FLEMING, William (1656-1736), of Rydal, Westmld.
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Family and Education
b. 25 July 1656, 1st surv. s. of Sir Daniel Fleming† of Rydal; bro. of Michael Fleming*. educ. Kendal sch. 1672–5. m. 1 Aug. 1723, Dorothy (d. 1757), da. of Thomas Rowlandson of Kendal, Westmld., 3da. suc. fa. 25 Mar. 1701; cr. Bt. 4 Oct. 1705.1
Commr. excise 1698–1702.2
Fleming, who at the age of two had dislocated his leg and was consequently lame for the rest of his life, was the heir to considerable Westmorland estates, but from at least 1688 was in almost constant conflict with his father. The dispute was financial rather than political in nature, Fleming loyally following his father’s decision to give evasive answers in 1688 to James II’s questions on the Penal Laws and Test Act. Its roots lay in Fleming’s annoyance at his father’s refusal to grant him an adequate allowance. By 1692 Fleming was living in London, when his father wrote to chide him that ‘every child ... ought to consider his father’s obligations, and estate, one must not be allowed to spend all extravagantly in twash and swash, or in vain projects and progresses’. The breakdown in relations between the two was clear the following year when Fleming found that his father was unwilling to satisfy debts that, Fleming claimed, had been built up primarily in search of relief from the pain caused by his lameness. The continuing friction between the two was evident when Fleming was mentioned as a possible candidate at the 1695 Westmorland election, his father making it clear that he would not support this pretension. Further details emerged in a letter Fleming wrote to his father in January 1696, in which he claimed that at the previous year’s election Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, had proposed that Fleming ‘assist’ or ‘not oppose’ him at the Westmorland election in return for facilitating Fleming’s marriage to one of Musgrave’s daughters, but that his father had ‘slight[ed] that opportunity’. Sir Daniel Fleming was similarly hostile to the proposal in May 1696 that Fleming stand for the county seat vacated by the elevation of Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, to the peerage as Lord Lonsdale. When Fleming declared his candidacy, with the support of Lonsdale, Lord Carlisle (Charles Howard*) and Sir George Fletcher, 2nd Bt.*, at the Kendal sessions in July, however, his father publicly condemned the decision, largely on the grounds of the great charges a parliamentary career would make upon the family estates. Fleming was nevertheless elected unopposed in November.3
Shortly after Fleming's election his father wrote that ‘it will not be for his real advantage; for when young men's heads are filled too full of public politics, it often prejudices their their own private concerns’, and the frequent parliamentary reports Fleming wrote to his father emphasizing in particular his attempts to protect Westmorland interests during the passage of Commons business, were probably sent as an attempt to alter such perceptions. Fleming first attended the House on 4 Dec. 1696, and eight days later claimed that he had ‘persuaded a Member to withdraw his proposal to tax malt, but could not stop a much worse proposal, viz. a tax on live cattle and those killed in private families’. This proposal was defeated, according to Fleming, due to the proposal of the capitation, but the proposal was no more welcome to Fleming who described it as ‘an ill way of raising money for our country [?county]’. Of particular concern was the willingness of the House to vest in the crown the power of nominating commissioners, and on 5 Jan. 1697 he went so far as to describe the bill as ‘so ill that I hope it will be thrown out’, and claimed that he had successfully lobbied a number of other Members. He played a prominent part on 20 Jan. in preventing weavers, who were demonstrating their support for the bill prohibiting the wearing of East India silks, from entering the Commons; and when the capitation bill passed the Commons on 26 Jan. Fleming claimed to his father that he had ‘got a good many Members to join with me’ in opposing three proposals relating to the qualification of land tax commissioners. He nevertheless maintained that the measure would ‘be ill for the north’, and claimed that during the bill's passage the ‘middle of England men’ had been ‘all for having the rates of the north raised’. Fleming appears to have spent a great deal of time in the following months on the question of the nominees for Westmorland's land tax commission. Financial matters also interested him in the next session. At the end of December 1697 he wrote of his opposition both to continuing the malt duty and the land tax, but once the land tax bill had been introduced he was concerned to protect Westmorland interests. This was most obvious in the committee of the whole of 11 Mar. 1698 on the land tax bill, Fleming writing that
Most of the day yesterday was spent upon the land tax bill, whether three fourths of the sum raised in the first 4d. aid should be fixed, but not only upon every county but upon every ward, parish and township. The first was generally agreed to, but the latter was put to the question and carried by 14 that it should not. I, knowing that the barony [of Kendal] would save £98 4s. 2d. by having it placed upon the wards, was for this, but we lost it by many mistaking the question, as they owned after.
When the poll bill was considered on 29 Apr. Fleming opposed a motion that land tax commissioners be rated for the poll tax as gentlemen, and on 14 May he carried an amendment to the bill against house breaking. Two weeks later he and Sir Christopher Musgrave made attempts to protect Westmorland interests affected by the bill to prevent the export of wool to Holland.4
In January 1697 Fleming had accompanied a peer to an audience with the King and informed his father that he had stayed with William ‘till he went to supper, attended him there, returned with him to his chamber, till he was undressed to go to bed’. This audience was probably facilitated by Lord Lonsdale, and it was Lonsdale who in December 1697 wrote to Lord Portland requesting that Fleming be given a place on the excise commission. The request was granted in July 1698, the salary of £800 p.a. no doubt bringing welcome financial relief for Fleming, but he was determined to remain in the House and was returned for Westmorland unopposed in the election later that year. He was consequently included upon a list of placemen dating from September that year, and a comparison of the old and new Parliaments listed him as a Court supporter. On 18 Jan. 1699 Fleming voted against the disbanding bill, and given his loyalty to the Court and his place he was naturally concerned in February when the opposition began to expel a number of financial officials, claiming that they were ineligible to sit in the House according to a clause of the 1694 Lotteries Act. Fleming reported the confident predictions that as an excise commissioner he too would be expelled, but his belief that the clause of the 1694 Act could not be applied to the excise commissioners proved well founded. In February 1699 James Lowther* wrote that Fleming ‘is just as he used to be in the House, no manner of difference to his office’, and his further comment that Fleming ‘pretends to have great interest in the country and has often found fault with my Lord L[onsdale] for being so intimate with the D[uke] of L[ee]ds [Sir Thomas Osborne†], my L[ord] God[olphin] [Sidney†] etc.’ suggests that having attained office Fleming had a growing sense of his own importance. He certainly emphasized to his father the high esteem in which he claimed Lord Portland held him, but in February 1700 his combined role of Member and excise commissioner was undermined. An amendment to the bill for the land tax and the resumption of grants of forfeited Irish estates excluded excise commissioners from the Commons, which meant that he had to choose between his seat and his place. Thus on 22 June he appeared beforte the Treasury lords and informed them of his decision to remain in the excise commission. Unsurprisingly, Fleming's father approved of the choice, writing to his son that ‘I think you have done more prudently to stick to the more beneficial employment’.5
Despite rumours in May 1701 that he intended to retire to the country, Fleming retained his office until the accession of Queen Anne. He had maintained an interest in Westmorland politics, being consulted by the county's Whigs in August 1701 for advice on how to respond to an unfavourable regulation of the bench, and stood for the shire at the 1702 election, finishing bottom of the poll. Further ignominy followed in 1704 when he was himself removed from the commission of the peace for ‘words ag[ain]st her Ma[jes]ty’. He bitterly resented this exclusion, and his candidacy at the Westmorland by-election of 1704 was, he later claimed, motivated by his desire to clear his name of the ‘malicious and false information’ which had occasioned his removal from the bench. Fleming's return at the by-election was unopposed, due to an agreement with his fellow Whigs, Robert Lowther* and Sir Richard sandford, 3rd Bt.*, that in return for their support at the by-election he would stand down at the imminent general election. Though not returned until 30 Nov., Fleming was later included upon the list of those who on 28 Nov. had voted against the Tack. By early 1705 he had begun to regret agreeing to stand down at the next general election and as early as January had made an initial canvass against this election. In April 1705 he wrote to Robert Harley* asking if Harley and Lord Treasurer Godolphin were ‘in earnest about my standing for the next Parliament’, and claiming that he had been ‘solicited’ to stand for Westmorland. He received a non-committal response from Harley and, his actions having already alienated a section of Westmorland opinion, Fleming did not pursue his candidacy. In the autumn he was created a baronet, when Godolphin obtained for him a discharge of the baronetcy fee of £1,095 normally paid into the Exchequer, and in October the bishop of Carlisle found him ‘very brisk in his new honour’. Fleming remained active in Westmorland elections, securing the return of his younger brother Michael at the 1707 by-election and thereafter supporting his nephew Daniel Wilson, and concerned himself with matters of minor local patronage. In December 1713 he wrote to Lord Oxford (Harley) to request a place on the Excise Board, stating that
it is not the desire of that salary makes me think of or wish it ... but most of my nearest relations having for some time used me not so well as formerly, and run into measures very opposite to my advice and wishes upon a presumption that I will not now marry and they are secure of what I have, I am the more inclined to disappoint them by marrying. And this country [i.e. county] being furnished with no females worth marrying, I could wish to have such a call to London as would renew my former acquaintance, get me new, and assist me something in doing that to my satisfaction, credit and advantage.
And as I would thankfully resign it to your disposal again in eight or ten months, or sooner ... (not liking to continue with a wife in London), so you would soon have it in your Lordship's power again to oblige another friend.
The application was unsuccessful and he stayed in the country, where ten years later he married, at the age of 67, a woman by whom he had no male heir, so that at his death, on 29 Aug. 1736, the baronetcy and his estates passed to a younger brother.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
- 1. Fleming Mems. (Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. tracts ser. xi), 75; HMC Le Fleming, 105, 115.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 393; xv. 385; xvii. 227.
- 3. HMC Le Fleming, 331, 343, 366; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ser. 2, xxxviii. 189; Cumbria RO (Kendal), Le Fleming mss WD/Ry 4516, Sir Daniel to William Fleming, 11 Nov. 1692; 4884, [William] to [Sir Daniel Fleming], 27 Jan. 1695-6; 4983, Lowther to same, 14 May 1696; 5845, [William Fleming] to same, 8 Oct. 1696; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Timothy Banks to James Grahme*, 16 Sept. 1695; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 333.
- 4. HMC Le Fleming, 345-52.
- 5. HMC Le Fleming, 346, 352-4; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA, Lonsdale to Portland, 5 Dec. 1697; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 366; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 4 Feb. 1698-9; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 253-4; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 96; Le Fleming mss WD/Ry5254, Sir Daniel to William Fleming, 4 July 1700.
- 6. Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James to Sir John Lowther I, 10 May, 19 Aug. 1701; Add. 29588, ff. 47, 125; 70334, cabinet minutes, 16 July 1704; 61611, f. 115; 21420, f. 240; 70197, Fleming to [Harley], 23 Feb. 1706–7; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 81; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 26, f. 506; 25, f. 142; Cumbria RO (Kendal), Hothfield mss, Thomas Carleton to James Grahme, 2 Dec. 1704, 18 Jan. 1704–5 (Speck trans.); HMC 10th Rep. IV, 338; HMC Portland, iv. 175, 578; v. 374–5; HMC Le Fleming, 355; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ser. 2, iii. 9; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 293; Bagot mss, Gilfrid Lawson* to Grahme, 24 Apr. 1708.