WATSON, Hon. Lewis (1655-1724), of Rockingham Castle, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. 29 Dec. 1655, 1st s. of Edward, 2nd Baron Rockingham, by Lady Anne Wentworth, da. of Sir Thomas Wentworth†, 1st Earl of Strafford, and coh. to her bro. the 2nd Earl. m. July 1677, Catherine (d. 21 Mar. 1695) da. and coh. of Sir George Sondes, 1st Earl of Feversham, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 7da. suc. fa. 22 June 1689, Lewis, 2nd Earl of Feversham in Kentish estates 1709; cr. Earl of Rockingham 9 Oct. 1714.1
Commr. for assessment, Northants. 1677-9, Kent 1679-80, Kent and Northants. 1689, freeman, Canterbury 1681; j.p. Kent and Northants. by 1701-d., Leics. 1708-d.; ld. lt. v.-adm. and custos rot. Kent 1705-d.; dep. warden, Cinque Ports 1705-8; steward, honour of Higham Ferrers 1707-16.2
Master of buckhounds 1703-5.
Watson’s ancestors had been seated at Rockingham since the middle of the 16th century. His grandfather, who sat for Lincoln in the last three Parliaments of James I, was first imprisoned by the Parliamentarians for acting in the commission of array, then imprisoned by the Royalists for collaborating with his captors. He was released and raised to the peerage in 1645, and after the Civil War heavily fined for his delinquency. The second lord, however, was an opponent of the Court; and Watson’s mother, ambitious as befitted the daughter of the great Strafford, wanted him to stand for Northampton on the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, ‘being a right Englishman, well affected to church and state’. Since there were several considerable competitors for the borough, she also wrote to her cousin John Wentworth asking him to reserve a seat for him at Aldborough. But it was not until 1681 that Watson entered Parliament. His wife’s position as heiress to the Sondes estate gave him an interest in Kent, and he was returned for Canterbury. He went to Oxford with the Derings, but was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges.3
Watson probably did not stand in 1685, and was noted later in the reign as one of the opponents of James II most considerable for estates, though he was still only the reversioner. At the general election of 1689 he seems to have been offered a seat at Sandwich through the good officers of his brother-in-law Sir James Oxenden. But apparently he preferred to wait for the vacancy at Higham Ferrers occasioned by the decision of Sir Rice Rudd to sit for Carmarthenshire. He was appointed to only one committee, that for preventing the export of wool, before succeeding to the peerage and an estate of £4,000 p.a. He remained a Whig in the House of Lords, though he was slow to sign the Association in 1696. He succeeded to the Sondes estates, valued at £3,000 p.a., in 1709, and was made an earl for the coronation of George I, being noted ‘chiefly for his zeal to our religion, our laws, and the Protestant succession in the house of Hanover’. His son and grandson both sat for Canterbury as independent Whigs, while his great-nephew, the second Marquess, was twice Prime Minister under George III.4