BURGH, John (1673-1740), of Troy House, Mitchel Troy, Mon.
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Family and Education
b. 1673, 4th s. of Ulysses Burgh, DD, of Dromkeen, co. Limerick, bp. of Ardagh, by Mary, da. of Col. William Kingsmill, MP [I], of Ballybeg Abbey, co. Cork. m. Lydia (d. 1718), da. of Henry Clark of Mousley, Surr., 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da.1
Lt. of ft. Thomas Brudenell’s regt. half-pay 1698.2
It is almost certain that this Member was the same John Burgh who became steward to two dukes of Beaufort and who had been born into the Burgh family of Dromkeen, co. Limerick, of Anglo-Norman descent. His grandfather, Richard Bourke, had converted from Catholicism and, on taking orders in the Anglican church, changed his name to Burgh. His father Ulysses Burgh, also an Anglican clergyman, had deserted James II for the Williamite cause, an apostasy which had led to the loyalist sacking of his property at Dromkeen. For these personal sufferings he was rewarded with a minor Irish bishopric in 1692, but died the same year shortly after his consecration. John Burgh saw military service during the 1690s as a lieutenant in Colonel Thomas Brudenell’s foot regiment and was placed on the establishment of half-pay officers in this rank in 1698. In later life he was often referred to as ‘Captain’ Burgh, though this was probably his militia rank. He entered the service of the 2nd Duke of Beaufort as the Duke’s chief steward, in 1703. It would seem very likely that he came to the young Duke’s notice through the recommendation of the Duke of Ormond, the Duke’s brother-in-law, possibly through the offices of Burgh’s elder brothers, William and Thomas, either of whom, through their positions in the Irish administration, might have interceded with Ormond on his behalf. In the latter respect it is at least noteworthy that the timing of Burgh’s appointment to Beaufort’s service dovetails with Ormond’s as lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1703. In common with his predecessors, Burgh resided at and administered the Beaufort estates from Troy House in Monmouthshire. In 1708 he became involved with the Treasury in sorting out the badly disordered finances of Michael Wicks, Member for Malmesbury in the 1698 Parliament. Wicks thought of Burgh as his ‘nephew’, though there was no familial connexion between them: Burgh’s eldest brother Richard had married Wicks’s ward, Elizabeth Griffin, in 1690. Wicks died in 1708 in a state of chronic indebtedness to the crown, incurred in his capacity as receiver of customs duties for the plantations, and in his will appointed Burgh his executor. This responsibility involved him over several years in the onerous task of straightening the financial chaos Wicks had left behind and in negotiating a settlement with the Treasury. In 1712 he had to petition the Commons, of which by this time he himself was a Member, to revive legislation secured by Wicks in 1705, enabling him to compound with the Treasury. A settlement was eventually agreed in 1714.3
In 1710 Burgh stood for Brackley with the support of Tory interests, although there is no indication that he ever held property in or near the borough, or indeed anywhere else in Northamptonshire. His entrée into the constituency seems to have come through Henry Watkins*, who since 1699 had served in several civilian capacities within the military administration and was shortly to become Ormond’s private secretary, and whose brother, an Oxford don, had access to Magdalen College’s extensive interest in and around Brackley. Though Watkins himself was later to sit for the constituency with Burgh, he did not do so in 1710. Burgh’s own candidature in that year embroiled him in the bitter quarrels then subsisting between the Whig and Tory factions within the town corporation. Though narrowly defeated, he gained the seat in January 1711 after his petition, alleging partiality by the Whig mayor, had been considered by the elections committee. He was duly classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the 1710 Parliament, featured as a ‘worthy patriot’ who in the 1710–11 session helped to detect the mismanagements of the old ministry, and at about the same time was noted as a member of the October Club. When on 10 May 1711 the House considered the committee report on a supply bill levying an impost on hops, he told against provision for a lower duty on damaged hops. He told again on 13 May 1712 during the report stage of another supply bill, opposed to an allowance of drawback to Scottish university presses on the duties on paper used in the printing of learned works. On 18 June 1713 he voted for the French commerce bill. At the 1713 election he stood again for Brackley, this time joined by Watkins. Upon being defeated they both petitioned, taking advantage of the continuing strife within the corporate body which now played upon the question of the borough’s franchise. A decision against them in the elections committee was later reversed in the Commons. Burgh’s only recorded act in the new Parliament was to tell on 22 June 1714 for the Court majority in favour of an additional duty on soap.4
Burgh appears to have made no move to stand again at Brackley in 1715. This was probably due to the increase in his responsibilities on the Beaufort estates with the early death of the profligate 2nd Duke in May 1714 and the succession of his infant son. The control Burgh was able to exercise over the Beaufort demesne during the 3rd Duke’s minority resulted in an enhancement of his personal influence and prestige both in Monmouthshire and in neighbouring parts of Gloucestershire. His purchases of several manors and leaseholds date from this period. His local prominence was indicated by his inclusion with a number of other Gloucestershire figures in a list of putative supporters sent to the Pretender in 1721. However, he had never been a member of the 2nd Duke’s ‘Board of Brothers’. In 1720, when a by-election became necessary for the Beaufort seat at Monmouth, Burgh seized the opportunity to resume a parliamentary career and announced his candidacy, having obtained the consent of the young Duke’s two guardians, Hon. James Bertie* and Hon. Dodington Greville*, with whom he had worked very closely since 1714. However, he soon found his path blocked by a candidate, Hon. Andrews Windsor*, nominated by the 13-year-old Duke himself at the insistence of his meddlesome aunt, the Duchess of Grafton. It is quite conceivable that the Duchess was irritated by what she may rightly have visualized as Burgh’s growing personal ascendancy in local affairs, based as it was on the Beaufort estate, and so pressed Windsor’s prior claims to the seat for which he had stood unsuccessfully in 1715. Without delay, Burgh withdrew, explaining on 2 May to Sir Charles Kemys, 4th Bt.*, a leading Beaufort ally in Monmouthshire who had guaranteed Burgh his support:
His Grace being but 13 years of age and under guardianship, I did not think he would so soon attempt the management of his own affairs, but that the consent of his guardians was sufficient. But since his Grace is prevailed upon to think himself better able to judge of his affairs and interest in this county than I am, I think myself obliged to return to you my most hearty thanks.
Bertie, with whom Burgh was on cordial terms, was equally nonplussed, and pledged for the future to shield his young charge from the aunt’s designs; hoping, in effect, that this episode had not dampened Burgh’s dedication to the family’s interests.5
Burgh died a comparatively wealthy man at Troy on 25 Apr. 1740. He left the four farms, which he held leasehold of the Duke of Beaufort, to each of his four surviving sons, and £1,200 to each of four younger daughters, while the eldest was to receive the balance owing on her marriage portion, which amounted to an equal sum. He was buried in the churchyard at Mitchel Troy where in a monumental inscription he was remembered as ‘a man of singular esteem both in public and private life, whose ruling passion was to do good and whose whole conduct spoke him the generous, humane and honest man’.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Burke’s Irish Fam. Recs. 338; Bradney, Mon. ii. 168, 177.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 274.
- 3. Bradney, 164; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 274; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxxi), 135; CJ, xvi. 408; xvii. 174, 182.
- 4. HMC Portland, vii. 165; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 726; Add. 70280, Henry Watkins to ‘Mr Harley’, 2 Apr. 1714.
- 5. Bradney, 86, 166–8; RA, Stuart mss 65/16; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 620.
- 6. Bradney, 168, 177.