BRUCE, Thomas (1656-1741)

BRUCE, Thomas (1656–1741)

styled 1663-85 Ld. Bruce; suc. fa. 20 Oct. 1685 as 3rd earl of Elgin [S], and 2nd earl of AILESBURY

First sat 9 Nov. 1685; last sat 16 Dec. 1697

MP Marlborough 1679 (Oct.), 1681; Wilts. 19 May-20 Oct. 1685.

b. 26 Sept. 1656, 5th but 1st surv. s. of Robert Bruce, styled Ld. Bruce (later earl of Ailesbury) and Diana (d. 8 Apr. 1689), da. of Henry Grey earl of Stamford; bro. of Robertand James Bruce. educ. private (tutor, Joseph Arrowsmith) c.1670; travelled abroad (France) 1673-4. 1 m. (1) 24 Aug. 1676 (with £20,000?),2 Elizabeth (d. 12 Jan. 1697), da. of Henry Seymour, styled Ld. Beauchamp, 4s. (3 d.v.p.), 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 27 Apr. 1700 Charlotte Jacqueline, suo jure comtesse d’Esneux [Brabant] (d. 13 July 1710), da. and h. of Louis Conrad d’Argenteau, comte d’Esneux [Brabant], 1da. d.v.p. d. 16 Dec. 1741; will 2 Mar. 1730-29 Dec. 1739, pr. 29 Jan. 1742.3

Gent. of bedchamber 23 Jan.-6 Feb. 1685, 23 Oct. 1685-23 Dec. 1688.

Dep. lt., Beds. 1679-85, Hunts. Apr.-Oct. 1685, Cambs. Apr.-Oct. 1685;4 ld. lt. and custos rot., Beds. 1685-9, Hunts. 1685-9; steward, honour of Ampthill 1685-1730,5 Bedford 1685-9, Huntingdon 1686-8; recorder and town clerk, Bedford 1685-9. 6

Capt., ind. tp. of horse June-July 1685,7 tp. of horse, Henry Mordaunt 2nd earl of Peterborough’s Regt. of Horse 1685-6.

Associated with: Houghton House, Ampthill, Beds. (to 1698);8 Ailesbury House, St John’s, Clerkenwell, Mdx., (to 1698);9 Tottenham House, Wilts. (from 1676 to 1698);10 Ailesbury House, Leicester Fields, Westminster (from c. 1684 to 1698);11 Hôtel Ailesbury, Place du Grand Sablon, Brussels (from 1700).12

Likenesses: oil on canvas by F. Harrewijn, 1738, sold at Sotheby’s 14 Apr. 2011; line engraving aft. Harrewijn, NPG D7182.

Lord Bruce, 1673-85

Thomas Bruce was the eldest of only three surviving sons out of eight born to Robert Bruce, later Baron Bruce of Whorlton and earl of Ailesbury. From the time his father inherited the Scottish earldom of Elgin in December 1663, Thomas was known as Lord Bruce, through a subsidiary barony in that earldom. He remained Lord Bruce when his father was created earl of Ailesbury in the English peerage in March 1665, as the junior title in that English earldom was also Baron Bruce. In his later memoirs Bruce regretted the paucity of his early education:

God Almighty endowed me with common reason and understanding for to jog on with in the world, and as for learning, my good father was too indulgent and never permitted me to go to the schools and after to the university, and he, dividing his time between his study and sports, he allowed me too much of the latter, which naturally pleased me much in those tender years, the most proper time for to inure young persons: and when I became sensible of the error that was committed, I was sent to Paris to do my exercises, and not long after I was married, when I seriously reflected on all past errors committed. It grieved me much that I had so mis-spent my time, and at an age proper to improve myself with literature.13

Lord Bruce imbibed and internalized from an early age the royalist attitudes of his father,

a good father of a noble English spirit, ready to lay down his life for his king, but at the same time a true patriot, and manifested it greatly in Parliament in opposition to pernicious projects of double-dealing ministers …. my father often lamented, and before me, then so young (but endowed with a good memory) the pernicious counsels those ill-designing men gave the king, and they one and all were in the French interest.14

In December 1675 negotiations began in earnest between Ailesbury and Henry Somerset, 3rd marquess of Worcester (later duke of Beaufort) for the marriage of Lord Bruce to Worcester’s step-daughter Lady Elizabeth Seymour, the daughter and only surviving child of Henry Seymour, styled Lord Beauchamp. The marriage was ostensibly a highly advantageous one. Beauchamp had predeceased his father William Seymour, marquess of Hertford and from 1660 2nd duke of Somerset; his widow, the former Lady Mary Capell, married Henry Somerset in 1657.15 Lady Elizabeth’s only brother, William Seymour, became 3rd duke of Somerset in 1660 upon the death of his grandfather. When he died in December 1671, the entailed Seymour estates in Wiltshire and Somerset devolved to their uncle John Seymour, 4th duke of Somerset. In early 1675 he was near death and Lord and Lady Worcester persuaded Somerset’s solicitor (who had a dependency on Worcester) to word the will so that the extensive Seymour estate passed to Lady Elizabeth, against the apparent wishes of Somerset himself, and to the anger of his two sisters, Frances, the countess dowager of Southampton and Jane, Baroness Clifford of Lanesborough.

After several months of painstaking, and often ill-tempered negotiations, the lengthy and detailed marriage settlement was ready by 15 Aug. 1676 and a little over a week later the marriage between Lord Bruce and Lady Elizabeth Seymour was solemnized. The settlement initially placed the estate in trustees (Lady Elizabeth’s maternal uncles Arthur Capell, earl of Essex and Henry Capell, later Baron Capell of Tewkesbury) in order to pay the numerous debts and legacies of the late duke of Somerset and to raise money to purchase the annuities of Lady Elizabeth’s paternal aunts, Lady Southampton and Lady Clifford of Lanesborough, and for her own mother, the marchioness of Worcester, who had an annuity of £1,600 charged on the estate. The settlement also stipulated that failing any issue of this marriage a moiety of the estate would go to trustees to dispose of as directed, while the other half would descend to Lady Elizabeth’s half-brother, and Worcester’s heir, Charles Somerset, styled Lord Herbert of Raglan (and later styled marquess of Worcester).16 This became a highly controversial part of the settlement, as Lady Elizabeth later claimed that her agreement had been coerced by her step-father Worcester, in order to benefit his own family.17

In the elections of spring 1679 Bruce stood as knight of the shire for Bedfordshire, where his father was lord lieutenant, but to his surprise, and his father’s anger, was beaten by William Russell, styled Lord Russell, son of his father’s local rival William Russell, 5th earl (later duke) of Bedford.18 Fortunately, Lady Bruce had brought with her to the marriage the Seymour electoral interest of the Wiltshire boroughs within the orbit of Savernake Forest – Marlborough, Great Bedwyn and Ludgershall – and in the two subsequent elections of autumn 1679 and early 1681 Bruce found a safer parliamentary seat in Marlborough.

By the early 1680s the couple’s financial situation was becoming perilous through the couple’s extravagant lifestyle, Lord Bruce’s fondness for gaming, and his need to maintain an electoral interest.19. On 11 July 1684 an indenture was signed whereby Bruce could lease various of the Seymour estates to purchase the annuity of the duchess of Beaufort (as the marchioness of Worcester had become in 1682) and to discharge the arrears of the annuities to Lady Southampton and Lady Clifford. The agreement did not give Bruce full power to make leases but only on limited terms and only with the consent of the duke and duchess of Beaufort and the duchess’s brother-in-law Henry Hyde, 2nd earl of Clarendon until a total of £25,000 was raised to purchase the annuities and discharge the arrears, after which time Ailesbury would have unfettered power to grant leases in reversion.20 Ailesbury tried to raise this money quickly, too quickly according to his mother-in-law, for he cut down timber and ploughed up land in some of the remaining parkland on the Somerset estate.21 This and other disagreements over the trust settlement kept relations between the Ailesburys and Beauforts fraught for the ensuing years.

Bruce’s fortunes were temporarily improved, by his appointment in January 1685 as a gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles II at a salary of £1,000 p.a.22 Lord Bruce by his own account quickly became a favourite of the king, and was present at the first signs of the king’s final illness only two weeks after his appointment, and treated the dying monarch with great care, solicitude and affection. To the end of his days he spoke of the king whose death he witnessed with great reverence and affection (‘my good and gracious king and master, Charles the Second, and the best that ever reigned over us’), as his benefactor and patron and the model of a truly royal king who also knew how to inspire obedience from his followers through his open, generous, nature – something which Ailesbury, always loyal as he was, thought lacking in James II. After the king’s death Bruce was not initially given a place at the court of the new king, a purposeful exclusion he attributed to the enmity of the Hyde brothers, Clarendon and particularly his brother Laurence Hyde, earl of Rochester, which he thought had been stirred up by their kinswoman the duchess of Beaufort.23

Bruce could still serve the court in Parliament, and was easily returned to James II’s Parliament as knight of the shire for Wiltshire, with Clarendon’s son, Edward Hyde, later 3rd earl of Clarendon but then styled Lord Cornbury, as an unwanted (and expensive) partner. He was also able to return a number of court supporters from the Wiltshire boroughs of Marlborough and Great Bedwyn ‘by an entire interest’. He later claimed that the new king had sufficient trust in him to appoint him to manage the Commons for the Crown, and that he convened and led a pre-sessional meeting of ‘upwards of two hundred and fifty’ court Members of the Commons in which he proposed that Parliament should vote the new king revenues for life and proposed Sir John Trevor for Speaker.24 Perhaps he hoped that ingratiating himself at court in this way would facilitate the passage of a bill to enable him to make leases of the Seymour estate upon reversion without the consent of the duke and duchess of Beaufort, even though he had not yet paid off the annuities stipulated in the agreement of 1684.25 The bill was introduced on 5 June 1685 but was dropped in response to the emergency created by the invasion by James Scott, duke of Monmouth. Bruce always considered Monmouth a close family friend and considered his rebellion and execution to be a great tragedy.26

Succession and courtier to James II, 1685-8

Bruce’s situation and fortunes changed again when his father Ailesbury died on 20 Oct. 1685, only a few months after he had finally attained a prominent court position as lord chamberlain. His last prescient words were, at least according to his son and heir, ‘Dear son, you will see melancholy days; God be thanked I shall not’.27 With the title, the new earl of Ailesbury inherited many of his father’s responsibilities. Within a few weeks he replaced his father as lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, recorder, steward and town clerk of the corporation of Bedford and steward of the royal honour of Ampthill, the latter a hereditary office. There were rumours that he would replace his father as lord chamberlain.28 That office went instead to John Sheffield, 3rd earl of Mulgrave (later duke of Buckingham and Normanby), a man whom Ailesbury never liked and always mistrusted. It may have been Mulgrave’s aggressive steps to procure this office that first created tension between the two men. Ailesbury did regain his place as a gentleman of the bedchamber, but this was only effected after a personal interview with the king where he successfully disabused the monarch of the false impressions that Rochester (at this point apparently remorseful of his previous enmity) had spread about him and his bill.29 In early 1686, when the new charter for the borough of Huntingdon was granted, Ailesbury was also named high steward of the town, to oversee the Crown’s interests there.30

Ailesbury took his seat at the first opportunity, when Parliament reconvened on 9 Nov. 1685 and continued to attend all of the House’s sittings until the adjournment of 20 November. Ailesbury, who himself converted to Catholicism when in continental exile after 1698, had grave misgivings about the king’s pro-Catholic policies, not because he had any animus against Catholics or Catholicism per se, but because James relied on belligerent and misguided Catholics such as Father Petre and Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnel [I], instead of the old, moderate, Catholic landed families of England such as his friend and kinsman John Belasyse, Baron Belasyse, William Herbert, earl (later marquess) of Powis or Thomas Arundell, 4th Baron Arundell of Wardour. The real target of his anger throughout the reign of James II were Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland ‘and his shadow [Father Petre]’ who ‘began to lay the axe to the tree, by framing the king’s speech so contrary to the sense of the old and landed Roman Catholics’. Despite his own later conversion to Catholicism, during this time (at least according to his memoirs) Ailesbury resisted attempts to convert him, so wished for by the queen herself, and expressed nothing but contempt for Sunderland’s own opportunistic conversion. In his memoirs, he presented himself as a staunch churchman throughout James II’s reign. ‘To this hour’, he wrote, ‘I respect all the most orthodox and primitive clergyman of the Church of England – what I call the old Church of England’, and above others he singled out for praise, ‘that unparalleled, original, and heroic great prelate, and my dear friend, Dr Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury; put into the Tower by the king, and one year after turned out of his archbishopric.’31 He was indeed close to Sancroft, and was pleased to write to the archbishop only two days after the death of his father that the old earl of Ailesbury had ‘left this world with the satisfaction of being in the good opinions of your grace and the whole body of the Church, whose interest he asserted his whole time to the utmost of his power, and at his death … he expressed himself the same as he professes in his whole course of his life, praying for the prosperity of the Church of England in which communion he died’.32 Ailesbury was to continue this veneration for the established Church of England and its episcopate throughout his life, even after his own conversion to Catholicism.

Ailesbury first signalled his discomfort with the regime in June 1686 by resigning his commission as captain of a troop of horse, although this may also have been owing to his general dislike of his colonel Henry Mordaunt, 2nd earl of Peterborough, James II’s groom of the stole and ‘a man of a hot and fiery temper’. Ailesbury thought Peterborough coveted his lieutenancies and later argued with him over a matter of precedence as the court made its way to Salisbury in November 1688.33 He was also highly reluctant to impose the three questions on his deputy lieutenants in Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, and when Sunderland asked him for the names of new deputies to replace those who had not answered according to the regime’s wishes, Ailesbury had the temerity to resubmit the names of the existing deputy lieutenants, claiming that they were the only suitable candidates. Ailesbury did issue commissions to the new men chosen instead by Sunderland, but he appended a note to each informing the recipient that he was doing so by the king’s will but that he wanted no social contact with him, for he believed that Sunderland’s nominees were unworthy for their responsibilities.34

These misgivings were counterbalanced by an inherent and unshakeable loyalty to the idea of hereditary monarchy and the Stuart line in general: ‘I sucked in with my milk a principle I can never swerve from, to stand by my king with my life and fortune’. He was consequently seen, perhaps mistakenly, by almost all contemporaries as a supporter of the king’s policies. After the disagreement with Sunderland over the deputy lieutenants, even Ailesbury ‘expected every hour to be turned out, and I was full weary’ as ‘all the cities and towns corporate were regulated’ and purged by the court’ and ‘I … was become very insignificant in the counties where I was lord lieutenant’. In the late summer of 1688 he decided reluctantly to resign his commissions as lord lieutenant. James II’s master of the horse, George Legge, Baron Dartmouth, initially tried to dissuade him, telling him that the king had ‘assured me that all should be put on the old bottom very soon’. The king was more successful in turning Ailesbury from his decision, for, probably at the instigation of Dartmouth who knew Ailesbury’s intentions, he told Ailesbury of William of Orange’s planned invasion. This imminent threat to the throne and the English royal line was sufficient to make Ailesbury abandon his resolve to quit and to pledge himself, more fulsomely than previously, to James’s service in the forthcoming conflict. ‘I esteem this of the king’s preventing me one of the happy moments of my life, for had I given up, the king in the first place might have suspected that I was associated with those that deserted him, and little to their honour’.35 For the few remaining months of James’s reign Ailesbury acted as his loyal deputy, and was assigned to promote the court’s candidates for both the county and borough of Bedford and Huntingdon.36 His task was made easier when James II backtracked and allowed Ailesbury to restore his old colleagues in the lieutenancy and commission of peace of his counties.37

Ailesbury believed that his brother-in-law James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond (married to Ailesbury’s wife’s half-sister) was under the malign influence of James Douglas, then styled Lord Drumlanrig (later 2nd duke of Queensberry [S]). In August 1688 Ormond thought to persuade Ailesbury to join the Orangist conspiracy, but was dissuaded from his project by warnings that ‘you will put him [Ailesbury] into the greatest struggle imaginable between his loyalty on one hand and his honour on the other, and I know his family too well not to believe that the former will entirely sway him’. Ailesbury provided a detailed account of his involvement in the turbulent months of the Revolution in his memoirs.38 He waited upon the king as a gentleman of the bedchamber in Whitehall during the first week of December, after James’s ignominious return from Salisbury, and on the evening of 10 Dec. tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the king from taking flight.39 He attended the first meeting of the provisional government convened at the Guildhall that morning of 11 Dec. and signed, much against his will, the Guildhall Declaration requesting William of Orange to come to London to maintain order in the realm in the king’s absence.40 When news reached the provisional government on 13 Dec. that James had been detained at Faversham, Ailesbury immediately volunteered to go to the king. With other courtiers he was ordered to set off to the Kentish coast ‘to entreat and persuade’ James II to return to his capital.41 Ailesbury was part of the party that accompanied James II on his rapturous return to the capital, and from that point Ailesbury was in constant attendance on the king and was present when the various delegations from the Dutch army and eventually George Savile, marquess of Halifax, Henry Booth, 2nd Baron Delamer (later earl of Warrington) and Charles Talbot, 12th earl (later duke) of Shrewsbury, came to James to persuade him, supposedly for his own safety, to remove himself from Whitehall. Ailesbury was one of the small party of gentlemen of the bedchamber who accompanied the king, escorted under Dutch guard, to Rochester.42 Once again, as in James’s first attempt at flight, Ailesbury was merely in the adjoining room in the early hours of 23 Dec. when the king slipped out the back to make his way to the boat taking him to France.43

Ailesbury returned to London the following day and was present in the gathering of peers meeting with William of Orange on 24 December. He quickly found himself a central figure in the lords’ discussion as all his peers looked to him to tell them of his last hours with the king. George Berkeley, earl of Berkeley, first moved to inquire from Ailesbury the whereabouts of the king, and was supported in this by Ailesbury’s Williamite second cousin William Cavendish, 4th earl (later duke) of Devonshire. Ailesbury ‘gave an account there was a letter writ by the king to the earl of Middleton [Charles Middleton‡, 2nd earl of Middleton [S]], which was not fit to be seen’. He refused to say positively whether the king had abandoned the country or had merely gone into hiding, saying only that he was not in his lodgings in the morning, nor would he comment on the contents of the letter to Middleton, although his memoirs make it clear that he was present when Middleton opened and read it. The peers eventually decided not to continue to press Ailesbury on this matter and moved on to debate whether, ‘the king withdrawing himself’, they could summon a Parliament. The end result was that the gathered peers addressed William to take on himself the governance of the country and to issue writs for a Convention.44

A loyalist in the Convention, 1689

At first it was thought that Ailesbury would follow James II into exile but instead he used the forty-day period between the issue of the writs and the meeting of the Convention to confer with those of his peers, both spiritual and temporal, who ‘wanted to be rightly instructed’ about the king’s final hours.45 Together with Clarendon he joined a group of five bishops – William Lloyd, of St. Asaph; Francis Turner, of Ely; Thomas Ken, of Bath and Wells; Thomas White, of Peterborough; and John Lake, of Chichester – who met at Lambeth Palace under the eye of Archbishop Sancroft a week before the first meeting of the Convention to discuss plans for instituting a regency. John Evelyn, who was present at this gathering, was worried by what he saw as a lack of unity among the loyalists and the wide divergence of their plans, but at least the bishops ‘were all for a regency, thereby to salve their oaths, and so all public matters to proceed in his majesty’s name’. 46 Ailesbury also claimed he was surprised to have been able to convince Thomas Barlow, of Lincoln to support the claims of James II, because Barlow was, according to Ailesbury, ‘against prelacy … he being a downright Calvinist’, but Barlow ‘made all good in the House of Lords, and most strenuously opposed the question whether King James had abdicated and deserted’. 47

In the Convention itself Ailesbury was a leader of the group of loyalists who fought for the continuing right of James II to rule as king. On the first day he was confronted, as his allies Robert Bertie, 3rd earl of Lindsey and Henry Fitzroy, duke of Grafton, had warned him he would be, with an attempt by ‘the other party … to interrogate me as to the particulars of the king’s going away from Rochester’ and ‘to ensnare me by cross questions’. He himself admitted that he was not prominent in debate – ‘The speaking in so great and honourable an assembly was never my genius, and a timidity ever overawed me’ – but he claimed to have ‘furnished others that had that talent with subject matters to enlarge on, and which were well accepted of; each lord that spoke in that house exerted his talents – some with great force, some with less’. Among those whom he felt used his arguments ineffectively were Clarendon (‘spoke much and somewhat in a peevish strain, and incensed the prince of Orange, the more for his having gone into and so soon leaving him’), Rochester (‘exerted himself most well, but with too much passion’), and Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham (‘spoke long, but most lawyer-like, and had too much of his father’). By his own account Ailesbury had also convinced, or strengthened the resolve of, ‘my good friend and kinsman’ Philip Stanhope, 2nd earl of Chesterfield, who, when delivering his reasons why he could not vote for the motion that James had abdicated, claimed that he had been convinced by ‘a noble lord of this House’. When the other peers demanded that he name this peer, Chesterfield was ‘in great perplexity’ and Ailesbury voluntarily called out ‘Name me, my Lord’, upon which Ailesbury was summoned to give his reasons. ‘I delivered not my reasons with elocution, but with much truth and sincerity, and, as I said, I loved not to speak in public’.48

Ailesbury voted for Clarendon’s motion for a regency on 29 Jan. 1689, and strenuously fought against the Commons’ wording in their declaration stating that James had ‘abdicated’ by ‘deserting’ the throne. He took part in the three conferences on 4-6 Feb. 1689 which debated these terms, voted consistently against agreeing with the Commons in their use and was even part of the committee assigned to draw up reasons against them. He told for the Not Contents on the final division of 6 Feb. on whether to agree with the Commons in their wording of the declaration, but enough of William’s supporters had been persuaded to come to the House to tip it for the Contents, including Ailesbury’s old rival Mulgrave.

Ailesbury’s own account in his memoirs of the numbers and personnel voting in this division is flawed, as he seems to confuse the two divisions of 4 and 6 Feb., as well as to misremember the numbers in the protest against the vote on 6 Feb., and makes the division on that day far closer than it actually was (he says they lost by one vote; the official record says the Contents had a majority of twenty).49 The division list he drew up at the time (or shortly after) as teller of the actual vote of 6 Feb. is more accurate and his records of this division, as well as of those for declaring William and Mary king and queen (31 Jan. 1689), and on whether to agree with the Commons in the use of the words ‘deserted’ and ‘abdicated’ (4 Feb., which his side the Not Contents, won), provide some of the most detailed records of the forces and parties at work in the House of Lords in this important period of the Convention. Indeed, his division lists of these three votes, and of seven other divisions in the period 1689-94, all found in the commonplace books he kept, provide some of the few, as well as some of the most important, division lists for the House of Lords that survive for the period 1660-1715.

On 9 Mar. 1689 Ailesbury reluctantly took the oaths to the new monarchs, which he considered ‘like to a garrison one, for it was my opinion that he, being declared king (although I did in Parliament do all that lay in my power to obstruct it) he was to protect the kingdom, and that those that desired protection ought to take some oath’.50 However, he made it clear to William that he would not accept any position under his regime, and he was consequently removed from all his local offices in Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. He continued to sit regularly throughout the Convention, attending 79 per cent of its meetings, and was named to 21 select committees. On 15 Mar. 1689, less than a week after taking the new oaths, he was placed on the subcommittee established by a committee of the whole House considering the Bill for the Abrogation of Oaths assigned to draw up a clause that would remove the Sacramental requirement from prospective office-holders. Over the following months he was placed on a further two subcommittees established by committees of the whole (on 15 June and 14 Aug. 1689).

In one twelve-day period of absence from 3 Apr. 1689, when he was given leave of the House to go into the country, Ailesbury registered his proxy – according to the proxy register books – to both John Egerton, 3rd earl of Bridgwater, and James Bertie, earl of Abingdon. It is most likely that Ailesbury transferred his proxy from his original choice, Bridgwater, to the more politically sympathetic Abingdon, as his neighbour Bridgwater, lord lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, was rapidly proving himself to be one of William’s most faithful and busiest lieutenants in the House. Bridgwater would have been a strange proxy for Ailesbury, as from the time of Ailesbury’s return on 15 Apr. the two peers frequently found themselves telling on opposite sides in key divisions. For Ailesbury’s most frequent activity in the House was as a teller and, apart from his role telling for those against the Commons’ words ‘abdicated’ and ‘deserted’ on 6 Feb., he was a teller in nine other divisions in this first session of the Convention. On 27 May he told, with his cousin Thomas Grey, 2nd earl of Stamford, on the other side, against the motion to agree with the select committee’s amendments to the bill to suspend habeas corpus. But his most frequent opposite teller was Bridgwater, and against this earl he told, on 23 Apr., against putting the question whether to agree to a resolution which allowed the king to make provisions for the 12 non-juring clergy exempted from the Bill for the Abrogation of Oaths, and, on 10 May, against dismissing the appeal in the cause Agutter v Collins.51

Ailesbury also told in divisions on the bill for duties on coffee, tea and chocolate (24 July 1689) and on the bill for the recovery of small tithes (17 August).52 Four of the divisions for which he told concerned the campaign to repeal the judgments against Titus Oates in 1685, a cause in which Ailesbury expended almost as much energy as he had against declaring William and Mary king and queen. Ailesbury’s memoirs make clear his fascinated horror in the character of Oates, whose testimony in the Popish Plot he likened to ‘the barking of a dog’. His interest in this bill arose from having been present at (and having taken copious notes of) Oates’s two trials for perjury in 1685, in which Oates ‘was most legally convicted of the greatest perjuries that can be expressed by pen’. He took a consistent stance against Oates’s petition and appeal to the House to have the judgments against him reversed. When Oates appeared at the bar of the House on 30 May to make his submission for a breach of privilege in publishing a pamphlet aspersing the lord president, Thomas Osborne, formerly earl of Danby, now marquess of Carmarthen (later duke of Leeds), Ailesbury insisted that he remove the appellation ‘doctor of divinity’ from the text of his petition begging the House’s pardon. Oates refused to do so ‘out of conscience’ and was returned to prison.53 The following day, 31 May, the House heard the judges’ opinion that, on point of law, the judgments against Oates were erroneous, illegal and cruel, but the lords still showed themselves unwilling to take off the judgments, which would have allowed Oates to testify in a court of law again. Ailesbury was teller for the two divisions that day, first against even putting the question whether the judgments against Oates should be reversed, and then, that division having been resolved in the affirmative, against the main question, in which division his Not Contents were in the majority by 12 voices. The peer telling against him on both these divisions was once again the loyal agent of the government, Bridgwater.54

Having failed in the Lords, Oates turned to the Commons and a bill for the reversal of the judgments against him was shortly thereafter introduced in that House. On 2 July 1689, Ailesbury signed the protest against the resolution to proceed with the Commons’ impeachments against Adam Blair, Henry Vaughan, and others who accused the new monarchs of usurpation, and when the Commons’ bill for the reversal of Oates’s judgments arrived in the House on 6 July, Ailesbury resolved to oppose that measure as well. On 9 July he told against the motion, John Holles, 4th earl of Clare (later duke of Newcastle) being the other teller, that the House be put into a committee of the whole to discuss the bill and the following day he told against Bridgwater again in a division on whether to put the question whether to agree with part of the preamble of the bill as drafted by the committee of the whole.55 On 12 July amendments were added to the bill to prohibit Oates from ever testifying in court again, to which the Commons immediately objected and called for a conference, held on 22 July, to which Ailesbury was appointed a reporter. On 30 July he voted in favour of adhering to the amendments, and he was able to bring to this vote the proxy of Theophilus Hastings, 7th earl of Huntingdon, who had registered it with Ailesbury on 15 July. Ailesbury was concerned enough by this issue to compile detailed division lists on the question of 31 May 1689, for which he had been a teller, and that of 30 July, for which he did not tell, on adhering to the amendments. During this controversy, Ailesbury was also involved in the debates between the Houses surrounding the bill to turn the Declaration of Rights into a statute. Between 12 July and 31 July 1689 he was involved in four conferences on this bill, particularly after he was named to the small group of 15 assigned to draw up reasons justifying the House’s clause in favour of the Hanoverian Succession, a position with which he was almost certainly unsympathetic.

William III’s first Parliament, 1690-95

That first session of the Convention, in which he had tried so hard to preserve his master James II’s claims to the throne, was the high point of Ailesbury’s parliamentary career under William III. In no subsequent parliamentary session did he attend more than 68 per cent of the sittings, and in the second session of the Convention he came to just two-thirds. His activity in the House fell as well; in no other session was he nominated to nearly the same number of committees, and his involvement as teller also dropped. In the second session in the last months of 1689 he was a teller only once, on a procedural matter, and was named to only five committees, of which two were the large committees, comprising almost all the peers in the House, assigned to investigate the perpetrators of the various ‘crimes’ and judicial murders of the previous two reigns, an enterprise about which Ailesbury would not have been enthusiastic. Apparently there had been some hopes earlier in 1689 that Ailesbury would have a constructive relation with William of Orange, and he enlisted the services of his friend Henry Sydney, Viscount Sydney (later earl of Romney), who had been a fellow courtier under Charles II,

to assure the Prince [of Orange] that if I would act in the House of Lords contrary to his sense and interest that he would not imagine that it was through ill will or want of respect, for that in the House of Lords I answered only to God almighty for my actions there, and that he would assure his Highness that if he was in the same state as King James my master was in then, that I would do the same in favour of his Highness.

This message seemed to have been well received by William: ‘I knew from this gentleman [Sydney] and others that the Prince esteemed me much more than those he had advanced for their leaving their old king and master, and I had signal proofs of it on several occasions, and from queen Mary to the highest degree’. In a list drawn up between October 1689 and February 1690 Carmarthen classified him as among the supporters of the court, though he added that he was to be spoken to. However, by the winter of 1689-90 Ailesbury was rapidly alienating himself from the new regime. He maintained a conventicle of non-juring priests at his private chapel in his house at St. John’s Clerkenwell, and in February 1690 acted as bail, stumping up £5,000, for the Catholic adherent of the old regime Roger Palmer, earl of Castlemaine [I].56

William’s initial friendliness and forbearance was already beginning to deteriorate by early 1690 until his ‘graciousness towards me on several occasions turned afterwards into a personal hatred’, stoked, Ailesbury suspected, by his ‘favourite’, Hans Willem Bentinck, earl of Portland, whom Ailesbury always accused of coveting his estate.57 Ailesbury himself did not help matters when he refused to take the oaths at the convening of William III’s first Parliament in March 1690 and did not attend any of that session’s sittings, not even appearing when the House ordered him on 12 Apr. 1690 to account for the ‘protections’ he had signed for Dr. Nathaniel Johnson. In July 1690 his name appeared on the proclamation calling for the apprehension of adherents of the old regime during the invasion scare that followed the naval defeat off Beachy Head.58 He escaped capture and went into hiding for a time. 59 Eventually he sent his wife to consult with Queen Mary, who always looked kindly on Ailesbury, whom she had known as a young child at the court of Charles II, and she arranged that he could be bailed under nominal conditions. He surrendered himself in late July, was briefly heard before the Privy Council, and then almost immediately bailed ‘for form’s sake’, ‘or as most say upon his own parole’, before he was graciously welcomed at court by the queen herself.60 He was quickly discharged and there were further indications of William’s and Mary’s continuing favour to Ailesbury during that summer of 1690, but ‘this sunshine also lasted not long, and when on the king’s part he became cold and dry, I then retired by little and little’.61

On 3 Dec. 1690 he finally took the oaths to William and Mary in the new Parliament and was able to take his seat in the House. He was subsequently present in the House for most of that month, less than one-third of the session’s total sittings, and was there primarily to oversee the passage of his private bill, introduced on 8 Dec. 1690, that would allow him to raise money for the payment of debts by making leases in reversion of the Seymour lands, despite the restrictive conditions on his control of the estate in the 1684 trust settlement. This bill was introduced in the context of an ill-tempered exchange of letters of the autumn 1690 between the countess of Ailesbury and her mother the duchess of Beaufort, in which Lady Ailesbury castigated the duke for the coercive and restrictive settlements he had forced on the young couple, and particularly for that part of the settlement which left the estate, in default of issue, to his heir Charles, by then styled marquess of Worcester, ‘I do assure you if it were to do again I would burn them [the settlements] all before I would sign one of them.’ The duke of Beaufort did not respond directly to his step-daughter’s harangue, leaving it to his duchess to reply to her daughter’s ‘false and unjust slanders’. She replied to her daughter in kind – and then some: ‘Hell itself’ she concluded, ‘is hardly capable of more malice or unnaturalness than you in this have showed to me.’ The duchess was convinced that Ailesbury’s bill would enable him to avoid making provision for his wife and children, all for the sake of his gambling addiction (as she saw it). She believed that her daughter was foolishly and besottedly ruining her own and her children’s futures by supporting him. She enlisted her kinsmen, including her brother Sir Henry Capell, her brother-in-law Clarendon (at that point not sitting in the House) and his brother Rochester, in her cause. They all tried, unsuccessfully, to dissuade Ailesbury from presenting the bill, promised the duchess all their efforts to obstruct it, and were reasonably confident that the session would be prorogued before it could possibly pass both Houses. They also assured her that the House would give her sufficient time for her case against the bill to be heard fully, and her counsel was heard on 16 Dec., on which day the bill was committed. Beaufort’s steward, Godfrey Harcourt, thought that Ailesbury’s ‘coming to court at this time’ by taking the requisite oaths after so long an absence ‘gained him a great many friends in both houses’, such as, surprisingly, Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, who was Ailesbury’s ‘great stickler and never missed being at the committee’. Against the bill were Mulgrave (who once ‘took [Burnet] up very short and silenced him’ in committee), and of course Rochester. Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset ‘was against the bill’ as it interfered with his own interest in the Seymour estates, ‘but did not say much’. Halifax reported the amended bill from committee on 20 Dec., but it was recommitted two days later, although already engrossed, after Harcourt had raised some scruples by insisting that the bill had never received the duchess’s consent, despite Halifax’s claim to the contrary in his report. After one of the amendments was left out, it passed the House and was sent down to the Commons on 23 Dec., where Harcourt and Capell hoped to have it defeated. Their cause was undermined, as each individually attested, by the appearance of Lady Ailesbury before the committee. She testified her unforced and enthusiastic support for the bill, contradicting the allegations of the duchess and her supporters that Ailesbury had threatened to leave his wife unless she countenanced the bill against her own better judgment. The bill received the royal assent on 5 Jan. 1691.62

Ailesbury was even more diligent in his attendance in the following session of 1691-2, when he was present on the first day of the session and attended just over two-thirds of the sittings. Again he was there for his own concerns, as on 2 Nov. 1691 he introduced in the House a bill to ensure that the twelve-year lease of his own property he had made to trustees would continue for that full period of time, even in the eventuality of the Ailesburys’ premature deaths. This would ensure that the earl’s debts could be paid. The duchess of Beaufort was once again outraged by this bill. She later recounted in detail what caused her such concern:

as to her [Lady Elizabeth’s] jointure out of his [Ailesbury’s] estate that is put by these previous Acts in trustees’ hands for 12 years to pay his play money for. For her debts which was the pretence, they were paid at least eight or nine years before these acts were endeavoured. … The third part of the [Ailesbury] estate which was entailed in consideration not only of the estate she brought him (but of much more than the £20,000 which his father and mother had with her) and ought upon his death to fall to his son, this wretched act joins with her jointure and puts it in trustees’ hands for twelve years and allows till that son [reaches] 21 years but £700 p.a. and at the same time takes away an estate from him of £500 p.a. and a sum of money which would have been raised upon it during his younger years.63

She enlisted the same personnel as before to defeat it. They (and presumably Rochester in particular) were able to ensure that the duchess was given enough time for her counsel to be heard at the bar.64 On the day scheduled for the hearing, 19 Nov. 1691, Ailesbury’s counsel did not appear and he was fined £5, ‘for her costs in attending with counsel this day’. Counsel were heard the following day, when the bill was committed. Rochester informed the committee on 21 Nov. that he had received two letters from the duchess of Beaufort, ‘wherein she expressed a great dislike to the bill’, but Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, countered this with a letter of consent from Lady Ailesbury. William Craven, earl of Craven, reported the bill as fit to pass without any amendments that same day.65 Sir Henry Capell once again exerted himself to have it thrown out in the Commons, but without success. He lamented to his sister that, ‘I wish I could have served you better, but the current of the times, and the many bills the houses let daily pass for payment of debts, makes it much more difficult to be heard in defence of minors, or remainders, than when first I had the honour to sit in Parliament’. Capell did achieve some success at the time the bill received the royal assent on 24 Dec. 1691. According to Capell the king reluctantly assented to it and only because he could not ‘conveniently deny it after it had been passed by both Houses’. Capell was able to persuade Ailesbury to promise the king ‘to trouble him no more with such bills of his debts … And the king at the same time replied to him, “My lord, and I assure you I will pass no more such bills”’.66

In December 1695, when Ailesbury made attempts, through the intermediary of Clarendon, to come to some reconciliation with his mother-in-law, the duchess was still incensed by ‘those two unjust acts of Parliament … such as even Sir E[dward] Seymour (who assisted him in the getting them) told Sir J[ohn] Trevor and others were such unjust ones as never passed any Parliament’. She further insisted to Clarendon ‘I am very willing to look forward but do desire that he will now to you and your brother Lord Rochester engage upon his honour not to endeavour to get any Act of Parliament to sell land either his own or his wife’s nor to make any further spoil upon her estate or his own for the future, as he has hitherto done and that he will satisfy you both as well as me in what manner he has secured her a maintenance in case he die during the term this Act is in force and whether they have as they bragged (when I opposed the Act ) they would make a maintenance for their daughter’. 67

After his bill had passed at the end of 1691 Ailesbury turned his attention to other matters in Parliament. On 12 Jan. 1692 he subscribed to the dissent from the House’s decision to receive the bill for the divorce of the Whig Henry Howard, 7th duke of Norfolk. He was interested in this case, and appears to have taken notes of Norfolk’s allegations against his wife.68 Ailesbury was to become even more closely associated with the opposition to this bill when it was reintroduced the following session. He was also consistently opposed to the Commons’ attempts to renew its commission of public accounts, and he showed his opposition to the very idea of the bill by protesting against various stages of its controversial passage through both Houses. The Houses first fell out over this bill when the Lords made an amendment providing for some of their number to sit on the commission, even though the Commons wanted it to be confined to members of the lower House. On 26 Jan. 1692, even though he was not listed as present that day, Ailesbury was one of the ten peers assigned to scrutinize the secret ballot to elect peers to the Lords’ delegation. On 2 Feb. 1692 when the House voted to adhere to its amendments which would place these peers on the commission, Ailesbury signed the protest against the House’s rejection of the Commons’ arguments against lords’ being members of the commission. It is likely that in this case Ailesbury was objecting to the idea of the bill itself, rather than to the specific point whether members of the House should be on the commission. When the bill was lost the Commons tried to secure the same end by ‘tacking’ it to the poll tax. Unwilling to obstruct supply on 23 Feb. 1692 the Lords accepted the measure but tried to make its disapproval of the tack clear by moving to make an entry in the Journal condemning the Commons’ tactic. Ailesbury protested against the passage of the bill and was then a teller for the question regarding the proposed entry in the Journal. When the motion passed he entered his dissent from what he saw as an ineffectual and fruitless step against an offensive bill.

Over the summer of 1692 he was suspected by government ministers of being complicit in the plans for a French invasion. According to his own account, he was once again saved by the favour of Queen Mary. His name was initially placed first in the proclamation of those to be committed in the weeks preceding the feared invasion, but when Mary questioned this, Nottingham, for whom Ailesbury showed scant respect throughout his memoirs, told her that orders from the king to the lords justices insisted that a set number of names of suspected Jacobites be included in the proclamation. Mary insisted that Ailesbury’s name be replaced by that of Robert Leke, 3rd earl of Scarsdale – ‘if titles please you, there is an earl for an earl. What is sauce for one is sauce for another’, she remarked. When Nottingham insisted that there was no evidence against Scarsdale, Mary replied ‘just as much as against my Lord Ailesbury, and I will have it so’.69 Ailesbury only learned of this after Mary’s death; in the summer of 1692 itself he took the precaution of lying low, out of the public eye, always concerned that he would be arrested.

Ailesbury re-emerged after the naval action at La Hogue, but he still came to only just over half of the meetings of the 1692-3 session. On 21 Nov. 1692 he told in a division on whether to vacate the protections of Edward Clinton, 5th earl of Lincoln.70 He brought a case of breach of privilege of Parliament before the House on 17 Dec. 1692, which was not resolved until the last day of the year. By that time he was already heavily involved in some of the more controversial measures of the session. In the partisan battle between Nottingham and Admiral Edward Russell, (later earl of Orford) over the naval miscarriages of that summer, it appears, judging by Ailesbury’s later memoirs, that he held the Whig admiral responsible for the failure to destroy the French fleet at sea and even withheld his praise for Russell’s burning of a few great French warships at La Hogue, which he attributed instead to the vice-admiral Ralph Delaval.71 On 7 Dec. 1692 Ailesbury protested against the rejection of the proposal for a joint committee with the Commons to consider the naval miscarriages. Not having a position at court himself, he vigorously supported the place bill in this session, in the face of strong opposition from William III and the court interest; he voted and told in favour of the bill’s commitment on 31 Dec. 1692, once again against his frequent opposite teller from 1689, Bridgwater. He later voted (without being a teller) for its passage on 3 Jan. 1693 and duly registered his protest when it was rejected.72 The lists of those peers for and against the bill’s commitment which survive in his papers may well be the original working papers from his role as teller, or even manager, of the bill’s supporters. They reveal his careful observation of the extremely close voting patterns of the House on this controversial bill, and his marginal comment on his division list that the bill had been ‘thrown out by two Dutch votes’, most likely referring to the votes against the bill cast by Portland and Charles Schomberg, 2nd duke of Schomberg, gives a further indication of his intense dislike of the Dutch courtiers surrounding William III which is so evident throughout his memoirs.

Ailesbury also used the lists he drew up as a teller on this issue to forecast another division in which he also felt a strong engagement – whether to accept the duke of Norfolk’s divorce bill, against whose introduction Ailesbury had already protested in the previous session. He further recorded the peers involved in the division of 2 Jan. 1693 which threw out the bill at its second reading. He may have drawn up these lists in his role as manager for those in the House opposed to the bill, for his memoirs recount that a few years later he approached the duchess of Norfolk’s lover, John Germain, with a request for a favour on the grounds of ‘friendship, and also by way of gratitude for a service of importance I had rendered him’.73

After this flurry of activity, Ailesbury was absent from the House from 5 Jan. 1693 and registered his proxy with James Brydges, 8th Baron Chandos, on 11 January. He reappeared briefly in the House on 27 Jan., when his proxy may have been vacated, but was entirely absent for the trial of Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun on 3 Feb., despite the House’s commands that all peers were to be present, on penalty of a fine of £100. On 6 Feb. the House resolved that the still-absent Ailesbury was to be fined this amount, and when he finally appeared in the House the following day the House debated the matter only to confirm its original decision. Yet when Ailesbury brought his £100 to the House on 13 Feb. the House once again fell into debate on the matter and, after a series of divisions, in which Louis de Duras, 2nd earl of Feversham, told for the motion in Ailesbury’s favour and Vere Fane, 4th earl of Westmorland, against, the House decided that Ailesbury’s fine was to be remitted. On 8 Mar., about a week before the session was prorogued, Ailesbury was given leave to go into the country for his health.

On 11 Nov. 1693 Huntingdon registered his proxy with Ailesbury for the 1693-4 session. Ailesbury took is seat three days later, on 14 Nov., and attended 64 per cent of the sittings. Huntingdon himself did not sit in the House until 10 Jan. 1694, when his proxy with Ailesbury would have been vacated. During that period, Ailesbury on 22 Dec. 1693 subscribed to the protest against the resolution allowing the duchess of Grafton and William Bridgeman to withdraw their petition concerning the cause of Bridgeman v Holt. Ailesbury took an interest in another legal matter before the House, the ongoing cause of Montagu v Bath, in which he sided with John Granville, earl of Bath, in opposing the appeal of the Whig Ralph Montagu, earl (later duke) of Montagu and for which he compiled another list recording the division. On 3 Apr. he was appointed to the committee to draw up reasons why the House disagreed with the Commons’ amendment to the bill for the debts of the late John Stawell, 2nd Baron Stawell, and he was named a manager for the conference on the matter held on 5 April. On the penultimate day of the session, 24 Apr., together with a number of other Tories, he entered his dissent against that part of the supply bill which sought to incorporate the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.

Ailesbury came to just over three-fifths of the meetings of the final session of William III’s first Parliament and from 4 Dec. 1694 held, once again, Huntingdon’s proxy, this time for the entirety of the session. From 26 Dec. 1694 he held his full complement of two proxies when John Arundell, 2nd Baron Arundell of Trerice, likewise registered his proxy with him for the remainder of the session. At the end of the session, on 18 Apr. 1695, he continued his vendetta against the marquess of Normanby (as Mulgrave had become) by protesting against the House’s resolution that Normanby had committed no act worthy of the censure of the House concerning his questionable activities in promoting bills advantageous to the Corporation of London. More prominently, in this session he became further involved in other ‘Country’ reform measures similar to his support for the Place Bill in 1692-3. Ailesbury was one of only four who protested against the passage of the Triennial Act on 18 Dec. 1694, not because he agreed with William III’s own opposition to this infringement of his prerogative, but because the bill did not terminate the current Parliament quickly enough; he favoured a clause that would have dissolved the Parliament automatically in 1695. On 24 Jan. 1695, Ailesbury was one of the seven Tories who signed the protest against the inclusion of a clause, proposed by the committee of the whole House, to the treason trials bill, which would prevent treason trials being thrown out on the basis of minor grammatical mistakes or misspellings in the Latin text of court documents, unless those objections were raised before evidence was given in court.

The Parliament of 1695 and the Fenwick affair, 1695-8

Ailesbury took his seat for the 1695-6 session, the first session of the new Parliament on 23 Nov. 1695. One matter stood out for him at the beginning of this session, the bill for regulating trials for treason, with which he had been involved the previous session and which was read for the first time in the House on 18 Dec. 1695. The tortuous course of this bill over several years is the only instance of his involvement in a parliamentary matter, apart from the vote on abdication in early 1689, to which Ailesbury devoted significant space in his memoirs. Unfortunately his account is confused, both chronologically and in other details (such as his allegation that the bill was ‘tacked’ on to a supply bill), but the attention he affords to it is an indication of his close engagement in this bill between December 1693 and its eventual passage on 21 Jan. 1696, and his explanation of his motivations and the personnel involved is particularly revealing:

The king was too prodigal in giving titles to Dutchmen and others not natives, that we began to look about us, not knowing where it would end. So I consulted the earl of Rochester, and he others, in order to bring in a bill for to regulate trials for treason, and what most particularly regarded us was, that out of the sessions of Parliament, the crown nominates a number of thirty, under or over by reason to have a casting voice, and, as I said, Dutch lords came in so thick, and the crown not being limited, it was a melancholy prospect for us English peers. So it was proposed, and leave was given, to bring in such a bill, and where it was to be enacted that, on the trial of peers all should be present, although there was no session of Parliament. … I cannot name the sessions when the king refused to pass this Act, and twice it was recited [in 1693-4 and 1694-5], which made us most industrious to bring in the Bill for the third time [in 1695-6]; and having reason to suspect that this third bill might have the same fate as the others, we stretched a point and, I may say, much against my will, for I was always for giving the crown its just prerogatives, and even in this reign more often than many great lords that were in high employments at court, but we thinking all our lives at the mercy of base counsel and Dutch lords mingled with English ones that would sell their birthright for a mess of pottage, this being for our all, made us exert ourselves and stretch a point, which was by tacking this bill to the money bill. … The king came to the House in hopes to awe many lords, and, contrary to the custom of the two former kings, he sat under the throne, which was never seen before, at least in my time, and ancient lords assured me that it was without example. When the king is with his robes that is understood. He sat pensively with his hat almost over his eyes, and seemed much out of humour. Many experienced lords and that spoke well exerted themselves, and none with more vigour and better grace than the duke of Shrewsbury, reciting all the great advantages the subjects would obtain by this bill, and added that he knew lords present that in former reigns would have even given their right hand for to have obtained then such a bill, and that he could not but wonder to see them now of so contrary a sentiment, and that little became true Englishmen.. … So the king not being able to go over to his army without the subsidies, he was forced to pass that bill tacked to the other; and I had the honour to be instrumental in all this, for I spared nothing but my lungs, for, as I have hinted before, it was not my talent, speaking in the House, occasioned by a natural timidity which I could never overcome.74

His colleague Huntingdon was very active as a chairman of the committee of the whole House throughout December 1695, including one dealing with the treason trials bill. When he left the House at the end of that month, he registered his proxy again with Ailesbury, on 30 Dec. 1695, the day after the bill had been passed by the House and sent down to the Commons. Huntingdon’s return to the House on 9 Mar. 1696 was probably prompted by the crisis for Jacobites such as him and Ailesbury caused by the revelations of the Assassination Plot and the ensuing Association framed by Parliament. Ailesbury from the first possible day, 27 Feb. 1696, made clear that he would refuse to take the Association declaring William III rightful and lawful king.75 The Dutch envoy L’Hermitage was not surprised, ‘for, although he has taken the oaths, he has always been known to lean towards the other side’.76 With his protectress Mary now dead, he had little protection at court, especially when he was linked to the Jacobite circles and intrigues connected to the Assassination Plot.77

Although he had avoided arrest in 1690 and 1692 through Mary’s forbearance, the government had been right to suspect him; Ailesbury had long been involved in Jacobite circles, if not in outright conspiracy. In his later memoirs and in a 1703 petition to Queen Anne he insisted that he was always detached from the internecine factional fighting between the ‘Middletonians’ and ‘Melfortians’ and refused to implicate himself by being informed of their detailed plans for insurrection. Yet in the summer of 1693, he made a surreptitious journey to France to consult with both James II and Louis XIV on his own plans for a French naval descent on England. This was to be accomplished with the complicity of the Tory admirals, his good friend Sir Ralph Delaval (whom Ailesbury was able to get returned for Great Bedwyn in 1695) and Henry Killigrew.78 Ailesbury later insisted that he ceased all active plotting after his own plan was rejected by Louis XIV.79 The contemporary evidence suggests otherwise. Throughout 1694-5 Ailesbury remained involved in Jacobite circles in London, and it cannot be coincidence that he was often in the same place at the same time as such disreputable and untrustworthy conspirators as Sir John Fenwick, Robert Charnock, Cardell Goodman and George Porter.80 On 21 Mar. 1696 a warrant was issued for Ailesbury’s apprehension, and he was quickly taken up and committed to the Tower of London. 81 Ailesbury’s second cousin Devonshire reported this to the House on that very day. Devonshire may have taken some delight in Ailesbury’s fall, as the two men were engaged in an unseemly family argument. In his garrulous later memoirs, Ailesbury, a trustee of the entailed Cavendish estate, always presented himself and his father as the financial saviours of his profligate and rebellious cousin.82

Ailesbury’s situation was made worse when he emerged as a principal character in the plot described by Fenwick to his interrogator Devonshire in his second confession of 23 Sept. and presented to the Commons on 6 Nov.1696. Fenwick presented Ailesbury as the leader of the Jacobite conspirators, who hosted most of their meetings at his London residence and who kept James II informed about the state of the navy. Fenwick averred that ‘the last letter I saw of King James’s was to my Lord Ailesbury of the 4th of February [1696]; all that I remember significant in it was that the Toulon Fleet would sail the 22nd and what they would do next he could not tell’, showing that Ailesbury’s involvement in Jacobite correspondence was ongoing up to the time of his arrest.83

The Whig ministerialists initially hoped that Fenwick would give further evidence against Ailesbury and his fellow Jacobites such as William Herbert, styled Viscount Montgomery (later 2nd marquess of Powis). When Fenwick refused to target the known Jacobites, the Junto decided to make an example of him. Fenwick continued to hope that Ailesbury would save his life by corroborating his account, but assured his wife that ‘my death will be but the prologue to his’.84 The main obstacles to Ailesbury’s prosecution were the lack of the requisite number of witnesses and the potential difficulty of prosecuting a well-connected and well-liked nobleman before his peers. Nevertheless, when Ailesbury’s heavily pregnant wife heard the sound of cannon being fired on 12 Jan. 1697 and was told that it was to mark the king’s royal assent to the Fenwick attainder bill, she, out of apprehension that her husband would be next, ‘fell backwards in her great chair and never spoke more’, went into premature labour and ‘about 12 at night … was delivered of a daughter in the eighth month and then expired. … No man ever had such a wife, and endowed with all the most rare qualities that ever woman enjoyed’.85

With this blow his health, already fragile, continued to deteriorate, until he was bailed from the Tower on 12 Feb. 1697 for health reasons, his sureties for £5,000 each being Chesterfield, Weymouth, Thomas Tufton, 6th earl of Thanet, and Robert Shirley, 8th Baron (later Earl) Ferrers.86 He did not sit in the House again until 13 Dec. 1697, but only attended the following two sittings before he left the House for good, never to return. His departure both from the House and from England itself resulted from the act against corresponding with James II or his adherents which was passed by Parliament in the wake of the Treaty of Ryswick. The act created several new categories of treason, one of which applied to all persons who had gone to France since 11 Dec. 1688 without royal licence. Offenders were given until 1 Feb. 1698 to leave the country or face prosecution. Ailesbury left it to virtually the last minute before abandoning England for what he thought would be a short exile until a change of government would give an opportunity for his return.

Exile, 1698-1741

What he initially thought would be a short period of absence in Brussels turned out to last the remainder of Ailesbury’s long life, until his death at the age of 85 in 1741. William’s regime remained hostile to the idea of his return, and the rumours swirling in February 1701 that Ailesbury’s son and heir Charles Bruce, (later 3rd earl of Ailesbury) was to marry one of Portland’s daughters may (if true) have been part of a campaign on Ailesbury’s part to curry favour with the ‘Dutch favourite’ he hated so much and whom he always blamed for his misfortunes.87

For his part Ailesbury settled quickly into a new life in the Spanish Netherlands but with some potentially compromising consequences. He converted to Catholicism, sometime in 1698 or 1699, but kept this secret from his family and his English contacts, often with great difficulty, for the rest of his life. It was only revealed by the language and bequests of his will of 1730.88 This rapid conversion suggests that he may have been a crypto-Catholic before his exile, but there is no evidence from which to derive a definitive conclusion. In his memoirs he insisted that he always remained a faithful son of the Church of England. He also married a young Brusseloise countess and heiress in 1700 by whom he had a daughter to tie him to that city. His second wife’s grand house in the Place du Grand Sablon in Brussells allowed him, initially at least, a comfortable life.

The death of William III, accession of Anne and the renewal of war with France and Spain in May 1702 tranformed Ailesbury’s situation. He and his new countess had to leave Brussels, capital of the French-controlled Spanish Netherlands, and, until the Allies recaptured it, they resided in towns such as Liege or Aix-la-Chapelle, either neutral or controllwed by the allies. Cooped up in these towns and constrained by the warfare around him, he looked to the new queen to allow his return to England. Early in 1703 Ailesbury’s son Lord Bruce interceded with Queen Anne on his behalf, but was rebuffed by Sidney Godolphin*, Baron (later earl of) Godolphin.89 Later that year Ailesbury sent the duchess of Marlborough a long, rambling, and self-justificatory petition for his return which he hoped she would present to the queen. She would be aided in doing so, he advised, by his first wife’s kinsman Sir Edward Seymour, whom he thought ‘would do his utmost to serve me for the sake also of my late wife and would be glad the world thought he did it entirely by his interest at court’. In addition, he told the duchess that ‘in the council I have not six that would be averse to me and in the House of Lords I have many friends and relations’.90 On the other hand, in his petition to the queen he tried to forestall opposition by naming those he knew would be against him and trying to explain away their opposition. Apart from Portland, that ‘great man’, who had by this time retired to the continent, there were two dukes against him. The duke of Somerset ‘is only angry with me for having by my late wife carried away the estate of the family, and for that reason is implacable’. Ailesbury did not explicitly name the other duke ranged against him, but described him as one who

hath ever had such an aversion for me thinking it was me that exposed in the last reign some steps he had made before the Revolution which showed him to be a man not fit to be trusted in any government. That ungrounded suspicion occasioned his venting his malice on all occasions and especially in 1690 and 1691 when I had a private bill to pass which went both times through both houses unanimously save his vote both times, which plainly showed his malice.91

It is most likely that this figure was Ailesbury’s old enemy Normanby who, in March 1703, only a few months before this petition was submitted, had been created duke of Buckinghamshire and Normanby. The duchess assured Ailesbury that ‘her majesty is most satisfied with your conduct and pities your condition, and she will certainly recall you when she can do it without prejudice to her immediate service’.92 That promised time never came; during her reign it was always hinted that Ailesbury would have to wait until the end of the war to make his return.

Ailesbury turned to the duchess of Marlborough for help because one of the few connections to England that he was able to maintain in the war-torn Netherlands was through her husband, the captain-general of the Allies, John Churchill, duke of Marlborough. Throughout the conflict he was diligent in maintaining a correspondence and personal contact with Marlborough who proved to be his principal link with England.93 Ailesbury even claimed to have advised Marlborough on English politics. In his memoirs of 1727-30 and also in a 1714 letter to the British ambassador to the United Provinces, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, he recounted a conversation in 1703 when, in response to Marlborough’s complaints about the difficulties of managing the House of Lords, he suggested the promotion of William Beveridge, and George Hooper, to bishoprics. This was quickly effected upon Marlborough’s return to England in 1704, Beveridge being given the see of St. Asaph and Hooper that of Bath and Wells. Ailesbury claimed that he further gave Marlborough a list of commoners of good families who should be raised to the upper house en masse, either with new creations or by writs of acceleration – as was done in 1711-12 (though not then to Marlborough’s benefit). He also recommended adding ‘to the pensions given to the poor peers who had come to the title by entail without any estate but the little they had before’, singling out in this Henry Clinton, 7th earl of Lincoln, ‘then my neighbour in Bedfordshire where he lived in an obscure manner for want of what to support him in his dignity; else a person altogether unknown to me’.94 Marlborough for his part was able to perform some signal services for Ailesbury’s family interest, both in England and the continent, but was unsuccessful in effecting his return.

Ailesbury’s last campaign to return to England was in 1709 when the queen’s Act of General Pardon appeared to extend to him. Upon his petition Anne granted him a licence to return on 29 May. Having finally received his long-sought right to return, Ailesbury delayed, for by this time he had his own life on the continent. He wrote to Marlborough explaining he could not leave while a lawsuit and other family affairs were pending, and in addition he was concerned that, despite the formal licence, his presence in England would not be welcome to the queen. In addition, he was incapacitated by a resurgence of the stone and in 1710 devastated by the unexpected death of his young wife. As time slipped by and illness and tragedy intervened the likelihood of Ailesbury’s taking advantage of the queen’s licence became more remote.95 In October 1712, as a peace which would allow him to return seemed increasingly likely, he wrote to one of the framers of that peace, Strafford, that:

To tell you the truth this what I have related [continuing suspicions in England that he is an active Jacobite] and the Queen’s desire formerly that I would not think of coming over until the peace, makes me resolve to stay in these parts where I am suffered by all that are most esteemed here. I live as comfortably as I can under a severe melancholy and with but an indifferent health. I can live handsomely for half of what I can in England, my fortune being so impaired by my long banishment not being permitted to come into England only for a month or two on my son’s coming to age and on his marriage to my unspeakable prejudice and never to be repaired. All these considerations make me resolve to live here rather than live in England as a suspected person. I own ’tis very hard; my heart is brimful but now I have had the satisfaction to open myself to a person I esteem so much and for so many and great reasons I find myself more at ease.96

Strafford became one of Ailesbury’s regular correspondents from the time of his arrival as ambassador to the States General in 1711. Ailesbury, previously so solicitous and intimate with Marlborough, was quick to join with Strafford in the Tory backlash against the former captain-general and the Whigs and the Dutch in general. His letters to Strafford are full of his relief at finally being able to throw of the restraints in behaviour necessary to keep in the Marlborough-Godolphin ministry’s good favour.97 He ‘confessed’ to Strafford in October 1712:

that during the Whig ministry I was silent or submissive and gave my interest in making members to no side because I could not give it to a Whig. Since the happy change it lay in my power to render the queen great services … for not only the States Deputies … and those of the council of state … were much satisfied with what I told them, for they all came to me … imagining the new ministry either would not or could not carry on the war.98

He was exultant at the peace of Utrecht and what he saw as the justified humbling of the Whigs – particularly those who had taken up residence with him in the Netherlands such as Marlborough and William Cadogan, later Earl Cadogan – and their Dutch allies:

The washing a blackamoor white or a Whig is equally practicable. The consternation [among the Whigs] is great; even here it is visible by their looks and some cannot keep their fear to themselves. As for the Dutch they have brought in on themselves by a boundless ambition. … A person asked me what party I was. I answered him that of the Queen’s.99

Ailesbury’s principal agent in England, and particularly in negotiating his licence to return in 1709, was his only surviving son, Lord Bruce. At the end of 1711 Bruce was, as Ailesbury had suggested to Marlborough in 1703, called to the House in his father’s junior barony as Baron Bruce of Whorlton. Lord Bruce was a vital element in Ailesbury’s successful exile. Together with Ailesbury’s practical and efficient younger brother, Robert, Lord Bruce took care of the Bruce political interest and managed the estate sufficiently well to keep the absent Ailesbury living a life suitable to his station. There were sacrifices in the complicated arrangements that had to be made to maintain Ailesbury on the continent, most notably the Bedfordshire property of Houghton House near Ampthill, which Lord Bruce increasingly neglected as he concentrated his electoral interest and estate management on his Seymour mother’s Wiltshire estates. In 1738 the property was sold to John Russell, 4th duke of Bedford, much to Ailesbury’s regret.

Lord Bruce was a Tory and kept the political legacy of his exiled father alive. He also convinced his father to set down his ‘memoirs’ of his role in the courts of Charles II and James II. Ailesbury had been at the heart of the courts of both kings and had the melancholy honour of being present, in the very room itself as it were, at the effective demise of both reigns. This long, verbose, and often undigested work was written in c.1728-30 as strictly a private family ‘domestic diary’ (as Ailesbury named it) and was not printed until the late nineteenth century. It is still, for all its inaccuracies, conflations, lacunae and self-justifications, one of the principal first-hand accounts, and one of the few from the ‘losing’ side, of the people and events of the reigns of Charles II and James II and of the Revolution that ended that world.

The manuscript of these memoirs was one the chief legacies of Ailesbury when he died in 1741.100 Although his body was buried in the Church of the Brigittines in Brussels, Ailesbury did, in effect, finally return home, for his heart was removed and buried in the Bruce family mausoleum in Maulden near the old Houghton House. He was survived by only two children, both by his first wife: Lord Bruce who succeeded his father as 3rd earl of Ailesbury and a daughter, Elizabeth, who (with Marlborough’s assistance) married George Brudenell, 3rd earl of Cardigan, in 1707.


  • 1 Ailesbury Mems. 1; Life and Loyalties, 19, 23.
  • 2 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/277.
  • 3 TNA, PROB 11/715.
  • 4 CSP Dom. 1685, p. 119.
  • 5 CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 131-2; VCH Beds. iii. 271-2.
  • 6 Pearse, Schedule of the Recs. of the Corp. of Bedford (1883), 98.
  • 7 Dalton, Army Lists, ii. 14.
  • 8 VCH Beds. iii. 290.
  • 9 LCC Survey of London, xlvi. 118-20; Edward Wood, History of Clerkenwell (1865), 224.
  • 10 VCH Wilts., xvi. 28.
  • 11 LCC Survey of London, xxxiv. 459-60.
  • 12 Cardigan, Life and Loyalties of Thomas Bruce (1951), 230-31, 298.
  • 13 Ailesbury Mems. 1.
  • 14 Ibid. 11.
  • 15 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 9/1/16, Worcester to Col. E. Cooke, 18 Dec. 1675.
  • 16 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/675; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 413; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xcvi. 102.
  • 17 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/716, 717.
  • 18 Ailesbury Mems. 33, 40, 53; HP Commons, 1660-90, i. 125-6; Bodl. Carte 60, f. 670.
  • 19 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/697, 717, 801, 827, 894.
  • 20 Ibid. 1300/676, 840.
  • 21 Ibid. 1300/717, 799, 856.
  • 22 CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 290, 301; Ailesbury Mems. 23.
  • 23 Ailesbury Mems, 85-97, 99-100, 104, 111-12, 131.
  • 24 Ibid. 99-101.
  • 25 CSP Dom. 1685, p. 238.
  • 26 Ailesbury Mems, 80-84, 112-20.
  • 27 Ibid. 124.
  • 28 JRL, Legh of Lyme mss, newsletter of 28 Oct. 1685.
  • 29 Ailesbury Mems. 124-5; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 363.
  • 30 CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 46.
  • 31 Ailesbury Mems. 126, 148, 152-4, 165.
  • 32 Bodl. Tanner 31, f. 222.
  • 33 Ailesbury Mems. 109, 135, 153, 181, 187-92; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 381.
  • 34 Ailesbury Mems. 162-7; CSP Dom. 1687-9, pp. 208, 239.
  • 35 Ailesbury Mems. 176-8, 196.
  • 36 CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 273.
  • 37 Ailesbury Mems. 181-2; Cent. for Bucks. Studies, D135/B1/4/9, 10, 11, 13, 14-16, 21, 23.
  • 38 Ailesbury Mems. 179-80, 184-226.
  • 39 Ibid. 187-97; Verney ms mic. M636/43, C. Gardiner to Sir R. Verney, 12 Dec. 1688.
  • 40 Ailesbury Mems. 197-9; Kingdom without a King, 68, 71-2; Bodl. ms Eng. hist. d. 307, f. 6.
  • 41 Ailesbury Mems. 201-2; Kingdom without a King, 93-4; Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 422; Eg. 3336, ff. 63-64.
  • 42 Ailesbury Mems. 214-20; Morrice, iv. 415-16; Life of Jas II, ii. 268.
  • 43 Ailesbury Mems. 223-5; Life of Jas II, 275.
  • 44 Kingdom without a King, 159-61.
  • 45 Morrice, iv. 471; Ailesbury Mems. 229.
  • 46 Evelyn Diary, iv. 613-14.
  • 47 Ailesbury Mems. 229-30.
  • 48 Ibid. 231-4.
  • 49 Ibid. 230.
  • 50 Ibid. 237.
  • 51 HMC Lords, ii. 55, 69.
  • 52 Ibid. ii. 217, 227.
  • 53 Ailesbury Mems. 50-52, 137-44.
  • 54 HMC Lords, ii. 80; WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/586.
  • 55 HMC Lords, ii. 259.
  • 56 Morrice, v. 222, 253, 400.
  • 57 Add. 61474, ff. 84-87.
  • 58 CSP Dom. 1690-1, pp. 65, 70.
  • 59 Ailesbury Mems. 258-9; Add. 61474, ff. 84-87.
  • 60 Ailesbury Mems. 260-65; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 83; Morrice, v. 482.
  • 61 Ailesbury Mems. 268-9.
  • 62 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/716, 717, 783, 784, 785, 787, 788.
  • 63 Ibid. 1300/277.
  • 64 Ibid. 1300/789.
  • 65 HMC Lords, iii. 273.
  • 66 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/789, 790.
  • 67 Ibid. 1300/791, 277.
  • 68 Ibid. 1300/856.
  • 69 Ailesbury Mems. 297-8; Add. 61474, ff. 84-87.
  • 70 HMC Lords, iv. 248.
  • 71 Ailesbury Mems. 295-6.
  • 72 HMC Lords, iv. 280-81.
  • 73 Ailesbury Mems. 444-6.
  • 74 Ibid. 285-7.
  • 75 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 22; Browning, Danby, iii. 190; Add. 28941, f. 16.
  • 76 Add. 17677 QQ, ff. 297-9.
  • 77 CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 109-11.
  • 78 Ailesbury Mems. 271-76, 312-41; Add. 61474, ff. 84-87.
  • 79 Ailesbury Mems. 344, 353-63; Add. 22221, ff. 13-15.
  • 80 Bodl. Carte 181, ff. 529-33, 566, 582; HMC Stuart, i. 70.
  • 81 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 32, 33; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 95.
  • 82 Ailesbury Mems. 262-3, 394-5, 400.
  • 83 Add. 47131, ff. 36-39; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 410-12; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 494.
  • 84 Add. 47608, ff. 3-4, 17-18, 40-41, 65-66.
  • 85 Ailesbury Mems. 416-18; Verney ms mic. M636/49, Sir J. Verney to W. Coleman, 14 Jan. 1697.
  • 86 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 183.
  • 87 Bodl. Carte 228, ff. 375, 377.
  • 88 TNA, PROB 11/715.
  • 89 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 1300/1072.
  • 90 Add. 61474, ff. 82-3.
  • 91 Ibid. ff. 84-7.
  • 92 Life and Loyalties, 234-5.
  • 93 Add. 61363, f. 101; Add. 61365, ff. 90, 119, 121; Add. 61366, f. 185; Add. 61382, f. 170; Add. 61390, ff. 42, 151; Add. 61391, f. 182.
  • 94 Ailesbury Mems. 560-2; Add. 22221, ff. 22-23.
  • 95 Add. 61366, f. 185; Add. 61617, f. 100; Add. 28057, ff. 381-2; Add. 61495, ff. 73-4; Life and Loyalties, 256-60.
  • 96 Add. 22221, ff. 13-15; Wentworth Pprs. 302-4.
  • 97 Add. 22221, ff. 13-31.
  • 98 Ibid. ff. 13-15.
  • 99 Ibid. ff. 22-23.
  • 100 WSHC, Ailesbury mss 3790/1/7.