Wharton, Thomas (1648-1715) (DNB00)


WHARTON, THOMAS, first Marquis of Wharton (1648–1715), third but eldest surviving son of Philip, fourth baron Wharton [q. v.], by his second wife, Jane, was born in August 1648. The boy's first years were, in the picturesque language of Macaulay, passed amid Geneva bands, heads of lank hair, upturned eyes, nasal psalmody, and sermons three hours long. When he emerged from parental control the cavaliers may well have been startled by the dissoluteness of the ‘emancipated precisian,’ who early acquired and retained to the last the reputation of being the greatest rake in England. But the abruptness of the transition was mitigated by the fact that he spent two years, 1663 and 1664, in foreign travel, in company with his brother Goodwin, visiting Italy and Germany in addition to France and the Low Countries. He entered parliament in 1673 as member for Wendover, retaining that seat until 1679, when he was returned for Buckinghamshire along with Richard Hampden, and he continued to represent the county until the death of his father early in 1696. Shortly after his entry into parliament he was, on 16 Sept. 1673, married at Adderbury, Oxfordshire, to Anne, daughter of Sir Henry Lee, fifth baronet of Ditchley, with whom he had 10,000l. dowry and 2,500l. a year [see Wharton, Anne]. The match, which was arranged by Lord Wharton, was a very advantageous one, but we are told that the lady's person was ‘not so agreeable to the bridegroom as to secure his constancy,’ and there were no children to the marriage, despite the pious hope of the poet Waller that heaven would ‘Mistress Wharton's bed adorn with fruit as fair as by her Muse is born.’ Wharton characteristically put off setting out to Wooburn to sign the marriage contract until within three hours of the time appointed. He then drove the distance of twenty-two miles in little over two hours—a notable feat upon the roads of those days. He remained to the very close of his life a great connoisseur of horse flesh, and possessed one of the costliest studs in the country. The payment of his wife's dowry enabled him to make a conspicuous figure at Newmarket, among the earliest annals of which place the doings of his horses Snail, Colchester, Jacob, Pepper, and Careless are recorded. Careless, a horse for which Louis XIV had in vain offered a thousand pistoles, was beaten in a famous match for 500l. in 1695 by the king's horse Stiff Dick. Careless carried nine stone, Stiff Dick a feather, yet so great was the reputation of Careless that the odds were seven to four against Stiff Dick (Muir, Newmarket Calendar; Memoirs, p. 98). In April 1699 this same horse won 1,900l. in stakes at Newmarket (Luttrell); but Wharton's greatest delight in horse-racing was to win plates from tories and high-churchmen, and several triumphs of this kind are recorded by Luttrell, notably the victory of his horse Chance for the Quainton Plate in September 1705. In 1704, being then fifty-six, he was severely hurt by a fall from a horse while coursing.

Wharton's interest in politics is not marked until 1679, when he joined his friends Lords Russell, Cavendish, and Colchester in backing the exclusion bill. He did not speak in the lower house against the succession of the Duke of York, and it was commonly supposed that, ‘his father being a presbyterian, he was afraid of incurring the reproach of fanaticism.’ In 1680, however, on 26 June, he signed the presentment to the grand jury of Middlesex, urging the indictment of James for non-attendance at church; he voted for the exclusion bill in November 1680, and was one of the members who carried it up to the House of Lords on 15 Nov. In May 1685 Wharton was one of the very small minority who voted against settling the revenue upon James for life, on the ground that a portion of this sum would be devoted to the maintenance of a standing army. Next month he was suspected of complicity with Monmouth, and his house at Winchendon, where he habitually lived in preference to Wooburn, was ineffectually searched. He corresponded with the prince of Orange during 1688, and in November he joined him at Exeter, where he had a large share in drawing up the address, signed by Sir Edward Seymour and Sir William Portman.

But the most effective blow that Wharton dealt against the old dynasty was delivered in 1687, when he composed the words of a satirical ballad upon the administration of Tyrconnel, describing the mutual congratulations of a couple of ‘Teagues’ upon the coming triumph of popery and the Irish race. The verses attracted little notice at first, but set to a quick step by Purcell, the song, known by its burden of ‘Lilli Burlero, Bullen-a-la,’ became a powerful weapon against James. ‘The whole army,’ says Burnet, ‘and at last all people in city and country were singing it perpetually. Perhaps never had so slight a thing so great an effect’ (it was first printed in 1688 on a single sheet as ‘A New Song,’ with the air above the words: Brit. Mus. C. 38 i. 25. Its effect was emphasised in A Pill to purge State Melancholy, 1715, pref.; it was reprinted in Poems on State Affairs, iii. 230, and in Revolution Politicks, 1733, pt. iii. p. 6, and finally found its way into Percy's Reliques. Sterne appropriately made it the favourite air of ‘my Uncle Toby’ who had served on the Boyne). Wharton is said to have boasted after the event that he had sung a king out of three kingdoms.

Wharton first made himself felt as a politician in the convention parliament of 1688–1689, in which he strongly upheld the view, in opposition to the upper house, that the ‘throne was vacant.’ On 1 Feb. 1689, after supporting the vote of thanks to the protestant clergy, Wharton moved ‘for the thanks of the house to such of the army who have behaved themselves so bravely in opposition to popery and slavery … Churchmen are paid for it, but the army was for another purpose’ (Grey, ix. 41). William and Mary were proclaimed on 14 Feb., and a few days later Wharton was named a privy councillor and comptroller of the household (the warrant in Addit. MS. 5763, f. 6, is dated 21 Feb.).On 1 March he brought a message from the king to the house touching the remission of the hearth tax. In 1690 he attended William to The Hague, when the king held a conference with his German allies, and he is said to have done his best to convince the Germans that ‘we had as good bottlemen as soldiers in England.’ But the comptroller never advanced very far in his royal master's confidence; he was for ever annoying William by hinting his eligibility for higher appointments, while, on the other hand, he was all eagerness to convince the commons of his independence of court control. In 1695 he was on the committee appointed to inspect the books of the East India Company, and in November 1696 he was very zealous in pushing forward the attainder against Sir John Fenwick. In the meantime, by the death of his father on 6 Feb. 1695–6, Wharton had succeeded to the peerage and a clear income of 8,000l. a year. By 1697 he was already claiming an important place in the ministry, and it was a severe blow to him and his friends when, upon the retirement of Trumbull, on 1 Dec. 1697, Vernon was preferred to the vacant secretaryship. The king tried in vain after this to induce him to give Sunderland some moral support in the House of Lords. Yet Wharton had in April obtained the lucrative post of warden of the royal forests south of Trent. As lord lieutenant for Oxfordshire during October 1697, in his passion for pure whig principles, he removed five heads of colleges from the commission of the peace, and put in twenty-four new justices (Luttrell, iv. 298). In March 1698 the king and Shrewsbury were his guests at Wooburn, and in January 1699 the same distinguished personages were godsons to Wharton's son, while the Princess Anne stood godmother. In 1700, as an emissary of the court, Wharton proposed amendments in the bill for the resumption of Irish land grants, but he had to beat a retreat before the strong outcry raised against foreigners and favouritism, which was quite irrespective of party. In January 1702 he was made lord lieutenant of his own county of Buckingham, only to be dismissed from this as well as all his other offices in July, upon the accession of Anne, who is said to have had a strong personal dislike for him, doubtless regarding him as the enemy of the church. The comptrollership went to his special foe, Sir Edward Seymour, whom he had done his best to injure over the East India Company inquiry.

During the latter part of 1702 Wharton was much occupied by a suit concerning the ownership of some lead-mines in Yorkshire, where he had a considerable property. He lost the case by a decision of 14 Nov. in the queen's bench (ib. v. 235 seq.); but Wharton was excessively litigious, various appeals were made, and the case dragged on with varying fortune until the close of his life. In December 1703 he was elected by the lords one of the committee to investigate the so-called Scots plot. During the whole of this year he had been unwearying in his efforts to prevent the passing of the bill against occasional conformity. In January his ardour impelled the lords to the amendments which brought about the shelving of the bill for the remainder of the session. In reply to some personal attacks, Wharton explained to the lords that he had the church of England service read twice a day at Winchendon by his chaplain, Mr. Kingford, and that he commanded all his servants to assist at this solemnity; but, however strict he might be with his servants, it was well understood that Wharton's own conformity was of the most occasional description. Prince George, the queen's consort, who was in the same position, voted with the tories, but he is said to have explained to Wharton that he did so much against his will. ‘My heart is vid you,’ ran the story, was what he said (Tindal). In November a modified bill was passed by the commons and again thrown out. Wharton was urgent with his hearers in the upper house to look to the distracted state of Scotland, and to refrain from irritating the dissenters at home. Unpopular as the success of these manœuvres rendered Wharton with the majority in the House of Commons, he was rendered still more obnoxious by the underground influence which he wielded throughout the Aylesbury franchise case. Throughout 1703 and the following year he gave his steady support to Matthew Ashby, the burgess of Aylesbury, against the returning officer, who was also mayor of Aylesbury, William White. Local feeling was naturally very strong in favour of Ashby's right to exercise the franchise that he had inherited, and Wharton saw in the affair a sure means of extending whig influence in a borough in which he was already powerful. It was mainly through Wharton's advice and aid that Ashby was enabled to appeal to the House of Lords in February 1704, and he maintained Ashby and his fellow burgesses in Newgate (whither they were committed by the commons for breach of privilege) until, in March 1705, the queen, by proroguing parliament, put an end to this complicated dispute between the two houses (Parl. Hist. vi. 225, 376; Howell, State Trials, xiv. 695; Hallam, Constitutional Hist. ii. 436).

The success of the whig tactics throughout this affair was soon made evident, and Wharton followed it up by the unparalleled exertions which he made on behalf of the whig interest in the election of 1705; he is said to have expended upwards of 12,000l., ‘whence his other payments ran deeply in arrear;’ but the remarkable success which attended his efforts (as manifested in the new house which assembled in October) greatly increased his influence with the leaders of the party. On 16 April 1705, when the queen went from Newmarket to Cambridge to dine in Trinity College hall, Wharton attended her majesty and was admitted LL.D. In December, upon the occasion of the debate about the church being in danger, Wharton intervened with a greater freedom of speech than had hitherto been sanctioned by usage in the upper house. When the archbishop of York proposed that judges should be consulted as to means of suppressing the seminaries of dissenters, Wharton moved that judges should also be consulted as to nonjurors' seminaries, it being well known that the archbishop's own sons were at such a school (Boyer, p. 217). Wharton indeed kept the earlier part of this debate alive by his impertinencies, and Dartmouth observed with grave regret that he had introduced the vulgarities and flippancies of debates in another place into the more august assembly. Wharton was only suppressed when the veteran Duke of Leeds got up and hinted not obscurely at some gross indecencies perpetrated within a church of which common report held him guilty.

On 10 April 1706 Wharton was named an English commissioner for the treaty of union with Scotland (Mackinnon, p. 221). On 10 May in this year he forwarded to the elector of Hanover, by Halifax, a complimentary letter in which he claimed the merit of having tried to serve his country (the letter, in French, is in Stowe MS. 222, f. 394); he received a polite reply dated 20 June, and answers similarly conceived were sent to Somers, Newcastle, Bolton, Sunderland, Godolphin, and Orford. The date may be taken to mark the point from which he continued to act deliberately in concert with the whig junta—Halifax, Orford, Somers, and Sunderland. On 23 Dec. 1706 he was created Viscount Winchendon and Earl of Wharton, but the capitulation of Godolphin and Marlborough to the whig junta, complete though it was, was not of itself sufficient to satisfy him. In November 1707, in the course of the debate on the address, he took the opportunity to harangue the lords upon the decay of trade and agriculture. Marlborough took Wharton aside after the debate, and, after some rather heated expostulation on both sides, the ‘discontented earl’ was mollified by a promise of the viceroyship in Ireland as soon as ever a vacancy should be created (Boyer, p. 311). Just a year later (25 Nov. 1708), on the Earl of Pembroke being advanced to be lord high admiral, Wharton was appointed to succeed him in the lord-lieutenancy, a post which he held down to October 1710. He appointed as his secretary Joseph Addison, whom he soon afterwards put into his borough of Malmesbury (20 Dec. 1709). Wharton landed at Ringsend on 21 April 1709, opened the Irish parliament a fortnight later (5 May), and during the session ‘procured an admirable bill to prevent the growth of popery’ by which it was enacted that the estates of the Irish papists should descend to their protestant heirs (passed 30 Aug. 1709). He thus ‘did more towards rooting out popery in three months than any of his predecessors had done in three years.’ He left Dublin in September for Chester, and the Irish parliament conveyed their humble thanks to the queen for having sent a person of so ‘great wisdom and experience to be our chief governor.’ The high-church party were not quite so complacent (cf. Hearne, Collectanea, iii. 71, 100). Several of ton's appointments were scandalous, and it was a current story that he had recommended one of his boon companions to a bishop for ecclesiastical preferment as of ‘a character practically faultless but for his damnably bad morals.’ While in England Wharton was instrumental in having five hundred families of poor palatines settled in Ireland, and to him is also said to be due the acclimatisation of legitimate opera in that country. Thomas Clayton [q. v.], the composer of ‘Arsinoe,’ is stated to have gone over to Ireland in Wharton's train and to have produced an opera in Dublin in the course of 1709.

During his absence in Ireland there is no doubt that the whigs missed the aid of the most astute party manager they had ever had, but by the vehemence with which he pushed forward the Sacheverell trial there is equally no doubt that Wharton contributed to the temporary defeat of his political allies. His prominence in the affair led to his house in Dover Street being threatened by the ‘mobility’ on 10 Feb. 1710; he spoke at length in defence of the revolution in the great debate of 16 March (ib. p. 429). In the conferences that went on during the summer as to whether the whigs should form a kind of coalition with Harley, Wharton (who had bitterly opposed the admission of Harley into the administration in 1705) took the direction of whig policy very much into his own hands, and it was largely owing to his influence that the idea of a modus vivendi with the tories was so completely scouted.

For the time being (after the election of September 1710) the eclipse of the whig party was complete, but it was just during this period that the services of Wharton in keeping alive and fostering every element of discontent and opposition were most invaluable to his party. On 2 Jan. 1711–12, when the twelve new peers, or occasional peers as they were nicknamed, were introduced into the house, it was Wharton who, when the question about adjourning was going to be put, asked one of the newcomers whether they voted singly or by their foreman. Next month he entertained Prince Eugène with a befitting splendour and with a greater zest because it was thought by the populace that the great captain was being rather neglected by the tories. On 28 May 1712 he signed the protest, afterwards expunged from the ‘Lords' Journals,’ against the ‘restraining orders’ given to Ormonde (Rogers, i. 212). On 30 June 1713 he moved an address to the queen urging her to use her ‘influence’ with the Duke of Lorraine to procure the expulsion of the Pretender from Nancy, and, the motion having been carried after a vivacious debate, Wharton was on 2 July one of the lords who carried the address up to her majesty. About the same time, with the aid of the Duke of Portland, he managed successfully to resist the passing of a bill for the revision of the grants of William III. The fact that there were seventy-three voices on either side shows how equally the lords were divided between the two parties. This also explains the decision of the house in April 1713, when a committee appointed to investigate malpractices touching the management of the public revenue reported that Wharton had received 1,000l. from George Hutchisson to procure the latter the post of registrar of seizures in the custom-house. The whigs were sufficiently strong to procure a resolution to the effect that, the affair having taken place before the queen's general pardon of 1709, the delinquency should be passed over with a censure (16 May; cf. Boyer, p. 631).

On 2 March 1714 Wharton made a complaint against ‘a scandalous anonymous libel [by Swift] entitled “The Public Spirit of the Whigs,”’ and he tried his utmost, but without success, to prove the authorship. On 22 March he opposed the Easter adjournment on the ground that not one moment of time should be lost in addressing her majesty on behalf of the distressed Catalans (ib. p. 679), a distasteful subject which he resumed in April. On 4 June 1714 he spoke with vigour against the schism bill, saying that as what was schism with us was the established religion of Scotland, he hoped that the lords who represented Scotland would bring forward a similar bill to prevent the growth of Anglican schism in their country. When the bill passed the lords on 11 June he signed the protest against it (Rogers, i. 221). He was never tired of reopening the question of the unwisdom of the treaty of Utrecht, and on 6 July he attacked Arthur Moore [q. v.] by name in connection with the Spanish treaty of commerce.

During the illness of Anne he was prominent among the whig lords of the privy council who reasserted their right of attendance at the council board, and who issued orders to ensure the peaceable proclamation of George I; but his name was not upon the list of regents, probably because he was known to be an extreme man and personally objectionable to the late queen. On 15 Feb. 1715 he was created Marquis of Wharton and Malmesbury, having been already created in the previous month (7 Jan. 1714–1715) Baron of Trim, Earl of Rathfarnam, and Marquis of Catherlough in Ireland (Boyer, Political State). But he did not enjoy his new honours long, and was only destined to enjoy, as it were, a Pisgah view of the era of whig prosperity he had done so much to promote. He fell ill in March, and was attended by Garth and Blackmore, but died at his house in Dover Street on 12 April 1715 (his will, dated 8 April, was printed shortly after his death). He was buried at Winchendon on 22 April. His second wife, whom he married in July 1692, was Lucy (d. 5 Feb. 1716), daughter and heiress of Adam Loftus, viscount Lisburne, a lady who brought him a huge fortune, and whose gallantries he bore with the indifference of a stoic. Lady Wortley-Montagu calls her ‘a flattering, fawning, canting creature, affecting prudery and even sanctity, yet in reality as abandoned and unscrupulous as her husband himself’—that ‘most profligate, impious, and shameless of men.’ By her Wharton left issue Philip, second marquis and first duke of Wharton [q. v.]; Jane, who married first John Holt and secondly Robert Coke of Hillingdon; and Lucy, who married and was divorced from Sir William Morice.

Wharton was in some respects a pupil of Danby, while in not a few he was a precursor of Walpole; at least, he was the most thoroughgoing party man and party organiser on the whig side between 1700 and 1714. His partisanship was far from disinterested, but it had at least the merit of sincerity. Introduced into public life about 1678, when the factious spirit had just begun to rage with all the virulence of a new epidemic, he retained through life his conception of a tory as no true Englishman, but one who, with fine phrases about church and crown on his lips, was at heart a Jacobite and a favourer of papists, was in fact an unmitigated scoundrel and an enemy of his country.

Wharton's success at gaining elections, writes his panegyrist, ‘made him the butt of the tories' hatred and scandal, which he despised, and went on his own way, weakening and mortifying them as much as lay in his power, looking on them not as his enemies so much as they were enemies of his country.’ His unbounded success at elections was no mystery. He spared no expense, took a pride in making his constituents drunk on the best ale, and knew all the electors' children by name. One of his rules was never to give and never refuse a challenge, and such was his skill in fence that he always succeeded in disarming his adversary—notably in two election duels: one in July 1699 with Viscount Cheyney (cf. Macaulay, chap. xxv.), and the other with a son of Sir Robert Dashwood at Bath on 2 Sept. 1703 (Luttrell, v. 334). Another of his rules, said his enemies, was never to refuse or to keep an oath; and certain it is that ‘honest Tom Wharton,’ as he was commonly called, had a tremendous reputation for lying. So fluent and so insolent was he in this respect that Lord Dartmouth once asked him how he could run on in such a manner, to which he replied, ‘Are you such a simpleton as not to know that a lie well believed is as good as if it were true?’

Apart from his private grievance (that Wharton had refused him the chaplaincy in 1709), Swift hated Wharton as ‘an atheist grafted upon a dissenter,’ and in his famous sixpenny chap-book, entitled ‘Short Character of T[homas] E[arl] of W[harton] L.L. of I[reland],’ and published at the Black Swan on Ludgate Hill in the winter of 1710–11, he dissects his character ‘with the same impartiality that he would describe the nature of a serpent, a wolf, a crocodile, or a fox.’ Swift is probably not far wrong in summing up Wharton as wholly occupied by ‘vice and politics, so that bawdy, prophaneness, and business fill up his whole conversation.’ On Macky's description his well-known comment is—‘the most universal villain I ever knew.’

According to Bishop Warburton, who became possessed of a number of Wharton's papers, the marquis was the author of the pretended letter of Machiavelli to Zenobius Buondelmontius in vindication of his writings appended to the English translation of Machiavelli, which appeared in folio in 1680; but this affirmation of the bishop is open to the gravest doubt (see Walpole, Royal and Noble Authors, 1806, iv. 66 sq.). Steele dedicated the fifth volume of the ‘Spectator’ to Wharton in 1713, and John Hughes (1677–1720) [q. v.] dedicated to him his version of Fontenelle's ‘Dialogues of the Dead’ in 1708.

The portrait of Wharton by Kneller, as a member of the Kit-Cat Club, was engraved in mezzotint by J. Simon (for sale by Tonson), also by T. Johnson, and by John Faber for the ‘Kit-Cat Club’ (1735); but the best engraving is that on steel by Houbraken, dated ‘Amst. 1744.’

[No life of Wharton has appeared since the panegyrical ‘Memoirs’ of 1715. Of the materials which are ample few are overlooked by Macaulay. Shortly after the Memoirs appeared ‘A Dialogue of the Dead between … Signor Gilbertini [Burnet] and Count Thomaso in the Vales of Acheron,’ an amusing bit of raillery worthy of Arbuthnot. In January 1716 was issued in folio ‘A Poem to the Memory of Thomas, Marquiss of Wharton,’ a fluent and fulsome memorial in heroic verse, dedicated to the dowager marchioness. In 1720, in a letter to Mrs. Howard, describing an imaginary visit to Tartarus, Mrs. Bradshaw gives an amusing description of the intercourse she held down below with ‘our old friend Lord Wharton’ (Suffolk Correspondence, i. 66–8). The chief authorities are Boyer's Life of William III and Reign of Queen Anne, passim; Parl. Hist. vols. vi–viii.; Burnet's Own Time; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, vols. iv. v. vi. passim; White Kennett's Wisdom of Looking Backwards; Browne's Country Parson's Advice to the Lord Keeper, 1706; Swift's Journal to Stella and Memoirs on the Change of the late Queen's Ministry; Wyon's Hist. of Queen Anne; Ranke's Hist. of England, vols. iv. v. and vi.; Zedler's Universal Lexikon, 1748, lv. 1480–3; Klopp's Fall des Hauses Stuart, vols. vi. and vii.; Memoirs of the Kit-Cat Club, 1821, pp. 70–83; Foxcroft's Halifax, ii. 227; Smith's Mezzotint Portraits, pp. 258, 378, 738, 1124, 1234; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 89, 3rd ser. vii. 475, 5th ser. viii. 37; Addit. MS. 29561 f. 370 (letter to Lord Hatton in 1686), 34340 f. 43; Wharton Papers in Bodleian Library.]

T. S.