SPENCER, William (aft.1663-1705), of Cople, Beds.

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



18 Mar. 1698 - 1705

Family and Education

b. aft. 1663, 1st s. of Nicholas Spencer, of Nomini, Westmoreland co., Virginia, pres. of the council and sec. of state, Virginia 1679–d., by Frances, da. of Col. John Mottrom of Chicacone, Northumberland co., Virginia.  educ. Northill, Beds.; Christ’s, Camb. 1684; I. Temple 1685; ?travelled abroad (Holland) 1692. unmsuc. fa. 1689.1

Offices Held

Gent. pensioner 1689–d.2

Burgess, Bedford 1695.3


The manor of Rowlands in the parish of Cople, three miles outside Bedford, had been in the hands of the Spencers since at least 1531, but although the family were substantial landowners and well connected socially, they had hitherto provided neither a county sheriff nor a parliamentary representative. The Member’s father, the younger of two brothers, had, after a spell as a London merchant, emigrated to Virginia in the 1650s to act as an agent for his cousin, the 1st Lord Colepeper (John†). He retained this position even though receiving a land grant of his own in 1670. He took government office as a customs collector, and eventually attained some eminence in the colonial legislature. For the last ten years of his life he held a post as the colony’s secretary of state, and, as president of the council, was briefly in 1683–4 acting governor. Meanwhile his brother William, who had inherited the ancestral seat, remained childless after two marriages, and in due course adopted his eldest nephew, this Member, as his ultimate heir, upon which the boy was sent back to England to be educated. On the elder William’s death in 1686 he remained under the guardianship of his aunt, the widow, on an annuity of £100, and was to all intents and purposes regarded as his uncle’s successor, even though legally the estate had passed to his father. Three years later the situation was clarified when his father died in Virginia.4

The new squire of Cople was returned for Bedford at a by-election in 1698, unopposed and evidently in the Whig interest. He had been appointed to the band of gentlemen pensioners in April 1689 and on this account was included in a list of placemen shortly after his election. He was also classed as a supporter of the Court in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments compiled in about September 1698, accurately as it transpired, for he voted on 18 Jan. 1699 against the third reading of the disbanding bill. He was twice a teller in this session on the Whig side: on 7 Feb. 1699 against Robert Dormer* in the Aylesbury election case and on 21 Apr. on a motion concerning the attempt to censure the Tory Henry Chivers*. Another list of the Parliament, dating from the early months of 1700, marked him as a placeman. Though he retained his seat at the next three general elections he seems to have become somewhat less active in the House. He was included with the Whigs in Robert Harley’s* list of the 1701–2 Parliament, voted on 13 Feb. 1703 in favour of agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration, and, having been forecast as a probable opponent the Tack, did not vote for it in the crucial division of 28 Nov. 1704. He had, however, already determined not to stand for re-election and may not have attended regularly for the remainder of the Parliament.5

Changing his mind at a late stage, Spencer stood in the 1705 general election, but came bottom of the poll. He died the following October and was buried on the 20th at Cople. A series of dynastic disasters overtook the family. Of his four brothers, the second had already died without male issue two years before; the third, Nicholas, was buried at Cople in 1707; the fourth, John, died in Virginia in 1708; and the last, Francis, who took over the Cople estate, lived only until 1720, after which the property was sold to the Duchess of Marlborough. The plantations in Virginia, by contrast, remained intact, descending through a female line.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Wm. and Mary Q. xvii. 53–57; PCC 88 Lloyd; W. A. Crozier, Virginia Heraldica, 25–26; W. G. and M. N. Stanard, Colonial Virginian Reg. 1721; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 426.
  • 2. Beaufort mss at Badminton House, 600.2.1, proceedings of gent. pensioners; info. from Prof. R. O. Bucholz.
  • 3. Bedford Bor. Council, Bedford bor. recs. B2/3, corp. act bk. 1688–1718, f. 43.
  • 4. VCH Beds. ii. 240; Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 141; Wm. and Mary Q. 53–57; vi. 224; Virginia Co. Rec. n.s. i (Westmoreland co.), 95; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 445; F. A. Blaydes, Genealogia Bedfordiensis, 36, 368; HMC Lords, n.s. v. 14; PCC 88 Lloyd; Beds. RO, CRT 190/53.
  • 5. Bodl. Rawl. lett. 108, f. 134.
  • 6. W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 125; Beds. N. and Q. ii. 263; Wm. and Mary Q. xvii. 53–57; Virginia Co. Rec. 18, 29; VCH Beds. 240.