PRIESTMAN, Henry (c.1647-1712), of St Paul’s, Covent Garden, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. c.1647. m. by 1686, Mary (d. 1724), 2s. (d.v.p.), 4da. (3 d.v.p.).1
Lt. R.N. 1672, capt. 1673, c.-in-c. N. African squadron 1684–8; comptroller and storekeeper of accounts 1689–90; commr. navy 28 Oct. 1689–24 June 1690; ld. of Admiralty 1690–9; commr. reprisals in Barbados and Jamaica 1693.2
Commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, ?gov. 1710–d.3
Although Priestman attained a certain prominence in the navy, his parentage remains a mystery. He received his lieutenant’s commission in 1672 and was promoted to captain shortly afterwards. The next ten years he spent mainly on the Mediterranean station and in the spring of 1684 was appointed commander-in-chief of a small squadron sent to the North African coast. Although he was on active service at the time of the Revolution, his ship was not with the squadron sent to intercept the Dutch. Indeed, its commander Lord Dartmouth (George Legge†) wrote to James II on 22 Oct.: ‘I am glad Priestman is not among us and I think he ought to be a little watched for he sets up for a leading politician’. Priestman was evidently a supporter of the Prince of Orange. In September 1689 he was sent by Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) to investigate the state of the fleet, and in October he was given an administrative appointment when he was added to the Navy Board as comptroller of the stores. The following year he and his patron Edward Russell* were appointed to the Admiralty commission, with a salary of £1,000 p.a. Shortly afterwards he was one of the commissioners to object to the Queen’s decision to appoint Sir Richard Haddock to a commission for executing the office of lord high admiral. However, he followed Russell’s lead as one of the four who eventually signed the commission. He continued his support of the government, lending it some 500 guineas in 1692.4
In the 1692–3 session, the Commons investigated the failure of the naval campaign the previous summer, and resolved in November 1692 to address the King for new naval commissioners better versed in maritime affairs. It was reported that during the debate on 21 Nov., ‘they allow Priestman understands somewhat in that matter, but the merchants have made oath that he, upon their complaint for want of convoys, told them that if one ship in three escaped, they were sufficient gainers’. The next winter saw new investigations and Priestman gave evidence to the Lords’ committee inquiring into the loss of the Smyrna convoy. As a friend of Russell, he was an obvious target for those trying to discredit the Whig-dominated naval administration. One of the witnesses, Captain John Rutter, claimed that in the summer of 1693, when he was transporting French prisoners back to France for exchange, ‘several of the said prisoners who had been commanders . . . often said Mr Priestman was their very good friend’ and he implied that Priestman had passed information regarding the fleet’s position to the French. In July 1694, Priestman subscribed some £2,000 to the Bank of England. The next year, in March 1695, he gave his opinion to a Lords’ committee that their bill for the naturalization of foreign seamen ‘appears to be reasonable’, given the large numbers of such men employed in the fleet.5
The attack of 1693–4 on the navy administration may have compelled Russell to seek to bolster his support in Parliament and in 1695 Priestman successfully contested New Shoreham on the Admiralty interest. One of his first parliamentary duties was to help defend the Admiralty before the Lords’ committee set up to inquire into merchants’ complaints that they had suffered heavy losses because of inadequate convoys. Yet in most other respects Priestman was an inactive member. On 7 Jan. 1696 he defaulted in a call of the House, but was excused after a division along party lines. He was forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, signed the Association in February, and voted in March with the Court for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. In July 1696 Priestman was seriously ill and unable to attend Admiralty Board meetings, but he had recovered by the next session and voted in favour of the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† on 25 Nov. 1696. In May 1697 he invested £1,000 as a subscriber to the contract for lending money to circulate Exchequer bills.6
Listed as a placeman in July 1698, Priestman was defeated at New Shoreham in the general election of that year, and failed to find a seat elsewhere. Russell (now Lord Orford) recommended him to both Lord Cutts (John*) for a seat in the Isle of Wight, and to Hugh Boscawen I* for the borough of Saltash, but in both cases the applications were too late. In about September, Priestman was listed as a Court placeman who had been left out of the new Parliament. His exclusion from the House may not have been altogether a misfortune as it is possible he would have been expelled in 1699 when the opposition mounted a fierce attack on Orford. He did not escape unscathed, however, as the accusations centred on an order signed by the Admiralty Board in September 1695 authorizing the payment to Priestman of 10s. per day, over and above his salary, for the time in which he had commanded the squadron off the coast of Morocco in 1684. The sum amounted to £400, and a committee of the whole resolved on 2 Feb. 1699 that the payment ‘was very unreasonable and a misapplication of public money’. In James Vernon I’s* opinion, the resolution
taxes them [the Admiralty lords] with partiality. Sir Robert Rich and Mr Montagu [Charles*] took some pains in this debate, but few else showed any concern for Priestman, and it is a little shameful one in his station should rake up an old pretence to have an additional salary.
The argument that other commanders had had similar payments had been countered by the Tory George Churchill, who was apparently able to show that only those men who had commanded a minimum number of 12 ships were entitled to the payment, whereas Priestman had commanded no more than six. Priestman resigned from the Admiralty on 24 Mar. 1699, some three days before the committee’s report was presented to the House. On 27 Mar. the House agreed with the resolution concerning Priestman and it was incorporated into an address to the King two days later. Orford was also forced to resign, but a rumour in April that Priestman was to take his place as treasurer of the navy proved untrue and he retired into private life.7
In February 1709, there was some talk of including Priestman in a new Admiralty commission but nothing came of it. He died on 20 Aug. 1712, aged 65, leaving his estate to his wife and his daughter Elizabeth, who later married the 2nd Lord Aylmer (Henry†).8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Sonya Wynne
- 1. Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15 241; St. Paul’s, Covent Garden (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxiii), i. 75, 78, 85, 89, 95; iv. 119, 141, 152, 226, 284; PCC 160 Barnes.
- 2. Charnock, Biog. Navalis i. 400–2; G. F. Duckett, Commrs. of Navy, 10–11, 20; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 21; 1693, p. 216; 1699–1700, p. 115.
- 3. Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 583.
- 4. HMC Dartmouth, i. 261; HMC Finch, ii. 237, 242–4, 382; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 21; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1647; x. 629; Dalyrmple, Mems. iii. pt. 2, pp. 105, 107, 116.
- 5. BN, Renaudot mss (N. Ac. Fr.) 7487, 20 Nov. 1692; HMC Lords, n.s. i. 93, 96–97, 101, 107, 117, 197, 200, 232, 291–2, 539; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694; HMC Lords, n.s. ii. 67, 71–73, 91, 96–98, 113–14, 125, 313.
- 6. HMC Buccleuch, ii. 367, 383; Univ. of London MS. 65, item 3, ‘list of subscribers to circulate Exchequer bills’, May 1697.
- 7. CSP Dom. 1699–1700, pp. 40, 42, 115; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 144–8, 259–60; Bodl. Carte 228, f. 302.
- 8. HMC Downshire, i. 87; Luttrell, vi. 583; Le Neve, 241; PCC 160 Barnes; Lysons, Environs (1792–6), iv. 480.