WENTWORTH, Hon. Thomas Watson (1665-1723), of Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorks. and Great Harrowden, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. 17 June 1665, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Edward Watson†, 2nd Baron Rockingham, by Anne (d. 1696), da. of Thomas Wentworth†, 1st Earl of Strafford, sis. and coh. of William, 2nd Earl of Strafford; bro. of Lewis Watson†, 3rd Baron Rockingham. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1683. m. lic. 18 July 1689, Alice (d. 1749), da. of Sir Thomas Proby, 1st Bt. †, of Elton Hall, Hunts., 1s. 1da. d.v.p. suc. uncle, 2nd Earl of Strafford to Wentworth Woodhouse in 1695, assuming the name of Wentworth after Watson.1
Member SPCK by 1701, SPG 1708.
The fulsome obituary notice published at Wentworth’s death praised his ‘steady adherence to the interest of his country’, but stressed that though eminently qualified for public office, he had preferred ‘a private life’, devoting himself ‘exemplarily’ to his family and friends, the Church and to his ‘extensive charity’. His inheritance of the sprawling Yorkshire and Irish estates of his Wentworth maternal uncle, the 2nd Earl of Strafford, who died childless in October 1695, established him as a gentleman of immense landed wealth, and on his uncle’s injunction he assumed the additional name and arms of Wentworth. In due course he took his place at the forefront of Yorkshire’s gentry and was nominated in April 1700 to the West Riding lieutenancy, but for the remainder of his life he divided time between his imposing seat at Wentworth Woodhouse and the more modest surroundings of Harrowden in his native county of Northamptonshire. Wentworth’s succession to the Strafford estates caused his proud cousin Thomas Wentworth, the future diplomatist Lord Strafford, much bitterness; he grieved that while he had succeeded the 2nd Earl (his first cousin once removed) in the barony of Raby, he had been provided with none of the Strafford lands to accompany the title. An example of this animosity was evident in Raby’s efforts in 1701 to recover money from Wentworth’s Irish estates which he claimed had been owed to his father, Sir William Wentworth, by the late Lord Strafford. The passage of time did nothing to allay Raby’s hostility, and only strengthened his resolve to surpass Wentworth in the trappings of landed wealth. He was writing in February 1709 to William Cadogan*: ‘I have bought a pretty estate very nigh him who the late Lord Strafford made his heir, which with what I had before in that country, I have almost as much land in Yorkshire as he has, and I am sure I have a much better interest in that county.’ In a further letter to Cadogan, Raby even accused Wentworth, whom he always referred to as ‘Mr Watson’, of having obtained the Wentworth fortune through ‘bribery’.2
Wentworth’s strong religious impulse steered him towards encouragement of the several charitable moral reforming enterprises of the day. He was one of the earliest subscribers to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and a few years later became involved in the work of the societies for the reformation of manners. Acquainted with Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle, he was among several who urged the bishop to publish his sermon to members of the latter society at the close of 1706, doubtless attracted by the tenor of its message. Nicolson had paralleled the pre-Restoration ‘days of rebellion and anarchy’ with the parlous state of Israel before its deliverance by the prophetess Deborah, asserting that the blessings of salvation in the form of divinely restored government had gone unheeded and that once more society was afflicted by ‘an universal luxury and prophaneness’. It was, however, ‘those generous and religious heroes’ who in forming themselves into ‘societies of reformation’ now offered hope of redemption. By 1708 he also figured among the members of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. As well as this public commitment to good works, he also undertook beneficent work on his estates, the income obtained from extensive rent rolls in Yorkshire and Ireland being subject to ‘certain charitable charges’.3
In March 1701 Wentworth first entered Parliament, coming in as a Whig at a by-election to fill the seat at Bossiney vacated by Hon. Francis Robartes* whose father, the Earl of Radnor, may have nominated him. His serving for Bossiney could be no more than a temporary measure with the likelihood of local candidates coming forward at the next election. Thus, in November, his brother, Lord Rockingham, approached the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) to provide a seat for him, but evidently without success. In the meantime he had decided to stand for Northamptonshire, informing the county notables by circular letter that he did so ‘at the desire of some friends’. But with two experienced Whig campaigners already in the field, his own candidacy was not seriously regarded by the generality of freeholders, though Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, was convinced it put his own campaign in jeopardy, as he confided to Lord Hatton (Christopher†) on 23 Nov.:
’Tis generally believed among my friends that Mr Wentworth is set up on purpose to break my interest for nobody can imagine what other design he can have, since he meets with so small encouragement at all other parts of the county that there is no possibility of his being chose, and where his interest lies is at Cottingham and Middleton, and about your lordship it generally takes off from me, so that unless he can be persuaded to desist, it must do me a great prejudice.
Soon after these words were written Wentworth seems to have accepted that his negligible chances could not be improved in the time still available, and so withdrew from the campaign. In the 1702 election he was initially considered a serious possibility for one of the Yorkshire seats with backing, as he reported to Archbishop Sharp on 26 Feb., from the Dukes of Somerset and Newcastle and the Earl of Burlington (Charles Boyle I*). Newcastle certainly considered Wentworth ‘had a very good interest in the West Riding, which is the most populous part’, but by July he had been superseded by another aristocratic Whig, Lord Hartington (William Cavendish*). But even at Higham Ferrers, close to his Harrowden estate, and where there was cause for greater optimism, he suffered the ignominy of defeat. Although he endeavoured to have the close result turned in his favour, his allegations of mayoral partiality at polling and of threats and bribes by the winning candidate, Thomas Pemberton*, won little sympathy from the elections committee. In a matter of months, however, following the pronouncement against him in January 1703, Pemberton was dead, and in November Wentworth secured the seat at an unopposed by-election. He later purchased the reversion of the Higham Ferrers manor from his kinsman, the 2nd Earl of Feversham, which thenceforth facilitated his complete political control over the borough.4
During his first five sessions in the House, Wentworth scarcely featured at all in the recorded proceedings. On 29 Feb. 1704 he was teller in opposition to an address to the Queen against the Lords’ proceedings on the Scotch Plot. In October he was forecast as likely to oppose the Tack, which he did (or else was absent) in the division of 28 Nov. He was absent from the division on the Speakership on 25 Oct. 1705, and was subsequently defined as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the 1705 Parliament. On 1 Apr. 1707 he told in favour of giving further consideration to a bill for vesting the Cotton House at Westminster in the crown. Although he had certainly been recognized as a moderate Whig in electoral situations, Wentworth appears to have gravitated more towards the Tories by 1708, being listed as a Tory in an analysis of the House compiled early in that year. This may, of course, mean no more than the fact that Wentworth’s independent political line shaped by ‘Country’ values inclined him almost constantly against the government, thus giving him the appearance of a perennial Tory. Lord Raby’s observation to William Cadogan* in February 1709 would seem to bear this out: ‘he . . . is one that has been and ever will be against the Court and the ministry, let them do what they can for him’. Later evidence would suggest, however, that his attitudes in at least some matters, particularly where the Church was concerned, were indeed firmly rooted in Toryism. Moreover, by the session of 1708–9, he was taking a partisan Tory line in other matters. On 22 Nov. 1708 he told in favour of a proposal to ballot all questions concerning election disputes and in the weeks following was teller on three more occasions, each time concerning election business: on 2 Dec., opposing an amendment to the franchise at Reading; on the 18th approving the election of a Tory, Thomas Medlycott*, at Westminster; and on 29 Jan. 1709 in favour of a Tory adjournment motion on the Orford case. On 25 Jan. he was put on the committee to draft an address in accordance with the proposal made in the House by his nephew, Hon. Edward Watson*, urging the Queen to remarry. In the first weeks of April he managed two private estate bills begun in the Lords. However, this pace of activity was not sustained in the sessions that followed. He told once more, on 1 Feb. 1710, for the majority opposing a ministerial amendment to Edward Wortley Montagu’s place bill, another cause doubtless close to his heart. In confirmation of his attachment to Tory principles, he voted against Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment during the proceedings early in the year. At about this time there was talk among Lord Raby’s family that Wentworth was endeavouring to ‘purchase’ the Strafford earldom, but it may have been little more than malicious gossip intended to feed Raby’s consuming enmity towards the owner of Wentworth Woodhouse.5
At the general election held in the autumn of 1710, Wentworth was instructing his agents in Northamptonshire to do their utmost for the county’s Tory candidates, Sir Justinian Isham and Thomas Cartwright*. In the new Parliament he was given a month’s leave on 21 Dec., but later in the same session appeared as a ‘worthy patriot’ who supported the exposure of the previous ministry’s mismanagements and was listed in 1711 as a ‘Tory patriot’ opposed to the continuance of the war. His gravitation back to a clear Whig position was signalled by his ‘whimsical’ vote against the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713. With the onset of the general election it was rumoured both locally and in London that he was to be set up in alliance with Cartwright to oppose Isham in the county. Isham was informed at the beginning of June that Lord Rockingham’s steward was ‘making interest’, seemingly on Wentworth’s behalf, but Sir Justinian suspected it was no more than a device ‘contrived by the Whigs to do me a prejudice’. At the end of June, two full months before the election, Wentworth firmly denied that it was ever his intention to undermine Isham. He was returned for both Higham Ferrers and Malton, and chose to sit for the latter constituency, having recently purchased the manor of Malton from William Palmes*. The vacancy left at Higham Ferrers was filled by Hon. Charles Leigh*, a nephew through his sister’s marriage to Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh. The Worsley list of the 1713 Parliament classed him as a Whig who might sometimes vote with the Tories. On 18 Mar. 1714, he voted with the Whigs against the expulsion of Richard Steele; and two further analyses of Members re-elected in 1715 also identified him as a Whig. He continued to represent Malton until 1722 when he resumed the Higham Ferrers seat. He died at Harrowden on 6 Oct. 1723 but, as befitted the inheritor of the Strafford patrimony, was interred at York Minster where a monumental inscription extols his ‘independent’ virtues: ‘By abilities he was formed for public, by inclination determined to a private life.’6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Foster, Yorks. Peds.; Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 229.
- 2. Northampton Mercury, 14 Oct. 1723, info. from Prof. J. Black; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 31; Wentworth Pprs. 6–7, 22, 26; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 369–70; Add. 22196, f. 192.
- 3. Chapter in Eng. Church Hist. ed. McClure, 4; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 406 and n., 421, 437; [W. Nicolson], A Sermon Preached at Bow Church on Monday Dec. 30, 1706 before the Societies for the Reformation of Manners (1706–7); Sheffield Archs. Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments WWM/D.1523 a and b. ‘Prenuptial Settlement . . . 2 Oct. 1716’.
- 4. HMC Portland, ii. 180; Add. 29568, ff. 36, 37, 46; Glos. RO, Hardwicke Ct. mss, Sharp pprs. box 78, D36, Abp. Sharp to Watson Wentworth, 26 Feb. 1701–2; Surrey RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/F22, Newcastle to Ld. Somers, 4 July 1702; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, Rachel, Lady Russell to Earl of Rutland (John Manners†, Ld. Roos), 7 July 1702; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 250; Wentworth Pprs. 22, 106.
- 5. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2779, Wentworth to Isham, 2 Sept. 1710.
- 6. Isham mss IC 4101, Thomas Peach to Isham, 3 June 1713; IC 1760, 2325, Justinian to Sir Justinian Isham, 11, 23 June 1713; IC 2135, Sir Justinian to Justinian Isham, 13 June 1713; IC 3010, Thomas Cartwright to Sir Justinian Isham, 22 June ; Quinn thesis, 110; MI, York Minster.