David Polhill, MP

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David Polhill, MP

Birthdate: (80)
Death: January 15, 1754 (80)
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Polhill and Elizabeth Polhill (Ireton)
Husband of Elizabeth Polhill (Trevor); Gertrude Polhill and Elizabeth Polhill (Borrett)
Father of Charles Polhill; Elizabeth Polhill; John Polhill; Henry Polhill and Thomas Polhill
Brother of Charles Polhill; Henry Polhill and Elizabeth Raddish

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About David Polhill, MP

David IV had predeceased him in 1754 source http://polhill.info/book.php?p=2


Detail from the memorial to David Polhill (died 1754), MP for Rochester and Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London


The eldest son of Thomas and Bridget, David, was probably the most illustrious of his line. Born in 1674 he entered into his patrimony at the tender age of 9. His guardian during his minority was Henry Ireton, (son of his grandfather (A), but doubtless his uncle Robert Polhill, the Churchwarden, and Aunt Anne Petty, of Colet's Well, also watched over his youth.

Like many of the wealthy young men of his day, David embarked on the Grand Tour of Europe. While in Rome with his guardian in 1696, he had his portrait painted. (A). A copy in which he was dressed in armour was made to lend support to an application he made to his guardian (who was Gentleman of Horse to King William and Lt. Col. of the Royal Granadiers) to obtain for him a commission in the Army. His guardian did not approve of a career of this kind and suggested that he might be of more use to his country in another way. The original painting was detained by Madam Calindrini Perdiaux at Geneva. David describes here as "of great vertue and merit and of the best families in that city". Maybe the lady regarded David as also belonging to one of the best families, for she adhered to the picture and in spite of the utmost endeavours on the part of David to regain possession he was unsuccessful and it was not until 1755 that Lord Stanhope was instrumental in securing the picture and in restoring it to David two months before his death. One suspects an emotional reason for the retention of the portrait for so long a time from the letter which accompanied its return.

Madame Perdiaux Calindrini to Mr. David Polhill

"Happy as you are to make acquaintance after 56 years absence, and having many happy memories of our friendship. I am now weak but are glad the good God keeps my head and my reason. My husband died ten years ago. I have a family and live in the country. I hope you remember me without regrets. A thousand tender wishes on all the things that interest you."

Strangely enough the copy also of the painting fell into another lady's hands (name not disclosed), who took it away with her in 1698 one hundred miles into the country distant from London. Though often asked to return it she always refused. Soon after her death her brother gave it to David saying it was by her dying wish.

David's son Charles has endorsed the original account of the story of this picture to the effect that the copy passed eventually into the hands of his sister Elizabeth---but what happened to the original or the copy is now a mystery.

One other souvenir of David's visit to Rome has been preserved with much greater success. He brought back with him several stained glass panel pictures of the Apostles and other Scriptural subjects. These were placed at a later date in the East window of Otford Church in the form of a cross, and formed a notable feature of church decoration for many years. In 1940 the panels were shattered by a German bomb. The fragments were lovingly and painstakingly collected by the vicar, the Rev. A.E. Elder, and after the war were fitted together and replaced in the window with the additional of two small panels describing their history.

Some time after David's return to England he was offered the post of one of the Supernumerary Clerks to the Council, an occupation he was advised not to accept. (A). On February 12th. 1700 King William appointed him High Steward of the Honour of Otford. (36). About this time he was first sworn in as Justice of the Peace, and he determined henceforth to devote his life to public affairs.

In 1702 (September 3rd.) he married Elizabeth, daughter of John Trevor of Glynde, Sussex. She died untimely, without issue, in 1706. (14).

The background of European politics at this time was dark with perils. The Austrian dynasty which had occupied the Spanish throne for over 200 years had come to a childless end. A scramble for the vast and rich dominions ensued, in which King Louis XIV of France took a prominent part. Eventually, of the rival claimants to the throne, Philip, grandson of Louis XIV, was proclaimed King of Spain in May 1700. The consequent union of the powerful dominions of France and Spain completely upset the balance of power in Europe and threatened to destroy all the work for European independence which had been the policy of King William III. William was for an immediate alliance with Holland and war with France, but England was war weary. Only two years before, a Tory majority had been elected to Parliament pledged to peace. This Parliament had dismissed all William's Dutch Guards and reduced the standing army and navy to 7000 and 8000 men respectively. (32).

THE PETITION TO PARLIAMENT. (1,10,29,32,57, and 65)

Outside Parliament the country largely supported the King and were loud in protests at the lack of energy in granting supplies on the eve of an inevitable and momentous war. The Men of Kent and Kentish Men had on more than one occasion within the previous half-century showed bold determination to air their views on pressing questions of the day, and they made this the occasion to give a lead to the other counties. The freeholders of Kent met in great numbers at the Quarter Sessions held at Maidstone on 29th April 1701 and persuaded the Grand Jury to agree to present the following petition:- (1).

"We, the Gentlemen, Justices of the Peace, Grand Jury and other Freeholders, at the General Quarter Sessions at Maidstone in Kent, deeply concerned at the dangerous estate of this Kingdom, and of all Europe, and considering that the fate of us and of our Posterity depends on the Wisdom of our Representatives in Parliament, think ourselves bound in duty, humbly to lay before this Honourable House and Consequences in this Conjuncture, of your speedy resolutions and most sincere endeavour, to answer the Great Trust reposed in you by your country.

And in regard, that from the Experience of all Ages it is manifest, no Nation can be great or happy without Union; we hope no pretence whatever shall be able to create a Misunderstanding among ourselves, or the least Distrust of His Majesty, whose great actions, for their Nation are writ in the Hearts of his Subjects, and can never, without the blackest Ingratitude, be forgot.

We most humbly implore this Honourable House to have regard to the Voice of the People, that our Religion and Safety may be effectually provided for; that your Loyal Addresses may be turned into Bills of Supply; and that His Most Sacred Majesty, whose propitious and unblemished Reign over us we pray God long to continue, may be enable powerfully to assist His Allies before it is too late."

The Chairman of the Bench was William Colepeper, son of Sir Thomas Colepeper of Hollingbourne. He, together with the Deputy Lieutenants and 23 Justices signed at once. The freeholders vied with each other to add their signatures and within five hours the parchment was filled.

Five gentlemen were then elected to present the Petition:

- William Colepeper of Hollingbourne

Thomas Colepeper of Dover
Justinian Champneys

David Polhill of Chipstead and Otford

William Hamilton of Chilston.

They travelled to London without delay and sought out the county representatives, Sir Thomas Hales and Thomas Meredith. They first met Sir Thomas Hales who took the petition away to study, but he betrayed the confidence of the five and showed the petition to other members of the House. This act annoyed the five exceedingly and they took the petition to Thomas Meredith who said he dared not touch it as the House was already in a ferment about it. The five perservered in their determination and Meredith at last consented to present it to the House on May 8th.

After half-an-hour the five were called to the bar of the House and asked to confirm that their hands were to the petition. They were then told to withdraw. Members came out and urged them to throw themselves upon the clemency of the House. They maintained that they were acting within their rights and refused to withdraw the petition or to apologise to the House. The debate went on for five hours and the House resolved that the petition was "scandalous, insolent and seditious, tending to destroy the Constitution of Parliament and to subvert the established government of the Realm," and ordered the five into the custody of the Sergeant-at-arms. He conducted them to the Castle Tavern in Fleet Street where they remained for three days, being visited by many citizens and influential members of the Whig party. Thomas Colepeper was permitted to return to Dover for two days on parole to comfort his wife. This so annoyed the Sargent-at-arms that the other four were removed under cover of night to Fox Court, Holborn. William Colepeper and Champneys were confined in a wretched garret: Polhill and Hamilton in a cellar so vile that they could hardly breathe. The Sergeant-at-Arms complained of their behaviour and said he feared attempts at rescue. They were accordingly removed to the Gate House at Westminster and thereafter well treated.

Broadsheets published at the time were, on the whole, decidedly unfavourable to the prisoners. A Man of Kent published "The Kentish Fable of the Lion and the Foxes:-the Homes of the Kentish Petitioners made manifest." Another wrote "Advice to the Kentish Longtails by the Wise Men of Gotham". One burst into rhyme, describing the characters of each in turn. About David Polhill he wrote:-

"P--------ll's the third in place but first in fame.

If riches can advance their Owner's name.
Empty, God knows, and destitute of brains
As any soul alive, without his gains.
Forward to Heighten things of no account
And magnify a mole-hill to a mount.
Else had he let some other fool declare
The Bench of Justices exceeding care.

Whether the House was influenced or not by the petition, it took steps to increase the army establishment to 10.000, and the navy to 30.000 men; a generous vote but still leaving the forces below standard in strength. William, however, was undoubtedly encouraged by the outburst of public opinion that he despatched a force to Holland and concluded a secret treaty with the Dutch to recover the Netherlands from the King of France.

This was not the end of the petitioners. A great wave of sympathy swept the country. An even more strongly worded petition was presented to the House. It is said to have been drafted by Daniel Defoe--a scurrilous pamphleteer of the time but better known to us as the author of 'Robinson Crusoe':-

"The Legion Paper

Mr. Speaker,

This memorial you are charged with in behalf by many thousands of the good people of England. There is neither Popish, Jacobite, Seditious, Court or Party interest concerned in it, but honesty and truth. You are commanded by 200.000 Englishmen to deliver it to the House of Commons and to inform them that it is no banter but serious truth and a serious regard to it is expected, nothing but justice and their duty is required, and it is required by them who have a right to require and a power to compel, viz:-the People of England.

We should have come to the House strong enough to oblige them to hear us, but we have avoided and tumults, not desiring to embroil, but to save our native country. If you refuse to communicate it to them you will find cause in a short time to repent it.

Thus, Gentlemen, you have your duty laid before you which it is hoped you will think of; but if you continue to neglect it you may expect to be treated according to the resentment of an injured nation. Englishmen are no more to be slaves to Parliament than to Kings. Our name is Legion and we are many."

The demands were of great significance in so far as they claimed the right of the people to control the proceedings of Parliament:-

1. The people had a perfect right to censure and direct.

2. The House of Commons had no separate right to suspend the laws of the land.

3. The House of Commons had no power to imprison any person except its own members.

This petition so alarmed the House that Parliament was prorogued and the prisoners released on 24th. June. The five became popular idols. The citizens of London called them 'The Five Kentish Worthies' and gave a magnificent banquet at Mercer's Hall. Portraits of the Five Worthies were drawn by the same hand that drew those of the Seven Bishops in King James' day. The return of the five to their homes in Kent partook of the nature of a triumphal procession. Five hundred horsemen escorted David Polhill from Blackheath to Otford. The others went to Rochester where the crowds were so great that all the inns could not entertain them. They entered Maidstone in triumph: bells rang, bonfires blazed and healths were drunk. The Grand Jury, of which twelve were Justices, publicly thanked them.

The Kentish Partitioners were national heroes. Their remonstrance was not without justification and their petition not without just cause.

Matters came to a head in September 1701, when King Louis acknowledged the son of the exiled King James II as King of England. All England was at last aroused: the Grand Alliance was forged and the war of the Spanish Succession ensued, and the brilliant campaigns of Marlborough won the day.

The success which attended David's first incursion into politics determined him upon a political career. He offered himself as one of the two candidates for the county seats in the Whig interest, but waived his claim in favour of the candidature of William Colepeper. He was unsuccessful in his candidature for Dover and Sandwich, where he was not so well known, but in 1708, on the death of Sir Stephen Lennard, he was elected without opposition for the County. In 1710 he was again a candidate for the county with Sir Thomas Palmer but the influence of the high tory, Dr. Henry Sacheverall, whose sermon the the 'Perils of the False Brethren' and campaign against dissenters and the Hanoverian succession were so strongly felt in Kent, that the Whigs were defeated and David nearly lost his life by the violence of party strife. (Appendix C).

On August 20th 1713 David married a second time. His bride was Gertrude, sister to Thomas Pelham-Holles (Duke of Newcastle), one of the leading Whig statesmen of the day. One suspects a match dictated by politics but it was destined to end with her death in the following year. (14). She was buried in linen in the parish church of Otford on April 3rd. 1714.

In 1715, one of the first appointments made by King George I was to make David a Sheriff of the county. "Wanting a man of courage, temper and friendship to his family" it was said, "he pitched upon David Polhill" (see Appendix C).

David was once again a candidate for a county seat in 1721; this time with Sir George Oxenden and Col. Fane; and in opposition to the Duke of Dorset. Feeling ran so high that all three Whigs withdrew their candidature. David was consoled by election for the pocket borough of Bramber in Sussex. In 1727 he was a successful candidate for the Borough of Rochester and he represented that city till the day of his death, except for one year, 1741. In that year, Admiral Vernon, fresh from his triumph in the capture of Porto Bello in the West Indies, was elected on a wave of popularity but he preferred to represent Ipswich and David was re-elected for Rochester during the next year.

Throughout this period he sat in Parliament under the ministry of Robert Walpole (until 1742) and afterwards under Pelham, Newcastle and Carteret. He never lived to see Pitt dominate the Commons.

During this Parliamentary period, David was appointed Keeper of the Records in the Tower. (36). This post carried great honour and responsibility and being an office of profit under the Crown, necessitated resignation of his seat in Parliament and reelection which he secured without opposition. David held the office from 1731 until his death in 1754. The White Tower, in the Inner Ward of the Tower of London had been one of the King's treasuries from the middle ages. (28). Betweem 1307 and 1327 Bishop Stapledon carried out a thorough overhaul of the records in the Treasury at Westminster and had them all conveyed to the Tower for cataloguing and arrangement. Many of the Chancery records remained there and when in the 15th century the depository in Chancery Lane became so full, additional records were taken to the Tower. In addition to historical documents there were the personal records of the Crown; Treaties, Homages, Papal bulls, Jewels, Plate and Books kept in the Treasury of the Wardrobe in the Chapel of St. John and the record room of the Wakefield Tower. All were transferred to the new Record Office (the P.R.O.) in Chancery Lane in 1858, with the sole exception of the Crown Jewels which are housed to this day in the Wakefield Tower. The evacuation of the Tower as a record room was hastened by the discovery of a powder magazine in a crypt adjoining the Chapel of St. John.

David IV's third marriage was celebrated in July 1719 to Elizabeth, daughter of John Borrett and Elizabeth Trevor of Shoreham. (14). She was a relation to his first wife and through her was transmitted the blood of John Hampden, the famous squire of Buckingham. (48). There were four sons: Charles, Thomas, Henry and John; and one daughter, Elizabeth. Only Charles bore a family so that the strain of Cromwell, and Ireton through the father and of Hampden through the mother was effective only in the son and heir, Charles Polhill.

David regained the family estate at Chipstead in 1771 by purchase from the widow and two daughters of William Emerton of the Temple who had completely rebuilt the house with 'pretty brick' during his possession. (36).

Another venture at housing was the attempt at building a larger house than Broughtons in Otford. David disliked the work when only partly completed and ordered the whole to be pulled down again. (36). The occupier of Bubblestone farm on the east side of Otford Green still occasionally turns up masonry when ploughing the soil.

During his lifetime David held 1173 acres in the county and Broughtons was first called a manor.

David lived full of years until the age of 80. He suffered a grievous loss in the death of his second son, Thomas, who was thrown from his horse on Westminster Bridge in August 1753. It so affected his health that he never recovered from the shock and died on the 15th January 1754. (Appendix C).

The memorial to David IV was erected on the wall of the south aisle of Otford Church. Backed by a slab of marble is a white marble bust from which David peers into the church, surrounded by cherubs, vases and scrolls. The inscription reads:-

"Near this place are deposited the remains of DAVID POLHILL of CHEAPSTEAD in this county, Esq, son of Thomas Polhill of Otford, Esq. by Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Ireton by Bridgett, daughter of Oliver Cromwell.

"He was ever active and steady in promoting the true interest of his Sovereign and defending the just liberties of the Subject both Civil and Religious with which laudable view he generously hazarded his own safety by being one of the Kentish Petitioners in the reign of King William III.

His humanity to his Dependents, Generosity to his Relations, Tenderness and Affection to his Family: Steadiness and Sincerity to his Friends: Added to his Benevolent Temper, Merited and Gained him a very general Approbation and Esteem.

He died (Member of Parliament for the City of Rochester and Keeper of Records in the Tower of London) January 15th. 1754 in the eightieth year of his Age.

He married three times. The first wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Trevor of Glynde in the co. of Sussex, Esq. The second, Gertrude, sister to the most noble Thomas Holles, Duke of Newcastle. Both of these died without issue. The third was Elizabeth, daughter of John Borrett of Shoreham in this county, Esq. by whom he had issue 4 sons and 1 daughter. His Widow and Surviving children Charles and Elizabeth have erected this Monument to his Memory."

This tribute to his character is no formality. In a letter written by his son Charles and which has survived is a memorial which rings true and with just as sincere devotion (Appendix C) as the more formal monument although devoid of the stylised Latinity regarded as appropriate to a dignified memorial. The earlies Hatchments which hang in Otford church are to the memories of David IV and his widow, Elizabeth, who outlived him and died 28th February 1785.



Memorial of William Hay (Keeper of the Records in the Tower) asking that in order ...

...Tower) asking that in order to defray the expense of the office between 15 Jan. 1754, when his predecessor, David Polhill, died, and the date of his own appointment, 2 Apr. 1754, he should be paid that proportion of his salary. ... Collection: Records created or inherited by HM Treasury Date range:30 April 1754 - 30 April 1754 Reference:T 1/358/22 Subjects:Pay and pensions, Government finances

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