HEDGES, Sir Charles (1650-1714), of Richmond, Surr.; Compton Bassett, Wilts.; and St. James’s Park, Westminster

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



1698 - 10 Feb. 1700
Feb. - Nov. 1701
Dec. 1701 - 1702
1702 - 1705
1705 - 1713
1713 - 10 June 1714

Family and Education

bap. 30 Jan. 1650, 1st s. of Henry Hedges of Wanborough, Wilts. by Margaret, da. of Richard Pleydell of Childrey, Berks.  educ. Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1667, BA 1670, MA 1673, DCL 1675; ct. of arches 1675.  m. bef. ?1679, Eleanor (d. 1733), da. of George Smith of London, proctor, 6s. (5 d.v.p.) 4da. (3 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. aft. 1673; kntd. 4 June 1689.1

Offices Held

Chancellor and vicar-gen. of Rochester dioc. 1686–d.; official of Colchester ?–1696; judge of Adm. 1689–d.; master of faculties 1689–d.; sec. of state (northern dept.) Nov. 1700–Dec. 1701, May 1702–May 1704; (southern dept.) May 1704–Dec. 1706; PC Nov. 1700–d.; judge of prerogative ct. of Canterbury 1711–d.2

Freeman, Dover 1690; high steward, Malmesbury 1701–5.3

Commr. rebuilding St. Paul’s 1692, Greenwich Hosp. 1695, taking subscriptions to land bank 1696, union with Scotland 1702, 1706, Q. Anne’s bounty 1704, S. Sea Co. 1711; trustee, poor Palatines 1709.4


The basis of Hedges’ career was his education in the civil law. In this he received help from the then chancellor of Oxford University, the 1st Duke of Ormond, who in April 1675 excused him from the need to spend further time studying provided that he could perform all the exercises required and pay fees for both his BCL and DCL. By 1686 Hedges was resident in Doctors’ Commons and was tipped for promotion in the ecclesiastical courts. He was appointed chancellor of Rochester diocese. Despite the fevered atmosphere of the time he defended, albeit discreetly, various Anglican clergymen who had fallen foul of James II. Most notably in September 1686 he pleaded for Bishop Compton of London, who had been dragged before the commission for ecclesiastical causes because of his leniency towards Dr John Sharp (the future archbishop), a vociferous preacher against the Catholic church. Such was his reputation that, having been out of town when Magdalen College sought advocates, Hedges had to plead with James II and the Earl of Sunderland in October 1687 not to be included among the commissioners charged with bringing the fellows of Magdalen College to accept as master the bishop of Oxford. Although an advocate for the King, his advice was always towards moderation, particularly when the more extreme commissioners wished to exclude the evicted fellows from further preferment. To some, Hedges was ‘a university man, and a member of the Church of England, and, which is most, a conscientious, honest man’, who did the college a ‘service’ in acting at the visitation. However, as early as March 1689 his actions were being seen as ‘a rub in his way’ to promotion in the diocese of London.5

Hedges did not experience difficulty in adhering to the Williamite regime, associated as he was with Anglican opponents of James II such as Compton. Indeed, he may have discreetly removed himself from the centre of events, for on 10 Dec. 1688 he received a pass to take his family to Aylesbury. William III soon found an outlet for this ‘topping advocate’, appointing him in June 1689 as a judge of the Admiralty, and bestowing a knighthood on him. Armed with Court approval Hedges attempted to enter Parliament for Dover in 1690, but was thwarted by Thomas Papillon*. Hedges’ duties as Admiralty judge covered issues of naval jurisdiction such as piracy and prize ships; so great were his duties that in May 1690 he petitioned for an allowance for all the reports he was processing for various government officers. Maintaining the extra allowance became a perennial concern throughout the 1690s, as the various funds charged with paying it were challenged by retrenchment orders, or even by Act of Parliament.6

At this stage of his career Hedges was ambitious for preferment in the civil law, particularly the prize of the prerogative court of Canterbury. When in July 1693 the incumbent, Sir Richard Raines, was falsely rumoured to be dying, Hedges quickly moved to obtain recommendations from such influential figures as Bishop Stillingfleet. In the early 1690s Hedges resided in the London parish of St. Benet, Paul’s Wharf (several of his children being baptized there, 1686–91). However, the records for the tax on births, marriages and deaths reveal that he was living alone in that parish in 1694–5, his family probably staying in Richmond. This fact was recognized by his appointment to the Surrey bench in March 1691. As well as maintaining more than one household, he had sufficient surplus cash in 1694 to invest over £500 in the Bank of England and also to subscribe to the land bank the following year. His expertise as an Admiralty judge was utilized by Parliament when discussing laws pertaining to the navy and shipping, particularly those covering privateering: in February 1695 he attended the Lords’ committee on the bill continuing the Act prohibiting trade and commerce with France. His roles included drafting clauses for the bill and advising the committee. On 24 Apr. he was ordered to attend the committee of the whole in the Commons on the bill, and again called to advise the Lords when parts of the bill were the subject of a dispute between the two Houses.7

According to Hedges’ own testimony ‘the experience I got at Dover’ discouraged him from attempting to gain a seat in the 1695 Parliament. However, just before the election, he had offered himself as a candidate to fill Oxford University’s vacancy upon the sudden death of the Tory stalwart Sir Thomas Clarges*. He had quickly withdrawn, throwing his weight instead behind his fellow civilian Sir William Trumbull*. Alerted to his availability, several people wrote to offer Hedges a seat elsewhere, at Reading, and possibly also at Canterbury, which he declined on 2 Nov. on the grounds that he ‘cannot approve of standing against the old burgesses’. When declining these offers he could plausibly claim ‘more business upon my hands than I am able well to dispatch’. The common assumption in all this correspondence was that he was a member of the ‘Church’ interest.8

The 1696–7 session saw Hedges heavily involved in legislation relating to privateers, chiefly clauses impinging on the jurisdiction of the lord high admiral and the claims of the Cinque Ports, and consequently he lobbied the Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett†) and the Earls of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†) and Marlborough (John Churchill†). In April 1696 he obtained a lease of some crown property in Richmond, and at about the same time resigned his ‘officialty’ of Colchester, which seems to have been the post of official in that archdeaconry in the diocese of London, which he held for life. This sacrifice for the King’s service, plus his abandonment of his private legal practice, came in useful when Hedges sought to protect his income from post-war retrenchment in 1697–8. After many letters of application, his allowance of an extra £400 p.a. was continued in October 1698, a decision perhaps not unrelated to his successful entry into the Commons for Orford, since his patron there, the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*), was head of the Admiralty Board.9

By the time of his election Hedges was well thought of in government circles, James Vernon I* remarking in April 1698, apropos of Secretary Shrewsbury’s desire to retire, that ‘I shall be mighty glad to see Sir Charles Hedges encouraged’. On a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments Hedges was classed as a Court supporter, and his name also appeared on a list of placemen. He demonstrated support for the Court, voting on 18 Jan. 1699 against the third reading of the disbanding bill. In the 1699–1700 session the Commons made use of Hedges’ expertise as an Admiralty judge, naming him on 14 Dec. to draft a bill for the more effectual suppression of pirates. After preparing it ‘with great care and assistance’, he presented the bill on 20 Jan. and it was committed five days later. Unfortunately, progress was then slowed by the decision of the Commons on 10 Feb. to unseat Hedges, following several hearings of the committee of elections. Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, felt that ‘Hedges . . . had a very hard case of it’. On 5 Nov. 1700, much to the surprise of some observers, Hedges was appointed secretary of state. James Lowther* could only comment: ‘it is much wondered how it was brought about.’ Contemporary bewilderment has been echoed by various scholars, who have seen it as an appointment foisted on a King unwilling to espouse a Tory ministry, or more simply as the advancement of a moderate Tory ‘in no way considerable’. Hedges also obtained the King’s permission to retain his Admiralty judgeship.10

In the election of February 1701 Hedges fought both Dover and Orford. He was defeated at the latter, but the personal attention of Sir Basil Dixwell, 2nd Bt.*, ensured his success at Dover. As secretary he now acted as an intermediary between crown and Commons, presenting papers and memorials. On 20 Feb. 1701, for example, he produced translations of the treaty of 1678 with the United Provinces. Later that day, when the House debated the treaties and a memorial by the Dutch ambassador, Hedges faced questioning from John Grobham Howe* on what the Dutch actually wanted and whether they would reciprocate any action taken to execute Charles II’s treaty. After Hedges had quashed these doubts, the Commons voted for an address supporting negotiations with the States General and others to preserve the peace of Europe. A more aggressive response, exhorting the King to ‘all manner of strict alliances with the Dutch for the same good ends and in opposition to the power of France’, was only prevented by the intervention of Hedges, who told the House that only action on the 1678 treaty was ‘asked or desired’ at that time. Hedges was listed in February among those likely to support the Court in continuing the ‘Great Mortgage’. Among other important communications, Hedges presented to the House on 31 Mar. a letter from the King that a message received by the Pensionary of Holland from the French ambassador seemed to herald the end of negotiations between the two powers. On 2 Apr. the Commons considered this message, and again Hedges intervened, using the authority of his office to rein in the more vociferous elements who wished to state that merely renewing the Treaty of Ryswick was insufficient. He pointed out that this would be tantamount to a declaration of war when what the King required was unanimity. An address was passed, nem. con., urging the King to pursue effective security measures with the Dutch in line with the 1678 treaty and offering full support for them. The King was in fact not at all averse to the more bellicose resolution, and a contemporary squib attributed Hedges’ actions to Jacobite sympathies.11

Hedges presented further treaty documentation to the Commons during April, and presented another important royal message on 8 May along with a letter from the States General to the King. The House took both into consideration the following day, and agreed an address promising to assist in any efforts the King thought necessary for maintaining the liberties of Europe. Hedges’ contribution was to assure Members that the Emperor and others ‘courted our alliance’, and were waiting to ‘see what we would do’. On 26 May, during the debate on the destruction of wood in Enfield Chase, Hedges was able to deflect the Commons’ aim of removing Lord Stamford from the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, to a milder address declaring the destruction to have been a breach of trust. This he appears to have done by intimating privately to certain influential Members that he had received royal instructions to state that Stamford’s actions had been done on the King’s orders. A more open endorsement of Stamford was impossible because Hedges had arrived too late to alert the House during the debate itself.12

In 1701 Hedges purchased the manor of Compton Bassett, outside Calne, giving him an obvious proprietorial interest in that borough. In July 1701 he acquired the high stewardship of Malmesbury and the following year purchased the manor of Highway (four miles from Calne). The autumn of 1701 saw Whig pamphlets in defence of the impeached lords, particularly Lord Somers (Sir John*), which attacked the record under James II of the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), and others ‘they have a mind to expose’, including Hedges, who was vulnerable on that score. The link between the two men may have increased, since Hedges was now in residence close to Rochester’s manor of Wootton Basset. John Tucker, Hedges’ under-secretary, informed George Stepney that his superior was ‘not in all mysteries here’, and not completely in the King’s confidence. Certainly, Hedges had not favoured the decision to dissolve Parliament, discussed in Cabinet on 9 Nov., although he may not have been present since he wrote to John Ellis* from Richmond on the 10th of ‘your surprising news’, and that ‘if it be so . . . I should be glad to have my interest [at Malmesbury] preferred for myself or a friend’. He was noted among the dissentients when the Privy Council agreed to the dissolution on the 11th. On the morning of the 18th Hedges left London to secure his election. As it transpired, his cultivation of an interest at Malmesbury paid dividends, and his confident assertions of success were justified. At Calne, however, he was involved in a double return with Edward Bayntun* and had lost his interest at Dover through neglect.13

According to William Blathwayt*, writing on 19 Dec., the dissolution had caused great heats among the parties, both of whom were competing for the King’s ear, while the ‘two secretaries [of state] oppose one another in all their proceedings to please their respective friends’. If Hedges was at odds with the thrust of royal policy, the issue soon came to a head with the choice of a Speaker. The King asked him to support the Court candidate, the Whig Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., but Hedges declined, saying that he had pre-engaged for Robert Harley*. The King’s response was that ‘if any in his service engaged themselves in any party without his allowance he judged it not fit to continue them longer in his service’, and on the morning of 29 Dec. Hedges handed back the seals. One observer of this scene referred to Hedges as a ‘High Tory’. His crucial vote on the Speakership had earned him Harley’s friendship; indeed, common reports had it that the King had dismissed Hedges because of his involvement with Harley, and Harley’s own list of this Parliament classified Hedges as a Tory.14

On 2 Jan. 1702, the first working day after the Speakership election, Hedges was first-named to the committee on the Address, reporting the following day. His motive in moving such a positive address, so soon after his dismissal, was probably to demonstrate to the King that the Tories were just as eager as the Whigs to carry out royal policies. On 9 Jan. Hedges moved for a bill for the further security of the King’s person and the succession of the crown in the Protestant line (commonly known as the abjuration bill), subsequently managing the bill through all its stages in the Commons, including chairing the committee of the whole. On 14 Jan. several burgesses and inhabitants of Malmesbury petitioned that Hedges and his partner Edward Pauncefort* had used a local attorney to bribe the electorate there. The case was heard at the bar on 29 Jan., the result being a complete vindication for Hedges. Even then Hedges had to intervene in the debate on 14 Feb. when the Malmesbury petitioners appeared before the House to explain their actions: Thomas Jacob* offered the opinion that ‘they never chose but by bribery’, leading Hedges to rebut this imputation on his honour by denying that ‘he ever gave a farthing and was clearly elected as it did appear by the report’.15

While this controversy was raging, Hedges, freed from departmental concerns, was involved in more mundane matters than hitherto. On 3 Mar. he reported from the committee on the petition of army clothiers and transport creditors concerning their inability to purchase the Irish forfeited estates set aside for their relief. When the Commons had considered the committee’s proposals on 10 Mar. leave was given for a bill with Hedges as the sole draftsman. On the 20th he duly presented the bill, but it only received a first reading. An attempt was made to satisfy the army and transport creditors on 13 Apr. when the House instructed that a clause be added to the land tax bill for enlarging the time for the sale of Irish forfeited estates. Hedges supported the motion on 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the Whig lords.

The death of the King on 8 Mar. saw Hedges named to the committee to prepare an address to Queen Anne. Hon. James Brydges* recorded in his diary that on that date he was at ‘Mr Finch’s’ (?Hon. Heneage I*) with, among others, Hedges, Francis Gwyn* and Francis Scobell*, where ‘we drew a rough draft of the address’. According to the Journals, the committee on the address should have withdrawn immediately into the Speaker’s chamber to carry out their task, but then a conference was called with the Lords and this smaller group may have gone elsewhere to prepare a Tory draft. It seems unlikely that they met before the Commons sat, because Hedges was at that time attending a meeting of the Privy Council to discuss the Queen’s proclamation. Almost immediately rumours abounded of his likely return to office under a Tory ministry. On 2 May Hedges was declared one of the secretaries of state, in tandem with the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). His appointment had not been a foregone conclusion, Ellis reporting on 24 Apr. that ‘great endeavours have been used to preserve Mr Secretary Vernon’. However, Burnet reported that ‘the Tories would trust none but the Earl of Nottingham, and he would serve with none but Hedges’. Vernon, too, saw Nottingham’s insistence as dictated by party considerations, as did Lord Dartmouth, who believed that Nottingham’s avowed reason for backing Hedges, namely ‘that he had suffered for a vote he had given in the House of Commons [for Harley]’, was merely a pretence: ‘the truth was to hinder Vernon from being so.’16

Even before his appointment as secretary had been gazetted, Hedges was being approached for patronage favours, these approaches including one from John Adye, the alderman of Malmesbury at the centre of the election controversy in the previous session. On 3 July he informed the Earl of Marlborough that he was ‘making a step into Wiltshire to visit my boroughs’, although on the 11th he was back in Whitehall. This short visit was clearly sufficient, because he was returned for both Calne and Malmesbury at the general election, later opting to sit for Calne. Hedges was of course involved in affairs of state that summer, not least acting in June as a commissioner for the treaty to be negotiated with the Dutch. August saw him attending the Queen on her visit to Bath, where he wrote to both Nottingham and Rochester that since Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, Hon. John Granville*, Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, and John Grobham Howe were also there they ‘may make a good committee’, presumably of Privy Councillors and Tories. Bath was convenient for short trips to Compton Bassett, a mere 15 miles away.17

The new Parliament met to do business on 23 Oct. 1702 and Hedges’ reports to Marlborough at this time provide useful insights into his thinking. He explained that the resolution of 2 Nov. that the Commons had not had right done by them in the impeachments was in order to maintain the rights of the House, in the face of Members’ resentment over the actions of Bishop Lloyd against the Tory, Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.* On 6 Nov. Hedges wrote that the public business of the House would not be obstructed, but that the Commons would ‘upon all occasions assert the right of impeachment and support the Church of England’. With regard to the latter, he predicted a bill ‘to take away occasional conformity, but toleration to Dissenters will not be infringed in the least’. Hedges continued to act as a conduit from the Court to Parliament, presenting papers and messages from the Queen to the House. With his departmental responsibilities and role as a leading spokeman for the Court, Hedges played little part in legislative activity. On 11 Jan. 1703 he was added to the conference committee on the occasional conformity bill, and there is evidence that he attended the conference on 1 Feb. On 23 Jan. he was ordered to prepare a bill to settle the lands and revenues of the dissolved hospital of the Savoy to other charitable and public uses, which he presented four days later but took no further part in managing. He did not vote on 13 Feb. in the division on the Lords’ amendments for enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration – a party matter which he may have felt more comfortable avoiding.18

As Hedges again attended the Queen to Bath, there were the first stirrings of Whig unhappiness at his position in the ministry. In June 1703 the Duchess of Marlborough had referred in a letter to her husband to seven men who she thought did ‘not do the Queen the service they ought’. Presumably these were the leading Tories in the ministry, including Hedges. The Duke’s reply was that they would do more ‘hurt’ if dismissed. Whig concern with Hedges may have centred on his cautious view of England’s wartime commitments. There is some evidence to support this interpretation, namely the view he expressed to Alexander Stanhope that ‘England is now upon full stretch in point of expenses and ’tis not expected that they will ever be brought to do more’.19

Hedges was probably given a key role in Commons management in the 1703–4 session, partly because his Anglican credentials were useful in trying to head off Nottingham’s occasional conformity bill. On 4 Nov. 1703 Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) informed Harley that he had left with Hedges ‘the paper of names and settled the method he is to take in concerting matters from time to time’. Hedges was to co-ordinate parliamentary management, a delicate matter for it had been decided that Sir Edward Seymour could not be excluded from meetings until his opposition ‘became open and avowed’. On 9 Nov. Hedges was appointed to the committee on the Address and was able to give Godolphin an account of Seymour’s ‘showing his good intentions’ by proposing only a general message of thanks until the House had considered the Queen’s speech in detail. Hedges may have pleaded a diplomatic indisposition to avoid being lobbied on occasional conformity, because George Clarke* reported to Nottingham on 17 Nov. that he was ill. Various accounts of the debate on 25 Nov. show Hedges to have opposed the motion for leave to bring in the bill, at least indirectly, in that he sought to remove it from parliamentary consideration by referring it to Convocation. Bonet noted that Hedges was one of the Members who had previously been for the bill, but were now effectively opposed, and Francis Atterbury thought that referring the matter to Convocation would side-line the bill. Atterbury’s account also revealed that no one seconded Hedges. From that point on Hedges seems to have steered clear of the conflict over the bill. In fact matters more crucial to the war effort were preoccupying him, for when the House went into a committee of the whole on 27 Nov. to consider manning the navy, Hedges was named to a select committee to receive proposals and prepare the heads of a bill to increase the number of seamen. On 4 Dec. the committee of the whole sat again on the question of the provision of seamen, Hedges intervening in the discussions, probably to back up William Lowndes* who had specific proposals to offer. On 17 Dec. Hedges was nominated to the committee to address the Queen expressing thanks for her speech alerting the Commons to Jacobite plots in Scotland. At this point the action taken by the Lords in examining the captured plotters came into question. Not only could it be taken as an insult to the royal prerogative, but it was seen as a calculated Whig attack on Nottingham. On 20 Dec. the Commons debated an address on the matter, and on the following day ‘that keen Tory Hedges . . . fully vindicated my lord’s [Nottingham] honour by giving a very clear and satisfactory account of that story’. In the vote which followed, on the address, an attempt was made to amend it to state that the Commons had a concern for the ‘preservation’ of the prerogative rather than the harsher criticism which finally passed that the Lords’ actions were a violation of the prerogative. Hedges voted with the minority. Evidence presented to the House on 22 Dec. showed that Hedges was still receiving a pension of £400 p.a., payable by the treasurer of the navy, no doubt for his duties as judge of the Admiralty.20

Most of Hedges’ parliamentary work for the remainder of the session involved passing communications to the Commons from the Queen on such matters as requests for documents. His key role in Commons management, in conjunction with Godolphin and Harley, is illuminated by two letters of early 1704. On 18 Jan., the day after the Commons had ordered an inquiry into the Lords’ proceedings in the writ of error in Ashby v. White, Hedges wrote to Marlborough that by the next post he would be able to ‘discern whether we shall fall into heats . . . the judgment in the Aylesbury cause has a little inflamed matters’, but that ‘most gentlemen are disposed to proceed calmly in dispatching the rest of the business in this session’. On the 21st Godolphin sought a meeting of ‘the gentlemen of the House of Commons’ to concert matters on the Aylesbury case, due to be debated on the 25th, as well as ‘the business of Scotland upon which I find by . . . Hedges the angry gentlemen are very keen’. During this high political drama, Hedges found time for the minutiae of politics, penning a letter on 2 Feb. with his fellow member for Calne, Henry Chivers, to the postmaster-general asking for the local postmaster to be removed and replaced by their own nominee. In March his name appears on a forecast of supporters of Nottingham in the wake of the ‘Scotch Plot’. Three weeks after the prorogation, rumours abounded that Hedges would be replaced by Trumbull, and Nottingham by Sunderland. On 22 Apr. Harley was more precise: on noting the resignation of Nottingham he reported to his brother Edward* that ‘the town’ gave the vacant post to Sunderland or Trumbull. Harley wanted a delay in filling the post, no doubt for his own advancement, and this is what occurred, Hedges acting as sole secretary for almost a month before Harley took up the other secretaryship on 19 May.21

On 31 Aug. 1704 Hedges sought advice from his under-secretary, John Ellis, in Wiltshire on the form of addresses being used to commemorate Blenheim; he required two, each differently worded, for his boroughs of Calne and Malmesbury. Local visits gave him the opportunity to convey to the Duke of Marlborough on 12 Sept. news of ‘a perfect good disposition for doing all that is necessary for carrying on the war with vigour’. From this he concluded that an early sitting of Parliament was preferable, so that ‘measures may be concerted and the scheme for the next year beforehand’. The following session was in fact to see considerable efforts at parliamentary management by the Court, involving Hedges, chiefly to ward off a threat to tack the occasional conformity bill to supply legislation. From the first there was no doubt of Hedges’ opposition to the ‘Tack’. He was forecast as likely to oppose the measure and was used by Harley to lobby Richard Crawley*, the registrar of the Admiralty court. On 14 Nov. Hedges reported to Marlborough that the House had ordered the occasional conformity bill, although, in his view, ‘I do not apprehend there will be any attempt to tack it, or if there be I believe there will be two to one against a tack’, a ‘computation’ sufficiently close to the actual result for Hedges to brag of it subsequently. Hedges played a vital role in convening meetings at this time, at which the Court could plan its tactics to defeat the occasional bill. On 21 Nov. Godolphin informed Harley that the ‘gentlemen of the House of Commons’ would convene at Hedges’ home to ‘consider if anything can be done to defer it in that House’. Following the introduction of the bill and its successful first reading on 23 Nov., Hedges informed Marlborough that he expected only one day’s ‘warm’ debate and reiterated his belief that there was a two-to-one majority against a tack. He was involved in some last-minute lobbying, being told by Godolphin to speak to ‘the two Bruces’ (Hon. James* and Hon. Robert*), both Wiltshire MPs. More importantly, Harley and Hedges were ordered to summon a meeting of government supporters to convene after the Cabinet had met, ‘where they may concert who should more be spoken to and by whom and what is there resolved may be put in practice the next day’ (the 27th). As Godolphin subsequently informed the Duchess of Marlborough, ‘our people had a great meeting last night at Mr Secretary Hedges’, and are all very firm and confident’. On 28 Nov. Hedges voted and spoke against the Tack; his arguments were based on a pragmatic view of the needs of the government, more especially the ill consequences for the war if the troops hired for the relief of the Duke of Savoy, ‘upon the credit of the resolution the House had already taken, to make good her Majesty’s treaties’, were delayed. He observed that ‘obstructing the money bills which tacking of the occasional bill would infallibly do, would put an immediate stop to the march of those troops and thereby occasion the entire ruin of the Duke of Savoy’. For his pains on behalf of the ministry, Arthur Maynwaring* made a play with his surname in his History and Fall of the Conformity Bill, calling him a ‘shrubster’ (i.e. ‘a mean, inferior and insignificant person’). On other matters during the session Hedges was able to tell the Duke of Marlborough on 10 Nov. that the committee of supply had approved the augmentation of troops in the Low Countries ‘with no mention made of the condition for prohibiting trade . . . a very good point gained at this juncture’. However, that did not mean that the Commons had abandoned its intention of pursuing the matter, for on 11 Nov., after the supply resolutions had been reported, Hedges was named to a drafting committee to prepare a bill for more effectually restraining commerce with France, especially receiving and negotiating bills of exchange.22

After the session Hedges turned his attention to securing a seat at the general election. Tucker reported on 8 May 1705 (the day of the Wendover election) that Hedges was proceeding that afternoon towards Calne, where the election was to take place the following day. He was defeated in both places, but petitioned the Commons only in the case of Calne. On the 17th James Lowther reported that Hedges had lost in three constituencies, although he did not name the third. By 15 May Hedges was back in London complaining of the ‘foul play he met with’ at Wendover. Eventually, on 22 May, Bishop Trelawny provided a refuge for him at West Looe. According to L’Hermitage, both parties sought to secure Hedges’ defeat, no doubt because his essential moderation in the previous session had alienated the Tories without winning over the Whigs. Nor was Godolphin, for one, convinced of his indispensability: to the lord treasurer the logical move following the election was to accommodate the Whigs, and as early as August there may have been suggestions that Hedges should give way to Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). Rumours persisted as the date approached for the opening of Parliament, William Dobyns informing Trumbull on 15 Oct. that Hedges ‘is talked out’, but he was still in place when Parliament met.23

Hedges appears on a list of placemen for 1705, and on an analysis of the Parliament was classed as a ‘High Church courtier’. Although suffering from an attack of ‘the stone’, he had recovered in time to attend the opening of Parliament on 25 Oct. 1705, voting for the Court candidate as Speaker (although on the published list he appears as Sir William, a slip for his distant relative, the Bank of England director). He wrote optimistically the following day of ‘a fair prospect of a good session’, and demonstrated confidence in his own skills of parliamentary management by predicting that ‘our number will increase whenever any opposition is made to the dispatch of anything that is necessary for carrying on the war with vigour’. His subsequent reports to Marlborough continued to stress the ‘good forwardness’ of public business and hopes of a short session. As a Court manager, he spoke in the debate on 12 Jan. 1706 on the motion to instruct the committee on the regency bill to receive clauses to make more effective the place legislation in the Act of Settlement, arguing that such provisions should be included in separate legislation, rather than clogging the current bill. On 15 Jan. he intervened in the debates in committee of the whole on the same bill to put the case for Parliament being summoned immediately on the demise of the sovereign and for it to have full powers. Not surprisingly, he voted on 18 Feb. to support the Court on the ‘place clause’ of the bill. Despite his loyalty to the Court, he sided with the Tories on matters of purely party significance, even at the risk of increasing the Whig clamour for his removal. Thus he voted on 16 Feb. against setting a date for the committee to hear the Bewdley election, thereby upsetting Court managers who wished to appease the Whigs by backing Hon. Henry Herbert* for the seat.24

Almost a week before the prorogation, on 19 Mar. 1706, Charles Davenant* had written that ‘’tis strongly reported’ that Hedges would lose the secretaryship in exchange for a tellership of the Exchequer. However, the Queen was loth to part with such a trusted servant, especially as she disliked Lord Sunderland and feared being a prisoner of the Whigs. In September Godolphin hinted that Hedges had been given an attractive offer of judicial office, but at the end of November the secretary was still in place when Harley told Stepney that he expected Hedges to resign, ‘not without his own satisfaction, and the Queen’s approbation of his services’. The deal that was eventually struck gave Hedges the office of judge of the prerogative court of Canterbury in reversion, after the decease of Sir Richard Raines, as well as a pension of £1,200 p.a. Hedges thus left office on the day Parliament reassembled.25

In the new session, Hedges was still in favour at court, being reported in April 1707 as residing in the ‘house that the Queen gave in St. James’s Park’. He attended the Privy Council on 20 May when the Earl of Mar was admitted, and was also seen as part of the Court interest in the Commons, being summoned to the pre-sessional meeting in October 1707, although little evidence survives of his activities in this respect during the the 1707–8 session beyond a few committee appointments. Listed as a Tory in early 1708, Hedges was still active as judge of the Admiralty and was called before the Cabinet on 8 Feb. 1708 to give his opinion on several Admiralty cases.26

Hedges was again returned for West Looe at the 1708 election, after failing to regain his seat at Calne. In May 1709, newsletters were predicting Hedges’ nomination as the third plenipotentiary to the peace negotiations, and in June he was named as an administrator of Prince George’s estate. On 19 Dec. 1709 it was reported that Hedges was giving his daughter £10,000 on her marriage (in January 1710) to Edward Smyth, heir to Sir Edward, 2nd Bt., of Hill Hall, Essex. Hedges must therefore have been a wealthy man, a point emphasized by his holding Bank stock in 1710 worth between £3,000 and £4,000. He does not appear to have participated in the division on the impeachment of Sacheverell.27

The change of ministry in 1710, and the subsequent general election, left Hedges largely unscathed: he was paid an instalment of his pension in August and was again returned for West Looe. As an old ally of Harley, and an experienced and important administrator, he survived the ministerial revolution. It helped of course that he was regarded as a Tory, a fact confirmed by the ‘Hanover list’. On 12 Dec. he asked leave to propose a motion that the papers relating to the Calne election dispute be left with the clerk of the House so that Hedges’ son William* could have them inspected and so prepare for the hearing of his cause before the committee. The death of Sir Richard Raines in late December 1710 saw Hedges at last gain the office he had long coveted, though this had no immediate impact on his parliamentary activity and he was among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in this session helped detect the mismanagements of the previous administration. In June and November 1711 there were again rumours of his impending appointment as third plenipotentiary to the peace negotiations. His close relationship with the Hydes is drawn out in a series of letters to Sir William Gifford*, which show that Hedges’ social circle in the summer of 1711 included Lord Rochester (Henry, Lord Hyde*), Bishop Sprat, Francis Gwyn and George Clarke.28

In January 1712 Hedges took the decision to defend Marlborough from attack. His name appears on the lobbying list compiled by Harley (now Earl of Oxford) as one to be spoken to personally. Most contemporary sources mention Hedges speaking in Marlborough’s favour in the censure debate of 24 Jan. 1712, some giving him first billing and L’Hermitage specifically noting his vote for the amendment to one motion, that the money paid for bread contracts in the Low Countries was a customary payment. Clearly, Hedges knew a great deal about supplying the army in wartime; indeed, Marlborough intended to plead that he had a warrant signed by Hedges in order to answer the Exchequer suit being prepared to force him to account for the two and a half per cent deducted from foreign troops in the Queen’s pay, which the Commons had declared on 24 Jan. to be public money. On 29 Feb. Hedges received leave to go into the country for six weeks, but probably returned before the end of the session as he was named to a drafting committee on 14 May.29

The attack on Marlborough may have been instrumental in drawing Hedges into opposition to the Tory ministry. His immediate obligation to the Court had been weakened when he had exchanged his pension for the prerogative court of Canterbury. Links with Marlborough appear to have been closer at this time, since Marlborough lent Hedges £7,000 at some unspecified date around this time and a smaller sum in February 1713. In the 1713 session Hedges was absent from the vote on 18 June on the French commerce bill. His failure to support the ministry did not affect his return at the 1713 election, although he switched from West to East Looe, Bishop Trelawny of Winchester and Lord Oxford agreeing on his return. This is perhaps a measure of Oxford’s political weakness, for the Worsley list described Hedges as a Whig who would sometimes vote with the Tories. Hedges did not make any impression on the activity of the 1714 Parliament, and may well have been ailing, for he died ‘of an apoplexy’ on 10 June while at his house in Richmond.30

Assessments of Hedges were mixed. When trying to force the Queen to replace him with Sunderland in 1706, the Duchess of Marlborough depicted him as having ‘no capacity, no quality, no interest’, and ascribed his appointment as secretary to Rochester’s desire for ‘a man that he thinks will depend upon him’. Most contemporary comment saw him as a client of Rochester, although some historians have also seen Nottingham as a possible mentor. A closer examination of his career reveals that it was Ormond who first placed him on the ladder of the legal profession and that Hedges’ talent as a civilian lawyer was manifest to all. His Admiralty judgeship and legal knowledge made him useful to the Court and it was the Junto Whig Orford who first secured him a seat in the Commons. Thereafter, although he had difficulty in building up his own electoral interest in Wiltshire, the Court usually ensured his return. He was certainly a Tory, but was also steadfast to the Court on most occasions, except for December 1701 (when he lost his post), and again in the last months of his life. Hedges clearly had the right temperament to succeed at court and in the Commons, his organizational skills helping to weld courtiers into a sufficiently coherent group to repel the Tack. Some historians have seen him as an ‘undistinguished’ secretary of state, others as little more than a ‘clerk’. John Macky was more generous, noting that ‘being a better companion than a statesman . . . proves very useful to that ministry which employs him, being very zealous and industrious for his party’.31

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. IGI, Wilts., Surr.; Misc. Gen. et Her. ser. 5, ii. 87–88; The Gen. n.s. xvii. 209; G. D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 182; Boyer, Pol. State, xlv. 202; Fac. Off. Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 126.
  • 2. Arch. Cant. xxiv. 170; Add. 24107, f. 80; 70070, newsletter 29 June 1714.
  • 3. Add. 29625, f. 122; VCH Wilts. v. 210.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 267; Add. 10120, f. 234; CJ, xii. 509; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 155; viii. app. p. 40; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 85; Pittis, Pres. Parl. 347.
  • 5. HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 599; HMC Downshire, i. 185, 192, 216, 305; HMC 7th Rep. 505; Oxford Hist. Soc. vi. 110–11, 220–1; Magdalen Coll. and the Crown ed. Brockliss et al. 49, 56, 64–65.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 420; 1689–90, p. 484; 1690–1, p. 6; 1693, p. 114; 1694–5, pp. 100, 113; Centre Kentish Stud. Papillon mss U1015/O24/6, ‘touching the election at Dover’.
  • 7. HMC Downshire, i. 421; IGI, London; London Rec. Soc. ii. 143; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 315; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, f. 100, land bank subscribers’ list; HMC Lords, n.s. ii. 151–2.
  • 8. Add. 24107, ff. 51–52.
  • 9. HMC Downshire, i. 610; Add. 24107, ff. 63–64, 68–69, 71, 77–81, 120, 157–8, 164, 167, 172; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 360.
  • 10. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 64, 262; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 608–9, 612, 706; Cocks Diary, 48; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/3, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 5 Nov. 1700; S. B. Baxter, Wm. III, 377; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 342; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 278; M. A. Thomson, Secs. of State, 7–8.
  • 11. Add. 28886, ff. 119, 200; 17677 WW, ff. 167–8 (Speck trans.); PRO 30/24/20, ff. 137–8; Horwitz, 282–3, 286–7; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F27, f. 16, ‘an account of a short conference’.
  • 12. Horwitz, 289–90; Cocks Diary, 119, 150, 165.
  • 13. Add. 24107, f. 179; 28895, ff. 205, 211, 213; 7076, f. 124; 7074, f. 57; 28887, ff. 374, 388; VCH Wilts. v. 210; vii. 198; ix. 191; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 394; Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 437; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 157; Horwitz, 297.
  • 14. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Blathwayt mss, Blathwayt to Stepney, 19 Dec. 1701; Annandale mss at Raehills, bdle. 828, Wishart to [Annandale], 1 Jan. 1702; Add. 7076, f. 124; Horwitz, 299; SRO, Leven and Melville mss GD26/13/120, [–] to Leven, 1 Jan. 1702; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 486; Bull. IHR, xlv. 58.
  • 15. Horwitz, 300; Burnet, iv. 551; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 89; Add. 17677 XX, f. 166; Cocks Diary, 213.
  • 16. Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26 (2), James Brydges’ diary, 8 Mar. 1702; Add. 17677 XX, f. 248; 7078, f. 93; 7670, f. 55; Burnet, iii. 156; v. 10; Jnl. Brit. Stud. vi. 51.
  • 17. Add. 28895, ff. 218, 220; 61119, ff. 24, 31; 29588, ff. 150–1; CSP Dom. 1702–3, pp. 173, 222–3.
  • 18. Add. 61119, ff. 81, 85, 87; centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/O19/3, Hedges to Alexander Stanhope, 3 Feb. 1702–3.
  • 19. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 202; Stanhope, Reign of Anne, 83; Stanhope mss U1590/O19/3, Hedges to Stanhope, 15 June 1703.
  • 20. HMC Portland, iv. 75; Bath mss at Longleat House, Portland misc. pprs. f. 129; CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 297; Bonet despatch 26 Nov./7 Dec. 1703; Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iii. 141, 154; Feiling, 372; NMM, Sergison pprs. Ser./103, f. 456; Add. 29568, ff. 153–4; H. Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, 194–6.
  • 21. Add. 61120, f. 59; 70075, newsletter 22 Apr. 1704; 70140, Robert to Edward Harley, 22 Apr. 1704; 61121, f. 99; Portland misc. pprs. ff. 132–3; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 521; Luttrell, v. 418.
  • 22. Add. 28895, f. 336; 61120, f. 173; 61121, ff. 39, 49, 51; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 96; xli. 181–2, 184; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 405; Procs. Occasional Conformity Bill, 58; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vii. 13; Holmes, 68.
  • 23. Add. 28893, f. 133; 70285, Godolphin to Harley, ‘Wed. at 10’, [?9 May 1705]; 61121, f. 105; 17677 AAA, ff. 286–7; Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/8, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I, 17 May 1705; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 478.
  • 24. Add. 61122, ff. 68, 74, 91–92, 113, 119, 121; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 65, 69; Bull. IHR, xlv. 48.
  • 25. Add. 4291, ff. 60–61; 56105, f. 82; 7059, f. 116; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 654, 656, 679, 725; Holmes, 205; CJ, xv. 419.
  • 26. Beaufort mss at Badminton House, William Walsh* to Earl of Coventry, 24 Apr. 1704; HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 255; Add. 70338, list endorsed 26 Oct. 1707, cabinet minutes, 8 Feb. 1708.
  • 27. Add. 70420, newsletter 26 May 1709; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 220; Post Boy, 30 June–2 July 1709; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 132, Tucker to Trumbull, 19 Dec. 1709; Egerton 3359.
  • 28. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 393; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 29 June 1711; Wentworth Pprs. 215; ‘Swashbuckler Ashore’, ed. Ellison (T/S at Hist. Parl.), 31, 34, 43.
  • 29. Add. 70331, canvassing list; 17677 FFF, f. 36; Kreienberg despatch 25 Jan. 1712; Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 488; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 96; Trumbull Add. mss 136, Ralph Bridges to Trumbull, 15 Apr. 1712.
  • 30. Bull. IHR, xxxiii. 227; Add. 61476, f. 110; Trumbull Alphab. mss 52, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 11 June 1714; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 12 June 1714.
  • 31. Conduct of Duchess of Marlborough, 268–70; R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 210; Holmes, 255–6, 365; Thomson, 8; D. Ogg, Eng. in Reigns of Jas. II and Wm. III, 340; Macky Mems. 127–8.