FOLEY, Paul (c.1645-99), of Stoke Edith, Herefs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
1698 - 13 Nov. 1699

Family and Education

b. c.1645, 2nd s. of Thomas Foley I, and bro. of Philip Foley and Thomas Foley II. educ. Magdalen Hall, Oxf. matric. 19 June 1662, aged 17; I. Temple 1662, called 1669. m. lic. 25 Mar. 1668, Mary, da. of John Lane, Clothworker, of Lawrence Pountney Lane London, 2s.1

Offices Held

Member, Society of Mines Royal 1666, asst. 1667-78; member, Society of Mineral and Battery Works 1666, asst. 1673-87; commr. for public accounts 1691-7.2

Commr. for assessment, Glos. and Herefs. 1673-80 Hereford 1679-80, Herefs. and Hereford 1689-90, I. Temple 1690; freeman, Bewdley 1673; j.p. Herefs. 1675-80, Mar. 1688-d.; bencher, I. Temple 1687; dep. Lt. Herefs. 1689-d.3

Speaker of House of Commons 14 Mar. 1695-7 July 1698.


‘A learned, though not a practising lawyer’, Foley was well versed in constitutional precedent. In 1670 he bought Stoke Edith, six miles from Hereford, from the heirs of Sir Henry Lingen, though much of his income must have come from his share in the family business. On the false report of the death of Ranald Grahme in the following year, he was proposed as country candidate for Leominster, John Birch ‘extolling his wealth and bounty in works of charity’. He was acceptable to the dissenters, employing ejected ministers as tutors for his children, and may have been a Presbyterian himself. He again thought of standing in 1675, this time for Weobley, but soon desisted. It was at his house that the local opponents of the Court heard his chaplain deliver a scathing attack on the bishops as a ‘dead weight’ in the House of Lords, and laid their plans for the next election. Foley was himself nominated for Hereford, which he represented in all three Exclusion Parliaments.4

Foley was classed as ‘honest’ on Shaftesbury’s list in 1679, and was not long in making his mark in the first Exclusion Parliament. He was appointed by full name to eight committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, but he was probably very active, with as many as 29 in all. He made eight speeches, ‘communicating his observations on the learning of records, to which he applied himself very closely’, and was described as ‘one newly started up into great vogue in that House’. His probable committees included those to bring in bills for regulating elections, prohibiting the import of Irish cattle, and security against Popery. He helped to draft the address for the removal of Lauderdale (6 May) and to prepare reasons for a conference on the appointment of a lord high steward to preside at the trial of the lords in the Tower. He served on a joint committee to make arrangements for the trial. Most of his speeches were on this subject, but he also spoke in the exclusion debate to assert that it was constitutional to alter the succession, though he was not sanguine about the result:

The question is now, whether there can be any other way to secure religion than what is proposed. I have observed what has been proposed another way, and had I received any satisfaction in matter of religion, I might possibly have closed with it. ... Do what you can, all may come to blood, but you will secure the Protestant religion by making the Duke incapable to succession by Act of Parliament.

He duly voted for the committal of the bill. Barillon, who credited him with drafting the bill, described him as an Independent and a republican, and rewarded him with 300 guineas for his services to France.5

Again very active in the second Exclusion Parliament, Foley may have served on up to 50 committees, and made 16 speeches. He served on the committee to inquire into abhorring, helped to draw up the second exclusion bill and to manage a conference on the Irish plot. He was on the drafting committees for four addresses, including that for the removal of Lord Halifax, whom he violently attacked as guilty by common fame of advising the dissolution of the previous Parliament. He was among those ordered to prepare the impeachment of Edward Seymour; nor did he spare his own kinsman Francis North, allegedly accusing him ‘of arbitrary principles, because he had heard him discourse to that purpose at his own table’, and moving for his impeachment. On 15 Dec. 1680 he declared ominously: ‘I would enable the Protestants to defend themselves against the Papists, or any in their behalf’, and he was named to the committee to prepare bills for security against arbitrary power. He was among those ordered on 21 Dec. to consider the bill for uniting Protestants and to bring in a bill correcting ecclesiastical pluralities. Showing remarkable prescience of the form to be taken by the Government’s counter-attack on its leading opponents, he warned the House that ‘men have been fined, not according to their crimes, but their principles’, and he was the first Member appointed to the committees to bring in and to consider a bill to prevent arbitrary fines. In the debate on exclusion on 7 Jan. 1681 he said:

The King proposed expedients the last Parliament but offers none now. If the King were not biased [by his counsellors] he is confident the King would be convinced. ... I propose that in his Majesty’s presence we debate this exclusion, etc. with the Lords whether any expedient can be found in this matter.

He made no speeches in the Oxford Parliament but was appointed to the elections committee, and to those to recommend a more convenient place for the House to meet, to prepare for a conference on the loss of the bill of ease for dissenters, to impeach Fitzharris, and to bring in the third exclusion bill.6

The new charter of 1682 broke Foley’s interest at Hereford for a time. In view of his public prognostication of bloodshed and civil war, it is not surprising that he was soon afterwards accused of complicity with (Sir) Edward Harley, Thomas Coningsby and John Dutton Colt in a plot to take over the Herefordshire militia. But no proceedings were taken against him and he remained at liberty until Monmouth’s invasion. He was then put under restraint, and on release left the county. Harley, his closest political associate, wrote on 16 Oct. 1685: ‘Our friends at Stoke went Monday last towards Oxford, all household broke up, stock dispersed, iron works set for seven years at £500 p.a. rent. The stock sold for £9,000.’ During his residence at Oxford he attended the proceedings of the ecclesiastical commission against Magdalen, and witnessed the severity of Sir Thomas Jenner. He was listed by Danby among the eminent Members of Parliament hostile to James II, but great efforts were made to win him over, for he was made a j.p. in February 1688 and licensed to empark Stoke Edith in June. Although not approved as a court candidate, by September he was sure of regaining his seat. As his mother was to write a few months later: ‘I think: he hath as great an interest as any man in a regular way can have’. He subscribed £50 to the loan to the Prince of Orange, and was duly returned at the general election of 1689.7

Foley was a very active and prominent Member of the Convention. He may have been appointed to 128 committees, taking the chair in seven, and made 35 recorded speeches. He was named to the committee to draw up a list of the essentials for securing religion, law and liberties, and helped to manage the conference of 5 Feb. on the state of the throne. On 22 Feb. he reported the bill to remove all questions and disputes about the status of the Convention and returned it to the Lords. He probably took the initiative over continuing legal actions and reviving expiring laws, since his name stands first on both committees. He was appointed to the committee for the suspension of habeas corpus, and delivered two reports on the authors and advisers of grievances. On matters of local concern, he brought in the Wye and Lugg navigation bill on 15 Mar. and was appointed to the committee on the bill for abolishing the court of the marches. He was named to the committees for the first mutiny bill, the bill of rights, and the new oaths of supremacy and allegiance, to which he was again the first Member appointed. On 1 Apr. he was among those ordered to prepare the repeal of the Corporations Act and to bring in a bill for religious comprehension. He chaired the committees responsible for making arrangements for the House to attend the coronation, and for a local estate bill. He served on the committee for the toleration bill and helped to manage a conference. He was among those ordered to conduct the inquiry into the delay in relieving Londonderry. He disliked the Lords’ amendments to the bill of rights, declaring: ‘Here is a power in the bill vested in the Privy Council to declare that the next heir shall inherit the crown’. On 22 June he reported the bill to annul the attainder of the Whig martyr, Alderman Cornish, and returned it to the Lords. He was teller with Thomas Coningsby against the adjournment of the debate on the Wye and Lugg bill on 4 July. Foley’s father-in-law had sat on the common council of London for ten years, and he was probably responsible for bringing the malversation of the orphans fund to the attention of the House, since he was the first Member appointed to a committee to bring in a bill for stricter control. He was added on 24 July to the committee to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords about Titus Oates, and reported a fortnight later. With John Hawles he was ordered to bring in a bill for security against Jacobites. He also helped to prepare reasons for a conference on reserving the power of the spiritual courts in the tithe bill.8

After the recess Foley was the first Member appointed to the committee for restraining expenditure at elections, no doubt in consequence of the defeat of the Whig candidate for the other Hereford seat by electors ‘not willing to make choice without money’. He was sent to the Lords on 26 Oct. to impeach the Earls of Salisbury and Peterborough as Roman Catholic converts. After a debate on the ill usage of prisoners in Newgate and other gaols, he was appointed to a committee to prepare a bill for the better regulation of imprisonment. On the following morning he brought in a bill ‘for establishing the rights of the subject’, and carried it to the Lords a week later. On 7 Nov. he delivered a report on the miscarriages of the war. He acted as teller for an address to inquire who was responsible for recommending Commissary Shales, and was appointed to the committee to draft it. On 2 Dec. he told the House: ‘It is impossible the King and kingdom should be safe as long as persons are in Council that have sat in King James’s Council’. On 10 Dec. he carried up the bill of rights and succession; but, like his brother Thomas, he was veering towards the country Opposition. He was named to the committee of inquiry into the state of the revenue on 14 Dec., and moved for ‘an humble representation to the King that things may be managed more to the satisfaction of the people’. He was appointed to the committees to draft an address for provision for Princess Anne and to consider the bill for restoring corporations. At the importunity of his constituents he acted as teller for excluding Hereford from the bill; but he supported the disabling clause.

It was endeavoured, the last two reigns, to pack a Parliament to subvert all our constitutions. ... We have ill ministers, and they are concerned that the same thing may be done again. Men have done all they can to annihilate their corporations, and we must not annihilate but restore these men! If there be any in corporations who are sorry for what they have done, they will take this for a very merciful proviso, that they may do no more mischief to corporations and to the King. Therefore, retain this proviso.9

Foley continued to sit for Hereford till his death. During the next Parliament he became leader of the country Whigs, his heavy eloquence, unadorned with wit or sparkle, commending him to the back-benchers. He was elected Speaker in 1695 and died of gangrene on 11 Nov. 1699. His son Thomas succeeded to an estate of £4,000 p.a. as well as to the Hereford seat. But his political heir was his son-in-law, Robert Harley II.10

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Edward Rowlands


  • 1. Vis. Worcs. ed. Metcalfe, 47; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 105.
  • 2. BL Loan 16; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1080; xii. 266.
  • 3. Univ. Birmingham Hist. Jnl. i. 109.
  • 4. Burnet ed. Routh, iii. 197; DNB; Econ. Hist. Rev. (set. 2), iv. 326; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 12 Jan. 1671; 29/49, Williams to Harley, 25 Feb. 1675; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 395; CSP Dom. 1675-6, pp. 460-1.
  • 5. HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 97; Grey, vii. 256, 300; CJ, ix. 620; PRO31/3, bdle. 146, f. 27v; Dalrymple, Mems. i. 383.
  • 6. CJ, ix. 648, 655, 656, 696; Grey, viii. 48, 67, 159, 228, 273; North, Lives, i. 193; HMC 12th Rep. IX, III.
  • 7. SP29/417/88, CSP Dom. 1682, p. 425; 1687-9, p. 211; BL Loan 29/140, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 16 Oct. 1685, 29/75, Mary Foley to Harley, 10 May 1689; 29/184/120; Grey, ix. 395; HMC Portland, iii. 385, 411.
  • 8. CJ, x 20, 51, 82, 89, 143, 156, 254; Grey, ix. 351.
  • 9. BL Loan 29/75, Mary Foley to Sir Edward Harley, 10 May 1 1689; CJ, x. 276, 280, 296, 322; Grey, ix. 422, 473, 480-1, 517-18; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 3, p. 73.
  • 10. Feiling, Tory Party, 311-12; M.I.