WINNINGTON, Sir Francis (1634-1700), of the Middle Temple and Stanford Court, Stanford-on-Teme, Worcs.

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



19 Feb. 1677 - Jan. 1679
Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
14 Nov. 1692 - 1698

Family and Education

b. 7 Nov. 1634, o. s. of John Winnington of Chester.  educ. New Inn 1653; M. Temple 1656, called 1660, bencher 1672, reader, 1675, treasurer 1675–6.  m. (1) 29 Dec. 1659, Elizabeth Herbert of Powick, Worcs., 1da.; (2) by 1666, Elizabeth, da. of Edward Salwey† of Stanford Court, and coh. to her bro. Edward Salwey, 4s. 2da.  Kntd. 17 Dec. 1672.1

Offices Held

Attorney-gen. to Duke of York 1672–4; KC 1673; solicitor-gen. 1674–9.2

Freeman, Bewdley by 1676, Windsor 1677, Worcester 1679.3


A major figure during the latter years of the Cavalier and Exclusion Parliaments, Winnington was an enemy of the Earl of Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne†), opposed Exclusion at first, but afterwards supported it. He does not seem to have been politically active between the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament and the Revolution of 1688. It was not until the election of 1690 that he attempted to return to the Commons, on this occasion in partnership with Thomas Foley I*, whose daughter Anne was to marry Winnington’s son, Salwey*, later in 1690. However, Foley’s intervention at Bewdley in favour of his brother, Philip, angered Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, so much that he intervened in the Worcestershire county election against the hitherto unopposed partnership of Winnington and Foley and succeeded in gaining a seat at the expense of the former. Winnington was thus able to continue his legal practice, and made a number of appearances before the Lords as counsel over the following two years.4

A fresh opportunity for Winnington to return to the Commons did not present itself until the Member for Tewkesbury, Hon. Sir Henry Capel*, was elevated to the peerage in April 1692. According to Robert Harley*, writing just before the by-election in November 1692, Winnington had been set up early in the year but subsequently found that his desire to curtail any election expense had led to an opposition being raised against him in order ‘to make him pay for his former parsimony in the summer’. In the event he was returned, taking his seat on 18 Nov. Winnington’s political stance on his return to the House is unclear. He owed his seat to the Whig interest in Tewkesbury, presumably that of Lord Capell, who had fluctuated in and out of opposition to the ministry since the Revolution. Winnington was no friend of the Marquess of Carmarthen (as Danby had become) and, as subsequent events showed, he mistrusted the powers of the executive. His partnership in the 1690 election with Thomas Foley I and the subsequent marriage of his son into that family perhaps indicate a similarity of outlook, founded on old Whig principles, which increasingly found itself in agreement with Tory opinion on a whole range of issues. At the end of 1692 this shift in the Harley–Foley group was barely perceptible, but Winnington’s place within this group is perhaps best illustrated by his role in pressurizing Sir Edward Harley* to stand for the vacant county seat in Hertfordshire on the death of Sir John Morgan*. In Winnington’s view ‘’twill be hard for a person of your usefulness to waive putting your hand to the plough’. The other men soliciting Harley in this vein, apart from his sons, were Philip Foley*, Hugh Boscawen I* and the Earl of Macclesfield – all men from the old Whig tradition of mistrust of executive power.5

Winnington was clearly held in considerable esteem by his new colleagues, for on 21 Nov. 1692, only three days after he had taken his seat, he was selected as chairman of the committee of the whole established to consider what advice should be given to William III following his request for their opinion in the King’s Speech at the opening of the session. However, his chairmanship was not regarded with universal acclaim, perhaps not surprisingly given his absence from the chamber for over a decade. According to Narcissus Luttrell* he made mistakes on at least two occasions: on 8 Dec. he left the chair without any report of progress or request to the House for leave to sit again being ordered, thus necessitating a special motion for the committee to be revived; and on 11 Jan. 1693, when he appears to have divided the resolutions from the committee into positive resolutions and opinions which caused a procedural wrangle ‘occasioned by the ignorance of the chairman’. These mishaps apart, he fitted quickly into the Harley–Foley group, using his speeches to criticize the executive from a Country standpoint. On 28 Nov. 1692, during a debate over the date when proposed legislation for regulating treason trials should come into effect, he opted for the earliest available date, 10 Jan. 1693 – in company with Members such as Harley, Sir Thomas Clarges and Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt. – rather than support the Court’s preferred option of postponing its operation until after the war. On 14 Dec., during the debate on the motion to commit the abjuration bill, he took exception to those provisions enacting severe penalties for spoken or printed assertions that William and Mary were not rightful sovereigns: ‘you will hardly find that words were ever made treason but in the most sanguinary times’, such as Elizabeth I’s reign, when it became particularly apparent that as ‘times became more troublesome’ such prohibitive laws tended ‘to disquiet and disturb men’s minds and render them uneasy’, especially when taxes were so heavy. He thus made his own contribution to the alliance of ‘Jacobites and commonwealthmen’ which threw out the bill at this stage. His position on this question did not indicate a weakening resolve to stand by the Revolution settlement, however, for on 20 Jan. 1693 he was one among many Members who sought to summon before them the licenser and printer of the tract King William and Queen Mary Conquerors for the view expressed in the title, and five days later was named to a conference committee on the libel. Two reports survive of his intervention in the debate on 28 Jan. at the first reading of a bill from the Lords for the frequent calling of Parliaments, which he supported in forthright terms. In Luttrell’s account he stated: ‘I think frequent Parliaments to be the right of the people, and the fatal consequence of the long intermission of Parliaments you have seen in some of the late reigns wherein popery and arbitrary power grew to so great a height.’ In both versions he inveighed against Parliaments dominated by ‘officers’ perpetuating themselves in power and, according to Anchitell Grey*, he defended the right of the Lords to ‘send down bills relating to the good government of the people’, as they were different from those granting money. At the third reading of the same bill on 9 Feb. he was concerned to refute the bill’s opponents who alleged that it infringed the King’s prerogative by noting that, on the contrary, it restrained the abuse of it. Furthermore, the provision of frequent Parliaments would help to secure the King and be for his service ‘who has his title from the people’. On 25 Feb. he supported the motion of William Palmes* for an address that great abuses and miscarriages had been committed in the Irish administration. No doubt as a result of his intervention, he was appointed to the committee to draw up the ensuing address. As this was his only significant committee appointment during the session it is probable that he was mainly a debater rather than an enthusiast for the minutiae of legislation, a fact made more likely by his continued devotion to his legal practice.6

Winnington adopted a similarly cautious attitude to the Court in the 1693–4 session. Indeed, on 5 Dec. 1693 he attacked the army estimates laid before the House observing ‘that the more we give, the less success we have’, asking the related question, ‘what signify all our laws, if we have no estates?’ He criticized the nation’s debts and the amount given in pensions, concluding that ‘if this vast number [of men] will ruin England, we must not support Holland. I would have the alliances produced.’ Although an address was agreed upon for this purpose, it favoured the ministry as it revealed that the allies had also augmented their forces. Two days later, on 7 Dec., he returned to the offensive following a report from the commission of accounts which revealed that Viscount Falkland (Anthony Carey*) had received £2,000 in an irregular manner. His main concerns were the use to which the money had been put (chiefly his fear of pensioners) and Falkland’s secrecy and suppression of evidence whereby he had repossessed a letter in which he had asked for money. To Winnington the latter act was ‘a contempt to the House’, although the House at this point contented itself with issuing a reprimand to Falkland rather than sending him to the Tower. On 18 Dec., in the committee of the whole on the Lords’ bill for the frequent calling of Parliaments, he objected to the proviso added by the Upper Chamber which sought to define what constituted a session: in his view the term ‘holden’ required no explanation, the people being ‘possessed of that word by all your laws and by this proviso of the Lords you will throw it out’. In all probability, therefore, Winnington was a stickler for the original bill promoted in the previous session and against a generous definition of what constituted a session. On 12 Jan. 1694 he was appointed to his only significant drafting committee, to prepare a bill to vest the forfeited estates in England in the crown to be used for the war effort. His next recorded intervention came in the committee of the whole on the state of the nation on 26 Jan. The occasion of this committee was the King’s veto of a place bill and it was therefore perfectly suited for an exposition of his views on the corruption of Parliament by the executive. He began by supporting the principle of a royal veto, but added that ‘if the negative voice shall extend to all good bills, it is very much misused’. He linked the current bill with the triennial bill as both tending ‘immediately to keep ourselves uncorrupt’. Thus, any accompanying address should note that the use of the veto in this way was a means to alienate the hearts of the people. As a final thought, or threat, he suggested no ‘farther proceedings in money yet; now we have given two millions for present occasions we may have some breath’. Such sentiments were clearly in tune with other contributions to the debate and he was appointed to the committee to draw up an address criticizing those who had advised vetoing the bill and pointing out how seldom the veto had been used on bills for the redress of grievances. The following day he was appointed to a committee charged with the task of redrafting the final paragraph of the address, which had called for some expedient to allow the people to reap the benefits of the bill, meaning a prorogation, which was deemed to be too provocative. He was absent from the Commons early in March 1694: Sir Edward Harley noted that ‘Sir Francis Winnington saith he goes not this circuit but yet he is gone down’. This is confirmed by a call of the House on 14 Mar. which revealed his absence. However, on 16 Mar. he attended in custody and was discharged. On 27 Mar. he took the precaution of obtaining leave of absence for eight days before going into the country.7

Just before the new session of Parliament in November 1694, a letter from Robert Harley refers to Winnington’s ‘great grief’ at the marriage of Mrs Ludlow to Mr Thomas, thereby suggesting he might be a widower looking for a new partner. On 28 Nov., soon after the start of the 1694–5 session, he entered the controversy over the recent trials for treason in Lancashire during a committee of the whole. The witnesses against the Lancashire gentlemen, he alleged, were the very same men who had accused them of conveying their lands to superstitious uses in the hope of securing a grant of their estates so forfeited. Upon discovery of that ‘villainous’ design they had recourse to a new plan, a treason plot, ‘whereby they might not only get their estates but their lives’. On 26 Jan. 1695 he opposed the Court in the debate over whether to retain a reference to the King’s ‘heirs’ in the bill ‘touching free and impartial proceedings in Parliament’. Winnington may have been in poor health as he received leave of absence to go into the country on 21 Feb. to recover his health. However, he had returned to the Commons by 22 Apr. when he was named to count the ballot of Members to examine Sir Thomas Cooke*. On 27 Apr. he was added to the committee appointed to prepare articles of impeachment against his old antagonist the Duke of Leeds (as Carmarthen had become) whose impeachment he had supported in 1679.8

Winnington’s re-election for Tewkesbury in 1695 was bound up with a dispute over the renewal of the borough’s charter (see TEWKESBURY, Glos.). In the event, no new charter (which Winnington hoped would appoint him recorder) was issued before Parliament was dissolved. In the ensuing election Winnington defeated one of his most vocal local opponents, Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.* To Cocks, Winnington was ‘that mercenary tongue that has so often for a little money vested mistakes for real truth’ and the true reason for his failure to obtain the recordership was that he was ‘a member ill affected to the government’. Coming from a decidedly Country Whig, these comments help to trace the evolution of Winnington’s anti-executive stance towards a position in which he had more in common with the Tories than his erstwhile Whig friends.9

It is difficult to determine the extent of Winnington’s activities in the new Parliament due to the absence of reported debates. He had, however, never been a great committeeman, a trait which continued to be evident. He was forecast as a likely opponent of the Court in the divisions on 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade. However, he signed the Association in February, thus maintaining his loyalty to the events of 1688–9. Although over 60, he showed few signs of frailty: he received leave of absence for three weeks on 2 Mar. but was back in the House to vote against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. later that month. The summer of 1696 saw the affair of the Tewkesbury charter remain unresolved due to the death of Lord Capell, the corporation’s choice for high steward, and Winnington acting as defence counsel in July for two ‘absolving ministers’ (non-jurors) charged with high crimes and misdemeanours.10

Winnington gave evidence of his Country views at the very beginning of the 1696–7 session. When the Marquess of Hartington (William Cavendish) proposed that the House consider supply on 22 Oct. 1696, Winnington was the only Member to oppose it, suggesting instead that the Commons should proceed first to consider the state of the nation. His major contribution to the debates of this session, however, concerned the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†. His extensive legal knowledge proved valuable in the debate on 13 Nov. as to whether Fenwick’s counsel should have more time to prepare their case. For Winnington this was not a question of guilt, but whether the House should ask the defence counsel to ‘answer what we did not know that you should stand upon’. The House agreed with his pleas, and those of others, and it was resolved to provide more time to produce witnesses to the charges in the bill. In the committal debate on 17 Nov. Winnington spoke in favour of its rejection. As one might expect, he detected a dangerous precedent pointing to the extension of state power, whereby a minister might take an information accusing a person of treason, the witness ‘conveyed away’ and the evidence used against the defendant (although not given on oath) with no opportunity of cross-examination. Furthermore, the use of attainders had previously been in circumstances where ‘there was an open act of hostility, or men of great relation and power were concerned to subvert the government’. There were no extraordinary events to justify such proceedings in Fenwick’s case since he was in custody and, as no immediate danger threatened the government, a bill of attainder was inappropriate. Winnington voted against the bill’s third reading on 25 Nov. He was granted leave to go into the country for three weeks on 25 Feb. 1697. He was back in London by 23 Mar. when he was reported to be acting as defence counsel for Lord Montgomery, a suspected Jacobite. One possible repercussion of his role in the Fenwick case was that when the borough of Tewkesbury finally received a new charter Winnington was not named as recorder. It seems probable that his opponents in the town were able to highlight his opposition to the Court in order to obtain a different choice.11

The 1697–8 session saw the changed circumstances of peace. Winnington certainly welcomed the end of hostilities, reportedly saying ‘this was the happiest peace that ever was concluded, it having been pleasing both to Whitehall, Versailles and St. Germain’. He was quick, too, to grasp the opportunities that peace presented to curb the danger of arbitrary power. Chief among the dangers was the standing army, and he followed Harley’s lead on 10 Dec. 1697 in supporting a resolution that all land forces raised since 1680 should be disbanded. Just before the Christmas recess of 12 Dec. he joined in the attack on the Earl of Sunderland for his role as a minister under James II, which persuaded the lord chamberlain to resign his office. On 7 Feb. 1698 Winnington was one of three Members appointed to prepare bills for resuming all grants of estates and other interests forfeited in Ireland since 13 Feb. 1689 and for appropriating the same for the use of the public. Later the same month he joined in the attack on another minister, seconding the motion made on the 16th by Sir Thomas Dyke* to censure Charles Montagu* for accepting a grant in Ireland (through a third party) when, as chancellor of the Exchequer, he should have been dissuading the King from such grants. However, on this occasion the attack was beaten off without difficulty. The last occasion he was mentioned in the Journals was on 26 Feb., when he was given leave of absence to go into the country for the recovery of his health.12

Winnington did not contest the election of 1698, possibly owing to increasing ill-health or his defeat over the Tewkesbury charter and his opposition to the Junto-dominated ministry. This last point was confirmed by a list of about September 1698 comparing the old and new Parliaments which classed him as a Country supporter. He died on 1 May 1700, a wealthy man, his fortune enabling his eldest son, Salwey, to defend the family interest at Bewdley. In his will he exhorted his children to live a ‘holy life’ as it would bring them ‘more content than anything else in the world’, a comment which perhaps reflected some bitterness over his career. His monument in Stanford church paid tribute to him in the following terms: ‘he was eminent for his knowledge in the laws of England, a great master of eloquence and a most zealous defender of the liberties of his country’. Perhaps a more reasoned assessment came from Arthur Onslow† who described him as

certainly a man of parts, as appears in all his parliamentary performances in these times. He was much sunk afterwards, and very little considered, which carried him after the Revolution into opposition to the measures of the Court.13

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Nash, Worcs. ii. 368–9; info. from Dr D. F. Lemmings; IGI, London.
  • 2. Bulstrode Pprs. ed. Morrison, 253, 273; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 453.
  • 3. Univ. Birmingham Hist. Jnl. i. 110; First Hall Bk. (Windsor Hist. Recs. i), 30; Worcester chamber order bk. 1679–1721, f. 84.
  • 4. Bodl. Ballard 35, f. 50v; Add. 70014, f. 290; HMC Lords, ii, iii, iv, passim.
  • 5. Add. 70016, f. 201; 70125, Winnington to Sir Edward Harley, 10 Jan. 1692[–3]; 70235, Harley to Robert Harley, 13 Jan. 1692[–3]; Luttrell Diary, 235.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 265, 303, 318, 363, 376, 393, 414–15, 448; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 109; Grey, x. 303; Jnl. Modern Hist. xliii. 225–6.
  • 7. Grey, 340, 352–3, 370–1, 378; Add. 70140, Sir Edward to Edward Harley*, 6 Mar. 1693[–4].
  • 8. HMC Portland, iii. 559; Bodl. Carte 76, ff. 531–2.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 156; 1694–5, pp. 462–3; HMC Downshire, i. 477, 550; Cocks Diary, 322.
  • 10. HMC Downshire, 676–7; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 268; Post Boy, 2–4 July 1696.
  • 11. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/11, James Vernon I* to Shrewsbury, 24 Oct. 1696; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1012–13, 1096–8; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/O59/6, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 23 Mar. 1696–7; HMC Downshire, 748.
  • 12. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 343; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 507, 534; 1698, p. 96; J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 298.
  • 13. Nash, 369; PCC 92 Noel; Burnet, i. 176–7.