Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Littleton, Thomas (1647?-1710)

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LITTLETON, Sir THOMAS (1647?–1710), speaker of the House of Commons and treasurer of the navy, born probably in 1647, was the younger son of Sir Thomas Littleton, second baronet, of Stoke St. Milborough, Shropshire, and North Ockendon, Essex, and of Anne, daughter of Edward, lord Littleton. As a younger son he was apprenticed to a city merchant, but on the death of his elder brother, Edward, was sent to Oxford, matriculating at St. Edmund Hall on 21 April 1665. He entered at the Inner Temple in 1671, and succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father ten years later. He was elected to the Convention of 1689 for the borough of Woodstock and continued to represent that place till 1702. It was he and not his father, with whom Macaulay confuses him, who was chosen one of the ‘managers’ for the commons in the conference with the House of Lords on the form of words to be used in declaring the throne vacant. According to Boyer, ‘he acquitted himself with much applause.’ An active whig, he strongly supported the action of William III in vetoing the Place Bill of 1693, and also spoke in favour of the attainder of Sir John Fenwick (1645?–1697) [q. v.] He especially attached himself to Montagu, and in 1697 became a lord of the admiralty, when that statesman was named first lord of the treasury (see Macaulay, Hist. iv. 779, and note).

In December 1698 Littleton was put forward by the junto for the speakership of the commons, and was elected by 242 votes to 135, no other candidate being nominated, though there was a warm debate of two hours, arising mainly out of the disappointed ambition of Sir Edward Seymour [q. v.] The election had also excited some interest outside the house, and a pamphlet was circulated entitled ‘Considerations on the Choice of a Speaker,’ in which the claims of both Littleton and Seymour were opposed. Littleton's weak health prevented him from proving a very efficient speaker, and his occupation of the chair ceased at the dissolution in 1700. In the next parliament he succeeded Harley, the new speaker, as treasurer of the navy, and held that office till his death. He was the means of introducing useful reforms into his department (Burnet, History of his own Time, v. 64; note by Speaker Onslow). Littleton represented Castle Rising, Norfolk, in the first parliament of Queen Anne, and Chichester in the first parliament of Great Britain, and from 14 Dec. 1708 until his death sat for Portsmouth. He defended the action of the House of Lords in the case of Ashby v. White; opposed the motion to tack the Occasional Conformity Bill to the land-tax in 1704; and on 8 Feb. 1707 took part in a debate on the articles of union with Scotland, when he denied that the measure was being forced through with any undue haste. He died on 1 Jan. 1710, when the baronetcy became extinct. He left no issue by his marriage with Ann, daughter of Benjamin Baun, esq., of Westcott, Gloucestershire. He is said to have been ‘a man of ready wit and good understanding;’ Macky calls him ‘a stern-looked man, with a brown complexion, well shaped.’ Macaulay describes him as having inherited his father's eloquence, and as ‘one of the ablest and most consistent whigs in the House of Commons.’ A portrait, painted in 1700 by T. Forster, was engraved by J. Simon (Bromley, Cat. of Engraved Portraits).

[Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne, v. 438, ix. 401; Macaulay's History of England, iv. 485, 745, 779, v. 146–8, 185; Burke's Extinct Baronetage; Foster's Alumni Oxonienses; Returns of Members of Parliament; Manning's Lives of the Speakers, where Littleton's early life is confounded with that of his father.]

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