Foley, Paul (DNB00)

FOLEY, PAUL (1645?–1699), speaker of the House of Commons, second son of Thomas Foley [q. v.] of Witley Court, Worcestershire, founder of the Old Swinford Hospital, was born in or about 1645 (Mon. Inscript.) In 1670 he purchased the estate of Stoke Edith, Herefordshire, from Alice Lingen, and between 1697 and 1699 pulled down the old house and built the present one. In 1679 he was chosen by the city of Hereford as one of its representatives, and served in the same capacity in seven parliaments in three successive reigns. He bore a high reputation for integrity and personal piety, due, perhaps, in part to the good influence of Richard Baxter, his father's bosom friend. In politics he was a strong tory, but was among those who insisted most strenuously upon the vacancy of the throne caused by the flight of James II. He was a member of the Convention parliament, and was one of the managers of the free conference between the two houses of parliament which took place in 1689 and led to the settlement of the succession. In 1690 (26 Dec.) Foley was elected by the House of Commons one of the commissioners for stating the public accounts, and showed himself a good financier, though his opinions on certain points were singular. If we may credit Roger North, he held that ‘all foreign trade was loss and ruinous to the nation’ (Life of Lord Guilford, i. 293)—a statement which may have meant only that by means of foreign trade the crown was rendered too independent of parliamentary supplies. But his honesty and industry were conspicuous and commended him to the House of Commons when it had to choose a speaker in place of the venal Sir John Trevor. An attempt was made by Wharton to impose on the house a nominee of the king, but, a division taking place, Foley was elected on 14 March 1694–5, and in the next parliament (November 1695) was again unanimously chosen. His conduct in the chair, which he occupied until December 1698, was upright and impartial. His independence showed itself conspicuously in his remarks on the king's rejection of the Place Bill. Foley took part in the debates from time to time. He spoke openly against the employment of Dutch and French officers in the English army and navy, and steadily opposed the attainder of Sir John Fenwick in 1696. Earlier in the same year Foley joined with Harley in proposing to parliament the establishment of a national land bank. A bill was passed authorising the government to borrow 2,564,000l. at seven per cent. It received the royal assent on 27 April. If before 1 Aug. half the sum had been subscribed, the subscribers were to be incorporated into a land bank, which was to lend annually on mortgages of land alone a sum of not less than 500,000l. Foley was one of the commissioners for raising the loan, but his efforts failed, and, in spite of various modifications of the original scheme, he and his colleagues were unable to borrow more than 2,100l. The land bank thus proved a disastrous failure. The library at Stoke Edith contains a valuable collection of books and pamphlets, which bear out Roger North's observation (ib. i. 292) that Foley was a busy student of records and had compiled a treatise which went further into the subject of precedents than either Cotton or Prynne had gone. Bishop Burnet, who naturally disparages a political opponent, yet gives him credit for being ‘a learned lawyer and a man of virtue and good principles’ (Hist. iv. 191), and Macaulay considers him to have been ‘superior to his partisan, Harley, both in parts and elevation of character’ (ib. iv. 67). Foley died from gangrene in the foot on 13 Nov. 1699 (MS. Family Notes), and was buried at Stoke Edith, where the inscription on his monument antedates his death by two days. He was not a man of extraordinary ability, but his political career was wholly free from those vices which most of the public men of his day displayed. He married Mary, daughter of Alderman Lane of London, and by her had two sons, Thomas (d. 1737), who was an active member of parliament, and Paul, a barrister-at-law. The grandson of the elder son, also Thomas, was raised to the peerage as Baron Foley of Kidderminster 20 May 1776. A similar peerage, held by a cousin, had become extinct ten years earlier [see Foley, Thomas]. The peerage of the second creation is still extant.

[Manning's Lives of the Speakers; Nash's Materials for Hist. of Worcestershire, ii. 460–2, App. 82–4; Parl. Hist. v. 64–108; Kennett, pp. 510–512; Luttrell's Brief Relation, iv. 583; Robinson's Manor Houses of Herefordshire, pp. 257–8; Macaulay's History.]

C. J. R.