WHICHCOT, George (1653-1720), of Harpswell, Lincs.
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Family and Education
bap. 6 June 1653, 1st s. of William Whichcot of Fotherby, Lincs. by Margaret, da. of Sir Gervase Clifton, 1st Bt.†, of Clifton, Notts., wid. of Sir John South of Kelstern, Lincs. educ. Clare, Camb. 1670, MA 1673. m. (1) 4 Dec. 1677, Frances (d. 1682), da. of Sir Francis Boynton, 2nd Bt., of Barmston and Burton Agnes, Yorks., 2s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) 26 June 1683, Isabella Robinson, wid. of Darcy Stanhope of Melwood, Isle of Axholme, Lincs., s.p.; (3) lic. 11 Nov. 1699, Frances Katherine (d. 1731), da. of Sir Thomas Meres*, and sis. and coh. of Sir John Meres, 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1662.1
Capt. Ld. Castleton’s [I] (George Saunderson*) regt. ft. by 1690–at least 1692.2
Originating from Shropshire, Whichcot’s ancestors had first come to prominence in Lincolnshire in the late 15th century, and had acquired Harpswell, their principal seat, by marriage. Although a younger son, his father inherited the family estate in 1658, and only four years later Whichcot himself succeeded to Harpswell. After the Revolution he became a captain under Viscount Castleton, whom he later regarded as a potential electoral ally. He retained his commission until at least 1692, the year in which his regiment was sent to Flanders, and although Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) reported in 1707 that he ‘did serve in the last war’, it is unclear whether he saw action. In later years he was often referred to as ‘colonel’, but there is no evidence that this signified anything other than a militia rank.3
Whichcot gained entrance to Westminster in 1698, when standing alongside the Tory Charles Dymoke*, and shortly afterwards was listed as a Country Member. He made no significant contribution to Commons business in that Parliament, and on 24 Jan. 1700 was granted leave of absence. His political sympathies at this time are unclear, since the only surviving assessment of his position, an analysis of the House in early 1700, cited him as ‘doubtful’. In September of that year he appeared ready to resign his electoral interest to John Hervey*, who in turn encouraged him to put up, commending his performance at Westminster. Despite such support he did not stand in January 1701, but made interest for the county later in the year, writing to the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) in acknowledgement of the Duke’s ‘interest with Mr Gaile, who declares he will bring me in 300 or 400 votes’. In a circular letter he confessed that he had ‘no other qualification for so great an honour but a hearty loyalty to my King and a sincere love for my country’, but such patriotism did not succeed in making him a serious contender, and he withdrew from the contest, possibly for financial reasons, having complained to Newcastle of a lack of funds.4
Whichcot did not stand for Lincolnshire in 1702, but three years later was a central figure in a bitter dispute revolving around local cleric Samuel Wesley, a fierce critic of the Dissenters. Wesley had originally intended to support him at the county election of 1705, but then changed his mind, and wrote to him to explain that even though Whichcot
is as firm to the Church of England as any . . . but yet when it comes to a party cause, everybody knows how the votes run in both Houses, and that ’twould look ungrateful to disoblige a body of men who had been the chief cause of one’s election . . . Can any Member be false to his electors, who make him what he is, and if it comes to a division in the House for the Church or against it, which side will he embrace?
Whichcot passed this letter to his Whig allies, and reportedly published an answer to Wesley, accusing the clergyman of perfidy and ingratitude. The controversy appears to have worked to Whichcot’s advantage, since he finished top of the poll. His return was classed as a gain for the Whigs by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), and he was regarded as ‘Low Church’ by an analyst of the new Parliament. He duly voted for the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, and supported the government on 18 Feb. 1706 during proceedings on the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill. In this first session, he was involved with the management of two private estate bills, and was appointed to the drafting committee of a bill to improve river communications with Boston. He was not active in the remaining sessions of this Parliament, but from May 1707 was eager for advancement, his patron Newcastle striving to secure him the governorship of Tynemouth. His candidacy was opposed by the ‘duumvirate’, Lord Godolphin describing him as one of Newcastle’s ‘whimsical’ allies, and the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) insisting that a veteran of the current war should get the post. The matter was not finally resolved until February 1708, and such hopes of preferment may have influenced his political loyalties, for in the winter of 1707–8 he was associated with the ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’, who sought to defend Godolphin against attack from disaffected Junto leaders. A parliamentary list of 1707–8 classed him as a Whig, but he did not gain the Tynemouth governorship.5
Whichcot secured an unopposed return for the county in 1708, and in the House confined himself to matters of local import, being named to drafting committees on the Boston church bill, and on the bill to confirm the estate of the Marquess of Lindsey (Robert Bertie*, Lord Willoughby de Eresby), one of his key electoral supporters. He adhered to the Whig line in that Parliament, voting for the naturalization of the Palatines in early 1709, and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell a year later. In fact, in the course of the trial he was granted a fortnight’s absence to return to Lincolnshire, whence he wrote to Newcastle:
I find all the parsons, who endeavour to incite the people, in greater heats here than the Oxonian parsons in London. And indeed they press their non-resistance doctrine so far that they rather excite the people against themselves than the government, which I tell all my friends they are not only angry at because they cannot have the administration of it themselves; and I do not doubt my arguments out of the pulpit will be as prevailing as theirs in it.
Such hopes were dashed at the general election held later in the year, when he stood alone against two Tory candidates. His campaign was again hampered by a shortage of money, and he warned Newcastle that he would not stand unless he was assured of receiving £200. Such assurances were presumably given, and after suffering a heavy defeat at the polls, he sought partial reimbursement of his expenses from the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Dorchester (Evelyn Pierrepont*).6
Financial embarrassment probably brought an end to Whichcot’s electioneering. In the immediate aftermath of defeat in 1710, he had spoken optimistically of strengthening his local interest, and expressed hope that the High Church ‘frenzy’ would pass, but he did not stand again. The advent of Hanoverian rule failed to resurrect his parliamentary career yet proved a boon to his fortunes, for in March 1718 he was granted an annual pension of £400. He did not enjoy this windfall for long, dying in 1720. The exact date of his demise has not been ascertained, but his will was proved on 3 Nov. 1720. In that year his heir Thomas was warned that the family estate had been much impaired by Whichcot’s political campaigns, and he was urged not to follow such an example. Nevertheless, Whichcot jnr. did emulate his father, representing Lincolnshire from 1740 to 1774.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci
- 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 1072–3; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1447; Barmston par. reg. (info. from Mr. J. Crawfurd-Stewart).
- 2. CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 157.
- 3. Lincs. Peds. 1069; Marlborough–?Godolphin Corresp. 805.
- 4. Hervey Letter Bks. i. 153; HMC Portland, ii. 181; Lincs. AO, Monson mss 7/12/105, Whichcot to Sir John Newton, 15 Nov. 1701.
- 5. Bodl. Ballard mss 34, ff. 90, 93; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 594, 784, 787, 796, 805, 816; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 229.
- 6. HMC Portland, 210; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2, 138, 290–1, William Jessop* to Newcastle, 4 July, Whichcot to same, 12 Aug., 17 Oct. 1710.
- 7. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2, 291, Whichcot to same, 17 Oct. 1710; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxii. 549; PCC 244 Shaller; J. W. F. Hill, Georgian Lincoln, 22.