VENABLES BERTIE, Montagu (1673-1743)

VENABLES BERTIE (formerly BERTIE), Montagu (1673–1743)

styled Ld. Norreys 1682-99; suc. fa. 22 May 1699 as 2nd earl of ABINGDON

First sat 18 Dec. 1699; last sat 26 May 1742

MP Berks. 1689, Oxon. 1690-22 May 1699

b. 4 Feb. 1673, 1st s. of James Bertie, earl of Abingdon, and Eleanora, da. and coh. of Sir Henry Lee, 3rd bt. of Quarrendon, Bucks. and Ditchley, Oxon.; bro. of Henry, James, and Robert Bertie. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1685. m. (1) 22 Sept. 1687 (with £4,000), Anne styled Baroness Kinderton, (d.1715), da. and coh. of Peter Venables (d.1679), styled Bar. Kinderton, of Kinderton, Cheshire, s.p.; (2) 13 Feb. 1717, Mary (d.1757), da. and h. of James Gould of Dorchester, Dorset, wid. of Charles Churchill of Minterne Magna, Dorset, 1s. (d.v.p.). d. 16 June 1743; will 3 Apr. 1736, pr. 1 July 1743.1

Constable of the Tower 1702–5; c.j. in eyre south of Trent 1702–6, 1711–15; PC 21 Apr. 1702–20 May 1707, 9 Feb. 1711–14, 29 Sept. 1714–15, 20 Sept. 1727, 2 Oct. 1727; ld. justice 1 Aug.–18 Sept. 1714.

Freeman, Woodstock 1686, Oxford 1687, Chester 1712; commr. for assessment, Berks., Cheshire, Oxon., and Wilts. 1689–90; dep. lt. Berks. 1689–1701; high steward, Malmesbury 1699–1701,2 Oxford 1699–d.,3 Wallingford 1699–d.,4 Abingdon by 1713;5 custos rot. Berks. 1701–2; ld. lt., Berks. 1701–2, Oxon. 1702–6, 1712–15, Tower Hamlets 1702–5; j.p. Berks. 1701–?d.

Capt. of horse, Oxf. Univ. militia 1685.

Associated with: Rycote, Oxon.; Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx., and Bond Street, Westminster.6

A leader of the Tories under Queen Anne and the head of a significant parliamentary connection, Norreys (as he was styled until his inheritance of the earldom) began his political apprenticeship early when his father attempted to have him returned for Woodstock at the age of just 13. Despite the overwhelming strength of the Bertie interest in the area, and the avowal of his grandmother, Lady Rochester, that there were other younger Members in the House at the time, the young man was unsuccessful.7 Two years later he enjoyed better fortune when he was returned to the Convention for Berkshire on the family interest, despite still being clearly underage. The following year he switched to Oxfordshire, which he continued to represent until his elevation to the Lords.

Norreys’s additional surname was adopted at the time of his marriage to Anne Venables, a niece of Robert Shirley, Baron Ferrers (later Earl Ferrers). Lady Norreys also claimed the style of Baroness Kinderton through her succession to the manor of Kinderton in Cheshire. While the match brought Norreys only a modest fortune and no obvious local interest, his wife was later to prove an influential ally on account of her intimacy with Queen Anne as one of her ladies of the bedchamber.8 Part of an intricate kinship network dominated by the Berties and Osbornes, Norreys’s close relationship to Robert Bertie, marquess of Lindsey (later duke of Ancaster), and Thomas Osborne, duke of Leeds, helped to consolidate his political interest. Another kinsman, Thomas Wharton, 5th Baron (and later marquess of) Wharton, on the other hand, proved to be a serious and consistent rival. With the earldom, Norreys inherited a long-running dispute with Wharton over the Lee estates, whose partition between Anne and Eleanora Lee had led to disagreements between their husbands. The case, first brought by Wharton against the 1st earl of Abingdon in 1687, was to prove a serious distraction for both families for a number of years.9

First years in the Lords, 1699–1705

Norreys succeeded to the earldom following his father’s death from the effects of ‘an ague and a most violent fever’ in May 1699.10 Already a seasoned campaigner, with the peerage the new earl succeeded to the considerable Bertie interest.11 This included practically unchallenged influence at Westbury in Wiltshire and a commanding interest in New Woodstock and in Berkshire. The strength of Bertie influence in Oxford itself was demonstrated by Abingdon’s unanimous election as high steward in succession to his father, despite a concerted effort made by John Somers, Baron Somers, to set himself up as a rival candidate.12 Abingdon was also honoured with election as high steward at Malmesbury in place of another prominent member of the Junto, his cousin Wharton, though this appears to have given him only limited interest in the borough.13

Abingdon’s succession to the peerage occurred during the prorogation between the first and second sessions of the 1698 Parliament, so it was not until December 1699 that he was able to take his seat in the House, after which he was present for approximately 60 per cent of sitting days in the session. Named to three committees in January 1700, on 1 Feb. he was forecast as being in favour of continuing the East India Company as a corporation and on 8 Feb. he registered his dissent at the resolution to put the question whether the Scots colony at Darien was inconsistent with the wellbeing of England’s plantations. Two days later he subscribed the protest at the resolution to concur with the committee in the address to the king embodying the Lords’ resolutions concerning the Darien colony. On 23 Feb. Abingdon voted in favour of adjourning so that two amendments could be discussed in a committee of the whole House considering the East India Company bill.

Named to two further committees in March, Abingdon continued to sit until the close of the session on 11 April. That month it was speculated that he would soon be appointed lord lieutenant of Berkshire, a prediction that was proved right the following year.14 After the dissolution in December 1700, he employed his interest in Oxfordshire to force the sitting Member, his successor in the seat, Sir Robert Dashwood with whom he was said to have had ‘a misunderstanding’, to stand down at the election of January 1701.15 Abingdon’s kinsman Sir Edward Norreys was elected in Dashwood’s stead, along with Sir Robert Jenkinson, who was also returned unopposed on the Bertie interest.16 Elsewhere the family interest also held reasonably firm, with Abingdon’s brothers Robert and James being returned respectively at Westbury and New Woodstock. Despite a direct approach from Sir John Verney (later Viscount Fermanagh [I]), Abingdon seems not to have made use of his interest on Verney’s account in Buckinghamshire.17

Abingdon took his seat in the new Parliament on 20 Feb. 1701, after which he continued to sit for the majority of the session, being present on approximately 77 per cent of sitting days. On 14 Mar. he was named to the committee to draw up an address concerning the partition treaty and the following day he subscribed the first of a number of protests during the session, protesting at the resolution to reject the second and third heads of the report relating to the partition treaty. Three days later he dissented from the resolution to refer a head declaring that the French king’s acceptance of the Spanish king’s will was a breach of the treaty to the committee drawing up the address concerning the partition treaty. The same day he also dissented from the resolution not to send a head stating that the emperor was excluded from the latter stages of the negotiations to the same committee. On 20 Mar. Abingdon subscribed a protest complaining at the resolution not to send the address on the partition treaty to the Commons for their concurrence. On 15 Apr. he acted as teller during the division on the Brookfield Market bill and the next day again acted as teller on the question of whether to appoint a committee for the impeached lords. The same day he subscribed protests at the resolution to expunge the reasons given in a protest of the previous day from the Journal and at the resolution to appoint a committee to draw up an address requesting that the king not punish the four impeached lords until they had been tried.

Abingdon was appointed lord lieutenant of Berkshire at the close of April 1701. Further appointments also appeared to be in prospect, though the following month it was noted that his patent to be constable of the Tower had not yet passed and a report at the close of June that he was one of two peers thought likely to be made lord privy seal proved inaccurate.18 Amid these expectations, he continued to be active in the House and on 3 June he subscribed the protest at the resolution to accept the final paragraph of the answer drawn by the committee to the Commons’ message concerning the impeachment of the Whig lords. He subscribed a further protest on 9 June at the resolution not to appoint a committee to meet with the Commons’ committee regarding the impeachments. The following day he was teller for the division on whether to adjourn during the debates on the supply bill and was named to the committee considering the preliminaries for the trials of the impeached lords. On 11 June he protested at the resolution to put the question whether a lord being tried on an impeachment for high crimes should be without the bar of the House; three days later he protested again at the message to the Commons requesting a conference on the impeachments, and at the resolution to insist on the Lords’ resolution not to appoint a committee of both Houses on the matter of the impeachment of the Whig lords. Abingdon registered two more protests on 17 June, first at the resolution to put the question to acquit Somers, and second at the resolution to proceed to Westminster Hall for Somers’s trial; on the latter point he also acted as teller. The same day he voted against acquitting Somers.

Abingdon appears to have spent some time at Bath during the summer of 1701.19 He resumed his seat for the new session on 28 Feb. 1702, during the course of which he attended just over half of all sitting days. On 19 Mar. the House granted leave for him to bring in a bill to sell certain lands so that he could purchase others more convenient for the management of his estates.20 Ferrers reported from the committee considering Abingdon’s bill on 1 Apr., recommending it as fit to pass with certain minor amendments.

Abingdon’s prospects of being appointed to office improved markedly following the accession of Queen Anne. Lady Abingdon was one of the new appointees as lady of the bedchamber, while Abingdon himself was appointed to the Privy Council. Rumours circulated that he was to replace Wharton as comptroller of the household or be appointed constable of the Tower.21 By mid-April it was thought that the comptrollership lay between Abingdon and Colonel Granville (John Granville, Baron Granville of Potheridge) but in the event the place went to Sir Edward Seymour, 4th bt. Excused at a call of the House on 1 May, Abingdon resumed his seat three days later and on 7 May he was one of the managers of a conference on the bill for altering the oath of abjuration. On 16 May he acted as teller in the division on the question of whether to burn Bincks’s sermon, and on 21 May on the question of whether to dismiss Roche during the debates on Lavallin’s bill.

Following a month of speculation, Abingdon was finally constituted constable of the Tower on 21 May 1702.22 Nine days later he was also appointed lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire in place of Wharton. As part of this arrangement he relinquished his lieutenancy of Berkshire, which was granted to William Craven, 2nd Baron Craven.23 Abingdon’s uncle, Henry Bertie, joined him in the administration of the Tower as deputy governor.24 On 20 June the lieutenancy of the Tower Hamlets was added to his responsibilities and he was also appointed chief justice in eyre south of Trent, again in succession to Wharton. Clearly recognizing the Bertie ascendancy in the locality, the city of Oxford voted an address of thanks to Abingdon in June, in acknowledgement of ‘how exceedingly kind and helpful’ he had been towards the delegation present at the coronation.25

Following the dissolution, Abingdon was able to use his interest with Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, on behalf of his cousin D’Oyly, and from about this time he appears to have co-operated fairly closely with Nottingham in the House.26 In particular, they agreed warmly on the subject of defence of the Church. Abingdon was able to secure the return of two Tories at Woodstock in the August elections.27 The return of two more Tory members for Oxfordshire was a further reflection of his influence in the county, as was the queen’s decision to stay at Rycote on her way to Bath.28 Abingdon’s interest at Westbury came under unusually fierce attack, with both seats being taken by Whigs, though they were later unseated on petition and replaced by two of Abingdon’s kinsmen.29

Abingdon resumed his seat in the House on 20 Oct. 1702, and attended on 70 of the 91 days of the session, being named to five committees before the close of the year. Affairs in Parliament the following January were dominated by debates over the occasional conformity bill. As a well-known supporter of the Church of England, Abingdon was predictably enough assessed by Nottingham as being in favour of the measure. Later in the year the queen was reported to have assured Abingdon that she would stand by the Church, something that he was then able to communicate to the Oxford quarter sessions.30 On 16 Jan. 1703 he voted against adhering to the Lords’ amendment to the penalty clause, acting as a teller for the division. The following month, on 12 Feb., he acted as teller on the question of whether to read the copy of the survey in the case concerning his local rival, Wharton v Squire, and on 22 Feb. he registered his protest at the resolution not to commit the bill for the landed qualification of Members of the Commons.

Abingdon’s accrual of honours looked set to be crowned with an appointment to the order of the Garter in the spring of 1703 but the award did not materialize.31 He was also disappointed by the appointment of Sir Richard Temple as custos rotulorum for Buckingham, a place he had hoped would go to Scroop Egerton, 4th earl (later duke) of Bridgwater.32 At the opening of the new session in November 1703 Abingdon was again predicted as a supporter of the occasional conformity bill. On 14 Dec. he voted in favour of the measure and protested at its rejection. The beginning of the new year found him eager to use his interest on behalf of two men who sought commissions in the new regiments in Ireland.33 Ten days after resuming his seat following the Christmas recess, he acted as teller during the division over whether to adjourn the debate in the case of Ashby v White, and the same day (14 Jan. 1704) he entered his protest at the resolution to reverse the judgment in the writ of error.

On 1 Mar. Abingdon registered his dissent at the resolution to retain in the address to the crown requesting a pardon for Boucher the words making the pardon entirely dependent on Boucher making a full confession concerning the ‘Scotch Plot’. His name was included in a list of members of both Houses drawn up by Nottingham in 1704 which perhaps indicates support for him over the plot. On 3 Mar. he dissented again at the resolution to make known the key to the Gibberish Letters only to the queen and those lords nominated to the committee investigating the plot. On 16 Mar. he was teller on the question of whether to agree to the amendment in the report on the public accounts bill and the same day he registered a further dissent at the resolution to agree with the committee of the whole house to remove Robert Byerley’s name from the list of commissioners examining public accounts. Abingdon entered another protest on 21 Mar. at the resolution to pass the bill for raising recruits for the army and marines, and the same day dissented from the resolution not to add a rider to the bill requiring that the churchwardens and overseers of the poor should give their consent to the recruitment of men from their parishes. He registered another dissent on 25 Mar. against putting the question whether the failure to censure Robert Ferguson was an encouragement to the crown’s enemies during the debates on the Scotch Plot and he was then teller on the question of whether to agree to the motion that the failure to take up or prosecute Robert Ferguson was of dangerous consequence. He entered a further dissent the same day when the resolution was passed.

The marriage of William Courtenay of Powderham to Abingdon’s sister in July 1704 added a further element to Abingdon’s grouping in the Commons.34 Over the summer he was also engaged in developing an understanding with Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford. Abingdon insisted ‘how extremely I value the good opinions you are pleased to have of me and how much I shall always be devoted to your service’.35 Other areas of family politics proved less positive: matters between Abingdon and Wharton concerning the partition of the Lee estates once more came to the fore as Wharton attempted to overcome Abingdon’s delaying tactics and gain access to the papers concerning the Lee estates. In July the court of chancery ordered that Wharton should be permitted access provided he gave Abingdon a week’s notice. Wharton’s absence from town in September caused further delay. Towards the end of that month he declared himself willing to ‘comply with any reasonable proposition’ that might be to Abingdon’s satisfaction but by October he had clearly lost patience with Abingdon’s intransigence. Wharton also complained of the ‘squarson’, Francis Henry Carey for ‘confederating and combining’ with Abingdon to conceal the deeds. The lack of trust between the two parties is incontestable. Carey and his agents appear to have done their utmost to frustrate Wharton and in January 1705 Abingdon wrote approvingly to Carey of the care he had taken. He hoped that he would prevent Wharton from ‘having any opportunity of either falsifying or embezzling’ any of the papers. It was to take a further year before resolution of the dispute was arrived at by another order of chancery.36

Abingdon resumed his seat in the House for the 3rd session on 24 Oct. 1704, after which he was present on 65 per cent of sitting days. The following day he attempted to add a commendation of the conduct of Sir George Rooke with the Lords’ address to the queen but his motion was opposed by Wharton and Abingdon was unable to prevail on anyone to second him.37 Rivalry with Wharton came to the fore once again later in the year when the queen accepted Wharton’s recommendation for sheriff of Buckinghamshire despite Abingdon’s objections.38 With the session dominated by issues that threatened to divide the Tories ever more starkly from the Whigs, on 1 Nov. he was listed as being likely to support the Tack. By the beginning of the following month he was noted as at the head of one of the more intransigent Tory factions, whose ‘zeal is turned to rage’ and who were said to aim at manipulating a wholesale purge of Whigs from office.39 On 15 Dec. he argued in favour of the passing of the occasional conformity bill.40 He entered his dissent when the House resolved not to read the bill a second time and again when it was resolved to reject the bill.

During the febrile atmosphere generated in the House that month, Abingdon was responsible for averting a duel between Charles Finch, 4th earl of Winchilsea, and Charles Mordaunt, 3rd earl of Peterborough. Having overheard their argument, he moved for the House to enjoin them to reconcile.41 On 22 Jan. 1705, he protested at the resolution to reject the petition of Thomas Watson, the deprived bishop of St Davids, requesting leave to assign errors for a writ of error as part of the legal wrangling concerning his deprivation. The following month, on 27 Feb., Abingdon was actively involved in another of the prominent disputes of the session (again involving Wharton) when he was named one of the managers of the conference considering the case of the Aylesbury men.

Conflict with Marlborough, 1705–1710

Viewed with considerable suspicion by the Whigs, Abingdon was listed as a Jacobite in an analysis of the peerage drawn up in or about early 1705. The elections of May 1705 proved disappointing to him. His ‘creature’, Thomas Renda, failed to secure re-election at Wallingford; more worrying still was the emergence of a threat to the Bertie interest at New Woodstock.42 The grant of the manor to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, earlier in the year had given Marlborough a powerful interest in the town, which was extended still further when he was also elected the borough’s high steward. Marlborough’s new authority in the area threatened to bring the two parties into direct competition. Marlborough seems initially to have promised not to interfere in the borough, but the Oxford Member, Thomas Rowney, predicted that Abingdon’s candidates, his cousin Charles Bertie and Sir John Walter, were likely to ‘meet with strong opposition at Woodstock … contrary to all assurances and promises’.43 The resulting contest saw the return of Charles Bertie on his cousin’s interest and of William Cadogan, later Earl Cadogan, with Marlborough’s support.44

Complaints that Abingdon had refused to deal fairly with the duke led to calls for his dismissal from office. On 21 May Sarah, duchess of Marlborough, referring to Abingdon’s command of the Tower, commented that, ‘I should think a man that is a soldier had a better title to an employment of that nature than my lord Abingdon, who will never make a campaign but for Jacobite elections.’45 Marlborough himself added to the calls for Abingdon’s removal from office but was eager that it should not be seen to be on his account, suggesting to Sidney Godolphin, Baron (later earl of) Godolphin, that,

If you should think it for the queen’s service to put [Abingdon], out of his place I should be glad some other occasion might be taken than that of opposing at Woodstock, it being a reason that will not be approved of. He is so idle a talker that he will give many occasions.46

The Marlboroughs’ pressure worked and the same month Abingdon was removed as constable of the Tower. In July Marlborough’s man of business in Woodstock emphasized the extent to which the Berties had been sidelined there by declaring his intention of denying gifts of venison to those who had ‘violently espoused’ Abingdon’s cause.47

Further discomfitures followed and early in October it was reported that Abingdon was to join several other high-profile Tories being put out of office.48 According to one rumour his old enemy, Wharton, was expected to replace him as constable of the Tower, though this proved not to be the case.49 Although Abingdon was said to have resolved to live privately following his displacement, he appears to have been one of the instigators of a horse race held at Port Meadow in Oxford, which was set up as a direct rival to the annual event held in Woodstock, as a protest at Cadogan’s election. The duchess of Marlborough retaliated by sponsoring her own competition at the Woodstock meet. The turnout the first year was disappointing with ‘only a parcel of Whiggish, mobbish people’ appearing, while that held the following September attracted only one entrant, and very few spectators.50 In spite of his diminishing standing at court, Abingdon clearly remained a popular local figure. He was said to have been treated to a boisterous reception when he entered Oxford in October 1705, being greeted by ‘280 gentlemen on horseback and received by the acclamations of the people, the city music playing all the while’.51

Abingdon took his seat in the House at the opening of the new Parliament on 25 Oct. 1705, but his attendance during the session was dramatically reduced, with him present on just 28 per cent of all sitting days. On 12 Nov. he was excused at a call of the House. The same month, under instruction from her husband but apparently against her will, Lady Abingdon resigned her place as lady of the bedchamber, he being adamant that she could not retain her place when he had lost his.52 Abingdon resumed his seat on 15 Nov. 1705 and the same day protested at failure to agree a resolution to invite Princess Sophia to live in England. On 30 Nov. he acted as teller on the question of whether to agree the instructions to a committee of the whole concerning the Protestant succession bill. Following the division, he entered his dissent at the failure to give any further instructions to the committee. Abingdon again acted as teller on the question of whether to read a rider for a second time during the third reading of the Protestant succession bill on 3 Dec. and the same day he subscribed the protest at the resolution not to read the rider a second time to prevent the lords justices from giving the royal assent to any bill repealing or altering the 1673 and 1678 Test Acts. On 6 Dec. he entered a further protest at the resolution to agree with the committee of the whole in its conclusion that the Church was not in danger.

Abingdon failed to sit in the session after 19 Dec. 1705, entrusting his proxy to Charles Dormer, 2nd earl of Carnarvon, on 8 Jan. 1706. He spent part of the ensuing summer at Bath but he returned to London in time to take his seat in the House on 19 Dec. 1706, following which his attendance improved slightly to just over a third of sitting days during the session.53 On 8 Feb. 1707 he again registered his proxy in Carnarvon’s favour, which was vacated by his resumption of his seat on 15 February. On 27 Feb. he registered his dissent at the passing of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 15th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 25th resolutions concerning union with Scotland and on 4 Mar. he voted in favour of reading a second time a rider declaring that nothing in the bill for union should be construed an acknowledgment of the truth of Presbyterian worship or that the Church of Scotland was the true Protestant religion. He dissented again when it was resolved not to read the rider. Abingdon registered his proxy with Carnarvon once more on 10 Mar., but it was vacated by the close of the session.

Abingdon proved to be an elusive member of the House for the remainder of the year, sitting for a mere 6 out of the 108 days of the first Parliament of Great Britain. Given his opposition, it is of little surprise that he was omitted from the new Privy Council.54 Manoeuvring for candidates for Oxfordshire in anticipation of the anticipated elections in May 1708 offered him a chance of being restored to favour. It was acknowledged by Marlborough and Godolphin that their candidate, Godolphin’s son and Marlborough’s son-in-law, Francis Godolphin, styled Viscount Rialton (later 2nd earl of Godolphin), stood little chance without the support of the Bertie interest. Accordingly, Abingdon and Marlborough were reconciled formally in the spring of 1707 and the Tory candidate, Chamberlain Dashwood, was prevailed upon to desist from challenging for the seat.55 Although Abingdon seems not to have been wholly content with the arrangement, he was restored to favour and in May admitted once more to the Privy Council.56 The following year, Rialton was duly elected for Oxfordshire, along with the Tory Sir Robert Jenkinson.

The rapprochement failed to prevent the collapse of the Bertie interest at Woodstock, where Cadogan and Sir Thomas Wheate were returned unopposed, even those who had previously ‘been most zealous for lord Abingdon’ failing to mount a challenge.57 There was some consolation in Abingdon’s continued dominance at Westbury, where both his candidates, Henry Bertie and Francis Annesley, were probably returned without any opposition, despite tentative soundings by Henry St John, later Viscount Bolingbroke, for the second seat.58 One commentator criticized Abingdon for his behaviour in Oxfordshire, suggesting that he had ‘turned about and cringed to the Whiggish interest’.59 Whether he had performed a volte-face or not, he was thereafter consistent in his support for the Hanoverian succession and became a prominent figure among the ‘Hanoverian Tories’ in the Lords.

Abingdon took his seat in the 1708 Parliament on 16 Nov., and attended on approximately half of all sitting days. On 21 Jan. 1709 he voted against permitting Scots peers with British titles from voting in the elections for Scots representative peers. On 15 Mar. he acted as a teller in the division on the foreign Protestants naturalization bill and entered a solitary protest against the bill when it was passed. On 6 Apr. he was a teller in the division on the stamp duties frauds bill and on 12 Apr. he reported from the committee considering the bill on the commissioners of sewers in London.

Alliance with the earl of Oxford, 1710–14

Abingdon took his seat for the second session on 4 Feb. 1710 and although he was present for little more than a third of the entire session he soon became closely involved in the trial of Henry Sacheverell. When Sir Simon Harcourt, later Viscount Harcourt, requested a delay in opening the defence case on 2 Mar., Abingdon moved successfully for an adjournment. On 7 Mar. the corporation of Oxford requested that Abingdon and his brother Henry Bertie should present their address to the queen.60 On 14 Mar. he entered his protest at the resolution that it was not necessary to include the particular words supposed to be criminal in an impeachment. The same day he dissented from the resolution not to adjourn. On 16 Mar. he protested at the resolution that the Commons had made good the first article of impeachment against Sacheverell and the following day registered protests at the passing of the second, third, and fourth articles. Two days later he protested at the resolution to limit peers to a single verdict of guilty or not guilty and on 20 Mar. he found Sacheverell not guilty of the charges brought against him. The same day he entered his dissent at the guilty verdict and on 21 Mar. he dissented from the censure passed against Sacheverell. On 1 Apr. Abingdon acted as teller on the question of whether to adjourn the House. Following the dissolution he and his followers were at the forefront of those welcoming Sacheverell to Oxford during his progress in the summer of 1710.61 On 14 May, William Tilly preached a sermon in praise of the doctor at St Mary’s, and the following day Abingdon and Thomas Rowney entertained Sacheverell at a lavish celebration.62

As the head of a significant interest in the Commons, it is unsurprising that Abingdon was among those whom Harley hoped to attract to his new ministry. In September, Harley noted Abingdon as a ‘peer to be provided for’ and he also appears to have considered Abingdon for the office of captain of the yeomen of the guard.63 Harley’s success provoked his opponents to take extreme measures. At the close of the month news of a plot to bring in the Pretender circulated. Harley and his family were reputed to be at the head of the conspiracy but Abingdon was also among those named as being involved.64 The fictitious plot seems quickly to have been put to one side and Abingdon was, unsurprisingly, reckoned to be a Harley supporter in an assessment drawn up in October 1710.

In stark contrast to much of the rest of the country, where constituencies witnessed a Tory landslide, during the October 1710 election the Bertie interest at Woodstock collapsed. It was noted that an opportunity to throw out Sir Thomas Wheate was lost for want of an alternative candidate and when Abingdon was called away to Westbury, where he also found his normally invulnerable interest under threat, all hope was lost of displacing Wheate.65 Elsewhere, despite a number of challenges, the Bertie connection held firm. With the assistance of Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, the challenge at Westbury mounted by Henry Cornish was seen off and Abingdon’s brothers James Bertie and Henry Bertie were also successful at Middlesex and Beaumaris.66 Abingdon appears to have been suffering from poor health at the time. Towards the end of the month rumours circulated that he had died but despite this and his undoubted difficulties in Woodstock it is apparent that the Bertie interest in Oxfordshire as a whole was regaining some of its former potency.67 On 30 Oct. Marlborough complained gloomily to his duchess, ‘I do not see how I can have any pleasure in living in a country where I have so few friends, and after what has passed, it would be no surprise to me if I heard the earl of Abingdon were again lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire.’68

Marlborough’s prediction proved premature but Abingdon had clearly recovered some of his former vigour and he was soon after reappointed to the lucrative position of chief justice in eyre south of Trent.69 A report that his countess had been reappointed to the bed chamber at the same time seems to have been premature, Lady Abingdon not resuming her place there until January 1712. Abingdon’s health seems to have remained a cause for concern into November 1710 but he rallied in time to take his seat on 25 Nov., following which he was present on approximately 73 per cent of sitting days during the session.70 During January and early February 1711 he chaired 12 committees of the whole House debating the state of the war in Spain and a further two select committees considering matters relevant to the war.71 On 11 Jan. he gave it as his opinion that a letter read out by Peterborough as part of his evidence to the House was not done so ‘regularly’ as it was orated in French.72 The following day, after debating a procedural point as to whether the committee then sitting was to be considered a new one, Abingdon interposed that it ‘was the same committee; for the house resumed, and then adjourned during pleasure, before he could get directions to report’.73

Abingdon entered his dissent at the resolution to reject the bill to repeal the General Naturalization Act on 5 Feb. 1711 and on 9 Feb. he acted as a teller during the division on the question of whether to expunge part of the reason for the recent protest lodged against the state of the war in Spain. He seconded a motion proposed by William North, 6th Baron North, early in March that the sentence against James Greenshields had been illegal but the proposal was dropped following opposition led by John Sheffield, duke of Buckingham.74 Abingdon received his cousin Lindsey’s proxy on 12 Mar. but this was vacated the same day when Abingdon registered his own proxy with Leeds. The latter was vacated by his resumption of his seat on 5 April.

Harley’s elevation to the earldom of Oxford threatened to sour his relations with the Berties as the title was one to which they also laid claim.75 In May it was reported that Abingdon intended to enter a caveat against Harley but the dispute petered out following Harley’s agreement to take the double title of Oxford and Mortimer.76 On 23 May (two days before Harley’s introduction in the Lords) Abingdon, suffering from poor health, apologized for being slow in responding to a missive from Harley and insisted that it would ‘be for me the greatest uneasiness my distemper could give me, if it should hinder me from having the pleasure of introducing you to the House of Peers’. On 25 May he managed to rally himself sufficiently to officiate as deputy lord great chamberlain (Lindsey also being indisposed) at Oxford’s introduction.77

In advance of the new session, Abingdon was requested to continue to deputize for Lindsey as lord great chamberlain, as Lindsey remained indisposed and unable to attend the House.78 A list of December 1711 again estimated Abingdon to be a likely supporter of Oxford and he was also included on one of Oxford’s memoranda compiled shortly after the opening of the session. Having resumed his seat at the opening of the session on 7 Dec. 1711, he continued to attend on 85 per cent of all sitting days. On the first day he acted as a teller on the question of whether to make additions to the address in reply to the queen’s speech on the question of the peace. The following day he was prominent among the ministry’s supporters who were wrong-footed by procedural confusion in the abortive division to reverse the decision of the previous day.79 The chaos was described by Peter Wentworth to his brother Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford,

They that were for having the advice part of the address was ordered without the bar, and they that stayed in the house saw they would lose several they had the day before, cried yield, the others cried tell, tell, so that for some time there was a great noise in the house. The Keeper appointed two tellers, Lord Abingdon and Lord Sunderland [Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland]; Lord A would not tell because those of his part said yield, but Sunderland said if he did not do his duty he would his, and tell without him, and so begun. But they that would not be told hopped and skipped about, which was sport for us that were spectators.80

On 10 Dec. Abingdon was listed among those office-holders and pensioners who had voted with the ministry on the ‘no peace without Spain’ motion. On 19 Dec. he was forecast as being in favour of permitting James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], to sit in the House as duke of Brandon. During the debates on the Hamilton peerage case the following day, Abingdon spoke forcefully in favour of Hamilton’s right, desiring that:

the orders of the House might be read, and they would find upon their books that the duke of Queensberry [James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S]], was introduced into the House duke of Dover, that for three years he had sat and voted there as such without dispute; the only dispute was whether he could have a voice in the election of the sixteen and it was determined he could not, which was a farther acknowledgement of his being a peer of Great Britain.

In answer to Abingdon’s arguments, Sunderland and Heneage Finch, Baron Guernsey (later earl of Aylesford), pointed out that Queensberry’s case had never been properly decided and that his continued attendance was ‘only connived at for a time’.81 Unswayed by this, on 20 Dec. Abingdon voted against barring Scots peers with post-Union British titles from attending the House.82

Early in 1712 rumours circulated that Abingdon was to be appointed treasurer of the household but these again proved inaccurate.83 Meanwhile there were reports of tensions within the Bertie clan, with one correspondent recording how, shortly before the Christmas adjournment, Lindsey had withdrawn his proxy from Abingdon and handed it to Marlborough instead. The proxy was registered with Marlborough on 26 Dec. 1711 and the event gave rise to rumours that ‘there will be a schism in a certain county’.84 Such divisions failed to deflect Abingdon from his continuing activities in the session and on 18 Jan. 1712 he spoke to justify the regularity of the motion put forward by Edward Hyde, 3rd earl of Clarendon, for an address in response to that delivered on behalf of the queen.85 On 25 Jan. he acted as a teller on the question of whether to resume the House from a committee of the whole on the subject of the Scots peers. A controversial sermon delivered by Charles Trimnell, bishop of Norwich (later bishop of Winchester), on 30 Jan. was the occasion for complaint from several peers the following day. Abingdon joined in censuring the bishop, recollecting that ‘the drift of the sermon seemed to be calculated to extenuate the crimes of the rebellion, by reminding his audience that the Royal Martyr was the occasion of it by the prosecution of the ship money’.86

Abingdon was unsuccessful in moving that the abjuration oath should be altered on 15 Feb. 1712.87 On 21 Feb. he received Clarendon’s proxy and on 29 Feb. was a teller on the question of whether to agree to an amendment to the officers in the House of Commons bill. Abingdon chaired the committee considering the Duloe vicarage bill on 29 Mar. and committees of the whole House on 8 Apr. and 14 May. On 17 May he acted as teller on the question of whether to read the grants bill a second time and two days later as teller for the division on whether to go into a committee of the whole House to discuss the same measure, which he then chaired. The same day he was restored to his lieutenancy of Oxfordshire. Absent briefly between 23 and 27 May, he ensured his proxy was registered in favour of John Poulett, Earl Poulett.

On 28 May, he supported the ministry in voting against the opposition motion to overturn the ‘restraining orders’ preventing James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, from launching offensive operations against the French.88 A curious entry in the proxy book recorded that Abingdon registered his proxy again shortly after, this time in favour of Thomas Trevor, Baron Trevor, but as he was present in the House throughout the relevant period (6–12 June) this seems unlikely to be correct. Moreover, he also received the proxy of George Fitzroy, duke of Northumberland, on 7 June, which was vacated on 8 July. He told on the question of whether to add material to the address in response to the queen’s speech on the peace on 7 June. On 20 June he was again requested by the city of Oxford to present their address to the queen.89 Standing in for his cousin Lindsey, Abingdon then officiated as lord great chamberlain at Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke’s introduction on 8 July.

Having spent the spring and early summer of the previous year engaged with great matters of state, at the opening of 1713 Abingdon was concerned with a much smaller and more personal concern when he was forced to advertise in the newspapers for the return of one of his ‘hawking spaniels’.90 By the early spring, more pressing issues had returned to the fore and Abingdon featured on another of Oxford’s memoranda in March.91 The same month he was also listed by Jonathan Swift as being a likely supporter of the ministry. In April it was speculated that Lady Abingdon was to be put out of her place in the bedchamber to make room for Lady Masham but no such change of personnel came to pass.92 The episode may have added to (or been occasioned by) ministerial uncertainty about Abingdon’s continued loyalty. This was perhaps reflected in his inclusion on a list of those either thought to be possible opponents of the French treaty of commerce or who should be contacted about the measure. Meanwhile his attention appears to have been taken up with a protracted attempt to arrive at a settlement with Sir William Trumbull, to whom Abingdon owed money. By the winter of that year, Trumbull, frustrated by continual delays, was forced to initiate proceedings in chancery to settle the matter.93

Abingdon took his seat on 9 Apr. 1713, after which he was present for approximately 68 per cent of sitting days. On 13 June he was again listed as a possible opponent of the eighth and ninth articles of the treaty. Another analysis of the same day listed him as one of 12 court supporters expected to desert over the measure. He was one of the treaty’s most vigorous opponents: when the bill was rejected by the Commons, it was noted that even if it had passed it ‘would have been in danger in the House of Lords’ on account of the concerted opposition of Abingdon and Arthur Annesley, 5th earl of Anglesey.94 In spite of standing out against the ministry on this score, Abingdon was equally concerned by the rising profile of Oxford’s rival, Bolingbroke, and was reported to have been alarmed by the prospect of ‘blood and confusion’ resulting from the secretary’s ‘loose talk’ in favour of a restoration of the Pretender.95

The elections of August 1713 appear to have found the Bertie interest untroubled at Westbury, where Henry Bertie and Francis Annesley were again returned without opposition. The Bertie interest at Woodstock, on the other hand, seems to have all but disappeared. At the beginning of the month it was noted that Wharton had arrived in the town, accompanied by several people whom he intended to have sworn as freemen, but Abingdon seems to have failed to respond in kind to balance the interests.96 In the rest of the county the impression was similar and there appears little evidence of Abingdon exerting much influence in any of the Oxfordshire seats.

By the winter of 1713 Abingdon was said to be ‘in no great esteem’ with Oxford.97 He was also brought under increasing pressure to satisfy Trumbull’s claims and in December his countess was compelled to approach Oxford directly for the payment of both of their arrears.98 He took his place in the new Parliament of 16 Feb. 1714, following which he was present for the majority of the session, attending on 70 out of 79 sitting days. Prominent as one of the leaders of the Hanoverian Tories, Abingdon joined Anglesey, with whom he was now operating in close alliance, in deserting to the opposition on the question of whether the Protestant succession was in danger under Oxford’s administration.99 On 13 Apr. he acted as teller in the division on whether to append additional words to the address on the Protestant succession and four days later he again served as one of the tellers in the division on the House of Commons officers bill.

Abingdon moved the address of thanks to the queen on 20 April. On 27 May he was teller on the question of whether to commit the malt bill, after which he chaired the committee of the whole House considering the measure. Forecast by Nottingham as being in favour of the schism bill on 1 and 5 June he spoke vigorously in its favour.100 During a committee of the whole House on 9 June lasting from 1 pm to 8 pm considering whether there should be specifically nonconformist schools, Abingdon spoke firmly against, though the motion was carried by 62 to 48.101 On 14 June he acted as teller on the question of whether to agree to the amendment to the schism bill. On 5 July the House was informed of an argument between Abingdon and Maurice Thompson, 2nd Baron Haversham, which it was believed might result in blows. The House required the two peers to agree not to continue with their dispute. The nature of the argument is uncertain but it is possible that it was connected with an ongoing dispute between Haversham and Anglesey.102

Later life, 1715–1743

It is an indication of Abingdon’s influence both within the House and beyond, and of the importance of his connection with Anglesey and other ‘Hanoverian Tories’, that following the queen’s death on 1 Aug. he was appointed one of the lords justices to administer the country until the king’s arrival. As Strafford commented to him, ‘the distinction the king showed of your merit by the voluntary choice he made of your lordship is much more than the thing itself’.103 In January 1715 Abingdon was listed as one of the Tories still in office but in February of that year his attention was taken up with the sicknesses of his wife and one of his sisters.104 Both were attended to by Sir Hans Sloane but, while his sister rallied, Lady Abingdon’s condition worsened and she died on 28 April.105 Shortly after, on 2 May, Abingdon registered his proxy in favour of his colleague, Anglesey, which was vacated by his return to the House on 21 June.

Despite his support for the Hanoverian succession and the mark of favour shown him by his appointment as a lord justice, Abingdon was removed from all his offices in the course of 1715.106 This may have encouraged some to suspect him of developing Jacobite sympathies. He was listed as one of the Oxfordshire ‘chiefs’ thought sympathetic to a Jacobite restoration in 1721 and Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, urged Anglesey to encourage Abingdon to attend the House at the time of his trial two years later.107 Yet there is little reason to believe that he departed from his earlier convictions. Any sympathy for the exiled royal house did not prevent him from continuing to sit in the House for 27 years after the accession of George I. Details of the latter part of his parliamentary career will be considered in the second phase of this work.

Lacking an heir, Abingdon remarried in February 1717. His only son by this marriage, James Bertie, styled Lord Norreys, died aged just three months the following year. Abingdon himself died on 16 June 1743 and was buried at his particular request at Rycote, ‘and not in Westminster Abbey’. In his will he left considerable bequests amounting to over £10,000 to his relations and servants, as well as £200 to raise a monument to his father, mother, and first wife, stipulating that it be ‘handsome and decent rather than sumptuous and expensive’. He was succeeded in the peerage by his nephew Willoughby Bertie, as 3rd earl of Abingdon.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/727.
  • 2 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 682; Wilts. Arch. Magazine, xlvii. 324–5.
  • 3 Bodl. Tanner 21, f. 69; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 541; London Gazette, 3–7 Dec. 1702; General Evening Post, 12–14 July 1743.
  • 4 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 22; Post Boy, 22–24 June 1710.
  • 5 London Gazette, 16–20 June 1713.
  • 6 London Top. Rec., clxv, 55.
  • 7 TNA, C 104/110; E. Corbett, History of Spelsbury, 176–7.
  • 8 Add. 29567, f. 149; Browning, Danby, i. 552.
  • 9 TNA, C5/637/73.
  • 10 Add. 75369, R. Crawford to Halifax, 18 May 1699.
  • 11 Tanner 21, f. 71.
  • 12 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 541; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 469; Tanner 21, f. 74.
  • 13 C.A. Robbins, The Earl of Wharton and Whig Party Politics, 1679–1715, 156; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 682; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 315.
  • 14 Bodl. Ballard 10, f. 40.
  • 15 HMC Portland, iii. 641; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 469.
  • 16 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 469.
  • 17 Verney ms mic. M636/51, Sir John Verney to Abingdon, 3 Dec. 1700.
  • 18 Add. 61133, f. 3; Ballard 33, f. 58.
  • 19 Verney ms mic. M636/51, Cary Gardiner to Sir John Verney, 28 Aug. 1701.
  • 20 PA, HL/PO/JO/6/29/1764.
  • 21 Verney ms mic. M636/51, Cary Gardiner to Sir John Verney, 19 Mar. 1702; Add. 70073–4, newsletter, 16 Apr. 1702.
  • 22 CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 488.
  • 23 Ibid. p. 389.
  • 24 Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 164.
  • 25 Oxford Council Acts 1701–52, 12.
  • 26 Add. 29588, f. 111.
  • 27 VCH Oxford, xii. 402; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 478.
  • 28 Verney ms mic. M636/52, E. to Sir J. Verney, 23 Aug. 1702.
  • 29 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 695.
  • 30 TCD, King mss 1080, F. Annesley to Archbishop King, 6 May 1704.
  • 31 Add. 70075, newsletter, 13 Mar. 1703.
  • 32 Add. 61363, f. 55.
  • 33 Beinecke Lib. OSB mss 41, box 1, Abingdon to Southwell, 11 Jan. 1704.
  • 34 Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 445; HP Commons, 1690–1715, iii. 753.
  • 35 Add. 70021, f. 162; Add. 72498, ff. 112–13; KSRL, Methuen–Simpson corresp. ms c163, 7 Nov. 1704.
  • 36 C104/64, Wharton to Carey, 31 July, 23 Sept. 1704, [S. Yates?] to F.H. Carey, n.d, Abingdon to Carey, 18 Jan. 1705; C5/637/74; C33/303; D.A. Spaeth, The Church in an Age of Danger, 41-4.
  • 37 Add. 70075, newsletter, 26 Oct. 1704.
  • 38 Univ. Kansas, Spencer Research Lib., Methuen–Simpson corresp. ms c163, Methuen to Simpson, 26 Dec. 1704.
  • 39 Eg. 3359, ff. 45–46; Add. 61458, ff. 37–38.
  • 40 Nicolson, London Diaries, 253–4.
  • 41 Ibid.
  • 42 Add. 61458, ff. 158–9.
  • 43 Worcs. RO, Hampton (Pakington) mss, 705:349/4657/(iii)/37.
  • 44 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 478.
  • 45 HMC Buccleuch, i. 354.
  • 46 Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 440.
  • 47 Add. 61353, f. 5.
  • 48 Hearne’s Colls. i. 53; Add. 72509, f. 104; Add. 61122, ff. 56–57; Add. 72498, f. 130.
  • 49 Add. 70075, newsletter, 11 Oct. 1705; Add. 72490, f. 58.
  • 50 Hearne’s Colls. i. 61, 287; Bodl. Rawl. Letters 36, f. 2; VCH Oxon. xii. 332.
  • 51 NAS, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5438, newsletter, 16 Oct. 1705.
  • 52 HMC Portland, iv. 274.
  • 53 Add. 61296, ff. 51–52; Add. 72509, ff. 110, 112–13.
  • 54 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 174.
  • 55 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 470; Add. 40776, ff. 47–48.
  • 56 Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 788.
  • 57 Add. 61353, ff. 36–37.
  • 58 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 696.
  • 59 Hearne’s Colls. ii. 2.
  • 60 Oxford Council Acts 1701–52, 61.
  • 61 Holmes, Trial of Dr Sacheverell, 242.
  • 62 History of the University of Oxford, Vol. V: The Eighteenth Century, ed. L.S. Sutherland and L.G. Mitchell, 86.
  • 63 Add. 70333, Memorandum, 12 Sept. 1710.
  • 64 Add. 70144, Edward Harley to Abigail Harley, 30 Sept. 1710.
  • 65 HMC Portland, vii. 21; Add. 61353, f. 117.
  • 66 Pols. in Age of Anne, 175.
  • 67 Add. 72500, ff. 30–31; Wentworth Pprs. 151.
  • 68 Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1651.
  • 69 Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 47, ff. 102–4.
  • 70 Add. 72500, f. 35.
  • 71 Timberland, ii. 284; Bodl. Clarendon 90, ff. 158–9.
  • 72 Timberland, ii. 314.
  • 73 Ibid. ii. 319.
  • 74 NLS, Wodrow pprs. Wod. Lett. Qu. V, f. 148.
  • 75 HMC Portland, iv. 689.
  • 76 Add. 61461, ff. 124–5; Add. 70027, f. 168.
  • 77 Add. 70282, Abingdon to Harley, 23 May 1711; Add. 70027, f. 196.
  • 78 Add. 70278, Philip Bertie to Oxford, 10 Nov. 1711.
  • 79 Jones, Party and Management, 135.
  • 80 Wentworth Pprs. 223.
  • 81 Ibid. 227.
  • 82 Add. 70269.
  • 83 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 710.
  • 84 Lincs. AO, Massingberd Mundy mss, 2M.M/B/5.
  • 85 Wentworth Pprs. 253.
  • 86 Ibid. 261.
  • 87 Nicolson, London Diaries, 587.
  • 88 PH, xxvi. 177–81.
  • 89 London Gazette, 29 Apr.–1 May, 24–27 May 1712.
  • 90 Post Man and the Historical Account, 22–24 Jan. 1713.
  • 91 Add. 70332, Memorandum, 22 Mar. 1713.
  • 92 Add. 72500, ff. 156–8.
  • 93 Add. 72500, ff. 150–1, 153–4, 156–8, 173; Add. 72492, ff. 85–86, 127.
  • 94 Rev. Pols. 239; Northants. RO, Isham mss, IC 2325.
  • 95 HMC Portland, v. 662.
  • 96 Verney ms mic. M636/55, Fermanagh to R. Verney, 6 Aug. 1713.
  • 97 Add. 72501, ff. 62–63.
  • 98 Ibid. f. 68; Add. 70282, countess of Abingdon to Oxford, 3 Dec. 1713.
  • 99 Pols. in Age of Anne, 280–1; Wentworth Pprs. 366; Leics. RO, Finch mss. DG7, box 4950, bundle 24, ff. 57–58.
  • 100 Wentworth Pprs. 385.
  • 101 Timberland, ii. 427.
  • 102 Add. 72501, f. 141.
  • 103 Add. 22221, f. 5.
  • 104 Add. 47028, f. 7.
  • 105 Sloane 4078, ff. 270–1.
  • 106 Verney ms mic. M636/55, M. Lovett to Fermanagh, 7 Apr. 1715.
  • 107 E. Cruickshanks and H. Erskine Hill, Atterbury Plot, 106, 204, 250.