THORNHAGH (THORNHAUGH), John (1648-1723), of Fenton and Osberton, Notts.

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



1689 - 28 Nov. 1702
29 Mar. 1704 - 1710

Family and Education

bap. 27 Jan. 1648, o. s. of Francis Thornhagh† of Fenton by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John St. Andrew of Gotham, Notts.  educ. Jesus, Camb. 1664.  m. 15 Sept. 1670, Elizabeth (d. 1712), da. of Sir Richard Earle, 1st Bt., of Stragglethorpe, Lincs. and h. to her nephew Sir Richard Earle, 2nd Bt., 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (1 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. 1648.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Notts. 6 Nov. 1688–18 Mar. 1689.


In his early career, Thornhagh supported Exclusion, contributing to the Whig candidates’ election expenses in September 1679. He was then implicated in the Nottinghamshire arms plot, before joining other Nottinghamshire Whigs in collaborating with James II. He was sympathetic to Protestant Dissent, sending his son, St. Andrew, to Frankland’s Academy in June 1688. However, Thornhagh adapted quickly to the changing political situation, being returned to the Convention for East Retford. Re-elected in 1690, he was marked as a Whig on the Marquess of Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) list of the new Parliament, an assessment consistent with his record in the Convention. Likewise, throughout most of the 1690s, he continued to be active on committees, some of which were of considerable importance. In April 1691 Robert Harley* classed him as a Country supporter with a qualifying ‘d’ against his name. On 1 Feb. 1693 he acted as a teller against a petition from the Duchess of Richmond and the other farmers of the alnage duty on the bill transferring its collection to the customs, and on 21 Mar. 1694 against the engrossment of a bill to make more effectual a statute of James I concerning the leather trade. He was given leave to go into the country on 3 Apr. 1694. Grascome, in his analysis of this Parliament, considered him a Court supporter.2

Thornhagh was also diligent in the execution of his duties outside Parliament. By virtue of his extensive estates in Nottinghamshire he was both a deputy-lieutenant and a j.p., offices he took very seriously. In particular, he was active in matters which threatened the security of the state, especially in the pursuit of suspected subversive elements. In 1696 he showed his willingness in this regard by informing the secretary of state, Sir William Trumbull*, of Jacobite activity in Sherwood forest, collecting affidavits of treasonable words and practices and then writing a letter into Derbyshire to ensure that warrants for the arrest of some suspects were carried out in the adjacent county. Re-elected in 1695, with Richard Taylor*, he was forecast in January 1696 as likely to support the Court in connexion with the proposed council of trade, signed the Association in February, and voted in March in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s., before being given leave of absence on 25 Mar. In the following session he voted on 25 Nov. 1696 for Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder. On the eve of the 1698 election Gervase Eyre* wrote that ‘my cousin Thornhagh is something under government but I have a better opinion than ordinary of him if he be left to himself’, which suggests that he was open to influence by Whig grandees such as the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), and indeed he voted for the two Whig candidates for Nottinghamshire and therefore against Eyre.3

Re-elected without opposition in the election of 1698, Thornhagh was classed in September as a Court supporter, although in a subsequent analysis this assessment was queried. He voted on 18 Jan. 1699 against the third reading of the disbanding bill. On a list compiled in 1700 analysing Members according to interests, he was grouped under the Earl of Warrington’s name. Shortly after the prorogation of Parliament he showed that he was not above utilizing his government contacts to press his son’s claims to the place of woodward of Sherwood Forest. In alerting his ‘good friend’ William Lowndes* to the impending vacancy, he disclaimed ‘the private interest’ of his son as he hoped to leave him £2,000 p.a., stressing instead the need for an officer capable of preserving the King’s timber.4

Despite a dispute over one of the seats at East Retford in January 1701, Thornhagh appears to have been unopposed. He was listed as likely to support the Court in February 1701 over the ‘Great Mortgage’. In the election of December 1701 he stood for both the county, where he was defeated, and for East Retford, where, although returned, he was made to undergo a difficult challenge in the elections committee. Clearly under pressure at East Retford, Thornhagh did not trouble to stand for the county in 1702. Although he was returned again with White for East Retford, his election was challenged once more and he was unseated by the Commons on 28 Nov. 1702. The death of Gervase Eyre in February 1704 provided Thornhagh’s opportunity to return to the Commons as knight of the shire. He had the backing of the Whig lords Newcastle and Kingston (Evelyn Pierrepont*), and the timely intercession of Lord Lexington prevented a contest with Sir Thomas Willoughby, 2nd Bt. Thus, Thornhagh entered the Commons for the final session of the 1702 Parliament. Contemporaries were well aware of his views: he had already appeared erroneously on a list of those voting on 13 Feb. 1703 for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill extending the time allowed for taking the oath of abjuration. On a forecast made on 30 Oct. 1704 he was listed as a probable opponent of the Tack, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov.5

At East Retford Thornhagh was the beneficiary of the agreement struck in 1704 to give Willoughby a clear run in the county election of 1705, when the shire representation was shared between the parties. On a list of the new Parliament Thornhagh was described as ‘Low Church’ and on 25 Oct. 1705 he voted for the Court candidate as Speaker. He also continued to espouse the Whig line, voting on 18 Feb. 1706 to support the Court over the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. There are indications in the 1707–8 session that his relationship with Newcastle, the head of the Whig interest in Nottinghamshire, had become strained. It seems that Thornhagh’s action on behalf of some landowners who were suffering from the depredations of the royal deer in Sherwood Forest had angered Newcastle, the warden of the forest. It would appear that Thornhagh and his son afterwards took exception to a possible Newcastle candidate at East Retford, a Mr Banks, and in the end voted against the Whig candidate backed by Newcastle, Robert Molesworth*, and in favour of the Tory, William Levinz*. Although these minor disagreements did not disturb the electoral agreement for the county seats in 1708, Willoughby and Thornhagh being returned unopposed, the latter probably remained in disagreement with Newcastle over the royal deer since a petition from several landowners was presented to the Commons and rejected on 21 Feb. 1709. Simultaneously, he was reported to be expressing concern at the partisan manner in which the Whigs were deciding election cases. This was particularly taken note of by one of Robert Harley’s correspondents, as he was ‘thought to be a thorough man’ who many felt had been badly treated in 1702 in similar circumstances.6

Despite these differences with Newcastle, Thornhagh was still noted as a Whig on a list of early 1708. In the new Parliament he voted for the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709 and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. At the end of the trial on 10 Mar. 1710 he was granted leave to go into the country for ten days. The confusion caused by Newcastle’s support for candidates acceptable to Harley’s new scheme of moderation in the election of 1710 makes it difficult to be entirely sure where Thornhagh stood. The Marquess of Dorchester (Evelyn Pierrepont) seems to have been in some hope that he would join with the other Whig candidate, Lord Howe (Sir Scrope Howe*), but according to Newcastle his candidature in fact assisted the Tories by taking votes from Howe. A more critical informant wrote to Newcastle that Thornhagh seems ‘only to stand in opposition to my Lord Howe’, and was asking the freeholders to give their second vote to Levinz. Thornhagh’s main hope was to be borne in on a tide of support for Levinz ‘and his Sacheverellite parsons’. To Newcastle’s correspondent the danger was that Thornhagh, ‘having the reputation of being rather a blockhead than a knave’, might divide the Whig interest. In the event, all four candidates stood, ‘all on their own legs’, with Thornhagh finishing bottom of the poll.7

Thornhagh did not stand for election again, although his interest was solicited for the Tory Hon. Francis Willoughby* (son of Sir Thomas) in 1713. Thornhagh was buried on 17 May 1723, leaving a strong interest to his son St. Andrew who took an active role in local politics but never stood as a candidate. Later in the century Thornhagh’s grandson sat for the county for over 25 years.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 971; Add. 30997, ped.
  • 2. [Bull. I]HR, lxix. 230; Heywood Diary ed. Turner, ii. 12.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 277; 1696, p. 209; HMC Portland, ii. 171; HMC Downshire, i. 626; G. Sitwell, Letters of Sitwells and Sacheverells, ii. 28; BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs., Eyre to Ld. Halifax (William Savile*), 19 Mar. [1698]; Harl. 6846, f. 340.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, pp. 390–1.
  • 5. Add. 70501, ff. 45, 64; Notts. RO, Foljambe pprs. DDFJ 11/1/9/3; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 301a, Willoughby to [Newcastle], n.d. [1704].
  • 6. Foljambe pprs. DDFJ 11/1/1, f. 17, Sir Hardolph Wastneys, 4th Bt.* to St. Andrew Thornhagh, 9 Dec. 1707; Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 303, ‘Sir Thomas Willoughby’s message to my Lord’; Add. 70024, f. 263; 70025, ff. 62–63; HMC Portland, iv. 519.
  • 7. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 187, John Plumptre* to [Newcastle], 20 Aug. 1710; Add. 70502, f. 351; Notts. RO, Portland mss DD4P/68/32, [–] to Newcastle, n.d. [1710]; Sitwell, 86.
  • 8. Add. 70373, Matthew Brailsford to Lord Harley (Edward*), 26 Dec. 1712; Lincs. Peds. 971.