WINNINGTON, Sir Francis (1634-1700), of the Middle Temple and Stanford Court, Stanford-on-Teme, Worcs.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Nov. 1634, o.s. of John Winnington of Chester. educ. M. Temple 1656, called 1660. m. (1) Elizabeth, da. of one Herbert of Powick, Worcs., 1da.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of Edward Salwey of Stanford Court and coh. to her bro. Edward, 4s. 2da. Kntd. 17 Dec. 1672.1
Commr. for assessment, Worcs. 1663-4, 1673-80, Herefs. 1677-80, Worcs. and Herefs. 1689-90, bencher, M. Temple 1672, reader 1675, treas. 1675-6; j.p. Worcs. 1673-80; freeman, Bewdley by 1676, Windsor 1677, Worcester 1679.2
Attorney-gen. to the Duke of York 1672-4; KC 1673; solicitor-gen. 1674-9.3
Winnington claimed descent from a medieval Cheshire family, but his immediate ancestry is obscure. His father may have been the Major Winnington who was in the royalist garrison of Worcester at its surrender. Winnington began his legal education as a relatively mature student, but soon made up for lost time, though Burnet wrote that he lacked learning, and was ‘rather bold and ready than able in his profession’. His defence of Lord Mordaunt, the governor of Windsor Castle, against impeachment in 1666-7 brought him to the forefront of parliamentary counsel, and by 1671 he was earning close on £1,800 p.a. at the Chancery bar, exclusive of circuit and vacations. In the following year he entered the service of the Duke of York, to whom he confessed he stood obliged above all other persons. His professional income increased to £3,560 p.a. when he became the junior law officer of the crown in 1674, and he was able to buy out the other coheirs of the Stanford estate.4
Winnington was returned for Windsor ‘by the King’s command’ at a by-election in 1677. An active Member of the Cavalier Parliament during its later sessions, he was appointed to 46 committees, four of which he chaired, and made some 40 speeches. In his maiden speech, in the committee of grievances on 7 Mar., he agreed with the Opposition that limits should be imposed on the increasing jurisdiction of Chancery:
He has been considering whether he should commit an offence in violating his conscience, or venture to speak here, having so little experience in parliamentary affairs. But his duty to his country calls him to it, and he will never fail to do his duty, let the consequence be what it may.
Winnington’s duty next called on him, as a placeman, to take care of the bill for building 30 warships, to manage conferences on the bill and on the danger from France, to chair the committee for ascertaining assessment rates, and to defend with great vigour the commitment of Shaftesbury’s cousin and agent, Harrington, for insolence to the King and Privy Council. He also helped to draft addresses promising supply and urging the conclusion of an alliance against France, and during the recess he argued successfully on behalf of the crown against the grant of a writ of habeas corpus to Shaftesbury, who nevertheless marked him ‘thrice worthy’. Though the Court correctly continued to rely on Winnington’s support in division and debate in 1678, he was increasingly, and vocally, conscious of a conflict of duty. ‘I am obliged to maintain the King’s prerogative by the place I hold, and the privileges of the House as a Member of it’, he complained. Accordingly, he took the chair for bringing in a poll bill, defended the Government’s refusal to disclose the details of the Dutch alliance, and hoped that ‘we may always comply with the King’s message for adjournment’. He helped to draw up the address of 15 Mar. on the danger from France, and was chiefly responsible for the assertion of the Commons rights over supply bills, entered in the Journal on 3 July. Eight days later he helped to prepare reasons for a conference on colliers, and reported from a conference on burial in woollen. His loyalty to the Government was initially unaffected by the Popish Plot; he was twice sent with messages to the lord chief justice, and on 2 Nov. reported an address for the apprehension of suspected plotters, which he carried to the lords for their concurrence. Though he feared dissension between the Houses if the Commons insisted on excluding the Duke of York from the Lords with the other Popish peers, he was among those ordered to prepare reasons. But the reading of Danby’s letters to Ralph Montagu* for a French alliance, which contradicted the numerous assurances he had given the House during foreign policy debates in the spring, brought him over to the Opposition. He urged the House to declare the letters treasonable, and helped to prepare articles of impeachment. Immediately after the dissolution he was dismissed.5
Winnington sat for Worcester in the Exclusion Parliaments, and was again marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. He was very active in 1679, being appointed to 31 committees, including the committee of secrecy to inquire into the Popish Plot, and making some 50 speeches. His loss of office, according to Burnet, had transformed him into an implacable enemy of Danby, and he was determined to take up proceedings against him where they had perforce been left off. To this end he reported on matters depending on 20 Mar., and followed up two days later with a long and much publicized speech, condemning his pardon as illegal. On 24 Mar. he reported the results of the inquiry into the grant of the pardon. By now entirely under Montagu’s management and ‘blown up. With popularity’, he rejected an appeal from Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt., to accept as a compromise the banishment, degradation and incapacitation of the fallen minister, and inflamed the House against it. He made five reports from conferences on the attainder bill, and on 14 Apr. informed the Lords of the concurrence of the Commons in their amendments. He took the chair in the secret committee to prepare evidence against Danby, and on 24 Apr. reported from a conference on the trial of the Popish lords. On the other hand the Duke of York wrote from Brussels to express his appreciation of Winnington’s endeavours over the exclusion issue. On 8 May he applied for leave to go into the country, presumably to avoid declaring himself; but the House ordered him to return within four days. If he did go home, he must have performed one of his celebrated feats of horsemanship, for he was back at Westminster for the exclusion debate on 11 May, and spoke against the bill:
If what I say be not acceptable to the House, I protest I speak it not out of favour to the Duke, but for the preservation of the Protestant cause. Now that this thing is brought on, let us do like honest men and Protestants. If we divide upon the question, the Papists will have more encouragement than the Duke ever gave them.
He was appointed to the committee to draw up the bill, but voted against it on second reading. On 24 May he reported on payments to Members of the last Parliament ‘for secret service’ out of the excise.6
In the second Exclusion Parliament Winnington was one of the few old Members who could command attention, and was looked upon as one of the chief managers of the Commons. Again very active, he was appointed to 41 committees, including those to inquire into abhorring and to draw up the exclusion bill, and made over 70 speeches. He helped to draft six addresses, and made four reports from the committee appointed to inspect the Journals about the Popish Plot. Without apology, he reversed his views on exclusion, and denounced expedients:
All these dangers, past and present, do arise from Popery; and how impossible it is it should be otherwise as long as there is a popish successor. ... If we should give all these qualifications to a successor as hath been in some measure insinuated, it would make a strange confusion in government.
In a long list of grievances he was particularly severe on the judges who had discountenanced petitions for the assembly of Parliament. ‘Shall we have law,’ he asked, ‘only when they please to let us, and when they do not, shall we have none?’ He ‘most eloquently aggravated the circumstances against Lord Stafford’, and was appointed to the joint committee for his trial, in which he played a prominent part. He had remarked of Sir Robert Peyton that ‘when a man is in extraordinary superlative extremes, there is justly a suspicion’, and his own conduct soon confirmed this. He helped to prepare the addresses demanding the removal of Judge Jeffreys and Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile), and the articles of impeachment against Edward Seymour, not without going to ‘extraordinary superlative extremes’ in debate. He had hoped to succeed Jeffreys as recorder of London, and when (Sir) George Treby was appointed, he followed Montagu in entering upon secret negotiations with the Court. His reward was to have been the post of attorney-general; but the secret leaked out, and to anticipate charges of double-dealing he told the Commons on 30 Dec.:
There is a report that some of this House have now made a bargain with the Court for great offices in order to vitiate and corrupt their votes in this House, which, though but a project to cast a reflection on such Members, however to satisfy the world, I pray let there be a vote put that no Member of this House shall accept of any office under the crown during such time as he continues a Member of this House.
Though he hastily added, ‘I believe the people will be satisfied with any of your Members having places whom the House thinks well of’, his tortuous syntax revealed his embarrassment, and his reputation was slow to recover. A few days later he unintentionally amused the House with the remark that ‘a man will be content to be hanged when Parliament says he is naught’. ‘We are in a deplorable condition’, he lamented, ‘and the name of Popery is turned into a ridicule.’ But he regained some ground on 7 Jan. 1681 with a motion, carried without a division, that until an exclusion bill should be passed ‘this House cannot give any supply to his Majesty without danger to his Majesty’s person, extreme hazard of the Protestant religion, and unfaithfulness to those by whom this House is entrusted’.7
Winnington made some efforts to win one of the county seats in 1681, perhaps because of the attempt to persuade the electors of Worcester that ‘a gentleman of the Temple’ could be no fit representative for the city; but he was re-elected at the top of the poll. In the brief Oxford Parliament, he was appointed to four committees and made seven speeches. He was in favour of printing parliamentary proceedings: ‘I think it not natural nor rational that the people who sent us hither should not be informed of our actions’. He proposed the impeachment of Fitzharris and was appointed to the committee. On 26 Mar. he rejected the expedients proposed to limit the power of a Popish King, and was again named to the committee for the exclusion bill. A Regency Act, he said, would be nonsense; ‘to make a man King and not suffer him to exercise kingly power is a contradiction’. When Littleton told the House that it was dangerous to take instructions from the country, Winnington retorted that it was more dangerous to take them from the Court.8
Apart from assisting in Fitzharris’s defence, as counsel assigned by the Court, and advising the corporation of London over the quo warranto proceedings, Winnington took no part in politics for the next few years. He is said to have attended the meeting of Members of Charles II’s Parliament on 26 Dec. 1688, and announced proudly that he was the second man to sign the Association. But he did not stand in 1689, and refused the offer of a judge-ship from the new regime. When he re-entered Parliament, he sat as a country Whig, signing the Association in 1696. He died on 1 May 1700 and was buried at Stanford. Given the handicaps of humble beginnings and the lack of family parliamentary experience, Winnington was unlucky in entering the House as a front-bencher at a time of maximum political uncertainty, which soon turned into a revolutionary situation. No more dishonest than Montagu, he failed to extricate himself without obvious inconsistency from the hazards of public life. But his eloquence and professional skills were of great service to the exclusionists, and he succeeded in founding an important political family, his sons sitting for Bewdley and Droitwich as Tories.9
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: Leonard Naylor / Edward Rowlands / Geoffrey Jaggar
- 1. Nash, Worcs. ii. 368-9.
- 2. Univ. Birmingham Hist. Jnl. i. 110; First Hall Bk. (Windsor Hist. Recs. i), 30; Worcester chamber order bk. 1679-1721, f. 84.
- 3. Bulstrode , 253, 273; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 453.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1645-7, p. 456; Burnet, ii. 183; Grey, iv. 144; viii. 86; Northants RO, F(M)C412, Williams to Fitzwilliam, 18 Apr. 1666; N. and Q. (ser. 2), ix. 65; VCH Worcs. iv. 343.
- 5. N. and Q. (ser. 2), ix. 65; Grey, iv. 144, 264; v. 70, 139, 140; vi. 137, 352-3, 357; CJ, ix. 398, 418, 532; HMC Kenyon, 153.
- 6. Burnet, ii. 207-8; Grey, vii. 23-29, 250, 298; CJ, ix. 574, 584, 606, 631; HMC Dartmouth, i. 33; Nash, i. 368.
- 7. HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 467, 512, 515, 561, 562; CJ, ix. 644, 667; Exact Coll. Debates, 96, 97, 219; Grey, viii. 57, 86, 145, 225, 246; State Trials, vii. 1302-3; HMC Finch, ii. 99; HMC 12th Rep. IX, 108, 112.
- 8. Bath mss, Coventry pprs. 6, f. 25; Seventeenth Century Econ. Docs. ed. Thirsk and Cooper, 408; Grey, viii. 294, 304, 325; CJ, ix. 710, 711.
- 9. Luttrell, i. 80, 195; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 398; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 273; Ailesbury Mems. 359; Nash, ii. 369; Burnet, ii. 183.