YONGE, William (c.1693-1755), of Colyton, Devon.

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



1715 - 1754
1754 - 10 Aug. 1755

Family and Education

b. c.1693, 1st s. of Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt., M.P., of Colyton by his 2nd w. Gwen, da. of Sir Robert Williams, 2nd Bt., M.P., of Penryn, Cornw. m. (1) 30 July 1716, Mary (div. 1724), da. of Samuel Heathcote of Hackney, sis. of Sir William Heathcote, 1st Bt., s.p.; (2) 14 Sept. 1729, Anne, da. and coh. of Thomas Howard, 6th Baron Howard of Effingham, 2s. 6da. K.B. 27 May 1725. suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 18 July 1731.

Offices Held

Commr. for stating army debts 1717-22, of Irish revenue 1723-4; ld. of Treasury 1724-7, 1730-5, of Admiralty 1728-30; recorder, Tiverton 1725-48; P.C. 6 Nov. 1735; sec. at war 1735-46; jt. vice-treasurer [I] 1746-d.


Sir William Yonge, Hervey writes,

was certainly a very remarkable instance how much character and reputation depend sometimes on unaccountable accident and the caprice of mankind; ... for, without having done anything that I know of particularly profligate—anything out of the common track of a ductile courtier and a parliamentary tool—his name was proverbially used to express everything pitiful, corrupt, and contemptible.1

Returned for the family seat at Honiton soon after coming of age, he made his first reported speech for the Government on the septennial bill in 1716. During the split in the Whig party he adhered to Sunderland, obtaining a place in 1717. On the Shaftesbury election petition in 1719, when William Benson was unseated, Yonge was one of the ministerial ‘underlings’ who ‘protracted the debate till two in the morning’, though their chiefs had walked out after losing a motion for adjourning at eleven.2 In a debate on the South Sea scheme, 23 Mar. 1720, he was one of the ministerial spokesmen who narrowly secured the rejection of Walpole’s motion for protecting holders of government loans by fixing the rate at which they might be converted into South Sea stock. Two days later he was among a number of Members who were credited by the South Sea Company with stock—in his case £3,000 at the current price of 350—which they did not pay for but were entitled to ‘sell’ back to the Company at any time, receiving as ‘profit’ any rise in the market priced.3 After Sunderland’s death he attached himself to Walpole, under whom he became a lord of the Treasury and one of the chief government spokesmen in the Commons.

He had [Hervey writes] a great command of what is called parliamentary language and a talent of talking eloquently without a meaning and expatiating agreeably upon nothing, beyond any man, I believe, that ever had the gift of speech.

Horace Walpole, who describes his eloquence as ‘astonishing’, states that

Sir Robert Walpole has often, when he did not care to enter early into the debate himself, given Yonge his notes, as the latter has come late into the House, from which he could speak admirably and fluently, though he had missed all the preceding discussion.

His parliamentary talents are shown by an incident in the Dunkirk debate of 14 Mar. 1730, in which Sandys, replying to Walpole’s aspersions on the last Tory Administration in Anne’s reign,

desired the Journal of 13 Reg. Anne might be read to show what was the sense of the majority at that time upon a motion relating to Dunkirk. He thought the majority at that time, who were the Tories, had made a strong address to the Queen to interpose for the more effectual performance of the treaty in demolishing Dunkirk, which Louis XIV was slow in doing; but Mr. Sandys in this overshot himself. Sir William Yonge, who remembered the matter, immediately seconded him, and the Journal was read, whereby it appeared that when the motion was made by the Whigs of that Parliament, who were the minority, for addressing the Queen, the ministry caused the previous question to be put whether the motion should be put, and carried in the negative. This silenced Mr. Sandys, and made Sir Robert Walpole triumph.

Chesterfield refers to him as one who had

by a glibness of tongue singly, raised himself successively to the best employments of the kingdom; he has been lord of the Admiralty, lord of the Treasury, secretary at war, and is now vice-treasurer of Ireland, and all this with a most sullied, not to say blasted, character.4

Yonge lost his place on the accession of George II, who

used always to call him ‘stinking Yonge’,5 and had conceived and expressed such an insurmountable dislike to his person and character that no interest nor influence was potent enough at this time to prevail with his Majesty to continue him ... However, Sir Robert advised him, upon this disgrace, to be patient, not clamorous, to submit, not resent or oppose, to be as subservient to the Court in attendance and give the King his assistance as constantly and as assiduously in Parliament as if he was paid for it; telling him and all the world what afterwards proved true, that whatever people might imagine, Yonge was not sunk, he had only dived, and would yet get up again.6

So he did, even overcoming the King’s prejudice sufficiently to become secretary at war, an office carrying access to the Closet on army business.

Yonge stood by Walpole to the end, excelling himself in a speech against the opposition motion of 21 Jan. 1742 for an inquiry into the conduct of the war. After Walpole’s fall, his three chief lieutenants, Yonge, Pelham and Winnington, showed ‘that the old courtiers and their party in the House of Commons were resolved to stick together’ by keeping the House up to one o’clock in the morning on an election petition while they ‘battled it in favour of the sitting Members, who were Sir Robert Walpole’s friends’. He retained his place, much to the indignation of the Opposition, who talked of impeaching him.7

When Pelham became chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of 1743, Yonge was ‘hurt’ at not succeeding him as paymaster general. To make up for this Pelham procured the King’s consent for a pension of £600 a year on Ireland for Lady Yonge, as charity.8 Owing to failing health he gave up the war office for a lucrative sinecure in 1746. He died 10 Aug. 1755.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. Hervey, Mems. 35-37.
  • 2. HMC Portland, v. 577.
  • 3. CJ, xix. 569.
  • 4. Hervey, loc. cit.; Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 23 n. 1; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 43; Chesterfield Letters, 2084.
  • 5. See PLUMER, Walter.
  • 6. Hervey, loc. cit.
  • 7. Walpole to Mann, 22, 25 Jan. 1742; HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 253, 255.
  • 8. Pelham to Devonshire, 1 Dec. 1743, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.