WISEMAN, Sir Richard (c.1632-1712), of Torrell's Hall, Willingale, Essex.

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

b. c.1632, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Richard Wiseman of Lincoln’s Inn and Torrell’s Hall by Lucy, da. of Sir Thomas Griffin of Braybrooke, Northants. educ. Bishop’s Stortford g.s. Herts.; Sidney Sussex, Camb. adm. 15 Oct. 1647, aged 15. m. (1) 2 Jan. 1655, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John Towse, Grocer, of London, 2s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) lic. 15 Mar. 1669, Mary, da. of Sir Thomas Wiseman of Rivenhall, Essex, wid. of William Abell of East Claydon, Bucks., and of Charles Fitch of Woodham Walter, Essex s.p. suc. fa. 1654; kntd. 21 June 1660.1

Offices Held

J.p. Essex 1656-89; commr. for assessment, Essex 1657, Aug. 1660-80, Maldon 1677-80, Westminster 1677-9, militia, Essex Mar. 1660, corporations 1662-3, recusants 1675, dep. lt. Apr. 1688-9.2


Wiseman’s grandfather, a younger son, became a London goldsmith and purchased Torrell’s Hall under James I. His father was assessed at £800 by the committee for the advance of money in June 1644, but discharged on payment of £170 in September 1645.3

Wiseman’s great-uncle had sat repeatedly for Maldon between 1584 and 1610; but his own election in 1661 may have depended on the letter of recommendation which he obtained from the Duke of York. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 69 committees, including those to consider the conventicles bill in 1664 and to draw up the heads of the accusations against Clarendon in 1667. But his chief concern in the latter session will have been with a private bill, steered through committee by Sir John Bramston, to enable him to perform a trust. Wiseman became more active in 1670, acting as teller on 9 Mar. against deferring the debate on conventicles, and offering his services to Joseph Williamson. They were accepted, and he promised to attend in the autumn. Though absent from a call of the House for the second time on 16 Jan. 1671, he seems to have been granted a pension, and asked Williamson for a loan of £7,000 from the hearth-tax, in consideration of his own and his father’s services and

the disadvantages and charges of being ten years a Parliament-man, which employment does not only increase ordinary expense but puts a great charge upon all men in debt by necessitating them to make costly offerings for the atonement of privilege, the consideration of which makes me seriously to determine that Parliament-men of all ranks and conditions of men whatsoever as to their own affairs are in the worst and most disadvantageous condition. By reason of it I am not able to keep myself upright in my credit but the very name of a long and perpetual privilege is a choke pear to all my endeavours towards gaining that point.

He began to be reckoned as a court supporter about this time, but like many of Arlington’s clients he was far from satisfied with his position. Another private bill of his passed the Lords in 1673, but was never reported to the Commons. On 17 Nov. he warned Williamson that in the next session Parliament would demand the removal of ministers. ‘I find it a great evil under the sun that the King’s conscientious good friends are (as they always have been) little regarded, both in themselves and the principles they own.’ His name appeared on the Paston list, and he made his only recorded speech on 19 Jan. 1674. Although suffering from ‘swimmings in his head’, he undertook to produce evidence against Arlington of suborning false witnesses, and a week later he was added to the committee for impeachment. He recommended himself to Danby by proposing the reorganization of the excise farm for political purposes and became chief government whip in the Commons, supplying the Court with detailed lists and characters of Members. He appears on a list of excise pensioners drawn up between 1674 and 1677, receiving £400 p.a. in his own name and another £400 p.a. in the name of ‘Knight’. In A Seasonable Argument he is alleged to have been receiving £1,000 p.a. pension, and keeping one of the Treasurer’s public parliamentary tables. In 1675 he brought up the Essex petition against the Royal Africa Company, and served on the committees on recusancy and illegal exactions. He was marked ‘doubly vile’ by Shaftesbury. In the spring sessions of 1678 he took part in the inquiry on the effect of the Penal Laws on Protestant dissenters, and helped to draw up a statement of England’s commitments to foreign powers. When the Popish Plot fever was at its height, he was one of the Members ordered to draft an address for calling up one-third of the militia.4

Wiseman was not re-elected in 1679, but on 24 May he was ordered to attend the House in consequence of the disclosure of his pension by (Sir) Stephen Fox. The Speaker inquired how he had been able to keep so good a table during the last session, to which he replied ‘rudely and surlily’ that the money came from his tenants. In spite of repeated browbeatings, he stood his ground and refused to answer questions of detail except in writing ‘like a reasonable man’, and he escaped unscathed. It is certainly hard to believe that he was able to live, let alone entertain, on his rents, for his estates were encumbered with debts ‘to almost the full value’, and his ardent wooing of the wealthy widow Winter, whom he pursued even into the ecclesiastical court, was not only fruitless but expensive.5

Wiseman felt that his courage and obstinacy in the first Exclusion Parliament deserved some reward. He attended the Essex election of 1685 in the court interest, and in 1687 he desired to be appointed commissioner of customs. Bishop Cartwright, an Essex man by birth, seems to have been on intimate terms with him, but nothing came of it. James II retained his name on the commission of the peace, though his neighbour (Sir) John Bramston commented that he ‘never acted, ... but he appeared at the assizes’. The King’s agents, however, reported in 1688 that Wiseman ‘complied heartily’ with the questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, and recommended him as a deputy lieutenant. His financial position precluded any further parliamentary candidature, however, and it was his brother-in-law Sir Gobert Barrington who was endorsed as court candidate for Maldon. Wiseman, who had lost his only surviving son in 1684, made over his interest in the Torrell’s Hall estate to his daughter about this time, and retired to lodgings in Pall Mall. It may be significant that when he was attacked by a footpad in 1698, nothing of value was found on him but his sword. He was buried at St. Anne’s, Soho on 25 May 1712.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vis. Essex ed. Howard, 103; Soc. of Genealogists, St. Gregory by St. Paul’s par. reg.; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 81; Verney Mems. ii. 167; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1493; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 236.
  • 2. Essex RO, Q/SR380-441; 35/101-26; T2/26; Essex Rev. vii. 58-61.
  • 3. Morant, Essex, ii. 479; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 406; Keeler, Long Parl. 196.
  • 4. Adm. 2/1745, f. 32; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 376; 1671, p. 402; CJ, ix. 25, 278; Browning, Danby, i. 169-70; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. ix), 78; Grey, ii. 296, 303; Dering Pprs. 63, 70; Bulstrode Pprs. 315.
  • 5. Grey, vii. 333-6; Bramston Autobiog. 236-7.
  • 6. Browning, iii. 19-20; Bramston Autobiog. 175, 405; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 222; Diary of Bishop Cartwright (Cam. Soc. xxii), passim; St. Anne’s Church, Soho ed. Hughes, 62.