FOLEY, Thomas I (c.1641-1701), of Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcs.

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. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1698
14 Jan. 1699 - 1 Feb. 1701

Family and Education

b. c.1641, 1st s. of Thomas Foley† of Witley Court, and bro. of Paul I* and Philip Foley*.  educ. Pembroke, Camb. adm. 4 July 1657, aged 16, BA 1660; I. Temple 1657; L. Inn 1698.  m. bef. 1673, Elizabeth (d. 1686), da. of Edward Ashe†, Draper, of Fenchurch Street, London and Halstead, Kent, sis. of William Ashe I*, 4s. 4da.  suc. fa. 1677.1

Offices Held

Member, Soc. of Mineral and Battery Works 1670, asst. 1678–87, dep. gov. 1693–9; asst. Soc. of Mines Royal 1689.

Sheriff, Worcs. 1673–4; freeman, Bewdley 1673, Stafford 1689, Droitwich by c.1697.2

Commr. for taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3


Foley inherited the principal share of his father’s landed property but only a third part of the ironmaster’s massive manufacturing interests, in his case a complex of furnaces, forges and wireworks based at Tintern in Monmouthshire, which he had previously run in partnership with his father. He continued to work them, though, unlike his two younger brothers, made no great attempts at expansion. There were some efforts to deploy his substantial economic resources in public finance, but on the whole he does not seem to have been an especially shrewd manager of his own affairs. His son-in-law Robert Harley*, preaching the wisdom of modesty where personal wealth was concerned, cited him as an example of the ills that could befall a man at the hands of kinsmen and servants when nothing was done to disguise or understate the size of his income:

I am sure my father Foley suffered sufficiently by tenterhooking his rent-roll, and stretching it to £13,000 a year on paper, when it never answered nine. All his parsimony and swaggering could not hinder them from imposing upon him, so that they made it a common saying, ‘God has made him able, and we will make him willing’.4

Foley’s Presbyterian upbringing had been reinforced by his marriage into the family of a prominent London Puritan. He maintained a Presbyterian chaplain as late as 1687, sent at least one son to a Dissenting academy (and then on to university in Holland), and after the Revolution was a regular benefactor to the ‘common fund’ set up to assist Presbyterian and Congregationalist ministers. Foley’s political creed was resolutely Whiggish. He voted for Exclusion, and seems to have been taken into custody temporarily during Monmouth’s rebellion. He was apparently less willing than his brother Philip to lend support to King James’s tolerationist policies, even though brought in by the regulators to the remodelled commission of the peace in Worcestershire, and proposed by the royal agents as an acceptable candidate for the county in 1688. At the Revolution he seized Worcester on behalf of the Prince of Orange, and subsequently regained his seat as knight of the shire in the Convention. He was still regarded as a staunch Whig in the 1690 general election, in which he successfully put up brother Philip against the Tory Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, at Droitwich, assisted other Whigs locally and was re-elected himself for the county. Such was his reputation as a loyal party man that he was able to act as an intermediary (albeit without success) in negotiations between the Harleys and Sir Rowland Gwynne* over the representation of New Radnor Boroughs.5

Foley was classed as a Whig in an analysis of the new Parliament compiled by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), but it is rarely possible to distinguish his contribution from that of his two brothers, and the situation becomes even more complicated after November 1691, when first his nephew and then his eldest son, both Thomas Foley, entered the House. He did offer, in the continued absence of Robert Harley from the House in October 1690, to introduce the bill Harley had prepared ‘for the regulating of sheriffs’, but the proposal was not taken up. His son-in-law was in fact causing him embarrassment, by pursuing a petition over the New Radnor election. Foley wrote to Harley’s father in late October 1690 that ‘many friends do desire him to give way, but he is wilful’. Among other things, Foley was evidently uneasy at the backing Harley was receiving from leading High Tories, although he himself was listed alongside them, and the rest of his family, on the Country side in Harley’s analysis of the House in April 1691. At about this time there were rumours of a likely match between Foley and the widow of the veteran MP Sir John Maynard. Harley commented that ‘her jointure is not great, but I think it a most suitable and decent match’. The talk came to nothing.6

Up until at least November 1691 Foley appears to have been faithfully seconding his brother Paul’s attacks on the ministry. In all probability he was the ‘T.F.’ noted by William Brockman* as having spoken on 3 Nov. in a debate on the conduct of naval affairs and the naval estimates. After sideswipes at the crown’s indebtedness and at ‘vast pensions’, the Speaker proposed a deduction from the ‘officers’ pay’ to meet the interest on the debt, and concluded that ‘the establishment’ was ‘too high’. Foley’s later involvement in the raising of the public revenue suggests that these would have been preoccupations of his. During the session, however, relations between the brothers, and between Foley and the leaders of the Country party in general, became strained. First Foley gave ‘great offence by soliciting for the East India Company’, with which he may have had, or have contemplated establishing, financial connexions. Then in February 1692 he and brother Philip opposed the reviving the powers of the commission of accounts, in which Paul Foley was a leading light. A full-blown quarrel between the Witley Court and Stoke Edith branches of the family broke out the following December: its cause was the abjuration bill, which Thomas Foley had supported, presumably because of the greater strength of his Whig partisan loyalties, and Paul Foley had opposed, claiming that ‘the weight would have fallen on many of the Dissenters, who would not have taken the oath’. Thomas had ‘not spared to asperse his brother’, but had himself been ‘reproached’ by ‘designing men’ on the Court side for contributing to the bill’s defeat by his unsuccessful defence of it. Even though he had subsequently joined his brother in voting for the triennial bill, and in approaching Sir Edward Harley* to stand for a vacancy as knight of the shire for Herefordshire, the bad feeling continued into the summer. Paul Foley was ‘so fixed in his rage’ against Thomas, that, it was said, ‘he sticks not to charge all the misfortunes of the nation there’.7

The divisions within the Foley family seem to have healed by the 1694–5 session. In the 1695 election Thomas found himself the object of some Whig opposition in Worcestershire for the first time, almost certainly inspired by adherents of the new Junto ministry – ‘some gentlemen that did pretend to be his friends’, as he himself put it. There was, however, no contest at the poll. He was classed as likely to oppose the Court in the forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696: in the same debate the Foleys now displayed a united opposition to the idea of imposing an oath of abjuration on the members of the council. They were also united in their willingness to subscribe the Association promptly, and Foley himself took an active part in his brother Paul’s abortive scheme for a land bank, serving on the committee elected by the commissioners to undertake negotiations with the Treasury. He did, however, vote in favour of the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† on 25 Nov. 1696, and over the succeeding two sessions seems to have behaved in a friendlier way towards the ministry, perhaps drawn in by his need to maintain amicable relations with the Court Whig magnates in Worcestershire, especially the Duke of Shrewsbury and Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*), but more probably motivated by his anti-Catholic and anti-Jacobite prejudices, which would have made him anxious about the political direction his brother Paul and son-in-law Harley were taking. Foley was one of the subscribers for circulating Exchequer bills, though when the subscribers attended the Treasury in April 1697 to choose trustees, he briefly showed his old colours in single-handedly opposing the inclusion of the Bank of England directors as trustees in return for a subscription from the Bank of £50,000. When the proposal was made he instantly ‘desired to withdraw his subscription’. But he evidently considered himself to be in a position to make recommendations for preferment to Lord Chancellor Somers, and at the end of April put forward the name of Edward Harley*, Robert’s brother and also his own son-in-law, for the office of chief justice of the Chester circuit. Not surprisingly, the post went elsewhere. He seems to have been soliciting a ministerial favour for himself. Negotiating with the Earl of Bath to purchase Bath’s offices as keeper of St. James’s Park and housekeeper of St. James’s Palace, he applied to the Treasury in April for an alteration to the terms of the grants and for an extension to a lease of some lands adjoining the park which he also wished to buy, with building permission and a grant of a market. The Treasury’s response is not known, nor whether the purchase went through, although Luttrell recorded its completion some five months later. That Foley remained on good terms with Robert Harley is clear from Harley’s report of the journey they shared to Worcestershire in September 1697. Foley seems to have been solicited by the ministry at the beginning of the 1697–8 session not to oppose the standing army, and probably complied. At the end of the session he was able to claim the gratitude of ministers for having ‘stuck by the Court and divided from his relations in all votes of consequence, and particularly for supplies’. It was also observed of him that ‘nobody is in greater advances to the loan’. A list of the old and new Parliaments drawn up in the following September classified him as a Court supporter.8

Service to the administration over the preceding session or two was not enough to protect Foley from Court Whig opposition in Worcestershire in the 1698 election, where he withdrew on the first day of the poll. However his son Thomas III, who was elected at Droitwich and Stafford, duly vacated the seat at the former and Foley came in at the ensuing by-election. This experience seems to have alienated Foley from the Court. When, in March 1699, he went to see the King to request that Bishop Hall, a Worcestershire man and a Low Churchman from a Presbyterian background, might be translated from Bristol to the vacant see of Worcester, William’s tart reply was ‘that he should consider it, as much as he and his friends considered any business that related to him’. It still seems most likely, however, that he rather than his son was the Foley who joined another son-in-law, Salwey Winnington*, in unexpectedly dividing with the ministry on 28 Mar. in the committee of supply on a resolution to provide money for disbandment. An important speech was also ascribed to a ‘Mr Foley’: on 15 Feb. 1700, in support of Hon. James Brydges’ motion to condemn ‘the procuring or obtaining of grants of estates’ by ‘any public minister’, a scarcely veiled attack on Somers. ‘If this q[uestion] passes not’, the speech ran, ‘there’s an end of Parliament’; and the Speaker added that it was the duty of Members of Parliament ‘to defend ourselves against all ministers’.9

Foley had fallen ill by mid-December 1700, when his son Thomas informed Robert Harley: ‘My father continues much as he was, though I fear rather weaker than when you were here. He will take no physic but the Bristol or spa waters, and I cannot persuade him to continue to take Dr Radcliffe’s [John*] pills.’ Despite his illness, Foley was re-elected for Droitwich in January 1701 but died on 1 Feb., at Witley. Common rumour estimated his estate to have been worth at his death some £10,000 a year. One of his last acts was the foundation of a charity school at Pedmore in Worcestershire. Three of his sons, and three sons-in-law, sat in Parliament in Anne’s reign, all voting with the Tories, and his eldest son was raised to the peerage in 1712.10

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Nash, Worcs. ii. 464.
  • 2. Staffs. RO, D1323/A/1/1, Stafford corp. order bk. p. 358; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 77/85, list of Droitwich freemen [c.1697–1702].
  • 3. CJ, xii. 509.
  • 4. Econ. Hist. Rev. ser. 2, iv. 326, 330; Business Hist. xiii. 22; HMC Portland, v. 531.
  • 5. D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parlty. Pol. 1661–89, pp. 396–7; A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 80, 549–50; Add. 70083, Richard Stretton to Sir Edward Harley, 4 Sept. 1697; 70014, f. 290; 70225, Paul Foley I to Robert Harley, 16 Oct. 1690; HMC Portland, iii. 385, 403–4, 446; A. Browning, Danby, iii. 162; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 442; (1883), 255; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 86; HMC Portland, v. 644; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 13, f. 259; Epistolary Curiosities ed. Warner, i. 141–2; Bodl. Ballard 35, f. 53.
  • 6. Add. 42592, f. 167; 70226, Foley to Robert Harley, 16 Oct. 1690; 70114, same to Sir Edward Harley, 29 Oct. 1690; 70015, ff. 51–52; HMC Portland, iii. 463.
  • 7. Add. 42592, f. 175; 70016, ff. 7, 30; 70017, ff. 5, 22; HMC Portland, iii. 487, 510, 528, 536; Luttrell Diary, 390.
  • 8. Add. 70017, f. 321; 70227, Thomas Foley III to Robert Harley, 25 Oct., 7 Nov. 1695; 70155, jnl. of land bank commrs. 1696; HMC Kenyon, 398–9; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 7, 149; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1181, Somers to the King, 29 Apr. 1697; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 280–1; HMC Portland, iii. 587, 593; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 118–19.
  • 9. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 118–19, 152, 271; Shrewsbury Corresp. 541; Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 4107(1), acct. of debate, 13 Feb. 1699[–1700].
  • 10. HMC Portland, iii. 638; Add. 70225, Philip Foley to Robert Harley, 18 Dec. 1700; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 4 Feb. 1701; Luttrell, v. 14; Nash, 240.