ADDISON, Joseph (1672-1719), of Bilton, Warws. and Holland House, Kensington

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1708 - 20 Dec. 1709
11 Mar. 1710 - 17 June 1719

Family and Education

b. 1 May 1672, 1st s. of Lancelot Addison, D.D., dean of Lichfield, by Jane, da. of Nathaniel Gulston, D.D., rector of Wymondham, Leics.,1 sis. of William Gulston, D.D., bp. of Bristol. educ. Amesbury, Salisbury and Lichfield grammar schools and Charterhouse 1686; Queen’s, Oxf. 1687; demy at Magdalen, Oxf. 1689-97, fellow 1697-1711; travelled abroad 1699-1703. m. 9 Aug. 1716, Charlotte, da. and h. of Sir Thomas Middleton, 2nd Bt., of Chirk Castle, Denb., wid. of Edward Rich, 6th Earl of Warwick and 3rd Earl Holland, 1da. suc. fa. 1703.

Offices Held

M.P. [I] 1709-13.

Commr. of appeals in excise 1704-8; under-sec. to Sir Charles Hedges, M.P., sec. of state for the south, 1705-6; sec. to Lord Halifax on his mission to the United Provinces and Hanover Apr.-Aug. 1706; under-sec. to Earl of Sunderland, sec. of state for the south, 1706-9; sec. to Earl of Wharton, ld. lt. [I], 1708-10; P.C. [I] 1709; keeper of recs. in Dublin castle 1709-June 1719; sec. to lords justices Aug.-Sept. 1714; sec. to Earl of Sunderland, ld. lt. [I], Sept. 1714-Aug. 1715; ld. of Trade Dec. 1715-July 1717; P.C. 16 Apr. 1717; sec. of state, southern dept., Apr. 1717-Mar. 1718.


Joseph Addison, the essayist and poet, came from a Westmorland family settled in Maulds Meaburn since the 16th century. Under Queen Anne he was secretary to several of the Whig junto and, by his writing, took a full part in the political warfare against the Tories. He was the principal contributor to Sir Richard Steele’s Tatler and, with Steele, owned the Spectator, with which his name is chiefly associated. Brought into Parliament for Lostwithiel but unseated on petition next year, he was returned in March 1710 on Lord Wharton’s interest at a by-election for Malmesbury, which he continued to represent till his death.

No speech of his has been recorded. He is said to have made one attempt to speak in the Commons, but to have been so abashed by the cries of ‘Hear him! Hear him!’ that he subsided onto the bench speechless, never to try again.2 When he was given the important post of secretary to the lords justices at the time of the Hanoverian succession, his name was rumoured as a possible secretary of state,3 but he did not receive the expected preferment, nor was his patron, Lord Halifax, able to obtain for him either the secretaryship of the Treasury or a place at the board of Trade. Addison wrote to Halifax on 30 Nov. 1714:

I shall not trouble your Lordship with my resentments of the unhandsome treatment I have met with from some of our new great men ... but must beg leave to express my gratitude to your Lordship for the great favour you have shown me ... Young Craggs told me ... that his Majesty, though he did not think fit to gratify me in this particular, designed to give me a recompense for my service under the lords justices ... Since I find I am never to rise above the station in which I first entered upon public business (for I now begin to look upon myself like an old sergeant or corporal), I would willingly turn my secretaryships, in which I have served five different masters, to the best advantage I can: and as your Lordship is the only patron I glory in ... I hope you will honour me with your countenance in this particular. If I am offered less than a thousand pounds, I shall beg leave not to accept it since it will look more like a clerk’s wages than a mark of his Majesty’s favour ... I believe I am the first man that ever drew up a Prince of Wales’s preamble without so much as a medal for my pains.4

The King’s ‘recompense’ was not made till October 1715 when Addison’s office of keeper of the records in Dublin was re-granted to him for life with a salary increased from £400 to £500.5 Two days before his death he surrendered this place for ‘a good round price’.6

Meanwhile, as Sunderland, the lord lieutenant, did not go to Ireland, Addison continued to work as his Irish secretary in London and was able to attend Parliament. When the late Tory ministers were being impeached he wrote to Charles Delafaye, Sunderland’s private secretary, on 18 June 1715:

I have great difficulties with myself in relation to the Duke of Ormonde. When I was of the university of which he is chancellor I was favoured with his countenance and encouragement. When he succeeded my Lord Wharton in Ireland, he resisted many solicitations which were made for the place that I have ever since enjoyed in that kingdom. I shall never pardon myself if I give a vote that may have a tendency to the taking off his head ... I do not remember that since I have been in the House I have separated from my friends in a single vote: and all I propose to do is to be absent as by accident if this impeachment goes on.7

In December 1715 he at last obtained a place at the board of Trade, probably through Sunderland, as Halifax and Wharton were now dead. About the same time he began to publish the Freeholder, a series of essays directed against the Jacobites and in favour of the principles of the revolution and constitutional monarchy. A few months later he married the wealthy widow, the Countess of Warwick, with whom he went to live at Holland House. On the split of the Whig Party in April 1717, he was appointed by Sunderland to be secretary of state. Walpole called him ‘a miserable secretary of state’.8 According to the 1st Lord Egmont:

Latterly he took to drinking drams, which exhausted his vital spirits. Lord Sunderland made him secretary of state to keep others out who would not be his tool, and when that end was served, he was discarded again, for he knew nothing of business; but this was no reflection on him, his fine parts and genius lying another way, viz., to polite studies.9

Retired with a pension of £1,600,10 he supported Sunderland’s peerage bill by publishing the Old Whig in March 1719. He died 17 June 1719, leaving young Craggs as his literary executor.11

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: R. S. Lea


  • 1. N. Q. (ser. 10), x. 201-2.
  • 2. Smithers, Life of Addison, 377.
  • 3. Ibid. 289-90.
  • 4. Graham, Letters of Addison, no. 412.
  • 5. Ibid. no. 449; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 776-7.
  • 6. Lascelles, Lib. Mun. Pub. Hib. ii. 79; Life, 442.
  • 7. Letters, no. 438.
  • 8. Coxe, Walpole, i. 761.
  • 9. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 105.
  • 10. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxii. 264.
  • 11. Letters, no. 701.