Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sydenham, William

SYDENHAM, WILLIAM (1615–1661), Cromwellian soldier, baptised 8 April 1615, was the eldest son of William Sydenham of Wynford Eagle, Dorset, by Mary, daughter of Sir John Jeffrey of Catherston (Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 703). Thomas Sydenham [q. v.] was his brother. When the civil war broke out Sydenham and his three younger brothers took up arms for the parliament, and distinguished themselves by their activity in the local struggle (Vicars, God's Ark, pp. 82, 100; Bankes, Story of Corfe Castle, pp. 186, 190). In April 1644 he had risen to the rank of colonel, and on 17 June 1644 Essex appointed him governor of Weymouth (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644, pp. 137, 220, 271, 461, 478). In July Sydenham defeated a plundering party from the garrison of Wareham at Dorchester, and hanged six or eight of his prisoners as being ‘mere Irish rebels’ (Devereux, Lives of the Earls of Essex, ii. 418; Vicars, God's Ark, p. 286). This gave rise to equally cruel reprisals on the part of the royalists (Ludlow, Memoirs, i. 95). In conjunction with Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Sydenham captured Wareham (10 Aug. 1644) and Abbotsbury House (Rushworth, v. 697; Christie, Life of Shaftesbury, i. 63). He also defeated Sir Lewis Dyve, the commander-in-chief of the Dorset royalists, in various skirmishes, in one of which he killed, with his own hand, Major Williams, whom he accused of the murder of his mother (Vicars, Burning Bush, pp. 5, 62, 72). In February 1645 Sir Lewis Dyve surprised Weymouth, but Sydenham and the garrison of Melcombe Regis succeeded in regaining it a fortnight later (ib. p. 118; Lords' Journals, vii. 259, 262). In November 1645 Sydenham was elected member for Melcombe (Report on the Duke of Portland's MSS. p. 304; cf. Tanner MSS. lix. 44). On 1 March 1648 the House of Lords ordered Sydenham 1,000l. towards his arrears of pay to be raised by discoveries of delinquents' lands (Lords' Journals, x. 84). On 14 Aug. 1649 he and Colonel Fleetwood were appointed joint governors of the Isle of Wight (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 277).

Sydenham's political importance really begins with the expulsion of the Long parliament in 1653. He was a member of the council of thirteen appointed by the officers of the army (29 April 1653); was summoned to the Little parliament, and was re-elected by that assembly to the council of state on 9 July and 1 Nov. 1653 (Commons' Journals, vii. 283, 344). His views, however, were too conservative for him to sympathise with the policy of the Little parliament. On 6 Feb. 1649 he had been one of the tellers for the minority in the Long parliament who wished to retain the House of Lords, so on 10 Dec. 1653 he performed the same duty for the minority of the Little parliament who voted for the retention of an established church (ib. vi. 132, vii. 363). Two days later Sydenham took the lead in proposing that the assembly should dissolve itself, and may therefore be considered one of the founders of the protectorate (Ludlow, i. 366; Harleian Miscellany, ed. Park, iii. 485). Cromwell appointed Sydenham a member of his council, and made him also one of the commissioners of the treasury (2 Aug. 1654; Cal. State Papers, Dom., 1654, p. 284). His salary as councillor was 1,000l. a year, and he enjoyed a similar sum as commissioner (Harleian Miscellany, iii. 453, 478). Sydenham sat for Dorset in the parliaments of 1654 and 1656, distinguishing himself during the debates of the latter by his opposition to the exorbitant punishment the house wished to inflict on James Naylor (Burton, Diary, i. 51, 68, 86, 218, 257). When the Protector's intervention on behalf of Naylor raised a complaint of breach of privilege, Sydenham recalled the house to the real question. ‘We live as parliament men but for a time, but we live as Englishmen always. I would not have us be so tender of the privilege of parliament as to forget the liberties of Englishmen’ (ib. i. 274). He also spoke against anti-quaker legislation, and during the discussion of the petition and advice against the imposition of oaths and engagements (ib. i. 172, 174, ii. 275, 279, 291, 296). When in December 1657 Sydenham was summoned to Cromwell's House of Lords, a republican pamphlet remarked that, though ‘he hath not been thorough-paced for tyranny in time of parliaments,’ it was hoped he might yet be ‘so redeemed as never to halt or stand off for the future against the Protector's interest’ (Harleian Miscellany, iii. 478).

After the death of Oliver Cromwell Sydenham became one of Richard Cromwell's council; but in April 1659 he acted with Fleetwood, Desborough, and what was termed the Wallingford House party to force him to dissolve his parliament. According to Ludlow, he was one of the chief agents in the negotiation between the army leaders and the republicans which led to Richard's fall (Memoirs, ii. 61, 65, 66; Cal. State Papers, Dom., 1658–9, p. 354). On the restoration of the Long parliament Sydenham became a member of the committee of safety (7 May 1659) and of the council of state (16 May), though he had conscientious scruples against taking the oath required from members of the latter (ib. ii. 80, 84). He was also given the command of a regiment of foot (Commons' Journals, vii. 683). When Lambert turned out the Long parliament again, Sydenham took part with the army, and was made a member of their committee of safety (Ludlow, ii. 131, 139, 143). He even attempted to justify the violence of the army to the council of state, ‘undertaking to prove that they were necessitated to make use of this last remedy by a particular call of divine Providence’ (ib. ii. 140). When the Long parliament was again restored, Sydenham was called to answer for his conduct, and, failing to give a satisfactory explanation, was expelled (17 Jan. 1660). His regiment also was taken from him and given to John Lenthall, the speaker's son (Commons' Journals, vii. 813, 829). At the restoration the act of indemnity included him among the eighteen persons perpetually incapacitated from holding any office (29 Aug. 1660), and he was also obliged to enter into a bond not to disturb the peace of the kingdom (29 Dec. 1660, Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, pp. 320, 426).

Sydenham died in July 1661. He had married, in 1637, Grace, daughter of John Trenchard of Warmwell, who died about a week later than her husband (Hutchins, ii. 703).

[A Life of Sydenham is given in Noble's House of Cromwell, ed. 1787, i. 397; a pedigree of the family is in Hutchins's History of Dorset, ii. 703.]

C. H. F.