WALSH, William (1662-1708), of Abberley, Worcs. and ‘The Mews’, nr. St. Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, Mdx.

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 - Nov. 1701
1702 - 1705
6 Dec. 1705 - 16 Mar. 1708

Family and Education

bap. 6 Oct. 1662, o. s. of Joseph Walsh of Abberley by Elizabeth (d. 1719), da. of Sir Brian Palmes of Lindley, Yorks., and sis. of William Palmes*.  educ. John Chapman, rector, of Abberley and his son; Wadham, Oxf. 1678; M. Temple 1679; travelled abroad (Italy). unmsuc. fa. 1682.1

Offices Held

Gent. of horse 1702–d.


The Walsh family acquired the manor of Abberley in 1531 by virtue of a grant from Henry VIII to Walter Walsh, a page of the privy chamber. In due course it descended to Walsh’s father, Joseph, who nearly lost the estate due to his adherence to the Royalist cause in the Civil War. After surrendering at Worcester in 1646 Joseph Walsh was forced to compound for £580 (later reduced to £543), a debt which was discharged in 1654. After the Restoration, penury, plus the alleged loss of £20,000 in Charles I’s service, proved valuable in supporting a petition for the reversion of the manor of Abberley (which was still vested in the crown) in order to raise money to pay off family debts. This request was duly granted in April 1663, but it seems likely that Walsh’s patrimony had been severely damaged. Indeed, in 1698 a contemporary described Walsh as ‘an ancient gentleman of the county, a well-bred man and a great poet, but his estate reduced to about £300 a year, of which his mother [d. 1719] has the greatest part’. The future MP may have been helped financially by his uncle George Walsh†, for upon the latter’s death in 1692 Walsh gained a share of his personal estate, including some houses in Holborn. Lack of finance may explain his attenuated studies at both Oxford and the Middle Temple, but it cannot account for his travels abroad in Italy to which he alluded in 1695. Alternatively, perhaps his desire to shine in the cultural life of the metropolis precluded detailed attention to a traditional curriculum.2

Walsh was clearly a success as a man of fashion and possessed sufficient talent to impress contemporaries of his ability as a poet and author. Dryden contributed the preface to Walsh’s Dialogue Concerning Women (1691), and later described him as the ‘best critic of our nation’, while Pope wrote a laudatory epitaph in his own Essay on Criticism (1711) which he defended on the grounds that Walsh had ‘never refused to any one of merit, of any party, the praise due to him’. But Walsh’s ambitions went further than a desire to attain prominence in literary circles. To Dryden he expressed an interest in the tellership of the Exchequer, worth £1,500 p.a., which was given to Henry Carew in July 1693. It is also probable that he looked to Parliament as the way to rebuild his family’s fortunes. Locally, he was well connected to play a political role. Apart from his uncle George, a committed Whig in his later years, his cousin, William Bromley I* was also an important figure. He was acquainted not only with the lord lieutenant, the Earl (later Duke) of Shrewsbury, but also with Sir John Somers*, a prominent figure among Worcestershire’s Whigs. Indeed, his first extant letter to Somers dates from July 1693, and, significantly, concerns a patronage request. The first time Walsh was mentioned as a possible parliamentary candidate was at the by-election at Bewdley in 1694. In June 1694, a somewhat relieved Salwey Winnington* was able to inform Robert Harley* that Walsh had openly stated that he would not stand, presumably as the Herbert candidate. By the summer of 1695, at the latest, he was attempting to use his influence with Lord Keeper Somers to obtain a diplomatic posting. He drew attention to the vacancies in Venice and Florence for which he considered himself particularly well-suited on account of his knowledge of Italian customs. It was perhaps the realization that his prospects of preferment would be enhanced by a seat in the Commons which persuaded him to intervene in the Worcestershire county election in November 1695 in order ‘that he may get in at Droitwich’ on the Foley interest. Thomas Foley I’s* refusal to bow to such pressure ensured the failure of Walsh’s scheme. Over the next few years Walsh concentrated on building up his local standing, a strategy which saw him installed as a militia captain in Shrewsbury’s foot regiment by 1697 and a deputy-lieutenant by 1701. By the end of 1697 he was busily importuning both Shrewsbury and Somers for employment. In July 1698 the latter wrote, ‘I am of opinion Mr Walsh cannot do more for his advantage than to aim at some employment abroad’, and among the projects mooted was for him to accompany Shrewsbury as secretary on an embassy to Spain. Walsh also persuaded the Duke to support his campaign for a county seat at the 1698 election. Somers also backed him and he was returned at Thomas Foley I’s expense in August.3

As a close associate of Somers and Shrewsbury, it is not surprising that on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, compiled shortly after the 1698 election, Walsh was listed as a Court supporter. In the following year he showed some concern to promote the interests of his constituents, for in January 1700 James Vernon I* reported that Walsh had ‘told me something of his Worcestershire petition’ and that he had ‘already spoken to the commissioners of excise, who are under a difficulty in complying with what is desired’. By the 1699–1700 session of this Parliament he was considered an adherent of the ‘Junto’ group. Indeed, the departure of Shrewsbury for the Continent in November 1700 could only increase his association with, and to some extent dependence on, Somers. At the election in January 1701 Walsh came under fierce attack, but increased his prestige by coming top of the poll. In the new Parliament, his name appears on a list of those Members willing to support the Court on the question of the ‘Great Mortgage’. His support for the Whigs became more manifest this session, most notably in three of the four divisions in which he acted as a teller. On 21 Mar. 1701, he told in favour of an amendment to a proposed address, which, in addition to thanking the King for keeping the House informed of his negotiations with France, was to acknowledge William’s ‘care of these nations and the peace of Europe’. This was lost by 193 votes to 187, a notable rebuff for the Court, which then failed to contest passages criticizing the Partition Treaties. Walsh’s connexion with the Junto was again apparent on 14 Apr. when he acted as a teller against a motion that in advising the King to complete the Partition Treaty, Charles Montagu* (now Lord Halifax) was guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour. The passage of this motion led to a resolution for Halifax’s impeachment. On 28 May Walsh told in favour of a resolution that the Whig, Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt.*, was duly elected for Honiton. On 14 June, he acted as a teller in favour of an amendment at the report stage of the bill granting duties on low wines and other commodities, that a clause respiting the sale of these estates should be made part of the bill.4

Ironically, Walsh was a promoter of an address from Worcestershire which assured the King of the county’s willingness to elect new representatives if their existing Members failed to support his measures. This was part of a wider campaign, inspired by the Whigs, in favour of a dissolution. In the event, Walsh lost the county election in November 1701 by a mere 15 votes. Whether his support for a dissolution, his reputed socinianism, or the malpractices alleged against his opponent in his election petition were a significant cause of his defeat it is impossible to tell. More crucial probably was his inability to make an effective partnership with his cousin Bromley, who topped the poll. Before proceedings could be completed on this petition, the death of William III precipitated another general election. Despite being characterized as a ‘creature’ of Lord Somers, and ‘a socinian, deist, [and] an atheist’, Walsh was returned instead of Bromley. The accession of Queen Anne must have brought forth conflicting feelings for Walsh: on the one hand he wrote a ‘savage satire on the Tories’, The Golden Age Restored; but on the other he was rewarded with office as a gentleman of the horse under his fellow Whig and Kit-Cat member the Duke of Somerset.5

In the opening session of the 1702 Parliament, Walsh acted as a teller on only one occasion (11 Feb. 1703), against a motion for an address agreeing with the critical observations on the financial management of the previous war made by the commissioners of accounts. Two days later he voted to agree with the Lords’ amendments to the bill extending the time for taking the abjuration oath. In the next session, he acted as a teller on two occasions, most notably on 7 Mar. 1704, against a motion to recommit a bill for raising recruits and for suspending certain provisions of the Navigation Acts. On the most contentious issue of the following session, the Tack, Walsh was forecast in October 1704 as an opponent of the measure, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. He was teller on 7 Feb. 1705 against adding a clause to the recruitment bill, which sought to protect those enlisting voluntarily by requiring them to declare their consent before a justice or head constable.

In the highly charged atmosphere of the 1705 county election, Walsh was a victim of the rallying call of Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, to defend the Church. His defeat did not, however, keep him out of the Commons for long, as the timely death of Wharton Dunch* enabled Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) to procure his return for Richmond in December. Nor was this piece of Junto generosity taken lightly by Walsh who took the trouble to visit the borough. Indeed, in July 1706 he wrote to Pope that he had put off a journey to Windsor, ‘being engaged to go to my corporation of Richmond’. By virtue of his office he appeared in a list of placemen printed in 1705, and gave further evidence of his amenability to the demands of being a Court Whig. On 12 Jan. 1706 he acted as a teller against a resolution instructing the committee of the whole, when it considered the regency bill, to receive clauses explaining, regulating and altering the place clauses in the Act of Settlement; and his name naturally appears among the Members who supported the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ in the bill on 18 Feb. On the 23rd, his commitment to the Whigs was also demonstrated by his tellership against a resolution that Salwey Winnington was duly elected for Bewdley. In the following session, on 16 Dec., he acted as a teller against a technical amendment to the land tax bill aimed at bringing relief to places burdened by a double assessment even though the individuals concerned had taken the oaths and were thus no longer liable to the penalty. On 27 Mar. 1707 he told against a motion, which had the backing of the Irish lobby, that the committee on the supply bill imposing duties on salt and other commodities should be instructed to receive a clause to explain the law regarding the import of Portuguese or Spanish wine from Ireland to England. He remained in London for the short session of 1707, and was teller on 19 Apr. against the passage of the main proposal of the session, a bill to prevent the fraudulent use of drawbacks.6

In the autumn of 1707 there is evidence that Walsh was seeking a post senior to his existing one (salary £256 p.a.). On the death of George Stepney on 15 Sept. 1707, he made an interest to succeed him as both the plenipotentiary at The Hague and Brussels, and also to be made a lord of Trade. According to Erasmus Lewis*, ‘Mr Walsh is uneasy under the yoke of his superior and now puts in for the Board of Trade’. The return of Shrewsbury from Italy in January 1706 (for whom Walsh had been diligent in executing literary commissions from London) provided him with one channel of influence. Shrewsbury approached the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) who, while professing a great desire to serve Walsh, claimed that the vacancy on the Board of Trade was filled (it was not) and that Stepney’s diplomatic post ‘is so expensive that, as a friend, I would not advise him to it’. Therefore, the Duke continued, the best course was to await the expected vacancies at Hanover or Turin. The second matter to exercise Walsh concerned the ramifications of the death of Bromley in August 1707. Walsh was a keen participant in the discussions which followed over candidates for the county by-election, especially as a general election would have to be held after the next session of Parliament at the latest, and he envisaged himself as a candidate. In support of Sir Thomas Cookes Winford, 2nd Bt.*, he wrote to Somers, ‘I think this election is of the greatest consequence for the whole county, for if we can unite our friends in this, we may be able to do what we will at a new Parliament’. If so, he stood a good chance of some form of promotion. An analysis of the Commons compiled early in 1708 confirmed his Whiggery, as did the content of a lament on Harley’s fall from office in February of that year which has been attributed to Walsh. His last parliamentary service was performed for his cousin Bromley’s heir, William: on 19 Feb. 1708 he petitioned as his ‘uncle and guardian’ for an amendment to the bill providing for Dorothy Bromley (William I’s youngest daughter). The bill was duly amended, but Walsh did not live to see its passage through the Commons. He died at Marlborough on his way from London to Bath on 16 Mar. 1708. He was buried in Abberley church, an inscription bearing testimony to his ‘integrity, learning and good sense [which] were highly prized by all that knew him’. His reputation lived on in literary circles, Pope informing Swift in 1713 that he would gladly pay to save both Dryden and Walsh from purgatory: the former would cost only £50, but ‘Walsh was not only a socinian, but (what you’ll own is harder to be saved) a Whig. He cannot modestly be rated at less than a hundred.’7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. IGI, Worcs.; Nash, Worcs. i. 2; J. L. Moilliet, Abberley Manor, 54, 57, 92; Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/C2, 14, Walsh to Somers, 3 July 1693, 31 July 1695.
  • 2. VCH Worcs. iv. 220; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1643–60, p. 1516; CSP Dom. 1663–4, pp. 53–54; Add. 29579, f. 44; 5842, f. 141.
  • 3. Dryden Works ed. Frost, vi. 809; Pope Corresp. ed. Sherburn, i. 7n.; Poems of Alexander Pope ed. Audra and Williams, i. 325–6; Dryden Letters ed. Ward, 56; Somers mss 371/14/C2, Walsh to Somers, 3 July 1693; J7, Sir James Rushout, 1st Bt.*, to same, 4 Nov. 1695; Add. 70017, f. 249; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 107, 109, 128; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/44, 53, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 14 June, 5 July 1698; Shrewsbury Corresp. 506, 528, 541; Egerton 1626, f. 52; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 256.
  • 4. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 407; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 285.
  • 5. Somers mss 371/14/B20, 21, Walsh to Somers, 26 Oct., 15 Dec. 1701; Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester, St. Helen’s), Hampton mss 705: 349/BA4657/iii/9, Charles Stephens to Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, 24 Jan. 1701[–2]; CJ, xiii. 650; Add. 29579, f. 367; Northumberland mss at Alnwick Castle, 21/i, ff. 145–6, Walsh to [?bp. of Oxford], 15 Apr. 1702 (Speck trans.); Swift v. Mainwaring, 2.
  • 6. Pope Corresp. 20.
  • 7. HMC Portland, iv. 455; Sloane 4039, f. 133; 4061, f. 202; Shrewsbury Corresp. 663; Somers mss 371/14/L29, Walsh to Somers, 18 Aug. 1707; HMC Lords, n.s. vii. 541; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, 503 i. 2, p. 2, Cookes Winford to [?Ld. Coventry], 26 Mar. 1707[–8]; Nash, Worcs. 4; Moilliet, 60; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 413.