FOLEY, Thomas II (c.1670-1737), of Russell Street, Westminster, and Stoke Edith, Herefs.

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



12 Nov. 1691 - 1698
13 Jan. 1699 - 1700
Feb. 1701 - 1722
1722 - 1727
1734 - 10 Dec. 1737

Family and Education

b. c.1670, 1st s. of Paul Foley I*, and bro. of Paul Foley II*.  educ. at home (Chewning Blackmore, ?Joshua Oldfield); I. Temple 1678; Pembroke, Oxf. matric. 16 Oct. 1685, aged 15.  m. 12 July 1688, his 1st cos. Anne, da. and h. of Essex Knightley of Fawsley, Northants., 1s. 2da.  suc. fa. 1699.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Bewdley 1704.2

Commr. for taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711, for building 50 new churches 1712–15.3

Ld. of Trade 1712–Aug. 1713; jt. auditor of imprests Aug. 1713–d.4


Although he was probably the ablest of his generation of what was by any reckoning a remarkable political dynasty, Foley did not quite achieve the eminence for which he had seemed to be destined. The heir both to a great estate, augmented by a shrewd early marriage, and to his father’s formidable parliamentary prestige, he would have been afforded a seat in the Commons even if he had failed to display any intellectual ability, but in fact his university education marked him out as a young man of promise. His father had it in mind to bring him into Parliament at the general election of 1690, perhaps even before he attained his majority, or at any rate very shortly afterwards, and obtained a promise from one of the outgoing Members for the notoriously venal borough of Weobley, John Birch I, to propose him there. However, Birch went back on his word, and by the time the Foleys began their canvass, vital ground had been lost. Rather than pursue a forlorn hope the candidacy was abandoned. When Birch died in 1691 Foley’s father, despite misgivings, quickly put his son up for the vacancy. The ensuing contest, against Birch’s nephew and heir, John Birch II*, proved an awkward and unpleasant affair, which resulted in a double return, eventually resolved in favour of Foley.5

Because the Foleys sat in Parliament in numbers throughout this period it is for the most part impossible to be certain in ascribing parliamentary activity to individuals, although as a general rule it seems likely that Thomas Foley was initially overshadowed by his father, Paul, and uncles Philip* and Thomas I*, but that after his father’s death in 1699 he himself emerged as the most prominent of the covey of Foley cousins in the House. What is clear is that during his first session he ‘carried himself very well’, presumably adhering to the Country party, in which his father was a leading light. In February 1693 he joined the rest of his family in voting for the triennial bill, and on 20 Feb. acted as teller for agreeing to an amendment to the bill reviving expiring laws. He also added his voice to the clamour of Herefordshire gentlemen pressing Sir Edward Harley* to stand for a vacant seat as knight of the shire, couching his own exhortations in the language of Puritanism, which viewed politics as a godly calling: it was Sir Edward’s ‘plain duty’, he wrote, to undertake ‘this good work’. ‘Providence hath so ordained it that you can do no otherwise but stand for the county.’ He was probably a teller again on 23 Apr. 1695, in favour of engrossing the bill for the better encouragement of privateers. The previous year he had been added to the Herefordshire lieutenancy.6

Despite the threat of renewed hostilities with Birch at the 1695 election, Foley was eventually returned unopposed along with Price. At the beginning of the Parliament Foley was named on 12 Dec. 1695 with Lord Coningsby (Thomas), to prepare a bill to improve the navigation of the Wye and Lugg, a matter of considerable concern in Herefordshire. Foley was classed as likely to oppose the Court in a forecast for a division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, while he and the rest of his family opposed the imposition of an oath of abjuration on the councillors. He signed the Association promptly, but voted in March against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. In the same month, on the 5th, he presented a bill for removing the toll on the bridge at Wilton. In the following November he spoke and voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Either he or his cousin Thomas Foley III acted as a teller on 23 Nov. for recommitting the bill for further regulating elections, a subject into which his experiences at Weobley would already have given him a particular insight. But as a Herefordshire Member he is most likely to have been the ‘Mr Foley’ who acted as a teller on 3 Mar. 1697 against the resolution of the committee of ways and means to impose a duty on cider. His first recorded speech occurred on 8 Jan. 1698 in the debate on the Court-inspired motion for an instruction to the committee of supply to consider the funds required for guards and garrisons, in order to override an earlier resolution for limiting the size of the army. Foley took it upon himself to answer the observations of some naval officer-MPs that the fleet was insufficient to ensure the security of the realm, dismissing their arguments with a joke, and went on to refer to the example of Denmark, where the effects of a standing army in promoting arbitrary government were obvious, turning as he did so to Robert Molesworth, upon whose Account of Denmark he lavished praise. He was probably responsible for presenting on 15 Mar. a private naturalization bill, and may have reported on the 18th from the committee on the bill to facilitate the passing of sheriffs’ accounts. On 8 Apr. he spoke again on the supply, proposing, as a substitute for the various resumption bills, a levy on all crown grants made since 1660 (in return for giving them legislative confirmation). He was seconded by Edward Harley, a close associate in later years. Although subsequently granted a fortnight’s leave of absence, on 26 Apr., Foley may have been back in the Commons in time to have acted as a teller on 10 June for the Country side on a motion for adjournment. In a comparative analysis of the old and new Houses of Commons after the 1698 election he was listed, predictably, among the Country party.7

The contest between Foley and Birch at Weobley was fought with its customary bitterness in 1698, resulting in a double return, which was decided in Foley’s favour by the House on 13 Jan. 1699, in time for him to vote in the division on the standing army, which he had been forecast as likely to oppose. Although he had intended to be up in town for the beginning of the 1699–1700 session, his father’s fatal illness took him back to the country before very long and he seems to have sat out the rest of the session there. In April 1700 Robert Harley wrote to press him to return to the House. Replying, Foley acknowledged that he had already received such requests ‘from some of your officers’, and would indeed have responded had ‘the general’, Harley himself, written earlier, but now his wife had also fallen ill, and he was naturally loath to abandon her. This absenteeism probably did not extend to the next Parliament, when he transferred to his father’s former seat at Hereford, rejecting overtures to stand for knight of the shire. Possibly he was the ‘Mr Foley’ who acted as a teller on 16 June 1701 against adding to the civil list bill a clause relating to patentees. He was blacklisted as one who in this Parliament had opposed preparations for war against France, and his name subsequently appeared among those appended to a Tory pamphlet rebutting the accusations in the ‘black list’. Robert Harley classed him with the Tories in his analysis of the second Parliament of 1701, during which Foley was listed as favouring the motion of 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings on the impeachments of William III’s ministers. He may have been the Foley who reported on and carried up two private bills (28, 30 Mar., 11, 18 Apr.), and who acted as a teller on 5 Jan. 1702 to hear the Maidstone election petition at the bar of the House, on 3 Feb. to proceed with those petitions on Irish forfeitures which had already been received before admitting others, on 10 Feb. to recommit the abjuration bill, on 8 Mar. to prepare an address of condolence on the death of King William and congratulation on the accession of Queen Anne, on 17 Apr. in a division on an amendment to the land tax bill to determine the price at which the East India Company would supply saltpetre to the crown, and on 28 Apr. in a division on a proposed bill to relieve Ignatius Gould from the effects of the Irish forfeitures legislation.8

In the aftermath of his father’s death, Foley seems to have been drawn under the wing of Robert Harley, who indeed assumed an avuncular attitude towards the Foley family in general. Sticking by Harley and the ministry after the dismissal of the High Tories in 1703–4, Foley was forecast at the beginning of the 1704–5 session as a probable opponent of the Tack, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704. He had not been particularly active during this Parliament: the reporting of a private bill on 25 Jan. 1704, and two tellerships the following month, to commit the poor law reform bill (21 Feb.) and against a rider to a bill concerning the Irish forfeitures (26 Feb.), comprised the sum total of significant parliamentary activity which could possibly be credited to him. But after the 1705 general election he may well have become more active. He voted on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate as Speaker. A ‘Mr Foley’ acted as a teller on 19 Dec., on the Court side, in favour of a motion to bring in candles, in order that the land tax bill might be passed, and, before being granted three weeks’ leave of absence on 21 Dec., made several contributions to debates. On 4 Dec. a Foley was one of several Court Tories to oppose the ‘Hanover motion’, arguing that the ‘future happiness’ of the country depended on the Hanoverian succession, that this motion would be ‘no inducement to the Scots to settle the succ[ession]’, and that it would be best to ‘waive the question, leave it to the Qu[een]’. Another such intervention took place four days later, on the question of whether to agree with the Lords’ resolution against those who went about declaring the Church to be in danger under the Queen’s administration. Although Foley announced that he ‘w[oul]d hang no man, but keep wood for building ships’, he added that he himself believed that ‘all the Qu[een]’s ministers’ were ‘for the Church’ and that he disapproved of ‘pamphlets from the pulpit’. Finally, at the second reading of the regency bill on 19 Dec., a Foley, having argued that the measure was ‘by the clamours a bad bill but necessary’, led the hue and cry after the High Tory Charles Caesar* for his reference to Lord Treasurer Godolphin’s (Sidney†) supposed previous correspondence with St. Germain, urging that a motion of censure be passed. Foley may have voted with the Court in the proceedings on 18 Feb. over the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill, and served as a teller on 1 Mar. in favour of an alteration to the bill for the amendment of the law. In the following session he was given indefinite leave of absence on 13 Jan. 1707 to go to Bath to recover his health.9

Classed as a Tory in two lists in 1708, before and after the general election that year, Foley overcame ‘great’ opposition at Hereford in 1708, from the higher Tories – ‘the Jacobites’, as he himself put it – as well as the Whigs. He also followed his mentor Robert Harley in making his peace with his erstwhile Tory colleagues in the House. In a debate on supply on 17 Dec. he moved an opposition amendment to the vote of funds to augment the land forces, to stipulate that ‘the same proportion be furnished by the States [General]’, and ‘exerted himself very much’ over the disputed election for Abingdon, acting as a teller for (Sir) Simon Harcourt I* at the report on 18 Jan. 1709. Of course, Harcourt too was closely associated with Harley, but Foley may well have been a teller in other divisions of a partisan nature which did not involve Harleyites and former Court Tories: on 24 Nov. 1708, against the Whig William Farrer being chosen as the chairman of the committee of privileges and elections; and on further election cases, on 2 and 11 Dec. over the Reading election, and on 15 Jan. 1709 over the dispute at Bramber. Another possible tellership was that of 9 Mar., to adjourn for a month the committee of the whole House on the tobacco trade bill. Possibly the Foley who on 8 Dec. 1709 told on the Tory side in a division on the Cirencester election, and on 4 Feb. 1710 for a Tory motion that the Commons attend the trial of Dr Sacheverell as a committee of the whole, he appeared on some division lists on the Sacheverell case as having voted for the impeachment and on others as having voted against it. This may be the reason that he was suspected by local Tories as being only lukewarm in his support for the doctor. At one point during the aftermath of the trial it was rumoured that he disapproved of Hereford corporation’s enthusiastically pro-Sacheverell address and had decided to make some excuse rather than remain in London to present it to the Queen. There were fears that ‘his Staffordshire uncle [Philip Foley*] had turned him’. These stories proved unfounded, and did not interfere with his prospects for re-election in 1710, but whatever his public protestations it is clear from his private correspondence that he shared Robert Harley’s suspicion of the ‘hot’ men in both parties. During the summer he praised Harley’s political initiatives as a ‘bold attack, which I believe by what I find in the country is an equal grief to the extremes of Low Church and Jacobite’.10

Returned again without serious opposition in 1710, Foley was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, and was included in the lists of ‘Tory patriots’ and ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of this Parliament respectively opposed the continuance of the war and exposed the mismanagements of the old ministry. His membership of the October Club was presumably a piece of infiltration on behalf of the Court. It is probable that he was the Foley who reported on 11 Feb. 1711 from the committee on the public debts. He may also have been the ‘Mr Foley’ who was described by Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle as one of the bishop’s ‘good friends in the House of Commons’ over the affair of the Carlisle election. By late May, however, Foley had left Parliament for the country. Sources for the following session show him to have been a prominent Court spokesman in the House from that point onwards. He opposed the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion of 7 Dec. 1711 and spoke in favour of the proposed censure of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) on 25 Jan. 1712. Having on 11 Apr. 1712 seconded Henry Campion’s motion of censure against the publisher of the Daily Courant for printing the Dutch memorial, he intervened in a later debate on the issue to call for an exceptional punishment. On 13 Apr. he rose on behalf of the ministry to move for a call of the House on 1 May, on the grounds that ministers had weighty matters to put before Parliament, hinting at a statement about the peace negotiations. With other Court Tories, he spoke against the tack of the land grants resumption clause to the lottery bill, despite the fact that in theory he still belonged to the October Club, who were pushing the measure hard. As a reward for his efforts, and in recognition of his status, he received in July 1712 a place at the Board of Trade, with a salary of £1,000 p.a. At this stage he was probably no longer obliged to abstain from office for the purpose of maintaining connexions with the October Club, since his recent speeches in the House would have severed these links in any case. Acceptance of a place, however, did mean the risk of seeking re-election to the House, and at Hereford Foley had to surmount antagonism from disgruntled electors who regarded him as having sold out. The tanners, glovers and shoemakers resented his having supported the imposition of the leather duty, while ‘some of the best of the town bore that way’, too, ‘by his declaring all along he would not accept of a place and that he heed[ed] no other prospect but to serve his country. Now by serving himself in getting a place they say he is not the man they took him to be.’ Fortunately for Foley, this opposition fizzled out before the poll.11

Even before the next session began Foley had been promised rapid promotion to the post of joint auditor of the imprests, held under a more secure tenure, during good behaviour. A warrant for the appointment was prepared in January 1713, although it was not completed until the following August, presumably to avoid the necessity of another awkward by-election. He spoke on 2 Apr. in support of the bill for the regulation of the press, and on 26 June intervened decisively to defeat a Whig amendment to the bill of commerce, a measure he had voted for in the critical division some eight days previously. He was to the forefront for the Court party on 1 July when the Whig James Stanhope moved that the House concur with the Lords’ address for the removal of the Pretender from Lorraine. In order to protect the ministry’s reputation, Foley made a point of seconding this motion. He was then named to the committee to prepare the Commons’ address, and was even put forward to be its chairman, but was defeated by Stanhope on a division. He was probably the Foley who reported on a private bill on 13 June, and acted as a teller on 28 May in favour of continuing the Quaker Relief Acts, and on 30 May against a Whig motion to publish the bill of commerce.12

In 1714 Foley took a leading part in the Tory campaign to secure the expulsion from the House of Richard Steele. On 12 Mar. he made the original complaint against Steele, and together with his friend and colleague as auditor, Edward Harley, ‘severely animadverted upon the rancour and seditious spirit conspicuous’ in the particular writings cited. Steele, in requesting more time to prepare his defence than the House originally allowed him, replied to the two auditors with a neat stroke of ridicule. Since his accusers were both ‘known to be rigid Presbyterians’, Steele adopted a ‘sanctified countenance’ and ‘canting tone’ and pointed out that unless the date for the motion for expulsion was postponed he would be obliged to break the sabbath in drawing up his answers to the charges. When the debate finally took place, on 18 Mar., Foley began by moving that Steele be required to state whether he acknowledged the writings in question to be his, which he duly did. He then proposed that Steele be obliged to withdraw, which went to another vote, before he himself opened the debate proper, though not with the tirade that had been expected. Instead, he contented himself with saying that

without amusing the House with long speeches, it was plain that the writings that had been complained of were seditious and scandalous, injurious to her Majesty’s government, the Church and the universities, and moved that the question should be put thereupon.

Afterwards Steele vented his spleen on both Foley and Harley in a satire in a number of The Lover. Foley was lampooned in the character of ‘Peter Brickdust’, known as ‘the accuser’ because of ‘his natural propensity to think the worst of every man’. His ‘countenance’, wrote Steele, ‘discovers him a creature of small prey; it is the mixture of the face of a cat, and that of an owl. He has the spiteful eagerness of the former, blended with the stupid gravity of the latter.’ More tellingly, Steele commented on the relationship between Foley and Robert Harley, now Lord Treasurer Oxford. Though ‘born to a better fortune’ than Oxford, Foley was content to be his ‘utter slave’. Foley’s subsequent speeches certainly demonstrate this close connexion with the lord treasurer. He spoke for the Court on 22 Apr., on the address of thanks for the treaties of peace and commerce with France and Spain, when he answered the ‘most material objections to the treaties of commerce’ raised by opposition Members, and in the debate of 5 June on paying arrears to the Hanoverian troops he acted even more clearly as an agent of Lord Oxford. In conjunction with Edward Harley he opposed High Tory attempts to withhold payment by reminding those present of their oaths of abjuration (thus insinuating that a refusal to pay the Hanoverians was tantamount to a declaration for the Pretender), and also by defending the conduct of the troops themselves in 1712 in terms which implied some unease at the behaviour of their general, the Duke of Ormond. These remarks prompted a Whig to observe that the ‘courtiers’ appeared to be falling out among themselves. It is possible that Foley served as a teller on 30 June against a motion put forward by some Scottish Members to set a day for the committee of the whole on the Scottish militia bill. Foley was classed as a Tory in the Worsley list, and in two lists of the Members re-elected in 1715.13

‘The little captain of Stoke’, as Dr William Stratford nicknamed him, retained his office after the Hanoverian succession only because of the terms under which it had been granted. He voted consistently with the opposition. In 1719 he suffered the indignity of dismissal from the Herefordshire commission of the peace. His name does not appear, however, in any lists of sympathizers compiled for the Jacobite court, and no evidence has been cited which would implicate him in Jacobite conspiracy. In a debate on the treaty of Hanover in 1726 he confined his remarks to praise of Lord Oxford’s ministry. Foley died at Bath, on 10 Dec. 1737. His son, Thomas Foley†, had already followed in his footsteps as Tory Member for Hereford.14

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Vis. Worcs. ed. Metcalfe, 47; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 68; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parlty. Pol. 1661–89, pp. 395, 398; W. R. Urwick, Nonconformity in Worcester, 91; DNB (Oldfield, Joshua); A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 373.
  • 2. Birmingham Univ. Hist. Jnl. i. 122.
  • 3. Pittis, Present Parl. 349; E. G. W. Bill, Queen Anne Churches, p. xxiii.
  • 4. Boyer, Pol. State, v. 389; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 318; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1735–8, p. 620.
  • 5. Add. 70225, Paul Foley I to Robert Harley, 9 July 1686; 70014, f. 296; 70015, ff. 72–73, 85; 70226, Foley to Robert Harley, 23 May, 9 June 1691; 70234, Sir Edward Harley to same, 27 May 1691; HMC Portland, iii. 478.
  • 6. Add. 70016, f. 7; 70017, ff. 5, 22; 70126, Foley to Sir Edward Harley, 10 Jan. 1692[–3]; Luttrell Diary, 433; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 153; 1696, p. 488.
  • 7. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 25, f. 15; Add. 70018, ff. 50, 62, 82; 17677 SS, ff. 115, 219–20; HMC Kenyon, 398–9; Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. (1735), p. 152; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 184; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 232.
  • 8. Add. 70305, Foley’s election case [1698]; 70114, Paul Foley I to Robert Harley, 30 Oct. 1699; 70226, Foley to same, 10 Apr., 15 May, 20 Sept. 1700; An Answer to the Black-List: Or, the Vine-Tavern Queries (1701), p. 4.
  • 9. Cam. Misc. xxiii. 41, 47, 50–51, 53.
  • 10. HMC Portland, iv. 485–8, 518; Add. 70254, Robert Harley to Price, 27 May 1708; 70226, Foley to Robert Harley, 12 Aug. 1710; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1179; Speck thesis, 73; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(2), p. 219; 58(6), pp. 35–36.
  • 11. Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 561; Add. 70226, Foley to Robert Harley, 29 May 1711; 17677 FFF, f. 159; NSA, Kreienberg despatches 7 Dec. 1711, 25 Jan., 11, 15 Apr., 9 May 1712; Oldmixon, 488; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, to James Stanhope*, 13 Apr. [1712]; Boyer, iii. 119; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 352; Stowe mss 58(12), pp. 131, 245.
  • 12. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 89, 318; Boyer, vi. 123; Kreienberg despatches 21 Apr., 26 June, 3 July 1713; Add. 17677 GGG, ff. 258–9.
  • 13. Chandler, v. 64, 67, 71, 142; Boyer, vii. 247, 256, 532; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1267–8, 1288, 1303; Kreienberg despatches 12, 16, 19 Mar. 1714; Add. 17677 GGG, f. 118; Steele’s Periodical Journalism ed. Blanchard, 41; Letters of Thomas Burnet to George Duckett ed. Nichol Smith, 64; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 173–4.
  • 14. HMC Portland, vii. 216; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 257; Nash, Worcs. ii. 464.