Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parker, Thomas (1666?-1732)

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PARKER, THOMAS, first Earl of Macclesfield (1666?–1732), the younger son of Thomas Parker, an attorney at Leek, in Staffordshire, by his wife Ann, second daughter and coheiress of Robert Venables of Wincham, Cheshire, was born at Leek, it is said, on 23 July 1666. The date of his baptism, however, in the Leek parish register is 8 Aug. 1667. His grandfather, George Parker of Park Hall, who belonged to a younger branch of the family of Parkers of Norton Lees Hall in the parish of Norton, Derbyshire, was high sheriff of Staffordshire in the reign of Charles I. Young Parker was educated at the free grammar school at Newport in Shropshire, and afterwards at Derby. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a pensioner on 9 Oct. 1685, where he matriculated on 17 Dec. following, but did not take any degree. He had been previously admitted a student of the Inner Temple on 14 Feb. 1684, and was called to the bar on 24 May 1691. The story that he practised as an attorney in Derby, ‘and resided many years in Bridge-gate, at the foot of the bridge in the house next the Three Crowns’ (Hutton, History of Derby, p. 284; Lysons, Derbyshire, 1817, p. 111), previously to his being called to the bar, must be dismissed as apocryphal. Parker attended the midland circuit, where he soon became known as ‘the silver-tongued counsel.’ His name, however, does not appear in the ‘Reports’ until some eleven years after his call (Raymond, Reports, 1790, ii. 812, 836). In November 1704 he appeared for the defence in the great libel case of Reg. v. Tutchin, which was tried at the Guildhall, London, before Lord-chief-justice Holt (Howell, State Trials, xiv. 1173–6). His argument in favour of the technical objection taken to the regularity of the jury process was ‘most masterly, and by genuine lawyers is perused with enthusiasm’ (Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vi. 7). At the general election in May 1705 Parker was returned to parliament in the whig interest for Derby. He continued to represent that town, of which he was also the recorder, until his elevation to the judicial bench. There is, however, no report of any speech delivered by him in the House of Commons. On 8 May 1705 he was elected a bencher of the Inner Temple. In Trinity term he was raised to the order of the coif, and appointed one of the queen's serjeants. He was knighted at Windsor Castle on 9 July 1705. On 14 Dec. 1709 he was chosen one of the committee appointed to draw up the articles of impeachment against Dr. Sacheverell (Journals of the House of Commons, xvi. 241). In March 1710 he harangued the lords in Westminster Hall on the fourth article of the impeachment, and in his reply made a vehement attack upon Sacheverell and the high-church clergy. Burnet says that Parker distinguished himself at the trial ‘in a very particular manner,’ and that ‘none of the managers treated Sacheverell so severely’ as he did (History of his Own Times, 1833, v. 440, 446–7; see also Luttrell, vi. 556). Through the Duke of Somerset's influence Parker was appointed lord chief justice of England on the death of Sir John Holt. He was sworn into office on 13 March 1710 (Raymond, Reports, ii. 1309), and admitted a member of the privy council on the 30th of the same month. On Lord Cowper's resignation in September 1711 Parker declined the office of lord chancellor, which was pressed upon him by Harley. He is said to have been ‘the first lawyer who ever refused an absolute offer of the seals from a conscientious difference of opinion’ (Parkes, History of the Court of Chancery, p. 291). According to Swift's ‘Journal to Stella,’ Parker spoke against the peace at a council meeting held on 7 April 1713 (Swift, Works, 1814, iii. 202). In the following year, an information having been laid before him respecting the enlistment of men for the Pretender, he granted a warrant under which two Irish officers of the name of Kelly were arrested. This, Lord Campbell says, was the last instance of the interference of a lord chief justice of England as a magistrate of the police (Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vi. 16). On the queen's death Parker acted as one of the lords justices until the arrival of George I in England, and on 1 Oct. 1714 he was sworn a member of the new privy council. Parker quickly became a great favourite with the king. He was created Baron Macclesfield in the county palatine of Chester on 10 March 1716, and at the same time was granted a pension of 1,200l. a year for his life. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 13 March 1716 (Journals of the House of Lords, xx. 307). In the following month Parker appears to have opposed the Septennial Bill (Parl. Hist. vii. 305). He, however, supported the government on the question of the impeachment of the Earl of Oxford (ib. vii. 486). He further established himself in George's favour, and at the same time incurred the enmity of the Prince of Wales, by pronouncing an opinion, with which the great majority of the judges concurred, that the king had the sole control over the education and the marriages of his grandchildren (Howell, State Trials, xv. 1195–1230). On 12 May 1718 he was appointed lord chancellor, and three days afterwards was duly installed in the court of chancery. On his promotion to the woolsack he received from the king a present of 14,000l., as well as a pension of 1,200l. a year for his son, until he should receive a tellership of the exchequer, a post of which he became possessed in July 1719.

At the opening of parliament on 11 Nov. 1718 Parker read the king's speech to the house, George being unable to speak English (Journals of the House of Lords, xxi. 4). In deference to Parker's opinion, the king abandoned his idea of obtaining an act of parliament for compelling the Prince of Wales to give up Hanover on his accession to the throne (Coxe, Memoirs of Sir Robert Walpole, 1798, i. 132). On 27 Feb. 1721 Thomas, earl Coningsby [q. v.], was committed to the Tower for libelling Parker in a pamphlet entitled ‘The First Part of Earl Coningesby's Case relating to the Vicarage of Lempster in Herefordshire,’ &c. (Journals of the House of Lords, xxi. 450). On 15 Nov. 1721 Parker was created Viscount Parker of Ewelme and Earl of Macclesfield. By the same patent, in default of male issue, the dignities of baroness, viscountess, and countess were conferred in remainder upon his daughter Elizabeth, the wife of William Heathcote of Hursley, Hampshire, and the corresponding dignities upon her issue male. In January 1722 he appears to have supported the Quakers' Affirmation Bill against Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, who ‘endeavoured to prove that Quakers were no Christians’ (Parl. Hist. vii. 942). In consequence of the absence of Macclesfield and of Sir Peter King, the deputy speaker, from the House of Lords on 3 Feb. 1722, Cowper moved that they should proceed to the election of a speaker ad interim. While the debate was proceeding Macclesfield arrived, and excused himself on the ground that he had been detained by the king at St. James's. This excuse Cowper and several other peers refused to accept. They were, however, beaten on a motion for adjournment, and had to content themselves with signing a lengthy protest, in which they declared that the house was ‘undoubtedly the greatest council in the kingdom, to which all other councils ought to give way, and not that to any other’ (ib. vii. 960–1). Macclesfield successfully opposed the motion that Atterbury should be forbidden to make any defence to the Bill of Pains and Penalties in the House of Commons (ib. viii. 210), and on 24 April 1723 he gave the thanks of the house to the committee of lords appointed to inquire into the Jacobite plot (ib. viii. 233). In November 1724 a committee of the privy council was appointed to inquire into the funds of the suitors in the hands of the masters in chancery. Their report showed not only that there were considerable defalcations in some of the masters' offices, but that there was a case of grave suspicion against the lord chancellor. Macclesfield consequently resigned the seals on 4 June 1725, though he still continued in favour at court (Harris, Life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, i. 73). On the 23rd of the same month a petition was presented to the House of Commons from the Earl of Oxford and Lord Morpeth as the guardians of Elizabeth, dowager duchess of Montrose, a lunatic, stating that large sums belonging to her estate in the possession of the court of chancery were unaccounted for, and praying for relief (Parl. Hist. viii. 414). On 9 Feb. copies of several reports and other papers relating to the masters in chancery were laid before the House of Commons by the king's command (ib. viii. 415). On 12 Feb. Sir George Oxenden [see under Oxenden, George, 1651–1703], after referring at length to the ‘enormous abuses’ in the court of chancery, ‘chiefly occasioned by the magistrate who was at the head of that court, and whose duty consequently it was to prevent the same,’ moved Macclesfield's impeachment. The motion was opposed by Pulteney and Sir William Wyndham, and was carried by a majority of 107 votes. On the following day Macclesfield was impeached at the bar of the House of Lords (Journals of the House of Lords, xxii. 417). The trial commenced on 6 May 1725, and lasted thirteen days. It took place in the House of Lords, and was presided over by Lord-chief-justice King. The articles of impeachment, which were twenty-one in number, charged Macclesfield with selling masterships in chancery; with receiving bribes for agreeing to the sale and transfer of offices; with admitting to the office of master several persons ‘who were of small substance and ability, very unfit to be trusted with the great sums of money and other effects of the suitors;’ with suffering the fraudulent practice of masters paying for their places out of the money of the suitors; with endeavouring to conceal the delinquencies of one Fleetwood Dormer, an absconding master; with encouraging the masters to traffic with the money of the suitors; with making use of it himself ‘for his own private service and advantage;’ with persuading the masters ‘to make false representations of their circumstances’ at the inquiry; and with assuming ‘an unjust and unlimited power of dispensing with, suspending, and controlling the statutes of this realm.’ The principal managers for the commons were Sir George Oxenden, Sir Clement Wearg (the solicitor-general), Bubb Dodington, Serjeant Pengelly, Arthur Onslow, Sir John Rushout, and Lord Morpeth. Sir Philip Yorke (the attorney-general) was excused from taking any part in the proceedings owing to his many obligations to the accused. Macclesfield, who was defended by Serjeant Probyn, Dr. Sayer, and three other counsel, took an active part in the cross-examination of the witnesses. After his counsel had been heard he addressed the house on the whole case in a most masterly manner. He disclaimed all corruption, and relied upon law and usage, maintaining that the practice of taking money for the masterships had been ‘long practised without blame.’ After a minute analysis of the evidence he declared that he had not taken the advantage of his position for amassing wealth as he might have done, and concluded by saying ‘I submit my whole life and conduct to your lordships' judgment, and rely entirely upon your justice for my acquittal.’ On 25 May Macclesfield was found guilty by the unanimous voice of the ninety-three peers present. On the following day motions that he should be disqualified from holding any office in the state, and that he should ‘never sit in Parliament nor come within the verge of the Court,’ were negatived (ib. xxii. 556, 558). On the 27th he was sentenced to pay a fine of 30,000l. to the king (which was subse quently applied towards the relief of the suitors who had suffered from the insolvency of the masters in chancery), and to imprisonment in the Tower until the fine should be paid. On the 31st he was struck off the roll of the privy council by the king, who, however, signified his intention to Macclesfield of repaying to him the amount of the fine out of the privy purse. One instalment of 1,000l. was repaid by the king, who died before any further payment was made. The deficiencies in the cash of the masters in chancery belonging to the suitors amounted to over 82,000l. In order to prevent the possibility of any improper use of the suitors' funds for the future, the office of accountant-general of the court of chancery was established by 12 Geo. I, cap. 32. A further act was passed whereby a fund was created for the relief of the distressed suitors by the imposition of additional stamp duties (12 Geo. I, cap. 33). Though to some extent it may be said that Macclesfield was made to suffer for a vicious system established by his predecessors in office, there can be no doubt of the justice of his conviction. It was clearly proved that he had not been content with the accustomed ‘gifts,’ but had raised the price of the masterships to such an extent that the appointees were obliged either to extort unnecessary fees by delaying the causes before them, or to use the money deposited by the suitors in order to recoup themselves. It was also proved that he employed an agent to bargain for him, that he was aware of the improper use of the suitors' money, and that he had even endeavoured to conceal the losses which had thus been incurred. Macclesfield remained in the Tower for six weeks, while the money was being raised for the payment of his fine. He took no further part in public affairs, spending his time after his release chiefly at Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire, which he had purchased in 1716, and occasionally visiting London, where at the time of his death he was building a house in St. James's Square, afterwards inhabited by his son (Quarterly Review, lxxxii. 595). Macclesfield acted as one of the pall-bearers at the funeral of Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey on 28 March 1727.

Macclesfield was appointed on 4 Oct. 1714 one of the commissioners of claims for the coronation of George I, and acted as one of the lords justices during the king's absence from England in 1719, 1720, and 1723. He was appointed lord lieutenant of Warwickshire on 4 June 1719, and high steward of Henley-upon-Thames on 5 May 1722. He served as custos rotulorum of Worcestershire from 20 Oct. to 1 Dec. 1718, and as high steward of Stafford from 1724 to 1726. He was a governor of the Charterhouse and a fellow of the Royal Society (20 March 1713). He erected a grammar school in his native town of Leek in 1723. He died at his son's house in Soho Square, London, on 28 April 1732, aged 65, and was buried at Shirburn.

Macclesfield was an able judge both at common law and in equity. Though ‘his fame as a common-law chief is not quite equal to that of his immediate predecessor,’ Sir John Holt, ‘his authority upon all points, whether of a practical or abstruse nature, is now as high as that of Nottingham, Somers, or Hardwicke’ (Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vi. 11, 22). The only crown cases of any importance which came before him while chief justice were the trials of Dammaree, Willis, and Purchase, who had taken part in the Sacheverell riots, and were charged with pulling down the meeting-houses (Howell, State Trials, xv. 521–702). Though he summed up strongly against Dammaree and Purchase, and they were found guilty of high treason, he subsequently interceded for them, and succeeded in obtaining their pardon. Macclesfield's judgments are mainly to be found in ‘Cases in Law and Equity, chiefly during the time the late Earl of Macclesfield presided in the Courts of King's Bench and Chancery,’ 1736, and in the ‘Reports’ of William Peere Williams, 1740–9. Though a member of the cabinet and a great personal favourite of George I, Macclesfield does not appear to have possessed much political influence. Owing to his uncourteous manners he was exceedingly unpopular with the bar, while his marked partiality for Philip Yorke (afterwards Lord-chancellor Hardwicke) frequently excited remark. On one occasion Serjeant Pengelly is said to have been so disgusted at frequently hearing the lord chancellor observe that ‘what Mr. Yorke said had not been answered’ that he threw up his brief, and declared that he would no more attend a court where he found ‘Mr. Yorke was not to be answered’ (Letter to Richard Cooksey, printed in his Essay on the Life and Character of John, Lord Somers, &c., 1791, p. 72). After his downfall it was a common saying that Staffordshire had produced ‘three of the greatest rogues that ever existed, Jack Shepard, Jonathan Wild, and Lord Macclesfield’ (Hutton, History of Derby, p. 287). Swift, who owed ‘the dog a spite,’ falsely insinuated in the ‘Public Spirit of the Whigs’ that Macclesfield had been a Jacobite (Swift, Works, iii. 113, iv. 448). He was violently attacked by Defoe in his ‘Review,’ and effusively eulogised by Eusden (Three Poems, &c., 1722) and John Hughes (Chalmers, English Poets, 1810, x. 58). Warburton, in a letter to Birch, calls Macclesfield a Mæcenas (Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. ii. 117). He entertained for many years at Shirburn Castle William Jones [q. v.], the mathematician, and father of Sir William Jones [q. v.], the orientalist, and studied mathematics with his son. Thomas Phelps [q. v.], the astronomer, began life as a stable-boy in his service. Young inscribed to him his ‘Paraphrase on part of the Book of Job’ (Chalmers, English Poets, xiii. 408–13), while Zachary Pearce, afterwards bishop of Rochester, dedicated to him his editions of ‘Cicero de Oratore,’ 1716, and of ‘Longinus de Sublimitate,’ 1724. He laid the foundation of the fine library at Shirburn Castle, where a complete series of his notebooks during his chancellorship is preserved.

He married, on 23 April 1691, Janet, second daughter and coheiress of Charles Carrier of Wirksworth, Derbyshire, by whom he had one son, George, second earl of Macclesfield [q. v.], and one daughter, Elizabeth, who married on 7 April 1720 William Heathcote of Hursley, Hampshire (created a baronet on 16 Aug. 1733), and died on 21 Feb. 1747. The countess survived her husband, and died on 23 Aug. 1733.

Five portraits of Macclesfield—three by Kneller, one by John Riley, and one by Closterman—are at Shirburn Castle. There are several engravings by Vertue, Simon, Kyte, and Faber, after Kneller. The authorship of ‘A Memorial relating to the Universities’ (Gutch, Collectanea Curiosa, 1781, ii. 53–75) has been attributed to Macclesfield on insufficient grounds. A few of his letters to Philip Yorke are printed in Harris's ‘Life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke.’ The Earl of Ashburnham possesses a number of original letters addressed to Macclesfield by many of the most distinguished persons in the reigns of Anne and the first and second Georges (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. iii. 12). A volume of Macclesfield's correspondence is preserved among the Stowe MSS. in the British Museum.

[Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857, v. 428, 542, 560, 561, 571, vi. 118, 551, 564, 571, 572, 573, 574, 691; Harris's Life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, 1847, i. 66–7, 72, 76, 95, 98, 171–80, 185, 221–3, 336, iii. 317, 565; Lord Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors, 1857, vi. 1–58; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, viii. 44–52; Parkes's Hist. of the Court of Chancery, 1828, pp. 291–300; Sanders's Orders of the High Court of Chancery, 1845, i. 448–60, 461–70; Law and Lawyers, 1840, ii. 61–7; Oldmixon's Hist. of England, 1735, pp. 436, 660, 758–60, 760–1, 762–3; Lord Mahon's Hist. of England, 1839, ii. 106–7; Hunter's Rise of the Old Dissent exemplified in the Life of Oliver Heywood, 1842, p. 179; Hutton's Hist. of Derby, 1791, pp. 284–90; Garth's Dispensary, canto ii.; Sleigh's Hist. of the Ancient Parish of Leek, 1883; Ormerod's Hist. of Cheshire, 1882, i. 659; Walpole's Cat. of Royal and Noble Authors, 1806, iv. 159–63; Noble's Continuation of Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England, 1806, iii. 190–2; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. of the Eighteenth Century, 1812–15, vols. i. ii. iii. iv. vi. viii.; Edwards's Libraries and Founders of Libraries, 1865, pp. 327–67; Georgian Era, 1833, ii. 274–6; Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, ii. 433–4; Collins's Peerage, 1812, iv. 190–193; Foster's Peerage, 1883, p. 460; Martin's Masters of the Bench of the Inner Temple, 1883, p. 59; Townsend's Cat. of Knights, 1660–1760, p. 53; Countess of Macclesfield's Scattered Notices of Shirburn Castle, 1887; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 2, 10; Reliquary, vii. 129–36 (with portrait), xxi. 128, 191, xxii. 139, xxv. 80; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xii. 329, 474, 8th ser. iv. 206, 354, v. 30.]

G. F. R. B.