SEYMOUR, William (1664-1728), of St. James’s, 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 - 1702
27 Nov. 1702 - 1705
22 Dec. 1710 - 1713

Family and Education

bap. 8 Feb. 1664, 2nd s. of Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, by his 1st w.; bro. of Edward Seymour II*, half-bro. of Charles Seymour* and Francis Seymour Conway*.  unm.1

Offices Held

?Ensign, R. Regt. Ft. 1684; 2nd lt. R. Fusiliers 1685, capt. 1686, lt.-col. 2 Ft. Gds. (Coldstream Gds.) June 1689, maj. 1692; col. of ft. Lord Cutts (John*) regt. 1694; col. of marine regt. 1698, ft. regt. (later 24 Ft.) 1701, Queen’s regt. 1702; brig.-gen. 1702, maj.-gen. 1704, lt.-gen. 1707–17.

Lt. band of gent. pensioners 1700–d.2

Freeman, Portsmouth 1703.3


Although his prominent father, Sir Edward, was notably hostile to a standing army, William Seymour had been bred as a soldier. He was one of the first officers to desert James II at the Revolution. Assessments of his character were varied: he was known to be hot-tempered when drunk but was reputed nevertheless to be ‘a wonderful good-natured gentleman’. In February 1686, however, he had fought a duel with a kinsman of Lord Northampton over a family quarrel, and in September 1692 he challenged a superior officer, though there may have been more than a touch of bravado in the encounter, for Seymour had just purchased a colonelcy. Continuing to revel in duelling, he seriously wounded an enemy in 1697, and was himself ‘run through’ in another quarrel the following year. Seymour took a prominent part in the continental campaigns, but was critical of the conduct of the war. He had been captured by French privateers in 1692, and shortly after his release and return to England it was reported to Lord Portland that he was ‘among the grumblers’. It was alleged that Seymour had told Sir Thomas Clarges* that ‘the English were fatigued upon all occasions, the Dutch favoured’, and that because ‘the Dutch would not fight at Steenkerk’ the English had been cut to pieces. This conversation had apparently taken place in ‘an open coffee-house’, and ‘Seymour said further . . . that it would take up a day to tell how barbarously the English were used and betrayed upon all occasions, that he could make Clarges’ hair stand on end to hear the strange management of the company’. Seymour distinguished himself at the battle of Landen in 1693, where he broke a leg, but his wartime activity is sometimes difficult to distinguish from that of a namesake, Colonel John Seymour, who eventually became governor of Maryland. In 1695 William was rumoured to have been chosen for an attempt to seize the King the previous year; but although he was described as ‘very great with Marlborough [John Churchill†] and was always a great Jacobite’, the government cannot have been unduly worried about his loyalties, for he was not deprived of his command, even after his father lost his place in 1694. Indeed, it is possible that references to Jacobitism, including one in January 1690 to a Captain Seymour of the Guards who took ship to Ireland to serve James II, relate to his namesake. Nevertheless the end of the war and his father’s antipathy to the army brought difficult times. In August 1697 Seymour lamented that he had ‘no friend at court’ except those in the war office. His regiment temporarily survived the disbandment of 1698 by being sent to Ireland, but in May 1699 his troops were broken up and he went on half-pay. By May 1701, however, there were reports that his regiment was to be sent to Holland.4

Listed as a placeman and a Court supporter in 1698, Seymour was returned for Cockermouth by his kinsman, the 6th Duke of Somerset. According to Francis Gwyn*, Seymour was embarrassed by Somerset’s intervention, which had been made without his consent, and ‘had rather he had let alone’, perhaps because the Duke’s action made relations awkward between Seymour and his father. Certainly William was the only one of the Seymour clan to vote on 18 Jan. 1699 in favour of a standing army. He was nevertheless listed with his family in an analysis of the House into ‘interests’ of early 1700. He was listed as an opponent of preparations for war with France in 1701, and as a Tory by Robert Harley* in December 1701. He favoured the motion on 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the previous session over the impeachments of the Junto lords. Seymour was accordingly dropped by Somerset and forced to take refuge that autumn in his father’s pocket borough of Totnes. Seymour compensated for any loss of prestige that year by maintaining a high military profile. He commanded a brigade at Cadiz, was wounded at Vigo, and was again active on campaign in 1703, when he landed his troops in Spain with such discipline that ‘never a more regular descent was made in an enemy’s country’.5

For as long as the Tories dominated the Court in the early years of Queen Anne’s reign, there was no longer any conflict in Seymour’s political allegiance; but after his father’s dismissal from office in 1704, William was forced to play a difficult juggling game. The presence of his name on Harley’s lobbying list against the Tack showed pressure from the Court, and although he was unable to resist paternal influence and voted for the measure on 28 Nov. 1704, it was noted the following spring that he had not been turned out of office. The Court was apparently convinced that he had only followed his father in order to prevent a breach. He did not offer himself for re-election, and was reported in April 1708 as being ‘very desirous to serve’ on campaign. Seymour only returned to the House in 1710, when he was brought in at Newport after his comrade-in-arms, John Richmond Webb*, chose to sit for Ludgershall. He was listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of the 1710 Parliament detected the mismanagements of the previous administration, an indication of how far he had moved away from his earlier support for Marlborough, and although in 1712 he supported the Duke on a matter of pay for generals, his vote on that occasion may have been influenced by self-interest. In August 1710 he received a bounty of £2,000, perhaps a reward for past loyalties since the Court had little need to buy his support. A year later he was laid up, his illness possibly exacerbated by hot weather, for Swift recorded Seymour’s witty and eccentric remarks about disliking sunshine. Seymour mixed in High Tory company, with men such as Earl Rivers (Richard Savage*, Viscount Colchester), Henry St. John II*, Samuel Masham*, Viscount Dupplin (George Hay*) and Sir William Gifford*; and in April 1713 was present at a meeting of Tories in London to determine candidates to represent Hampshire at the next election. He voted on 18 June 1713 for the French commerce bill. Failing health seems the most likely explanation for his failure to stand in the summer elections.6

Seymour retained his posts at the Hanoverian succession, though he retired in 1717. He died, unmarried, on 9 or 10 Feb. 1728, and his will, drawn up in 1721, records that at that time he owned government annuities worth £840 a year. He left £500 each to the Duke of Somerset and the Countess of Burlington, and £300 to each of his elder brother’s 12 children. There was provision for bequests of £200 to Sir Richard Sandford*, who had died since the will was made; Henry Portman (formerly Seymour*), who died only a few days after his nephew; Sir William Gifford; Thomas Smith I*, the son of the Whig Speaker John I*; and to Jane Kingdon, one of Queen Anne’s maids of honour, for whom Seymour’s father had acted as guardian. He left a further £500 for the erection of a monument to his father at Maiden Bradley church.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


  • 1. IGI, London.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 129; 1700–2, p. 150; HMC Portland, x. 16.
  • 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 373.
  • 4. Dalton, Army Lists, ii. 137; HMC Downshire, i. 123; HMC Portland, iii. 499; Lodge, Peerage of Ire. iv. 196; Portledge Pprs. 256; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 401; iii. 151; iv. 250, 340, 515; v. 51; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2792a, [–] to Portland, 1 Nov. 1692; A. A. Locke, Seymour Fam. 230; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 170; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 435; Add. 38703, f. 46.
  • 5. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 142; BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs. box. 4, Gwyn to Mq. of Halifax (William Savile*), 10 Aug. 1698; SRO, Leven and Melville mss GD26/13/20, [–] to Ld. Leven, 1 Jan. 1702; Add. 17677 WWW, ff. 144, 203; 30000 B, f. 191; Boyer, Anne Annals, ii. 100.
  • 6. Add. 17677 AAA, ff. 213, 271; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 955; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 361; Swift Stella ed. Davis, i. 290; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Manvers ms 4376, Gifford letter bk. 1 Aug. 1711; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, letterbk. 9 Apr. 1713.
  • 7. PCC 163 Brook.