TURNOR, Sir Edward (c.1646-1721), of Great Hallingbury, Essex

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



Feb. 1701 - 29 Jan. 1709
1710 - 3 Dec. 1721

Family and Education

b. c.1646, 1st s. of Sir Edward Turnor†, of Little Parndon, Essex and M. Temple, Speaker of House of Commons 1661–71, by his 1st w. Sarah, da. and h. of Gerard Gore, Merchant Taylor, of London and Shillinglee Park, Suss., alderman of London 1656–7.  educ. M. Temple 1661, called 1672; Christ’s, Camb. adm. 17 Feb. 1662, aged 15.  m. 27 June 1667, Lady Isabel (d. 1690), da. of William Keith, 6th Earl Marischal [S], 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.).  Kntd. 6 Feb. 1664; suc. fa. 1676.1

Offices Held

Gent. privy chamber 1680–5.2

Mayor, Saffron Walden 1685; freeman, Orford 1695–1704, 1709–d., Hertford 1698, Aldeburgh by 1713.3


Turnor’s relatively late arrival on the parliamentary stage may be ascribed to the fact that, while he inherited his father’s prestige and court connexions, he displayed little of the Speaker’s talent, judgment or even industry; nor, just as significantly, was his patrimony as substantial as it appeared, the East Anglian estates which descended to him being encumbered with ‘great debts’ that he proved incapable of discharging. In the early years of the restored monarchy he seemed to have a glittering future. He accompanied Sir Richard Fanshawe, 1st Bt.†, on various embassies to Spain and Portugal, received a knighthood and acquired a titled wife, albeit from the Scottish nobility. But although his father cast about for a parliamentary seat for him, none was available, and by January 1679, when he next attracted notice, it was as a minor player in the drama surrounding the Essex county election, allegedly ‘pulling the nose’ of the Whig candidate Henry Mildmay*, and provoking one of Mildmay’s friends into a duel. Despite his continuous service as a churchwarden in his local parish of Great Hallingbury from 1687 until his death, his primary political motivation at this point seems to have been enthusiastic loyalism or partisanship rather than devotion to the principles of the High Churchmen. Under King James he proved himself exceptionally compliant, being one of only two Anglican squires in Essex who agreed to stay as deputies to a Catholic lord lieutenant, and docile in his response to the ‘three questions’, being content to see the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act provided ‘the Protestant religion’ was secured. Either this unprecedented prominence in local politics inspired him to seek a place in the Commons, or the increasing pressure of debt forced him to turn his mind towards political advancement, or parliamentary privilege, as a solution to his troubles, for in the canvassing in anticipation of King James’s abortive Parliament in 1688 he surprisingly showed his hand as an aspiring candidate for Aldeburgh. There he could exploit the most useful electoral asset left him by his father, the grant of the lighthouses in Orford Ness, which he offered ‘for the benefit of’ Aldeburgh corporation, along with other unspecified financial inducements, designed to promote the borough’s trade. The counter-attractions of the rival interest, that of the Blackwall shipbuilder Sir Henry Johnson*, were a formidable deterrent, however, both on this occasion and immediately afterwards in the election to the Convention, when Turnor canvassed but failed to pursue his challenge to a poll. His preference for employing election agents rather than campaigning personally may have contributed to his undoing, while the rumour circulating among the freemen that he had favoured ‘taking off the Test and Penal Laws’ evidently cost him a number of votes.4

Turnor tried again at Aldeburgh in the more favourable political climate of 1690, this time standing a poll. Moreover, by judicious promotion of his lighthouse scheme and extensive treating, his agents created a strong party for him among the inhabitants, sufficient to have returned him had the votes of the ‘out-freemen’ not been admitted. Having petitioned unsuccessfully against Sir Henry Johnson and Johnson’s brother William* on the basis of a restriction of the franchise, Turnor abandoned Aldeburgh which, he said, had treated him ‘uncivilly’. Instead he settled his sights on another parliamentary borough on the Ness, Orford itself, indicating a willingness to ‘fix the keeping of my lighthouses upon the corporation’, a privilege which he estimated might yield £50–60 p.a. to the borough. Other proposed benefactions included the erection of a school which would provide employment for a master as well as opportunities for the children of freemen. Thus began a prolonged and difficult courtship of the constituency, conducted on Turnor’s side through intermediaries and in the face of competition from other would-be patrons. To begin with, Turnor’s ambition seems to have been essentially personal, as it had been at Aldeburgh, where his opponents, the Johnsons, had been as resolute Tories as he himself. However, as conflict at Orford escalated, dividing the corporation into party factions and involving some of the principals in county politics, Turnor’s campaign took on the keenly partisan edge that his electioneering in his own county (where he was a consistently active supporter of Tory candidates) always possessed. Furthermore, he seems temporarily to have given over the idea of standing himself. In August 1695 he wrote to one of his agents, ‘I am as little fond of being a Parliament man perhaps as anybody: I am not unacquainted with the certain charge of being so, nor am I less knowing that it will never redound to my benefit, for I am neither ambitious of honour and profit’. What mattered was his country and ‘an honest cause’:

As the case stands, ’tis the Church and the honest party of England that I would stand by, especially when they are in a suffering condition as I take their case now to be, and therefore think we are now more bound in honour and conscience also to stand by our friends at a time when they most need us.

To some extent these protestations of reluctance were a rationalization of what had been a tactical decision. Deserted by his erstwhile partner Thomas Glemham*, a more moderate Tory who had concluded an agreement with the Court Whig candidate, Thomas Felton*, and had left Turnor ‘alone to dispute a double return at the committee of elections’ with ‘all the trouble and charges’ such an imbroglio would have entailed, he had withdrawn. In order to preserve for the future some interest for himself and his son, he had agreed to support Felton’s Tory brother, Sir Adam, 3rd Bt.*, and at the same time had reassured his agent that he would continue to assist the Tory faction in the corporation in their endeavours to secure a new charter: ‘though at this time of day a Ch[urch] of Eng[land] man can’t pretend to much power or interest, yet he may if he has resolution enough assert a just cause’. Some further grounds for questioning Turnor’s proclaimed indifference to Commons membership can be found in a gathering crisis in his financial affairs which threatened to jeopardize his control over the Orford Ness lighthouse. The property itself had been mortgaged, and in 1695 the mortgagees, pressing for foreclosure, put up one Ralph Grey (probably Hon. Ralph Grey*) to petition for the reversion to Turnor’s grant, which still had 24 years to run, in order to forestall any attempt on his part to assign the mortgage. It was only after several petitions to the government that Turnor defeated this manoeuvre and obtained for himself first refusal of the reversionary grant. The value to him in these circumstances of a Commons seat was underlined in 1698 when a private bill was carried through the House on his behalf, under the management of the Essex Tory Sir Eliab Harvey*, in order to ‘supply a defect’ in the mortgage. The bill had a rough ride, surmounting three petitions from family members and creditors, and being subjected to a rider at its third reading and a subsequent Lords amendment before receiving the Royal Assent on 16 May. Not long afterwards Turnor became involved in legal action against his own daughter Sarah and son-in-law Francis Gee. On the pretext that Gee was ‘a person bred up meanly and of no state’, who had married Sarah ‘privately’ and without paternal consent, Turnor sought to possess himself of the £1,000 to which she was entitled under her grandfather’s will ‘with a view to laying it out to prevent its being wasted by Gee’. He lost the verdict in Chancery but appealed to the Lords and only ended his efforts when judgment went against him there in February 1700. In the meantime he had revived his parliamentary ambitions, but his own financial weakness and the peculiar delicacies of Orford borough politics made reassertion difficult. There were now two rival corporations, Whig and Tory, and a growing desire for compromise among some of the principals, including the Tory lord of the manor, Lord Hereford. In 1697, when a by-election vacancy arose, Lord Hereford took Turner’s previous professions at face value and set up another Tory. In 1698 Hereford ‘accepted’ two candidates recommended by ‘some of the chief gentlemen in the country’ before Turnor announced his own availability, and to Turnor’s extreme annoyance Hereford stuck by this decision even when Turnor’s agents orchestrated a demonstration of support for their patron among the freemen of the borough. A promise of ‘the next vacancy’ evidently mollified Turnor’s supporters, though he himself remained furiously resentful.5

At last, in January 1701, Turnor secured support for his own candidacy at Orford, replacing the absentee William Johnson as the second Tory. Having survived both a contest and a petition, he was forecast in February as likely to support the new ministry in agreeing with a resolution from the committee of supply to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. Although his appearance on the ‘black list’ of those who had opposed preparations for war alarmed him into appending his name to a published rebuttal, his standing in his constituency was more at risk from the continued factional conflict within the corporation, which his own inattentiveness had exacerbated. However, he and his Tory colleague were re-elected, and the ensuing petition against them went unreported. Robert Harley* classed him with the Tories in his list of the new Parliament, and on 26 Feb. 1702 Turnor voted in favour of the Tory motion to vindicate the proceedings of the Commons in the impeachments of the four Whig lords. The 1702 general election produced another contest at Orford, again successfully negotiated, with the customary petition again unheard. After acting as a teller on 3 Dec. 1702 against discharging from custody John Wheely, detained for corrupt practices at the Colchester election, Turnor seems not to have been especially active in the House, though he voted on 28 Nov. 1704 in favour of the Tack, as had been forecast. Returned unopposed at Orford in 1705, following an accommodation between the rival corporations, he voted against the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. A fall from his horse in the winter of 1706–7 gave rise to premature reports of his death, but he recovered quickly enough to join in the campaigning for the next general election at Orford, which started in earnest later that year, and in two parliamentary lists from 1708 he was classified as a Tory.6

Renewed Whig efforts in the constituency produced a stiff challenge in 1708, and the subsequent petition of the defeated Whig, William Thompson III*, enjoyed the determined support of Thompson’s party colleagues in the House, with the result that Turnor was unseated in January 1709. To this rebuff his agents responded by orchestrating large-scale admissions of freemen, mostly ‘seafaring men’, which finally cemented Tory control of the borough. Turnor and his fellow Tory Clement Corrance comfortably held off two Whig opponents in 1710, and in the next election they were returned without opposition. Marked as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of 1710, Turnor appears to have eschewed membership of any back-bench Tory clubs, but he was certainly in attendance at the House in 1712, when, despite ill-health, he gave a welcome to news of peace and was considered for a place at the Board of Trade, and in 1713, when he voted on 18 June for the French commerce bill. He was described simply as a Tory in the Worsley list.7

Re-elected as a Tory in 1715, Turnor was a consistent parliamentary opponent of King George I’s Whig ministers, so far as his gout would permit. In the winter of 1717–18 he and his brother Arthur were involved in an unpleasant episode, finding themselves subject to allegations that they were wrongfully imprisoning their widowed sister, Sarah Clerke, and ‘embezzling’ her property. Not only had these charges to be refuted in court, but also in the press, following the publication of a scurrilous pamphlet. In defending themselves, the brothers were obliged to rehearse the full details of Sarah’s mental derangement. The events offered ample provocation to Turnor’s explosive temperament, his fury on this occasion being directed against Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt.*, who was meddling in the case for some nefarious purpose of his own. At one court hearing, Turnor bellowed that ‘as ill as he was, he was going to pull Sir Harry by the ears’. Turnor’s name was included in the list of possible Jacobite sympathizers submitted to the Pretender in 1721 but he died on 3 Dec. that year. His will (which named Thomas Lutwyche* and the crypto-Jacobite lawyer Sir Constantine Phipps as trustees) confirmed an arrangement made four years earlier by which he designated as his sole heir his unmarried daughter Mary, ‘who has never disobeyed me nor in any material matter disobliged me’, but of her inheritance only the estate at Little Parndon survived the settlement of his debts, and after her death without issue that property passed to her great-nephew, Edward Turnour Garth Turnour†, her miscreant sister Sarah’s grandson, later Earl of Winterton.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 87; The Gen. n.s. xv. 192; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 85–86; Morant, Essex, ii. 496; HMC Le Fleming, 8, 51; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/468, Thomas Godfrey to Turnor, 19 July 1690; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 193.
  • 2. N. Carlisle, Gent. Privy Chamber, 194.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 178; Murrell thesis, 327; Herts. RO, Hertford bor. recs. 25/100; Add. 22248, f. 15.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1684–5, p. 117; 1687–9, p. 187; 1694–5, p. 484; HMC Heathcote, 160; Lady Fanshawe Mems. (1907), 123–4, 146, 170; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 162; HMC 7th Rep. 474; VCH Essex, viii. 122; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 325; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 296, 403–6; Shillinglee mss Ac.454/465, 801, Godfrey to Turnor, 3 Dec. 1688, Thomas Wall to same, 14 Dec. 1688.
  • 5. Shillinglee mss Ac.454/467, 1017, 829, 836, 835, 840, 1021, 839, Turnor to Thomas Godfrey, 4 Mar. 1689–90, same to Theophilus Hooke, [1692], 18 Aug., 30 Nov. 1695, same to the mayor of Orford, 27 Oct. 1695, same to [Ld. Hereford], 21 July 1698, John Hooke to Turnor, 16 July 1698, Ld. Hereford to same, 19 July 1698; Murrell thesis, 229–31, 285–368; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 952, 977, 1371–2, 1384; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 484; CJ, xii. 158, 167, 178, 181, 205, 255, 273; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 623; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 93.
  • 6. Answer to the Black-List . . . (1701), 4; Shillinglee mss Ac.454/844, 850, 1187, 1158–60, 1163, 1049–50, 1052, John Sanders to Turnor, 4 Sept. 1701, Richard Gulston* to same, 16 Dec. 1701, Leicester Martin* to same, 20 Sept. 1702, Thomas Palmer to same, 8 Apr., 8, 26 May 1704, 9 June 1707, John Hooke to same, 23 Jan. 1706–7, 25 June, 24 Sept. 1707.
  • 7. Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1076, 1079, 1081, 1083, 1241, 1245–6, John Hooke to Turnor, [?28] Feb. 1708–9, 27 June, 29 Aug., 28 Sept. 1709, John Bence* to same, 10 Apr. 1709, 13 June, 2 July 1712; HMC Portland, iv. 518.
  • 8. True Case of Mrs Clerke . . . [1718]; PCC 52 Romney; VCH Essex, 117, 224.