PROWSE, Thomas (1707-67), of Compton Bishop, Som.
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Family and Education
b. 1707, o.s. of John Prowse, M.P. for Somerset, by his 2nd w. Abigail, da. of Rt. Rev. George Hooper, bp. of Bath and Wells. m. 1 Mar. 1731, Elizabeth, da. of John Sharpe of Grafton Park, Northants., 3s. 5da.1 suc. fa. 4 Apr. 1710.
Prowse’s five elections for Somerset were all unopposed. He soon made his mark in the House, and Horace Walpole in 1766 described him as ‘the most knowing and the most moderate of the Tories’.2 In his earlier Parliaments Prowse spoke fairly often; in that of 1754-61 rarely: 29 Mar. 1756, against a motion for Hanoverian troops; 25 Apr. 1757, over Minorca; and twice on minor matters. Newcastle in his list of ‘speakers or efficient men’, 30 May 1757, included him in Pitt’s group.3
When on Pitt’s resignation in October 1761 George Grenville, Speaker designate, became leader of the House, Prowse proved the most popular candidate for the Chair. Newcastle at first thought that ‘a Tory will not go down’, but found from letters received from his ‘principal Whig friends (not courtiers) in the country ... that Mr. Prowse will go down very well with them, and indeed better than anybody. This ... shows how unanimously and honourably Mr. Prowse will be chose.’ Nomination to the Chair was therefore offered to him by Grenville, but was refused, not from ‘a fear of impairing my health, but being already in such a condition as would make it impossible for me to go through the common and necessary business of the House for one month’ (‘on account of a distemper’, wrote Newcastle to Bedford, 20 Oct., ‘which does not permit him to sit long in a chair at a time’.)4
With regard to the peace preliminaries Newcastle, in his list of 13 Nov. 1762, classed Prowse as ‘doubtful’; when the House met, 25 Nov., H. B. Legge, a friend of Prowse, described him as ‘in suspense what to do’;5 but early in December Fox classed him as favourable to the preliminaries. He did not vote against them. Toward the end of March 1763 Edward Gibbon met him in Paris, ‘in his way to Tours, to which place he was going, with all his family, for his health’—‘he is a very agreeable sensible man but a strange being in France.’6 Prowse was absent from the divisions on Wilkes and general warrants; but his sympathies were with the Opposition. He wrote to Legge, 8 Mar. 1764:7
It would seem by my last accounts from England that some people must have begun to recover their senses, for I see parties balancing. It is a strange infatuation that for the sake of punishing one impudent worthless fellow, persons that have a grain of understanding or honesty left should be desirous of throwing down all the fences of their liberties, which the wisdom and courage of their ancestors had provided.
And Robert Nugent to Grenville, from Bath, 20 Oct. 1764:8
Prowse is here, not at all well, and lives very much retired. I have heard some things of him which I do not entirely like, although they are only symptomatic.
Rockingham, writing to Newcastle, 3 Jan. 1765, about the need ‘to meet frequently and concert plans of operation’, included Prowse among those whom it would be most desirable to have at such meetings; and in June, considering his future Government, described him as ‘a very proper man to be got’. Prowse was offered the office of cofferer but declined. In September 1766 Chatham offered him the Post Office, and he again declined; and in Rockingham’s list, compiled in November 1766, was marked as ‘absent’.9 He was a very sick man. Only two speeches by him on minor matters are recorded, early in 1762,10 and none later; and not a single vote in this Parliament. He died 1 Jan. 1767.
Prowse ‘was a country gentleman with a practical interest in architecture’.11 He assisted Sanderson Miller in his architectural designs for Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, and for the Shire Hall at Warwick. His own executed designs included Hatch Court, Somerset, alterations to Kimberley Hall, Norfolk, for Sir Armine Wodehouse, and Wicken church, Northamptonshire.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Collinson, Som. iii. 562-3.
- 2. Mems. Geo. III, i. 67-68.
- 3. Newdigate mss B.2549; Add. 35877, f. 359; Bedford mss 32, f. 119; Add. 32887, f. 197; 32997, ff. 203-4.
- 4. Grenville Pprs. i. 393-4, 397, 398-400, 402-3; Add. 32929, ff. 252-5, 403.
- 5. Add. 32945, f. 153.
- 6. To his stepmother, 25 Mar. 1763.
- 7. J. Rylands Lib., Legge mss.
- 8. C. Nugent, Mem. Earl Nugent, 265.
- 9. Add. 32955, f. 28; 32967, f. 193; 32977, ff. 95-99; 34728, f. 119; Rockingham mss; Fortescue, i. 127, 132, 138.
- 10. By Harris, 29 Jan., 8 Feb. 1762.
- 11. H.M. Colvin, Biog. Dict. Eng. Architects 1660-1840, p. 479; Dickins & Stanton, An 18th Cent. Corresp.