FOLEY, Thomas III (1673-1733), 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



21 Nov. 1694 - 1 Jan. 1712

Family and Education

b. 8 Nov. 1673, 1st s. of Thomas Foley I*, and bro. of Edward Foley* and Richard Foley*.  educ. Sheriffhales acad. (John Woodhouse) 1689; Utrecht 1689–by 1693; L. Inn 1695.  m. 18 June 1702, Mary (d. 1735), da. and h. of Thomas Strode (d. 1698), serjeant-at-law, of Lincoln’s Inn and Beaminster, Dorset, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 3da. d.v.psuc. fa. 1701; cr. Baron Foley of Kidderminster 1 Jan. 1712.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Stafford 1694, Bewdley 1706, Worcester 1721.2

Commr. for taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3

FRS 1696.4


Brought up in a milieu of conforming, ‘middle-way’ Presbyterianism, Foley became in due course a strong Tory, a transformation prefigured in his schoolboy correspondence. One plaintive letter to his father shows him chafing against the narrowness of his Puritan education. Spurred by an exaggerated opinion of his own talents, he was anxious to polish his conversational skill, ‘one of my greatest accomplishments’, in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of London. Instead, his father despatched him to university at Utrecht, where, among others, he made the acquaintance of Edmund Calamy, the future Nonconformist minister and historian of Dissent. He pursued his studies with a view to some public career, writing in November 1690 to his brother-in-law, Robert Harley*, whose advice concerning classical authors and other elements in the curriculum he was accustomed to seek: ‘I suppose you are not ignorant of the advantages I have here of fitting myself to be serviceable to my country.’ But, like Harley, he also took a serious, if amateur, interest in matters antiquarian and scholarly. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society after his return to England, he played an active part in the society’s business and was responsible for introducing Harley into its ranks. In later life he was known as a book-collector.5

Foley was returned at Stafford in a by-election in 1694 ‘by his uncle Mr Ph[ilip] F[oley’s*] interest’, after spending ‘time and money’ in a turbulent, sometimes physically violent, contest against the opposition of ‘the gentlemen in general’. As there were four other Foleys in the Commons, two of them (his father and cousin) also named Thomas, it is for the most part impossible to specify his parliamentary activity. Nothing can with certainty be ascribed to him until after the 1695 general election, in which he was re-elected for Stafford, probably without a contest despite some preliminary opposition. He was classed as likely to oppose the Court in a forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, and in the debate that day joined the other Foleys in opposition to the prescription of an abjuration oath for the members of the council. He signed the Association promptly, but voted in March against fixing the price of guineas at 22s., and in the following November against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, dividing from his father on the latter occasion. Because of his family’s interest in the borough of Droitwich, it is highly probable that he was the ‘Mr Foley, jnr.’ who on 25 Jan. 1698 presented a bill to oblige all retailers of salt to sell by weight. The threat of opposition to his own re-election and a challenge to his father’s position as knight of the shire in Worcestershire led to his being put up at Droitwich in 1698 as well as in Stafford, as an insurance policy for both constituencies. After he and his uncle Philip had defeated their opponents in Stafford, he was able to relinquish the seat at Droitwich, where he had been returned unopposed, and allow his father in. But although father and son were co-operating closely in their electoral manoeuvring, they seem to have been voting on opposite sides in the House, at least in the preceding session. A comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, drawn up in about September 1698, classed Foley as a supporter of the Country party and his father as a supporter of the Court. According to an anonymous letter, clearly from a Whig sympathizer, which appears to have been sent to a member of the corporation at Stafford, Foley was at this time ‘as violent an actor against the government as any in the House of Commons’ and was ‘as much [?ruled] by the angry men as ’tis possible to be imagined’. It was not that he was a Jacobite, ‘though he ever votes with the rankest of them’; instead, the writer believed that father and son divided their political allegiances because they were ‘resolved their new-got wealth shall commit no treason’. Whatever his motive for supporting the Country party, Foley was forecast as likely to oppose the standing army in the 1698–9 session. He did contribute an elliptically reported speech to the debate of 4 Jan. 1699 on a motion to instruct the committee on the disbanding bill. On the other hand, it was later alleged that he was responsible for his family’s collective leniency towards Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) in the naval debates of that session, because he was ‘courting . . . Lord Orford’s niece’. In April 1700 he was directed by the ‘great men’ of his party to press his uncle Philip to come up to London to oppose the Lords’ amendments to the land tax and Irish forfeitures resumption bill.6

By this time Foley was well on the way to becoming a typical Tory squire. He wrote from Witley in September of the pleasures of ‘the noble sport of foxhunting in the open country about Stamford and Shelsley’, and he was now on the best of terms with local High Churchmen of the kidney of Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, who promised him ‘underhand support’ if he would stand for the county in the January 1701 general election. Foley preferred, however, to rely on his uncle’s interest at Stafford, reinforced by the personal influence he himself had accumulated through serving the town as a Member and through joining his uncle in public benefactions there. Although a strong Tory, he was also loyal to his brother-in-law Harley, later the godfather of one of his sons, and this loyalty seems if anything to have grown stronger rather than weaker after the death of Foley’s father in February 1701. He was now the master of a considerable fortune, to be augmented the following year by marriage to an heiress worth some £30,000. But he was not a strong character, henpecked at home by his wife, and seems to have been content to follow his eminent brother-in-law, whose attitude towards him was rather more avuncular than fraternal. Included on a list of those MPs likely to support the Court in February 1701 over the ‘Great Mortgage’, Foley was blacklisted as having voted against making preparations for war against France. When his father’s old borough of Droitwich asked him in November 1701 to prepare an address for them to send up to the King, he turned to Harley for advice: ‘having seen none lately but the London one (which I take to be but indifferently drawn) let me beg the favour of you to send one that you think will be proper for me to present’. In the second general election of that year his intervention was said to have been crucial in ensuring Pakington’s return for Worcestershire. Harley classed Foley as a Tory in a list of the new Parliament, and he voted on 26 Feb. in favour of the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the four Whig lords. Safely re-elected in 1702, he transmitted to his brother-in-law in September a recommendation from Pakington for the appointment of Dr Sacheverell as Speaker’s chaplain. Although he was himself a ‘stranger’ to the doctor, he was nevertheless prepared to endorse any nomination from such a source.7

Foley’s appearance in a parliamentary forecast of October 1704 as a probable opponent of the Tack is the final indication that he was aligning himself with the Court Tories rather than with high-flyers like Pakington. The preceding August he had congratulated Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, on recovery from illness, so was still at that time on friendly terms with leading High Tories. But he did not vote for the Tack on 28 Nov. In March 1705 his name had cropped up in reports of an intended multiple creation of Court peers, a foretaste of what was to come. Having been re-elected in 1705, at which time he was classed as ‘No Church’ in an analysis of the new Parliament, he voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, and either he or his cousin and namesake was listed on the Court side of the division of 18 Feb. 1706 in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. He may have spoken in an earlier debate arising from this bill, on 19 Dec. 1705, when the House was deciding what action to take against the Tory Charles Caesar for innuendoes in a speech of his concerning the Jacobite correspondence of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†). While the Foley who first called Caesar to account for his words is perhaps more likely to have been Thomas Foley II, the less violent remarks attributed to a Foley later on seem consonant with what we know of this Member’s attitudes. Favouring ‘moderation in penalties and inflictions’, the speaker argued against sending Caesar to the Tower and proposed only ‘a reprimand’. Because of a Worcestershire connexion, two tellerships in this session (16, 23 Feb. 1706) may be ascribed to Foley, both on the Tory side on the Bewdley election case, in which his brother-in-law Salwey Winnington* was a principal. The changing position of the Harleyite faction in the ministerial reconstruction of 1708 probably explains Foley’s inclusion first as a Whig and then as a Tory in two parliamentary lists that year, before and after the general election, at which he was returned once more. He was probably a teller in a division on 8 Feb. 1709 on another election dispute at Bewdley, again taking the Tory side. His sympathy for Dr Sacheverell in 1710 is evident both from his vote against the doctor’s impeachment and his account of the reception given Sacheverell in Worcestershire during the subsequent ‘progress’.8

Foley faced a contest at Stafford in the 1710 election, but comfortably survived the challenge, topping the poll. He was marked as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, and was subsequently included among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of the new Parliament exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. In all probability he was the ‘Mr Foley’ who acted as a teller on 2 Dec. 1710 in favour of referring to the committee of privileges a petition against the election of his colleague at Stafford. He seems to have been especially close to Harley at this time. Swift’s journal contains a note of a dinner, attended by Harley, in April 1711, at which Foley raised the question of a recent indiscretion perpetrated by Harley’s junior colleague and rival, Henry St. John II*. His loyalty, and his wealth, made him an obvious candidate for inclusion among Harley’s ‘dozen’ new peers created at a stroke in January 1712 to defeat Whig opposition in the Upper House to the ministry’s peace policy. There the new Lord Foley proved a reliable supporter of his brother-in-law’s administration: his opposition to the schism bill in 1714, in which he separated once more from his High Tory friends, may have been as much an act of loyalty to Harley (whose attitude to the bill was hostile) as a remembrance of his own Nonconformist education. After 1714 he joined other Harleyites, and Tories in general, in opposition to the Whig regime. Despite losing heavily in the South Sea Bubble, he remained a very wealthy, and, for that reason, moderately influential, figure in Tory circles. Hearne described him as ‘a brave, honest, generous man’. Foley died on 22 Jan. 1733, and was buried at Witley, in the church he had been responsible for rebuilding.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Nash, Worcs. ii. 464, 468; MI, Great Witley par. ch.; Add. 70225, Foley to Thomas Foley I, 23 Feb. 1688–9, same to Robert Harley, 26 Dec. 1689; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 328; Calamy, Life, i. 188–9; HMC Portland, iii. 482; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Foley mss, Paul Foley I* to Philip Foley, 20 Mar. 1692[–3]; Post Boy, 18–20 June 1702; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 130, 137; H. W. Woolrych, Lives of Eminent Serjeants, i. 440–6.
  • 2. Staffs. RO, D1323/A/1/2, Stafford corp. bk. p. 37; Birmingham Univ. Hist. Jnl. i. 125; W. R. Williams, Parl. Hist. Worcs. 129.
  • 3. CJ, xii. 509.
  • 4. Rec. R. Soc. (1940), p. 387.
  • 5. Add. 70225, Foley to Thomas Foley I, 23 Feb. 1688–9, same to Robert Harley, 1 May, 26 Dec. 1689, 6 Nov. 1690; HMC Portland, iii. 482; M. Hunter, R. Soc. and Fellows, 149; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, iii. 440.
  • 6. Add. 70114, Paul Foley I to Robert Harley, 29 Sept. 1694; 70017, f. 321; 70227, Foley to Robert Harley, 25 Oct. 1695; HMC Portland, iii. 558; HMC Kenyon, 398–9; Shrewsbury Corresp. 541; Foley mss, Stafford poll 1698; unsigned letter, n.d.; Foley to Philip Foley, 6 Apr. 1700; Cam. Misc. xxix. 381.
  • 7. Add. 70225, Foley to Robert Harley, 12 Sept. 1700, 23 Aug. 1701, Philip Foley to same, 18 Dec. 1700; 70227, Foley to same, 10 Oct. 1701; HMC Portland, iii. 639; iv. 26, 45; vii. 280, 450; VCH Staffs. vi. 266; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 467, 481; iv. 695; v. 185; Foley mss, R. Baker to Philip Foley, 28 Nov. 1701.
  • 8. HMC Portland, iv. 108, 550; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 13 Mar. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 50–51, 53–54, 56.
  • 9. Swift Stella ed. Davis, i. 253; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 428; HMC Portland, v. 481; vii. 280–1; L. Colley, In Defiance of Oligarchy, 63; Hearne Colls. xi. 154; Nash, 466, 468.