WARD, John III (1670-1749), of Capesthorne, Cheshire and the Inner Temple

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



7 Dec. 1703 - 1715
1715 - 1722

Family and Education

b. 13 June 1670, 1st s. of Philip Ward of Capesthorne by Penelope, da. and coh. of Charles Edmunds of Preston, Northants.  educ. I. Temple 1683, 1698, bencher 1711, treasurer 1722; Christ Church, Oxf. 1684; G. Inn 1689, called 1693.  m. settlement Aug. 1694, Thomazia (d. 1743), da. of Thomas Terrick of Yorks., 1s. d.v.p. 3da.  suc. fa. 1687.1

Offices Held

Commr. ?Greenwich Hosp. 1704, building 50 new churches 1712.2

QC 1711; puisne justice of Chester 1711–14.3


Born into an ancient Cheshire dynasty settled in the county since the 14th century, Ward quickly established himself as one of the leading Tory politicians in the north-west. Aided by the contacts amassed in the course of his legal business, he was already by 1697 corresponding with Peter Shakerley* to discuss the marriage settlement of Sir Roger Bradshaigh, 3rd Bt.* Ward’s eventual entrance into the Commons in December 1703 was engineered by one of his major clients, the non-juror Peter Legh†, whose family had controlled the borough of Newton since 1660. Only a month later Francis Atterbury paid testimony to Ward’s politics and abilities when describing him as ‘a good lawyer for his age, and . . . a Tory’, a promise which Ward subsequently fulfilled by becoming a confidant of such notable parliamentarians as the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) and William Bromley II*.4

The first parliamentary list to indicate Ward’s Tory sympathies only did so by erroneously recording that in a division of 13 Feb. 1703 he had opposed the Lords’ amendments to the abjuration bill. The task of distinguishing Ward’s activity within the House is similarly beset with confusion, a problem caused by the presence of several namesakes at Westminster, most notably John Ward II*, a leading City merchant. Some tentative distinctions can, however, be made on the basis of the divergence of their likely interests and political opinions. Ward was quick to repay the support of his electoral patron, for there can be little doubt that he was the Ward first-named to the committee appointed on 7 Jan. 1704 to draft a bill, which he presented three days later, to settle the estate of Ward’s parliamentary predecessor, Thomas Legh I*. Ward’s professional skills may have been in evidence later in the month when he was possibly appointed to (20 Jan.), and reported from (22 Jan.), a committee to search legal records to resolve the disputed ownership of a lead mine. It also seems likely, given his Cheshire roots, that he was the ‘Mr. Ward’ appointed on 2 Feb., following a petition by Cheshire and Staffordshire needlework button makers and traders, to draft a bill to prevent the evasion of Acts regulating the button trade. Ward’s active support at this time for the Queen’s bounty to poor ministers was later confirmed by his ally Bromley, who cited Ward as a driving force behind the abolition of the fifth bond, a clerical requirement which was removed by a clause introduced on 1 Mar. His parliamentary activity in this session led one Cheshire Tory to assure Peter Legh that his nominee ‘fills that place with integrity and seasonable ability and watches all opportunity to do his country and all other friends service in his power. As the end of his first parliamentary session approached Ward wrote to his patron to thank him for ‘the opportunity you’ve given me . . . which hath made me know more of the world then I did and like it less’.5

Ward’s rapid emergence within the Tory hierarchy was confirmed on the eve of the 1704–5 session when he wrote to James Grahme* on 3 Oct. discussing the party’s plans for holding meetings at the Fountain. On 30 Oct. a parliamentary observer predicted that Ward would be a probable supporter of the Tack, and Ward gave notice of his religious zeal on 14 Nov. by seconding Bromley’s motion to introduce an occasional conformity bill, resulting in his appointment to the committee to draft it. However, he was not included on any of the printed lists of those who voted for the Tack on 28 Nov., though his name appears as a manuscript addition to one such list. It seems likely that he was appointed to the committee charged with drafting a bill concerning the estate of Sir George Warburton, 3rd Bt.*, on 13 Dec. He may have been appointed on 28 Feb. 1705 to the committee to settle the Commons’ differences with the Lords over the Aylesbury affair, and his prominence in that controversy may have been confirmed on 10 Mar. when a ‘Mr Ward’ was chosen as one of the six, predominantly Tory, Members to manage a further conference on the matter with the Lords.6

Returned for Newton in May 1705, Ward wrote to Peter Legh promising that ‘I will endeavour to discharge the best I can for the interest of the Church and monarchy if it is possible to defend them against these insults which threaten from all hands’, and bemoaned that ‘the Church and state must inevitably sink’ under the weight of election results nationwide. Such Toryism was lampooned, in July, by Defoe in The Diet of Poland. Criticizing the extremists of both parties, Defoe wrote of

          Wardsky, a deputy of northern race,
          Weak in his head, but very strong in face;
          Assurance many blessings may contain,
          And often times supplies the want of brain.

Cited as ‘True Church’ in an analysis of the new Parliament, Ward continued to establish himself as a linchpin in the organization of Tory effort in the Commons. On 11 Aug. he urged Grahme that ‘we must both be up early for this new Parliament’ in order to prepare their allies for the Speakership contest, warning him that the recent welcome extended at court to John Smith I* was ‘a broad sign to you old courtiers’. He sided with Bromley, voting against Smith in the division of 25 Oct., and in the subsequent session may have established himself as a leading figure in the crucial debates over the succession. On 4 Dec. he may have given only a cautious welcome to Nottingham’s proposal to invite the Electress Sophia to settle in England, for one of his name declared that he had ‘no interest in bringing over the Princess unless divisions and factions [were] prepared for her reception’. Four days later, as the Tories struggled to refer to committee the question of the Church’s security, he may have been the Ward who spoke three times, warning that there was ‘a danger episcopacy may be abolished here’. In the new year he may have taken several opportunities to air his concern for the succession. On 10 Jan. he may have thrice contributed to a debate on the regency bill’s treason clauses, and only two days later may have spoken twice more in an effort to ensure that an instruction to secure the Act of Settlement’s place clause did ‘not tie the committee’. On 15 Jan. a Ward reminded the House of the need to ensure the reassembly of Parliament after the Queen’s death, and four days later Ward may twice have echoed his doubts concerning the possible arbitrariness of the proposed regency council. Finally, on 21 Jan. he may have spoken twice when the House debated the place clause proposed by the Country Whigs. On a more controversial note, a Ward featured alongside two other MPs suspected of involvement in the publication of an inflammatory pamphlet, The Memorial of the Church of England. The work was brought to the attention of the House on 18 Jan. 1706, and although the subsequent inquiry did not establish the guilt of any Member, the scandal may have given further evidence of Ward’s close identification with the High Tory cause. His appointments to drafting committees are again difficult to distinguish, but it seems likely that he was the Mr Ward appointed on 11 Jan. to prepare a bill for the repair of the Chester to Whitchurch road, and he may have been appointed to the committee, appointed following a petition from the clergy and gentry of south Lancashire, to draft a bill to make the laws against ‘popery’ more effective.7

The records for the 1706–7 session do not permit such an insight into Ward’s activity in the House, although on 6 Dec. he was ridiculed by his Whig rivals for making an ‘unintelligible’ motion which aimed to free Members from making any firm commitment to Anglo-Scottish union. Hon. Arthur Annesley*, whose intervention saved Ward’s blushes on that occasion, may have subsequently acted as a teller with Ward in a division on 28 Jan. 1707 to address the Queen to lay before the House the proceedings of the former commissioners of union. Ward’s activity in the first British Parliament was possibly just as limited, for his only likely action of any note came on 29 Jan. 1708 when he reported from committee on a private estate bill. His Tory allegiance was, however, confirmed by a political observer during this session, and on 24 Feb. he spoke out against the ministry’s attempt to pre-empt the Almanza inquiry by the ‘unparliamentary’ means of a royal address to the House. His reservations were accompanied by ‘great professions of respect to her Majesty’, but he later moved that the deficiencies of the Spanish campaign were ‘occasioned by want of timely recruits [being sent] thither’.8

Safely returned for Newton in 1708, Ward was again active in co-ordinating Tory tactics before the first session of the new Parliament, and in urging the attendance of north-west Tories at the opening of the session. In the subsequent session Ward’s most significant act may have come on 18 Mar. 1709 when possibly tabling a motion critical of the ministry’s response to the invasion threat, although he was reported to have done this ‘upon (Robert) Harley’s* whisper’. Moreover, in the course of that session Ward appears to have become more actively involved in the business of the House, possibly gaining appointment to three committees of address (22 Nov., 25, 29 Jan. 1709). Although his namesake of London was currently closer to Ward in political outlook than at any other time, the lawyer of Capesthorne was still more likely to have acted as teller in opposition to the ministry in two divisions: in the minority on 7 Dec. to exclude naval commissioners from the House on the basis of the Regency Act’s place clause; and on 22 Feb. to block the election of the Whig Robert Balle* at Ashburton. Ward may also have featured as a teller in two other divisions: in the minority on 17 Mar. in support of an amendment to a mutiny bill, and on 19 Apr. to add a clause to a bill to establish a Middlesex land registry.9

Ward may have remained active in the 1709–10 session, possibly acting as a teller on 8 Dec. to block the voting rights of certain Whig electors at a recent Cirencester election. Only with the advent of the Sacheverell controversy, however, did he regain the political limelight. On 12 Dec. he featured as one of the Tory speakers who rose to parry the initial Whig attack on the offending pamphlets, and he spoke again in defence of Dr Sacheverell on 11 Jan. 1710 in the great debate which followed the motion to recommit the articles of impeachment. He was accordingly cited as an opponent of the impeachment, and although the outcome of the trial encouraged Ward’s hopes for Tory success at the subsequent general election, such optimism was tinged with much caution. His pivotal position within the Tory leadership was again highlighted at this key juncture, for on 13 Aug. Bromley considered Ward’s reports of the ferments at court as a ‘great comfort’ while away from London. Moreover, in a report to Lord Nottingham on 31 Aug., Ward revealed himself to be an industrious promoter of the Tory cause in the north, concentrating much of his effort on the forthcoming election at Appleby. He lamented, however, that ‘some other elections want my assistance more than my own’, and confided his expectations of ‘not so much a Whig Parliament as a dependent one’. A few weeks later he thought he had been ‘more successful in making interest’ at the Middlesex than the Cheshire election, and also expressed an angry pessimism with regard to possible ministerial changes, confessing that he thought that even the Tory triumph in the City election would only bring about ‘a balance’ between the parties at court.10

However, the new Parliament opened promisingly for Ward with the news that he might be appointed lord chancellor of Ireland. Although he did not gain the post, he showed few signs of disappointment as he endeavoured to ensure that the Tories took full advantage of the initiative provided by their electoral success. On 29 Nov. he was possibly appointed to the committee to assure the Queen of the Commons’ support, and six days later may have secured selection to a committee to prepare a bill to prevent electoral corruption. He may subsequently have presented, on 13 Mar. 1711, a bill to settle the estate of the Earl of Thomond (Henry O’Brien*). Ever keen to marshal his party’s ranks, he wrote to Nottingham on 3 Apr. detailing the issues which he wished the Tories to broach in the House, concluding that his main objective was ‘to expose the mask of moderation by which we have so much suffered and the trimming measures we fear, and this in the boldest, lively colours’. Ward was later classed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in that first session had helped to expose the mismanagements of the former ministry, and was also listed as a ‘Tory patriot’ for voting against any further prolongation of the war.11

Ward did not have to wait long for the ministry to reward his political labours. On 9 June he was appointed a Queen’s Counsel to replace Nicholas Lechmere*, and was also chosen as the second most senior judge on the Chester circuit. These appointments forced him to seek re-election to the House on 3 July, but his return for Newton was unopposed and he received a further token of ministerial favour later in the year when his judge’s stipend was increased by £200 p.a. His importance in the Commons seems to have been acknowledged by Harley, who approached Ward to canvass the Lancashire Members Henry Fleetwood, Thomas Legh II and either Robert or William Heysham in January 1712 for their support in an attack on Marlborough (John Churchill†). Given his staunch support for the Church in the past, he may also be plausibly identified as the Member appointed on 22 Jan. to the committee to draw up a bill to extend the time allowed to, and powers of, the commissioners for the 50 new churches in London. On 2 Feb., he also chaired the committee of the whole on the bill to protect Scottish episcopalians, reporting on 5 Feb. It is possible that Ward acted as teller on 28 Apr. against the proposed duty upon imported black latten and other worked metals, collaborating with north-west Members such as Bradshaigh and Shakerley in their efforts to protect the interests of the south Lancashire metal workers. Ward greeted the news of the proposed peace terms in the summer with unqualified joy, approving of ‘such terms of peace as are I believe beyond any expectation’ and expressing the hope that when ‘our allies see how unanimous we are for accepting this peace they will come into it’.12

However, even though his Tory loyalties had finally brought him professional advancement, in the course of the final session of the 1710 Parliament Ward displayed the first signs of grievance against the Oxford (Harley) ministry. There was no trace of disenchantment on 4 Apr. 1713 when he reported to Peter Legh ‘the happy news of a general peace’, rejoicing as he did at ‘an end to such an expensive war’ and hoping that ‘it will bring all other advantages of trade’. When he heard in May that Newton had not celebrated the peace, he wrote that ‘if you [Legh] approve it I am willing to order a small sum for it’. Even though his professional standing was flattered in May by a rumour of possible appointment as a baron of the Exchequer, his failure to gain that office may have turned him against the administration. Subsequent reports suggested that by the summer of 1713 Ward was already feeling ‘unkindly used’ and had resolved to resign his offices. His alienation became evident on 18 June when he voted against the French commerce bill, a betrayal which caused observers to bracket him with the whimsical Tories.13

Despite attempts to discredit him with Peter Legh over Ward’s conduct during the attempts to find a place for Legh’s brother Thomas II*, Ward retained his seat at the September election. Within weeks of the election Auditor (Edward) Harley* was clearly anxious to ensure that neither Ward nor the Leghs were seduced by Nottingham’s overtures, citing Ward as a Member who was ‘capable of being very troublesome’. In February 1714 Ward finally resigned as a circuit judge, by now convinced that Lord Chancellor Harcourt (Simon I*) was largely responsible for the ministry’s coolness towards him. Ward’s anger was initially directed against his local rivals, for on 6 Mar. he attempted to ensure that the Oxford-supporting Members for Wigan, George Kenyon and Sir Roger Bradshaigh, failed to meet the deadline set by the Landed Qualifications Act for Members to prove their eligibility to sit. However, before the session was over Ward showed that he was quite prepared to speak out against the Oxford administration. By 11 Mar. his fellow Newton Member, Abraham Blackmore, told Peter Legh that ‘my brother John is as I take it entirely listed under my Lord Nottingham’. On 15 Apr., during the debate upon the Protestant succession, Ward urged the Commons, as ‘the watchmen of the nation’, to recognize that the Church was in danger, thereby gaining great publicity alongside Hanmer as one of the Members whose denouncements of the administration were ‘not expected’. In this speech Ward singled himself out as one of the leading Hanoverian Tories, a status acknowledged by one political observer who felt that Ward’s influence over Speaker Hanmer actually exceeded that wielded by Bromley. However, in his professional capacity as a Queen’s counsellor, Ward sided with the ministry on 27 July when his opinion was sought on the controversy surrounding Dublin corporation, although such support was possibly only secured by the intercession of his ally Lord Anglesey (Hon. Arthur Annesley*). His activity in the House at this time is slightly easier to determine due to the shortlived absence of any of his namesakes from the House. Despite the return of John Ward IV at a by-election on 24 Mar., it seems likely that it was Ward of Capesthorne who reported on 23 June from the committee on the bill to ensure an adequate maintenance for curates.14

The peaceful accession of George I answered the prayers of the Hanoverian Tories, though Ward hoped that the laws for the seizure of arms ‘will not be executed in so unneighbourly a manner as formerly’. Ward’s support for a compromise between Cheshire’s Whigs and Tories at the Cheshire election of 1715 led him to withdraw at Newton, confiding in Peter Legh that ‘I know not of coming in at any other place though some of my friends are so solicitous with me about it that I am apt to think some will be found if I do not forbid it’. Accordingly, he was returned for the Norfolk borough of Thetford on Hanmer’s interest, confiding to Legh of the 1715 election in general: ‘I never saw any like it: between the army and the city there’s very little room left for the country gentleman’. At the outset of the new Parliament two parliamentary observers testified to Ward’s Tory sympathies, but the Worsley list more accurately described him as a Tory who would often vote with the Whigs. He subsequently maintained a principled stand in opposition to successive Whig ministries until his retirement from the House in 1722. Away from Westminster he combined a successful legal practice with the rebuilding of his family home, taking the opportunity to display the sincerity of his support for the Church by endowing a new chapel of ease at Capesthorne. He died without a male heir, his estate passing to his grandson Davies Davenport, whose son Thomas† later sat for Newton. Ward’s prominence in legal circles was clearly highlighted by the importance of such clients as the executors of Dr John Radcliffe*, but his will betrayed an ambition of admirably modest proportions:

If it be thought I might have heaped up greater riches, all I think fit to say is that I have chosen to preserve my health, freedom and integrity and to afford the conveniences and rational pleasures of life to myself and family, and some assistance to others, rather than to die rich.15

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. Ormerod, Cheshire, iii. 722–4; J. P. Earwaker, East Cheshire, ii. 407; London Rec. Soc. xxiii. p. xxxv.
  • 2. Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704; E. G. W. Bill, Queen Anne Churches, p. xxiii.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 296.
  • 4. Cheshire RO, Shakerley mss, Ward to Shakerley, 24 Sept. 1697; Atterbury Epistolatory Corresp. iii. 166.
  • 5. Ballard 38, ff. 153–4; John Rylands Univ. Lib. Manchester, Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Francis Cholmondeley† to Legh, 10 Mar. 1703[–4], Ward to same, 21 Mar. 1703[–4].
  • 6. Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Ward to Grahme, 3 Oct. 1704; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 486; Party and Management ed. Jones, 101.
  • 7. Cam. Misc. xxiii. 41, 44, 46, 54, 57, 59–60, 62–63, 71–72, 78–79; Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Ward to Legh, 5 June 1705; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 512.
  • 8. Anglesey mss at Plas Newydd, box 16c, Roger Acherley to Ld. Paget, 6 Dec. 1706; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/193, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 24 Feb. 1707–8; Speck, Birth of Britain, 138.
  • 9. BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 53, James Johnston* to Sir William Trumbull*, 18 Mar. 1708–9.
  • 10. G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 90, 101; Bagot mss, Bromley to Grahme, 13 Aug. 1710; Leics. RO, Finch mss 4950 bdle. 23, Ward to Nottingham, 31 Aug., 17 Oct. 1710.
  • 11. Luttrell, vi. 659; Finch mss box 4590 bdle. 23, Ward to Nottingham, 3 Apr. 1711.
  • 12. Add. 70331, canvassing list, c.Jan. 1712; Post Boy, 9–12 June 1711; Cal. Treas. Bks. 296, 590; Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Ward to Legh, 7 June 1712.
  • 13. Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Ward to Legh, 4 Apr., 28 May 1713; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss A81/IV/23/6, William to Francis Brydges, 14 May 1713; HMC Portland, vii. 181.
  • 14. Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Ward to Legh, 14 May, 15 Aug., 1 Sept. 1713; Legh of Lyme mss muniments, box Z bdle. B, Ward to [–], 28 Aug 1713; box Y bdle. B, Blackmore to Thomas Legh II, 11 Mar. 1713[–14]; Add. 70237, Harley to Oxford, 26 Sept. 1713; 47087, f. 69; HMC Portland, v. 473, vii. 181; HMC Kenyon, 454–5; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 15 Apr. 1714.
  • 15. Legh of Lyme corresp. Ward to Legh, 3, 17 Aug., 2 Oct. 1714, 5 Feb. 1714[–15]; Bull. John Rylands Lib. lxxiv. 139–68; Greater Manchester RO, Legh of Lyme mss E17/89/1/6–7, Sir Francis Leicester, 3rd Bt.†, to Legh, 8 Jan., 3 Feb. 1714–15; Earwaker, 407; PCC 166 Lisle.