SWIFT, Samuel (c.1659-1718), of Claines, Worcester

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



5 Dec. 1693 - 7 Feb. 1694
1695 - 8 Feb. 1718

Family and Education

b. c.1659, 2nd s. of William Swift, merchant, sugar-baker, grocer and draper, of Worcester by Martha, da. of John Beauchamp of Newland, Worcs.  m. 25 Nov. 1679, Sarah, o. da. of Thomas Shrewing of Worcester, 1s. d.v.psuc. fa. 1689.1

Offices Held

Common councilman (the 48), Worcester 1677, (the 24) 1679; chamberlain 1678–9, sheriff 1683–4, mayor 1684–5, 26 Oct.–9 Nov. 1688, alderman 1689; sheriff, Worcs. 1692–3.2


Unlike his fellow Members for Worcester during this period, Swift came from the trading families of the city rather than its professional or urban gentry elements. Thus, he was able to base his electoral interest on a detailed knowledge of the freemen, as well as the wealth generated from the ownership of property and extensive trading interests. His father’s success as a merchant led him away from a political career as he resigned from the corporation in 1668 to pursue his business and, later, the life of a country gentleman. This quest for status no doubt explains William Swift’s service as sheriff in 1675, and enabled him to set up his sons in trade (the elder in Worcester, the younger in London).3

Swift’s rise to prominence in Worcester’s corporation was rapid. He secured the quickest promotion from the lower ranks of the common council (the 48) to the upper ranks (the 24) of his generation, and was almost immediately thrown into the turmoil generated by the Exclusion crisis. His espousal of the Tory cause almost certainly saw him at the forefront of moves to surrender the charter to Charles II, rather than face quo warranto proceedings, and it was actually during his mayoralty that the charter was surrendered and a new one granted by James II, which continued him as mayor. He avoided dismissal from the corporation following James’s turn to the Whigs in 1687, and was thus on hand in October 1688 to resume the mayoralty for two weeks following the King’s proclamation restoring corporations to their 1679 state. During this time he presided over the reorganization of the corporation which saw those Whigs excluded in 1683 (including his father-in-law, a leading Whig collaborator in 1688) re-elected to office. Possibly in recognition of his services in amicably reconciling the two factions in such a delicate situation, he was elected an alderman in August 1689.4

The unity produced by the crisis of 1688–9 barely lasted until the 1690 election. The underlying political divisions in the city burst into the open in 1693 at the by-election to choose a successor to Sir John Somers*. Swift was the Tory candidate put up against Charles Cocks*. After a fierce contest Swift triumphed, but he was unseated on petition on 7 Feb. 1694. Despite this setback the by-election had demonstrated his political strength in the city sufficiently for Cocks to seek refuge at Droitwich in 1695 rather than risk another campaign at Worcester. Swift was thus returned at the 1695 election and held the seat until his death. In October 1701 William Walsh* analysed Swift’s electoral appeal in terms of his support among the ‘inferior sort for whom he keeps open house and is at so great an expense and trouble that it terrifies everybody from venturing to oppose him’. This assiduous attention to the freemen could be perceived as a forerunner of the Tory populism which challenged the Whigs in many urban centres in the 1720s and 1730s. Furthermore, Walsh suggested that this strategy was Swift’s main electoral prop as his support had ebbed away in the corporation and the clothiers’ company.5

Swift was not a man who left an indelible impression on the House through his activities. A favourable opinion of him in 1693 noted that ‘there is no great matter in him; but good principles, which generally do better service than great parts’. He never acted as a teller. Also, rather surprisingly in view of Worcester’s record of initiating local legislation, he was appointed to only one drafting committee dealing with such measures, on 6 Dec. 1703, when he was ordered to prepare a bill setting up a workhouse in the city. The major event in his parliamentary career appears to have occurred in the 1696–7 session when, during an inquiry into the Mint, he was accused of involvement in coin clipping, a treasonable offence. The House voted these allegations groundless and frivolous on 8 Apr. 1697. The length of Swift’s career in the Commons provides more information on his political views, especially as his name is rarely missing from full division lists or analyses of the House. He seems to have attended at least part of most parliamentary sessions, receiving leave of absence only twice: on 27 Jan. 1704 for three weeks and on 20 Jan. 1705 for an unspecified period in order to recover his health. In the 1695–6 session he was forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade, refused to sign the Association in February, and voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. In the following session he voted on 25 Nov. against Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder. These votes give the impression of a Tory at ease with attacks on a ministry increasingly dominated by the Whigs. This assessment is confirmed by two contemporary analyses of the House following the 1698 election. He was classed as a Country supporter on a comparative analysis of the new Parliament and his name appears on a second list which probably identifies those Members likely to oppose a standing army. As the issues which traditionally divided Whig from Tory re-emerged at the end of King William’s reign, it can be clearly seen that he followed a consistently Tory line. He was blacklisted as an opponent of preparations for war with France, and on Robert Harley’s* analysis of the Parliament elected in December 1701 he was listed with the Tories. His name also appears on the ‘white list’ of those Members who favoured the motion of 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings over the impeachment of William’s Whig ministers.6

In Anne’s reign, Swift was forecast as a supporter of Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) over the Scotch Plot in 1704. In October 1704 he was also forecast as a supporter of the Tack, but on 28 Nov. he did not vote for it, his name appearing on Harley’s list of those to be lobbied against the Tack with the initials ‘R.H.’ by his name to indicate that a personal approach was to be made by the secretary. Given his failure to support the Tack, it would seem likely that he fell prey to Harley’s powers of persuasion. His stance on the Tack also probably explains why he was classed as ‘Low Church’ in an analysis of the Parliament elected in 1705. However, at the opening of business he did not succumb to any pressure which may have been exerted by Harley, or others, and voted against the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct. He was classed as a Tory in two lists compiled in 1708, voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710, and was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of that same year. In the 1710–11 session, he was listed as a ‘Tory patriot’ who had opposed the continuation of the war and as a ‘worthy patriot’ who had helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration. His name appears on another of Harley’s canvassing lists, this time early in 1712, probably in connexion with the attack on the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†): on this occasion the solicitation was to be done by Edward Harley*. On 18 June 1713 he voted for the French commerce bill, although Worcester had petitioned on 4 June for a return to the tariffs of 1664. He was listed as a Tory both on the Worsley list of 1713, and on a list of the Parliament elected in 1713 which reclassified those Members re-elected in 1715.7

Swift was returned at the 1715 election, but was not active in the new Parliament. He died on 8 Feb. 1718. His will, drawn up in July 1710 at the height of the Sacheverell affair, includes a bequest of £100 (to the Whiggish prebendaries of Worcester cathedral among others) to be distributed to poor British, Irish or French Protestant (i.e. Anglican) ministers, or their widows and children, and a further bequest of £50 to Dissenting ministers or their dependants. The latter may suggest an affinity with the city’s Presbyterians, possibly through his wife who may have been related to the Mr Shewring who served that congregation for almost ten years. Other recipients of aid were ten honest but young and industrious freemen, who were to be lent £40 apiece, interest-free, for five years to help establish them in their chosen trade. In the absence of surviving heirs (the son who was admitted to Pembroke, Oxford, in 1704 presumably having died), he left the bulk of his estates to his eldest nephew, William Swift. These included lands in Worcestershire and Herefordshire and a plantation in Jamaica complete with negro slaves. The plantation seems to have been acquired in 1714 as the result of a financial transaction in which his nephew, William Hart, a Bristol merchant, probably played a significant role.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Vis. Worcs. ed. Metcalfe, 90; IGI, Worcs.
  • 2. Trans. Worcs. Arch. Soc. ser. 3, viii. 25.
  • 3. Ibid. 9; Vis. Worcs. 90.
  • 4. Trans. Worcs. Arch. Soc. 9–20.
  • 5. Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/B13, ‘W.C.’ to John Burridge*, 9 Nov. 1693; B20, Walsh to Somers, 26 Oct. 1701.
  • 6. Bodl. Ballard 13, f. 27.
  • 7. Add. 70331, Harley’s canvassing list.
  • 8. PCC 17 Browning; J. Chambers, New Hist. of Worcester, 270; V. Oliver, Caribbeana, iii. 121.