (Sir Robert Clayton) for doubling the guard on the City and calling a common council to meet ‘present dangers’. Shortly afterwards ‘little Justice Overdo’, as Samuel Pepys christened him, was removed from the commission of the peace for suppressing a charge of sodomy against the Duke of Buckingham, and inviting the informant to accuse Danby instead of a plot to bring about the duke’s death. Giving out that he himself was in fear of a popish attempt on his life, he took refuge from his creditors in Holland, accompanied by a Baptist minister. It was alleged that he ordered 4,000 pairs of horse pistols and 2,000 flintlocks. Before the second Exclusion Parliament met, £4,000 was collected in the City to enable Waller once more ‘to come abroad and plague Popery’. He had returned by 15 Nov. when (Sir) John Holman suggested that he should be called in to tell the House ‘what he knows’ of the Duke of York, but the fiery exclusionist John Dutton Colt said: ‘I have seen that evidence which Sir William Waller can produce, and it is but a paper of great things, but no name to it. I believe it is but a sham’. He was not summoned to give evidence, but on the same day he was seated on petition when the votes of the King’s menial servants’ were disallowed. An active Member, he was appointed to 15 committees, including those to impeach Edward Seymour, to prepare evidence against the lords in the Tower, and to search for additional information on the Popish Plot. He took part in the preparation of measures for the ease of Protestant dissenters, for the banishment of Papists and for the discovery of bequests for superstitious uses. He spoke for the repeal of the Corporations Act on 24 Dec. 1680.7

In January 1681 Waller was chosen foreman of the Middlesex grand jury, and in the next month distinguished himself as the discoverer of the Fitzharris libel. Returned to the Oxford Parliament, he was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges. He gave the House an account of the Fitzharris case, whereupon the impeachment was voted. After the dissolution Waller was arrested for debt and committed to the Fleet, but he was released a week later so that he could testify at Fitzharris trial which he duly did. In October, anticipating an early election, he canvassed for John Trenchard ‘in Taunton and other fanatic places of trade’. In the next year he fled to Holland, where he safeguarded himself from extradition by becoming a burgher of Amsterdam, and there he welcomed Shaftesbury on his arrival. By 1683 he was in Bremen, where he gave asylum to Sir Thomas Armstrong and other Rye House plotters, who styled him ‘a second Cromwell by way of commendation’. On 1 Dec. the Bremen senate appointed him commander of the city militia. This extraordinary appointment naturally provoked an energetic response from Whitehall, and on 2 May 1684 the senate was forced to dismiss him. He was then given a regiment in the expanding army of the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneberg, an alarming development in view of the Duchess Sophia’s position in the English succession. Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme), ambassador at Paris, wrote in September 1684 to Sunderland that he had told the Hanoverian envoy ‘that if those princes had showed any countenance to that person they could not have done it to one who deserved it less or who merited worse from the King’. He was excepted by name from James II’s general pardon. In 1688 the Prince of Orange ‘expressly’ summoned Waller from Kassel to accompany him to England in order ‘to make use of him in his free Parliament’. He was given a commission, but shortly after the landing his regiment disbanded for taking free quarter. He arrived in London on 19 Dec. ‘and attended coffeehouse, church and meeting’. He arrested Sir Robert Wright, who was trying to escape in disguise, and was given a warrant to search out and apprehend Papists in Westminster. He received a post at Court, but William ‘would not hear’ of him for governor of the Leeward Islands. He died in obscurity and poverty on 18 July 1699.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. J. Adair, Roundhead General, 205; CSP Dom. 1655-6, p. 582; PCC 78 Coke; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 751.
  • 2. Information from Dr H. Müller, director of Bremen State Archives.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 755; xiv. 361; Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 202.
  • 4. Information from Dr. Müller.
  • 5. D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 453-4; HMC Portland, iii. 241; PCC 98 Coke; VCH Mdx. iii. 109; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 208; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 296; 1678, p. 383.
  • 6. Poems on Affairs of State, iii. 311, 466; Ailesbury Mems. 43; Impartial ... Account of the Divers Popish Bks. ... Taken at the Savoy by Sir William Waller; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 13.
  • 7. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 149-52; Bodl. Carte 39, f. 193; 228, f. 103; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 246, 399, 424, 426, 432; 1680-1, p. 135; Luttrell, i. 24; PRO 31/3, bdle. 145, f. 28; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 296-7; Sidney Diary, ii. 45; Grey, vii. 475-6; HMC 12th Rep. IX, 104.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 151, 514-15; 1689-90, pp. 1, 19; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 595; vi. 6, 52; Luttrell, i. 84, 91, 96; iv. 538; State Trials, viii. 331-6; Christie, Shaftesbury, ii. 452; K. H. D. Haley, Shaftesbury, 729; information from Dr Müller; New Camb. Mod. Hist. v. 454; HMC 7th Rep. 296, 311, 347, 386, 417, 423; HMC Downshire, i. 143; London Gazette, 15 Mar. 1686; J. R. Jones, Revolution of 1688, p. 294; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 337; Ellis Corresp. ii. 366; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 215, 224.