BUNBURY, Sir Henry, 3rd Bt. (1676-1733), of Bunbury and Stanney, nr. Chester
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Family and Education
b. 29 Nov. 1676, 1st surv. s. of Sir Henry Bunbury, 2nd Bt., by Mary, da. of Sir Kenrick Eyton† of Lower Eyton, Denb. educ. St. Catharine’s, Camb. 1694. m. 15 May 1699, Susannah, da. of William Hanmer of Bettisfield, Flints., sis. of Thomas Hanmer II*, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 20 Dec. 1687.1
Sheriff, Cheshire 1699–1700; freeman, Chester 1700, 1701.2
Commr. revenue [I] 1711–15.3
Though the first member of his family to enter the Commons, Bunbury was descended from a gentry family which had been established at Stanney since the 12th century. His family gained the manor of Little Stanney by marriage during the 14th century and gradually expanded their landholdings in the county so that by the reign of Elizabeth I they owned land in 13 townships, including the borough of Chester. Bunbury’s great-grandfather was an active Royalist, being imprisoned by Parliament’s forces for 18 months before compounding in 1646 for £1,700, and it was later claimed that the family’s support for the King during the Civil Wars cost it £10,000. The family’s political activity following the Restoration is obscure, but in 1681 Bunbury’s grandfather was awarded a baronetcy which Bunbury inherited aged only 11, following the death of his grandfather and father in 1682 and 1687 respectively. Some indication of Bunbury’s character as a young man is given by the claim of his 19th-century descendant that the playwright George Farquhar based the character of ‘Sir Harry Wildair’ upon Bunbury. Farquhar described Wildair as ‘an airy gentleman, affecting humorous gaiety and freedom in his behaviour’, and though there is no contemporary confirmation that Wildair was modelled upon Bunbury it is the case that the play of 1699 in which Wildair first appeared was dedicated to the Cheshire Tory Sir Roger Mostyn, 3rd Bt.*, suggesting that Farquhar may have been acquainted with Bunbury. It is clear that Bunbury played a full role in the busy social life of the Cheshire elite, and once he had entered the Commons he frequently preferred the company of a bottle of claret and his Cheshire circle to attendance at the early weeks of parliamentary sessions. Bunbury’s decision to enter Parliament suggests, however, that his nature was not entirely frivolous. This aspiration was first suggested in October 1700 by his admission to the freedom of Chester, and following his success at the contested election of January 1701 Bunbury held his seat until the death of George I.4
Bunbury maintained a low profile for much of his early parliamentary career. His only notable activity in the first 1701 Parliament was to report on 10 May upon a Cheshire estate bill, and six days later he obtained an indefinite leave of absence. Having been classed as a Tory in Robert Harley’s* list of the 1701–2 Parliament, Bunbury made only a slight contribution to the business of the House. In January 1702 he promised to pursue the claim of Chester merchants for money owed them in respect of the transport they had provided in the early 1690s to aid the war in Ireland, but though he informed the corporation at the same time that ‘I have not yet missed an hour in the House’ his only notable activity was his nomination to draft the estate bill of the Cheshire Tory Sir Thomas Stanley, 3rd Bt., and his appointment to carry to the Lords a bill continuing the act exempting apothecaries from selected parochial offices. On 2 Mar. he was granted a three-week leave of absence. Bunbury’s efforts to secure his interest at Chester, evident from his gift in March 1702 of £100 to the borough to clear debts accrued in the building of a new town hall, bore fruit in his uncontested re-election in 1702, and though his parliamentary profile remained low his partisan loyalties and concern to advance local interests were clear during the 1702 Parliament. In early 1703, for example, he twice petitioned the Treasury on behalf of Chester’s merchants, while on 4 Feb. 1704 he was ordered to carry to the Lords a bill concerned with the estates of the deceased Thomas Legh I*. Concern for the privileges of the Anglican church was indicated later the same month when he told in favour of adding to a bill concerned with Irish forfeited lands a rider on behalf of the bishop of Cloyne, and his Tory sympathies are clear from his inclusion upon a list drawn up in March by Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), probably a forecast of support on the Scotch Plot. The depth of these convictions was evident in a letter written in the summer of 1704 in response to rumours of a possible dissolution, in which Bunbury stated that his desire to remain in the Commons stemmed from a desire to do ‘the service of my country . . . and that I only think this can be performed by heartily espousing the Church of England as by law established in opposition both to popery and presbytery’. Given such sentiments, it is unsurprising that on 28 Nov. Bunbury voted for the Tack. His only other notable activity in the 1704–5 session saw him tell in favour of referring to a select committee a bill, supported by Cheshire’s button-makers, to encourage the manufacture of needle-work buttons, and in favour of accepting an additional clause to the bill to levy duties on imported wine and East India goods re-exported to Ireland or the colonies.5
Following his unchallenged return for Chester Bunbury spent much of the summer of 1705 in the company of his brother-in-law Hanmer (now 4th Bt.). Bunbury’s Toryism was clearly evident at the start of the 1705–6 session. He was listed as True Church in an analysis of the new House and voted on 25 Oct. against the Court candidate for Speaker. During the 1705–6 session he adopted a higher parliamentary profile. In the debate in the committee of the whole on 4 Dec. on the Scottish parliament’s actions relating to the succession Bunbury, described as ‘a young Member not known before’, was reported to have made ‘a very applauded long speech’ as part of the Tory attack upon the ministry. During the debate four days later on the ‘Church in danger’ resolution Bunbury emphasized the growth of Dissent, the general ‘contempt’ with which the Anglican clergy were viewed, and the ill-effects of the failure of the occasional conformity bills. He also figured in the debates upon the regency bill. The bill’s second reading on 19 Dec., for example, saw him oppose the motion of censure against Charles Caesar*, while on 15 Jan. 1706 he was one of a number of Tories who objected to the bill’s provision that Parliament was to meet ‘immediately’ following the death of the Queen, suggesting that this clause was only supported by those ‘gent[lemen] about town and in offices’ whose influence would thereby be increased relative to gentlemen normally resident in the country. During the consideration on 19 Jan. of the composition of the regency Bunbury ventured to query the possible problems of including specified office-holders on the regency council, citing the ‘inconveniences which may arise if impeached persons may be in those places’. His interest in the regency bill is also evident from his appointment on 4 Feb. to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to this measure. His only other significant activity in the session came two days later when he told against fixing the days upon which matters of privilege were to be heard. Bunbury’s burst of activity in the 1705–6 session was not sustained for the entire Parliament. Illness delayed his departure from Cheshire for the 1706–7 session until after Christmas, prompting a letter from the Speaker to Chester corporation informing them of a call of the House due in the new year. His only important act was to tell on the Tory side in the division of 5 Feb. 1707 on the Coventry election case. In the autumn of 1707 his journey to Parliament was again postponed, on this occasion until the end of November, but he had arrived in London by 9 Dec. when he was added to a committee. At the beginning of 1708 Bunbury was classed as a Tory, and it seems that he was among those Tories approached by Robert Harley* at this time in an attempt by the secretary of state to bolster his interest with the Tory party. That this was the case is suggested by a letter written in 1713 in which it was claimed that in early 1708 Bunbury, Hanmer and Peter Shakerley* were confident enough of their interest with Harley to assure a Cheshire resident seeking a place that ‘they believed they had interest enough to recommend’ him for a place in Harley’s office. Whatever Bunbury imagined his influence to be at this time, he was an inactive Member, making no significant contribution to the 1707–8 session.6
In a break with his recent behaviour Bunbury was keen to leave Cheshire in October 1708 to attend the opening stages of the session, ignoring the requests of his friends to remain in the county until his wife was able to travel with him. This eagerness is most explicable in terms of the efforts of Hanmer and Shakerley to ensure a large attendance of the north-west’s Tory Members at the beginning of the session when, in Hanmer’s words, ‘some matters of great moment are likely to be offered’. A list of Members dating from early 1708 classed Bunbury as a Tory, and he twice told in this interest upon disputed elections cases: on 16 Dec. in favour of declaring the tendering of the abjuration oath at the Westminster election a high crime and misdemeanour, and on 29 Jan. 1709 in favour of adjourning consideration of the Orford election case and thereby delaying consideration of the claims of the defeated Whig candidates. On both occasions Bunbury told in the minority, and at the beginning of February he complained to a Cheshire Tory of ‘the distraction and confusion of all transactions here’ and ‘the violence with which everything is carried’. He went on:
the business of Parliament is extremely tedious and vexatious this sessions, we try our elections at the bar and generally sit [on] them till one or two in the morning and then we can not convince people that 30 are more than three . . . this must end in the worst confusion and will at one time or other [result] in our quitting the House in a body, and then how public credit or the good of the kingdom will go on everybody may judge.
For the remainder of the session Bunbury showed some interest in minor mercantile affairs. On 10 Feb. he was nominated to draft a bill to encourage tobacco exports, telling on 9 Mar. in favour of setting a date for consideration of the bill by a committee of the whole, and on 7 Apr. he was appointed to consider a petition from merchants concerning a transport debt owing since the 1690s. He reported from this committee two days later. It seems, however, that the disillusionment with Parliament which had been evident as the 1708–9 session progressed may have lessened Bunbury’s enthusiasm for the Commons, as, having arrived in Cheshire in May 1709, he remained there until the beginning of January 1710. Having at last travelled to London, he told on 25 Jan. in favour of granting leave for the introduction of a place bill. Bunbury’s alarm at the proceedings against Dr Sacheverell is clear from a letter to his wife in which he was reported to have claimed that ‘the main design in Parliament after Dr Sacheverell’s trial is to make a new test whereby it is to be declared, that resistance against the king de facto or de jure is lawful and consentaneous to scripture’. Naturally he voted against the impeachment of Sacheverell.7
Following his return for Chester in 1710 Bunbury was listed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’. In October Hanmer wrote to the Duke of Ormond to thank him for his ‘kind inclination’ towards Bunbury, and the reason for Hanmer’s gratitude had become apparent by the end of the year when it was reported that Bunbury was to be added to the Irish revenue commission. No appointment was, however, made during the 1710–11 session. Bunbury was inactive in Parliament until February 1711 when he and Shakerley were consulted by Chester’s tanners concerning rumours that new leather duties were intended by the ministry. The Chester Members wrote a joint reply, but it seems that following the introduction in March of a bill to establish such duties it was Shakerley who was the more active on the tanners’ behalf. On 7 Mar. Bunbury did assist Shakerley in effecting the defeat of the Weaver navigation bill, a proposal felt to be injurious to the interests of Cheshire’s brine salt trade, but otherwise Bunbury’s attention was focused on less parochial matters. Having been the first-named Member appointed on 9 Mar. to prepare the Commons’ address on the attempted assassination of Harley, later that day Bunbury reported from this committee and twice reported from conferences with the Lords on the address. His support for peace with France is clear from his telling the following day in favour of repealing the bill prohibiting the import of French wine, and his Toryism was demonstrated in two tellerships upon the Weymouth and Melcombe Regis election case. Bunbury was classed as both a ‘Tory patriot’ who had opposed the continuation of the war, and a ‘worthy patriot’ who had helped detect the mismanagements of the previous ministry in this session. He was also listed as a member of the October Club. Bunbury’s behaviour at Westminster had done nothing to jeopardize his prospects of office, and his stay in Cheshire at the end of the session was brief. Prior to his return north Bunbury had been introduced to the Queen by Lord Oxford (as Harley had become) and less than a month after Bunbury’s arrival at Chester in June it had become public knowledge that he was to succeed a recently deceased Irish revenue commissioner. At the end of July Bunbury set sail for Ireland. Following his return in November a writ was issued for the by-election necessary upon his taking office, and, having been re-elected unopposed, Bunbury left Chester for London on 7 Jan. 1712 and was at Westminster by the 17th. A week later Bunbury spoke for the censure of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), but otherwise he made little impact in the House. In February he was lobbied by representatives of Chester’s tanners who hoped to persuade him to use his influence to obtain an act prohibiting the export of bark, a crucial raw material for the tanning of leather, the export of which had allowed the Irish leather industry to develop to such an extent that Chester’s tanners viewed it as a threat to their livelihoods. The concerns of Chester’s leather industry were, however, again pursued more by Shakerley than by Bunbury; it may have been that Bunbury’s Irish office constrained him from promoting a bill intended to hinder an Irish industry. Concern for Irish interests was evident on 20 Mar. when he reported and carried to the Lords a bill regarding the estates of an Irish peer. Bunbury returned to Ireland in the summer to resume his duties, and though in February 1713 Oxford granted him leave to return to England, Bunbury remained in Ireland, probably as his departure would have left the revenue commission there inquorate. He was therefore absent from the 1713 session, and at the election of that year was forced to entrust the management of his interest at Chester to Shakerley. He was nevertheless returned unopposed.8
Bunbury had returned to England by January 1714 and appears to have been in London for the beginning of the new Parliament. His speech of 18 Mar. against Richard Steele* was described by Kreienberg as being in the interest of the Court, but in the following month’s debate of the 15th on the succession Bunbury spoke against the ministry, being described as one of those who followed the lead of Hanmer in refusing to support the contention that the Protestant succession was not in danger. There is, however, little evidence that this speech indicated a general hostility on his part to the ministry. On 19 Apr. he told against an amendment to the bill to reduce the drawback on Irish tobacco imports, and on 6 May told on the Tory side in a division upon the Colchester election petition. He also told on 20 May against the second reading of a clause to the bill regulating the armed forces that would have given j.p.s the right to investigate fictitious names on army musters. That Bunbury had remained, in general, loyal to the ministry was suggested in June when he secured his requests for his revenue commissioner’s salary to be backdated to the death of his predecessor in April 1711, and that he be granted further expenses in respect of the costs of his first journey to Ireland. Both the Worsley list and a comparison of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments classed him unequivocally as a Tory. Bunbury remained a Tory following the Hanoverian succession, but his speech of April 1714 and his association with such leading Hanoverian Tories as Hanmer appear to have stood him in good stead as he initially retained his Irish place. Despite this mark of favour from the new ministry, however, Bunbury’s support for the new regime appears to have diminished, as in May 1715 he was found to be engaged in Jacobite correspondence and in possession of seditious pamphlets. In September he was therefore removed from the revenue commission. Bunbury died on 12 Feb. 1733.9
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Richard Harrison
- 1. Prescott Diary, 99, 606, 933; Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 395–6.
- 2. Chester RO, Chester bor. recs. assembly bks. A/B/3, f. 82; Chester Freeman Rolls ed. J. H. E. Bennet (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. lv), 207.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 432; xxvi. 340; xxvii. 91; xxix. 185–6, 740.
- 4. Ormerod, 392–6; J. S. Morrill, Cheshire 1603–60, 53; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1643–60, p. 1139; Works of George Farquhar ed. Kenny, i. 135; Chester bor. recs. assembly bks. A/B/3, f. 96.
- 5. Chester bor. recs. mayor’s letters M/L/574, Bunbury to Chester corporation, 22 Jan. 1701–2; Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 113; Northants. RO, Finch-Hatton mss FH 280 p. 17, Nottingham to John Methuen*, 11 Feb. 1702–3; John Rylands Univ. Lib. Manchester, Legh of Lyme corresp. Bunbury to Peter Legh†, 15 Aug. 1704.
- 6. Prescott Diary, 61, 63, 74, 128–9, 938–9; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/259/3, William Cleland to Hon. James Erskine†, 6 Dec. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 48, 55, 68, 76; Chester bor. recs. M/L/597, John Smith I* to Chester corporation, 24 Dec. 1706, Chester corporation to Smith, 28 Dec. 1706; EHR, lxxx. 684, 692.
- 7. Prescott Diary, 197, 234, 262–3, 270–1; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 163; Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Bunbury to Legh, 1 Feb. 1708[-9].
- 8. HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 320; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 665; Jnl. of Chester and N. Wales Architectural, Arch. and Hist. Soc. xliv. 41–44; Chester bor. recs. M/L/4/640, Shakerley to Sir Thomas Aston, 3rd Bt., 8 Mar. 1710[-1]; 652, Bunbury to Chester corporation, 27 June 1713; Prescott Diary, 313, 316, 339–40; Add. 47026, f. 70; HMC Portland, v. 30–31; Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. (1735), 488; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 132; Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Bunbury to Legh, 21 Feb. 1712[-3]; NLW, Chirk Castle mss E5996, Bunbury to Sir Richard Myddelton, 1st Bt.*, 6 May 1713; Cheshire RO, Shakerley mss, Bunbury to Shakerley, 30 July 1713.
- 9. Prescott Diary, 374, 425, 427, 429; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 18 Mar. 1714; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, ff. 69, 96; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 19 Mar. 1714; Holmes and Speck, 113; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 325; Parlty. Hist. xiv. 271.