Bromley, William (1664-1732) (DNB00)

BROMLEY, WILLIAM (1664–1732), secretary of state, was descended from an old Staffordshire family, which traced its descent from Sir Walter Bromley, a knight in the reign of King John. He was the eldest son of Sir William Bromley, knight, and was born in 1663-4, at Baginton, Warwickshire, which had been purchased by his grandfather (Dugdale, Antiquities of Warwickshire, i. 232). In Easter term 1679 he entered, as a gentleman commoner, Christ Church College, Oxford, and on 5 July 1681 proceeded B.A. Shortly after leaving the university he spent several years in travelling on the continent, and in 1692 he published an account of his experiences under the title 'Remarks in the Grande Tour lately performed by a Person of Quality.' This was followed in 1702 by 'Several Years through Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, and the United Provinces, performed by a Gentleman.' Having in 1689 been chosen knight for Warwickshire in the parliament that met at Westminster, he was one of the ninety-two members who declined to recognise William III. In March 1701-2 he was returned for the university of Oxford , which he continued to represent during the remainder of his life. By the university he was, in August 1702, created D.C.L. In 1701 he was appointed by the commons a member of the committee of public accounts, and in 1702 he was chosen chairman of the committee of elections. He was an ardent supporter of the high-church party, and in 1702, 1703, and 1704 made strenuous endeavours to pass the bill against occasional conformity—a practice denounced by him as a 'scandalous hypocrisy.' For his untiring zeal on behalf of the bill he received the special thanks of the university of Oxford. He early acquired a high reputation as an able and effective debater, and from his high character, 'grave deportment, and mastery of the forms of the house, was supposed to have pre-eminent claims for the office of speaker, which became vacant in 1705. His candidature would undoubtedly have been successful had not his enemies hit upon the expedient of republishing his 'Remarks in the Grande Tour,' several passages in which had previously caused some comment as indicating a bias towards Jacobitism, and a probable leaning to Roman catholicism. The device, according to Oldmixon, was the invention of Robert Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, who, 'having one of those copies by him, reprinted it on that occasion; and to all that came to his house about that time he said: "Have you not seen Mr. B.'s travels?" Being answered in the negative, he went into a back parlour, where this impression of it lay, fetched it out, and gave every one a copy; till that matter was made up and the election secured' (History of England, 345). Among the more objectionable portions of the book was an account of his admission to kiss the pope's slipper, 'who,' the writer adds, 'though he knew me to be a protestant, gave me his blessing and said nothing about religion,' and a reference to William and Mary merely as Prince and Princess of Orange. To give point to the joke of republication, a 'table of principal matters' was added, in which a ludicrous travestie was given of certain of the contents. The issue purports to be the second edition, although a second edition had already appeared in 1693. The publication of the volume caused feeling to run very high, and, as Evelyn relates, 'there had never been so great an assembly on the first day of a sitting, being more than 450. The votes of the old as well as the new members fell to those called low churchmen, contrary to all expectation' (Diary, 31 Oct. 1705). The result was that John Smith, M.P. for Andover, was chosen over Bromley by a majority of forty-three votes. After the tory reaction following the trial of Dr. Sacheverell, Bromley was, on 25 Nov. 1710, chosen speaker without opposition. This office he exchanged in August 1713 for that of secretary of state. The death of Queen Anne caused the fall of the tory government, and he never again held office, though he maintained an influential position in the tory party. He died 13 Feb. 1731-2, and was buried at Baginton. His portrait is in the university gallery at Oxford.

Amid the keen and unscrupulous party strifes of this period of English history, and the peculiar temptations which beset politicians, Bromley succeeded in retaining a high reputation both for political prudence and for honesty. His undoubted sincerity rendered him, however, an extremely keen partisan. He displayed special bitterness in his attacks on Marlborough, and his comparison of the duchess to Alice Perrers, the mistress of Edward III, was a scandalous violation of the decencies of political warfare.

[Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 664-5; Rawlinson MSS. 4to, 4, 164; Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, i. 232-3; Oldmixon's History of England; Burnet's Own Times; Evelyn's Diary; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs; Gent. Mag. liv. 589-90; Manning's Lives of the Speakers, 416-23; Colville's Worthies of Warwickshire, 59-63.]

T. F. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.37
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
403 ii 15-11f.e. Bromley, William (1664-1732): for Having in 1689 . . . recognise William III read He was elected in February 1689-90 M.P. for Warwickshire
10f.e. for 1701-2 read 1700-1