Seymour, Edward (1633-1708) (DNB00)

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SEYMOUR, Sir EDWARD (1633–1708), speaker of the House of Commons, born in 1633, was eldest son of Sir Edward Seymour (1610–1685), third baronet, who was great-grandson of Sir Edward Seymour (1529–1593), second son of the Protector [see Seymour, Edward, first Duke of Somerset]. Henry Seymour (1612–1686) [q. v.] was his uncle. The father's house of Berry Pomeroy, near Totnes, was plundered by the roundheads at the outset of the civil war; he sat in the king's parliament at Oxford in 1643, compounded with the parliament at Westminster for 1,200l., and was discharged on 23 Oct. 1649. He recovered most of his local influence at the Restoration, and represented Totnes in parliament from 1660 until his death in December 1685. He left by his wife Anne, daughter of Sir John Portman, first baronet of Orchard-Portman, and aunt of Sir William Portman (1641?–1690) [q. v.], Edward, the speaker; John, who obtained a commission in 1673, served in Flanders as captain in the first foot-guards in 1694, and rose to be lieutenant-colonel; Hugh, a captain in the navy, ‘killed in the Dutch wars;’ William, who became a gentleman of the bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark; and Henry, who inherited the Portman estates.

Edward, who entered the House of Commons as member for Gloucester in 1661, was soon known as an apt speaker, and signalised himself by bringing into the house the impeachment of the Earl of Clarendon on 1 Nov. 1667. Seymour's court influence had already obtained for him the post of commissioner of prizes in the navy, and in this capacity he had in 1665 met Pepys, who found him ‘very high,’ ‘proud and saucy.’ He was soon afterwards appointed treasurer of the navy with a salary of 3,000l. a year. In the meantime, on 18 Feb. 1672–3, upon the serious indisposition of Sir Job Charlton [q. v.], the House of Commons, upon the nomination of Sir William Coventry [q. v.], unanimously elected Seymour as speaker. During the ensuing summer the king created him a privy councillor, an elevation which elicited much unfavourable comment upon the part of independent members. On 27 Oct. 1673 Sir Thomas Littleton gave expression to this feeling. ‘You are too big,’ he said to the speaker, ‘for that chair and for us, and you that are one of the governors of the world, to be our servant, is incongruous.’ Clarges maintained the same view, with the rider that no speaker should be permitted to go to court without leave. Seymour declined to vacate the chair while his own behaviour was being debated, and at the close of the debate, which turned in his favour, ‘complimented the house to the effect that he held no employment a greater honour to him than that which he had in their service’ (Parl. Hist. iv. 593). He was still suspected of partisanship with the court when on 4 Nov. the commons hurried him into the chair that he might put to the vote the motions that the French alliance and the evil counsellors about the king were a grievance. Black Rod ‘knocked earnestly’ at the door before the question could be put, and some spoke of holding the speaker in his chair, but he leapt out ‘very nimbly,’ says Reresby, and the house rose in confusion. Subsequently by his courage and an assumption of dignity, which frequently amounted to arrogance, he gained the respect of the house. No one probably ever understood the constitution or the mood of the house better than he, and—at a period before parties were so organised as to determine votes—it was said that by merely looking about him he could tell the fate of any question under discussion. On 4 June 1675 he earned much applause by causing Serjeant Pemberton to be arrested in Westminster Hall for lack of respect and for an alleged breach of privilege [see Pemberton, Sir Francis]. On another occasion, it is related that when at Charing Cross his carriage broke down, the beadles, by his orders, stopped the next gentleman's coach they met, and Seymour drove away in it, merely explaining to the ejected owner that it was fitter for him to walk in the streets than the speaker of the House of Commons. In the new parliament of March 1678–9 Seymour was returned for Devonshire, and was again unanimously elected speaker; but he was now somewhat estranged from the court, especially from Danby, and was no longer acceptable to the king. On submitting himself to the chancellor for the royal approval, he was informed that the king ‘thought fit to reserve Seymour for other service, and to ease him of this.’ Sacheverell and Powle strongly opposed the power of the crown to reject the choice of the commons. To allay the excitement, the king on 13 March prorogued the house for two days, at the end of which a compromise was effected and Serjeant Gregory appointed (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. app. vii. 157).

Upon becoming once more a private member, Seymour seems for a time to have co-operated with Halifax, and shared his unpopularity. Thus he opposed the Exclusion Bill, and at the same time urged the Duke of York to change his religion. In November 1680 articles of impeachment were exhibited against him for malversation in his office, but the dissolution put an end to the proceedings (cf. Add. MS. 9291, f. 1). Later, in March 1681, he seems to have originated a proposal that the crown should descend to James, but that the Prince of Orange should act as his regent. In 1682 he joined with Halifax in trying to bring about Monmouth's restoration to favour. He was, however, drawing nearer to Rochester, through whose influence he hoped, in 1683, to obtain the privy seal, but the prize fell to Halifax. Seymour nevertheless remained at court, generally acting with Rochester's party. His fears for the protestant religion seem to have been genuine, and at the opening of James II's parliament, in which he represented Exeter, he stood almost alone in overt opposition. He spoke of the abrogation of charters and the arbitrary proceedings at recent elections in terms of unguarded candour, with which few dared to sympathise, so numerous and threatening were the nominees of the court. In the same session, in relation to James's force at Hounslow, he raised his voice against standing armies, consisting, as he said, of people whom nobody knew and no one could trust. During the same year (1685) Seymour succeeded to the baronetcy on his father's death.

Surpassed by none as a staunch tory and churchman, he warmly sympathised with the revolution in its earlier phases. In November 1688 he joined William at Exeter, along with Sir William Portman. ‘You,’ said the prince to him, ‘are of the Duke of Somerset's family?’ ‘Pardon me, sir,’ said Sir Edward, who never forgot that he was head of the elder branch of the Seymours, ‘the Duke of Somerset is of my family.’ While at Exeter he suggested and framed the association in favour of the Prince of Orange, the members of which pledged themselves to hold together until religion and the laws and liberties of the country had been established in a free parliament. This action gained him the confidence of William, who, when he proceeded to Axminster on 25 Nov., left Exeter in Sir Edward's charge. As a parliamentary expert and author of the association, he was well qualified for the office of speaker, when the convention met in January 1689, but he had ranged himself with Rochester in opposing an offer of the crown to William, and Powle was elected.

Early in February he proposed that the house should discuss the state of the nation as a grand committee, and he urged that before the throne was filled liberties must be secured. He was against limiting the duration of parliaments to three years. In the hope of an accession of strength to his party upon a fresh election, he strenuously, but in vain, opposed the motion for turning the convention into a parliament. Great satisfaction was felt at court when Seymour took the oath to the new sovereigns on 2 March, while the Jacobites were proportionately depressed. In November 1689, with unseemly alacrity, he headed a deputation praying William to issue a proclamation for the apprehension of Edmund Ludlow. Seymour had enjoyed Ludlow's forfeited estates in Wiltshire since the Restoration, and he lost no time in hounding the former owner out of the kingdom (Ludlow, Memoirs, 1894, ii. 511). In March 1691–2 he was made a lord of the treasury; but the appointment led to considerable strife owing to Seymour's refusal to give precedence to Richard Hampden, the chancellor of the exchequer, until he was mollified by a seat in the cabinet and a special recommendation to the queen. He lost his place on the formation of the whig junto in April 1694, and henceforth took an increasingly active part in the obstructive tactics of the tories. During the same year there seems no reason to doubt that he was heavily bribed by the old East India Company to oppose the rival establishment, though the transactions were skilfully cloaked, and he escaped any open censure in the house. Shortly afterwards he lost his seat at Exeter, and had to take refuge in the small borough of Totnes. In 1697 he tendered 10,000l. for recoinage, and advised, when parliament met, that supply should be postponed to a discussion of the king's speech. In November 1697 he spoke in defence of Sir John Fenwick, citing ancient history and quoting much Latin, but little to the purpose (cf. Oldmixon, iii. 153, 159). Next year, upon being again returned for Exeter, he was for reducing the civil list to the earlier amount of 600,000l. He was prominent in the attacks upon Somers and the Dutch favourites, and was the chief manager of the Resumption Bill for the commons during the early months of 1700. When parliament was prorogued on 11 April, he went to Kensington to take leave of the king. William told him that he did not mean to think of the past, he only hoped they would be better friends next session; to which Seymour, in a tone of conscious superiority and anticipating a tory reaction in the constituencies, replied, ‘I doubt it not’ (Bonnet's Despatch, ap. Ranke, v. 214).

When the new parliament met in December 1701, Seymour was discovered to be infected by the prevailing enthusiasm for William and the Dutch alliance, owing to Louis XIV's recognition of the Pretender, and he was carried away by the popular fervour for war. Both parties at the new year (1702) were vying with each other in their endeavour to put the king in the best possible position for opening a campaign. The succession of Anne seemed to improve Seymour's prospects. He was in April made comptroller of the royal household, and in May ranger of Windsor Forest. Inopportune as were his strictures upon military abuses, Marlborough and Godolphin tolerated him in the council for two years; but in April 1704 he was abruptly dismissed. His political rancour was well illustrated next year, when upon the eve of Blenheim he vowed that Marlborough should be hunted like a hare upon his return to England. The succession of whig triumphs completely extinguished his influence. He died at his seat of Maiden Bradley on 17 Feb. 1708, and was buried in the parish church. If we may credit Rapin, his death was precipitated by the fright he received at the hands of an old beldame, who assaulted him in his study while the household were absent at a neighbouring fair (Hist. 1751, iv. 65–6).

According to Burnet, Seymour was the ablest man of his party, a man of great birth, graceful, bold, and quick, of a pride so ‘peculiar to himself that,’ says he, ‘I never saw anything like it.’ He certainly did not yield in arrogance to his cousin, ‘the proud duke’ of Somerset. In friendship he was grudging and insincere, and he cannot be acquitted of sordid meanness. He represented a class rather than a party, but he was loyal to certain narrow conceptions of patriotic duty. Resenting his suspicions of the whig hero, Macaulay drew a very harsh portrait of Seymour; but it can hardly be denied that the cause of parliamentary control benefited by his shrewdness and tenacity.

Seymour married, first, on 7 Dec. 1661, Margaret, daughter of Sir William Wale, kt., of London, and by her had Sir Edward, fifth baronet, and father of Edward, eighth duke of Somerset [see under Seymour, Charles, sixth Duke]; and Sir William, who entered the army, was captured by a French privateer in 1692, obtained Cutts's regiment, which he commanded with distinction at Namur, was wounded at Landen in July 1693, and died a lieutenant-general in 1728 (D'Auvergne, Campaigns in Flanders, 1693, pp. 90–1). He married, secondly, Letitia (d. 1729), daughter of Francis Popham of Littlecote, by whom he had six sons and one daughter. Of these the eldest, Popham Seymour-Conway, succeeded to the estates (worth 7,000l. a year) of his mother's cousin, Edward Conway, earl of Conway. He was just becoming known as the most extravagant young fop about town when he was mortally wounded in a duel by an officer named Captain Kirke. He forgave his adversary on his deathbed on 18 June 1699; but his father, Sir Edward, prosecuted Kirke with the greatest vehemence, and when Kirke was convicted of manslaughter he tried without success to obtain a writ of appeal. Popham's fortune passed to his next brother, Francis (1679–1732), who assumed the name and arms of Conway, and was created Baron Conway in March 1703; he was father of Francis Seymour Conway, marquis of Hertford [q. v.], and of Field-marshal Henry Seymour Conway [q. v.]

A portrait of Seymour, by Roth, was engraved by Worthington, and there is an engraving by Harding from the monument at Maiden Bradley.

[Manning's Lives of the Speakers; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage, s.v. ‘Somerset;’ Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation, vols. iii. iv. v.; Reresby's Diary; Evelyn's Diary; Bulstrode Papers, 1 Nov. 1667; Burnet's Own Time; Eachard's Hist. of England; Christie's Life of Shaftesbury; Boyer's Annals of Anne, 1735, pp. 14, 36, 38, 125, 209; Macaulay's Hist. of England; Ranke's Hist. of England; Wyon's Hist. of Queen Anne, i. 301; Coxe's Life of Marlborough, ii. 307; Cook's Hist. of Parties; Townsend's Hist. of the House of Commons; Mrs. Pilkington's Memoirs, i. 7–11; Dalton's English Army Lists; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. p. 301, 12th Rep. app. vii. passim.]

T. S.