BLATHWAYT, William (1649-1717), of Little Wallingford House, Great Street, Westminster and Dyrham Park, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1685 - 1687
20 Nov. 1693 - 1710

Family and Education

bap. 2 Mar. 1649, o. s. of William Blathwayt, barrister, of the Middle Temple, by Anne, da. of Justinian Povey of Hounslow, Mdx., accountant-gen. to Queen Anne of Denmark.  educ. M. Temple 1665; Padua Univ. 1672; travelled abroad (Sweden, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France) 1672–3.  m. 23 Dec. 1686, Mary (d. 1691), da. and h. of John Wynter of Dyrham Park, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 1da. (d.v.p.).  suc. fa. c.1650.1

Offices Held

Clerk of embassy, The Hague 1668–72, Copenhagen and Stockholm 1672; asst. sec. of trade and plantations 1675–9, sec. 1679–96; clerk of PC (extraordinary) 1678–86, (ordinary) 1686–d.; surveyor and auditor gen. of plantations 1680–d.; under-sec. of state (north) 1681–3; sec. at war 1683–Feb. 1689, May 1689–1704; ld. of trade 1696–1707.

Freeman, Bath 1693.2


Blathwayt’s renown as a bureaucrat arises much less from any contribution he made to the perfection of the administrative machinery of state than from the sheer immensity of his workload and the ubiquity of his concerns. The height of his distinguished career came during the 1690s when, as acting secretary of state to William III while on campaign, he took charge of the diplomatic service and the running of the army under William’s personal supervision. In this unique position he was, in effect, the King’s chief executive servant, and enjoyed an omnipresence in the main spheres of administrative action. The diplomatist, George Stepney, a close friend and colleague of Blathwayt, saw him as an unabashed bureaucratic empire-builder, ‘the patron of those who hold the quill and who takes pleasure in protecting generally whatever belongs to his province’. Though he was never a royal confidant after the fashion of Portland or Albemarle, his monopoly of information, his mastery of detail, precedent and form, and above all, his close proximity to the King, made him a singular influence within the processes of royal decision-making.3

Blathwayt’s rise from a lowly clerkship in the diplomatic service to a series of senior posts at Whitehall was rapid, occurring within the space of a decade, 1668–78. Studious, cultured and linguistically adept, his diligence and organizational prowess won praise from several of the foremost of Charles II’s and James II’s administrators under whom he served, notably Sir William Temple† (in whose embassy at The Hague Blathwayt’s career began), Sir Joseph Williamson*, Sir George Downing† and Sir Robert Southwell†. It was through Southwell’s good offices that in 1683 he purchased the secretaryship at war. But for one short intermission in 1689, he held this office continuously until 1704, presiding over the running of the army during critical and formative years. Blathwayt’s greatest sphere of independent initiative was in colonial administration, afforded through his office as secretary to the Privy Council committee for trade and plantations, and as auditor of plantation revenues. He was not averse to accepting sizable gratuities from colonial assemblies, and was involved in many colonial disputes. He became rich from his several salaries and the emoluments of office, and in 1686 married the heiress of the Dyrham Park estate in Gloucestershire, ‘a very great fortune’. The knighthood, rumoured at this time to be in the offing, and which would have capped his professional success and prosperity, failed to materialize.4

Blathwayt had the good fortune to emerge unscathed from the 1688 Revolution. After William of Orange’s invasion he remained loyal to James II, though at what point he went over to William is not clear. His last routine letter under King James appears to have been written on 8 Dec. A few days later, after William’s entry into the capital, he was supplying the Prince with details of James’s forces. Sometime in January or early February 1689, however, Blathwayt was required to quit the war office. He was replaced in April by John Temple, son of his old mentor, Sir William, but was promptly reinstated when shortly afterwards Temple committed suicide. The new King soon found him an indispensable asset in military organization. Although William thought him dull company, he acknowledged to Lord Halifax that Blathwayt had ‘a good method’. Not only was he well informed, but he was the only English administrator who spoke fluent Dutch. The King was well aware that Blathwayt’s modernizing imprint had helped to make the English army under James II one of the best in Europe. The Earl of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) appreciation of his soundness also helped to smooth his passage. The Whigs, however, were not prepared to forget Blathwayt’s loyalty to the exiled Stuart, and in the early years of William’s reign accusations of Jacobitism were frequently made against him. These cut no ice with William who valued him highly. The early years of the new reign saw Blathwayt working in close association with Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), the secretary of state for the south under whose jurisdiction the war office came. Politically, he was an instinctive Tory with an obvious reverence for notions of prerogative power and executive discretion, and an impatience towards Whiggish concern for the rule of law. This, together with his unassailability and his extensive network of connexions, particularly in the realm of colonial patronage, where he engineered Tory appointments wherever possible, made him an object of scorn to Whig politicians. Their attitude to him was neatly encapsulated in Admiral Russell’s (Edward*) sniping reference to him as ‘that never-erring minister’.5

In February 1690, Blathwayt had objections to accompanying the King on campaign in Ireland, and it was widely understood that he was ready to resign his secretaryship to an official who was willing to go. William at first offered the post to George Clarke*, the army’s judge-advocate, but such was his reluctance to part with Blathwayt that he retained him in the permanent secretaryship and instead appointed Clarke to attend him as temporary secretary in Ireland. The King’s retention of Blathwayt in this manner irritated senior Whigs and puzzled even the Queen herself. In July Lord Monmouth confronted the Queen with allegations of Jacobitism in Lord Nottingham’s office, and in particular ‘fell upon Mr Blathwayt’. Reporting this discussion to the King, the Queen commented, ‘I owned I wondered why you would let him serve here, since he would not go with you, but I said I supposed you know why you did it’. Suspicions about Blathwayt’s loyalties must certainly have arisen, at least in part, from his activities in colonial matters. The King’s commission to him as secretary at war explicitly extended his jurisdiction to the colonies where in the first years of the new reign he busied himself with the reappointment of every one of King James’s Protestant governors. Blathwayt could ignore these charges by drawing attention to the far more urgent problems of poor co-ordination within the English administration and its inability to cope with the demands of the war in Ireland. ‘Nobody’, he complained in July to his old friend Sir Robert Southwell, ‘has a particular charge of general matters so as to watch and pursue the dispatch of them in the several places.’6

The cost of the army was a prime target of the newly formed commission of accounts in March 1691, and it was hardly surprising that Blathwayt as the army’s chief administrator should be examined at its very first meeting on the 13th. He was closely questioned in relation to the army accounts they had asked for, but, as one commissioner recorded, was not particularly co-operative and in certain respects appeared vague. In June he was mentioned as a possible successor to William Jephson* as Treasury secretary, on the assumption that Lords Nottingham and Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) would recommend ‘a friend of theirs’. The turning point in Blathwayt’s career came in February 1692 when the King constituted him acting secretary of state to accompany him on campaign in the Low Countries. William’s need was for a ‘bureaucratic’ rather than ‘political’ secretary, and Blathwayt, already directly responsible to the King in military administration, was ideally suited for his purpose. Blathwayt himself seems to have been none too enamoured of an arrangement that required him to endure the hardships of campaign, but his superior, Lord Nottingham, urged him to accept on the grounds that close proximity to the King would advance his prospects of appointment to the currently vacant northern secretaryship of state. He may also have been consoled by the thought that his discomforts would be limited to one or two campaigns at most. But as events turned out he attended the King on every one of his annual visits to the Low Countries until the last in 1701. As secretary at war he was effectively the King’s secretary in all military matters, while as secretary of state he administered the diplomatic service under the King’s direct supervision, acting as a vital filter for the huge amount of paperwork intended for the King’s attention. He was never given a patent for the acting secretaryship but had charge of the signet by royal commission. On his return from the 1692 campaigning season, Blathwayt’s hopes of the full secretaryship were disappointed. The eventual appointment of Sir John Trenchard* in March 1693 left him very bitter. Stepney wrote to an acquaintance in October:

methinks Mr Blathwayt is not in the humour he ought to be and I apprehend his resentment of not being made secretary of state (as he expected and ought to have been) may make him lie down his other employment or at least no more follow the King in Flanders which is as bad for those who are abroad. For certainly no other man can be found out who can acquit himself with such capacity, honesty and diligence as he has done, which I apprehend his Majesty may perceive when it is too late.7

In November 1693, Blathwayt entered Parliament for Bath, less than ten miles from Dyrham Park. He remarked at the time to Richard Hill, deputy-paymaster of the forces in Flanders, that he had been ‘for some time in Gloucestershire where my neighbours of Bath have made me a country gentleman’. Having declined the offer of a seat from the corporation of Newport on the Isle of Wight in December 1692 owing to ‘the multiplicity of my business’, he told Hill that although there were pressing reasons against accepting the Bath seat, he could not bear to ‘see others run away with a burgess-ship under my nose and to which I have secured an everlasting title’. His wife had inherited Dyrham in November 1688, and died leaving Blathwayt in possession in 1691. He began rebuilding the house in the current fashionable ‘Dutch’ style in 1693. Owing to ‘the multiplicity of my business’ Blathwayt never became an active participant in parliamentary proceedings. Such interventions of his as are on record were brief and formal. He occasionally presented papers or reports on military and colonial matters, while his most frequent function, inevitably, was to illuminate information in estimates and accounts. At most, when the House was debating, he did no more than to clarify or correct information given by other MPs. Lord Raby was to recall that when Robert Harley* was in the House, ‘Mr Blathwayt and others of the King’s people were almost afraid to speak’. In the realm of legislation, however, he was certainly involved in the framing of more bills than he is credited with in the Journals. There are examples of colonial and trading measures in which, although he was not included among the drafting MPs, he contributed important clauses either on his own initiative or at the behest of others. His chief concern as a ministerial spectator was with the progress of supply proceedings, and the successes and failures of the government’s efforts to raise money for the King’s campaigns was a recurrent theme in his correspondence when in England. One of his most exacting and sensitive tasks was in liaising between the Treasury and the King over war expenditure. During his very first sojourn abroad in the summer of 1692 Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) was writing to him anxiously, warning that funds were ‘falling extremely short’; and another letter implored him to represent to the King ‘the consequences of loading his revenue with more anticipations’.8

On taking his seat in November 1693, Blathwayt found the House preoccupied with opposition attacks upon the ministry’s handling of the naval war, and on 8 Dec. he informed Hill that ‘we have cut down our admirals again after hanging, and there the gallows is remaining, so variable are our proceedings and may yet be more’. When Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*) was disgraced in February 1694 and sent to the Tower for pocketing £2,000 of public money, Blathwayt felt that ‘the fault was indeed but small but the crime great, the House resenting his partial and furious animosity in the business of the sea admirals and his sudden turning upon the toe’. Rarely in Blathwayt’s voluminous correspondence, however, does one find much more than the occasional laconic comment about parliamentary proceedings. The same month, the Treasury finally agreed to his request of July the previous year to be paid the salary of a junior secretary of state for his services abroad. On this development he enthused to Stepney: ‘the King denies me no advantages that belong to the office during my execution of it which is more satisfactory to me in the present juncture than another tenure’. On 5 Mar. 1694 he was teller for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the mutiny bill. It was not long before senior opposition figures singled him out as a possible future focus of attack. In July, his friend Robert Henley* warned him that ‘it is discoursed by some men very seriously that you occasion the carrying of money out of England to be distributed to the confederates whose agent you are in that matter, which they say shall be brought into Parliament’. Any thoughts of attacking Blathwayt had disappeared by the time Parliament reconvened for the 1694–5 session, and he was able to inform Hill on 23 Nov. that ‘our Parliament has a very good countenance notwithstanding some frowns and moments of passion’. The following month he was reporting to Hill that ‘our affairs go on merrily with relation to the land forces for which the gentlemen will have the triennial bill’. He was granted a fortnight’s leave of absence on 21 Dec., but the ‘most ungrateful and terrible news’ of Queen Mary’s death hastened his premature return to London. Early in February 1695, as Sir John Trenchard succumbed to serious illness, Blathwayt was among those spoken of as a possible successor as secretary of state, but for the time being no new appointment was made.9

Blathwayt’s attentions were engrossed in a number of matters of direct interest to him during the 1695–6 session. On behalf of his corporation he initiated a bill for the navigation of the Avon between Bristol and Bath, obtaining leave for its introduction on 30 Dec. He presented it after some delay on 23 Jan. 1696, and only after a division, on the 27 Feb., in which Blathwayt served as a teller, was the bill consigned to a select committee where it was eventually dropped owing to the weight of landowner opposition. On 23 Jan. he supported a motion for a bill to prevent frauds and abuses in the plantation trade. Although this bill was subsequently steered through the House by a customs commissioner, James Chadwick, Blathwayt, who had gone down to Dyrham presumably in connexion with the navigation measure, kept in close touch with the bill’s chief instigator, Edward Randolph, the surveyor-general of the customs in America, and at Randolph’s request drafted an additional clause which declared that governors of proprietary colonies must first be approved by the crown. At the same time, his attention was engaged by the coinage crisis and the proposal for a council of trade. He remarked to Stepney at the end of December 1695 that, although he was gratified to see that the Commons ‘makes good dispatch’ with the supply, ‘the business of the coin meets with greater difficulties and the Parliament’s undertaking to appoint a council of trade by their own authority must needs be looked upon as a lessening of the power and influence of the crown’. Blathwayt’s independence in colonial matters made the Privy Council committee on trade and plantations, which he had served as secretary for the previous 20 years, a prime political target to those who objected to the prospect of a council of trade hand-picked by the King’s ministers. Blathwayt regarded the passage of the bill establishing such a council as a foregone conclusion, and was duly forecast as a likely Court supporter in the division anticipated on 31 Jan. Although there is no specific evidence of Blathwayt’s name being used by the opposition in the parliamentary struggle over the council of trade, the lord keeper, Sir John Somers*, and Admiral Russell were among his leading Whig detractors behind the scenes. But despite the implicit assault on Blathwayt’s position in colonial administration, his vast experience could not so easily be dispensed with, and, when the Board of Trade was set up in May, the Assassination Plot scare having enabled the Court to win its way, Blathwayt was named as one of the new lords commissioners, and until 1698 was the only MP among them. He nevertheless had to struggle against continual Whig machinations to pare back his enormous influence in colonial affairs. The first signs of the new limitations he would be under came when Somers, to Blathwayt’s intense annoyance, blocked the appointment of his cousin John Povey* as the Board’s secretary. In the debates on the fixing of the price of guineas in March, Blathwayt, unusually, did not at first support the ministerial view which, prompted by the Bank of England’s representations, favoured a fairly substantial lowering of the price of the guinea. He explained his position in a letter to Hill of 10 Apr.: ‘It is very true I divided [on 20 Mar.] for fixing the price of guineas at 25s. which I knew was not in the interest of the Bank but of the King and old England, and let me tell you the country gentleman had then Mr [William] Lowndes* and other honest men in his company’. However, when the King made it known that he was prepared to countenance a reduction to 22s., Blathwayt voted in favour on 26 Mar. An enthusiastic supporter of the Association, he reported in April with reference to the bill for securing the government that ‘we are doing great things in the House of Commons to strengthen the Association’.10

While Blathwayt was with the King during the summer of 1696, Charles Montagu*, the Junto Whig chancellor of the Exchequer, was careful to cultivate an acquaintanceship with him as a means of gaining the King’s approval of his schemes for the alleviation of the liquidity crisis precipitated by the failure of the land bank. Early in June Blathwayt wrote to Montagu:

You have done me a very great favour to entrust me with an account of transactions relating to the new [viz. land] bank wherein the part you have had has been so undeniably for his Majesty’s service and preservation of the government that we could not but have had more dreadful effects of the contrary if the conspiracy had not intervened when nothing else could perhaps have saved us. I have made the proper use of the informations you have been pleased to give by laying them before the King, who is fully satisfied of the truth of your advices and holds you more than justified from all the disappointments or misfortunes that have happened or may yet happen by the different measures that have been taken. However, matters being as they are and our necessities like to be every day greater, especially now the new bank have by their extravagant demands put themselves almost out of a capacity of serving the government, his Majesty recommends it earnestly to your care if it be possible that we may not be ruined at home by the stoppage of the circulation of the species or abroad by the want of supplies where the whole army is brought to that necessity that they must have readily starved without his seasonable assistance, which in truth his Majesty takes to be so very great a service at this time from the Royal Bank [the Bank of England] which . . . his Majesty enjoins you to let them know his Majesty’s sense of . . .

Following the Bank of England’s refusal to remit further money to the army early in July, Blathwayt found himself in the unenviable position of having to coax the Treasury into finding other means of meeting the desperate shortage of cash. Towards the end of June, Montagu sent him his scheme for Exchequer bills ‘that at your leisure you may correct it’. In his carefully worded response on 2 July Blathwayt praised the scheme as ‘certainly very good’ but believed that powerful City interests were bound to ‘endeavour a defeat and disappoint it’. Blathwayt’s tone quietly implied his belief that fanciful new schemes alone would do little to resolve the short-term crisis, and after expressing the King’s satisfaction with the Bank of England and its efforts to restore credit, he ended with a general plea to find urgent means of providing desperately needed cash. Through Blathwayt, the King sent an urgent message to Godolphin on 9 July warning that if money were not quickly forthcoming, the army would have to be disbanded to avoid starvation. The same day Blathwayt penned a frantic personal plea to Montagu: ‘Sir, I must repeat to you again, that our condition is such, that the army must inevitably perish if not relieved from England within a week or 10 days, so that for God’s sake, for all our sakes, and for your own sake, find some means to help us.’ Godolphin informed Blathwayt on the 14th that the Treasury could no longer supply the army and that if the King could not find credit abroad ‘we must lie down and die’. The King’s despatch of Lord Portland to London initiated the process whereby in mid-August the Bank furnished an additional £200,000, news which, as Blathwayt told Montagu, was received ‘with all joy imaginable’: though the 1696 campaign had achieved nothing, ‘this relief brings us indeed into winter quarters’. The crisis drew Blathwayt and Montagu into a closer working relationship, and during the 1697 campaign Montagu was once again wholly reliant on Blathwayt in the transmission of his views on financial issues to the King. Blathwayt’s faith in Montagu’s financial skill was underlined in his subscription of £2,000 to the contract for loans to circulate Exchequer bills in 1697. They also had a common friend in George Stepney, whose career Blathwayt was keen to advance, and in 1698 Montagu was instrumental in bringing Stepney onto the Board of Trade. In September of that year, in the midst of the furore over Montagu’s acquisition of the auditorship of the Exchequer, Blathwayt felt obliged to caution him not to betray any indication that he was taking the post as a possible refuge in the face of increasing adversity, advising him that ‘it will be so far from advancing your just pretensions that it may be of greatest prejudice to you’.11

The 1696–7 session was an uneventful one for Blathwayt. On 25 Nov. he presented the Board of Trade’s first report to the House, and the same day voted in favour of the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. He presented the mutiny bill on 11 Jan. 1697. His later absence from proceedings, however, is indicated by a grant of leave accorded him on 20 Feb. During the summer Blathwayt was heavily involved in co-ordinating the completion of the Treaty of Ryswick, and was unable to escape blame for various last-minute hitches. James Vernon I* remarked to the Duke of Shrewsbury that ‘the lords justices do not much admire this conduct; this is not like to recommend Mr Blathwayt to be secretary of state’. In the new session which opened in December he was greatly disturbed by the Country party’s efforts to disband most of the army. ‘This is uncomfortable news’, he wrote to Hill on 10 Dec., ‘to those that have served so well during the war.’ By the 24th he was relieved to report that ‘the Parliament are fallen into better humour and think to make amends . . . by providing a considerable fleet and for the King’s civil list during life’. However, the figure of 10,000 men at a cost of £350,000 which the House finally agreed in committee on 11 Jan. 1698 seemed to him ludicrously short-sighted. He begged Hill, in Flanders, to ‘lay this very gently before his highness [Prince de Vaudemont, the allied commander] and crave his pardon for our doings. So the brave army late under his command is like a shadow that fleeth away and is no more.’ Blathwayt irritated Vernon with a small indiscretion in the House on 1 June over the question of a request for lists of the army so far, and as yet to be, disbanded. In a short debate on the matter, his disclosure that such papers would not be made available ‘unless he had orders for it’ was immediately seized upon by Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., whose demand for them by way of an address threatened to raise the issue anew before the session closed.12

Towards the end of the 1690s Blathwayt began to grow impatient with the King’s continuing to impose on him as a peripatetic bureaucrat, particularly now that the war was over, and he began to crave a settled position at Whitehall. After the 1698 election he was classed as a Court supporter and a placeman in a comparative analysis of the old and new House of Commons. Returning early in December 1698 from the congress on the Spanish succession problem, he plunged almost immediately into his activities at the Board of Trade, particularly in connexion with Sir Edward Seymour’s bill to protect the English wool market by preventing the export of woollen manufactures and raw wool from Ireland. The Board considered the bill on 10 Jan. 1699, and it was largely on Blathwayt’s initiative that the prohibition was extended to woollen exports from the American colonies. On the 18th he presented to the House the Board’s representation in support of the bill including his proposed extension, and its referral to the bill’s committee of the whole ensured that the clause was incorporated and became part of the statute. On 4 Jan. in a debate in committee on the disbanding bill, Blathwayt, fulfilling an earlier request, briefed the House on the minimum number of troops the government considered necessary in peacetime. After a wrangle over whether he should be allowed to quote his figures from memory, he pointed out that the total of 7,000 favoured by Country spokesmen was hardly sufficient. He warned against too low a reduction, reminding MPs that ‘King Charles II had 9,919 men, and yet in King James’ time there could be spared or got together no more than 2,232 men against [the Duke of] Monmouth’. It was pointed out, however, that his own estimate of just over 8,000 included the 3,000 marines on the navy establishment, half of whom would probably be kept for the maritime garrisons, which ‘rather tended to satisfy the House that 7,000 would be sufficient for guards and garrisons’. He was no doubt relieved when the House eventually opted for the retention of 10,000, and he duly voted against the disbanding bill at its third reading on the 18th. On 14 Feb. in his capacity as the Board of Trade’s spokesman in the House, he presented its representation on the value of guineas.13

Blathwayt must have privately delighted in presenting to the House the Board of Trade’s report on 4 Dec. 1699 on the piracies committed by Captain William Kidd in the East Indies and his subsequent capture. Kidd had received a commission in 1697 to pursue troublesome buccaneers in whose captured booty his ministerial sponsors were to have a share. These backers had included Blathwayt’s old Whig critics Admiral Russell (since made Lord Orford), Somers and the Earl of Bellomont [I] (Richard Coote*) who had been at pains to keep the commission from Blathwayt’s knowledge as he was known to be on friendly terms with several colonial governors in league with the pirates whom Kidd was authorized to pursue. Kidd soon turned to piracy himself, however, and Blathwayt’s report on the 4th, detailing the circumstances of his arrest by Bellomont, now governor of New York, was one of several presentations of papers preparatory to the full-scale debate on the affair on the 6th in which the Junto bore the brunt of attack. Towards the end of the session Blathwayt handled the later stages of a general bill for the suppression of piracy. Bellomont’s antipathy to Blathwayt ran deeply. He held Blathwayt responsible for all the difficulties he encountered in fulfilling his governor’s duties at New York, and in a letter of June 1700 to Lord Bridgwater (John Egerton†), Blathwayt’s former colleague at the Board, spoke of him as an evil man so sinister that he could ‘countermine and traverse all the honest endeavours of a number of men’. More parochial matters also found their way into Blathwayt’s busy routine during the session, in the form of a new bill for the navigation of the Avon between Bristol and Bath. He moved for the bill on 9 Dec., presented it on the 16th and saw it committed on the 20th. But as with his previous bill, this measure, too, became hopelessly bogged down by opposition and failed to emerge from committee.14

In December 1700 it was rumoured that Blathwayt was to be created Earl of Bristol ‘in consideration of his services to his Majesty’, but apart from his salaries and the various emoluments of office he was never to receive any reward for his labours. Although Blathwayt shouldered a huge administrative burden, a burden which had tended to increase in the later 1690s as the King transferred his affections from Portland to the less adroit Albemarle, William plainly regarded him only as a working secretary and, as such, unworthy of an honour. Blathwayt’s unflinchingly detached view of politics is well illustrated by his remarks on the dissolution of December 1700. The dissolution, he told George Stepney on the 19th, had

caused the greatest heats imaginable among the parties, which, though they both say they will do the public business, seem resolved to treat one another unmercifully . . . if you would be secretary of state, now is the time. The two secretaries oppose one another in all their proceedings to please their respective friends.

During the new Parliament Blathwayt, a staunch enemy of chartered colonies and their ‘great irregularities’ of government, devoted much effort behind the scenes towards obtaining a bill for the annulment of the charters and uniting the colonies with the crown. The issue had been broached the previous session in a Board of Trade report delivered by Blathwayt, and on 29 Mar. 1701 he produced a lengthy representation embodying an extensive digest of complaints supplied by his chief associate in colonial matters, Edward Randolph. A bill was introduced in the Lords on 24 Apr. which Blathwayt did much to promote, strongly maintaining, for instance, that the crown was well within its right to demand the revocation of charters, but in June it was dropped owing to considerable Whig opposition. Besides presenting other army and colonial papers at various times, he is recorded as having supported the Court in a supply resolution to make good the deficiencies of funds since 1689.15

The pro-Whig ministerial changes at the end of 1701 prompted speculation in January 1702 that Blathwayt was to be replaced as secretary at war, one observer noting that it was unclear whether this was due specifically to his being ‘obnoxious to the Lord Somers’ party’ or simply a piece of ‘management’. On 28 Feb. he briefed the House regarding a petition concerning a complaint currently before the Board of Trade against Colonel Codrington, the governor of the Leeward Islands, and explained the Board’s procedure for hearing affidavits. He spoke again on 2 May in answer to Thomas Coke’s complaint that an army officer of foreign extraction had been promoted over the head of an English half-pay officer, and advised the House ‘very plainly’ that Coke had been misinformed. Blathwayt appears to have deliberately misled the House on this occasion, however, for his assertion that the English officer in question was not on half-pay was in fact patently untrue.16

With the death of William III in March 1702 Blathwayt suddenly found himself without the personal importance and prestige within the governmental machine which for so long he had derived from having close access to the monarch. He remained a member of the administration, being confirmed as secretary at war and as a lord of Trade in June and July. Marlborough, the newly appointed captain-general of the army, respected Blathwayt’s abilities, but they were never close and the Duke quickly established his own secretariat. As Blathwayt had been so closely associated with the late King, Marlborough could not but regard him with some suspicion, and saw him as a rapacious schemer. When in August 1703 Godolphin proposed to increase the perquisites allowed Blathwayt in the war office, Marlborough replied: ‘what you have in mind to do for Mr Blathwayt will never be opposed by me, but I can’t forebear saying, that when he had the allowances he now pretends to, he was obliged to ten times the expense he now makes, and had also much more business’. Although he was now frequently bypassed in military matters, he was content after years of arduous activity to defer to his old friend and superior, Lord Nottingham, reappointed secretary of state, while in colonial affairs Nottingham appears to have allowed him continued free rein, enabling him to secure the appointment of several friends and allies to colonial governorships.17

On 5 Jan. 1704 Blathwayt moved for the mutiny bill which he presented on the 22nd. He was one of a number of Court Tories named to draft the recruiting bill on 7 Jan. but remained unconvinced that it would answer its purposes. Early in April he was removed from the secretaryship at war amid the dismissals of Nottingham and other High Tory ministers. The exact circumstances were an unfortunate example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to Marlborough’s secretary Adam de Cardonnel*, Blathwayt’s impending displacement had first been mentioned ‘merely in jest’ on ‘St Taffy’s Day’ (1 Mar.) and Blathwayt himself had gone around merrily entertaining others with it ‘till it came really to effect’. As a non-political associate of Lord Nottingham he was an easy target. He reassured Stepney on 11 Apr. that the Queen’s disposal of his office to Henry St. John II* was

in such a manner and with such assurances that I have no reason to be very sorry for the loss, having finished that long course without the least imputation of deserving blame and continuing in my other places which will allow me sufficient leisure to enjoy the rest of my life which I could not well do before.

Despite talk that he was also to lose his place on the Board of Trade, he retained his post as a commissioner.18

Blathwayt’s association with Lord Nottingham did not extend so far as to support the Earl’s line on occasional conformity, however. At the end of October 1704 he was forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack, and on 28 Nov. he either voted against it or was absent. On 17 Jan. 1705 he featured among the ministerialists required to draft a bill levying duties on certain goods re-exported to Ireland and the colonies, and on the 22nd he presented a bill to encourage the import of American naval stores. In an analysis of Parliament after the 1705 election he was classed as a ‘High Church courtier’, and in the division on the speakership on 25 Oct. duly voted with the Court. He presented papers on 19 Jan. 1706 concerning the Newfoundland trade and on the 24th was appointed to a committee to consider means to stimulate it. More important was his renewed attempt at a bill to tighten crown control over chartered and proprietary colonies. Seconding Secretary Hedges’ (Sir Charles) motion for the bill on 14 Feb., he presented it himself on the 23rd, only to see it thrown out at second reading on 2 Mar. On 18 Feb. he supported the Court in proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill.

In April 1707 Blathwayt lost his place on the Board, a sacrificial victim of Godolphin’s need to bring more Whigs into the administration. Of the four commissioners dismissed, Blathwayt, with his detailed understanding of colonial issues, was by far the greatest loss. He went away deeply embittered, and his future dealings with the Board as auditor general of the plantations became acrimonious. His zest for public business and activity found other outlets, and on his constituents’ behalf he moved for a bill on 20 Nov. to effect the repair of several highways leading into Bath, taking charge of all its subsequent stages, and finally conveying it to the Lords on 21 Jan. 1708. Early in 1708 one parliamentary analyst classed him somewhat incongruously as a Whig, while another identified him as a Court Whig. It would certainly appear that once released from his strict obligations to the Court he began to behave in key issues more as a Whig than as a Tory. On the Palatine question, for instance, during February–March 1709, he voted in favour of naturalization. He also appeared in a printed list as having voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell early in 1710 although he was strenuously to deny having attended any of the debates, much less having participated in any division, owing to illness. It was indeed the publication of this vote which spelt the end of his parliamentary career. When it came to the Duke of Beaufort’s notice amid the summer election campaign, the Duke immediately announced his recommendation of another candidate. Blathwayt endeavoured to defuse the situation by asking his former colleague on the Board of Trade, Lord Dartmouth, now secretary of state, to disabuse the Duke of his notions, but to no avail. He was also forced to deny a rumour in Bath of his intention to have the city’s elections thrown open to all freemen in place of the corporation franchise if he were beaten. He virtually ensured his own defeat himself when just a few days before the election he sarcastically asked of General (John Richmond) Webb* in public ‘whether the bullet that was lodged in him was a musket or a cannon bullet’. Angered by this further instance of Blathwayt’s apparent tactlessness, members of the corporation were reported to have declared their resolution not to have ‘such a blunderbuss’ as their MP. His achievement of a poor third place in the poll was not unexpected, least of all by himself.19

Blathwayt was disappointed in his hopes that the Tory revival would restore him to ministerial favour. The new generation of Tory ministers had little liking for him. In 1712 Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II) derided the Hanoverian ministers as ‘the poorest tools, next to Blathwayt, that ever dirtied paper’. He was particularly desirous to return to the Board of Trade, but, when this failed to occur, his acrimony towards the Board was vividly displayed when the commission of public accounts examined him in 1711 on the subject of colonial finances. From then on he lived mostly at Dyrham, plagued with rheumatism but still conscientiously performing his duties as auditor of the plantations, and never deviating from the scrupulous record-keeping that marked a lifetime of administrative activity. After a year of serious illness he died at Bath on 16 Aug. 1717 and was buried at Dyrham Church. The bulk of his estate, bequeathed to his eldest son, comprised Dyrham and several Somerset manors originally inherited by his wife and held in trust by him since her death in 1691. A share in the manor of Egham in Surrey passed to his younger son.20

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


Unless otherwise stated, this biography is based on G. A. Jacobson, William Blathwayt; History, xxxiv. 28-43.

  • 1. IGI, London; Glos. RO, Blathwayt mss D2659/1, 3.
  • 2. Bath AO, Bath council bk. 3, p. 172.
  • 3. Wm. and Mary Q. ser. 3, xxxi. 404.
  • 4. I. K. Steele, Pol. of Colonial Policy, 22.
  • 5. Shrewsbury Corresp. 215.
  • 6. HMC Popham, 270–1; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/053/1, James Vernon I to Alexander Stanhope, 27 May 1690; Dalrymple, Mems. iii. pt. 2, 94; Age of Wm. III and Mary II, eds. R. P. Maccubbin and M. Hamilton-Phillips, 66; Wm. and Mary Q. ser. 3, xxxvi. 380.
  • 7. EHR, xci. 45; Bodl. Carte 79, ff. 368–9; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 357, 601.
  • 8. Add. 56241, ff. 7, 9; 9735, ff. 57, 59; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll., Blathwayt mss box 5, Blathwayt to mayor and corp. of Newport, I.o.W., 6 Dec. 1692; Wentworth Pprs. 132.
  • 9. Add. 56241, ff. 7, 10, 27, 29, 31; Christ Church, Oxf. Evelyn mss, William Draper to John Evelyn II*, 7 Feb. 1695.
  • 10. Add. 34354, f. 8; 56241, ff. 70, 72; 9719, f. 95.
  • 11. Add. 34355, ff. 1, 5, 7, 9, 20, 27; 37992, ff. 160, 161; Egerton 929, f. 22.
  • 12. Add. 56241, ff. 154, 160, 162.
  • 13. Irish Econ. and Soc. Hist. vii. 40–1; Cam. Misc. xxix. 371–2, 381–3.
  • 14. Shrewsbury Corresp. 136–7.
  • 15. Luttrell, iv. 718; S. B. Baxter, Wm. III, 326; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 204; Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss box 21, Blathwayt to Stepney, 11 Mar. [1701].
  • 16. Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss A81/IV/23/a, William to Francis Brydges, 27 Jan. 1701–2; Cocks Diary, 228–9, 279.
  • 17. Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 51, 72, 78; Luttrell, v. 197; MarlboroughGodolphin Corresp. 226.
  • 18. Add. 58221, f. 42; Luttrell, v. 411, 414; Blathwayt mss box 21, Blathwayt to Stepney, 11 Apr. [1704].
  • 19. Luttrell, vi. 163; HMC Dartmouth, i. 297; Glos. RO, Blathwayt mss D1799/X9, Blathwayt to mayor of Bath, 24 Aug. 1710; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(7), pp. 4–5.
  • 20. Bolingbroke Corresp. ii. 423; Boyer, Pol. State, xiv. 217.