Jones, William (1631-1682) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
Jones, William (1631-1682)

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JONES, Sir WILLIAM (1631–1682), lawyer, son of Richard Jones, of Stowey, Somerset, M.P. for Somerset in 1654, was entered at Gray's Inn 6 May 1647 (Foster, Admissions, p. 244); was called to the bar, and soon acquired a 'capital practice' in the court of king's bench (North, Lives, i. 47). The Duke of Buckingham befriended him, and he was knighted and made a king's counsel in 1671. He was solicitor-general from 11 Nov. 1673 till 25 June 1675, when he was appointed attorney-general. He directed the prosecution of the victims of Titus Oates's plot in 1678, but growing, it is said, disgusted with that work, he resigned the attorney-generalship in November 1679, and became a pronounced enemy of the court. He was returned to the House of Commons as member for Plymouth at a bye-election on 3 Nov.1680, and entered parliament with 'the fame of being the greatest lawyer in England and a very wise man' (Grey, Debates, vii. 451). He was a manager for the commons at Stafford's trial (30 Nov.), and to his strenuous efforts the passage of the Exclusion Bill through the commons was generally ascribed (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. ix. 99 sq.; Cobbett Parl. Hist. iv. 1208). His action was severely satirised by the court wits (see State Poems, iii. 138, 157), and Dryden introduced him as 'Bull-faced Jonas' into 'Absalom and Achitophel' (1681). He was re-elected for Plymouth to the abortive parliament summoned to Oxford in March 1681. The king's declaration of 8 April 1681, justifying his dissolution of parliament, was answered by Jones in his exhaustive 'Just and Modest Vindication of the Proceedings of the last two parliaments' (London, 1681, 4to. anon.) The tract was reissued in 1689 as 'The Design of Enslaving England Discovered,' and reappeared in 'State Tracts,' 1693, i. 105, and in Cobbett's 'Parl. Hist.' iv. App. cxxxiv sq. After its publication Jones appeared little in public life, owing, it was reported, to dislike of Shaftesbury. He was on intimate terms with Lord William Russell. His friend Burnet describes him as 'honest and wise' although sour-tempered (Own Times, i.396). He died on 2 May 1682, either at his house in South- ampton Square, London (Luttrell, i. 181) or at Hampden, Buckinghamshire (Notes to Burnet, ii. 322). Le Neve describes him as of Ramsbury, Wiltshire (Pedigrees of Knight, p. 250). He seems to have left some property to Richard Jones, third earl of Ranelagh [q. v.] A broadside elegy dwelt on his patriotism (see Luttrell Coll. Brit. Mus. i. 73). He married in 1661 a widow, Elizabeth Robinson, daughter of Sir Edward Alleyn of Hatfield Peverel. She died in 1700, leaving a daughter, Elizabeth, wife of John Pelham of Laughton, Sussex.

[Burnet's Own Times; Luttrell's Brief Rel. i. 24, 105, 181; North's Examen, pp. 507 sq.; North's Lives, ed. Jessopp; Blencowe's Diary of Sulney, ii. 71; Bramston's Autob. pp. 154-5; Temple's Works, ii. 531; Dryden's Works, ed. Scott, ii. 279-86.]