STAWELL, William (c.1651-1702), of Parke, Bovey Tracey, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1651, 1st s. of Sir John Stawell, counsellor at law, of the Middle Temple and Bovey Tracey by 1st w. Sarah, da. of Nathaniel Stephens† of Eastington, Glos. educ. Exeter, Oxf. matric 6 Mar. 1668, aged 17; m. Temple 1669. unm. suc. fa. 1670.1
Commr. for assessment, Devon 1677-9, 1689-90, j.p. 1677-87, 1690-d.
It is probable that the Devonshire Stawells were a cadet branch of the Somerset family, but the line of descent cannot be ascertained. They were landowners in the county by the beginning of the I6th century. Stawell’s uncle was a Royalist captain in the Civil War, and his cousin, who inherited the family estate of Herebere, persecuted nonconformists. But his father, a lawyer, avoided commitment. In 1666 he bought a moiety of Ashburton manor and borough, seven miles from his home.2
Stawell was first returned in 1677 at the cost of £300 in a hotly contested by-election, and described as a very loyal subject. On taking his seat in the Cavalier Parliament, he remarked drily: ‘Home would have been a better place’. An inactive Member, he was named to only six minor committees. Shaftesbury classed him as ‘doubly vile’, and his name appeared on the government list of court supporters in 1678. Re-elected to the first Exclusion Parliament, he was marked ‘vile’ by Shaftesbury, but voted for the bill. Otherwise he was totally inactive, and he was not blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’.3
Stawell was not elected to the second Exclusion Parliament, but he came into great prominence during its proceedings. During the summer of 1680 he served as foreman of the Devon grand jury which presented an abhorring address. For this offence the serjeant-at-arms was ordered to bring him up in custody. But ‘Take-him Topham’ met his match: according to Roger North, Stawell
alleged that he knew no law for the taking away his liberty on account of what he did as a grand jury man in a court of justice, sworn, or to some such effect; whereupon the officer returned without his prey. And the matter was hushed up, some saying he was indisposed, others that he could not be found; and so nothing was farther done against him. And no more men of any sort were sent for into custody upon this account; for the wisest of the faction began to perceive there had been too many sent for already. I remember well that the name of this Mr Stawell was famous, and cried up in and about London, and all over England, and celebrated in healths of course, as of a general after victory, or rather a solemn assertor of the people’s liberty.4
Stawell regained his seat at the general election of 1681, and was re-elected in 1685, but left no trace of his activities either in the Oxford Parliament or James II’s Parliament. His removal from the commission of the peace was considered essential to the court interest at Ashburton, and he came in to William of Orange at Exeter. Nevertheless he failed to win a seat in 1689, though he sat for Ashburton again from 1690 to his death. Under William III he was a moderate Tory, signing the Association in 1696. He died on 18 June 1702, leaving debts computed at £15,000. He was the only member of the Devonshire family to sit.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. G. D. Stawell, Quantock Fam. 170-3; London Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. xcii), 132.
- 2. E. Calamy, Continuation, 347-8; Stawell, 143, 165.
- 3. Trans. Devon Assoc. xciv. 450; xcviii. 214; BL Loan 29/182, f. 241, Sir Edward Harley to Lady Harley, 24 Mar. 1677.
- 4. CJ, ix. 657, 671; Feiling, Tory Party, 177; North, Examen, 561.
- 5. HMC 7th Rep. 416; Trans. Devon Assoc. xciv. 451; C7/33/1.