JONES, Richard, 1st Earl of Ranelagh [I] (1641-1712), of Chelsea, Mdx.

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



1685 - 1687
1689 - 1695
1695 - 1698
1698 - Nov. 1701
Dec. 1701 - 1 Feb. 1703

Family and Education

b. 8 Feb. 1641, o. s. of Arthur Jones†, 2nd Visct. Ranelagh [I], by Lady Katherine, da. of Richard Boyle†, 1st Earl of Cork [I].  educ. under John Milton; at Oxf. 1656; travelled abroad 1657–60.  m. (1) 28 Oct. 1662, Elizabeth (d. 1695), da. and coh. of Francis Willoughby, 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham, 2s. d.v.p. 3da.; (2) 9 Jan. 1696, Lady Margaret (d. 1728), da. of James Cecil†, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, wid. of John Stawell, 2nd Baron Stawell, s.psuc. fa. as 3rd Visct. Ranelagh [I] 7 Jan. 1670; cr. Earl of Ranelagh [I] 11 Dec. 1677.

Offices Held

Constable Roscommon Castle [I] 1661–?d.; chancellor of Exchequer [I] 1668–74; PC [I] Nov. 1668; commr. of treasury [I] 1671–5; vice-treasurer [I] 1674–82; gov. Athlone Castle 1673–86; capt. of Horse Gds. [I] 1675–7; Ld. Conway’s regt. 1678; capt. and col. of horse and ft. [I] 1678–?82; gent. of the bedchamber to the King 1679–85; paymaster-gen. 1685–1702; PC 1 Mar. 1692–d.; commr. prize appeals, 1694–7; admiralty cases, 1697; taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711; superintendent of the King’s buildings and gardens 1700–2.1

MP [I] 1661–6.

FRS 1663.

Treasurer, Chelsea Hosp. 1686–1702; member, R. Fishery Co. of Ireland 1692; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695; Q. Anne’s bounty 1704.2

Burgess, Roscommon, 1688; ranger of Cranborne Chase by 1697–d.; Bagshot Park 1699–1708.3


Ranelagh, described by the Duke of Manchester as ‘remarkably quick and brilliant’ with ‘a dash of eccentricity’, had been high in favour with both Charles II and James II, holding office continuously since 1661. He voted for agreeing with the Lords that the throne was not vacant, and a note in the hand of Lord Halifax (George Savile†) on 21 Apr. 1689 implies that the King had serious doubts about continuing him in employment. Nevertheless, he was retained as paymaster-general. Ironically in view of future events, he presented a memorial to William on 18 Mar. 1689 stating that he had reason to believe that the profits of the paymaster’s office were being represented as greater than they really were, and suggested a salary for the post of £3,000 p.a.4

Returned on government interest for Newtown in 1690, Ranelagh was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a probable Court supporter in a list of the new Parliament. He appeared on several other lists for this Parliament as a placeman and Court supporter. In the Commons he was government spokesman on army business and also took an interest in Irish affairs, but was rarely involved in the management of legislation. He spoke in favour of settling the hereditary revenue on William and Mary for life on 28 Mar. 1690, and on 30 Apr. spoke in the debate on the bill for settling the government while the King was away in Ireland, apparently doubting the suggestion that the bill would deprive William of regal power within Ireland. Before the next session he was included among those designated as managers of the ‘King’s directions’, specifically for his influence with army officers in the House. In December, Carmarthen counted him as an ally, and in April 1691 Robert Harley* listed him as a Court supporter. During this session the commission of public accounts began its investigations and met with serious obstruction from Ranelagh, who delayed the production of accounts on the pretext of wanting to provide the commission with more information than it had in fact requested. One of the commissioners, Sir Peter Colleton*, suspected that Ranelagh’s delays were designed to give him time to consult with the King (who was overseas), about what information he could reveal to the commission concerning pensions paid to MPs. The Duke of Manchester later wrote that when questions about arrears arose, ‘the fat, dark, middle-aged man turned every point aside by his wit and facetiousness’.5

Ranelagh was very active in the debates on the supply for the army in the 1691–2 session, speaking frequently against attempts to reduce the number of officers and in support of giving the Dutch forces the same rates of pay as the English. On 14 Nov. 1691, Ranelagh was somewhat surprisingly seen on the same side as the Country MPs Paul Foley I and Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., though for different reasons, arguing that the marine regiments were already included in the estimates for the navy and should not require an extra £30,000. On 25 Nov. an attack on Ranelagh’s estimates for the army was led by Sir Thomas Clarges during which Ranelagh revealed that financial allowance for the officers had not been included in the estimates already approved. Clarges’ complaints were directed at preventing a repeat of this situation and to have the officers for the Irish army included in the estimates then under discussion, which, after Court protests, was eventually agreed. The issue was further debated on 28 Nov. after Ranelagh had presented a separate estimate for the officers. This time, after a division, the Court succeeded in excluding the officers from the general estimates. On 30 Nov. Ranelagh defended the cost of the general officers and on 15 Dec., in a committee of the whole, he opposed a proposal by Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., to reduce their numbers, asking, ‘what will you do with so many officers as will be supernumerary?’ and declaring, ‘upon the matter, I am no soldier, but it is the opinion of one of the best soldiers in the world, our King, that there ought to be rather more officers’. On the same day Ranelagh defended the resolution that the Dutch forces in English pay should have the same pay as the English, saying ‘these are part of the troops that came . . . to your deliverance and the King did promise them English pay when they came’. He defended the generals’ pay on 30 Dec., and was backed up by Court success in a division on the subject. In the new year supply again dominated proceedings with Ranelagh having to defend his estimates from repeated attacks by Country MPs. On 2 Jan. 1692 there was a dispute over estimates for hospitals and contingencies which was resolved on the 4th when Ranelagh’s proposal of £8,000 was preferred to Hon. John Granville’s £6,000. Ranelagh’s next proposal of the ‘modest sum’ of £30,000 for the following year was also accepted. Having joined in the attack on the East India Company on 18 Dec. 1691, Ranelagh spoke against an address on 6 Feb. 1692 to dissolve the company, and instead moved an amendment that ‘no person that hath sold out himself in the old company shall be concerned any way in the new’, which was seconded by Charles Montagu.6

In the 1692–3 session Ranelagh continued to speak regularly in supply debates. On 10 Nov. he moved for an address of thanks to the Queen for her prudent administration of the government in the King’s absence, and on 15 Nov. moved to delay consideration of the book of accounts in favour of the King’s Speech. He spoke against the motion to remove all foreign officers on 23 Nov., using his knowledge of the army to list all the most important officers, only two of whom, he claimed, were not English or naturalized, and insisting that ‘most . . . came to deliver us from popery, arbitrary power, and slavery’. He suggested that there would be time enough for objections when the House had actually seen the list of officers for the next year. He was in favour of John Smith I’s compromise motion that the King be addressed to the effect that there should be no more foreign officers in the future. Two days later he presented the army lists for 1693. Following attempts at delay by Country Members, Ranelagh tried unsuccessfully to expedite consideration by invoking the King’s name, saying ‘I must tell you, it is the estimate the King thinks fit for the next year’. On 3 Dec. he opposed Robert Harley’s attempt to divide consideration of the estimates into a vote on those men to be kept in England and those for overseas service (an attempt in fact to reduce the numbers). Then, on 6 Dec., he defended the pay of the general officers and, on 9 Dec., the amount of subsidy paid by the King to the allies for the hire of troops. On the same day he suggested saving money on the pay of the Danish general officers by paying them at the Dutch rate, but in this case the House acted more generously and approved payment at the English rate. At the debate on ways and means on 8 Feb. 1693, Ranelagh gave his opinion that it would be necessary to extend the proposed additional taxes to longer than three years in order to achieve the estimated sums.7

When Parliament resumed in the autumn of 1693 Ranelagh joined in the inquiry into the loss of the Smyrna convoy the previous summer. On 17 Nov. he delivered a message from the King that all relevant papers would be laid before the House, and on 7 Dec. defended the admirals who had commanded the fleet from Whig accusations of treachery. Ranelagh blamed the disaster on the obscurely worded orders issued by the lords of the Admiralty. He seconded a motion to grant supply for the army on 28 Nov., appealing to the House’s compassion: ‘I must tell you, the army is in very ill condition. In their quarters in Flanders they have no money, and no credit’. Later in the debate he objected to Clarges’ inflation of his figures, saying that ‘as for 60,000, I said nothing of 60,000’. It was revealed on 9 Dec. by the commission of public accounts that he was one of those who had received money for secret service, which he did not deny, but alleged that it had been disbursed according to order and for important services. In a debate on supply on 11 Dec., when subsidies to the allies came under fire, Ranelagh seems to have confined himself to clarifying details of these subsidies for the House. In the last session of this Parliament he reported from the committee of the whole on the state of the public accounts on 28 Mar. 1695, and on 2 Apr. was appointed to draft a clause for the mutiny bill.8

Ranelagh’s services in the 1690 Parliament did not go unrewarded. In March 1692 he had been made a member of the English Privy Council (having long served on the Irish equivalent). The following December the arrears on his Irish pension of £300 p.a. were paid up to September 1691; and the rent of £100 p.a. on the Castle of Athlone was suspended for 21 years and new 31-year leases were granted to him for small estates in Ireland. In May 1693 a lease of 15 acres of ground adjoining Chelsea Hospital was issued to him to add to the seven acres he had leased in 1690. On this site he built himself a magnificent house and laid out the grounds in lavish gardens.9

Ranelagh continued to play a role in Irish politics. In August 1695 Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry† Capel) thanked the Duke of Shrewsbury for warning him of Hon. Henry Boyle’s* possible plans to be elected as speaker of the Irish parliament. Boyle was apparently generally thought to be managed by Lords Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) and Ranelagh, ‘neither of which have a credit here in reference to the good of their country, or the King’s service’. In England, Ranelagh was reportedly promoting candidates in the 1695 election and himself relied on the interest of the Duke of Somerset for his success at Chichester. To ensure his return, the King, at Ranelagh’s request, had issued instructions to the Earl of Bath (Charles Granville†) to secure him a seat in Cornwall in the event of his defeat at Chichester, and a similar order was sent by Shrewsbury to Lord Cutts (John*), governor of the Isle of Wight. Although earlier considered a Tory, Ranelagh was really a courtier willing to work with any government, and he continued to support the increasingly Whig-dominated administration, establishing good relations with Montagu at the Treasury. In Parliament he seconded the choice of Paul Foley I as Speaker on 22 Nov. On 13 Dec. he proposed granting supply for the army which the Country Members then ‘ran away with . . . and carried it quite through’. Classed as likely to support the Court in the forecast of the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, a report of the debate on that day named him as one of those who had previously supported the resolution to impose the abjuration oath on councillors, but who had left the House rather than vote on the issue. He signed the Association in February and voted with the Court on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March.10

Before the end of the session, Ranelagh, at the age of 55, had made a second marriage to Lady Stawell, his junior by 30 years, making her an extremely generous marriage settlement. On the day, the King did him the honour of wearing a wedding ribbon, the first he had worn since Queen Mary’s death. Sarah, Lady Cowper, later recounted a story of this ‘battered old lecher’ and his young wife, illustrating the former’s anticlericalism. When the new Lady Ranelagh refused to let her husband see her naked, he appealed to ‘some divines’, merely in order to ‘abuse and expose this order of men, knowing it would puzzle the best studied casuist to decide this controversy’. Only a few months after the marriage a story circulated that:

my Lord Ranelagh coming back from the pay office sooner than his lady expected him, he went straight up to her chamber, the door of which, for want of precaution in her or her woman was unlocked, and that his lordship, drawing back the curtains of the bed found my Lord Coningsby [Thomas*] in bed with his wife: at which sight he said nothing, but withdrew very civilly and went downstairs about his business.

Whether true or not, he took no action, but when his daughter Frances married Coningsby the following year without his consent he transferred her marriage settlement of £3,250 to his younger daughter Catherine. Although Ranelagh seems to have relented, in so far as he and Coningsby remained closely associated in business and politics, it is clear from his will that he did not trust Coningsby. The will, drawn up in 1710, left Lady Coningsby a fourth share of his residual estate, but Ranelagh made no mention of Coningsby in a long list of legacies to ‘particular friends’, the £3,250 remained with Catherine, and he advised Catherine never to sign any deed presented to her by Coningsby, ‘though never so plausible’, without first seeking advice.11

On 10 Nov. 1696, after Foley had complained of the Bank of England’s demand for £18,000 as a condition of a new loan, Ranelagh ‘did them more right’ in reminding the House that this was in recompense for past losses, but he appears to have agreed that the Bank should not have asked for the money. He seems to have taken no part in the prosecution of Sir John Fenwick†, and was not listed as voting in the division on the bill of attainder on 25 Nov. 1696. He maintained his links with the Tories, and attended a political meeting with other placemen at Lord Rochester’s before the start of the 1697–8 session. In this session Ranelagh was principally concerned with the problems of disbanding the army. On 10 Dec. in a committee of the whole he opposed Harley’s motion to reduce the army to the level it had been in 1680, pointing out that the army had then consisted of only 6,000 men. He brought in estimates of the arrears due to the forces on 13 and 14 Dec. In June 1698, James Vernon I* reported that Ranelagh was delaying the King’s answer on an address about the disbanded forces until the proposal for a new East India Company was ‘put out of danger’. In the 1698 election he gave up his seat at Chichester on assurances that Lord Cutts would bring him in at Newport, but when he learned that Cutts, who was also standing for Cambridgeshire, intended to be returned for Newport as well and would then transfer the seat to Ranelagh, he indignantly refused the offer. Instead he stood unsuccessfully for Chichester, but was returned for Marlborough on the Duke of Somerset’s interest.12

In 1698 Ranelagh had been named as a placeman on three lists and true to that role in the 1698–9 session he tried to defend the army against disbandment, but without success. He presented to the House on 16 Dec. 1698 a list of the forces in English pay, but a lack of organization by the Court in the ensuing debate resulted in a resolution to reduce the army to 7,000 men, although in Vernon’s opinion they could have been persuaded to agree to 10,000. Ranelagh had been at fault in presenting a ‘mistaken calculation’ that 3,000 would suffice for the garrisons, and seems not to have contradicted the figure of 4,000 for the guards. However, another report had it that Ranelagh and others had ‘endeavoured to show by computations’ that the figure of 7,000 was insufficient, but failed to convince the committee. At the second reading of the disbanding bill on 23 Dec., Ranelagh attempted to answer fears of a standing army by arguing that an army ‘was not the cause of revolutions, a corrupt divided people may do it, but not seventy thousand men if the people good’. In a concerted effort, John Smith I suggested that the bill might be committed with an instruction that the numbers of men might be altered if found insufficient, whereupon Ranelagh attempted to show that in the debate on the 16th he had forgotten several garrisons. He then moved that the committee have the liberty to alter the numbers, and was seconded by Secretary Vernon. One report thought the Commons might be softening on this point and the House was then adjourned, the motion being reintroduced by Vernon on 4 Jan. 1699. Ranelagh again insisted on the need for more men for the guards and garrisons. On 7 Jan. he informed the House of the pay due to the army and, on the order of the House, produced an account of the disbanded forces’ arrears on 16 Jan. He again voiced his objections to the disbanding bill at its third reading on 18 Jan., reportedly saying ‘we are left naked to our enemies’ and recalling the last assassination attempt. He naturally voted against the bill that day. On 3 Feb. in a committee of the whole on supply Ranelagh opposed Musgrave’s motion to include the word ‘seamen’ in the estimates for the navy, a Country move to disallow inclusion of the marines in the navy estimates. A Court attempt to retain the Dutch guards on 10 Feb. was reported to have enraged the Commons and prompted plans to attack Ranelagh. Ranelagh did indeed face criticism from Country Tories, the estimates he presented on 2 Mar. coming under attack from Musgrave and John Grobham Howe. On 18 Mar. he delivered the message from the King in which William made a last unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Commons to allow him to retain his Dutch guards, but supporters were thin on the ground and the House voted an address refusing the request. Some Members proposed that the address include a condemnation of the Councillors who had advised this message and one MP suggested that Ranelagh, in particular, be sent to the Tower. Despite his lack of success in persuading the Commons to accept a larger standing army, Ranelagh seems to have been high in favour with William, who dined with him in May 1699. His petition for a new pension to replace the annuity on the Irish revenue, which had lapsed with the death of the trustees in 1692, succeeded when he was granted £300 for 21 years in 1699.13

In the second session of the 1698 Parliament the resignation of Montagu left the Court in some disorder, and it was reported that Ranelagh could not supply any leadership, being ‘too obnoxious to be an undertaker’. On 7 Dec. 1699 he informed the House that the King would respond to the address for the suppression of immorality. On 18 Jan. 1700, as had been pre-arranged, he supported the Court’s unsuccessful motion to reserve one-third of the Irish forfeitures for the King. In this session the growing volume of complaints to the House by soldiers over arrears in their pay and the generally disorderly nature of the disbandment was used by the Tories to attack Ranelagh as part of their campaign against the Whig ministry. On 12 Jan. 1700 he was ordered to bring in a detailed account of how the £296,806 appropriated for disbanding in the previous session had been spent, which he did on 19 Jan. Bonet reported on 30 Jan. that Ranelagh had also been ordered to account for the poundage deducted from officers’ pay throughout the war. The House apparently had little success in obtaining these accounts. During a debate in February, possibly that on the 6th, on the army and transport debts, allegations were made by one MP that Ranelagh had overstated the amount due to the army (the amounts reported varied between £200,000 and £500,000), to disguise his own embezzlement and misuse of public funds. As a result, on 12 Feb. a bill was ordered to be brought in to appoint commissioners to examine and state the debts for the army, navy and transport service. A debate the next day on royal grants to ministers led to an attack by Thomas Coke on a grant to Montagu, but Ranelagh intervened stating that the grant had already been investigated and approved in the last session. On 24 Mar., Ranelagh, Coningsby and Montagu suggested retaining a quarter of the salaries of the officers on half-pay to make up the deficiencies of the land tax, reportedly to revenge themselves for the complaints of these officers to the House about their pay. The amendment was apparently accepted in a thin House, and Court opponents, when made aware of it, declared they would overturn the measure. Ranelagh was an obvious target for the commissioners of accounts appointed in April. During the summer a political satire denounced him for corruption and implied that the King had plans to dismiss him. It was said in September that Ranelagh had only recently given in his accounts, producing them late, it was complained, in order that the commissioners would not have proper time to examine them. In the event, the commissioners did not report on these accounts since Parliament was dissolved in December 1700.14

The Tory attacks on Ranelagh were renewed in the 1701 Parliament. He was ordered to present a large assortment of accounts on 14 Jan. 1701, but in early March MPs complained that none was relevant beyond 1693, and that he refused to give separate accounts for each year but put everything together ‘pour se sauver dans la foule’. Indeed, no accounts had yet been produced for some £20 million. It was further reported that both he and Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) would be obliged to give in their accounts when, ‘il pouroit bien leur arriver quelque malheur’, but in fact only the report on the prize accounts was considered. To protect himself, Ranelagh was believed to have aligned himself with the Tories who now appeared to be gaining the upper hand in government; the specific attack on Ranelagh was not pressed further this session, but in May there was still speculation about how he would ‘make his escape’, and in June he and Harley were alarmed when the Country Tory Sir John Bolles, 4th Bt., attacked financial mismanagement, prompting support for a bill to revive the commission of accounts. Despite these doubts over his ministerial probity, Ranelagh continued in favour with the King.15

Ranelagh switched seats to represent West Looe in December 1701, when his return was classed by Lord Spencer (Charles*) as a gain for the Whigs. He was also classed as a Whig in Harley’s list of the new Parliament. However, the genuineness of his attachment to the Whigs may be doubted and the next year there were rumours that his position was in danger from them as well. In late January 1702, Bonet reported that Ranelagh and Coningsby would be replaced by men of better reputation, while in February it was rumoured that Ranelagh and William Blathwayt* ‘are or will be turned out; some say they are really obnoxious to the Lord Somers’ [Sir John*] party; others think ’tis a piece of management’. Another commentator claimed that William III, having made ministerial changes in favour of the Whigs, had then declared he would dismiss both Blathwayt and Ranelagh to please the Whigs who had always hated them. However, such rumours died down. On 2 Feb., in a committee of the whole on supply, Ranelagh supported a move for 10,000 marines, which the Court argued would mean only an extra 5,000 men in practice as they proposed taking 5,000 seamen off the approved estimates for the navy, although apparently there was some confusion in Court strategy, with Ranelagh and Admiral George Rooke* proposing different means. On 2 May he spoke against a motion by Thomas Coke to remove from the army all officers of foreign birth, but his (not entirely serious) point that it would exclude Prince George of Denmark from commanding the forces was brushed aside.16

Ranelagh survived the administrative changes following the accession of Queen Anne, and despite rank-and-file hostility, seems to have been on cordial terms with the new Tory administration. He was particularly close to Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), who clearly hoped to continue using him as a manager for the Court, but his difficulties in being re-elected signalled problems ahead. He was obliged to ‘give way’ to Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., at Castle Rising and, as William Bromley II* reported, ‘I believe will not be elected anywhere, which must be a mortification, and he looks upon himself [as] very unlucky in this juncture’. However, Godolphin, Marlborough (John Churchill†) and Rochester pressed Bishop Trelawny for his support for Ranelagh at West Looe, where he was re-elected despite Sir Edward Seymour’s threat to ‘spoil their plot’. He was not to survive long in the Commons, however, as the commissioners of accounts, set up in the previous Parliament, had been examining his accounts through the summer of 1702 and their findings ended his political career. There were two aspects of his case which were found disturbing. One was his standard of living, which according to Bishop Nicolson was at the rate of £50,000 or £60,000 a year, whereas his salary was only £3,000 p.a., supplemented by a pension of £300 and a small income from certain estates in Ireland. Secondly, his accounts were in serious arrears, which, taken together with large sums of money known to have been issued throughout the war, prompted rumours that millions of pounds remained unaccounted for, much of which was assumed to have been misapplied or embezzled.17

The commissioners’ first report was presented on 11 Nov. 1702. In it they accused Ranelagh of causing endless delays to their proceedings. They had discovered that his accounts were so far in arrears that they had only been made up and declared to 31 Mar. 1692. Their chief criticisms were: that in drawing up his accounts his discharge was often entered as large sums with few or no details as to the services on which the money had been spent; that some of the money had been spent on non-military uses; that there was obvious evidence of later, probably fraudulent, alterations in the accounts; and that there were no adequate vouchers for much of the expenditure. Thus they were not able to give the House a balance of the account, confining themselves to a statement of Ranelagh’s receipts as paymaster-general, and a series of observations on his claimed disbursements. They added that they had briefly examined his accounts after 1692 and found them equally unsatisfactory, if not more so. After this damning report had been delivered, Bonet commented that ‘on ne sait pas comment il se tirera d’embarras’. Ranelagh delayed presenting his reply, claiming illness, and on 26 Nov. it was reported that he had been given until Monday 30 Nov. ‘which is the last he must expect’. In his reply on the 30th, he claimed that he only paid out money in accordance with army establishments and on warrants or privy seals signed by the King or letters of direction from the lord treasurer, all of which he was bound to follow. Much of the money had been issued abroad by his deputies and this had caused confusion in the vouchers. He finished by saying that his apparent reluctance to comply with the commissioners’ orders was due to his conviction that they had no constitutional right to examine accounts which had already been passed by the auditors of imprests and been examined and cleared by earlier commissions. The House made clear where its own sympathies lay by passing on 3 Dec., without a division, a resolution that the commissioners were empowered to examine accounts which had already been passed. On 4 Dec., after a four-hour debate, they further resolved that the paymaster-general ‘has given great and unnecessary delays in his proceedings’ before the commissioners of accounts. At this point, probably convinced that he had no chance in the Commons, Ranelagh resigned his post. Some thought that proceedings against him would now be dropped, but instead the House continued its examination and on 7 Dec. it was resolved first, that the commissioners had good grounds for the observations in their report; secondly, that all money issued to the paymaster-general of the army ought to be applied only to the use of the army; thirdly, that all privy seals, Treasury orders or other warrants to the paymaster to issue money for uses other than those of the army were illegal and void; fourthly, that all privy seals to the auditor of imprests to pass accounts without proper vouchers were illegal; and finally, that the commissioners of accounts ‘have made good the allegations in their narrative’. At this point the only attempt to help Ranelagh, a motion to adjourn, was made and lost by 107 votes to 90. Thereupon a last resolution that the paymaster ‘hath misapplied several’ sums of the public money was passed. These proceedings were resumed on 1 Feb. 1703 when, after further debate, the Commons voted him ‘guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour, in misapplying several sums of the public money’ and he was expelled from the House. An address to the Queen condemning Ranelagh was ordered, and agreed on 11 Feb. after a division. Although Blathwayt wrote to George Stepney that he did not take the proceedings against Ranelagh ‘to be so much a party business’, the pursuit of Ranelagh was clearly part of a general attack by the Tories against the previous administration.18

No real evidence of misappropriation or embezzlement had been produced in either the 1702 report or a more detailed statement of his accounts presented to the House by the commission almost a year later on 22 Jan. 1704. This second report went over ground covered in the previous session, but this time presented balances of the accounts, took the army accounts up to 31 Mar. 1699 and also presented accounts for Chelsea Hospital for the period 1 Jan. 1688–31 Mar. 1692. The commissioners’ calculations showed a balance due to Ranelagh on the Chelsea Hospital account of some £13,604 and on the army account of 1688–92 (for which he had been expelled) of some £176,485. Even when this balance had been carried over, however, the commissioners claimed the account to 1699 showed over £2 million unaccounted for, although it was admitted that this could be reduced to some £936,014 if £1,150,038 paid for the forces abroad, for which vouchers were said to be in the hands of Benjamin Sweet, deputy-paymaster in Flanders, was taken into account. What was very clear, however, was that the whole system whereby accounts were allowed to remain many years in arrears, and only eventually declared with inadequate vouchers by means of a privy seal, gave enormous opportunity for treasurers to speculate with, or even embezzle, huge sums of public money, confident that it would be a very long time before they were called to account. On 6 Mar. 1704 the Commons resolved in the light of this new report that Ranelagh had neglected to charge himself with several considerable sums and had discharged himself of large sums without producing proper vouchers. An address was presented to the Queen asking that he should be prosecuted, to which the Queen gave her consent on 9 Mar. Ranelagh spent the remainder of his life trying to get his accounts straightened out, receiving several small grants from the Treasury to pay his expenses in doing so. Accounts to 1 Dec. 1702 also had to be presented, on which the auditors disallowed large sums. Eventually the Queen granted him, by royal warrant, an allowance for most of the money, taking his debt down to £904,138.19

All these difficulties and the loss of his office made Ranelagh’s last years a time of considerable financial anxiety. On 13 July 1711 he wrote to William Lowndes*, secretary of the Treasury:

My necessities are so great and pressing that I must desire you as my old and true friend to move my lord treasurer, even this morning to order me a supply for myself and clerks. I waited upon his lordship this very morning and he was pleased to give me what I thought was some assurance of his goodness to me. But you know that fair words will neither pay clerks nor go to market, and that while the grass is growing the horse may starve. This is really and truly my case for I have neither place nor pension, with 70 years and a great many debts upon my back, and nothing to trust to, but a small Irish estate.

Ranelagh died on 5 Jan. 1712, leaving his affairs in much confusion and with a large debt to the Exchequer hanging over his estate. According to Swift, he also ‘died hard, as the term of art is here, to express the woeful state of men who discover no religion at their death’. Macky characterized him as ‘a great epicure and prodigious expensive . . . a bold man and very happy in jests and repartee, and hath often turned the humour of the House of Commons, when they have designed to be very severe’; Swift saw him as ‘the vainest old fool I ever saw’. Ranelagh’s will bears traces of the strain of his last years, being a roll-call of all his ‘particular friends’ (who included many Whig lords), but specifically cancelling a legacy to Godolphin who, although previously kind, had not bothered to inquire after Ranelagh’s health during a long illness. His estate at Chelsea was eventually sold to the patentee of Drury Lane Theatre, who turned it into a place of public amusement, the famous Ranelagh Gardens.20

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne


  • 1. CSP Dom. 1671, p. 423; 1697, p. 112; 1690–1, p. 210; 1694–5, p. 204; 1697, p. 511; 1700–2, p. 90; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 536; vii. 1146, 1297–8; xvii. 61; Pittis, Present Parl. 347.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 801; Royal Hospital at Greenwich ed. Cooke and Maule, 8–30; A. Savidge, Foundation and Early Years of Q. Anne’s Bounty, 123–5.
  • 3. W. Harris, Life and Reign of William III, app. p. xiii; Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 355; xxiii. 150. xxvi. 95.
  • 4. 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 74–75; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 190; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, ‘Devonshire House notebook’; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 28.
  • 5. Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) coll. 1999/547, Lord Clifford to King, 30 Oct. 1697; Grey, x. 18–19, 100; EHR, cxi. 46–47; Manchester, 74–75.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 20, 40, 48, 51, 80–81, 88, 97, 105, 175, 205; Grey, 185.
  • 7. Luttrell Diary, 216, 228, 253, 289, 297, 304–6, 411–12; Grey, 254, 280; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2385, debate, 23 Nov. 1692.
  • 8. Add. 17677 NN f. 367; Grey, 332–3, 357, 359; Ranke, vi. 225.
  • 9. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 541, 1939; x. 73, 193, 215, 227.
  • 10. Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/F5, Capell to Shrewsbury, 25 1695; Surr. RO (Guildford), Middleton mss 1248/1, f. 274; Add. 40771, ff. 81, 83, 87; 46525, f. 62; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 32, debate [31 Jan. 1696].
  • 11. Add. 17677 QQ, f. 218; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F29, Lady Cowper’s commonplace book, p. 261; HMC Hastings, ii. 288; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 207; HMC Downshire, i. 900; PCC 100 Barnes.
  • 12. BN, Renaudot mss, 30 Oct. 1696; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 56; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/156, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 23 Oct. 1697; Add. 17677 RR, f. 528; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 506–7, 512; 1698, p. 368; HMC Astley, 93.
  • 13. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 111, 236; Add. 17677 TT, f. 54; 30000 C, ff. 70–71; Cam. Misc. xxix. 364, 379–83, 385, 394, 396; PRO 31/3/182, ff. 9, 69.
  • 14. Ralph, Hist. Eng. 83; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 411; Add. 30000 D, ff. 15, 31, 48, 63, 100–1, 112, 198, 266; Cocks Diary, 53; Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 410(a) debate, 13 Feb. 1699[–1700]; Huntington Lib. Ellesmere mss EL8906 (unfol.), ‘A conference between King William and the lord chancellor’, June 1700.
  • 15. Add. 30000 E, ff. 67, 152; 17677 WW, f. 252; PRO 31/3/187, f. 75; HMC Cowper, ii. 427; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, p. 89n.
  • 16. Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 135; Add. 17677 XX, ff. 186, 300; DZA, Bonet despatch, 27 Jan./7 Feb. 1702; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss A81/1v/23/1, William to Frances Brydges, 27 Jan. 1701/2; PRO 31/3/190, f. 3; Cocks Diary, 200, 278.
  • 17. HMC Portland, iv. 49; BL, Lothian mss, Bromley to [?Coke], 28 July 1702; Add. 17677 YY, ff. 305, 309; 29588, ff. 78–79; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 135; Ailesbury Mems. 241.
  • 18. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 97–127, 140; HMC Lords, n.s. v. 58–64, 366–8, 375–83, 385–403; Bonet despatch, 17/28 Nov. 1702; Bodl. Ballard 38, f. 190; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Blathwayt mss box 21, Blathwayt to [Stepney], 2 Feb. 1702[–3].
  • 19. Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 424; xviii. 68, 270; xix. 40, 223, 329, 332; xx. 131, 146, 299, 565, 606, 754; xxi. 6, 52, 114, 523; xxii. 340; xxiii. 297; xxiv. 14, 251, 377–81; xxv. 468; xxvi. 384, 458; xxvii. 82, 110; Cal Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 177; 1708–14, p. 145; Add. 70244, Ranelagh to Harley, 29 Aug. 1710, 19 Sept., 9, 30 Oct. 1711.
  • 20. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, pp. 290, 302–3; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 285; Macky Mems. 67; Swift Works ed. Davis, v. 259; PCC 100 Barnes.