BOYLE, Hon. Henry (1669-1725), of Carleton House, Pall Mall, Westminster

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



8 May 1689 - 1690
21 Nov. 1692 - 1705
1705 - 1710

Family and Education

b. 12 July 1669, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Hon. Charles Boyle†, Baron Clifford of Lanesborough, Yorks. by his 1st w.; bro. of Hon. Charles Boyle I*.  educ. Westminster; travelled abroad 1685–8; Padua Univ. 1685; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1692, MA 1693, DCL 1720. unmcr. Baron Carleton 19 Oct. 1714.1

Offices Held

Cornet, Queen’s Horse (later 1 Drag. Gds.) 1685–Nov. 1688; cornet and maj. 2 Life Gds. by 1691–2; ld. of Treasury 1699–1702; keeper, royal garden at St. James’s Palace 1701; chancellor of the Exchequer 1701–Apr. 1708; PC 27 Mar. 1701; ld. treasurer [I] 1704–15; commr. union with Scotland 1706, Trade and Plantations 1707; sec. of state (north) Feb. 1708–10; PC [I] Sept. 1714–?; ld. pres. 1721–d.2

MP [I] 1692–3; chairman cttee. supply Oct. 1692–?Nov. 1692.

Chairman cttee. of privileges and elections 1694–5, ways and means Mar. 1702, 1707; commr. public accts. 1695–7.

Ld. lt. and custos rot. Yorks. (W. Riding) 1704–15; v.-adm. Yorks. 1704–15.

Commr. Q. Anne’s bounty 1704; trustee, Dr Busby’s charity.3


A fine representative of a family which had been remarkable even among the Anglo-Irish planter aristocracy for talent, ambition and acquisitiveness, but which by the end of the 17th century was beginning to subside into pretentious complacency, ‘Harry’ Boyle was in many respects the perfect courtier to a parliamentary monarchy. The atmosphere of Whitehall and Westminster was his element. Urbane and raffish, he achieved equal popularity in the closet and in Parliament, and although his unfailing prudence and unruffled superiority irritated some satirists the public reputation he left among his contemporaries was largely without stain. His weakness was his tendency to self-indulgence, which in politics could manifest itself in an aversion to infighting and preference for well-remunerated ease, once such an alternative had become attainable. Early in his career, however, this failing was not apparent, since despite a ‘substantial legacy’ from his grandmother he was still obliged, as a younger son, to work to make his way.4

Boyle’s multifarious connexions provided him with a quiverful of influential patrons. One of his aunts had married the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), and prior to the Revolution Boyle occupied a privileged place in the Hyde circle. He may have owed his original military commission at least in part to Rochester’s avuncular concern for his career, and in November 1688 he deserted to the Prince of Orange in company with Rochester’s nephew by marriage, Prince George, and son-in-law, the Duke of Ormond, and his own brother-in-law, the Earl of Drumlanrig. After the Revolution he remained on good terms with the Hydes, who appear not to have greatly resented Boyle’s alleged cuckolding of his cousin Lord Hyde (Henry*), but in politics he henceforth adopted his father’s moderate Whiggery rather than Rochester’s High Tory principles. He was returned to the Convention for Tamworth, a borough his father had represented in the Cavalier Parliament, and where the family still possessed some interest, exercised in conjunction with that of Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†). Little is heard of Boyle during this first spell in the Commons, apart from the fact that at the dissolution he was blacklisted with the supporters of the disabling clause in the corporations bill, a distinction which may have hampered his efforts to secure re-election in 1690. Despite Weymouth’s continued backing he was inhibited from contesting Tamworth again. Rochester was also involved in attempts to find an alternative seat, but did not prove particularly helpful. Boyle therefore looked elsewhere for assistance. He first took up a commission in Ormond’s guards regiment; then, in the summer of 1692, evidently in some desperation, agreed to settle in Ireland and take over the management of his grandfather Lord Burlington’s immense estate in counties Cork and Waterford. Burlington reassured his local agents that the young man was ‘of a very excellent capacity and very apt to comprehend business as soon as he has been a little versed in it’. Elected to the Irish parliament, Boyle was, despite his inexperience, ‘unanimously’ voted into the chair of supply and apparently ‘behaved himself . . . as if he had been at it ever since he was born . . . and nobody could have kept us to better order nor have managed the chair better than he did’. To his grandfather’s disappointment, Boyle was soon rescued from the prospect of an extended Hibernian exile by news of a vacancy in the parliamentary representation of Cambridge University, of which his cousin the Duke of Somerset was chancellor. Hastily admitted to Trinity College, under the tutelage of Somerset’s chaplain, Boyle was put up on Somerset’s recommendation, the Duke actually serving as returning officer in the (probably diplomatic) absence of vice-chancellor George Oxenden*. Burlington protested that such a sudden change of plan was ‘positively against my advice and directions’ but could not dissuade his grandson from the course on which his heart was set.5

This time Boyle quickly made his mark in the House. Generally it is impossible to distinguish Boyle’s parliamentary activity from that of his brother, Hon. Charles I, but it is probable that he was the ‘Mr Boyle’ who told on 29 Nov. 1692, just eight days after his election, against a Court-inspired motion that the committee of supply resume the following day, for his earliest recorded speech took place on 3 Dec., against another Court motion in the committee of supply to put the question on the total estimate for land forces. Because of his electoral dependence on Somerset it is fair to assume that he was the Boyle who managed the bill to settle various advowsons, including that of Petworth, Somerset’s seat, through the House in January. Narcissus Luttrell* noted a ‘Mr Boyle’ offering a clause at the report of the mutiny bill on 11 Feb., ‘against soldiers carrying their wives and children with them and quartering them upon the people’, which would have been consistent with Henry’s evident ‘Country’ stance, if somewhat disloyal to former comrades, and likewise speaking on 14 Feb. in favour of the public accounts bill at its second reading, ‘because it gives satisfaction to the nation’. In the debate of 22 Feb. 1693 on the allegations of misgovernment in Ireland, Boyle disingenuously exploited his claim to specialist knowledge of, and particular concern for, a country to which he had only recently declined to remove:

if there have been miscarriages in Ireland (which I think few doubt of), now you are upon inquiring about them, unless you do something to prevent them you will but confirm them. I have spoke with gentlemen, and if what they tell me be true you will need neither an invasion nor a rebellion but the people will leave that kingdom – they are used so ill.

Later in the debate, however, when a motion was proposed for an address to recall the Irish parliament, Boyle ‘was against it, for that he heard it was intended the parliament should sit very shortly’ and moved instead for an adjournment of the debate to the 24th. On that day he tacked about again, joining prominent ‘Country party’ men in requesting an address that the King ‘will be pleased to call’ an Irish parliament, and being named to the drafting committee. Lastly in this session, on 27 Feb. 1693 he both spoke and probably told against the indemnity bill, which ‘Country’ Members had opposed because it provided for a suspension of habeas corpus. By now Boyle was already a well-known figure in the House, a noted ‘Country’ speaker and on intimate terms with leaders of all shades of opinion, from the Court Whig Hon. Charles Montagu*, whom he ‘seduced . . . to keep the [summer] holidays at Epsom’, to the ‘Country’ stalwart Robert Harley*, with whom he had quickly and shrewdly established a close friendship despite their striking differences of personality.6

After a brief visit to Ireland in the autumn of 1693 to make contact with the new lord justice Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*), probably with a view to involving himself in Irish politics and government in some capacity, Boyle was in attendance at the Commons by 22 Nov., when he contributed to the debate on the miscarriages of the fleet and was appointed to the committee to examine the merchants’ petition on naval mismanagements. He was almost certainly the Boyle who told on the Country side on 28 Nov. against the passage of the triennial bill, after the failure to add a rider to secure frequent sessions, and who on 6 Dec. joined the Tory John Granville in telling against a motion blaming the admirals for the failures of the fleet in the last campaign. On 7 Dec. ‘Mr Boyle’ supported the motion to commit Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*) to the Tower for alleged corruption: ‘you have all the suspicion and ground to suspect something in the matter’, he declared, and was a teller in favour. There were 11 other tellerships in this session ascribed to a Boyle, all in support of the Country party position and most of them on fiscal questions: on 20 Dec., in favour of a resolution of the committee of supply; 23 Dec., against an adjournment motion; 17 Jan. 1694 in two divisions on the land tax bill; 18 Jan., again on the land tax bill, against a clause offered at the report stage; 22 Jan., at the bill’s third reading, against an amendment leaving out the clause to appoint cruising ships; 17 Feb., on another adjournment motion; 22 Feb., for John Cooke* in the Arundel election; 28 Feb., against the first resolution of ways and means, for collecting further money in addition to a land tax; 16 Mar., on a motion to adjourn the debate on the salt duty bill; and finally on 14 Apr., to adjourn debate on the bill for the incorporation of the Bank of England. It would seem reasonable to attribute most if not all to Henry Boyle. In the case of other parliamentary activity the ascription can sometimes be confirmed from other sources. We know that it was Henry rather than Charles who was assisted in the management of a bill concerning Irish forfeited estates, and given that Boyle was involved in the following session in promoting a treason trials bill, it seems reasonable to infer that he was the chairman of the committee of the whole in February 1694 on its predecessor, and similarly his later service as an accounts commissioner suggests that he may well have chaired the whole House committee on the accounts bill in April. That Henry was by far the more active parliamentarian is reinforced by the observation that Charles’s resignation of his Commons seat in October 1694, on succeeding to his father’s barony, made no appreciable difference to the frequency with which the name Boyle appeared in the Journals.7

Boyle’s growing stature in the House is evident from his election to the chair of the committee of privileges and elections during the session of 1694–5. He had firmly identified himself with the ‘Country’ opposition to the emerging Whig ministry, and in particular had developed his close association with Robert Harley and Paul Foley I*, with whom, and with the Tory John Granville, he frequently acted. In addition to telling alongside Granville on 13 Dec. 1694, against a Court amendment to the triennial bill, Boyle managed the renewed treason trials bill through all its stages in the Commons. Other ‘Country’ causes in which he was involved were the place bill, telling on 26 Jan. 1695 in favour of an amendment, and the renewal of the accounts commission: having chaired and reported from the committee of the whole on the accounts bill (20, 21 Mar.), he was himself chosen a commissioner, reaching third place in the ballot. He was also appointed on 2 Apr. to the drafting committee for a clause in the mutiny bill to prevent army officers from extorting bribes from innkeepers to excuse them from quartering, a typical ‘Country’ grievance against the military. Particularly active on fiscal matters, he was a teller on 19 Jan., on a procedural motion concerning the petition of some City merchants against the Bank of England; on 13 Feb., against a leather tax; and on 12 Apr., in favour of going into a committee of the whole for supply. Together with Robert Harley he told on 6 Feb. for a qualifying amendment to a motion vindicating the Lancashire Plot trials, to declare there had been ‘sufficient grounds’ for the prosecutions only ‘before the falsity of the witnesses was detected’. Significantly, when Paul Foley was elected as Speaker on 14 Mar., in place of Sir John Trevor, Boyle assisted Granville in conducting him to the Chair. He was included by Henry Guy in a list of ‘friends’ in connexion with the investigation by the Commons of Guy for corruption, and the remainder of Boyle’s significant parliamentary activity in this session in fact related to inquiries into corruption, and being named to three committees in April concerning Sir Thomas Cooke’s* alleged bribery by the Old East India Company, and on 27 Apr. to the committee to prepare articles of impeachment against the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†). That he had become such a thorn in the Court’s side probably accounts for the failure of Lord Capell’s recommendation of him at this time for a seat on the Irish Privy Council. Capell was informed in May 1695 by the Duke of Shrewsbury, the secretary of state, that his list of new Councillors had been approved with one exception: ‘the King defers doing it for Mr Boyle, he being lately made one of the commissioners for public accounts, and so not likely to go into Ireland this summer’.8

After a more difficult, three-cornered, contest at Cambridge University in the 1695 general election, in which Somerset’s recommendation needed to be supplemented by some solicitation of college heads on Boyle’s own part, he was returned to the Commons, to some disappointment, however, when as a result of a compromise between Speaker Foley and the ministerial Whigs Boyle was passed over for the chair of privileges and elections in favour of a courtier. In a limited display of resentment he pointedly absented himself from the committee’s first meeting, but he was too self-disciplined to over-indulge his anger. Besides, other distinctions offered themselves in compensation. He reported from committees appointed to manage conferences with the Lords on the proceedings of the Scottish parliament on the East India trade (14, 16 Dec. 1695) and on the recoinage (11 Jan. 1696), and chaired the committee of the whole on the East India bill (4 Apr.), and on 5 Feb. was re-elected in third place (behind Harley and Foley) in the ballot for accounts commissioners. Forecast as likely to vote against the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, Boyle was reported as speaking in the debate on that day against the resolution that MPs would not be eligible to sit on the council. He was teller on 15 Jan., on the opposition side on a motion to adjourn consideration of the coinage bill, on 17 Jan. in favour of the Lords’ amendments to the treason trials bill, and again on 15 Feb. in a division on the recoinage issue, in favour of a resolution from the committee on the value of guineas to set a maximum of 28s., being listed among those who opposed ministerial proposals to fix the price at 22s in March. His other tellership on a question relating to financial and economic matters reflected not only his ‘Country’ allegiance but his position as a university representative. On 27 Jan. he told against a committee amendment to the land tax bill, concerning universities and hospitals. Constituency interests were again to the fore on 15 Feb., when he told in favour of an additional clause to the bill imposing a landed qualification on voters in parliamentary elections, a measure he had himself helped to draft, to exempt the two universities. It may have been in part this awareness of the need to nurse his reputation among the Cambridge colleges, as well as among Tories on the opposition benches, that led him into the occasional offence against Whig prejudices, as over the Quakers’ affirmation bill, which he told against on 13 Mar., or the Association. He felt no qualms himself on taking the Association, being an early signatory, but was ready to oppose any attempt to exploit Tory scruples by making subscription a qualification for continued membership of the Commons, telling on 7 Apr. against a clause to this effect in the bill for the security of the King’s person.9

Prior to the next session Boyle spent some time with the Hydes in Oxfordshire, enduring what were for him the privations of country life in return for the political dividends to be obtained from renewing his connexion with Rochester, and probably also the personal pleasures to be drawn from Lady Hyde’s society. But he kept in regular correspondence with Robert Harley, remarking in one letter that he would be ‘sorry to stay in the country till you wanted my assistance in town’. Indeed, as Parliament resumed he seemed politically inseparable from Harley. When Lord Somers (Sir John*) and the other leading ministers grew anxious of the possible parliamentary repercussions of the accusations contained in Sir John Fenwick’s† confession, it was Boyle, along with Foley and Harley, whom they approached in order to head off difficulties. While Foley was willing to give assurances, Boyle followed Harley in treading more carefully. James Vernon I, deputed to undertake the negotiations, reported on 6 Nov. 1696 to the Duke of Shrewsbury (whose good name had been jeopardized by the confession) that he had spoken to Harley and Boyle,

but I might as well have let them both alone; they were very well in their answers to me, but neither of them showed anything of it in the debate. Perhaps they thought it sufficient to be silent . . . Mr Boyle would have made some kind of excuse to me, that he saw the business go on slowly, and nobody said anything that needed an answer, but Mr Howe’s [John Grobham*] petulancy might have furnished occasion if he thought fit.

Four days later, in another debate on the bill, Harley took the opportunity to condemn Fenwick for ‘falsely accusing persons of the greatest merit’, but Boyle still remained silent. Eventually, on 17 Nov., he did ‘make his compliments to the persons concerned’ in Fenwick’s examination, and Vernon was soon reporting that both Harley and Boyle were ‘professing great respect’ for Shrewsbury. As to the bill of attainder itself, Boyle consistently spoke and voted against it. At first he confined himself to procedural points, but in the debate on the committal he spoke out. For once a victim of nerves, so much so that he apologized for ‘rambling’ in his argument because of ‘the awe I have upon me from this assembly’, he was extremely careful to distinguish opposition to the bill from sympathy for its subject. The plot he regarded as heinous, and ‘as to Sir John Fenwick, I know him not; as to his cause, I am sure I am against it; but how far I think him guilty or not, is not the single point to be considered’. Rather, the main issue was whether it could ever be right to condemn anyone to death for treason on the testimony of a single witness, a principle he had upheld before and which he now amplified with examples from the history of classical Rome and Renaissance Italy. He did, however, go so far as to question the danger allegedly presented by Fenwick himself to the King and to the state. Though ‘a great offender’, Sir John had not been accused of plotting William’s assassination. Fenwick was ‘foolish’ rather than dangerous: ‘when he walked about town, I never heard he was feared or regarded at that time’. And Boyle refuted the ministerial claim that to reject the bill would be to imperil the security of the realm:

I hope, in this debate, gentlemen will be very cautious of using it as an argument, what application our votes shall have without doors, and with those we represent, when we are to give judgment . . . for the life and death of a man . . . the eagerness that is justifiable upon impeachments, may not look so well now we are judges upon a bill of attainder.

In the crucial division on the third reading of the bill, on 25 Nov. 1696, he gave his vote against. Later in the session, however, on 7 Jan. 1697, he was teller, with a Court Whig and against two Tories, in favour of passing the bill of attainder against those who had been involved in the Assassination Plot and had fled the country, and for retaining others in custody. This may have been an attempt to re-establish his credibility as an upholder of the Revolution settlement, or it may be the first sign of the shift in his politics that was to occur during the following year. At the outset of the session he had been as vigorous as ever in harrying the ministry and in the pursuit of ‘Country’ policies. In a debate on supply on 19 Nov. he had gone out of his way to attack the Court Whig Rose Club, calling them ‘the lords of the articles’ and had warned ‘people not to receive questions that were brought them ready prepared’. Then on 3 Dec. he told in favour of engrossing the bill to regulate elections, a characteristic Country party obsession. It may be significant, however, that in this session he began to be markedly less active than before, and less closely involved with controversial questions. His one other tellership occurred on 25 Feb. 1697, against a Lords’ amendment to the bill to restrain the wearing of East India cloths. The privileged position he occupied in the House is evident from the decision taken at the Rose Club in December 1696 to oppose the re-election of all the accounts commissioners ‘except Mr Boyle’, a decision subsequently reversed, but none the less significant. At the ballot in the following February, when the entire ministerial slate was adopted, Boyle was still in third position among the Country candidates, this time behind Robert Harley and Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.* But the ministry may have begun to court him: rumours were rife in April 1697 that he would be included in the new commission of lords justices in Ireland. Such an appointment might have served two purposes. It could have won Boyle over to administration, or at least removed him from Westminster; and in Ireland it would have pacified those otherwise well-disposed political figures who resented the monopoly over power and patronage that the Junto’s allies, Alan† and Thomas Brodrick*, had carved out for themselves. As one Irish ‘Country Whig’ noted, there was a ‘universally great opinion’ of Boyle’s ‘ability and integrity’. That nothing came of the speculation may testify to the strength of the Brodricks in resisting the appointment, or to Boyle’s own unwillingness to leave the centre of affairs.10

It was the winter of 1697–8 which witnessed Boyle’s crossing over from Country to Court, but while the timing of his volte-face can be established fairly precisely, its mainspring remains elusive. One historian has noted the coincidence of Boyle’s change of direction with the death of his grandfather, Burlington, in January 1698, but there seems to be no logical connexion between the two events. Burlington had never exercised much influence over his grandson (witness the events of 1692) and the inheritance of £4,000 p.a. which Boyle drew from the Earl’s estate should have disposed him towards independence rather than enlistment in the Court party. Conceivably the disparity between his legacy and the £22,000 p.a. inherited by his brother may have inspired him with envy. The evidence, however, suggests that Boyle had been preparing to abandon the Country interest for some time. Some curious meetings in the autumn of 1697 before Parliament reassembled, in which Boyle and his brother participated, together with Lord Rochester and the ministerialists Lord Coningsby (Thomas*) and Ranelagh (Richard Jones*), hint at an exploring of possibilities. When Parliament met, Boyle was at first as resolute an opponent of the Court as before. On 7 Dec. 1697 he seconded Robert Harley’s motion that the House go into committee to consider the King’s speech in general rather than only the supply in particular. But after the Christmas recess he appeared in support of the ministry on the controversial issue of the standing army, backing a Court party motion in the committee on the King’s speech on 8 Jan. for an instruction to the committee of supply to consider in their provision for the military establishment the amount required for ‘guards and garrisons’, which would have had the effect of increasing the size of forces agreed by a previous vote. Nothing would give more encouragement to the French to invade, he claimed, than to see England deprived of the means to defend itself. The Dutch agent, L’Hermitage, who reported this speech, noted that it was the first time Boyle had spoken openly in support of the ministry. Country propagandists had already got wind of his transmogrification, however. A particularly vicious lampoon, which has been dated to December 1697, referred to him as ‘our politician Boyle, that fawning arse-worm with his cringing smile’, and, anticipating events somewhat, declared that he had ‘grown an apostate’ for ‘sugar plums’. After a brief leave of absence granted on 22 Jan. 1698 to attend his grandfather’s funeral, Boyle made another significant intervention on the Court side on 16 Feb., coming to the defence of Charles Montagu when the grant to Montagu’s agent Thomas Railton was being attacked: Boyle spoke on Montagu’s behalf and told against a motion made during the debate that Montagu should withdraw while the subject was being discussed. Not all his speeches were politically sensitive, however. His last recorded contribution in this Parliament was on the land tax bill but on an administrative issue, as he responded to the solicitations of a determined loyalist to oppose a clause in the bill which would have obliged the commissioners to ‘pay as gentlemen’.11

The unfavourable publicity Boyle had suffered as a result of his turn towards the Court made it more important than ever that he should enjoy Somerset’s express support at Cambridge in the general election of 1698, where there were two other strong candidates, including the young Tory Anthony Hammond*. Somerset duly obliged, with a personal recommendation of Boyle, ‘my friend and relation’, and he was returned comfortably, heading the poll by a wide margin. In a comparative analysis of the old and new Houses of Commons he was classed as a Court supporter, and indeed there was talk in September that he ‘stood fair’ to succeed to a likely vacancy on the Treasury commission. Not everyone in the Country party was convinced, however, that he was utterly lost to them. The ever-diplomatic Robert Harley despatched a pre-sessional letter of customary cordiality, which assumed that he and Boyle would continue to vote on the same side in the forthcoming Parliament, and the compiler of a forecast of the probable opposition to a standing army optimistically included Boyle in his list. Boyle’s first experience of the political limelight in this Parliament came on 10 Jan. 1699, when he was elected to the chair of the committee of the whole on the state of the navy, a vehicle for the wide-ranging inquiries Harley and Paul Foley meant to launch into the administration of the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Orford (Edward Russell*). Boyle may have been chosen for the chair as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Country and Court, but he eventually showed his colours, telling on 27 Mar. against a Country amendment to the committee’s report, which would have urged a change in the personnel responsible for the management of naval affairs. In the meantime he had already made several interventions in debate in support of the ministerial position: on 18 Jan., against the disbanding bill, which he was then blacklisted for opposing; on 3 Feb., against John Grobham Howe’s proposed amendment to the address of thanks for the King’s speech giving his assent to the same bill, which would have denounced those criticizing the bill to the King; and on 16 Feb., in the committee of supply, on the naval estimates. He was also a teller on 6 Apr. on the Whig side against a motion to receive the committee report on the Corfe Castle election. Towards the end of the session, on 26 Apr., he told against the Court on a clause offered to the paper duty bill. This was a constituency matter, however, his fellow teller being the Oxonian Simon Harcourt I*, and shortly afterwards one university man was writing to another with tidings of ‘our clause’, which had allegedly been drawn up by Boyle and ‘solicited’ by Harcourt. In any case, Boyle was soon to receive his reward. Late in May the Prussian resident reported his appointment as a Treasury lord, remarking that he was still a young man but was none the less a person of merit and presently attached to the Court party. He was thus advanced to the front rank of Court spokesmen in the Commons, and with the handsome salary of £8,000 a year.12

Boyle was now a familiar figure at the pre-sessional gatherings of the Court Whig grandees. In August he joined Charles Montagu, the Duke of Shrewsbury and others at Boughton, possibly travelling on to Winchendon; then in September he visited Lord Chancellor Somers at Tunbridge Wells, before journeying on to pay his respects to Somerset at Petworth. Possibly it was this extensive high-political socializing that gave rise to reports at the time that he would be raised to the Irish peerage. He was certainly an asset to the ministry, both in his official capacity at the Treasury board, where Charles Montagu’s retirement resulted in the weight of business falling on Boyle’s shoulders, and in Parliament, where on 5 Dec. he was one of the principal Court spokesmen in a preconcerted move to oppose Country party attempts to censure the patent granted to Captain Kidd’s backers. Listed as having his own interest in the House in early 1700, he was again to the fore on 18 Jan., when he supported James Vernon’s amendment to the Irish forfeitures resumption bill, to reserve a third to the King’s own disposal, on 26 Jan. telling for the Court Whig James Sloane in the Thetford election dispute, and on 13 Feb., when he both spoke and told against an opposition motion to condemn the procurement of crown grants by ministers. He was also a teller on 18 Apr. against the motion for an address to request Somers’ dismissal. Not surprisingly perhaps, during the following summer he was once more being touted as a possible Irish lord justice.13

Ever alert to changes in the political wind, Boyle was quick to renew contacts with the incoming Tory ministry when it finally became clear that the King could no longer retain the Junto in office, and in July 1700 he dined with Henry Guy*, Robert Harley and Lord Keeper Wright, a gathering which may have been called with some ulterior motive. His position in 1701 as a Whig member of a preponderantly Tory administration was a delicate one, the more so after he was advanced to the chancellorship of the Exchequer in April 1701 to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of another Court Whig. In these circumstances he chose to pursue a course of loyalty to the interests of the King, while being ready to defend former ministerial colleagues when their conduct in office came under censure. On 12 Feb. 1701, in a debate on the Address, he joined the then chancellor of the Exchequer, John Smith I*, in urging a form of words which would pledge the Commons to assist in measures to maintain the peace of Europe. He had now been joined in the House by his cousin, Hon. Charles Boyle II, and their parliamentary activity is usually difficult to distinguish. As chancellor, on 2 May Boyle spoke and then told on the 5th against a ‘Country’ motion, in ways and means, for leave to appropriate £100,000 from the civil list for the payment of the public debts. On 9 May during the debate on helping the Dutch, Boyle reportedly said that ‘the fate of Europe was at stake, that we should resolve to maintain the balance of Europe and send the Dutch our men and ships according to the treaty’. During a further debate on ways and means, on 20 May, opposing a move to tack to a supply bill a clause preventing customs commissioners from sitting in the House, he ‘said the hard passage the last tack [of the Irish forfeitures resumption bill of 1700] had and the unwillingness the Lords showed to it should in these times of danger show [u]s the inconveniency of pressing it’, at which Sir John Bolles, 4th Bt.*, an outspoken Country Tory, ‘told Boyle he was altered by being a lord of the Treasury and chancellor of the Exchequer. Boyle said jestingly he thanked that gent[leman] for his advice’. He had earlier spoken against the place clause in the bill of settlement at its report stage on 10 May. His defence of the Junto ministers had probably begun on 28 Mar., when Boyle told against another motion to condemn the grant to Captain Kidd’s patentees. On 15 Apr., after the impeachments of Lord Somers and the three other Whig lords had been carried to the Upper House, the Tories moved for an address to the King to remove all four from his Council and presence for ever, to which Boyle answered that it ‘was regular nor precedented that, now they were impeached, which was no more than accused, to put [a] censure upon them, which would be part of the sentence if they were found guilty’. The motion passed, however, and on 13 May Boyle both spoke and told against a second address for a reply from the King to the House’s demand. Later, he made a strong speech in defence of Somers, when, on 16 May, the former chancellor’s impeachment was debated. On the question of Somers’ having accepted grants while in office, Boyle

said this was never reckoned a fault before and that the Lord Southampton . . . had great grants and it was never esteemed a fault in him and that, considering the great post this lord was in and taken from it and made a lord, he could not think but there ought to be some recompense made him from the public, and that what he had done both in passing of grants and in taking of grants to himself was always practised, as it did appear to him, and that honourable gent[leman], meaning Seymour [Sir Edward, 4th Bt.*] had done the same thing.

Finally, on 4 June, at the report of the committee nominated to inspect precedents for the proceedings between the two Houses on the impeachments, he thanked Speaker Harley (Robert) for his remark that the Commons had gone ‘out of the way’ in not requesting a conference, amplifying Harley’s observation and ending with a motion of his own ‘for a conference’.14

Although remaining on close terms with Robert Harley, Boyle was still classed with the Whigs in Harley’s list of the second Parliament of 1701. On 21 Feb. he moved to forestall a Tory plan to pursue the question of the Irish land settlement by proposing instead that the House receive the report from the chairman of ways and means. After William III’s death Boyle adapted quickly to the new political scene brought about by the change of monarch. The necessity of doing so was borne in upon him when the Tories turned him out of the chair of supply and ways and means, which he had briefly occupied in March 1702 in the temporary absence of the incumbent chairman, John Conyers*. On 9 Mar. he had defeated a Tory in an election to the vacant chair in ways and means, having himself been proposed and seconded by two Whigs and with ‘hardly a negative’ given against him. But two days later, in supply, the Tories opposed his continuance and successfully put up his quondam political comrade John Granville against him, who carried the vote on a division. Boyle, however, held the chair of the committee of the whole on the land tax bill, which would normally have gone with the chairmanship of supply and ways and means, on the procedural technicality that he had ‘had it before’. Then on the 13th, the House divided on whether Granville should take the chair of supply, and carried the question by 25 votes. Boyle’s response to this snub was a sharp volte-face. On 20 Mar., in a debate on the civil list bill, he followed Sir Edward Seymour in speaking to a motion, put forward by a Country Whig, ‘to provide that what we . . . had given might not be begged by lords and ladies’. Almost immediately afterwards, the committee on the land tax bill resumed. John Conyers had now returned to Parliament and took the chair again, though ‘some cried, “Boyle”’. It was observed at this time that in the work of procuring a supply the two most active Members on behalf of the Court were Granville and Boyle, and when, on 9 Apr, there was a contest for the chair of the committee of the whole on the bill appointing commissioners to treat for a union with Scotland, Boyle’s name was proposed by Granville and seconded by Simon Harcourt I. His rival was a Whig, Sir Rowland Gwynne*, and this time Boyle was successful, though only after an intervention in his favour by Speaker Harley. Besides his official duties in the House, communicating papers and accounts, and messages from the Queen, his other noteworthy parliamentary activity at this time shows him giving assistance to the Court: in April he assisted in the management of the bill to enable the crown to appoint commissioners for a union with Scotland; and on 2 May he spoke against a Country Tory motion for the removal of foreign officers from the army, and was named to the committee for an address thanking the Queen for her announcement of an intention to declare war.15

Boyle’s ability to adapt to the changing complexion of administrations in the political confusion of William’s last years, and indeed his willingness to do so, proves that he had become a thorough courtier. Through assiduously ‘paying court’, as he himself put it, he won the trust and respect of Queen Anne, and this despite his rakish proclivities. His fellow ministers, especially Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), found him an agreeable companion and more than useful as a man-of-business. To the satirists, on the other hand, he was now a perfect weathercock, renowned not just for his smooth manners and the pride he took in wearing his own hair, but for his ‘complying with every reign’. Throughout the Parliament, his official position ensured he was appointed to many drafting committees on supply measures. On 16 Jan. 1703 he moved that the malt tax bill be carried to the Upper House, while on 13 Feb. he divided against the High Tories in favour of agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for extending the time for taking the oath of abjuration. In the spring of 1704, in the wake of Lord Nottingham’s (Daniel Finch†) fall and the ministerial reconstruction which brought in more moderate men, he was offered a secretaryship of state but declined, allegedly because he felt that such an advancement would expose him to envy. The chancellorship of the Exchequer was, in any case, more lucrative, less onerous, and held under a more secure tenure. Another rumour circulated in the following summer that he would be given a barony, but this too came to nothing: presumably the gain the ministry would have enjoyed in the Lords would have been counter-balanced by the loss to their debating strength in the Commons; or perhaps Boyle himself preferred to remain a big fish in the Lower House. The new offices he did receive in 1704 – the Irish lord treasurership, the lord lieutenancy of the West Riding and the vice-admiralty of Yorkshire – were all held in trust for his nephew, Lord Burlington, who had succeeded to his father’s title while still a minor. In the 1704–5 session, Boyle was soon heavily involved in the ministry’s efforts to defeat the Tack. Forecast as likely to oppose it, he spoke ‘vehemently’ and ‘to admiration’ on 14 Nov. 1704 against the motion for leave to reintroduce an occasional conformity bill, assisted Robert Harley’s canvassing, and at the critical division on 28 Nov. spoke against the bill and was listed as either voting against or absent. In the debate he ‘asked, whether any wise man among them would venture his whole estate upon a vote; and, answering himself in the negative, “then”, added he, “shall we venture the safety of all England, nay of all Europe, upon this vote?”’. We also have a glimpse of his behind-the-scenes activity on another issue at about this time. Hearing that there were plans afoot to raise in the Commons the case of Ashby v. White (see AYLESBURY, Bucks.), he consulted the lord treasurer and convened a meeting of Court managers to discuss how best to put it off. Later, when the matter was brought up in the House, he was named to the committee (on 28 Feb. 1705) to confer with the Lords. He was also first-named to the committee to convey the thanks of the Commons to the Duke of Marlborough for his victory at Blenheim (14 Dec. 1704) and was entrusted with the chair of the committee on the bill to enable the Queen to make Marlborough a grant of the manor of Woodstock, thereby earning the gratitude and goodwill of the second of the ‘duumvirs’. When the question of providing some reward for the Duke had first come before the House, in January 1705, Boyle had moved to proceed by way of an address to the Queen that she should propose the means and that Parliament should provide legislative endorsement of her wishes. In lists published after the dissolution he was, not surprisingly, stigmatized as a placeman, one compiler harking back to his Country party past in devising for him the peculiar (and essentially misleading) distinction of ‘High Church courtier’.16

Having incurred the wrath of High Churchmen by his trenchant opposition to the Tack, Boyle wisely decided to forgo a contest for re-election in such an Anglican stronghold as Cambridge, and instead put up at Westminster, where royal officials traditionally enjoyed an interest. His success there was calculated by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) as a ‘gain’ for the Whigs, but it was essentially the Court rather than the Junto that benefited from his return. He was the host at a pre-sessional meeting of Court supporters organized by his old friend Robert Harley to settle on a candidate for the Chair, and duly voted as the ministry wished in the division on the Speakership, 25 Oct. 1705, in favour of John Smith I. His speech in favour of the Whig candidate in the Amersham election dispute earned praise from Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu), but here again he was in essence deferring to Godolphin’s directions. On 12 Nov. one contemporary reported that Boyle ‘would lose his credit’ with the Whigs if they were to know the extent of his services to the Court. His other interventions in debate, as recorded in Grey Neville’s* notes, were all in support of a ministerial rather than a partisan position. On 4 Dec. he opposed ‘in plain terms’ the Tory motion to invite over the Hanoverian heir to the throne, while tactfully conceding that the Elector was ‘a gr[eat] prince’. In the proceedings over the Court’s legislative riposte, the regency bill, he was particularly prominent. At the second reading on 19 Dec. 1705 he supported the commitment of the bill, in order that ‘the succ[ession] may take place w[i]thout struggle’, and when Charles Caesar* delivered himself of some innuendoes concerning Godolphin’s loyalty to the Revolution settlement, Boyle was to the fore in pressing for action against such an abuse of parliamentary privilege. He also spoke three times in favour of the bill in committee, on various technical questions concerning the composition of the commission of regency and other arrangements to be followed after the Queen’s death. Boyle was also closely involved in the struggle over the so-called ‘whimsical clause’ inserted by Country Whigs into the regency bill, to safeguard and amend the place provision of the Act of Settlement. He was consulted by Godolphin about the negotiations with leading proponents of the measure, was a teller on 15 Feb. for postponing consideration of the Lords’ amendment, and was listed as having supported the Court in the proceedings on the clause on 18 Feb. 1706. Local rather than high-political considerations were also to the fore in January–February, Boyle managing a bill to settle the impropriate tithes of St. Bride’s parish, London, through the House. From this session onwards has been dated Boyle’s close involvement in the day-to-day management of Commons’ business on behalf of the Godolphin ministry, with the leading echelon of ‘Queen’s servants’ meeting regularly at his house in Pall Mall. His activity in the 1706–7 session was typical of this period. Having been a commissioner to negotiate the Anglo-Scottish Union, he was named on 11 Feb. 1707 to the committee to prepare the bill of union and told on 28 Feb. that the bill should pass. On 18 Mar. he again acted as a temporary replacement for an absent chairman of ways and means. The picture drawn of him in Macky’s Memoirs may well apply to his person and character at this stage in his fortunes. Physically he was ‘of middle stature, inclining to fat, dark complexion’; in behaviour

a good companion in conversation, agreeable among the ladies, serves the Queen very assiduously in Council, makes a considerable figure in the House of Commons, by his prudent administration obliged everybody in the Exchequer, and in time may prove a great man.17

The crisis of the Godolphin–Marlborough ministry in the winter of 1707–8 was to provide Boyle with his opportunity to attain ‘greatness’, as he emerged as one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the group known as ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’: self-consciously moderate men, attached to the Court, who placed loyalty to Lord Godolphin, and beyond Godolphin loyalty to the Queen, above their obligations to party and to the Junto lords in particular. The allegiance of these ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’ was a crucial factor in Godolphin and Harley’s efforts to reconstruct the ministry around a Court-centred coalition of moderate Tories and moderate Whigs, in order to resist the Junto’s escalating demands for high office. Pledges of their co-operation, originally secured at a pre-sessional meeting in October, were confirmed at subsequent conferences, and when Parliament opened Boyle was chosen chairman of the committee on the Address. He was especially busy this session in his official capacity, submitting papers to the House and replying to addresses on the Queen’s behalf. He also spoke frequently on behalf of the ministry, beginning, so far as the evidence indicates, with an ‘extremely earnest’ plea on 6 Dec. 1707 in favour of the continuance of the Scottish Privy Council, and following this five days later with a speech on the heritable jurisdictions in Scotland. At the same time his appointment on 22 Dec. to the drafting committee on the bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections may have been intended to reaffirm his commitment to Country principles and thus reassure, and even help to win over, some of the Country Whigs, whose leaders had realigned themselves with the Junto in this session in order to put more pressure on the Court. One ‘old Whig’ was certainly convinced that Boyle was ‘staunch’, and remembered that he had been ‘against the Court in K[ing] W[illia]m’s time’. But his most important role was as a ministerial manager and spokesman, hosting the meetings at which tactics were discussed, as in January 1708 prior to the vital debate on ‘the estimates for Spain’, and then taking the lead in the Commons. On that particular occasion, in fact, he came to the rescue of the ministry from the embarrassment in which it had been landed by ill-considered remarks from Henry St. John II*, with an effective speech of his own, proposing ‘that it should be first agreed what number of men were necessary, and then proceed to consider how they should be raised in the most easy and agreeable methods’. The issue was then transformed by the revelation that far fewer troops had been present in Spain at the battle of Almanza than had previously been agreed upon and provided for by Parliament, and Boyle once more laboured hard on the Court side to explain away the discrepancy. The debate on the scandal of the ‘Spanish troops’ may have been the occasion for Godolphin’s break with Robert Harley, who had evidently been about some ‘scheme’ of his own, probably with the intention of replacing the Treasurer. Boyle’s part in these obscure manoeuvres is no clearer than anyone else’s: he had certainly been approached by Harley, who was of course an old friend, but when Harley fell he moved unhesitatingly into the vacancy as secretary of state. James Vernon commented: ‘I am glad to think that Mr Boyle’s changing his place did not arise from his own seeking, but in compliance with his friends, who judged very rightly that nobody else would have been so near acceptable.’ Indeed, Boyle’s popularity made his part in the reshuffle a smooth one. The staff in the secretary’s office were assured that ‘he is a very friendly gentleman, and you will be easy under him’, and there was no opposition to his necessary re-election at Westminster. Speaker Onslow’s retrospective assessment of his character is a good indication of the value placed on the appointment at the time. Noting that Boyle was ‘in a particular confidence with the Lord Treasurer’, Onslow went on:

He was now at least very firm and acceptable to the Whigs, but without any party violence, and never engaged in mean things. He conducted the business of the government in the House of Commons with great dignity and wisdom, and was treated there and everywhere else with much personal respect and distinction.

Boyle himself was certainly intent on making the most of his opportunity. He threw himself into his work as secretary, hardly giving himself leisure to eat, and in the Commons seemed to take his place immediately at the head of the Court interest. On 24 Feb., in a debate on war strategy in the Peninsula, he opposed the views of Whig army officers like James Stanhope* and Thomas Erle*, that it would be better to transfer German forces from Italy rather than to send more troops from England, and indeed dissuaded the House from any motion on the subject, ‘pressing the danger of such a question, that pointed only to confirm the former opinion of our troops not exceeding 8,600 men in Spain, which appeared not to be true in fact’. But it was an uphill struggle. The ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’, upon whom the entire burden of conducting government business now fell, were barely a match for the combined artillery of Junto Whigs, Country Whigs and Tories. Boyle therefore took steps to buttress his position. His first act as secretary of state was to appoint Horatio Walpole II* as his under-secretary, in the hope of cementing his friendship with Walpole’s brother Robert (II*), the ablest of the other ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’. He also put out feelers in the direction of the Country Whigs, some of whom were invited to a meeting at Boyle’s house on 29 Mar., where a method was agreed upon of raising in the Commons the sensitive question of army recruitment. Their temporary backing may have extended to the debate on 1 Apr., when Boyle and his colleagues pressed a motion to thank Prince George as lord high admiral for his care in fitting out the fleet that had defeated the design of the attempted invasion. Towards the end of the session, the Whig Arthur Mainwaring made this assessment of Boyle

he is of a temper to do what the ministers would have him . . . and his genius seems rather filled for patchwork than for a great design, though he has a good understanding and is I believe very honest both in the private affairs of his office and in what relates to the public.18

Re-elected for Westminster in 1708, Boyle was twice listed as a Whig in that year. According to Boyle’s friend and fellow ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whig’, Lord Coningsby, the ‘middle scheme’, to preserve some freedom of manoeuvre for Godolphin by managing the Commons through a Court Whig vanguard largely independent of the Junto lords, was maintained until relatively late in 1709, although as Whig penetration of the ministry progressively deepened it became more difficult to distinguish a separate Court group on the Whig side. Boyle, ambitious and consumed by ‘hatred to the Junto’, was the key figure in this scheme. He it was who convened meetings of the Queen’s servants to concert tactics, and who consistently led for the Court in debate. At the opening of the 1708 Parliament, rather than proceeding according to order by establishing the various grand committees, Boyle proposed that the House should first read the Queen’s Speech, in view of the importance of demonstrating to the Allies the willingness of Parliament to keep up provision for the war. A member of the drafting committee set up on 29 Jan. 1709 to produce a bill for improving the Union, he himself introduced early in the next month a measure to protect the privileges enjoyed by foreign ministers and diplomats resident in Great Britain. Also in February, following a Commons’ address, he laid before the House ‘a state of the whole matter of the designed invasion’ of the previous year. When, on 2 Mar., an address was sent down from the Lords to state the minimum conditions for any peace treaty with France, Boyle successfully moved an amendment to insist on the demolition of the fortifications and harbour of Dunkirk, observing that

the British nation having been at a vast expense of blood and treasure for the prosecution of this unnecessary war, it was but just they should reap some benefit by the peace; and the town of Dunkirk being a nest of pirates, that infested the ocean, and did infinite mischief to trade.

In common with Whigs of every hue, he supported the bill to naturalize the Palatines, and he had two tellerships for the Court: on 23 Feb. in favour of retaining the original wording of a proposed address calling for an account of secret service expenditure, and on 26 Feb. for an amendment to a motion for another address requesting an account of arrears in the receipt of taxes. He also spoke for the Court during the debate of 15 Apr. on the bill for improving the Union (the treasons bill). But his most interesting intervention had occurred on 8 Mar. when some muck-raking Whigs, in pursuit of scandal concerning Robert Harley, were pressing for the House to examine the papers of William Greg. In reply Boyle ‘said, there was nothing in them, and he was of opinion that the House should not be troubled’. This may have been more than a duty paid to old friendship. Far from dropping Harley when the former secretary’s bid for power failed in February 1708, Boyle had remained on good terms with him and had cultivated the restoration of something approaching their previous intimacy, doubtless with an eye to expanding the base of his own support in the Commons. During the winter and spring of 1709–10 the strategic imperatives changed, but the desirability of Harley’s friendship became in some respects even greater, and Boyle took continued pains to keep it, even though his principal hopes still lay elsewhere.19

The reappointment to the Admiralty of Lord Orford in November 1709 effectively marked Godolphin’s capitulation to the Junto, and the end of Boyle’s leadership of the Court Whigs. Though highly resentful, he did not withdraw from Court or Commons. Instead he swallowed his pride and agreed to co-operate with the Junto Whigs in Parliament, albeit without throwing himself quite as wholeheartedly into business as he had before. He was distinguished by being first-named to the committee of 14 Dec. 1709 to draw up the articles of impeachment against Dr Sacheverell, and in due course was named a manager for the impeachment, a subject on which Arthur Maynwaring* reported that he expressed himself ‘with another sort of warmth than ever I heard him’. In the final debate on the articles, on 11 Jan. 1710, he spoke in general terms about ‘Revolution principles’ while avoiding points of detail, and at the impeachment itself was briefed to speak to the fourth article. Here again he spoke in generalities, and for once ineffectually, prompting some comments to the effect that he seemed to ‘expect a change of affairs’. As the political crisis of 1710 unfolded step by step, Boyle was naturally the focus of speculation and the likelihood of his abandoning the ministry was widely discussed at every stage. Certainly Harley, who had transformed himself from wooed to wooer, did his best throughout 1710 to secure Boyle’s goodwill, and at some points, notably in August, may have come close to winning him over. There was talk, too, of a scheme involving Lord Rochester in which Boyle may briefly have been involved. But despite an occasional slackening of his resolve, his conduct seems to have been remarkably consistent, and to have been governed by what was now a very close relationship with Godolphin, so much so that Maynwaring and other members of the Duchess of Marlborough’s circle tended to judge Godolphin’s intentions by Boyle’s actions. Thus in January 1710, in the dispute over the appointment of Mrs Masham’s brother to a colonelcy, Boyle’s advice was sought by Godolphin, and the two joined in dissuading Marlborough from demanding Mrs Masham’s dismissal, Boyle, it was said, out of fear that ‘the remedy’ would ‘prove worse than the disease’. Such pusillanimity, as it appeared to the Duke and his Duchess, required all Godolphin’s eloquence to excuse. He told Sarah he had ‘never found’ Boyle ‘in a lie’ and credited him with convincing the Queen of the necessity of ‘satisfying’ Marlborough, adding, in his accompanying letter to Marlborough, ‘I am very glad anybody else has influence to do him [Boyle] justice, and I should be yet gladder if the same people who are always ready to give jealousies and suspicions, may have a little less influence for the future upon his account’. On 15 Feb., however, Boyle refrained from contributing to the debate on the motion to address for Marlborough to be sent to the peace negotiations in Holland, though he was subsequently named at the head of the committee to draw up the address. In June and July Harley’s political courtship intensified. Significantly, he seems to have promised Boyle and John Smith I, who were acting together in these negotiations, that Godolphin would be retained in any reconstructed administration in which they would have a part. Harley’s principal concern, despite these professions, was to keep in place moderate Whigs like Boyle once Godolphin had been dispensed with, and towards the end of August it appeared as if he would succeed in driving a wedge between the lord treasurer and the ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’. Arthur Maynwaring reported in disgust to the Duchess of Marlborough that

[Boyle], whom you are advised twice a day to admire, after having promised Mr [Edmund] Dunch* to dine with him yesterday, sent him word that it was a post day, and business pressed; and it is since come out that he dined with [Somerset], with L[or]d Dartmouth, and a great deal of such choice company; now I know a hundred of these accounts could make no impression, but [Lord Godolphin] and his confidants will always be in the right; but it will be hard to persuade anybody but [Godolphin] that [Boyle] is not the poorest wretch upon earth, to sneak to [Somerset], whom he always despised, and would never eat with, while [Godolphin] and [Marlborough] had power, and who dares not now come into Parliament, though he knows he shall be turned out of his place, lest any vote there should hinder his coming again to an employment, upon the first difficulty at court. But [Godolphin] will tell you, when you see him, that this is wise and right.

In fact, as Maynwaring hinted, Boyle had no intention of staying on in office, at least in the short term; his career was as yet bound to Godolphin’s. Nor, on the other hand, was he willing to join other Whigs in fighting against the new ministry. In private, he and his friends were still as violent against the Junto as ever, but, along with Coningsby and Smith (to whose country home in Hampshire he retired at this crucial juncture), he had determined on a temporary withdrawal from politics, and had announced that he would not stand at any new election. In this decision he was proof against remonstrations from Marlborough and other Whigs. Some historians have viewed his refusal to put up for re-election as making a virtue of necessity: as one of the managers of Sacheverell’s impeachment, he could have expected a rough ride wherever he was candidate. Maynwaring’s explanation should not be discounted, that Boyle’s self-abnegation was a Machiavellian ploy to leave him free to take up office again in the future, without being compromised by any action he would have been obliged to take in the new Parliament to vindicate his ministerial record. But it is equally possible that, in common with other ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’, Boyle was simply tired of politics: that he had disobliged too many of the influential in both parties, and left himself too few real friends, to be a credible figure, however highly respected he might be among those who merely observed the working of government and Parliament, and who, like Swift, were shocked at his eventual dismissal. But as the Queen herself observed, who had been most reluctant to part with him, his departure from administration on 20 Sept. 1710 was ‘his own doing’.20

Boyle’s correspondence in retirement affected to extol the pleasures of country life, and the charms of his new house, but he could not resist the temptations of the town for long, and he returned to London early in 1712 to play his part in the lionizing of Prince Eugene, at which time he confessed to Coningsby, ‘I am retired from business, but not from the comforts and pleasures of this place’. He was also given to protestations of his innocence of any connexions or interests at court. Nevertheless, gossip continued to predict his imminent return to high office. That his reputation had not diminished was clear from Richard Steele’s* decision to dedicate to him the third number of the Spectator, published in November 1712. So ‘proper a patron’ for the periodical, Steele wrote, would be hard to find, for in Boyle ‘extraordinary talents’ were embellished by ‘that elegance and politeness, which appear in your private conversation’; ‘that moderation in an high fortune, and that affability of manners, which are so conspicuous through all parts of your life’. But despite Boyle’s abilities, not the least of which was to avoid making lasting enemies, there was no appropriate moment for Harley to give him an opportunity to return to office. He refused to stand at the 1713 general election, and shrewdly declined an offer to rejoin the Treasury commission after Harley’s dismissal in July 1714, though the fact that Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II) and other High Tories were prepared to countenance his appointment speaks loudly of his general acceptability.21

With the death of Queen Anne Boyle seems to have felt the time right to reappear at centre-stage. He signed the proclamation of King George I, and in the first months of the new reign his name was frequently mentioned in connexion with such posts as secretary of state and first lord of the Treasury. In the end, he received only a coronation peerage in recognition of past services. One view was that he had declined office, ‘perceiving that there would be a great fermentation in Parliament, on account of the maladministration at the latter end of Queen Anne’s reign’, and not himself being ‘of a temper to act in troublesome times’. But the evidence seems to point only to an initial refusal to serve in the Treasury: subsequently he may well have involved himself in the factional struggles within the Whig party and on this account have expected the secretaryship. A later report was that he had ‘gone into the country dissatisfied’. It would seem that he then began to forge a closer alliance with Hanoverian Tories like Caernarvon (Hon. James Brydges*) and Nottingham. Having at first sided with Townshend and Walpole during the Whig Schism, he involved himself in cabals with various Tories during the political crisis of 1720–1 and eventually returned to government in 1721, in the office of lord president, very much as an adherent of Lord Sunderland. So closely was he associated with Sunderland, in fact, that on the latter’s death Boyle for once found himself almost isolated politically, ‘Whigs’ regarding him as an unwelcome colleague. That he was still the Boyle of old is indicated both by the promises that had to be made to him at different stages in these negotiations that he would have no difficulties to bear in his appointment, and by his eventual success in overcoming the resentments of disgruntled colleagues and settling down as a member of the Townshend–Walpole administration.22

Boyle died in office on 14 Mar. 1725, at Carleton House, and was buried in the family vault at Londesborough. His will revealed an estate approaching in size that of his grandfather, with landed property and substantial houses in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and at Petersham in Surrey, and a personalty of well over £27,000, parcelled out among nieces and nephews in various aristocratic families. This wealth was largely the product of many years’ profits of office, supplemented by investment in landed property. Though willing to do his duty as a member of the ministry and subscribe handsomely in 1706 to the loan to the Emperor, he seems to have eschewed any dabbling in funds or stocks. Those, like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who dealt in the tittle-tattle of the town, seized upon the fact that he had made the Duke of Queensberry his principal heir to resurrect the story that Queensberry’s wife was Boyle’s natural daughter by Lady Clarendon (the former Lady Hyde). ‘He disposed of his estate as he did of his time’, wrote Lady Mary,

between Lady Clarendon and the Duchess of Queensberry. Jewels to a great value he has given, as he did his affections, first to the mother and then to the daughter. He was taken ill in my company at a consort at the [Duchess] of Marlborough’s, and died two days after, holding the fair Duchess by the hand, and being fed at the same time with a fine fat chicken, thus dying, as he had lived, indulging his pleasures.

Irrespective of the truth of the Duchess of Queensberry’s paternity, Lady Mary’s malice did highlight the most important weakness in Boyle’s character. Swift called it ‘avarice’; Speaker Onslow, a trifle less bluntly, termed Boyle’s private life ‘too luxurious’. While no one could criticize him for indolence, his preference for comfort often made him reluctant to fight where the battle was hottest, and after his brief heyday at the head of the Court party in the Commons in 1708–9 he was happy to take a supporting role when he could find one, provided that it was sufficiently lucrative. Without this flaw, he would surely have achieved the ‘greatness’ once predicted for him. Speaker Onslow again:

He had good natural abilities, with a very sound judgment; wary and modest in all his actions, even to a diffidence of himself, that was often improper and hurtful to him. But on occasions which he thought required it, he showed no want either of spirit or steadiness, which the justice and honour of his nature and the decorum of his manner in everything, gave him a consideration and a weight in the opinion of those who knew his character far beyond what any other public person has acquired in our times. I have often thought him a . . . pattern for those who would govern this country well.23

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Lismore pprs. box 28, Countess of Cork’s jnl. (ex. inf. Dr T. C. Barnard).
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 237; xvi. 190; Lodge, Peerage of Ire. (1754), i. 99; Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae ed. Lascelles, ii. 42; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 222; A. B. Beaven’s list of Irish PCs, Hist. of Parl.
  • 3. A. Savidge, Q. Anne’s Bounty, 123–5; Rec. Old Westminsters, i. 113.
  • 4. E. Budgell, Mems. of Earl of Orrery and Boyle Fam. (1732), pp. 149, 154; Burnet, v. 355–6; Macky Mems. 126; info. from Dr Barnard.
  • 5. Clarendon Corresp. ed. Singer, ii. 167, 169–70; HMC 7th Rep. 418; Orig. Letters ed. Ellis (ser. 2), iv. 164; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, ff. 136, 148, 150; Lancs. RO, Kenyon mss DDKe/9/72/19, Ld. Derby to Roger Kenyon, [1690]; Nat. Lib. Ire. Lismore mss 13226, Burlington to William Congreve, 9, 16, 23, 17 Aug., 1 Sept., 18 Oct., 17 Nov. 1692 (ex. inf. Dr Barnard); NLS, ms 7014, f. 167, John Hayes* to Lord Tweeddale, 15 Oct. 1692; J. Gascoigne, Camb. in Age of Enlightenment, 90, 95; Add. 28931, f. 62; Trinity Coll. Camb. Adm. 1546–1700, p. 583; Diary of Samuel Newton (Camb. Antiq. Soc. Pubs. xxiii), 106.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 290, 418, 421, 439, 442, 450; Add. 57861, f. 20; HMC Portland, iii. 542–3.
  • 7. HMC Portland, iii. 542; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 785, 804; Add. 17677 OO, f. 168.
  • 8. Add. 70212, Boyle to [Robert Harley], ‘Wednesday’; D. Rubini, Court and Country, 125; Cobbett, v. 909, 914; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 462.
  • 9. HMC Portland, iii. 571–2; Gascoigne, 90, 95; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 159; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 310; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 33, [?(Sir) Gilbert Dolben*] to Sir William Trumbull*, n.d. [1696].
  • 10. HMC Portland, iii. 578–9; J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 285; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 42, 48–49, 53, 63, 66, 112; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/17, 24, James Vernon to Shrewsbury, 6, 19 Nov. 1696; Cobbett, v. 1003–4, 1088–91; Add. 70306–9, list of votes for commn. of accts. [Feb. 1697]; Horwitz, 191; Nat. Archs. Ire. Wyche mss 1/143, A. Lucas to Sir Cyril Wyche*, 22 Apr. 1697; Luttrell, iv. 212; Trinity, Dublin, King letterbks. 750/1, pp. 138–40, Bp. King to Ld. Clifford (Hon. Charles Boyle I), 4 Dec. 1697.
  • 11. Horwitz, 226, 229, 258; Luttrell, iv. 333; CSP Dom. 1697, p. 502; 1698, pp. 36, 96; Add. 70235, Sir Edward Harley* to Robert Harley, 4 Sept. 1697; 17677 SS, f. 114; Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/156, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 23 Oct. 1697; Cam. Misc. xxix. 360; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vi. 24, 716; HMC Le Fleming, 351.
  • 12. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Robert Harley to Boyle, 16 Nov. 1698; Devonshire mss, Finch-Halifax pprs. Anthony Hammond to Sir John Banks, 1st Bt.*, 29 Mar. 1698; C. H. Cooper, Annals Camb. iv. 40; Camb. Univ. Lib. ms 3, f. 13; Luttrell, iv. 431; Cam. Misc. xxix. 379, 386, 395; Horwitz, 252; Bodl. Tanner 21, f. 10; Bodl. Ballard 4, f. 36; Add. 30000 C, f. 115.
  • 13. Kenyon, 312; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA1499, Vernon to Portland, 11 Aug. 1699; Luttrell, iv. 555, 560, 562, 661; Add. 30000 C, f. 240; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 373, 375, 412, 431; Horwitz, 261–2; S. B. Baxter, Wm. III, 376.
  • 14. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 110; Add. 17677 WW, ff. 202, 206; 30000 E, f. 165; Horwitz, 282, 284; Cocks Diary, 94, 118, 125–6, 130–1, 161.
  • 15. Add. 70272, ‘Large Acct. Revolution and Succession’, pp. 16–17; 17677 XX, f. 253; Cocks Diary, 221, 241, 244, 253, 265, 279; CJ, xiii. 785–6, 794; Luttrell, v. 152, 161; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 19.
  • 16. Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 312; Add. 61459, f. 93; 47025, f. 58; 17677 AAA, f. 62; Poems on Affairs of State, 523–4; Norris Pprs. (Chetham Soc. ix), 123; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletters 29 Mar., 3 June 1704; HMC Downshire, i. 829; DZA, Bonet despatch 28 Apr./9 May 1704; Procs. . . . upon Bill to Prevent Occasional Conformity (1710), pp. 56, 59; Bull. IHR, xli. 179; xxxiv. 93, 95–96; Speck thesis, 124.
  • 17. Gascoigne, 96; Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 72; Bull IHR, xlv. 47; HMC Portland, iv. 154–5; Univ. Kansas Kenneth Spencer Research Lib. Methuen–Simpson corresp. MS. C163, [?John Methuen] to Sir William Simpson, 12 Nov. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 42, 45, 49, 51, 53–54, 61, 70, 75; Add. 70284–5, Godolphin to Robert Harley, ‘Friday morning’, ‘Friday at 12’; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 365; Bath mss, Portland misc. pprs. Godolphin to Harley, ‘Tuesday, 10 at night’, 27 Oct.; Cobbett, vi. 550; Macky Mems. 126.
  • 18. Archaeologia, xxxviii. 8; Huntington Lib. Q. xv. 38; B. W. Hill, Growth of Parlty. Parties 1689–1742, pp. 105, 113; Add. 70338, memo. by Godolphin, 26 Oct. 1707; 70284–5, Godolphin to Harley, n.d.; 4291, f. 143; NLW, Plas-yn-Cefn mss 2740, Edmund Gibson to [?Bp. of Hereford], 6 Dec. 1707; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 291, 310, 347–8, 350, 354, 355; Norris Pprs. 167; Speck thesis, 202–3, 219, 220–1, 224–5; EHR, lxxx. 683–4, 686; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/17 Feb. 1708; Burnet, v. 355–6; HMC Portland, iv. 481; Cobbett, vi. 734; Marlborough– Godolphin Corresp. 943; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 331; Add. 61459, f. 40.
  • 19. Add. 57862, ff. 52–57; 17677 CCC. f. 646; 17677 DDD, ff. 65–66, 151; 70212, Boyle to Harley, 23 May, 3 Dec. 1709; Holmes, 365; Cobbett, vi. 774; Chandler, iv. 123; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 316–17; HMC Portland, iv. 510, 521.
  • 20. Add. 57862, ff. 52–58; 61460, ff. 103, 166; 61461, ff. 80–81; 17677 DDD, f. 530; 61118, f. 122; 61608, f. 48; Holmes, 112, 224–5; Add. 70212, Boyle to Harley, 9 July, 10 Aug. 1710; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 101, 149, 253; Boyer, viii. 226, 264; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn mss, ‘Acct. of Trial of Dr Sacheverell’ (1 Mar. 1710); Impartial View of Two Late Parls. (1711), p. 190; E. Gregg, Q. Anne, 304, 321, 323; B. W. Hill, Robert Harley, 129; Feiling, 419; Wentworth Pprs. 123; Archaeologia, xxxviii. 10, 15–17; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1416, 1417, 1509–10, 1541, 1625, 1627; Devonshire mss, Harley to Boyle, 11 Aug. 1710; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 342, 391, 396; HMC Portland, v. 650; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(5), p. 127; 57(4), p. 161; Walpole mss at Wolterton Hall, Marlborough to Robert Walpole II, 15 Sept. 1710; Coxe, Walpole, ii. 35; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/55/7, Boyle to Coningsby, 13 Oct. 1710; Cobbett, vi. 911; Swift Stella ed. Davis, i. 24, 174; HMC Townshend, 76; Sir David Hamilton Diary ed. Roberts, 17.
  • 21. De Ros mss D638/55/8, 10, 12, Boyle to Coningsby, 5 Jan. 1711[-12], 26 May 1711, 22 Apr. 1712; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 100 171; vii. 626; Anne Annals, x. 337; Hill, Growth of Parlty. Parties, 133; Add. 61461, f. 133; HMC Var. viii. 251; Steele Corresp. 463–4; Devonshire mss, Harley to Boyle, 11 Dec. 1713; Huntington Lib. HM44710, Kreienberg to Robethon, 28 Aug. 1713; Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) coll. 2004/1499, Ld. Mountjoy to Abp. King, 27 July 1714; G. M. Trevelyan, Eng. under Q. Anne, iii. 308–9.
  • 22. Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 117; Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. ii. 638; Wentworth Pprs. 420, 427; Coxe, ii. 48; HMC Stuart, ii. 345; HMC Townshend, 106; L. Colley, In Defiance of Oligarchy, 188, 191, 199; Hill, Growth of Parlty. Parties, 183; Lady Cowper, Diary, 144; HMC Portland, v. 597, 614, 615, 622; HMC Carlisle, 31, 38.
  • 23. The Gen. n.s. vi. 208; PCC 60 Romney; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 127; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters ed. Halsband, ii. 48; iii. 48; Hearne Colls. viii. 17; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 174; Burnet, 355–6.