METHUEN, Paul (1672-1757), of Bishops Cannings, Wilts.

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



1708 - 1710
1713 - 20 Apr. 1714
1715 - 1747

Family and Education

bap. 19 Dec. 1672, 1st s. of John Methuen*. educ. Jesuit coll. Paris, 1681–4; I. Temple 1685; unmsuc. fa. 1706; KB 27 May 1725.1

Offices Held

Dep. to fa. as envoy to Portugal 1694–5, 1696–7; envoy extraordinary to Portugal 1697–1705, 1706, to Spain 1705–6, to Turin 1706; ambassador to Portugal 1706–8; ld. of Admiralty 1709–10; ld. of Treasury 1714–17; PC 29 Oct. 1714–?d.; ambassador and minister plenipotentiary to Spain 1715; sec. of state 1716–17; comptroller of Household, 1720–5; treasurer of Household, 1725–9.2


Paul Methuen commenced his career as a diplomat, departing from England, at the age of 20, in 1692 to act as secretary to his father, who had been appointed envoy to Portugal. On two occasions, in 1694–5 and 1696–7, Paul acted as deputy when his father had to return to England. In February 1697, despite the pretensions of Sir James Rushout, 1st Bt.*, Methuen was appointed envoy extraordinary in his own right (see METHUEN, John). His first period as envoy was dominated by the issue of the Spanish succession, and though developing into a very able diplomat, he continued to receive regular advice from his father, who was sent to Lisbon on a special mission in 1702, also as envoy extraordinary. In theory this appointment did not affect Paul’s position, though in practice made him subordinate to his father. Having played a part in the negotiation of the treaties of alliance with Portugal in May 1703, and in view of his father’s appointment as ambassador to Portugal, Methuen spent the next three years fulfilling various unofficial diplomatic tasks in southern Europe, which he later recounted to Shrewsbury:

I was honoured by her Majesty with other characters as envoy to Charles III, king of Spain, ambassador to the Emperor of Morocco . . . with several particular orders and commissions . . . as the attending our unfortunate expedition to Cadiz . . . the going to Gibraltar to endeavour to reconcile the differences between the Prince of Hesse and our own officers . . . in which I happily succeeded, my going over to Tangiers . . . and the attending on the king of Spain to Catalonia, where I stayed till Barcelona had surrendered.3

However, it was not until after his father’s death in 1706 that Methuen’s parliamentary career commenced. Initially, he was brought from Turin, where he had been appointed envoy to the Duke of Savoy in February 1706, to take over from his late father in Portugal, first as envoy and then ambassador. The Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), who believed Methuen to be ‘an ingenious young man’, commended Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) on this appointment. However, not everyone was as impressed; Lord Rivers (Richard Savage*), writing in December 1706, mentioned rumours that Methuen’s father had been suspected of a treasonable action, and warned that the present ambassador ‘is the son of such a father’. He also noted ‘that there are people who have reflected upon his conduct when he acted here alone, but for my part I would rather attribute it to the levity of his youth than anything else’. For his part Methuen did not wish to be posted back to Lisbon, complaining to James Stanhope* that his request for leave to return to England to bury his father had been turned down, so that he was ‘denied the privilege of a free born subject’, even though he had not ‘desired to be recalled from any employment that I have undertaken but one I neither have nor will accept of’. He warned that ‘if this usage continues a little longer it will spoil my philosophy’.4

The extent to which Methuen’s career followed in his father’s footsteps was apparent in October when Sir William Simpson, a correspondent of his father’s, wrote to Methuen explaining that ‘I think it very much your interest to preserve your interest at the Devizes and be chosen Parliament man if you can possibly in your father’s place, and I am sorry your mother will not contribute to the expense which is necessary for this purpose’. However, Simpson suggested the money could be raised by selling Methuen’s garret over Simpson’s chambers in London, which ‘may be worth £400’. It was evident that Methuen was considering standing in the Devizes by-election, and to that end sent a letter to his uncle, William Methuen, to present to the burgesses. However, Godolphin was keen to have a government supporter elected who would actually be able to attend Parliament, and, seeing that Methuen was not likely to get permission to return home, recommended that Methuen’s interest be used on the ministry’s behalf, on the understanding that whoever was returned would stand aside for Methuen at the next general election. As Simpson noted to Methuen, ‘the situation of your affairs’, that is his desire to be removed from Portugal and his endeavours to get his father’s £3,500 arrears of pay, did not allow him to offend Godolphin’s wishes. Therefore, as Godolphin advised, Methuen’s letter was withheld from the burgesses, as it ‘would but distract them and you would not come over into England as your letter promises’. At the same time Simpson hoped that Methuen understood ‘how . . . [Godolphin] has disposed of your interest at the Devizes’.5

Methuen continued to press for his removal from Portugal during 1707, and Godolphin was inclined to facilitate his requests. However, the problem of finding a suitable replacement meant that Methuen did not return to England until August 1708, though as early as July 1707 Simpson was communicating with him about his future election prospects, advising him to write to the burgesses in order to deflect any discontent over the activities in the borough of Methuen’s mother. In November Simpson informed Methuen that Godolphin had promised to pay half of his father’s arrears, but added that ‘if your friends at the Devizes can make you a Parliament man it will very much facilitate your pretensions to such a favour as that. For upon these occasions it is not so much considered how well men have deserved as what they are able to do.’ In March 1708 Simpson wrote that a place in the Board of Trade was being kept open for Methuen, but that it ‘all depends upon your success at the Devizes, and it is but seldom the Court bestow any favour on those who are not Parliament men’. By April the writs for the general election had been issued, and Simpson realized that Methuen would not be back in time for the election. However, he promised to notify Methuen’s uncle that ‘nothing be spent’ in the borough ‘on your account which would make the election void’. Methuen feared that the delay in sending a ship for him might have been ‘occasioned by the desire some people may have that I should not succeed at Devizes’. But despite Methuen’s absence, his interest was strong enough to see him returned in a contested election.6

In an analysis by the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) of the election returns for 1708, Methuen was noted as a gain for the Whigs. Although not particularly active in the session of 1708–9, he was noted as supporting the naturalization of the Palatines. He was appointed to only three committees, the most significant of which was for drafting a bill for the more effectual prohibition of French wines and other products (9 Mar.). The Methuen family’s close connexion with mercantile and trading interests, and his own association with the 1703 commercial treaty with Portugal negotiated by his father, made this committee appointment of some significance. He also acted as teller twice against the bill for encouraging the export of tobacco and other commodities grown or produced in Great Britain and the dominions (24 Feb., 9 Mar.), and as a teller for the inclusion of a Lords’ amendment in the bill for preventing mischiefs by fire (20 Apr.).

Having given up his diplomatic office, Methuen remained out of government until November 1709, when he was appointed an Admiralty lord. This appointment reflected the favourable reputation Methuen had earned in the foreign service. However, the delay in his being provided for was due in part to his own disposition. In August James Craggs I* had written that ‘here is Mr Methuen whom everybody agrees has served very usefully, very disinterestedly, whose circumstances are not very considerable, and who would have any employment of £1,000 p.a, but being too stout to press earnestly, though he is liked by everybody, is recompensed by nobody’. His appointment necessitated his re-election in December, though no one chose to contest the seat. In the 1709–10 session he appears to have been even less active than before, though he voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Later in 1710 Peter Wentworth suggested that Methuen had a particular attachment to Marlborough, and had expressed his concern for the Duke’s military career.7

In the October 1710 election Methuen was returned once more for Devizes, and was marked on the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament as a Whig. However, the election had been closely contested and had resulted in a double return. In a Tory-dominated House Methuen could expect little favour when his case was considered, and on 16 Dec. the House found in favour of the Tory candidates. At the same time, though on this occasion at his own request, Methuen was removed from the Admiralty commission. He had argued quite strenuously that he was ill-suited to the role, and had pressed Shrewsbury, albeit unsuccessfully, that he be excluded from the new commission of September. However, Shrewsbury, who had been a patron to Methuen’s father, notified him in October that he would be removed from the next commission, but added that ‘I wish I knew any other [employment] that might be more to your satisfaction, that I might use my endeavour to keep in her Majesty’s service one so many ways qualified to serve her’. However Methuen made it clear to Shrewsbury, in a long letter detailing his previous employments, that he had no desire to be employed at that time, especially abroad. This was confirmed when in late October Robert Harley*, who may have been a distant relation of Methuen’s, offered him a diplomatic mission to Holland, which he refused. His given reasons were that

I am chosen by my country and returned to serve it as one of its representatives in Parliament. I am petitioned against . . . [and] I cannot therefore leave Great Britain at this time, without giving up the just title I think I have to sit in Parliament, and without sacrificing the rights of those who have made choice of me to represent them, which I presume her Majesty would not require of me, since while I have been in the . . . Commons, I have on all occasions made it my business to show that duty and respect to her royal person and sacred character as became a good subject, in everything consistent with the safety and service of my country, and I shall always act the same part in that or any other station, with or without an employment.8

Despite having lost his seat, Methuen continued to refuse any official employment. In September 1711 he resisted significant pressure from the Earl of Dartmouth to go to Milan as arbitrator ‘in the matters now in dispute between the Emperor and the Duke of Savoy’. His reasons related to his

present condition . . . which is that having been forced to sell the best part of my estate for the payment of my father’s debts and my own, occasioned by my expenses abroad in her Majesty’s service, I am now here taking the best care I can of what is left . . . and I am obliged to stay here in the country till the 15th of the next month, in order to keep a court for the [renewing] of lives, which has not been done these many years by reason of my father’s absence and my own, and cannot now be avoided, since public notice has already been given according to custom that the court will be kept at that time. Besides which I am also obliged to be in Great Britain 25 Nov. next, because I hold my estate from the bishopric of Sarum, and must on that day renew my lease with the bishop or else I shall forfeit it.

He also pointed out that he had to settle his mother’s jointure. In January 1712 he refused the Duke of Somerset’s offer to stand on his interest in the by-election at Marlborough on the grounds that he had already been turned out of the present Parliament

though I was actually chosen by a majority of the Devizes. I cannot think it proper for me to stand again for any other place in the same county, and I am sensible that some of the [present?] ministers have too great a dislike to me, that though I should by your Grace’s authority and protection be chosen at Marlborough, which I doubt not, yet I should certainly meet with the same fate, which would do your Grace’s interest there more harm than good.

He also mentioned the fact that his private affairs were in a state of ruin due to all his previous service, and that he wanted to spend time improving them, and aimed to be abroad the following winter in order to make his fortune.9

By 1713 Methuen had re-entered political life, and was listed as a member of the Hanover Club. He also stood for election on the Bridgwater–Wharton interest at Brackley as part of the Whig party’s attempt to bring back the ‘notable casualties’ of 1710. He was returned in August alongside a fellow Whig, Hon. William Egerton*, in a contested election. Once again, Methuen was not particularly active during the 1713–14 session, though in keeping with his Whig sympathies he voted against the expulsion of Richard Steele on 18 Mar. 1714. However, his service in the House was cut short following the consideration of a petition contesting the result of the 1713 Brackley election. On 20 Apr. Methuen and Egerton were unseated in favour of the two Tory candidates. Methuen was noted as a Whig in the Worsley list and on two lists comparing the 1715 Parliament with its predecessor.10

Methuen’s association with the Whigs saw his fortunes revive following the Hanoverian succession. He was again appointed to office and regained his seat at Brackley in January 1715. He died on 11 Apr. 1757, and was buried in Westminster Abbey near his father. At the time of his death it was rumoured that his wealth was in the region of £250,000. However, this may have been an exaggeration, though he did die with a balance of nearly £70,000 in the Bank of England, a London house in Grosvenor Square, and a valuable collection of pictures and furniture. As he had never married, and had no children, his cousin, Paul Methuen† of Corsham Court, inherited his estate.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Ivar McGrath


  • 1. IGI, Wilts; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 429; A. D. Francis, The Methuens and Portugal 1691–1708, 4–5; DNB.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 57; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 208; DNB; info. from Prof. J. Black.
  • 3. Francis, 63, 66, 72–111; Methuen mss at Corsham Court, Methuen to Shrewsbury, 12 Oct. 1710; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 354; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss, 46/51, James Vernon I* to Shrewsbury, 14 Jan. 1697; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 160–1, 211; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 57, 173, 254; Hist. Jnl. iii. 106–8, 118; x. 355–60.
  • 4. Francis, 337–45; Luttrell, vi. 14; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 633–4, 640–1; HMC Bath, i. 84, 148–50; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss, U1590/0136/10/63/17, Methuen to James Stanhope, 30 Nov. 1706 N.S..
  • 5. Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Methuen–Simpson corresp. C163, Simpson to Methuen, 8, 15 Oct., 12 Nov. 1706; Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 64, 68; Addison Letters, 60, 62; Add. 7058, f. 75.
  • 6. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 880, 885–6; Stanhope mss, U1590/0137/10/65/11, Methuen to Stanhope, 15 Sept. 1707 N.S.; Luttrell, vi. 341; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 243; Methuen–Simpson corresp. Simpson to Methuen, 1 July, 4 Nov. 1707, 23 Mar., 20 Apr. 1708, Methuen to Simpson, 23 May N.S. 170[8]; CJ, xvi. 23.
  • 7. Luttrell, vi. 508; Boyer, viii. 205; Stanhope mss, U1590/0139/9/71/3, Craggs to Stanhope, 16 Aug. 1709; Wentworth Pprs. 152.
  • 8. CJ, xvi. 407; SRO, Montrose mss, GD 220/5/801/10; Luttrell, vi. 666; Methuen mss, Methuen to Shrewsbury, 4, 12 Oct. 1710, same to Harley, 28 Oct. 1710, Shrewsbury to Methuen, 4 Oct. 1710, Harley to same, 27, 29 Oct. 1710; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 912; Addison Letters, 241; Boyer, ix. 242, 279; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 265.
  • 9. Methuen mss, Methuen to Dartmouth, 17, 22 Sept. 1711, Dartmouth to Methuen, 13, 21 Sept. 1711, Somerset to [same], 7, 9 Jan. 1712, Methuen to Somerset, 8, 12 Jan. 1712; SP34/16, ff. 133–4, 152–3; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 53, 57.
  • 10. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 509; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. list of the Hanover Club; Holmes, 299; Luttrell, vi. 726; Boyer, Pol. State, vii. 268, 404.
  • 11. Francis, 346–55; Hist Jnl. iii. 105; DNB.