ONSLOW, Sir Richard, 3rd Bt. (1654-1717), of West Clandon, Surr. and Soho Square, London

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



1679 - Mar. 1681
1685 - 1687
1689 - 1710
1710 - 1713
1713 - 7 Nov. 1715

Family and Education

b. 23 June 1654, 1st s. of Sir Arthur Onslow, 2nd Bt.† of Knowle and West Clandon, Surr. by Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Foot, 1st Bt.†, ld. mayor of London 1649–50; bro. of Foot Onslow*.  educ. St. Edmund Hall, Oxf. 1671; I. Temple 1674.  m. 31 Aug. 1676, Elizabeth (d.1718), da. and h. of Sir Henry Tulse, Grocer, of Lothbury, London; ld. mayor of London 1683–4, 3s. 2da.  suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 21 July 1688; cr. Baron Onslow 19 June 1716.

Offices Held

Freeman, Guildford 1676, high steward, 1701–d.; ld. lt. Surr. 1716–d.

Lt.-col. 1 marine 1690; ld. of Admiralty 1690–3; PC 15 June 1710–d.; chancellor of Exchequer 1714–15, teller 1715–d.

Gov. St. Bartholomew’s Hosp. 1698–?d.; trustee, Friendly Soc. 1700–?d.; commr. rebuilding Chatham, Harwich, Portsmouth 1709; gov. Levant Co. 1710–d.; commr. taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711.

Speaker of House of Commons 1708–10.1


Destined by birth to play a major role in the public life of his county, Onslow exceeded such expectations by establishing himself as a considerable figure at Westminster. His nephew, Speaker Arthur Onslow, revered him as an MP who ‘perhaps was the occasion of the introducing more good laws than any one man beside of his time’. But his career as a Country Whig politician was not without controversy. The 1st Earl of Dartmouth, a moderate Tory, described him as a ‘vain trifling man of a ridiculous figure, full of party zeal’, and at times his pursuit of principle was accompanied by much backstairs politicking. His association with Country Whig policies magnified his importance at key points in both reigns, but it also served on occasion to undermine his standing in the eyes of many of his fellow Whigs. Even though a steadfast adherence to Whiggish principles earned him the ‘contemptible denomination’ of ‘Stiff Dick’, such inflexibility contributed greatly to his long absence from office by leaving him exposed to the vagaries of party strife. However, he remained a parliamentarian of wide political interests, whose personal appeal extended to both country gentlemen and City merchants.2

By the time of the Revolution Onslow had already revealed his ‘steady attachment to the interests of the people’ as an Exclusionist MP for Guildford, the borough closest to the influence of the family’s Surrey estate at West Clandon. After the death of his father in 1688 he succeeded in securing one of the county seats at the election for the Convention, thereby continuing a family tradition which stretched back into the preceding century. Already a wealthy man, the task of preserving his local supremacy was further facilitated by such windfalls as a legacy of some £10,000 gained in 1693 on the death of his mother-in-law. As well as ensuring his financial independence, his wife’s mercantile background mirrored that of his maternal grandfather, connexions which evidently broadened Onslow’s gentrified outlook. He clearly had the means to rise in national political circles if his ambition directed him to attempt it.3

Onslow’s unopposed return as one of the Surrey Members in March 1690 gave further proof of his county stature, and this success was matched only two months later by his first public appointment as one of the commissioners of the Admiralty. Earlier in that year he had joined with his friend and Surrey neighbour the Earl of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†) to form a marine regiment and it was his ‘great friendship’ with the Earl rather than any personal familiarity with military affairs that earned him a commission as the lieutenant-colonel of the new force. Onslow’s promotion at the Admiralty formed part of the reshuffle necessitated by Torrington’s fall, and gave the first sign of his political acceptability at court. Torrington had warmly praised his efficiency as a marine officer, but Onslow had had little experience to merit the Admiralty appointment, a failing which would be exploited by Sir Richard’s opponents during the stormy debates on the navy during the 1690–5 Parliament. However, he defied his party by remaining loyal to his friend Torrington at the latter’s subsequent trial, and sought to justify his appointment by a fastidious attention to his duties, the hallmark of his approach to all his public responsibilities.

At the outset of the 1690 Parliament Onslow was classed as a Whig by Lord President Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), and his association with the Court was later attested by Robert Harley* in April 1691 and by another Carmarthen list in the following year. Initially, his attention to parliamentary business appears to have been circumscribed by the demands of his Admiralty post, and was largely restricted to military and naval affairs, beginning with his nomination to the drafting committee on a bill to encourage naval recruitment. On 25 Oct. 1690 he was appointed to the committee to examine the estimates for military expenditure, and on 10 Nov. acted as a teller in opposition to an adjournment of a debate on the armed forces.

The third session saw Onslow acting more prominently in proceedings, though mainly in connexion with Admiralty business. He was instrumental in initiating a bill for the registering of seamen, which he presented on 18 Dec., having on 9 Nov. delivered an estimate of naval expenditure for 1692, and was nominated to the committee to review that forecast. Five days later he rose three times to contribute to the debate on the naval estimates, taking the opportunity to stress the utility of the marines as a fighting force. He was subsequently selected for the committee appointed on 30 Nov. to consider the estimates for garrisons, and, after much acrimonious debate, had the delicate task on 6 Jan. 1692 of warning the House of the ‘very great’ naval charges that it could expect over the next 12 months. Also in connexion with military matters, he was named to the drafting committee on a bill to manufacture saltpetre in England. While the state of the navy demanded most of his attention, it did not preclude his involvement in a variety of other matters. Most significantly, he was highly critical of official corruption, thereby espousing a Country principle which was to remain a consistent feature of his political activity both in and out of office. On 1 Dec. 1691 he was one of the MPs who moved that the two candidates in the disputed Chippenham election case be declared ineligible to stand again after both had been condemned for electoral bribery. On the same day he backed a motion for the public accounts to lie on the table for MPs to inspect after criticisms had been made of the inefficiency of government officials. In an effort to highlight his own sense of public spirit, on 12 Dec. he supported Edward Russell’s proposal to donate the yield of any public office over £500 p.a. to the war effort.4

Onslow’s parliamentary profile had certainly been enhanced by his tenure of public office. Identified as a placeman in the course of 1692–3, he was also cited as a Court supporter by Samuel Grascome in early 1693. However, that prominence was not won without cost, and Onslow found the fourth session of this Parliament increasingly turbulent as wartime difficulties placed increasing pressure on the Admiralty to reform its commission. Onslow remained prominent in the House’s debates on the war, and on 21 Nov. 1692 he again emerged as one of the Admiralty’s principal protagonists in a parliamentary debate on the demise of English trade. Despite his constant activity, calls for a more professional Admiralty office clearly undermined his position, and he resigned his office in Feb. 1693 after Tory attacks had forced the departure of his fellow Whig commissioners Edward Russell and Lord Cornwallis. This torrid experience did not curtail his interest in naval matters, but it would be some time before he undertook public office again. The next session was, not surprisingly, a quiet one for Onslow, although the work of various committees to which he was nominated no doubt occupied some of his attention. He was also appointed, on 14 Nov. 1693, to the drafting committee on a bill to encourage the clothing trade, and carried up a private estate bill to the Lords. His former office caused further aggravation when a payment to him of £1,000 by William Jephson* in Oct. 1690 came to the attention of the commission of public accounts. On 9 Feb. 1694, the House was notified, however, that Onslow had been cleared of any charges of misappropriation after deposing that the money had been strictly for ‘public service’.

Onslow began to establish himself as an obvious and formidable figure on the back benches during the sixth and final session of the 1690 Parliament. He was nominated to many committees, including those concerned with several of his chief interests, such as the militia and Commons procedure. Local interests also secured his attention in the form of a bill to allow the Surrey parish of Christchurch to raise a rate for the maintenance of its minister. His activities from March 1695 onwards had a particular personal significance, especially his sponsorship of a bill to raise the militia, a task consistent with his later opposition to a standing army. On 12 Mar. he presented a bill to encourage the enlistment of seamen, a duty which indicated that the House could not afford to ignore Onslow’s expertise in naval matters even though he no longer held office. On 15 and 16 Apr. he chaired and reported from the committee of the whole House on the militia bill; and on the latter day was also a teller in opposition to a motion to reduce the period of liability by militia treasurers for arrears in the payment of trophy money. A few days earlier, on the 13th, he was chosen by the House as a manager for its conference with the Lords on the trial of (Sir) Thomas Cooke*, a meeting on which he reported to the Commons later in the day. He again acted as teller on 22 Apr. in support of a resolution of the committee of the whole House in connexion with a bill to levy duties on glass and coal. Returning to the Cooke inquiry the next day, he came second in the ballot for the election of the committee to examine the beleaguered Sir Thomas, and, in the wake of the revelations of that affair, was selected on 27 Apr. to the committee to prepare articles of impeachment against Carmarthen (now Duke of Leeds). On 2 May he was chosen as one of the managers of a conference with the Lords sparked by the Commons’ amendments to a bill to imprison Cooke and other named individuals.

Right at the end of the session Onslow gained much publicity on account of an acrimonious clash with Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., on 2 May. The origin of ‘much heat’ between the two MPs lay with Seymour’s observations on the proceedings of the committee preparing articles of impeachment against Carmarthen. Onslow responded with ‘some reflections on Seymour’, provoking the latter to a challenge. Onslow left the House with the clear intention of fighting but was called back on the order of the Commons, which, anticipating the ‘ill consequences’ of the affair, made both MPs promise not to pursue the quarrel. Having almost fought a duel with his brother-in-law Thomas Vincent over a ‘domestic concern’ in June 1691, Onslow’s ‘winning behaviour’ evidently concealed a fierce and determined spirit which paralleled his dogged attachment to certain political principles.5

This stormy end to the Parliament was followed by another difficult challenge at the subsequent general election. In the course of 1695 Onslow had proved himself an active representative of his constituents through, for instance, his presentation of an address to the King from the borough of Kingston in April, and by his campaigning in August for the disciplining of troops stationed at Guildford and Godalming. However, his subsequent decision to run alongside his uncle Denzil* for the county election was sufficient to provoke a challenge from the Tory Edward Harvey*, who rightly anticipated that he might capitalize on local resentment at the Onslows’ overbearing influence in Surrey politics. Sir Richard easily topped the poll, but Denzil only managed to prevail over Harvey by a narrow margin. As the succeeding series of Surrey elections would show, even in the absence of any clear rival for the status of county magnate, Sir Richard had to be on his guard at election time. Many years later, Lord Hardwicke (Philip Yorke†) acknowledged the legacy of Onslow’s sensitive handling of the Surrey electorate, observing that Sir Richard ‘used always to talk to the Surrey gentlemen as if he were nothing and it was their interest and support that he relied on, which took with them extremely’.6

Rather appropriately, one of Onslow’s first important appearances in the new Parliament was his appointment on 7 Dec. 1695 to a committee to prepare a bill for curbing the expenditure of candidates at parliamentary elections. After this bill had passed, Onslow presented another, on 1 Feb. 1696, to end irregular practices concerning election returns, and later carried the measure to the Lords. His interest in parliamentary matters was again illustrated when he acted as a teller in a breach of privilege hearing. However, his principal achievement in this session was the passage of a bill to encourage recruitment to the navy through the building of Greenwich Hospital and the establishment of a national registry of seamen. One observer attributed Onslow’s leading role in securing this Act to ‘his intimacy with the Admiralty being very great’, and his donation of £100 to the Hospital fund gave further proof of his commitment to the project. Four years later Onslow championed the Greenwich scheme as a source of great national pride, proclaiming it to be a fitting reward for those who ‘expose themselves to the utmost hazards for the honour and safety of England’.7

Other matters which attracted Onslow’s close attention in the 1695–6 session included the vesting of Irish forfeitures in the crown, and the repeal of a duty on waterborne coals, against which he acted as a teller for the majority on 24 Jan. Most importantly, his continuing support of the Court was apparent in his being forecast to support the establishment of a council of trade on 31 Jan., as well as by voting in late March to fix the price of guineas at 22s. Further opportunity to prove his loyalty to the Williamite regime came on the occasion of the Association, which he duly signed on 27 Feb. However, his Whiggish principles did not prevent him from acting in the cause of his friend Lord Torrington, for on 14 Mar. he reported from the committee on a bill to confirm a royal grant of property in the Bedford Level to the disgraced Earl.

In the next session Onslow took a leading part in articulating back-benchers’ increasing worries over the financing of the war effort. On 27 Oct. 1696 he was chosen as chairman of the committee of the whole House to study the issue of the recoinage, although only after a ‘difference’ over his appointment had been resolved. On 4 Nov. he reported from the committee of the whole investigating the removal of newly minted coins from the Tower and the failure of the fleet to intercept the Toulon squadron on its way to Brest. Such activity clearly directed his involvement in the subsequent debates on the deficiencies of parliamentary funding, and he was appointed on 5 Dec. to the committee charged with reviewing this urgent matter. On 16 Dec. he reported on the £350,000 debt due on account of the transport ships used in the suppression of Ireland, and seven days later reported from this committee on the loans secured on the security of the glass and coal duties. Beyond these critical matters, Onslow was also keen to return to the issue of electoral corruption, evidently believing that the measures produced in the preceding session had not gone far enough. On 28 Nov. he chaired a committee of the whole House on a bill to regulate parliamentary elections, from which he reported on 3 Dec., and on the 19th Dec. he was ordered to convey the engrossed bill to the Lords. His emerging reputation as a parliamentary expert was additionally suggested by an extensive committee workload. The new year saw no diminution in his activity, and in January 1697 he was appointed to a committee to draft clauses for a bill to ensure a stricter regulation in the manufacture and circulation of English coin. He was also ordered to prepare a bill to raise a toll for a highway between the Surrey towns of Reigate and Horley, and duly steered the measure through the House. Another familiar task came his way on 17 Mar. when he was ordered to prepare a bill to encourage naval enlistment.

Important as Onslow’s position within the House had become, uncertainties surrounding his political allegiance had begun to take root in the course of that session on account of his opposition to the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On 6 Nov. he was described as ‘resolutely’ against the attainder, and although he ‘said nothing’ in the debate on its recommittal on 17 Nov., he voted against the bill both on that day and in the major division on the issue eight days later. In making such a stand he divided not only from his party but from his two family colleagues as well, highlighting a spirit of independence which was to become increasingly obvious to all political observers. Although there can be little doubt as to the sincerity of his Whig views, his past support for such issues as the extirpation of governmental and electoral corruption made him a potential convert to an increasingly powerful Country opposition. There is little evidence to suggest that his exclusion from public office was his primary motivation for taking issue with Junto policy; indeed, a consistency can be discerned between his prior political activity and his subsequent opposition to the Court. He clearly did not view the nation’s enduring hardships with equanimity, lamenting as late as June 1697 that ‘our hopes of peace daily decline with so much dissatisfaction’.8

The first session after Ryswick saw Onslow distance himself further from the Court as his concern for good government manifested itself in open opposition to ministerial policy. The spark for Onslow’s revolt against the Court, in company with many other prominent back-bench Whigs, was the disbandment issue, and on 14 Dec. Robert Yard* singled Onslow out as an opponent to the ministry’s army proposals alongside ‘other gentlemen who used not to be of that side’. This observation was reiterated by James Vernon I* three days later, when Onslow successfully moved for a bill to regulate the militia and was first-named to a committee to prepare it. Onslow’s prominence in this debate was confirmed on 18 Dec. when he reported the committee of the whole House’s resolution which called for defence forces to be set at a maximum of 10,000 soldiers for the following year. In an attempt to maintain this pressure on the ministry, he acted as a teller on 8 Jan. 1698 in defence of the wording of an instruction to that committee to consider the charges of the army for the coming year. The bill to regulate the militia which he presented to the House on 26 Feb. revealed a constructive response to the problem of national defence that belied any suggestion of politicking on Onslow’s part. Moreover, during the heated debates which ensued on 4 Mar. he ‘represented the usefulness’ of the marine regiments as an economical fighting force, and three days later ‘dealt pretty severely’ with criticisms levelled at his militia scheme by Sir William Williams, 1st Bt. He then reported on 24 Mar. and 14 Apr. from the committee of the whole on the militia bill, but his cause was doomed to failure due to a lack of enthusiasm for the militia’s re-establishment and the charges required for its maintenance. He had revealed a more general concern for the nation’s welfare on 12 Mar. when acting as a teller in support of a motion for the House to resolve itself into a committee of the whole to consider a bill for the suppression of blasphemy. Earlier Onslow had been named to the committee to address the King to check profanity, and, in common with other Country politicians, clearly viewed public morality as a major priority.9

Although the militia issue absorbed most of Onslow’s energies at this time, he found time for a variety of other parliamentary matters. Most notably, in December 1697 he had acted as chairman of the committee of the whole which reviewed the number of ships required for national defence. He also had the uncomfortable experience of having his name linked to the Exchequer bill scandal investigated by the Commons in January 1698, but he was cleared of any criminal charge. On a more flattering note, in February he was requested by the Royal African Company to chair the committee of the whole House which was to review the African trade. He declined the request on the grounds of personal incapacity although he did acknowledge the ‘extremely beneficial’ contribution of that trade to English commerce. However, the offer only gave further confirmation of the respect with which Onslow was regarded in commercial circles, an impression which had been endorsed by rumours the previous spring that his mercantile links with the Levant might encourage him to apply for the vacant post of ambassador to Constantinople. He was also cited as a referee by the merchant and informer Hilary Reneu when the latter was interrogated by the House on 16 Apr. over government contracts for clandestine trade with France during the war. Such contact did not preclude Sir Richard’s appointment to the committee later nominated to draw up articles of impeachment against Reneu and other traders. Onslow’s interest in domestic trade was also revealed when he acted as a teller on 30 Apr. in opposition to the repeal of a duty on coals shipped inland.10

The general election of 1698 proved a most difficult hurdle for Onslow to clear, although his difficulties were not caused primarily by his opposition to the Court. Local discontent at his family’s tightening grip on the shire was his principal concern, and his decision to entertain ‘almost all the gentlemen of Surrey’ in December 1697 was probably aimed to reassure his leading constituents of the compatibility of their interests. However, such jealousies were inflamed to a new degree by the irregularities surrounding the return of his brother Foot at Guildford. Even though Denzil Onslow was willing to forgo his county seat, Sir Richard was to finish a poor second to John Weston*, the injured party at the previous Guildford election. The knot of five candidates which greeted Onslow’s appearance at the poll was an unwelcome contrast to his polling experience on former occasions.

Chastened by the reaction of his constituents, Onslow soon revealed in the new Parliament that he was prepared to maintain his opposition to the Court in the continuing controversy over the standing army. Although he did support the Court’s nominee for Speaker on its opening day, he soon became distanced from the Court Whigs once the disbanding issue was raised. On 17 Dec. 1698 he was one of the MPs appointed to draft a bill incorporating the resolution of the committee of the whole that the army be kept to a maximum of 7,000 men. Secretary Vernon noted Onslow’s particular concern to preserve the marines as a flexible and cost-effective fighting unit, an objective which set him apart from most Country Whigs, but his failure to secure the marines’ future did not discourage him from his general support of the Country cause. He was indeed identified by Vernon as one of the three key Whigs whose opposition on 4 Jan. 1699 had been ‘alone sufficient’ to sway the Commons into rejecting an instruction to order the committee of the whole to reconsider its previous resolution on troop levels.11

John Evelyn noted on 15 Jan. 1699 that some Members had ‘begun to suspect’ Onslow’s resolve to see the issue through, but his leadership of the rebel Whigs, alongside Thomas Pelham I* and Lord Hartington (William Cavendish*), was instrumental in ensuring the Court’s defeat in the key vote of 18 Jan. Far from displaying any hesitation on that day, he seconded the motion for the engrossed disbanding bill to be passed. The next day he featured among the Members detailed to implore the King to enforce the laws against papists and the disaffected. Onslow’s apologist, his nephew Arthur, later suggested that he ‘frequently repented of’ his actions at this critical juncture, blaming his major political indiscretion on his inability to perceive the continuing threat from France. However, his immediate resolution on the issue was signalled by his appointment to the committee to draft a militia regulation bill. The disbanding issue was not the only Country issue with which Onslow’s name was associated that session. His long-term interest in the regulation of elections was evident again on 10 Jan. 1699 when he was appointed to the committee to consider the ‘very unusual’ manner in which writs had been returned at the last general election. More significantly, on 20 Feb., he presented a bill to limit the number of placemen in the Commons, the first time that he had openly backed such reform and a foretaste of dramatic events in the next reign.12

Onslow was less conspicuous in the 1699–1700 session in the absence of an issue as divisive as disbandment. However, he remained an active Member. He was named to the committee to prepare the bill to apply the Irish forfeitures to public use. His ‘moral’ Country stance was also suggested by his nomination to the drafting committee on a bill against gambling and duelling. Although he was now a less controversial figure, his former Whig allies lost no opportunity to remind him of the dangers of dividing from them. When the House came to vote on 18 Dec. 1699 on the disputed Guildford election, which involved Onslow’s brother Foot, the Junto lords used their influence against the Onslow interest, causing Vernon to speculate that Sir Richard would be ‘less fond of going with them another time’. A parliamentary list compiled in 1700 indeed described Onslow’s political allegiance as ‘doubtful’, and he continued to fuel such an impression by his support of Country policies.13

Of principal concern to Onslow at this time was a bill to curb the proliferation of royal grants, a measure originating from the general dissatisfaction over recent ministerial mismanagement. On 13 Feb. 1700, after defending Lord Somers (Sir John*) from attack on this issue, Onslow moved for a bill to reclaim all royal grants since 1684, thereby successfully defeating an earlier attempt to limit the reclamation to grants made since the start of the last war. Before presenting it to the House on 28 Feb., Onslow foresaw ‘the prospect of success’, but the controversial nature of the bill ensured it a troubled passage right up to the last day of the session. There were further opportunities to expound his Country views. On 23 Mar. he rose to denounce a proposal from John Grobham Howe* that the royal guards be concentrated in the south-east. ‘Provided he [Howe] could oblige Gloucestershire, he did not care how he oppressed Surrey, Kent and Middlesex’, fumed Onslow, although the views of his own electors undoubtedly preyed as much on his mind as the threat of a standing army. His other main interests during the session revolved once more around trading matters, in particular a bill to repeal the duties on exported woollens. Two other nominations to drafting committees were related to commercial issues, and he also delivered to the Lords bills aimed to encourage English manufacturers and to secure employment for the poor.14

Onslow’s controversial political stance in the 1698–1700 Parliament posed little threat to his parliamentary seat at Westminster at the election of January 1701, though he prudently decided to arrange a pact with John Weston in order to avoid a contest. However, his outspoken criticism of the Court in the recent past promoted his importance in the capital when political leaders came to assess the impact of anti-ministerial gains at the election. The Court’s endorsement of Robert Harley as its choice for Speaker in lieu of Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., was sufficiently provocative to cause a postponement of the opening of Parliament, and Onslow was promoted as a candidate for the Chair chiefly by Whig leaders alarmed by Harley’s ‘sudden turn’ to the Court. On 8 Feb. ‘70 of the chief members at the Rose [Tavern]’ endorsed Sir Richard as their candidate in the belief that Onslow’s recent opposition to the Court presented him as the Whig candidate most likely to split Harley’s Country support. However, Harley could himself rely on the backing of ‘une grande partie de Whigs’ by virtue of his Court contacts and his past leadership of Country initiatives, which enabled him to triumph over Onslow by a majority of 124 votes in the division of 10 Feb. Onslow’s candidacy not only revealed his political value on the back benches, but also highlighted his reputation as a parliamentarian, his proposer Hartington referring to him as ‘a man capable of the business and beyond exception’.15

In the ensuing session Onslow showed that his defeat had not dampened his enthusiasm for Country measures, beginning with his almost customary nomination to the drafting committee on the militia bill. On 21 Feb. 1701 he was one of four MPs detailed to draft a bill to resume all crown grants made since 1684, and on 20 Mar. was appointed to a committee to prepare another bill to prevent corruption at parliamentary elections. His opposition to the ministry was even more evident in the course of the parliamentary debates on the diplomatic situation. Nevertheless, it was his criticism of the City interest in a debate on the East India trade on 17 May which highlighted his distance from the Court, when he argued that a simple maintenance of royal revenues and increments in the land tax would have proved sufficient for the nation’s current demands ‘without running into such great debts and deficiencies as we did upon funds’. Such discontent was echoed four days later when he argued against the raising of a £700,000 loan on the security of the civil list.

On 14 May Onslow was one of the Members chosen to draft an address urging the King to crack down on recent attempts to raise ‘tumults and sedition’ at home, although his objective here was probably limited to ensuring that the address was not excessively factious in tone. On 24 May he reported from a committee of inquiry investigating the riotous actions of seamen who had been disbanded on the south coast without being paid in cash. Having first moved on 6 May for an inquiry into this ‘ill-usage of the seamen’, Onslow was well placed both to respond effectively to the concerns of those of his Surrey constituents who had had to contend with the unruly mariners, as well as to exhibit his knowledge of naval practice. His familiarity with Commons procedure was also illustrated on 6 June when he called for a committee to examine the ‘many precedents’ from prior impeachment trials in order that the House might proceed with the arraignment of Lord Somers.16

All of Onslow’s political experience was needed at the general election which followed this shortened Parliament, during which divisions within his county put great pressure on his electoral partnership with John Weston. In the week leading up to the December poll, Onslow was accused of having ‘clandestinely’ sought the support of Weston’s rivals, and the five-strong field of candidates which appeared on election day reflected a local awareness of the incongruities of the Onslow–Weston platform. Both managed to secure their return, in Onslow’s case with some ease, but the alliance was evidently under great strain as events at home and abroad conspired to highlight any political differences between them. However, as the country slid back into a European war Onslow was much more prepared to rally behind the ministry, even though Country measures would continue to gain his support.

In the new Parliament Onslow was given an early opportunity to signify his approval of the renewed hostilities with France when appointed on 2 Jan. 1702 to the committee to assure the King of the Commons’ support for him against the claims of the Pretender. More permanent concerns were also served early in this Parliament, as he continued to demonstrate great energy on the back benches. On 6 Jan. he was detailed to prepare a measure to employ the poor, an issue of continuing personal interest, and on the 17th was appointed to a committee to bring in yet another bill to curb corruption in parliamentary elections. He also acted as a teller on 12 Feb. in opposition to the introduction of a bill to determine the venue for the county election for Somerset. His continued support for Country measures, however, was thrown into some doubt by what may have been a calculated absence from the House on 11 Feb. when Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt., moved for an aid to be raised from the proceeds of royal grants made since the Restoration. Moreover, on 28 Feb. Onslow acted as a teller in support of the introduction of a bill to answer a petition for relief from the resumption of the Irish forfeitures. Yet, in a typically public-spirited manner, he did second Lord Hartington’s motion on 24 Feb. that the committee reviewing the Commons’ rights should also consider those of ‘the commons of England’, an appeal to the country evidently aimed at winning an advantage for the Whigs. On a more mundane level, he certainly had shown party solidarity earlier in the session by backing the attempt of James Lowther to delay the hearing of the Carlisle election dispute.17

After the death of the King, Onslow was one of the MPs most active in securing a peaceful accession for the new monarch. On 8 Mar. 1702 he was one of the three MPs chosen to confer with the Lords over precedents for Parliament’s attendance at the proclamation of the new sovereign, after doubts had been expressed over the precedence of the Speaker. Most significantly, however, only eight days after William III’s death, Onslow had betrayed to Sir Richard Cocks his great anxiety over the nation’s future. Unwilling to back Cocks’s motion to cut the civil list, Onslow was evidently concerned not to alienate himself from the new court, leaving Cocks to observe wryly that ‘now were all men busy in making bargains’. In the rest of the session Onslow thrice acted as committee chairman on matters of less immediate importance, though such activity indicated the demand in which he found himself as a manager of parliamentary business. Predictably, one of these committees concerned a review of the accounts for the building of Greenwich Hospital, a duty which recalled his pivotal role in securing its original parliamentary funding.

When the general election required by the Queen’s accession finally took place in July 1702, the volatility of Surrey’s electorate was highlighted by the defeat suffered by John Weston against one of the two Tory candidates, Leonard Wessell*. In the light of recent contested elections, this setback was not unexpected, nor, given the differences between Weston and Onslow, was it catastrophic. Subsequent developments proved that Onslow had decided to abandon his attempt to construct an alliance with moderate Surrey Tories by turning wholeheartedly to a more factious and monied alternative in the form of Sir William Scawen*. In the House itself his main priority was the war effort. He was a teller on 26 Oct. against an attempt to minimize the importance of Marlborough’s recent victories by altering the wording of an address to the Crown. More controversially, on 10 Dec. he was chosen for the committee to redraft one of the Upper House’s amendments to the occasional conformity bill.

However, even amid the politicking which greeted the new court, Onslow had not completely lost sight of his former Country objectives. On 23 Dec. he acted as a teller in support of an unsuccessful motion to bring in a place bill, and was then appointed as one of the drafters of a parliamentary qualifications bill. Although this initiative had ministerial backing, it fared little better than its predecessors, but Onslow’s presence on the drafting committee indicated that the Country Whigs were still keen to purify the House of corruption. Concern for ministerial propriety also recommended his nomination to the committee to draft the bill to appoint commissioners of accounts. Onslow revealed his political outlook in a more dramatic fashion in January 1703 when he fought and won a duel with the Tory MP for Haslemere, Lewis Oglethorpe*, an event which was ‘much talked of’ at that time. This confrontation came after words spoken between them in the House, and although Arthur Onslow later blamed ‘some of the party [Sir Richard] . . . was thought opposite to’ for provoking it, the incident served to underline Onslow’s increasing antipathy to the Surrey Tories. Further evidence of his adherence to the Whigs came with the subsequent division of 13 Feb. 1703 when he voted to debar from re-election any MP who failed to take the Abjuration.18

In the early months of 1703, Onslow’s parliamentary activity was confined to the more mundane task of guiding through a bill to answer complaints from his Southwark and Bermondsey constituents over their liability for the charge of the building of a highway connecting Chancery Lane with Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Onslow was more prominent in the next session. He managed a bill to enable George Evelyn II, a future MP for Bletchingley, to raise portions for his brothers and sisters, and was also involved with two other private measures. His great interest in the manning of the navy again featured in nominations to various committees, and in late November 1703 he contributed fully to a debate on proposals to boost recruitment. He displayed a more factious spirit in December when employing his knowledge of Commons’ procedure to frustrate a Tory plan to delay the progress of an occasional conformity bill up to a Whig-dominated House of Lords. The 1704–5 session saw Onslow again in demand as a legislator, with his inclusion on seven drafting committees. However, magisterial matters appeared his main concern, he being named to drafting committees for measures to regulate the watch, to settle the qualification of j.p.s, and to introduce an alternative punishment to cheek-burning. He was also the principal manager of a bill to remedy abuses in the collection of the land tax. On 1 Dec. he presented a bill to raise portions for John Sands by a sale of property. His political allegiance was confirmed in the course of that session for he was forecast as an opponent of the Tack and voted against it in November 1704.

The advent of a new Parliament saw a dramatic rise in Onslow’s importance on the political stage. The result of the county election of May 1705 gave him a great personal boost, for although another contest was fought, Onslow managed to secure the support of almost 90 per cent of those who polled. Moreover, despite allegations of corrupt practice, his new running-mate, Sir William Scawen, was also returned ahead of the Tory Edward Harvey. Yet even though his Whig credentials remained largely unimpeachable, his past opposition to the Court was still too fresh a memory for some politicians. His reputation at Westminster was once again proved by rumours of his possible candidacy as Speaker, but it was a prospect viewed with dread in some Whig quarters as the likely prelude to a major split within the party. In the ensuing contest Onslow was content to back the Court candidate, but even without that position of authority he was still destined to play a major role in the course of the session.19

Onslow’s initial impact on the new session was to be curtailed by a leave of absence of ten days granted by the House on 17 Nov. 1705. Once back at Westminster, he became directly involved in the critical debates over the Scottish threat to the security of the succession, seconding a motion on 4 Dec. for the second reading of a bill to repeal the English Aliens Act of 1705. In the subsequent debate, he argued against any move either to postpone deliberation on the issue or to invite the Electress Sophia to England, and stressed that the Act of Settlement needed strengthening. His concern for the succession was again shown on 19 Dec. when he spoke during the debate on the second reading of the regency bill. Not content with his involvement in this momentous issue, the consistency of his political convictions was underlined on 13 Dec. when he was one of four MPs appointed to bring in a place bill. The new year saw these issues debated concurrently, and Onslow’s prominent role in the pursuit of both objectives proved the severest test of his political allegiance to date.

On 10 Jan. 1706 Onslow made the first of a series of reports from the committee of the whole House reviewing the regency bill, a duty which he may have undertaken at the request of Lord Somers. However, after the defeat of the Tory-inspired motion on 12 Jan. to provide safeguards for the comprehensive ‘place clause’ contained within the Act of Settlement, he gained even greater prominence as a leading figure in the Country Whig crusade for a more specific limitation of the number of placemen in the Commons. He spoke twice on the issue on 12 Jan., and within three days was cited as being ‘at the head of a company of angry Whigs’ demanding the passage of a place bill. Onslow was soon at the heart of an acrimonious clash over the Lords’ amendment of the ‘place clause’. On 7 Feb. he reported from the committee charged with drawing up a list of reasons for opposing the Lords’ amendments, and later informed the Commons of the outcome of a conference between the two Houses. However, by the time of the key division of 18 Feb. Onslow’s political nerve had been broken by the prospect, not only of losing the regency bill, but also of driving so great a division between the Court and Country Whigs that the Tories would find little difficulty in seizing power. On the eve of the vote, James Stanhope* had praised Onslow for ‘the good he is author of’, but Onslow refrained from casting his vote in the crucial division. Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, observed that Onslow had ‘fainted at last in the pursuit’, although reserving most of his ire for Robert Eyre* rather than for the ‘dabbling’ Sir Richard. Onslow and the Whimsicals could take some consolation from the place clause which eventually became part of the regency bill, but his readiness to sacrifice his political principles to the dictates of party underlined an essential weakness of any Country initiative.20

Amid these dramatic events, Onslow also found time to act as chairman of another committee of the whole, although debate was confined there to the less contentious matter of hearing petitions concerning the Levant trade, thereby maintaining his family’s interest in the Turkey trade. He was duly appointed to the drafting committee for a subsequent bill to prevent the importation of Turkish goods in French ships, and his concern for the navy led to a similar nomination in connexion with a bill to increase the number of seamen. Even though the next session was bound to prove somewhat anti-climactic, Onslow continued to feature in important business. On 11 Feb. 1707 he was one of nine MPs chosen to frame the bill of union. Once that bill had passed both Houses, he was first-named on 6 Mar. to the committee to thank the Queen for expounding the benefits likely to accrue from the Union. His other significant appearances in that session were limited to more minor matters, but included the management of a private estate bill, and reports of the progress of a highways bill which required a conference with the Lords.

The brief third session of the 1705–7 Parliament had allowed Onslow little opportunity to feature in debate, but the first session of the British Parliament saw a spate of intense political manoeuvring which promoted the immediate importance of back-bench leaders such as Onslow. On 20 Nov. 1707 he made the first of several reports as chairman of the committee of the whole reviewing the state of the navy and national trade. Most significantly, in the course of this inquest Onslow became firmly identified with attacks initiated by the Junto Whigs against the Court, receiving praise on 25 Nov. for allowing merchants ‘to proceed with freedom’ in their denunciation of the protection afforded by the navy ‘notwithstanding the interruption given . . . by some Court Members’. However, although on 18 Dec. Onslow reported the committee’s resolution which called for an increase in coastal protection, he was cited six days later as one of the Court’s opponents who were ‘not able to prevail’ on the Admiralty issue.

Concurrent with this campaign, Onslow also aligned himself with the Junto in opposition to the proposed continuation of the Scottish privy council. He was one of the principal speakers in the debate on the council on 29 Nov. 1707, and was cited by Edmund Gibson as one of the Court’s most influential opponents in the House, while another commentator thought him ‘a leading man in the House’. However, his association with the Junto did not preclude his championship of Country causes, since on 22 Dec. he was chosen for the committee to draft a bill to curb corruption at parliamentary elections. The new year began for Onslow with his nomination to the drafting committee of a private estate bill concerning the crown’s rights to the site of Scarborough Castle, but commercial affairs absorbed his attention for the rest of this session. On 24 Jan. 1708 Onslow made the first of a series of reports as the chairman of the committee of the whole on a bill to promote Anglo-American trade, having been closely involved with the measure in its early stages. The principal interest of this committee centred on Captain Kerr, the officer who extorted money from merchants for convoy protection, and, although politically charged, it proved far less contentious than the December debates. Onslow made further reports on 11 and 16 Feb., and on the latter occasion was first-named to a committee to address the Queen, urging her never to re-employ Kerr. This association with commerce was also apparent in his sponsorship of a bill on 7 Feb. for the import of cochineal.21

While Onslow’s involvement in trading matters remained unbroken, by the end of the session there had been a notable shift in his political allegiance to the Court. When an inquiry was launched into the Almanza campaign in Feb. 1708, he chose to divide from the Junto as well as from his Country Whig allies such as Peter King, again probably for fear of allowing the Tories to seize power if the ministry collapsed. He showed similar hesitancy in the debates over the recruiting issue at the end of March, and although identified as a Whig in two parliamentary lists drawn up in early 1708, his support for the Junto was certainly equivocal at this time. Another political commentator had described him as a ‘Churchman’ at the start of this Parliament, but it was a Whiggish Low Church position that he maintained when dividing against Francis Atterbury in the debate over Bishop Nicolson’s Church bill of February 1708. Beyond these factional issues, Onslow’s attention was largely fixed on commercial matters, and his interest in maritime affairs was once again suggested by his nomination to the drafting committee on a bill to revive the Naval Discipline Act.22

After this busy and controversial session Onslow experienced the luxury of a relatively easy triumph at the Surrey election of May 1708. However, Sir Francis Vincent, 5th Bt.*, posed a strong challenge to Sir William Scawen, and Onslow’s victory was by no means as complete as that at the previous election. More encouragingly for him, political observers were soon predicting that Onslow would emerge as the Whig candidate for Speaker in the new Parliament. Having acted as committee chairman in connexion with some of the key issues of the preceding Parliament, Onslow had the experience necessary to fulfil the demands of the post, and the Whigs were certainly in a much stronger position to support his candidacy than had been the case in February 1701. However, continuing divisions among the Whigs made Onslow’s path to the Speaker’s Chair extremely tortuous, and more than five months of political manoeuvring preceded his unanimous election to office on 16 Nov.

Onslow’s likely candidacy was first mentioned on 1 June when James Craggs I* saw the Court’s endorsement of Sir Richard as Speaker as the ‘one glimpse of comfort’ for the Whigs after the Queen had signalled her reluctance to build her ministry around them. He did forecast a challenge for the Chair from Robert Harley, but on 8 June Horatio Walpole II* confidently predicted that Onslow would be the next Speaker. However, later that month the Prussian envoy Friedrich Bonet reported that Onslow’s Country Whig ally Peter King had been touted by Junto leaders as a much more suitable candidate, and that the Court, too, was said to be amenable towards him. The spectre of internecine party strife loomed large, and Bonet dismissed Onslow’s chances on account of his being ‘très incommodé en Parlement’. Even though Onslow was again cited as the Court’s choice only a month later, there were already signs that the most serious obstacle to his successful candidacy was a split within Whig ranks. While attempts to heal the rift between the Court and the Junto leaders continued to prove unsuccessful, reports in late August suggested that the Whig grandees had distanced themselves from Onslow after initial promises of support. By 3 Sept. the Junto were only prepared to give him ‘general assurances’, teasing him that ‘as long as he had the Court to be sure he was safe’. Such uncertainty continued even after a meeting of Junto leaders at Newmarket at the end of the month had apparently settled the issue in Onslow’s favour.23

Within days of this agreement, political forecasts suggested that the contest was still wide open, with King, Onslow and (Sir) Joseph Jekyll* all cited as possible Whig candidates. By mid-October rumours were circulating that Onslow might be awarded a peerage in order to appease his supporters should the Chair go to King, who had himself been mollified by the award of a knighthood a month before. However, despite fears that the Tories might gain from this internal squabble, predictions of a damaging contest between King and Onslow persisted into early November, even though many politicians clearly believed their support to be ‘too cunning to divide itself’. The Queen’s resistance to the Junto lay at the heart of this controversy, and it was only with the ministerial shuffle which followed in the wake of Prince George’s death on 28 Oct. that the principal obstacle to a Whig accord was removed. Onslow’s election became part of the bargain by which the Whigs regained office, acceptable as he had been to both Court and Junto from the beginning of this affair. Nevertheless, his difficulties served to highlight differences between him and the Junto even though he was very much a friend to the Whig cause, and some blame for the contest was apportioned to Onslow himself by Horatio Walpole II, who accused him of initially accepting the Court’s support ‘without consulting any of his old friends’.24

At his election as Speaker at the start of the 1708 Parliament, Onslow’s proposer, Lord William Powlett*, championed his qualities as a parliamentarian, describing him as ‘a worthy man, entirely zealous for the government’. In addition, Hon. Harry Mordaunt* alluded to Onslow’s enduring appeal to the Country Whigs by asserting that he ‘did not lie open to the temptations that might bias persons who had their fortunes to make against the interest of their country’. Onslow, for his own part, made a great show of twice declining the offer on grounds of personal incapacity, but relented at the insistence of an unusually harmonious chorus from the benches. Two days later he again acknowledged the honour which the House had bestowed upon him, professing himself to be ‘by birth entitled to liberty and property, and by education taught so to value the constitution of the government of England’. He even declared that ‘he would rather choose to expose himself to the Egyptian bondage than to be a prostitute in this his native free country’, and began his occupancy of the Chair with a plea for the House to meet earlier in the morning to expedite its business. Although Robert Pitt* grumbled that the new Speaker owed his position to backstairs influence, even as staunch a Tory as Thomas Rowney* could enthuse that Onslow’s election ‘promises very fair’.25

Reports of Onslow’s subsequent conduct in the Chair are scarce, although his nephew Arthur, the doyen of all Speakers, remarked that it was ‘a post that of all others the most suited his genius and which he sustained with great reputation’. One very favourable report was delivered by George Lockhart*, who contrasted the unsympathetic treatment which his fellow Scottish MPs were to experience at the hands of William Bromley II with the manner in which they had been ‘so very civilly, nay kindly, used’ by Onslow. However, the politicking which had accompanied his election was not quickly forgotten, a political reality illustrated in March 1710 when Tory MPs ‘very much ridiculed’ Sir Richard’s high-sounding praise for his Country Whig ally General James Stanhope.26

Onslow’s elevated status as Speaker became quickly apparent when in December 1708 he presented on behalf of both Houses a congratulatory address to the crown alongside Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*). Moreover, in spite of the restrictions of his new office, Onslow still managed to pursue some of his political interests in the course of the 1708–10 Parliament. In February 1709 his position of influence led to his enlistment in a campaign to block a bill to open university fellowships to laymen. He had always found little difficulty in reconciling his support for the Church with his adherence to Whiggish principles, and he was reported to have ‘promised to do all he can do’ to stop this attack on the Anglican strongholds. The bill was defeated, but William Bromley II later denied that Onslow had played any significant part in ensuring its rejection. Another pressure group which sought to secure his support was the Levant Company, which elected him governor in January 1710, thereby giving further confirmation of Onslow’s informed interest in City and commercial affairs.27

However, it was in the service of the Commons that he achieved the greatest publicity, his office dictating that he play a prominent role in the Sacheverell trial. When the Doctor was first examined by the House on 14 Dec. 1709, it was Onslow’s duty to question him. However, even greater drama unfolded on 23 Mar. 1710 when Onslow successfully challenged the right of Black Rod to obstruct a Commons’ delegation on its way to hear the Upper House deliver its judgment on Sacheverell. Having voted against the Tory hero, this victory over the Lords offered at least some personal compensation for Onslow, as did his elevation to Privy Councillor the following June. The appointment, coming as it did in the wake of Sunderland’s fall, was later described as ‘the last thing my Lord Treasurer (Sidney†) Godolphin ever procured of the Queen’. The appointment clearly angered many Tories, William Bromley II describing it as an ‘unaccountable’ decision. However, Onslow’s prominence at the Sacheverell trial had already made him an obvious target for Tory attack, and at the subsequent general election he was to feel the backlash of an increasingly confident Church party.28

Three months in advance of the October poll a large body of Surrey gentry warned Onslow of their intention to unseat Sir William Scawen in favour of the Tory Sir Francis Vincent, and additional rumours of the candidacy of Hon. Heneage Finch II* highlighted the pressure under which Sir Richard now laboured. In answer to this challenge, Onslow was at first prepared to stand ‘on his own bottom’ in order to minimize the damaging effect of his association with Scawen. However, ignoring Tory overtures for a political accommodation, he then campaigned alongside Scawen and forced a confrontation with Finch and Vincent. In late September he endeavoured to divide his opponents by enlisting the support of local clerics to bolster his credentials as a supporter of the Church, but it was his identification with the City that eventually condemned him in the eyes of the county electorate. A month before the poll William Bromley II had lamented that Onslow had ‘too much and too long cultivated his interest to lose his election’, but the eventual triumph of the Finch–Vincent platform proved how badly Onslow had miscalculated. Local opinion believed that he had been taught a lesson that ‘’tis dangerous for a man to act in opposition to the greater part of the gentlemen’, and the post-mortem into the causes of his political demise continued into the new year. After a run of nine county victories, the magnitude of Onslow’s defeat was heralded by many Tories as the greatest of their electoral triumphs. By all reports Onslow was shattered by his electoral reverse, and although one of the Whig ‘cities of refuge’ was secured for him nine days later at St. Mawes, the Surrey defeat had a profound influence upon him. His nephew Arthur later suggested that Onslow even considered retiring from public life, and his activity in the subsequent Parliament dropped sharply. Rumours again circulated of his candidacy for the Speaker’s Chair, but the Tory strength in the House rendered this a forlorn hope. In the first session he resumed the role of back-bencher with less apparent energy. He was reported to have contributed to a debate on electoral malpractice with ‘both warmness and modesty’, but the loss of his prized county seat had in general sapped his enthusiasm for parliamentary affairs.29

The second session saw Onslow remain largely inactive in legislative terms. However, he was more directly involved in the factional battles which dominated debates on foreign policy. On the opening day, 7 Dec. 1711, he voted alongside Whig colleagues against the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion. On 25 Jan. 1712 he defended the Duke of Marlborough against the charges levelled by an increasingly vindictive Tory leadership, and when the Barrier Treaty came under similar attack on 12 Feb. he was again quick to justify previous Whig policies. He proved equally stubborn in defence of Richard Hampden II on 22 May 1712, when Henry St. John II threatened Hampden with the Tower for criticizing the pace at which peace negotiations were progressing. It was reported that Onslow had himself complained that the Commons had recently been ‘toujours en suspens’, but his opposition to St. John’s outburst was rooted in a more principled concern, arguing ‘that to suppose her Majesty or her ministers to have any influence on the deliberations of that House was to do an injury to her Majesty and to violate the privileges of that House’. His interest in foreign affairs was maintained right to the end of the session, for on 10 June he led an attack on the wording of the Commons’ address of thanks to the crown for the peace.30

In the next session, Onslow featured on 14 May 1713 in a failed attempt to delay the passage of the French commerce bill. In consideration of this more evident association with the Whig cause, his unsuccessful motion on 15 May to tack a place clause to the malt duty bill must be viewed as an act of political opportunism rather than as renewed evidence of his Country Whig principles. There is little cause to doubt the underlying sincerity of his oft-expressed concern for the influence of the crown, but the manner in which he sought to curb it at this juncture was unequivocally factious. Spurred on by both political and personal interests, Onslow led a campaign from early June on behalf of the Levant Company to protect the English silk trade against the encroachment of French competitors. His influence was also acknowledged by the Duke of Somerset who sent him an urgent summons on 26 June in order to secure his presence at Westminster to support the Whig motion for the removal of the Pretender from the Duchy of Lorraine. Onslow could not answer his party’s call on this occasion, but four days later Somerset assumed that he would be ‘very glad’ to hear of Lord Wharton’s successful initiative in the Lords. Of probably even greater comfort to Onslow was his strong showing at the Surrey election of 1713 where he managed to oust Sir Francis Vincent by a significant margin. He had taken the precaution of securing a seat at Guildford prior to the county poll, but it was his decision not to stand with Sir William Scawen that ensured his position as runner-up to the Hon. Heneage Finch II. However, even though his name was once again touted as a possible Whig candidate for Speaker, he maintained a low profile at Westminster.31

There was little change in Onslow’s political outlook during the 1714 Parliament, for he voted against the expulsion of Richard Steele on 18 Mar. Even the observer who thought him ‘Tory plutôt que Whig’ qualified this assessment by stressing that Onslow was ‘un homme fort modéré’. His attachment to the Protestant succession could not be doubted, although his nephew later suggested that the ministry made Onslow ‘great offers’ to forsake the Hanoverians. A letter of 22 May revealed Onslow at his most anxious, expressing grave concern over the security of the succession while he awaited the arrival of the Duke of Cambridge in England. In that month he was also identified as one of the leading opponents of the Tory schism bill. When news of the Queen’s death reached the House on 1 Aug. 1714, he argued against any adjournment, warning his colleagues that ‘time was too precious at that nice juncture to trifle away the least part of it’. As one of the principal architects of the Regency Act, Onslow could await the new King’s arrival with high expectations of favour.32

The advent of the new regime proved as much of a blessing for Onslow as it did for his party, and in October he was appointed chancellor of the Exchequer. Although retaining few happy memories from his previous tenure of government office, he eagerly viewed his new post as ‘an opportunity to be serviceable to my King, my country and my friends’. He was to last only a year in office before having to make way for Robert Walpole II, but his evident dismay at losing the post was to some degree alleviated by the reward of a lucrative tellership of the Exchequer for life. Moreover, the visit of the King to Clandon in June 1715 had already confirmed his strong position at court. Subsequent elevation to a peerage in June 1716 was yet further compensation for his removal from office, capping a career in public service which, according to his nephew Arthur, was universally admired for its longevity and achievement.

Although removed from the Commons and the ministry, Onslow’s essential source of political strength – his hold over his home county – was further consolidated early in the new reign. He had been described as ‘the most considerable country gentleman in the kingdom’ when introduced at the new court, and although his electoral interests extended into Sussex, Essex and Gloucestershire, he took care not to neglect Surrey matters. When he became chancellor, his son Thomas was immediately put forward as his electoral successor and found little difficulty in securing his county seat. Further recognition of the family’s local influence came in the wake of Onslow’s peerage when he was appointed lord lieutenant of Surrey in July 1716. Indeed, the only real challenge left for his heir was to transform Clandon Park into a country seat befitting these honours. Onslow’s death on 5 Dec. 1717 produced a flood of personal tributes to ‘a gentleman of an universal good character’, and it befell his nephew Arthur both to write his panegyric and to emulate his success.33

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. Manning and Bray, Surr. i. pp. lxxv, 41; iii. 54; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 800; xxiii. 189; xxix. 16, 814; Surr. RO (Guildford), BR/OC/1/3, f. 168, 97/11/6, Onslow account, 16 May 1698; Pittis, Present Parl. 347.
  • 2. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 490–1; Burnet, v. 395.
  • 3. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 491, 494; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6, Lady Tulse account; HMC Finch, ii. 293; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, pp. 223, 225.
  • 4. Luttrell Diary, 19, 54, 55, 77, 113.
  • 5. Berks. RO, Braybrooke mss DEN F 8/1/15; Trinity, Dublin, Clarke mss 749/8, no. 793; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 489.
  • 6. London Gazette, 1–4 Apr. 1695; CSP Dom. 1695, pp. 52, 53; Add. 35351, ff. 239–40.
  • 7. BL, Evelyn mss 903, William Vanbrugh to John Evelyn, 26 Mar. 1696; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6 Onslow account, 28 Oct. 1696; Add. 15949, f. 35.
  • 8. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 49, 63; Surr. RO (Guildford), 173/3/4.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 513; 1698, pp. 114, 128, 134; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/166, James Vernon I to Duke of Shrewsbury, 17 Dec. 1697.
  • 10. Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/176, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 6 Jan. 1698; HMC Downshire, i. 775; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 18.
  • 11. Evelyn Diary, v. 279; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 227, 236, 246.
  • 12. Evelyn Diary, v. 311; Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii. 238; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 491.
  • 13. Bull. IHR, xxxix. 50; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 393.
  • 14. Cocks Diary, 52; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. mss 1987.7.1, Robert Yard to Ld. Manchester, [?15] Feb. 1700; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1624, Onslow to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 27 Feb. 1700; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/49, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 23 Mar. 1700.
  • 15. Bodl. Ballard 6, ff. 41–42; Liverpool RO, Norris mss 920NOR 1/71, Elizabeth to Richard Norris*, 8 Feb. 1701; Add. 17677 WW, 152; Cocks Diary, 62–63.
  • 16. Cocks Diary, 112, 132–62.
  • 17. Evelyn mss 553, John Evelyn to William Draper, aft. 25 Nov. 1701; Cocks Diary, 211, 223; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/5, James Lowther to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 8 Jan. 1702.
  • 18. Cocks Diary, 240, 246; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 490.
  • 19. G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 162; NMM, Sergison mss 103, ff. 450–2; Camb. Univ. Lib. Chomondeley (Houghton) mss corresp. 433, (Sir) Charles Turner* to Robert Walpole II*, 19 Sept. 1705.
  • 20. Cam. Misc. xxiii. 32, 39, 54, 62, 64; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 492; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 222; Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. mss C163, Sir William Simpson to John Methuen*, 15 Jan. 1706; PRO 30/24/20, f. 278; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Sir John Cropley to James Stanhope, 19 Feb. 1706.
  • 21. Impartial View, 85; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57 (2), p. 6; Lonsdale mss D/Lons/L1/4/stray, Thomas Hopkins* to Ld. Wharton, 29 Nov. 1707; Roxburghe mss at Floors Castle, bdle. 739, William Bennet to [Countess of Roxburghe], 16 Dec. 1707; NLW, Plas-yn-Cefn mss 2740.
  • 22. Speck thesis, 224; Nicolson Diary ed. Jones and Holmes, 461.
  • 23. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, James Craggs I to Stanhope, 1 June 1708, U1590/0138/29, Horatio Walpole II to same, 8 June 1708; DZA, Bonet despatch 25 June 1708; Huntington Lib. Loudoun mss 8866, Earl of Mar to Earl of Loudoun, 27 Aug. 1708; Stowe mss 57(2), p. 69; HMC Portland, iv. 506.
  • 24. Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) mss 2003/1304; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 16, Anne Clavering to James Clavering, 16 Oct. 1708; NLW, Ottley mss 1496, Adam Ottley to Dr Ottley, 6 Oct. 1708; Stanhope mss U1590/0138/29, Horatio Walpole II to Stanhope, 16 Nov. 1708.
  • 25. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 744–5; HMC Fortescue, i. 38; Bodl. mss Top. Oxon b. 82, f. 16.
  • 26. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 491; Lockhart Pprs. i. 545; Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Cropley to Stanhope, Mar. 1710.
  • 27. Add. 17677 DDD, 13; Ballard 7, f. 31; 38, ff. 153–4; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 53, Capt. John Hanger to Sir William Trumbull*, 27 Jan. 1710.
  • 28. G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 91–93, 231; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 492; HMC Portland, iv. 563.
  • 29. Add. 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 22 July 1710; Ballard 9, ff. 69–70, 72; 38, ff. 150–1, 153–4; Evelyn mss, Samuel Thomson to John Evelyn, 24 Oct. 1710; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 492; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 54, Ralph Bridges to Trumbull, 13 Nov. 1710; EHR, lxxxii. 483; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/807/4, Mungo Graham to Duke of Montrose, 30 Nov. 1710.
  • 30. NSA, Kreienberg despatches 25 Jan., 10 June 1712; Add. 17677 FFF, 51, 209; Boyer, Anne Annals, xi. 40.
  • 31. Wentworth Pprs. 335; Trumbull Alphab. mss 51, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 15 May 1713; Alphab. mss 52, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 12 Feb. 1714; HMC Lords, n.s. x. 114; Surr. RO (Guildford), 173/26/8, 173/26/9.
  • 32. Stowe 227, f. 36; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 492; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, f. 118; Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 152.
  • 33. Glos. RO, Ducie mss D340a/C22/31, Onslow to Matthew Ducie Moreton*, 16 Dec. 1714; Verney Letters 18th Cent. ii. 24; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 490; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6, 11 Dec. 1701, 21 Mar. 1706, 18 Jan. 1707; Boyer, Pol. State, xiv. 622.