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Wriothesley, Thomas (1607-1667) (DNB00)


WRIOTHESLEY, THOMAS, fourth Earl of Southampton (1607–1667), second but eldest surviving son of Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton [q. v.], born in 1607, was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. He succeeded to the earldom on his father's death on 10 Nov. 1624, and inherited large property in London as well as in Hampshire. He owned the manor of Bloomsbury, besides Southampton House in Holborn. From Oxford he proceeded to the continent, and stayed for nearly ten years in France and the Low Countries. He married in France in August 1634, and soon afterwards returned home. In August 1635 he suffered serious anxiety from the persistency with which the king and his ministers laid claim in the name of the crown to his property in the New Forest about Beaulieu. In October 1635 a forest court, sitting under the Earl of Holland at Winchester, issued a decree depriving him of land worth 2,000l. a year. The earl petitioned for relief, and nine months later the king agreed to forego the unjust seizure of the property.

A man of moderate views, Southampton resented warmly the king's and the Earl of Strafford's extravagant notions of sovereignty. He was reluctant to identify himself with the champions of popular rights; but the close friendship, however, which had subsisted between his own father and the father of the third Earl of Essex inclined him to act with the latter when the differences between the king and parliament first became pronounced. During the Short parliament of 1640, he declared himself against the court, and in April voted in the minority in the House of Lords which supported the resolution of the House of Commons that redress of grievances should precede supply. But he went no further with the advanced party of the House of Commons. Although he had little sympathy with Strafford, he disliked the rancour with which the House of Commons pursued him. He dissociated himself from Essex when criminal proceedings were initiated against Strafford, and the estrangement grew rapidly. On 3 May 1641 he declined assent to Pym's ‘protestation against plots and conspiracies.’ This was signed by every other member present in each of the two houses, excepting Lord Robartes and himself. The commons avenged Southampton's action by voting that ‘what person soever who should not take the protestation was unfit to bear office in the church or commonwealth.’ Thenceforth Southampton completely identified himself with the king. He was soon appointed a lord of the king's bedchamber, and joint lord lieutenant for Hampshire (3 June 1641), and next year became a member of the privy council (3 Jan. 1641–2). He became one of the king's closest advisers, and remained in attendance on him with few intervals till his death. He accompanied Charles on his final departure from London in the autumn of 1641, but was hopeful until the last that peace would be easily restored. No sooner had Charles I set up his standard at Nottingham than Southampton prevailed on him to propose a settlement to the parliament. On 25 Aug. 1642 the king sent him and Culpepper to Westminster to suggest a basis for negotiation, but the parliament summarily rejected the overture. The king entrusted to Southampton the chief management of the fruitless treaty with the parliamentary commissioners at Oxford in 1643. Whitelocke says that the earl stood by the king daily during the progress of the negotiations, whispering him and advising him throughout. In the succeeding year he was appointed a member of the council for the Prince of Wales. On 17 Dec. 1644 Southampton and the Duke of Richmond, after receiving a safe-conduct from the parliament, again brought to Westminster a letter, in which Charles requested the houses to appoint commissioners to treat of peace. In January 1645 Southampton, whose efforts for peace never slackened, represented the king at the abortive conference at Uxbridge. Later in the year Southampton again pressed on the king the urgent need of bringing the war to an end. In April 1646 the king sent him and the Earl of Lindsay to Colonel Rainsborough, who was attacking Woodstock, with instructions to open negotiations through the colonel with the army. On 24 June 1646 Southampton was one of the privy councillors who, on behalf of the king, arranged with Sir Thomas Fairfax for the surrender of Oxford.

Before Southampton left Oxford a hasty rebuke from Prince Rupert led to a quarrel between the prince and Southampton, which led Rupert to send Southampton a challenge. Southampton chose to fight on foot with pistols. Sir George Villiers was appointed his second, but after all arrangements had been made for a duel the friends of the parties intervened and effected a reconciliation. In October 1647 Southampton, with the Duke of Richmond, Marquis of Ormonde, and others, ‘came to the king at Hampton Court, intending to reside there as his council,’ but the army vetoed the arrangement (Whitelocke, ii. 219). On 12 Nov. 1647 the king visited the Earl of Southampton at his house at Titchfield, on his way to the Isle of Wight, and Southampton followed the king thither. He afterwards claimed to have been the first to show the king at Carisbrooke the ‘Eikon Basilike;’ he affirmed that the book was written by Dr. Gauden and merely approved by Charles I ‘as containing his sense of things.’ In March 1648 he refused to assist in a new negotiation between the king and the independents. He was in London during the king's trial, and visited him after his condemnation. It is said that on the night following Charles's execution Southampton obtained leave to watch by the dead body in the banqueting hall at Whitehall, and that in the darkness there entered the chamber a muffled figure who muttered ‘Stern necessity.’ Southampton affirmed his conviction that the visitor was Cromwell. On 8 Feb. 1649 Southampton attended the king's funeral at Windsor.

After the king's death Southampton lived in retirement in the country. The parliament seems to have shown leniency in their treatment of his estate. He was allowed to compound for his ‘delinquency in adhering to the king’ by a payment on 26 Nov. 1646 of 6,466l., that sum being assumed to be a tenth of the value of his personal property. At the same time he was required to settle 250l. a year on the puritan ministry of Hampshire out of the receipts of the rectories in the county, the tithes of which he owned (Cal. Committee for Compounding, pt. ii. pp. 1507–8). His fortune was therefore still large, and he was liberal in gifts to the new king Charles and his supporters. After the battle of Worcester he offered to receive the prince at his house and provide a ship for his escape. He declined to recognise Cromwell and his government. When the Protector happened to be in Hampshire he sent the earl an intimation that he proposed to visit him. Southampton sent no reply, but at once withdrew to a distant part of the county. He corresponded with Hyde, with whom he had formed a close friendship at Oxford, and looked forward with confidence to the Restoration. When it arrived Southampton re-entered public life. His moderate temper gained him the ear of all parties. In the convention parliament he spoke for merciful treatment of the regicides who surrendered (Ludlow, ii. 290). At Canterbury, on his way to London, Charles II readmitted him to the privy council and created him K.G. On 8 Sept. 1660 he was appointed to the high and responsible office of lord high treasurer of England. This office he held till his death.

On 5 Feb. 1660–1 Southampton publicly took possession of the treasury offices (Pepys, i. 341). Next year he endeavoured to settle the king's revenue on sound principles, and to ‘give to every general expense proper assignments’ (Pepys, ii. 427). At the same time he acted on the committee for the settlement of the marriage of the king with Catherine of Braganza. He scorned to take personal advantage of his place, as others had done, and came to an agreement with the king by which he was to receive a fixed salary of 8,000l. a year. The offices, which had formerly been sold by the treasurer for his own profit, were placed at the disposal of the king. So long as he held the treasurership no suspicion of personal corruption fell on him. But it was beyond his power to reduce the corrupt influences which dominated Charles II's personal following. Like his close friends Clarendon and Ormonde, who had also been councillors of the new king's father, he retained the decorous gravity of manner which had been thirty years before in fashion at Whitehall, and was wholly out of sympathy with the depraved temper of the inner circle of the court. He at first hoped that he might be able to reform the conduct of the king and his friends, or at least set a limit on their wasteful expenditure of the country's revenue. According to Clarendon he lost all spirit for his work when he perceived that it was out of human power to ‘bring the expense of the court within the limits of the revenue.’ He spoke with regret of his efforts in behalf of the king during the exile, and openly stated that, had he known Charles II's true character, he would never have consented to his unconditional restoration. Clarendon credits him with suggesting the sale of Dunkirk to meet the pressing needs of the exchequer; but his resentment of the king's behaviour, and his personal sufferings from the gout and stone, gradually withdrew him from active work in his office. He left the whole conduct of treasury business to his secretary, Sir Philip Warwick [q. v.] In 1664 Lord Arlington, Ashley, and Sir William Coventry appealed to the king to displace Southampton, on the ground that he had delegated all his functions to Warwick. Clarendon, who constantly sought his advice, and was proud of the long intimacy, urged him to remain at his post and persuaded the king to retain his services. According to Burnet the king stood ‘in some awe of him, and saw how popular he would grow if put out of his service, and therefore he chose rather to bear with his ill humour and contradiction than to dismiss him.’

In church matters Southampton powerfully supported the principles of the establishment. In 1663 he opposed in council and parliament the bill for liberty of conscience, by which Charles proposed to allow a universal toleration of catholics. When the bill was presented to the House of Lords for the first time, Southampton declared that it was a ‘design against the protestant religion and in favour of the papists.’ On the second reading he denounced it as ‘a project to get money at the price of religion.’ Finally the bill was dropped.

When some troops of guards were raised on the occasion of the outbreak of the Fifth-monarchy men under Thomas Venner, Southampton strongly pronounced against a standing army. He declared ‘they had felt the effects of a military government, though sober and religious, in Cromwell's army; he believed vicious and dissolute troops would be much worse; the king would grow fond of them; and they would quickly become insolent and ungovernable; and then such men as he must be only instruments to serve their ends’ (Burnet).

Towards the close of 1666 Southampton fell desperately ill. A French doctor gave him no relief. ‘The pain of the stone grew upon him to such a degree that he resolved to have it cut; but a woman came to him who pretended she had an infallible secret of dissolving the stone, and brought such vouchers to him that he put himself into her hands. The medicine had a great operation, though it ended fatally.’ He bore the tedious pain with astonishing patience, and died at his house in London on 16 May 1667. He was buried at Titchfield.

Southampton's delicacy of constitution was a main obstacle in his career, and prevented his moderating influence from affecting the course of affairs to the extent that his abilities, honesty, and courage deserved. ‘Having an infirm body, he was never active in armes,’ wrote Sir Edward Walker (Ashmole MS. 1110, f. 170). Burnet described him as ‘a man of great virtue and of very good parts; he had a lively apprehension and a good judgment.’ According to his admiring friend Clarendon, ‘he was in his nature melancholick, and reserved in his conversation. … His person was of a small stature; his courage, as all his other faculties, very great’ (Clarendon, Life, iii. 785). ‘There is a good man gone,’ wrote Pepys, who called at the lord treasurer's house just after his death; but, despite his integrity, Pepys was inclined to attribute to his slowness and remissness a large share in the disasters which fell on the nation during Charles II's reign. ‘And yet,’ Pepys added, ‘if I knew all the difficulties that he hath lain under, and his instrument Sir Philip Warwick, I might be brought to another mind’ (Pepys, Diary, ed. Wheatley, vi. 321–2). Pepys always found him, officially, ‘a very ready man, and certainly a brave servant of the king;’ the only thing that displeased the diarist in him personally was the length to which he let his nails grow (ib. iii. 351).

He married three times. His first wife was ‘la belle et vertueuse Huguenotte,’ Rachel, eldest daughter of Daniel de Massue, seigneur de Ruvigny, whom he married in France in August 1634; she died on 16 Feb. 1640. By her Southampton had two sons, Charles and Henry, who died young, and three daughters—Magdalen, who died an infant; Elizabeth, wife of Edward Noel, first earl of Gainsborough; and Rachel, wife first of Francis, lord Vaughan, and secondly of William, lord Russell, ‘the patriot.’ Southampton's second wife was Elizabeth, eldest daughter and heiress of Francis Leigh, lord Dunsmore (afterwards earl of Chichester), by whom he had four daughters; only one survived youth, namely Elizabeth, who married, first (23 Dec. 1662), Josceline Percy, eleventh earl of Northumberland; and secondly (24 Aug. 1673), Ralph Montagu, duke of Montagu [q. v.] Southampton's third wife was Frances, second daughter of William Seymour, second duke of Somerset [q. v.], and widow of Richard, second viscount Molyneux of Maryborough in Ireland. His widow married, as her third husband, Conyers D'Arcy, second earl of Holdernesse; she was buried in Westminster Abbey on 5 Jan. 1680–1. On his death without male heirs the earldom became extinct, but it was re-created on 3 Aug. 1670 in behalf of Charles Fitzroy, natural son of Charles II by the Duchess of Cleveland. The re-created earldom of Southampton was elevated into a dukedom on 10 Sept. 1675.

Southampton left his mark on London topography. In early life he abandoned the family mansion, Southampton House in Holborn. In 1636 he petitioned the House of Lords for permission to demolish it, and to build small tenements on its site. Permission was refused at the time, but about 1652 the earl carried out his design, and the old Holborn house was converted into Southampton Buildings. At the same time he built for himself a new and magnificent residence on the north side of what is now Bloomsbury Square. The new edifice, Southampton House, occupied the whole of the north side of the present Bloomsbury Square. It is supposed to have been designed by John Webb, Inigo Jones's pupil. The gardens included the south side of what is now Russell Square. Pepys walked out to see the earl's new residence on Sunday, 12 Oct. 1662, and deemed it ‘a very great and a noble work’ (Pepys, Diary, iv. 256). Evelyn, who records a dinner on 9 Feb. 1665 at ‘my lord treasurer's’ in Bloomsbury, says that the earl built ‘a noble square or piazza, a little tower, some noble rooms, a pretty cedar chapel, a native garden to the north with good air.’ The house, Evelyn added, stood ‘too low.’

Much of the earl's landed property in both London and Hampshire passed, on Southampton's death, to his eldest daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Edward Noel, first earl of Gainsborough. On their only son dying without issue the Titchfield estate ultimately passed to their two granddaughters, co-heiresses—Elizabeth, wife of William Henry Bentinck, first duke of Portland, and Rachel, wife of the first duke of Beaufort. Titchfield House eventually became the property of the Duchess of Portland, whose husband assumed the secondary title of Marquis of Titchfield. The Titchfield property was sold by the third duke of Portland at the end of the eighteenth century.

Southampton's second daughter, Rachel, wife of William, lord Russell, and mother of Wriothesley Russell, second duke of Bedford, finally inherited the greater part of Southampton's property in London, the Bloomsbury estate falling to her on the death of her elder sister, the Countess of Gainsborough, in 1680. Southampton House in Bloomsbury descended to her son, the second duke of Bedford, and was renamed Bedford House; it was pulled down in 1800. The Bloomsbury property of the dukes of Bedford thus reached them through William lord Russell's marriage with Southampton's daughter Rachel. The memory of its original connection with the Earl of Southampton survives in the name of Southampton Row.

The Holborn property and the estate of Beaulieu in Hampshire fell to Elizabeth, duchess of Montagu, Southampton's daughter by his second wife.

A portrait of Southampton by Sir Peter Lely is the property of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey; it is reproduced in Lodge's ‘Portraits’ (v. 179). Another portrait belongs to the Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey. A third portrait, formerly in the Earl of Clarendon's gallery, has long since disappeared.

[Clarendon in the Continuation of his Life gives an admirable sketch of his friend's career and character, 1759, vol. iii. pp. 780–90. See also Whitelocke's Memorials; Ludlow's Memoirs, 1625–72, ed. C. H. Firth, 1894; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Pepys's Diary, ed. Wheatley; Ranke's Hist. of England, vi. 84; Lodge's Portraits, v.; Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present; Gardiner's Hist. of England, viii. 86, ix. 109, and Hist. of the Great Civil War.]

S. L.