Appendix VIII: Malefactors and Lunatics

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

Many Members fell foul of the authorities at some point in their careers and only the more spectacular misdeeds can be mentioned here. A number of MPs killed opponents in duels: Sir Thomas Armstrong (later executed for complicity in the Rye House Plot); the Hon. Henry Bulkeley, who had already acquired a conviction for manslaughter before crossing swords with Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory (fortunately without fatal results); Richard Coote and Roger Kirkby, who both killed fellow-officers; and Sir Jonathan Jennings. The circumstances of William Legge II’s conviction for manslaughter are unclear, and Henry St. John’s and Edmund Webb’s killing of Sir William Estcourt in a tavern brawl was treated as murder. All these were pardoned, although in the case of Henry St. John it reportedly cost his mother £16,000. More deserving of pity than censure perhaps is Sir John Chichester who murdered his mistress, probably while delirious, and died the same night of smallpox. Philip Howard might be termed a vicarious murderer: after separation from his wife, a wealthy widow who had tricked him over her jointure, he hired a couple of ruffians who beat two of her servants to death, and thereafter kept her ‘under a guard’.

Three Members abducted heiresses: the Hon. John Darcy, who with his father’s help carried off and married an 11-year-old girl; Thomas Thynne II, who virtually bought the 14-year-old Lady Ogle, heiress to the Percy estates, from her steward Richard Brett and was eventually murdered as a result; and William Thompson, who kidnapped an orphan heiress for his son Francis and took her to France. In the last case, local opinion was on the side of the Thompsons and they escaped punishment. Thomas Tipping contrived to marry his ward to a mistress of his own for which he was fined £5,000. He fled abroad rather than pay, and his outlawry was reversed after the Revolution. William Powell (formerly Hinson) was also accused of abusing his position as guardian. The charge was not proved but he already had an unsavoury record: before the Restoration he assisted in forcing his dying aunt to levy a fine on her land, having dismissed her servants and apothecary by force and fraud, and he may even have been an accessory to her murder. The conveyance was later reversed by Act of Parliament. Another Member who tried to pervert the course of justice was Roger Stoughton, who after a quarrel with his landlady maliciously indicted her of theft and sought to have her transported.

Two Members fell foul of the House for abusing their position as MPs: Thomas Wancklyn, who was expelled for issuing bogus protections; and John Ashburnham I, who was disabled from sitting for accepting a bribe of £500 to present a merchant’s petition. Perhaps this was a case of breaking the 11th Commandment. Another Member whose misdeeds resulted in his expulsion from the House was the Hon. Henry Brouncker, whose cowardice was responsible for the failure to follow up the English victory off Lowestoft, and who subsequently told the Commons that he had acted on the Duke of York’s orders.

A number of MPs were guilty of embezzlement: Francis Aungier and John Edisbury, who both diverted public funds to their own pockets; Andrew Fountaine, who acted as steward to Robert Coke I, whose life he had saved, but was dismissed when he was discovered to have stolen large sums of money; Roger Whitley, who was fined £20,000 for embezzling post office funds but maintained that he had been tried more for his politics than his peculation; and finally Richard Jones, 1st Earl of Ranelagh, who in 1708 was expelled the House and dismissed from office for misappropriating £72,000 of public money.

Several Members were convicted of treason after the Rye House Plot, but none of the charges was based on direct evidence and the men concerned may have been tried more for their past political activities than actual complicity in the plot. The Hon. William Russell was executed; John Hampden bought a pardon, but the trial seems to have affected the balance of his mind, and some years later he killed himself; the Hon. William Howard (who had already been imprisoned in 1672 for being a French agent) saved himself by turning King’s evidence; and Roger Norton fled abroad rather than face trial. Monmouth’s rebellion also resulted in a number of treason convictions: the Hon. Charles Gerard was subsequently pardoned and thereafter became an enthusiastic Whig collaborator; Sir Robert Peyton’s chequered career culminated in a conspiracy to foment a rising in the City, after which he fled abroad; Edmund Prideaux contributed money and horses to the rebellion and had to pay Judge Jeffreys £14,760 for a pardon; and George Speke, whose whole family was implicated, bought a pardon for £5,000. One of his sons was executed; another, John, had been dismissed by Monmouth for cowardice and fled abroad. Two Members came to grief for words rather than deeds: John Dutton Colt, who called the Duke of York a ‘damned Popish rascal’, was fined £100,000 for scandalum magnatum; and Brome Whorwood, who was prosecuted for saying that Charles I had justly been executed and that his son deserved the same fate ‘for he was a coward and a fool, governed by whores and knaves’, and who died while awaiting trial.

Two Members, the Hon. Henry and the Hon. Thomas Wharton, desecrated a church while drunk. Both were noted duellists and Henry subsequently killed a fellow-officer after a gambling quarrel. The Hon. Edward Montagu was dismissed from his post at Court for making amorous advances to Queen Catherine of Braganza (who innocently reported them to her husband), while William Montagu eloped with the wife of John Lewknor II, taking with him a casket of valuables. Other Members enjoyed the favours of their colleagues’ wives but they did so more discreetly and did not compound the offence by robbery.

Eleven Members are known to have been mentally unbalanced: Hon. William Brereton, victim of ‘a continued distraction, which some interpret madness’; Francis Buller, who died ‘in a frenzy’; John Denham, whose intermittent insanity was probably the result of tertiary syphilis; the Hon. Thomas Grey, who suffered from ‘folly with some touch of a tame mopish madness’; and John Wandesford, who was afflicted with bouts of severe depression. Sir Peter Gleane suffered from melancholia, and 13 years before his death built an elaborate tomb for himself with an inscription on it complaining that he had ruined himself in the King’s service; Sir Henry North inherited a tendency to melancholia which in his case manifested itself as a fixed belief that the woman he wished to marry was the daughter of his own illegitimate half-brother; and Michael Malet was eventually driven insane by his political and sexual obsessions. The Hon. Goodwin Wharton lived in a private dream world where he was irresistible to women, both real and imaginary. Whatever the cause of his delusions, his belief in them was persuasive; John Wildman I, who was perfectly sane in all other respects, joined him in a treasure hunt under the guidance of the spirit of an executed felon.

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Basil Duke Henning

End Notes