SHIPPEN, William (1673-1743), of Norfolk St., London.

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



29 Dec. 1707 - 15 Jan. 1709
8 Dec. 1710 - 1713
1713 - 1715
1715 - 1 May 1743

Family and Education

bap. 30 July 1673, 2nd s. of Rev. William Shippen, D.D., rector of Stockport, Lancs. educ. Stockport g.s.; B.N.C. Oxf. 1687; Westminster 1688; Trinity, Camb. 1691; M. Temple 1693, called 1699. m. (lic. 17 July 1712, with £70,000) Frances, da. of Sir Richard Stote of Jesmond Hall, Northumb., serjeant-at-law, coh. to her bro. Bertram Stote, s.p.

Offices Held

Commr. of public accounts (£500 p.a.) and for stating army debts (£500 p.a.) 1711-14.


William Shippen, with only a modest income of his own, married an heiress. An ardent Jacobite, he took a leading part in the commission of accounts set up in 1711 to discredit the late Whig Government, presenting to the House of Commons the evidence for the commission’s charges of peculation against Marlborough. Returned in 1715 for Newton on the interest of the Legh family, into which his elder brother had married, he quickly established himself as one of the most prolific opposition speakers, sending his speeches to the Political State for publication.1 At the end of the session of 1717 Atterbury reported to the Pretender that Shippen’s ‘services in the House of Commons can never be sufficiently acknowledged’. He was rewarded with a letter of appreciation from the Pretender which for some time he was unable to answer, having been sent to the Tower for describing the King’s speech opening the next session as ‘rather calculated for the meridian of Germany than that of Great Britain’, and the King as ‘a stranger to our language and constitution’. His imprisonment was an inconvenience in more ways than one to Atterbury, who had entrusted him with raising the money required to finance a projected Swedish invasion for the restoration of the Stuarts, and also with a plan for disrupting the Anglo-French alliance, which had now to be dropped. Its effect on Shippen, according to a Jacobite agent, was that for some time after his release he ‘spoke often and well to the nature of the thing, but no personal reflections. In short, [he] has taken wise advice not to go to the Tower again’.2 However, by 1719 he had recovered sufficiently to risk another gibe at the royal family, observing

when it was urged in the debate in relation to the schism bill that it was unnatural to deprive parents of the education of their children [that] since it was now the case of the greatest subject in England [the Prince of Wales], he did not see why others should complain.3

After the collapse of the South Sea Company, in whose stock he had refused to speculate,4 though offered £4,000 stock by Craggs with the prospect of a £10,000 profit, he provoked Craggs into offering to fight him for asserting that he knew some ministers who were no less guilty than the directors. He spoke and voted against Sunderland on the charge of accepting bribes from the Company, replying to Tories who objected that this was playing Walpole’s game that he would ‘be against them all in their turns. Overturn, overturn all Whigs’.5 Later in the year a representative of the Scotch Tories, who had met him to concert plans for the general election, reported to the Pretender that Shippen had told him that Sunderland had recently made advances ‘with great earnestness’ to the English Tories, which they had ‘utterly rejected’,

resolving to enter into no concert with any of the two contending powers at court, but to stick together and wait till it pleased God some event might occur, that would give them an occasion to do you and the country service.6

On the discovery of Atterbury’s plot in 1722 Shippen’s house was searched for papers but, though his name was mentioned in the ensuing trials, he himself was not arrested. During the proceedings in Parliament in 1723 against Atterbury and his accomplices he insinuated that the arrest of John Freind on a charge of high treason had been due to his recent attacks on ministers in connexion with the plot and that it was therefore an interference with freedom of speech in Parliament. On a bill of pains and penalties against another of the conspirators he pointed out

how slender the evidence was and that people without doors might say it was extorted, suborned and bought, and was going on in that strain but was taken down by the Speaker.7

In the budget debate of 1726 he made a personal attack on Walpole, accusing him of stock jobbing.

He went on with great violence and insolence, he said he would do anything to bring such a bear to the stake; that as much as he detested a bill of pains and penalties, he would readily come into it to make such a monster spew up his ill-gotten wealth.8

On George II’s accession Shippen was one of the few Tory leaders who did not go to court to pay their ‘condolence and congratulations on the new King’. Walpole’s motion for an increased civil list was ‘unopposed by anybody but Mr. Shippen, the head of the veteran staunch Jacobites’. Shippen, a Jacobite observed in 1728, ‘keeps his honesty at a time when almost everybody is wavering.’9 When Pulteney in 1729 agreed to the Address after saying that he would oppose it, Shippen hinted that he had been ‘softened’ by a report that he was to be sent to the Tower for an attack on the Government in the Craftsman. Next year he sailed close to the wind with another near-seditious speech on the army:

Shippen said that at this rate he saw no prospect of being free from a government by a standing army; that he hoped the German constitution of ruling by an army was not to be introduced here, and that in England a King who should propose to govern by an army was a tyrant. This bold and audacious speech struck the House mute, till Sir William Yonge got up and said such things were not proper to be heard, and were intolerable, that the House ought to make him explain himself, not but that he believed the House understood his meaning. Shippen said something to extenuate his expression, but not to much satisfaction. Sir Robert Walpole said what was proper, and concluded that it was believed there would have been a long debate, but what Shippen had said had so shocked gentlemen that he could find nothing wiser than go to the question immediately.

On the excise bill in 1733 he dissociated himself from a ‘violent motion’ by Wyndham, directed to securing the formal rejection of the excise bill, expressing himself as satisfied with Walpole’s announcement that it was to be dropped. Later in the same session he not only spoke ‘obstinately’ against the Princess Royal’s marriage portion, which neither Pulteney nor Wyndham opposed, but

when the question was put for agreeing with the motion, said No, as did Sir John Cotton, and one or two more, that it might not appear in the votes that the House was unanimous in this affair, an ill-natured and scandalous procedure.10

In the following session he and his ‘squadron’ again parted company from their Whig allies by refusing to support a motion for making army officers not above the rank of colonel irremovable except by court martial.11

During Shippen’s last years his activity fell off and his political position became increasingly isolated. He did not conceal his dislike of the leaders of the opposition Whigs, declaring that ‘Robin and I are two honest men; he is for King George and I for King James; but those men in long cravats [meaning Sandys, Rushout and Gybbon] only desire places, either under King George or King James’.12 Nor was he now prepared to go as far as the extremist members of his own party. When in 1740 an emissary from the Pretender came over to sound the English Jacobites as to a rising, combined with a French invasion, Shippen displayed such alarm ‘upon the prospect of real business’ that it was considered advisable to leave him out of the consultations.13 On the opposition Whig motion for Walpole’s removal in 1741 he walked out, declaring that ‘he would not pull down Robin on republican principles’.14 He took little part in the closing scenes of Walpole’s Administration. His last recorded speeches were made on the King’s speech opening Walpole’s last Parliament, when ‘the Jacobites, with Shippen and Lord Noel Somerset at their head, were for a division, Pulteney and the Patriots against one’; and on the army estimates of 1742, which were voted without a division, ‘Shippen alone, unchanged opposing’.15 He died 1 May 1743.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Pol. State, xxxvii. p. vii.
  • 2. HMC Stuart, v. 558, 287, 325, 419; vi. 260; vii. 574.
  • 3. HMC Portland, v. 576.
  • 4. HMC Popham, 253; Egerton 2618, ff. 221-6.
  • 5. Stuart mss 53/13.
  • 6. Lockhart Pprs. ii. 69-71.
  • 7. Knatchbull Diary, 5 Apr. 1723.
  • 8. HMC Portland, vii. 420.
  • 9. Stuart mss 108/44, 122/109; Hervey, Mems. i. 34.
  • 10. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 11, 361, 371-2; iii. 331.
  • 11. HMC Carlisle, 132.
  • 12. Coxe, Walpole, i. 671-2.
  • 13. Stuart mss 221/109, 223/124.
  • 14. Yorke, Hardwicke, i. 252.
  • 15. Walpole to Mann, 10 Dec. 1741 and 25 Feb. 1742.