BICKERSTAFFE, Philip (1639-?1714), of Chirton, Northumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1689 - 1698

Family and Education

bap. 28 Nov. 1639, 3rd s. of Haward Bickerstaffe of Chelsham, Surr. by Elizabeth, da. of Rowlands Watkins of Usk, Mon., wid. of Philip Barrett of Hampstead, Mdx.  m. 24 Oct. 1675, Jane (d. 1694), wid. of John Clark† of Chirton, s.p.1

Offices Held

Clerk of the scullery by 1662, woodyard to 1683, poultry, ordinary 1683–5, supernumerary 1685–d.; ensign, Admiralty Regt. 1664, lt. 1665–78, capt. (Duke of York’s Ft.) 1678–9.2

Freeman, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1684; member, hostmen’s co. of Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1684; common councilman, Berwick-upon-Tweed 1685–Oct. 1688.3


During the reign of Charles II Bickerstaffe made a career as a soldier and minor office-holder at court, and through a fortunate marriage acquired lands in Northumberland which, presumably, explains his resignation from the army in 1679. He continued to enjoy royal favour during the 1680s and responded with loyalty to both Charles and James II. At the Revolution he nevertheless played an important part on the Orangist side in securing the surrender of Tynemouth garrison, and kept his office as clerk of the poultry throughout the next two reigns. In 1690 Bickerstaffe retained the Northumberland seat he had held in the Convention, and in March was classed as a Tory and Court supporter by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). Bickerstaffe proved to be an active Member of the 1690 Parliament, serving as teller on a wide range of issues. His partisan loyalties were clearly demonstrated in April. On the 14th he told on the Tory side in a division upon the Plympton Erle election case and later the same month, on the 24th, against a Whig amendment to the address thanking the King for the changes in the London lieutenancy. He also opposed the abjuration bill, one report of the debate of the 26th upon this measure recording that ‘Captain Bickerstaffe [was] against it, because it will divide the nation’. After this bill had been rejected, he was nominated, on the 29th, to draft a bill to secure the government. However, Bickerstaffe’s activity extended beyond party matters. On 15 May he reported from a committee concerned with a petition requesting payment of arrears owed for the quartering of the army in 1677. His interest in this issue possibly arose from the question of the debts owed to the Northumberland garrison towns of Tynemouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed. Bickerstaffe also reported, on two occasions, the bill to discourage the import of thrown silk, and was ordered to carry this measure to the Lords (10, 12, 13 May). The extent of his activity is clear from the fact that he told on a further seven occasions during this session, including for the second reading of the bill settling a charity for the maintenance of ‘several scholars’ at Oxford (23 Apr.); for passing the bill reversing the quo warranto against London (8 May); in favour of proceeding with the bill vesting the £500 forfeitures in the crown (9, 14 May); for an amendment to the bill vesting the hereditary revenue in the crown (16 May); and in favour of the Tory interpretation of the Aldborough franchise (17 May).4

In October 1690 Bickerstaffe assisted in the management of an estate bill (22, 28 Oct.), and his first tellership of the session came on the 28th when he told in favour of the House going into a committee of the whole upon the land tax. On 1 Nov. he told against hearing the counsel of those accused of breaching a Member’s privilege and, after being appointed on 25 Nov. to consider another petition concerning arrears owed from the raising of the army in 1677, on 29 Nov. he told against amending the instruction to the committee on the bill attainting rebels so that it covered those Irish Protestants who since 8 July 1690 had acted under James II in civil as well as military offices. The following month his tellerships included those against engrossing the bill reversing the judgment of scandalum magnatum against John Arnold* (1 Dec.); against adjourning the debate upon a Tory petition complaining of the activities of the Whig lord mayor of London (11th); and for appropriating £100,000 of the yield of duties on East India goods to the use of the navy (15th). During December Bickerstaffe was included on a list of Lord Carmarthen’s, probably of those likely to support the lord president in the event of a Commons’ attack upon him, and he also chaired the committee concerned with the Earl of Ailesbury’s (Thomas Bruce†) estate bill. A notable aspect of Bickerstaffe’s activity in this session was his telling on the Tory side in five divisions upon disputed elections. His interest in the resolution of election cases was also evident in his tellerships against the engrossment and passage of the bill for the speedier determining of elections (27, 31 Dec.). His last significant act of the session was to tell, on 2 Jan. 1691, for the second reading of the bill establishing a court of inquiry for the relief of London orphans. In April 1691 he was classed as a Court supporter in Robert Harley’s* analysis of the House.5

The 1691–2 session saw little let-up in Bickerstaffe’s parliamentary activity. Before Christmas he was nominated to three drafting committees and twice told on the Tory side in divisions upon disputed elections. His first significant act of the new year was to tell, on 8 Jan. 1692, for the committal of the bill to reduce interest rates. During the debate five days later on the report from the conference concerning the Lords’ amendments to the treason trials bill Bickerstaffe supported amending one of the measure’s clauses in a manner which the Lords had suggested at this conference. Later the same month he told on the Tory side in the Chippenham election case (22nd), and for an amendment to the Dover harbour bill (25th). On the 28th his request to bring up a petition from an Irish Catholic office-holder who desired to be exempted from the Irish Oaths Act was refused. Having presented, on 2 Feb., another petition concerning arrears relating to the army raised in 1677, Bickerstaffe was appointed to the committee considering this petition. Three days later he told in favour of deleting from the bill vesting forfeited Irish estates in their Majesties a clause concerning entailed estates, and on 8 Feb. procured an additional clause to this bill intended to ‘save the usher of the court of chancery’ in Ireland. As the session drew to a close Bickerstaffe also demonstrated his support for it confirming the charters of Cambridge University, speaking for it on 19 Feb. and telling three days later for its passage.6

On 10 Nov. 1692 Bickerstaffe seconded the motion for the Address and was duly appointed to prepare it. Five days later he drew to the attention of the House an alleged breach of privilege against Sir John Bland, 4th Bt., and on 18 Nov. he told for the committal of the treason trials bill. His continuing support for the Court was evident on 8 Dec. during the debate of the committee on the advice to the King when he moved that a select committee be appointed to examine ways to supply the army abroad while reducing the outflow of the kingdom’s coin, being named on the 12th to the resultant committee. During the sitting of the ways and means committee five days later it was his concern for Northumberland’s best interest which was evident in his support for raising the land tax by monthly assessment rather than pound rate. Bickerstaffe’s Toryism was demonstrated on 14 Dec. when he told against a Whig-promoted abjuration bill, and was again in evidence six days later when he spoke in opposition to John Smith I’s motion praising Edward Russell’s* actions as admiral, an implicit criticism of the Tory secretary of state Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). In the new year Bickerstaffe paid further attention to the land tax bill. On 10 Jan. 1693 he spoke against a proposal from Sir William Strickland, 3rd Bt., to suspend the payment of pensions for the duration of the war, and later the same day told in favour of amending the clause of this bill relating to the payment of victualling office bills. Two days later he spoke against Hugh Boscawen I’s proposal to disable land tax commissioners acting for parishes in which they were resident. His concern for financial legislation was also evident on 10 Feb. when he opposed Paul Foley I’s proposal for a tax on shipping, informing Members of his opinion that ‘there was enough upon shipping and trade already’. Bickerstaffe told on two further occasions in this session, for committing the bill to increase timber in the New Forest (8 Feb.), and in favour of passing an estate bill (1 Mar.). In the spring of 1693 he was listed as a placeman by Samuel Grascome, who also classed him as a Court supporter in an analysis of the House.7

Presumably as a consequence of his high level of parliamentary activity, Bickerstaffe was the third-named Member of the privileges and elections committee appointed on 7 Nov. 1693, and throughout the following two sessions frequently acted as teller. He told on nine occasions in the 1693–4 session, the most significant of which were against the clause of the triennial bill stating that a Parliament would be judged to have been held irrespective of the passage of any judgment or legislation (22 Dec.); against an amendment to the land tax bill relating to the payment of victuals (18 Jan. 1694); against retaining the words of oath upon payment of the salt duty (17 Mar.); and on the Tory side in the Clitheroe election case (17 Apr.). On 9 Feb. the House was informed, during consideration of William Jephson’s* secret service accounts, that in 1692 Bickerstaffe had been paid £105 in respect of three and a half years’ salary for his court place. His first tellership during the 1694–5 session came on 20 Dec. 1694 when he told against bringing up a clause to the tunnage and poundage bill, and in the new year he guided a bill for the recovery of small tithes through its early Commons stages. Otherwise, his recorded contribution to the Commons was again limited to tellerships. He told on three occasions during the passage of the glass duty bill (13, 19, 22 Apr.), and his Tory sentiments and support for the Court were evident in three further tellerships during April: against committing an abjuration bill to a committee of the whole (15th); against putting the question to expel Henry Guy (17th); and for recommitting the bill to reverse the attainder of the New York radical Jacob Leisler (30th).

In October 1695 it was suggested that ‘anybody that might stand’ would be able to defeat Bickerstaffe at the forthcoming Northumberland election, a conviction that probably stemmed from the mounting financial difficulties that earlier in the year had forced him to convey a significant part of his Northumberland estate to the holder of its mortgage. However, no electoral challenge was mounted and Bickerstaffe was returned unopposed. His first significant nomination of the Parliament came on 2 Dec. when he was appointed to draft another bill for the recovery of small tithes, a bill he subsequently guided through its Commons’ stages. The 1695–6 session also saw him manage a bill to prevent theft and rapine in the north of England. Bickerstaffe told on nine occasions during this session, and both his Toryism and growing alienation from an increasingly Junto-dominated ministry are evident from a number of these tellerships. On 10 Dec. he told against a motion to recoin at both the old weight and fineness, indicating his support for a devaluation of the coinage. The significance of his next tellership on this issue, on 1 Jan. 1696, and in favour of appointing the following Friday for a committee of the whole to examine how to prevent the recoinage dislocating trade, is difficult to discern, but on 21 Jan. he acted against the Court by telling in favour of instructing the committee upon the bill to encourage milled money and plate to be brought to the Mint to consider the price of guineas. This opposition to the ministry was emphasized on 26 Mar., when he told against incorporating into this bill a clause setting the price of guineas at 22s. Bickerstaffe’s political realignment was also made clear over another of the session’s most pressing issues, the council of trade. He was forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. upon this matter, and on this date told against Hon. Thomas Wharton’s clause that Members be excluded from serving as commissioners of trade. That he had not taken his opposition to extremes was, however, evident from his prompt signing of the Association. During this session Bickerstaffe told a further four times including against an amendment, which would have undermined the joint-stock nature of the East India Company, to a resolution on the East India trade (11 Feb.); for an amendment to the affirmation bill requiring Quakers seeking the benefit of this measure to obtain a certificate from their congregation (10 Mar.); and for adjourning consideration of the bill regulating abuses relating to garbling spices (17 Apr.). The 1695–6 session was, however, to be the last in which Bickerstaffe played an active role in Commons’ business. In the following session he voted, on 25 Nov., against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, but told on only three occasions: against reading the report on abuses in prisons (27 Jan. 1697); against committing the bill to admit merchants to the freedom of the Russian Company (15 Feb.); and against engrossing the wine duty bill (3 Apr.). The decline in his parliamentary profile may have been due to his alienation from the Court, but it may also have been a consequence of his increasing financial problems caused by his unsuccessful participation, in partnership with his elder brother, in the coal trade. In September 1697 he was called before the lords justices to account for money he had received to pay for the quartering of troops at Tynemouth but had failed to distribute, and in the following month it was noted that ‘Capt. Bickerstaffe’s interest re. Northum[berland] . . . is only valid and lasting as long as he meets with no opposition’. During the final session of the Parliament, Bickerstaffe was absent on 31 Mar. 1698 when a petition relating to him was presented to the House. He had returned to the Commons by 2 Apr. when the petition was read and Bickerstaffe was heard in response, and he told on three occasions in the later stages of the session: against a resolution calling for a coal duty (7 Apr.); for receiving a petition from Northumberland relating to copper coin (5 May); and for receiving a petition from the landlords of Suffolk Place, Southwark (6 May). Bickerstaffe did not contest the 1698 election, and a comparison of the old and new Houses in about September classed him as a Court supporter ‘out’ of the new House.8

Bickerstaffe never stood for election again, his energies probably being focused upon his financial difficulties. In September 1698 James Vernon I* reported that Bickerstaffe had ‘had the misfortune to be seized in the Temple by bailiffs, who ran him into prison, and it will be hard for him to get out again, he having such a load of debts upon him’. It was no doubt to satisfy these debts that in 1699 Bickerstaffe sold his estate at Chirton to Sir William Blackett, 1st Bt.* Bickerstaffe’s mining venture at Gateshead and Whickham, Durham continued to drain his coffers and was probably the main cause of his imprisonment in the Fleet for debt, recorded in 1710. At this time he was described as a merchant, perhaps indicating that he had diversified his economic activity in an attempt to improve his fortunes. This is also suggested by a petition to the crown in June 1714 from a man who had been imprisoned for five years having stood surety for Bickerstaffe in shipping salt from Berwick-upon-Tweed. The date of Bickerstaffe’s death is unknown. He was alive in 1714 when his sister-in-law left him £10 to buy mourning, though a petition to the crown of June the same year refers to the ‘late Captain Bickerstaffe’.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Mems. St. Margaret’s Westminster, 162; PCC 14 Fairfax; Bradney, Mon. iii. 76; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 424; New Hist. Northumb. iv. 241.
  • 2. SP 29/60/122; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 659; vii. 185, 415; LS 13/231/5.
  • 3. Reg. of Freemen (Newcastle-upon-Tyne Rec. Soc. iii), 103; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hostmen’s Co. (Surtees Soc. cv), 272; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 67; 1686–7, p. 231.
  • 4. New Hist. Northumb. iv. 241; viii. 322; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 79.
  • 5. Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 1300/856 A2, cttee. list, 26 Dec. 1690.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 128, 160, 168, 178, 194.
  • 7. Ibid. 215, 302, 312, 359, 365, 417; Grey, x. 292.
  • 8. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95, 217; New Hist. Northumb. iv. 241; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 164; E. Hughes, N. Country Life, i. 162–3; CSP Dom. 1697, p. 359.
  • 9. Add. 40773, f. 28; New Hist. Northumb. viii. 322; Hughes, 162–3; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 378; PCC 166 Whitfield; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 309.