GODOLPHIN, William, Visct. Rialton (c.1699-1731).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



24 June 1720 - 1722
1727 - 24 Aug. 1731

Family and Education

b. c.1699, o.s. of Francis Godolphin, M.P., 2nd Earl of Godolphin, by Lady Henrietta Churchill, da. of John, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and suo jure Duchess of Marlborough. educ. Clare Hall, Camb. 1717; Grand Tour (Italy) 1721. m. 25 Apr. 1729, Maria Catherine, da. of Peter S. C. de Jong, burgomaster of Utrecht, s.p. Styled Visct. Rialton 1712-22; Marquess of Blandford 1722-d.

Offices Held


Almost immediately after being returned on the Godolphin interest for Penryn at a by-election in 1720, Lord Rialton left for Italy, reaching Rome in May 1721. In that year there was published in London an anonymous Letter from an English Traveller at Rome to his Father. The letter, which was ascribed to Rialton,1 described a chance meeting with the Pretender:

I felt in that instant of his approach a strong convulsion of body and mind, such as I was never sensible of before; whether aversion, awe or respect occasioned it, I can’t tell. I remarked his eyes fixed upon me, which I confess I could not bear. I was perfectly stunned and not aware of myself when, pursuant of what the standers-by did, I made him a salute. He returned it with a smile, which changed the sedateness of his first aspect into a very graceful countenance; as he passed by, I observed him to be a well sized, clean limbed man.

After relating meetings and discussions with the Pretender on politics and religion, it concludes:

I am not sorry to have contented so far my curiosity and that were he not the Pretender I should like the man very well. We should truly pass much of our time in dullness, had we not the diversion of his house, but I will give you my word I will enter no more upon arguments of this kind with him; for he has too much wit and learning for me: besides that he speaks with such an air of sincerity that I am apprehensive I should become half a Jacobite, if I should continue following these discourses any longer.

On Marlborough’s death in 1722 Rialton, who had not stood at the general election and was living abroad, became Marquess of Blandford. Under Marlborough’s will he came in for an annual income of £3,000, to be increased to £8,000 when the works at Blenheim were completed. His grandmother, Duchess Sarah, Sir John Vanbrugh observed,

has by this will (for to be sure that was her doings) made my Lord Blandford independent of his father and mother.

In July 1727, the Duchess wrote:

I design to set up the Marquis of Blandford for St. Albans. Not that he will ever sit in the House of Commons, for when he comes into England, which is not expected soon, he will be called up by writ into the House of Lords.2

In August 1727 he was in Paris, where an agent of Walpole’s, speaking of the activities of the Jacobites there, reported:

I have seen my Lord Blandford very often for a month past and he continues to have his head very confused with all those affairs, and he no longer thinks of returning to England. I supped last evening with the Duke of Beaufort [a prominent English Jacobite] and Lord Blandford, and it seems that those two Lords wish to make a grand intrigue together, for they often enough have secret teste à teste conferences, and I find that Lord Blandford is very pleased with the Duke.3

He was at Utrecht in October 1727, when he learned of his having been chosen at Woodstock on his grandmother’s recommendation. Chesterfield, then ambassador at the Hague, wrote to Lord Townshend on 5 Nov. 1728:

There is one Leigh, who has resided for these last three years chiefly at Utrecht, a notorious Jacobite, and one who has gone to and fro between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, to negotiate with the Jacobites. I am sorry to say that he has been chiefly maintained for these last two years by Lord Blandford, who has likewise sent frequent and considerable sums of money to Hamilton [the Pretender’s agent in London] and other Jacobites in this country.4

After his marriage he lived in England, where his bride, who brought him a dowry of £30,000, was received coldly by all his family except the dowager Duchess. He does not appear to have spoken or voted in Parliament. In February 1731 the Pretender wrote to Hamilton to let Blandford know

that I hope he will do me and his country what service he can in this conjecture [an attempt at a restoration with French help; see under Hyde, Henry, Viscount Cornbury], and I should be glad if he made my compliments to the Duchess his grandmother, desiring him she would use her influence on her friends that they may join in the same good work.

He died of a ‘drinking bout’ at Balliol College, Oxford, on 24 Aug. of the same year. His grandmother, who was with him at the end, said ‘I would have given half my estate to have saved him’, and ‘I hope the Devil is picking that mans bones who taught him to drink’.5

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Bp. Rawlinson, who was in Rome at the time and who knew Rialton, ascribes the letter to Rialton in his own copy of the pamphlet, now in the Bodleian Lib.
  • 2. Coxe, Marlborough, iii. 426; HMC 15th Rep. VI, 41-42; A. L. Rowse, Later Churchills, 14.
  • 3. HMC 11th Rep. IV, 199-200.
  • 4. Letters, 69.
  • 5. A. L. Rowse, Early Churchills, 407; Stuart mss 142/122.