FINCH, Hon. Heneage I (c.1649-1719), of Arch Row, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx.; and Albury, nr. Guildford, Surr.

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



Mar. - July 1679
1685 - 1687
Feb. 1701 - 15 Mar. 1703

Family and Education

b. c.1649, 2nd s. of Heneage Finch†, 1st Earl of Nottingham, by Elizabeth, da. of Daniel Harvey, Grocer and merchant, of Laurence Pountney Hill, London and Croydon, Surr.; bro. of Daniel Finch †, 2nd Earl of Nottingham, Hon. Edward* and Hon. William†.  educ. Westminster; I. Temple 1662, called 1673, bencher 1673; Christ Church, Oxf. matric. 18 Nov. 1664, aged 15, DCL 1683.  m. 16 May 1678 (with £10,000), Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir John Banks, 1st Bt.*, 3s. 6da.  cr. Baron Guernsey 15 Mar. 1703, Earl of Aylesford 19 Oct. 1714.1

Offices Held

Attaché to Hon. Henry Coventry† as plenip. congress of Breda 1667; KC 1677; solicitor-gen. 1679–86; groom of bedchamber 1685–89; PC 20 Mar. 1703–May 1708, 13 Dec. 1711–d.; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster 1714–16.2

Chairman, cttees. of supply, and ways and means 22 May–20 Nov. 1685.

Commr. building 50 new churches 1711–15.3


As a leading and able member of the Church party, Heneage Finch was more respected than liked. A gifted and highly successful barrister, he had acquired a reputation for what Bishop Burnet called ‘vicious eloquence’, and the legal pedantry in which he sometimes seemed to wallow did not readily win him friends: fellow Tories spoke derisively about the ‘smoothness of his discourse’. John Macky’s description of him as able but ‘splenatick’, alludes to a sharpness of intellect and a dogmatism which dominated his personality. Comparing him with his elder brother, Lord Nottingham, in 1714, Swift felt that Heneage was by far the more talented. By 1690 he had already emerged as one of the chief spokesmen for the Church Tories, but was almost always in the shadow of such men as Sir Thomas Clarges*, Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, and Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.* Though Finch tended to speak less frequently than they, and was much less a pillar of ‘Country’ opposition, the fact that he was Nottingham’s brother assured him of a platform. Moreover, his closeness to Nottingham imposed upon him to a considerable degree the routine work of managing the Church interest in the Commons, business for which more senior politicians had no particular inclination. His success at the law, in which he continued to practise, his sophistry in debate, his marriage into considerable commercial wealth, and his being less openly devoted to conventional ‘Country’ preoccupations of government finance and corruption, all seemed to set him slightly apart from the rank and file of Country Tories.4

Appointed solicitor-general in 1679, Finch was at first a loyal courtier. The devastating panache which he displayed in the prosecution of Lord Russell (Hon. William Russell†) was long remembered and was forever a blight on his political record. But after James II’s accession it was only a matter of time before fervent defence of the Church brought him into collision with the King’s policies, and in 1686 he was dismissed. He was destined to climb no higher on the ladder of legal preferment. In leading the successful defence of the Seven Bishops in 1688 he in effect acknowledged the fallacy behind the notion that the King could do no wrong, though in the months following the King’s flight in November he reluctantly came to recognize that the reign was effectively over. His primary concern, as shown in speeches to the Convention in the crucial ‘state of the nation’ debate on 28 Jan. 1689, was that the traditional pattern of kingship should not be put at risk, and that James be retained at least as titular king. He expressed gratitude to the Prince of Orange ‘for so great a deliverance’, but felt it would be ‘more to his glory to reduce this monarchy to its just and lawful establishment than to be king’. He urged that William be relied upon to recall King James and act as ‘arbitrator’ between him and his subjects, ‘that we may have due limits set to the King’s prerogative’. Later in the debate, he acknowledged the important reality that James’s ‘zeal to popery’ had made him unfit to be king of England, and disavowed his earlier plea for him to be recalled. But his proposal for a regency also fell on stony ground. Although he voted against the proposition that the throne was ‘vacant’, he subsequently displayed the same readiness as his elder brother to accept the new order, though, as his stand over the Association was to show in 1696, he still maintained that William was only king de facto. Following Nottingham’s appointment as secretary, Burnet suggested that Finch might be made lord chancellor of Ireland, while in April it was confidently reported that he was to be made attorney-general. However, having both brothers in high office was probably giving too much official influence to the Church Tories at a time when cautious moderation was the new king’s chief view.5

The early weeks of 1690 saw Finch take a leading part in the initiative to establish the Church party as the leading pro-government force in the Commons. On 29 Jan. he was ‘a principal person’ at a meeting of some 150 Churchmen at the Devil Tavern, which agreed to an address thanking the King for his ‘adhesion’ to the Church and, in effect, indicating their willingness to support the requirements of supply in a new Parliament. Finch’s name was mentioned in connexion with the vacant lord keepership, but the King had already affirmed to Lord Halifax (George Savile†) in the first week of February that he had no thoughts of making such an appointment. Finch had no problem retaining his seat for Oxford University following the dissolution of the Convention. St John Brodrick, a Whig acquaintance and a fellow lawyer, praised him to Dr Charlett of the university for having ‘acted as considerable a part on the side which he stuck to as any one in the House’. If the university prided its defence of the Church, Brodrick wrote, ‘’twill be but a justice to yourselves to stick to him, for else ’twill be looked upon as you thought he had taken the wrong side’. Brodrick felt that Finch epitomized ‘the fury and indignation of a party who will never be contented till the Church and state be brought to their own mould’. Certain of Finch’s continued goodwill in the new Parliament, Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) duly noted him as a probable Court supporter. It was reported in the early weeks of the session that Finch had turned down an offer of the lord chancellorship. In the supply debate on 27 Mar. he tried to give the proceedings some direction by urging the House first to proceed on the unresolved question of the hereditary revenues. He appears to have given his support to the idea of establishing a commission of accounts, as on 14 Apr. he was included among those named to prepare a bill for this purpose, though in later sessions he was never involved in the commission’s work, possibly due to the burdens of his legal practice. On the 22nd he supported the committal of the bill for reversing the quo warranto judgment against London, having been counsel for the crown when the proceedings were originally instigated. After the enactment of the bill, which had been (according to Roger Morrice) in his ‘special care’, he was held responsible for a misdrafting which had allowed City Whigs to retain control over the offices of lord mayor and chamberlain. Then in the debate on 24 Apr. Finch dismissed as impossible the suggestion that the London lieutenancy still included men who had not taken the oaths, and reminded his hearers that the purpose of the debate was to approve an address thanking the King for his support to the Church as reflected in his remodelling of the lieutenancy. Although he had been appointed to assist in drafting the bill for an Abjuration, his aversion to oaths and oath-taking was plain. Speaking on the 29th, a few days after the bill’s defeat, he showed his disdain for the proposal to impose ‘declarations’ that oaths already taken would be kept. None the less, it was still deemed essential to include him on the drafting committee of the bill ordered that day for ‘securing’ the government. He spoke on 2 May regarding Anthony Rowe’s* Letter to a Friend . . ., insisting that a proposed adjournment motion be so worded as to indicate condemnation of the tract as a ‘scandalous libel’. The Lords’ regency bill was a focus of Finch’s particular concern. He supported its committal on 30 Apr., and in committee on 5 May addressed the complex problem of defining what powers might be specifically vested in the Queen during the King’s absence in Ireland without divesting William of ‘regal authority’. Finch’s solution was a clause which declared ‘that during the King’s absence, every act of administration by the Queen alone shall be good when the King directs not to the contrary’. By this expedient, he argued, the Queen provided for the immediate ‘necessaries’ of government and was subject to the King’s orders in his absence, while the King retained overall control. When the debate resumed next day his ‘nice distinctions’ were belittled, but the essence of his proposal was subsequently enacted. On 10 May he was ordered ‘to take care’ of a bill concerning the conviction of recusants, while in the same month he participated in conferences with the Lords on two measures, of which one was the regency bill.6

In preparation for the next session, Finch had been noted as one who might be encouraged to join other prominent parliamentarians as a ‘manager of the King’s directions’, to assist in holding together a coalition of Churchmen and Whigs, chiefly for the prompt dispatch of supply business. Two of Carmarthen’s lists, compiled in December 1690, present Finch as a Court supporter, though whether he actually fulfilled some managerial role for the ministry in the House is uncertain. That there were also times when he leaned towards a ‘Country’ point of view is suggested by Robert Harley’s* analysis of the House in April 1691 in which Finch was classed as a Country supporter. In the next session, Finch emerged at the forefront of the supporters of Sir William Whitelocke’s* treason trials bill. At its third reading on 18 Nov. 1691 he spoke ‘very largely and handsomely’ for the bill, rejecting arguments that the improvement of defence procedures in such cases would weaken the government. ‘All that is required’, he told the House, ‘is a just and lawful defence at a man’s trial’. When on 11 Dec. the House deliberated on the Lords’ amendments, Finch stood by the principle of having two witnesses to prove a treasonable act. He defended the peers’ addition of the contentious ‘clause A’, for establishing procedures for the trial of peers. Some MPs were uneasy about summoning the entire House of Lords to participate in trials when Parliament was not in session, but Finch maintained there was ‘no hurt’ in the clause, and that there was no implication that the government was less weak when Parliament was not sitting. He was included among the Members appointed at the close of the debate to confer with the Lords over the amendment. But this and later conferences did nothing to resolve the deadlock. Finch argued again on 31 Dec. that the clause did not give the Lords a power of endangering the government, and stressed that it was only reasonable that the methods of proceeding during and outside the parliamentary session be kept uniform. He also spoke concerning procedural aspects of the bill’s faltering progress on 7 and 25 Jan. 1692.7

Finch was engaged in the lengthy proceedings on the East India trade, in which he represented the interests of the ‘interlopers’, who employed him as counsel and presumably paid him royally. In the committee of the whole on 27 Nov. 1691 he ‘argued very largely’ in support of the motion to dissolve the existing company, which he claimed had managed the trade ineptly. On 17 Dec. he supported Sir Edward Seymour’s motion for the creation of a new company, in line with the schedule of ‘regulations’ recently agreed by the Commons, and joined with Richard Hampden I* in condemning the prerogative powers of ‘peace or war’ which the old company might exercise by virtue of its charter. Given the opportunity to submit proposals for establishing a joint stock, the company presented assurances of their security, but when these came under consideration on 23 Dec. Finch was particularly damning and dismissed the company’s response as ‘unsatisfactory and indecent and not pursuant in the least to your vote’, an opinion which was later put into the form of a motion which Finch seconded. At £744,000, the security offered was only about half the value claimed for the stock. He naturally opposed the decision to allow the company further time to name guarantors, and was against giving them more than a day. When the matter was resumed on 8 Jan. 1692, the House arrived at an accommodation with the company, but the proceedings took a turn when Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, seconded by Finch, tabled a new motion for an address calling for the company’s dissolution. The debate ended in a successful motion for a bill to establish ‘an’ East India company according to the earlier ‘regulations’ laid down by the House. Finch was the leading advocate for the bill at its second reading on 26 Jan., and was willing to encourage members of the Old Company to present security for the proper value of its stock (already ascertained at £744,000 in earlier proceedings) with a view to its incorporation in a re-established company. The Old Company, highly dissatisfied, communicated its feelings to the House on 6 Feb., and in the debate on how to proceed with the bill, Finch supported the idea of an address to dissolve the existing company but thought the King should be left ‘to constitute a new one according as his Majesty shall think fit’. With the end of the session approaching, however, little further progress was made. Luttrell’s diary suggests that Finch was much less attentive to supply matters, and unlike other leaders of the Church Tories, was not at all innovative in his approach. On 12 Jan. he advised caution in response to the ‘million fund’ scheme proposed by Paul Foley I*, whereby the bankers would agree to advance £1 million in return for the establishment of a ‘good fund’, from which the crown’s long-outstanding debt to them could be repaid. Finch joined those who were for appointing a committee to investigate and report on the feasibility of the proposal. In so far as the bankers’ debt was concerned, he added that this had been judicially proven and they had in fact a right to any money coming into the Exchequer from excise duties. His preference for traditional revenue-raising methods was seen more clearly on the 19th, in his dismissiveness towards a proposal from Sir John Lowther of a fund of perpetual interest at 5 per cent, generated from ‘bills of credit’, which he said would ‘prove a cheat upon the people’, and he expressed irritation that the matter had been intruded ‘irregularly’ in the proceedings on the poll bill. He supported an equitable levy of the tax at parochial level that would excuse ‘the poor’ but embrace ‘the men of estates’. Opposition to speculative finance was also implied on the 23rd in his criticism of a bill for reducing interest.8

Finch was not among those of Nottingham’s associates who were offered ministerial posts after the 1691–2 session, but his continuing support for the Court was indicated in another list drawn up by Carmarthen in 1692. On 21 Nov. 1692, a fortnight or so after the beginning of the next session, he spoke guardedly in relation to Edmund Waller’s* controversial motion that the Admiralty be placed in the hands of more capable commissioners. While admitting that he had heard complaints, and wishing ‘things better managed’, he insisted, ‘when I am to pass a judgment upon men, I must have something to found my judgment on, which I see not in this case’. He laid particular blame on the merchants, whose risk-taking had laid them open to enemy attacks on the high seas, and accused them of being too concerned with profits and with making gains from insurance money. Proceedings on the East India trade began anew on 24 Nov., when Finch made an abrupt intervention to save the debate from trailing off into lengthy disquisitions about whether the trade should be left unregulated: ‘I think the first foundation you are to make is for the carrying on this trade, and that by a joint stock.’ He spoke in favour of the reintroduced treason trials bill in committee on 28 Nov., arguing that the bill’s purpose was no more ‘than that an innocent man may have opportunity to make his innocence appear’. Later in the debate he laboured in even stronger terms for the bill, telling the House,

I think no Englishman can be safe if the King be not safe upon the throne; and in the establishment of him there is the security of every Englishman, and this bill does do it, and it is no hardship upon the government – only without it, it is impossible for an innocent man to make his innocence appear.

The abjuration bill provided him with the opportunity to address another important aspect of internal stability. On 14 Dec., towards the end of the long debate prior to its committal, he spoke with great sagacity on the dangers inherent in the imposition of oaths:

The more I consider the reasons urged for the commitment of this bill, the more I am against it. In all times when words have been made treason, parliaments have found mischiefs thereby and repealed them in some short time and reduced them to the standard of 25 Edw. III, c. 1. It is said that some men prevaricate with your former oath; perhaps so, but consider if the oaths you have already will not hold them; you will hardly make any oath that can or which they will not easily take. The security of this government lies not in oaths but in the good laws and the regular administration of justice and the law of the people. For my part, I think the oaths you have already are sufficient, and that thereby a man is bound to assist and to do all they can for the security of this government – the oath you have is the old oath of allegiance which was before 3 Jac. I. I did observe one gentleman did in effect tell us the commitment of this bill was not to mend it but to make an oath that some men shall not take, which I am not for, but would not make more enemies to this government – we have too many already. Then for making words treason, I think it at all times very dangerous, for words are liable to be mistaken and misunderstood, and it is not in such cases sufficient to prove by standers-by that they heard no such words spoken because one might hear that another did not.

Speaking on 20 Dec., in a debate on mismanagements in the navy, he began by showing ‘all respect and acknowledgment’ towards Admiral Russell (Edward*), but then ‘reflected what he could, in his fine way, upon him’. Also in this debate, he was forced to defend his brother Nottingham. ‘I will be bold to say’, he told MPs, ‘none was ever more diligent in your service, and he never goes to bed before all orders and despatches are executed and leaves them not till the next morning.’ Finch’s recorded interventions on economic issues were few, except where matters as fundamental as the currency were concerned: on 31 Dec. he criticized the potentially deleterious effects of a bill for preventing the export of gold and silver and the melting down of coin. He spoke on 10 Jan. 1693 against the damaging intentions of a clause proposed for the appropriation bill, suspending payment of all pensions while the war lasted, as liable to obstruct the bill’s passage and bring the public service to a standstill. In the proceedings on Bishop Burnet’s Pastoral Letter, on 23 Jan., Finch ‘spoke much in vindication’ of the bishop and his book, refuting allegations that it sought to establish that King William’s right to the throne was by right of conquest. During the debate his own position on William’s possession of the crown was exposed when the quick-witted Whig MP Hon. Harry Mordaunt* interrupted him with the jesting assumption that his reference to William the Conqueror’s being King de jure also applied to William III, and wished that all Finch’s relations were of the same opinion. When Finch questioned Mordaunt’s ‘understanding’ of his argument, Mordaunt responded with a pointed apology for thinking Finch’s opinion was that William was King de jure. Finch applied firm Tory thinking in his stand against the Lords’ triennial bill, and made at least three major speeches against it: on 28 Jan., at first reading, when he questioned the peers’ right to regulate the length of time between elections, and highlighted the ‘distrust’ it showed towards ‘this King in particular and of kingly government in general’; on 7 Feb., in committee, when he pointed out that ‘annual Parliaments’ were already theoretically permissible under medieval statutes; and on the 9th, at the report, when he outlined the damage the bill would do to the prerogative by taking away ‘that inherent power the King hath to preserve his government and his people’. He spoke on at least two more occasions before the close of session: on 14 Feb., in support of the Country Tory Sir Eliab Harvey* in the disputed election for Essex; and on the 25th, in favour of an address to dissolve the East India Company. On the 18th he was named to a committee ordered to draft one of the supply bills.9

Finch’s activities in the next session are less fully documented, but evidence suggests that Nottingham’s dismissal at the beginning of November 1693 goaded him into greater criticism of ministerial failure in managing the war. He was still, of course, constrained to defend Nottingham’s name in the continuing attacks over the poor performance of the fleet. During the debate on naval ‘miscarriages’ on 22 Nov. he adopted a conscientiously neutral line, dealing not with the issue itself but the haphazard and illogical course which the proceedings were taking. This superior courtroom attitude was effectively displayed again at the resumption of the debate on the 27th. When Comptroller Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) posed the question as to whether the naval officers had obeyed orders, Finch answered that it had already been shown that the officers in question had none to obey, and, having no idea of the French fleet’s whereabouts, could not organize an attack. He then rounded on another Court Whig, William Palmes*, for speaking ‘rubbish’. Neither did he show much sympathy towards Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*), a member of the Admiralty Board against whom the accounts commissioners had raised charges of peculation. On 7 Dec. when the matter was debated, Finch observed that if the manner in which Falkland acquired the money was ‘not according to law’, the Commons should not hesitate to punish him. Finch’s shift away from the Court was further highlighted in January during the reaction to the King’s veto of the place bill, by his inclusion on the committee appointed on the 27th to sharpen the ‘representation’ in which the Commons expressed its dissatisfaction. Almost nothing can be ascertained of Finch’s opinions during the 1694–5 session. On one occasion, in January 1695, he appears to have criticized government speakers for too often referring to individuals by name as if ‘to tar men as enemies to the government for not coming up to some people’s notions’. The comment drew harsh reflections from Sir John Morton, 2nd Bt.*, who wished that Finch’s professions of impartiality had been true of his role as counsel against the Whig martyrs Algernon Sidney† and Lord Russell. Legal business prevented him from appearing in person at his university constituency prior to the general election in October, but he was re-elected in his absence ‘unanimously’.10

Now that the balance of ministerial power was firmly in the hands of the Whigs, Finch began to feature as one of the leading representatives of the Tory wing of the Country party. On 29 Nov., during the initial proceedings on the coinage crisis, he joined other prominent Churchmen in opposing proposals for a recoinage which they felt would only exacerbate the economic difficulties of wartime. All the while he kept Nottingham abreast of developments in the Commons. When a set of resolutions on the coin began to emerge, Nottingham cautioned that ‘you will find more difficulties to obstruct the perfecting those resolutions than barely such as arise from the thing itself’ and warned him of the likelihood of future obstruction from Court spokesmen such as Lowther. In supply proceedings, Finch demanded drastic cuts in the size of the army. He was also a leading advocate of the proposed parliamentary council of trade, and was among the principal Tories who contended ‘zealously’ for it on 2 Jan. 1696. He was forecast as likely to oppose the Court when discussions were resumed on the 31st, as indeed he did, taking a characteristic stand against the ministerial attempts to impose an abjuration oath on those whom the House should nominate as commissioners. In the latter part of February, Nottingham’s arrival in London after an absence of nine months, coupled with Whig misfortunes in the Commons, prompted rumours of a ministerial reshuffle in which Finch was tipped to replace Shrewsbury as secretary of state. But these reports were quickly overtaken by news of the Assassination Plot. In the debate on the Association on 25 Feb., Finch and Seymour were the chief objectors to declaring William as ‘rightful and lawful’ king: according to Burnet, ‘they said the crown and the prerogatives of it were vested in him, and therefore they would obey him, and be faithful to him, though they could not acknowledge him their rightful and lawful king’. For the moment at least, Finch’s dogmatism at a time of potential danger cast a shadow over his suitability for high office. In his Memoirs, Lord Ailesbury alleged that Finch belonged to ‘a sort of association’ which came into being in around 1695, comprised of such cronies as Seymour, Musgrave, John Grobham Howe* and Simon Harcourt I*, and dedicated to the task of restoring James II. There is no other evidence, however, that Finch was at any time involved in Jacobite activity. Later in the session, on the question of stabilizing the price of guineas, he opposed the ministers’ preference for the price to be set at 22s.11

In June 1696 Finch became seriously ill with what appears to have been a tubercular condition, and by the middle of the month was not expected to live. Dr Charlett was advised by several London correspondents to prepare for a by-election for the university. Finch had partially recovered by the beginning of October, but was still unwell when the new parliamentary session began a few weeks later. Only his opposition to the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† brought him to the House. Having missed the first day’s proceeding on 6 Nov., he spoke on the 13th on the second reading of the bill of attainder, questioning the wisdom of the ‘untrodden path’ on which the House was bound and the summary nature of the proceedings, particularly as Fenwick now stood indicted by a single witness, whereas the law required two. He felt that the resort to the ‘extraordinary authority’ of the legislature smacked of a ministerial determination to proceed in disregard of the due requirements of justice, a situation which he found unpalatable. More specifically, he pointed to obvious weaknesses in the manner of proceeding: it was first of all wrong to bring in an instrument of attainder in the expectation that the reasons for it would later appear, while any subsequent amendment to the bill in its progress through Parliament would be an admission that there had originally been insufficient ground for it. He concluded by cautioning against such a dangerous precedent and warned that bills of attainder might become as frequent as they had been during the reign of Richard II. After this, however, Finch made no more recorded appearances in connexion with the bill. Late in December he succumbed again to serious illness, and at one point was reported dead. In April 1697, as he slowly recovered, misfortune of another kind struck when his residence at Albury was gutted by fire. His ill-health continued well into the following year, during which time there are no indications of Commons attendance. In July 1698 he told his kinsman Dr Leopold Finch, the warden of All Souls, of his intention not to seek re-election for the university, quite happy to be succeeded by his old comrade-in-arms in the House, Sir Christopher Musgrave. Although he had not attended Parliament on a regular basis for some time, the compiler of a comparative listing of the old and new Houses of Commons identified him as a Country supporter.12

In October 1699, Finch succeeded to the best part of his father-in-law’s fortune, an estate at Aylesford in Kent valued at some £200,000, from which the annual income was said to be £5,000. Thenceforward he was to have an electoral interest in the nearby borough of Maidstone. It was also said that he had been left £50,000 ‘in money’. He was again reported ‘very ill’ at the end of April 1700, but had recuperated sufficiently towards the end of the year to consider standing again for Parliament in the forthcoming election. On this, Lord Nottingham gave brotherly advice: ‘whatever I wish you upon a public account, you must let your health determine you, but pray resolve in due time’. There was a good chance of his being chosen for Surrey, but he was rather more attentive to the efforts of his kinsman of All Souls to secure his former place for the university. Apparently restored in health, he regained the seat in January 1701, and when the new Parliament convened, his former stature and prominence soon reappeared in the reprisals against the King’s Whig ministers over the Partition Treaties. On 20 Mar. he featured among the sponsors of a bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections, a measure beloved by Country Members. On 28 Mar., as one Country Whig reported, he spoke ‘long and maliciously’ against the ministerial grant to Lord Bellomont (Richard Coote*) of all rights to the booty captured by Captain Kidd. Next day, as the House in committee proceeded in its investigation of the circumstances under which Britain had signed the Partition Treaties, Finch joined in condemning Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*) for completing the ratification, despite professed misgivings, without consulting ministerial colleagues. Although Somers escaped official censure for the time being, the House began impeachment proceedings against Portland for his part in the negotiations, and Finch was named first to the committee of 1 Apr. to draft the articles. The following day, during consideration of the King’s request for measures against the French, Finch firmly supported Sir Edward Seymour’s cautious line, ‘not for declaring against war nor being too forward in it, but for supporting the Dutch according to the treaty, to be seconds, not principals’. Finch moved the question that the House ‘assure’ William that they would ‘effectually enable him to support’ the 1678 treaty and advise him to continue peaceable negotiations with France in association with the Dutch. This was agreed ‘after many hours’ debate’. The presentation of the translated 1698 correspondence between James Vernon I* and Lord Portland two days later reopened the question of Somers’ role in the first Partition Treaty, which he was accused of sealing without a warrant. During the debate Finch told the House that if Somers had disagreed with the treaty ‘he should plainly have wrote to the King that he could not approve of it, and if that would not do he should rather have given up his seals than have complied’.13

Before the second general election of that year, Finch was blacklisted as having opposed the preparations for war with France, an allegation refuted in another pamphlet. Such propaganda did nothing, of course, to affect his standing among his university electorate, who re-elected him without opposition. At the start of supply business on 6 Jan. 1702, he supported Musgrave’s contention that the House delay making a formal promise of financial assistance until the King had communicated details of his commitments to foreign powers, although the general consensus was that such a step was unnecessary. Finch was spoken of as a possible successor to Sir Rowland Gwynne* as chairman of the committee of privileges and elections, but on the 9th Gwynne was chosen once more. On 16 Jan. Finch seconded Seymour in a preconcerted attempt to obstruct progress on supply, with a motion proposing that the 7,000 troops garrisoned in England constitute part of England’s quota towards the allied war effort. But this, too, proved unpopular. At the second reading of the Lords’ abjuration bill on 17 Jan. he put forward a clause against occasional conformity, but it was decided instead to proceed with the Commons’ own abjuration measure, so that nothing came of the amendment. On the 28th, when this subsequent measure was considered in committee of the whole, Finch strongly exerted himself in favour of a clause to oblige Dissenting ministers to take an oath to defend the Church, only to see it thrown out by a narrow majority. Finch remained at the forefront of Tory resistance to the Commons’ abjuration bill, and was said to have spoken on the subject as many as 17 times in the session. At the third reading on 19 Feb. he declared that he did not oppose the reading of the bill, but offered, in Burnet’s words, ‘an alteration to the clause abjuring the Prince of Wales, so that it imported only an oath not to assist him’. He pressed this intended compromise ‘with unusual vehemence’, but found few supporters. After several other clauses had been received, Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), in a piece of sarcasm clearly directed at Finch, commented that the ‘new bill’ now seemed more palatable to ‘those who could not digest the abjuration oath’. Finch, however, ignored the gibe and rose merely to say that ‘there was not one equivoking expression in it’. In the meantime, he, along with Seymour and Musgrave, had continued to attack the government on supply issues, and had done so ‘mightily’ on 2 Feb. when they opposed a proposal for raising 10,000 extra men even though it was to be achieved with little additional charge. He was greatly concerned, too, about the recent scurrilous attacks on the proceedings of the last Parliament, especially those made by Thomas Colepeper, one of the ‘Kentish Petitioners’, during the recent election campaign at Maidstone, and moved that the House set aside time to consider properly of ‘the rights, liberties, and privileges’ of the Commons. The matter was debated on 17 Feb., though what took place hardly measured up to Finch’s expectations of a wide-ranging consideration of how the endangered privileges of the House might be protected. He began by talking ‘at random’ against libels and reflections on Parliament, and in a later intervention proposed three motions, one condemning as unconstitutional the assertion that the House of Commons was ‘not the only representative of the commons of England’; another that the House had no ‘power of commitment, but of their own members’; and a third denouncing printed attacks on MPs, en masse and individually, as ‘a high violation’ of the rights and privileges of the House. The committee adopted these with very little debate, and the proceedings ended inconclusively in some confusion. Though Finch’s resolutions were retained when the matter was resumed on the 26th, the Whigs, seizing the initiative, added two more. Finch voted in that debate in favour of a Tory motion, which narrowly failed, vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments the preceding year. It is conceivable that his omission from the committee appointed at William III’s death (8 Mar.) to draft the loyal address to Queen Anne was intentional in the light of his well-known views upon William’s position as King, though fittingly it was at Finch’s residence that members of the committee met to complete the draft.14

Finch was not included among the High Tories appointed to office at the start of the new reign, though this may have been a personal choice dictated by his recent poor health. His re-election at Oxford University was a foregone conclusion, however. At the beginning of the new Parliament, on 20 Oct. 1702, he formally proposed Robert Harley as Speaker. Before long, his new proximity to the ministry led to tensions between himself and the Tory back-benchers and their leaders. This was particularly apparent in the question of the Queen’s proposed grant of £5,000 to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill*). Finch was anxious to find ways of facilitating the grant through an expedient that would mollify Tory squires whose hopes for a new era of ‘honest government’ were rapidly fading. But his proposal that it be made from prize money was regarded by Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) as impracticable. When the grant was debated in committee on 15 Dec. Seymour and Musgrave spoke for the opposition while Finch defended the Duke and his services to the nation in ‘establishing an entire correspondence with the States General’ which, he claimed, had been necessary since English envoys abroad had represented ‘the gentlemen of England’ as happily disposed towards the French. ‘Was it not good service,’ he asked ‘to assure the States [General] that the government of England was misrepresented?’ Finch’s efforts to support Marlborough were hardly likely to placate Tory gentlemen who knew only too well the Duke’s unenthusiastic attitude towards the occasional conformity bill. Still, his concern that Marlborough be rewarded from an acceptable source of finance could be seen on the 16th, when he was named in second place after Seymour to a committee to address the Queen requesting her not to draw upon the crown revenues. There was the greater possibility that Finch would openly oppose the ministry over the large addition of 10,000 troops requested by the Dutch, but Nottingham prevailed on both him and Seymour to hold fire during deliberations on the supply at the end of that month and in early January. Finch was of course able to maintain his high profile among Tories in his advocacy of the occasional conformity bill, and on 16 Dec. was one of the main participants in the conference with the Lords. Predictably, he cast his vote on 13 Feb. 1703 against the bill for extending the time allowed for taking the Abjuration. His involvement, too, in the various recriminatory proceedings against former Whig ministers was also a matter for Tory applause. On 1 Feb. he was named in first place to the committee to draft an address condemning the former paymaster, Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*), for misapplying public money, and later that month took a leading part in the Commons’ unsuccessful attempt to find Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) guilty of a ‘breach of trust’ as auditor of the Exchequer. A discrepancy in the printed Votes of the House regarding these allegations prompted Finch’s motion on 25 Feb. to stop the practice of printing the Votes, but the House concluded that publication should be kept under closer supervision.15

Finch’s career in the Commons ended a few weeks later with his elevation to the peerage as Lord Guernsey. There had been reports in mid-February that he would be among several new additions to the Lords, in order, it was said, ‘to keep a balance in that House’. His patent, dated 15 Mar., stated that the creation was ‘in consideration of his great merits and abilities’; and five days later he was admitted to the Privy Council. The discord between the two Houses over the occasional conformity bill had exposed the need for more influential Church Tories in the Upper House. But Finch’s removal from the Commons may also have been intended to prevent his causing future difficulties there for the ministry, and especially for Nottingham, over issues such as military expenditure, matters in which his ‘Country’ sensibilities had become entrenched during Nottingham’s years in the political wilderness. In the presence of his elder brother in the Lords, there was less likelihood that he would deviate from the ministerial line. The connexion of Finch relatives, friends and retainers was, of course, deprived of an obvious representative in the Commons until the election of 1710 brought in Nottingham’s son Lord Finch (Daniel*) and Finch’s own son Hon. Heneage II*. Once in the Lords, Finch ranked alongside such champions of High Anglicanism as his brother and Lords Weymouth and Rochester. In the summer of 1710 he was one of several considered for the lord chancellorship, but, probably because of his brother’s distrust of Harley, was passed over. When Nottingham finally broke with the Tories over the peace in December 1711, Guernsey did not immediately follow suit, continuing to support the ministry. In April 1713, however, after an uneasy period of indecision, he came round to accepting Nottingham’s view that a peace settlement which placed Spain and the West Indies in Bourbon hands was untenable. His emergence as a ‘Hanoverian’ during the final year of the Queen’s life earned him reward soon after the accession of George I with the earldom of Aylesford and appointment as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, as a member of the new Whig ministry he quickly annoyed his colleagues by failing to uproot the strong Tory element from the Lancashire magistracy, forcing Secretary Townshend to intervene instead. Despite their unequivocal support for the impeachment of Lord Oxford in 1715, the Finch brothers were an incongruous element in the new Whig establishment, and once Nottingham began pleading mercy for the condemned Scottish Jacobite peers in February 1716 the opportunity was taken to secure their dismissal. Finch died at his Surrey seat on 22 July 1719, though he was buried near his Aylesford estate in Kent, his eldest son and namesake, the MP for Surrey, succeeding him in the peerage.16

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. H. Horwitz, Revol. Politicks, 259.
  • 2. HMC Finch, i. 457, 479; info. from Prof. R. O. Bucholz.
  • 3. E. G. W. Bill, Queen Anne Churches, p. xxiii.
  • 4. Burnet, ii. 379; Macky Mems. 90; Swift Works ed. Davis, vii. 11; Horwitz, 268.
  • 5. Burnet, ii. 379; Stowe 364, ff. 62–69; Horwitz, 74, 82, 84; HMC Portland, iii. 436.
  • 6. Horwitz, 107–8; Morice ent’ring bk. 3, pp. 106, 151; Add. 29573, f. 407; 29578, f. 318; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 249; Bodl. Ballard 11, f. 185; Surrey RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/1, f. 232, Charlett to Brodrick, 13 Feb. 1690; Grey, x. 15, 61, 70, 101, 113, 121, 125–6; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 90.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 211; Horwitz, 123; Grey, 172, 206–8, 214, 220; Luttrell Diary, 25, 99, 115, 154.
  • 8. Rawl. C.449 (unfol.); Luttrell Diary, 45, 84, 87, 91–92, 118, 125, 141–2, 150, 156, 175.
  • 9. Grey, 272–3, 287, 290–2; Luttrell Diary, 248, 259, 265, 319, 332, 344, 360, 382, 392–3, 407, 414, 422, 449; Chester RO, Earwaker mss CR63/2/691/116, Sir Willoughby Aston to Sir John Crewe, 28 Jan. 1692[–3]; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 759.
  • 10. Grey, 325–6, 328, 352; Add. 46527, f. 47; 28879, f. 219; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. box 4, bdle. 12, Finch to Dr Leopold Finch, [Oct. 1695]; Centre for Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/4, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 22 Oct. 1695.
  • 11. Life of Montagu (1715), 30; Finch-Halifax pprs. box 3, Nottingham to Finch 14 Dec. 1695; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 316; Stanhope mss U1590/059/4,5, Yard to Stanhope, 17 Dec. 1695, 6 Jan. 1695–6; HMC Hastings, ii. 253, 259; Horwitz, 156; Burnet, iv. 306; Ailesbury Mems. 359.
  • 12. Ballard 39, f. 128; 11, f. 135; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 14, f. 279; 17, ff. 253–4; Cobbett, v. 1017–19; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 151–2; Stanhope mss U1590/053/6, James Vernon I* to Stanhope, 29 Dec. 1696; Finch-Halifax pprs. box 5, bdle. 3, Sir John Banks* to Finch, 23 Feb. 1697; box 4, bdle. 1, Finch to Dr Leopold Finch, [July 1698]; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 209.
  • 13. Luttrell, iv. 573; Thynne pprs. 15, f. 284; Ballard 10, f. 40; Finch-Halifax pprs. box 2, no. 60, Nottingham to Finch, 18 Nov. 1700; no. 63, Dr Leopold Finch to Finch, 18 Dec. 1700; Cocks Diary, 76, 94.
  • 14. Add. 17677 XX, ff. 160, 166, 175; 7074, ff. 168, 188; DZA, Bonet despatch 16/27 Jan. 1702; Horwitz, 186; Cocks Diary, 220; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, bdle. 1, newsletter 29 Jan. 1701–2; Cumbria RO, Carlisle, Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/5, James Lowther* to Sir John Lowther 2nd Bt. I*, 3 Feb. 1701[–2]; Locke Corresp. ed. de Beer, vii. 567–8; Burnet, iv. 551; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(2), James Brydges’* diary, 8 Mar. 1702.
  • 15. Add. 70264, misc. 17; HMC Portand, iv. 53; Norris Pprs. (Chetham Soc. ix), 106; Horwitz, 179; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 175; Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iv. 380.
  • 16. Add. 22852, ff. 73–76; Horwitz, 222, 234–5, 238, 240–1, 246, 249–50; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, William Bromley II* to James Grahme*, 1 Sept. 1710; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs. 199, 290–4; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 331.