LECHMERE, Nicholas (1675-1727), of the Middle Temple
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Family and Education
b. 5 Aug. 1675, 2nd s. of Edmund Lechmere of Hanley Castle, Worcs.; bro. of Anthony Lechmere*. educ. M. Temple 1693, called 1698, bencher 1714. m. 1719, Lady Elizabeth (d. 1739), da. of Charles Howard*, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, sis. of Hon. William Howard*, s.p. cr. Baron Lechmere 4 Sept. 1721.1
Jt. surveyor of petty customs, port of London 1704–8; filazer of ct. c.p. for Hants and Wilts. 1707–?14; QC 1708–11, solicitor-gen. 1714–15; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster June 1717–d.; attorney-gen. 1718–20; PC 1 July 1718.2
Freeman, Gloucester, 1710, recorder 1716–d.; freeman, Worcester 1719.3
Described by a modern historian as one of the Junto’s ‘chief lieutenants’ in the Commons, Lechmere was a Whig of the same radical and ardent type as his ‘patron’ Lord Wharton (Thomas*). An advocate of the original contract at the trial of Dr Sacheverell, vehement opponent of the Tory ministry’s peace policy after 1710, and vocal supporter of Dissenters’ rights, Lechmere became a leading Whig spokesman in the later years of Anne’s reign, establishing a political profile that led to his attainment of high office under George I. Before entering Parliament Lechmere established a lucrative legal career, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Sir Nicholas Lechmere†, and his Whig loyalties soon became evident. In January 1705 he acted as counsel in an attempt to obtain a writ of error against the judgment given in favour of John Grobham Howe* concerning reflections made upon him at the Gloucestershire election of 1702, and the following month was one of the counsel who appeared for the men of Aylesbury in their unsuccessful attempts to obtain a writ of habeas corpus. Following this failure, Lechmere and his fellow Whig counsel were ordered into custody by the Commons on 26 Feb. 1705, but the following day the serjeant-at-arms reported to the House that Lechmere had eluded him by leaving his chambers through a back window and with the aid of sheets and a rope. His links with Wharton may have led the Junto lord to make use of his services to canvass support during the ‘Church in danger’ debate of December 1705, and Lechmere’s relationship with Wharton certainly explains his return for Appleby three years later.4
Classed as a gain by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), Lechmere’s enthusiasm to engage in parliamentary debate led him, according to the recollection of Sir John Rushout, 4th Bt.*, ‘to speak in the House of Commons the instant he had taken the oaths; upon which a Member interrupted him, and facetiously objected to Mr Lechmere as not a sitting Member, he never having sat down in the House before he spoke’. Lechmere soon began to garner nominations to significant committees, including those appointed to draft a private estate bill (8 Dec.) and the bill for the ‘speedy and effectual’ recruitment of the army and marines (23 Dec.). On 10 Dec. he opposed the proposal, made in the committee of the whole, that interest on the land tax be raised from 5 to 6 per cent. Wharton’s continued influence upon Lechmere is indicated by Edward Harley’s* comment that this stance indicated that Wharton ‘is not yet satisfied’. On 22 Jan. 1709, during the debate upon the vote of thanks to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), he spoke in favour of censuring An Account of a Dream at Harwich, an attack upon the ministry, despite the main targets of the pamphlet having made it known that they wished the House to take no notice of ‘that libel’. Consequently, Lechmere’s appeal that the pamphlet ‘ought to be censured’ led the Commons to ‘burst out in a loud laugh’. Three days later, Lechmere ‘spoke long’ in favour of the Commons addressing the Queen in favour of her remarriage, and the session also saw him vote in favour of the naturalization of the Palatines. Lechmere took a particular interest in Scottish affairs, most notably in relation to the treason trials bill. This was intended to remedy what were perceived by Whigs and the ministry as the defects of Scottish treason law, which had allowed ‘not proven’ verdicts to be returned against five Stirlingshire lairds who had supported the 1708 Jacobite invasion, and Lechmere was appointed to draft it on 29 Jan. Though opposition from Scottish Members blocked the framing of such a bill, the Court initiated a similar measure in the Lords in March, which on the 28th was sent to the Commons following a stormy passage in the Upper House. Almost a decade later George Lockhart* recalled that ‘about the latter end of this session, Mr Lechmere moved for a bill to render the Union complete’, and it seems likely that Lockhart was remembering that Lechmere helped steer this bill through all its Commons stages, supported by all the members of the Junto save Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*). Lechmere’s interest in Scottish matters was also demonstrated by appointment on 21 Feb. to draft a bill to ascertain allowances for the export of Scottish fish and flesh cured in foreign salt, and by his nomination on 11 Mar. to draft the Scottish militia bill, which he presented the following day.5
Lechmere remained active in the 1709–10 session. He was involved in the drafting of more legislation concerning Scotland in January 1710. The same month he supported the unsuccessful proposal that the Whig majority in the Commons be used to remove Abigail Masham from the Queen’s presence, but his most significant activity in this session concerned the proceedings against Dr Sacheverell. An enthusiastic supporter of the impeachment, Lechmere was appointed on 14 Dec. to the committee to draw up the articles of impeachment and eight days later he was teller against allowing the clergyman bail. Lechmere lobbied successfully for censuring Sacheverell’s attack upon the Toleration Act, and when the Commons considered the articles on 11 Jan. Lechmere was prominent in their defence from Tory attacks. In one respect, however, he was not willing to press the Sacheverell issue as hard as other Whigs, as the Commons’ resolution recommending Benjamin Hoadly for preferment in reward for his attacks upon Sacheverell’s sermon was condemned by Lechmere ‘some time after’ in an unspecified Commons debate, as ‘indecent to her Majesty’ as she had previously approved another sermon attacking Hoadly’s. Lechmere was nevertheless appointed one of the managers of the impeachment, and on the opening day he was the prosecution’s second speaker. Lechmere’s style of delivery may not have been dynamic – according to a Tory diarist he ‘read without taking his eye off the paper, with graces and gestures peculiar to himself’ – but the content of his speech was striking. Although touching upon Sacheverell’s attack on the Toleration Act, his assertion that the Church was in danger and his defamation of the Queen’s ministers, Lechmere’s speech was concerned primarily with Sacheverell’s preaching of non-resistance. Lechmere argued strongly for the historical phenomenon of an original contract, by which
the nature of our constitution is that of a limited monarchy, wherein the supreme power was – by mutual consent and not by accident – limited and lodged in more hands than one . . . the consequences of such a form of government are obvious; that the laws are the rule to both, the common measure of the power of the crown and of the obedience of the subject; and if the executive part endeavours the subversion and total destruction of the government, the original contract is thereby broke, and the right of allegiance ceases, and that part of the government thus fundamentally injured has a right to recover that constitution in which it had an original interest.
For Lechmere the Revolution had witnessed just such a breach of the original contract, and he implied that the only possible rationale for Sacheverell’s sermon was Jacobitism. Lechmere’s next speech in the case did not come until 2 Mar., the day following the Sacheverellite disturbances in the city. Taking only half an hour to sum up the case against Sacheverell, Lechmere inveighed against ‘the doctor as the cause of that great rebellion, committed last night by the mob’, and completed his speech by declaring that
The doctrine of absolute non-resistance . . . can have no better tendency, than to shake the present settlement of the crown and our present establishment, and make way for the pretence of a natural and divine right of succession: are not those principles taught and avowed by papists and non-jurors . . . by which way of reasoning can it be concluded, that the same opinions, embraced by this gentleman, do not engage him in the same interest?
Lechmere’s concern for the issue of the security of the government was again evident in early March when it was reported that he ‘proposed a bill to be brought in for securing the Queen’s person and government’, and that his performance on this occasion led to threats to ‘send Lechmere to the Tower for giving ill language’. However, no such bill is noted in the Journals, and when on 9 Mar. the prosecution replied to Sacheverell’s defence, Lechmere spoke upon the first article of impeachment, reiterating his belief in the original contract. Needless to say, Lechmere was included in the printed list of those who supported Sacheverell’s impeachment. Following the verdict Lechmere was granted a three-week leave of absence to allow him to participate in the Oxford circuit, during which the passions that had been raised by his role in the Sacheverell trial became evident. Having been granted the freedom of Gloucester, he met with a series of harsh welcomes at Ludlow, Shrewsbury and Stafford, but most notably at Hereford where he was subject to the ‘visible disrespect’ of the corporation.6
Returned upon the Wharton interest for Cockermouth at the 1710 election, Lechmere was classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’. Rather than discourage him, the Whigs’ defeat at this election led Lechmere to greater parliamentary efforts in his party’s cause, so that in the final four years of Anne’s reign he became one of the leading opponents of the Tory ministry in the Commons. Lechmere’s intention to harry the ministry first became evident in the debate of 30 Nov. upon the Address. Having been given access to notes prepared by (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II* (4th Bt.) on the committee’s deliberations upon the Address prior to this debate, Lechmere proposed that the Commons should ‘humbly . . . caution her Majesty against such measures and principles, as might weaken the settlement of the crown in the illustrious house of Hanover, and advance the hopes of the Pretender’. The initial response to this attack upon the ministry was uninhibited criticism from a number of Tories, but eventually Robert Harley* spoke in favour of Lechmere’s motion, arguing that although the Protestant succession was already guaranteed, for the House to reject a motion in favour of Hanover would create the wrong impression, so that Lechmere’s clause was added to the Commons’ reply. One of Lechmere’s main concerns in this session was to defend the actions of the previous Whig ministry from Tory attacks. This first became evident in the debate of 19 Dec. upon the Bewdley election, at which his brother had been elected, when he ‘mightily opposed’ the condemnation of the 1708 charter as ‘it did reflect on the late chancellor [John Smith I*] and Chief Justice Holt [Sir John†]’. He opposed the second reading of the place bill on 21 Dec., and the session also saw Lechmere concern himself with Thomas Wylde’s* defence from a Tory petition against his return for Worcestershire. Absent from the Commons for a month from 23 Feb., presumably in order to attend the circuit, Lechmere returned to the House in time to vote against the amendments offered on 25 May to the South Sea bill. Later the same month he assisted James Lowther’s* attempts to gain legislation to prevent fraud in the importing of tobacco, a matter of some concern to the county in which Lechmere’s constituency lay. The session had seen Lechmere establish himself as a leading opponent of the ministry, and his rising status as a Whig spokesman was reflected by his inclusion in a satire upon the consequences of a Whig return to power. Published in The Examiner, this claimed that a new Whig ministry would introduce a bill ‘for qualifying atheists, deists and socinians, to serve their country in any employment’ and that Lechmere would be entrusted with its preparation. That Lechmere’s harassment of the ministry in the Commons had some irritant effect was also indicated in June, when he was removed as a Queen’s Counsel, a development that no doubt led him to express to James Lowther his belief that ‘not a Whig constable will there be to be found in 12 months’ time’.7
Lechmere’s intention to continue his vigorous opposition to the ministry was indicated by his appearing in Queen’s bench in October 1711 to defend the printer of a number of pamphlets critical of the ministry, when he argued that if ‘the severity of committing people without telling them of their crimes’ continued, then ‘the office of a secretary of state would be a Spanish inquisition’. His continued ability to antagonize the ministry is demonstrated by this ‘harangue . . . against the ministers’ which led to suggestions that Sir Robert Raymond* and Sir Edward Northey* would be dismissed from their respective offices of solicitor- and attorney-general for allowing Lechmere’s speech. Lechmere’s activity noticeably increased in the 1711–12 session. In the debate of 24 Jan. 1712 on the commission of public accounts’ report on the Duke of Marlborough, Lechmere defended the former commander-in-chief ‘by covering his faults with his many brave actions’. It was his opposition to the ministry’s peace policy, however, and its consequences for the succession which dominated his parliamentary activity. On 7 Dec. Lechmere had voted for the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, and on 17 Jan. 1712 he was appointed to prepare the address thanking the Queen for promising to communicate the peace terms to the House. His concern for the succession first became evident the following day when he proposed that the bill to confirm the precedence of the house of Hanover be committed to the Commons, so that it could be amended to create a peerage for the Elector and to allow him to come to England. He was, however, unable to find any support for this motion, and the bill was carried to the Lords without a division. He was, not surprisingly, a strong opponent of the ministry’s intention to abandon the provisions of the Barrier Treaty. On 4 Feb. he claimed that this Treaty was to be abandoned in order to establish an ‘inglorious and ignominious peace’, and in the committee of the whole ten days later he condemned the ministry for advising ‘the Queen to enter into a treaty with France contrary to the express words of the Barrier Treaty’. The 18th saw Lechmere named to the committee to prepare an address upon the state of the war, and in the ways and means committee ten days later he continued his attack upon the ministry’s peace policy, criticizing Henry St. John II’s suggestion that the allies had shirked their responsibilities, by pointing out that when St. John had previously served as secretary of war, he had asserted that the Dutch were contributing all they could to the war effort. When the address committee on the state of the war reported on 1 Mar. it became clear that Lechmere had had little influence as the address contained harsh criticism of the conduct of the allies and the previous administration, and emphasized the disproportionate burden Britain had borne in the conduct of the war. When it was moved that the address be presented to the Queen, Lechmere ‘gave it high commendations, and said it was a pity so fine a thing was not true’. Granted one month’s leave of absence on 28 Mar., presumably to go on circuit, he continued to inveigh against the ministry when he returned. On 22 May he launched a fierce attack upon the failure to communicate the peace terms to the Commons, being particularly critical of ministerial arguments that the delay in this had been caused by ‘distractions’, claiming that these had occurred as the ministry ‘had hearkened to such proposals, as the allies thought ruinous’, and of the willingness of ministers to shelter behind the name of the Queen for their actions. Six days later Lechmere criticized St. John in the debate on restraining orders, and the same day he was appointed to prepare an address thanking the Queen for communicating the peace terms to the Commons. Lechmere’s attack upon the ministry’s peace policy continued to the end of the session: on 10 June he defended Dr William Fleetwood’s preface to a volume of sermons in which the bishop of St. Asaph had criticized the peace terms; and the same day he attempted ‘to justify the States General’ of Holland in their printing of a letter vindicating their conduct in relation to the war against the Commons’ accusations. It comes as no surprise that shortly after the prorogation L’Hermitage described Lechmere as one of the allies’ most effective friends in the Commons, and according to Kreienberg he was even invited to a meeting with the ministry intended to reassure opponents of the peace that the Queen did not intend to abandon the allies.8
Lechmere remained unconvinced, serving in February 1713 as defence counsel in the prosecution of George Ridpath for seditious libels in the Flying Post relating to the ministry’s peace policy and the succession. When the ministry introduced, on 18 Apr., a bill for licensing the press, Lechmere opposed it on the grounds that it was an obvious attack upon Ridpath. Eleven days later he was appointed to examine the naval estimates, and in the course of the committee’s investigations Lechmere challenged the estimate, alleging that the first lord of the Admiralty was receiving double the salary that had been laid before the committee, but his complaints were brushed aside as a topic that at this time ‘did not properly lay before them’. May also saw Lechmere oppose, on the 18th, the tacking of the place bill to the malt bill, and the following day he spoke against an amendment to the bill, moved by Scottish Members and which received ministerial support, to reduce the Scottish duty to half the English, Lechmere telling the House that such an ‘inequality of taxes’ would be ‘of dangerous consequence’ with the possible effect of ‘creating a dependence . . . on the Court, who by them might oppress the rest of the kingdom’. Lechmere’s main concern in this session, however, was the French commercial treaty. When the bill for suspending the additional duty on French wine came before the Commons on 6 May, Lechmere was among ‘the chief of the Whigs’ who opposed the measure, arguing that it jeopardized the Portuguese trade and that Utrecht was a bad peace. He was included in a list of those who on this occasion voted against this bill. He was also prominent in the debate of 14 May, on the motion to bring in a bill to confirm the 8th and 9th articles of the commercial treaty, again arguing that it would prejudice English manufactures and trade with Portugal, and requesting that the Commons ‘might read over all the Acts of Parliament that such a bill must of necessity rescind’. Though the motion to proceed with the bill was won comfortably in committee, and though most Whigs, having lost this division, had departed from the Commons, Lechmere’s heartfelt opposition was emphasized by his insistence on dividing the House itself on the motion to bring in the bill, in which division opponents of the treaty could muster only 12 votes. On 10 June he continued his attack on the commercial treaty, being one of a number of Whigs who, in a committee of the whole on the bill to confirm the 8th and 9th articles, advocated that the English merchants trading to the Mediterranean who had petitioned the Commons upon this bill should be allowed to appear before the House. Lechmere naturally voted against the bill on 18 June. His final act of the session was to second James Stanhope’s motion of 1 July for an address to the Queen for the removal of the Pretender from Lorraine, and was appointed to the resultant committee.9
Lechmere’s return for Cockermouth in 1713 was only secured at the expense of his fellow Whig, Stanhope, and shortly after his election Lechmere wrote that he thought that following the election the Tories would outnumber the Whigs by ‘at least 3 to 1’, but consoled himself with the thought that ‘on the Court test, which is, for or against the bill of commerce, ’tis believed the bill has lost ground’. Lechmere’s arrival at Westminster was delayed by his obligations on the circuit, and in consequence he was absent from the division of 18 Mar. on the expulsion of Richard Steele, though he had been among those whom Steele had consulted in the preparation of The Crisis. He did, however, arrive in London in time to attend the committee of the whole on the succession on 15 Apr., and when it reported the following day he was one of several Whigs who made ‘strong speeches’ against the ministry, pointing out that the desertion of a number of office-holders on this question demonstrated that ‘our ministry was grown in contempt, even from those from whom they merited better’. Lechmere’s other major contribution this session came in the debates on the schism bill. On 1 June he argued ‘that the bill was calculated for a voracious appetite that would not be contented unless some sanguinary law was passed one in a twelve month’ and, in a reflection upon the Earl of Oxford (Harley) and Viscount Bolingbroke (St. John), he claimed
that the indulgences granted to Protestant Dissenters since the Revolution, had been so far from hurting the Church, that it had rather enlarged its pale; and that it was notorious that some persons, who had been bred among schismatics, were, or, at least, pretend to be the strongest supports of the Established Church.
Lechmere was again prominent on 23 June when the Commons considered the Lords’ amendments to this bill, proposing, in alliance with Robert Walpole II, that if Irish Dissenters were to be made subject to the provisions of the bill, they should enjoy the protection of the Toleration Act. This provocative motion was, however, abandoned after Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt., proposed that if it were accepted then a clause should be added to the bill preventing Dissenters from voting in parliamentary elections.10
In 1715 Lechmere was again returned upon Wharton’s interest at Cockermouth, and was classed as a Whig in the Worsley list and in two comparisons of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. As was to be expected, given his staunch support of both the Whigs and the Hanoverian succession, the accession of George I saw Lechmere rewarded with office. His quarrelsome nature and independent views limited his advancement, however, and he was politically inactive by the time of his elevation to the Lords. He died of apoplexy at Campden House, Kensington on 18 June 1727. Intestate and childless, his estate passed to his wife, and upon her death in 1739, to his nephew, the Tory Edmund Lechmere†. Lechmere’s stubborn, confrontational nature was perhaps the main reason for his forthright opposition to the Tory ministry of Anne’s last years, and his tenacity and lawyer’s skills allowed him to play a leading role in maintaining the Whig cause in the Commons during the years of Tory ascendancy, his contribution to the Whigs being acutely summarized in an obituary:
He was a person of great parts and learning particularly consummate in the laws of England, and parliamentary proceeding: a bold and strenuous stickler in the worst of times, for the Protestant succession; but of a haughty and assuming temper, which made him oppose any measures he did not like; and which for some years past, had rendered him obnoxious to those very ministers, with whom he agreed in principle.11
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
- 1. E. Shirley, Hanley and the House of Lechmere, 46.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 303, 471; xxii. 376; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 28 Feb. 1706–7; Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 4.
- 3. G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 236; W. R. Williams, Glos. MPs, 247.
- 4. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 241; Bolingbroke Corresp. i. 58; DNB (Lechmere, Sir Nicholas); Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 278, 325; Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 98–100.
- 5. Nash, Worcs. i. 561; HMC Portland, iv. 514, 517–18; J. A. Downie, Robert Harley and Press, 106–12; Add. 33225, f. 17; Nicolson Diaries, 473–4; Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 237; Lockhart Pprs. i. 300.
- 6. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 209; Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 98, 101, 131–3, 177, 201, 236; State Trials, xv. 16, 418; J. P. Kenyon, Revol. Principles, 134–5; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. box 21 no. 22, ‘Acct. of trial of Dr Sacheverell’, f. 9; Hearne Colls. ii. 351; HMC Portland, 534.
- 7. Wentworth Pprs. 160; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 930; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, f. 61; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/4, 5, Hon. Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.*, to Ld. Grange (James Erskine†), 19, 21 Dec. 1710; Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester, St. Helen’s), Cal. Wm. Lygon letters 398, Lechmere to Lygon, 18 Jan. 1710–11; Swift Works ed. Davis, iii. 71; Boyer, Pol. State, i–ii. 326; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/1/44, Lowther to William Gilpin, 29 May, 2 June 1711; D/Lons/W2/3/12, Lechmere to Lowther, 7 July 1711.
- 8. Boyer, 645; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 54, John Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 30 Nov. 1711; Scots Courant, 30 Jan.–1 Feb. 1712; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, ff. 90, 114; Wentworth Pprs. 266–7, 276; NSA, Kreienberg despatches 29 Feb., 4 Mar. 1711–12, 30 May, 17 June 1712; Add. 61461, f. 151; 17677 FFF, ff. 49–50; SRO, Leven and Melville mss GD26/133/158, anon. acct of debate, 22 May 1712; Cobbett, 1155; Tindal, Hist. Eng. ii. 271–2.
- 9. Boyer, v. 98; Kreienberg despatch 21 Apr. 1713; Add. 31144, f. 371; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss A81/IV/23/b, William to Francis Brydges, 16 May 1713; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 7, f. 155; Trumbull Add. mss 136, Ralph Bridges to Trumbull, 8 May 1713; Alphab. mss 51, Thomas Bateman to same, 15 May 1713; Cobbett, 1211–12, 1222, 1234; Wentworth Pprs. 334.
- 10. HMC Lonsdale, 247; Cobbett, 1267, 1347, 1350–1, 1355–6; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, ff. 69, 96; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 216.
- 11. Hist. Reg. Chron. 1727, pp. 25–26; Gent. Mag. 1739, p. 216.