Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Baronet

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Edward Seymour

Birthdate: (76)
Birthplace: Berry Pomeroy,Devonshire,England
Death: February 17, 1708 (72-80)
Maiden Bradley,Wiltshire,England
Immediate Family:

Son of Sir Edward Seymour, 3rd Baronet and Anne Seymour
Husband of Margaret Wale and Laetitia Seymour
Father of Sir Edward Seymour, 5th Baronet Seymour, of Berry Pomeroy; Hon. Lt.General William Seymour and Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Baron Conway
Brother of Henry Portman, MP; Elizabeth Tredenham and Colonel John Seymour, 10th Royal Governor of Maryland
Half brother of John Seymour and William Seymour

Managed by: Geoffrey David Trowbridge
Last Updated:

About Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Baronet

Family and Education b. 1633, 1st s. of Sir Edward Seymour, 3rd Bt.†, by Anne, da. of Sir John Portman, 1st Bt., of Orchard Portman, Som.; bro. of Henry Seymour Portman* and bro.-in-law of Sir Joseph Tredenham*. m. (1) 7 Dec. 1661, Margaret, da. and coh. of Sir William Wale, Vintner, of Throgmorton Street, London and North Luffenham, Rutland, alderman of London, 2s. (2) 1674, Laetitia, da. of Alexander Popham† of Littlecote, Wilts., 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 1 da. suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 7 Dec. 1688.1

Offices Held

Gent. of privy chamber (extraordinary) July 1660, (ordinary) 1670–?2; sub.-commr. for prizes, London 1665–7; commr. of navy 1672–3; treasurer of navy 1673–81; PC 9 Apr. 1673–89, 1 Mar. 1692–12 Mar. 1696, 17 Apr. 1702–May 1707; commr. of Treasury 1692–4; comptroller of Household 1702–4.2

Asst. R. Adventurers into Africa by 1664–5, 1671, R. Fishing Co. 1664, R. Fishery Co. 1677.3

Chairman, cttee. of supply Feb.–Mar. 1668, ways and means Dec. 1669, Nov. 1670–Mar. 1671, Feb. 1673; Speaker of House of Commons 18 Feb. 1673–11 Apr. 1678, 6 May 1678–24 Jan. 1679.

Ranger, Savernake forest 1676, Bagshot Park Mar.–Nov. 1699, Windsor Great Park 1702–d.; recorder, Exeter Aug.–Sept. 1681, Oct. 1681–Feb. 1683, June 1683–Oct. 1707, Totnes 1695–d.; freeman, Totnes by 1684, Portsmouth 1689; gov. Exeter Nov.–Dec. 1688.4

Commr. Q. Anne’s bounty 1704.5

Biography Seymour, a man whose ‘many passions and perturbations’ frequently embroiled him in the most heated of controversies, provoked passionate and partisan feelings in his contemporaries. Most admitted that he ‘was endowed with great natural parts, which together with his long experience in parliamentary affairs, gained him the first place among the leading members of the Church party’. Even Burnet believed that, for all his overbearing pride, Seymour was ‘the ablest man of his party’. But other critics, such as Defoe, attacked him as ‘proud, peevish, insolent’ and corrupt, ‘hardened with bribes, with frauds and broken vows . . . false to himself, his monarch and his friends’; a bully who

         loved the villainies of life
         and chewed the air he breathed to sounds of strife . . .
         a boor of quality to whom it chanced
         that for his anti-merit was advanced.6

Seymour was already a formidable politician by the time of the Revolution. Having sat in all but one Parliament since 1661, and become Speaker in 1673, his early rise to power and influence had enhanced a natural arrogance, making him expect high office as of right. When preferment had been unforthcoming under James II, resentment had made him one of the first to speak out against royal policies and to declare for William of Orange. This early career had shaped much of Seymour’s future behaviour, status and skills. His control of the House, and his political dominance over the West country, were based on an encyclopaedic knowledge of men and their opinions. He was said ‘to know the House and every Member so well that by looking about he could tell the fate of any question and accordingly manage matters’. Occupancy of the Chair had also given him expertise in procedure, which made him a highly effective parliamentarian when allied to his prodigious talents as an orator. According to one commentator, he was

the standard of wit . . . he has considered exactly the beauties and mysteries of style; and when he speaks in the House of Commons it is with so much reason and eloquence, he is listened to as an oracle. His sentences never run a man out of breath, but are short and clear; and whenever he speaks to the House, he says no more than is just necessary to convey the ideas of things with force and evidence, so that his audience is always well entertained and surprised with something new and out of the beaten road. But his imperious reign over the Commons as Speaker had ended partly as a result of a quarrel with the Earl of Danby (Thomas Osborne†) that lasted into the 1690s. Indeed it was probably Danby who encouraged William III to leave Seymour unrewarded for his services at the Revolution, except for the governorship of Exeter, though according to Lord Halifax (Sir George Saville, 4th Bt.†) even there the King ‘did not trust him but left one to watch over him’. Seymour was in turn alienated by William’s claims to the crown de jure; by the new King’s religious policy, which he believed favoured Dissenters and ‘gave too much cause of offence to the Church of England’; and by William’s European war. These three grievances were to determine Seymour’s actions for much of the following decade.7

In February 1690 Seymour claimed to have anticipated the dissolution of the Convention, and resolved ‘to spare neither purse nor pains to get good men chosen, in order to which [he would] go down into Devon where [his] interest will do most service in keeping out the fanatics’. The motive for espousal of the Church party was primarily political. In 1682 a satire had claimed that his religion bent ‘as the season calls’, and he was certainly not personally pious. Although Burnet exaggerated when he labelled him the most immoral man of his age, one contemporary thought him ‘worse for women than my Lord Ranelagh [Richard Jones*]’, and a clergyman upbraided him both for his language and his ‘unsound opinion about the Resurrection’. But Seymour, whose familiarity with the West-country gentry made him sensitive to their prejudices, was convinced that the Church was ‘the most considerable and most substantial body of the nation, and if they were not supported we should run into a commonwealth and all would be ruined’. This uncompromising attitude towards Dissenters and their political allies, together with his breach with Danby (now Lord President Carmarthen), ensured Seymour’s exclusion from the administration, though somewhat surprisingly Carmarthen classed him in March as a Court supporter as well as a Tory. This categorization may substantiate Halifax’s claim that Seymour ‘offered to come in if the King would join thoroughly with the Church’, and a report that the Court had offered the bribe of the ‘privy seal to bring him into their faction’, though it is hard to see why Seymour should have turned down a post he had been labouring for since the early 1680s. Moreover, Halifax noted that in December 1689 William ‘did not contradict his being willing at that time to admit Sir Edward Seymour into employment’, but that the King subsequently changed his mind ‘since, he said to one, that if [Seymour] was in the Treasury he would govern him too, or else would not be satisfied’.8

Whatever the case, Seymour was not taken into office, and his opposition to the Court soon became apparent. In the debate on 22 Mar. on the King’s Speech, he insisted that, ‘according to the ancient rules and order of the House’, grievances ought to be debated before supply. He warned MPs that there was ‘no consideration of such moment as to take off your padlocks from money, considering the poverty of the nation’. He resumed this theme five days later in committee of the whole: ‘When I consider we are come so lately from giving money in one Parliament, I wonder how we come to leap into that now, unless you make one Parliament to vie with another ad infinitum; but if this continue you will make the ministers independent.’ Having warned that financial freedom had left James II unfettered, he urged that enough money be granted for the prosecution of the war ‘and then to have the power in your own hands’, but that if Members were really interested in security they ought to consider the personnel of the administration. In a cryptic attack on Halifax and Carmarthen, he said that ‘the white horse rides one stage, the black another’, and when Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, objected that ‘similes without explaining signify nothing without a meaning’, Seymour clarified that ‘the safety of England will be better supported here, than by any other hands’. When supply was again discussed on 31 Mar. he requested information about the disposal of money previously granted, and on 2 Apr. criticized the King’s decision to intervene in Ireland ‘before any thought of enabling him, in Parliament’. Yet having made his position clear, he struck a more conciliatory pose by agreeing that ‘we are to secure ourselves from . . . popery, Ireland and the French king’, and suggesting that his reservations over money stemmed from a desire ‘not to lose what we have already given by land tax’ and that the burden be shouldered equally. This appeal to country gentlemen was repeated on the 11th, when Seymour supported a motion to raise money from forfeited estates, arguing that it was not so much raising public revenue from private purses as ‘transferring it to better security’. On 17 Apr. he was duly nominated to the drafting committee for the bill for £500 forfeitures.9

Seymour’s antipathy to the Court was matched by his hostility to the Whiggish corporation of London, which he suspected of attempting to promote legislation to make itself ‘independent from monarchy’. He began a debate on 8 Apr. about reversing the judgment of the 1683 quo warranto, suggesting that it was first necessary to decide on the privileges of the City before they could be restored. In a second speech he referred to a bill being planned by common councilmen ‘to make the City a commonwealth’. On 17 Apr., and again a week later, he obstructed a petition in favour of such a bill from the London sheriffs, and challenged London’s representatives to ‘speak out whether they aim not at more privileges than they had before’. He was accordingly appointed on 8 Apr. to the drafting committee of the bill to restore the corporation, and a month later carried it to the Lords. The remodelling of the commission of the London lieutenancy, which had counterbalanced the number of Whigs by adding Tories, gave another opportunity for him to exploit the politics of the capital. He demanded a national purge of office-holders, on the grounds that ‘those who have been assisting to inform the King are as useless to the King in his Council as those in the lieutenancy’, and worded a successful motion of thanks for the King’s ‘care of the Church of England, expressed in the alteration of the lieutenancy of England’.10

The credit Seymour gained among Church and Country Tory MPs from initiating the debates on London and the lieutenancy was increased during the debates over the abjuration bill. On 24 Apr. he was nominated to its drafting committee, and two days later gave a virtuoso performance of his rhetorical skills, contrasting his own support for freedom as shown in the passage of the 1679 Habeas Corpus Act and at the Revolution, with the present ministry’s arbitrary designs. ‘When we have liberty that secures us, let us not make ourselves bondsmen without reason’, he warned, adding that if the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, ministers would

have a power to command our persons, they will likewise have the same power over our lands and goods, which we may rather part with than our liberty. The suspicion of K[ing] James is but a colour for some of arbitrary dispositions to lord over us . . . what opinion the world have of the Privy Council I know not, but this I know, that we have not had any good fruits of any council as yet, they are always in want, they want counsel, they want money, they want stores, they want saltpetre, if England were to be sold it would scarcely cover their wants; they are for one thing one day, against it the next. When the debate was resumed two days later, Seymour repeated his argument:

the liberty of the subject is always under the care of the law, not to be imprisoned without a cause . . . for the same necessity opens a door for my goods and lands as for my person . . . Can I have any mercy from King James for entering into the Exeter Association? Yet now I can scarce be cleared from being a Jacobite . . . it may happen that a Privy Councillor may owe me ill will, and imprison me by this power. Is this the way to pay debts or to get security? I think, by suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, all our liberties have been lain with three times already; make her not a common strumpet. His attack on the administration continued on 1 May in a committee of the whole on the regency bill. Claiming that the matter was unintelligible, he successfully moved an adjournment, and when debate was resumed on the 6th he again forecast that there would be no progress until the House faced the question ‘whether you will trust the government in the Queen’s hands, or not at all?’, sneering that ‘if not other vigour [be] put into hands than was last year, we shall not be long here’. With the succession issue forced onto the agenda by both the Abjuration and regency bills, it was natural for Seymour to wish to censure Anthony Rowe’s* Letter to a Friend, which had blacklisted those who had opposed the vote on abdication. On 1 May Seymour warned that failure to punish the pamphlet set a bad precedent, and successfully demanded its condemnation.11

Seymour’s hectoring of the Court, and Carmarthen in particular, reached a climax on 13 May when he initiated debates on ways to preserve the peace of the nation. ‘I will not enter into the history how the sun has gone back upon our dial,’ he told Members, ‘only I desire we may be preserved for the time to come.’ Attacking the ‘ill administration of affairs’, he moved for a debate on ways to secure the kingdom during the King’s absence. Sir Henry Goodricke correctly suspected that this was a contrivance aimed at ‘taking the ministry out of some hands and putting it in others’, but the House agreed to a committee of the whole for the next day. When it met, Seymour again defended habeas corpus as ‘the best security of the nation’, and explained his hostility to the council established to advise the Queen in the King’s absence:

I thought we could not be safe in the continuance of those hands who had so much shaken the government. Whether it was their design, their ignorance or misfortune, I would have no such bottoms to trust the government upon . . . reflect how our condition will stand, in such arbitrary and uncertain hands . . . I am afraid if we do not apply to the King to alter the administration of the government in his absence, from the hands it is in now, your government cannot last long. This provocative speech was the signal for an attack on Carmarthen, and once passions had been aroused, Seymour intervened to focus the debate and call for an address for the lord president’s removal, asserting that he was sure Carmarthen would ‘neither support the Church nor the state’. Seymour had delivered his ‘broadside’, but although Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., and ‘many others of Sir Edward’s friends’ had supported him on the 13th, backing was less forthcoming when the debate resumed the next day. Seymour moved the dismissal of Carmarthen, but Musgrave and the rest said little, and the Whigs showed no sign of joining in. The matter ‘fell of itself, as it was always likely it would’, and although Seymour pressed for a division he suffered the humiliation of attracting the support of only 30 or 40 of the 300 Members present. He continued to carp at Carmarthen, but found his support among the Church party evaporating whenever he tried to lead it into a factious campaign.12

In September 1690 Seymour was asked to provide completed accounts for his unaudited period as treasurer of the navy under Charles II, a matter which was to dog him for the rest of his career. Despite this warning about his own vulnerability, his harrying of the government continued into the next session. Seymour was one of only three MPs to sit through the King’s Speech with his hat on, which ‘was thought a peevish disrespect’. Opposing the supply requested by the Court on 12 Oct., he seconded Sir Thomas Clarges’ arguments that the military efforts should be concentrated at sea and that fewer troops were needed than the Court pretended. According to one report, he wished to show that a land war with France would always prove onerous to England, and demanded to know what advantage was gained by capturing four or five towns which would have to be garrisoned with more troops. He even questioned whether it was worth beggaring three kingdoms just to regain the principality of Orange, and insinuated that while England risked everything for war with France, Holland was likely to conclude a separate peace. The next day he was even more inflammatory, arguing that only 4,000 troops were needed in Ireland and that the war with France should only be defensive. The ‘mauvaise humeur’ which the Prussian envoy Bonet observed in Seymour and Musgrave induced them to try to appropriate the land tax revenue specifically for a naval campaign.13

Laying so much emphasis on the usefulness of the navy, Seymour was naturally a sharp critic when the fleet was misused, particularly if he could thereby further discomfort the Court. He was accordingly one of the most ardent foes of the Earl of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†), though his zeal attracted reproaches about his own past conduct, and one Member said that it was Seymour who had worked to enslave the nation through his advice to pursue quo warrantos in the early 1680s. It may have been partly to restore some of his battered credit that he bewildered contemporaries by voting against his own party over the contested elections at Sandwich and Cirencester. Some observers thought ‘the matter was so plain that he could not find any tolerable colour to vote otherwise and would seem in such plain cases to be impartial, that he might preserve his own capacity of doing service to his own party in greater matters’. Yet even at the beginning of the session he had shown an unusual tenderness to Whig electoral fortunes. Thus Thomas Foley I thought him a friend to Robert Harley’s* petition against Sir Rowland Gwynne’s return for Radnor, and Harley himself observed Seymour to be ‘very full in his expressions’. Seymour had seemed so anxious to broaden the basis of his support that he had also backed the Whig Thomas Trenchard’s* election petition, professing to espouse ‘his cause very zealously and will do him good service in the House’, though perhaps he had simply been flattered by the fact that Sir John Trenchard* had sought out his opinion on parliamentary rules governing the election of minors.14

It is possible that, with the declining importance of religious issues, Seymour had found his support ebbing away and that he had been deliberately trying to broaden his appeal, perhaps looking for Whig allies in his attack on Carmarthen. When it was clear that the Whigs regarded him with suspicion, he was forced to reassess his strategy. He remained ominously quiet for the remainder of the session, though on 1 Jan. 1691 he reported from the committee on the bill to prevent suits against those who had acted in defence of the kingdom. His only recorded speech in January was to second a motion of Paul Foley I for the relief of Irish and French Protestants, so long as Foley ‘would lay down the money till next session, thinking thereby to have stopped his mouth’.15

Seymour’s low profile in the new year may in part have been due to a nervousness that Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme, 3rd Bt.†), who was arrested on 31 Dec., would implicate him in Jacobite intrigues. Although Preston’s and Matthew Crone’s evidence was circumstantial and unspecific, Carmarthen saw in it a means to ‘break the teeth not only of Sir Edward Seymour, but of that whole party’. But although Seymour may even have known something of Preston’s passage to France, and was included by a Jacobite on a list of those ‘well inclined’ to James, any flirtation with the exiled court had probably been no more than a temporary manifestation of discontent. In any case, before the government could make use of the information, Seymour fell seriously ill in April, probably suffering a minor stroke or fit induced by diabetes. In May he wrote to James Grahme*, Preston’s brother, that he was ‘extremely impaired’ in his health ‘and if the warm weather contribute not to my recovery the date of my time will not be long and my trouble will be the greater since I am to leave my friends under persecution’; but Harley, who had ranked him among the Country party in a list compiled in April, noted that Seymour was well enough by June to travel to London.16

The disclosure of Seymour’s friendships with Jacobite plotters at first seemed to prove of limited value in bringing him to heel. Although he missed the opening of the session in October 1691, it was clear when he did appear in the House at the end of the month that he intended to articulate Country grievances and antipathy to Carmarthen. Aware that his value lay in his potential to make trouble, Seymour argued that the King’s Speech struck at the privileges of the House because its specification of the number of troops required was unparliamentary. Members listened attentively, and although no one seconded him, he resumed his attack on 6 Nov., asking,

are we to supply according to our affections or our conditions? The last three years lost the nation £18,000,000 including the revenue . . . we hear of arrears that are due to the army, but I rather believe the army is in arrear to the country [since] they have had their subsistence from them . . . our treasure is near spent, this war is like to be lasting. He backed Clarges’ call for greater emphasis on a naval rather than a land war, having three days earlier joined Clarges, Musgrave and Foley in attempting to secure for the Commons the right to nominate the principal officers of the fleet. On 16 Nov. he spoke in favour of a conference with the Lords to obtain information from Carmarthen’s son, Danby, about Nottingham’s letter of instruction to the navy. Perhaps sensing ministerial defensiveness, Seymour also attacked the Privy Council, claiming on 6 Nov. that the King had not been ‘well advised’ over his speech. One observer believed that he had joined friends of the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) and Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) to try to exclude Carmarthen from influence. However, since Secretary Nottingham, who had been working for some time for Seymour’s inclusion in the administration, was also part of this group, Seymour felt bound to apportion the blame for the inactivity of the navy during the summer to the lord president rather than the secretary. On 7 Nov., in an early demonstration of a willingness to abandon Country colleagues and measures when office beckoned, Seymour opposed Clarges’ motion for a journal of transactions of the fleet to be produced, arguing that ‘this manner of proceeding was unusual and unparliamentary’. The more Carmarthen urged investigation of Preston’s evidence, the more Seymour refrained from trouble-making, and by mid-November he had become remarkably compliant. Moving away from his erstwhile Country colleagues, on 19 Nov. he was noted to have hardly spoken against the Court’s list of troop requirements; indeed, one MP reported that he had ‘told the House such a force was no more than what was absolutely necessary’. Bonet claimed that many West-country MPs had supported an increase in the number of soldiers in order to protect their vulnerable province from the French, though Seymour himself had supposedly been ready to press for a reduction.17

Whether forced to moderate his attitude to the army because of the opinion of his own countrymen, or because the House had begun proceedings to investigate Preston’s testimony, or, as the lord president seems to have suspected, because he was allying with Nottingham and advertising his suitability for office, Seymour’s divergence from Musgrave, Clarges and Foley became increasingly apparent. He failed to support them on the 28th, when he declared he ‘would not stand out for so few men. Since we have gone so far, I am not for sticking at these numbers’, and moved for the question to be put in favour of the army estimate delivered by his old friend Ranelagh. Ironically, Seymour’s acquiescence over the number of troops, which demonstrated that he was not merely a destructive force, improved his chances of being taken into the administration. His departure from the Commons on 17 Dec., when he was granted leave of absence because his mother had fallen seriously ill, heightened speculation that he would be made a Privy Councillor and elevated to the peerage, rumours that persisted well into the new year. His activity for much of the 1691–2 session was thus a mixture of opposition to Carmarthen but not to Nottingham, pursued through an appeal to Country sentiment that was constantly being tempered by the prospect of office and the threat of prosecution.18

Although his moderation was taken as a sign of compliance with the Court, Seymour continued to rank himself on most issues with the Church and Country elements in the House, aware that they were his source of influence and his lever into office. He therefore closely scrutinized supply and championed the country gentleman’s view of the financial burden of the war. On 10 Nov. he opened debate by complaining about the ‘hardly credible’ level of taxation, and on 14 Nov. objected that the construction of new fourth-rate ships would impose new taxes on an already over-burdened nation; he also spoke against supply for marine regiments and ordinary naval revenue in peacetime. On 21 Nov. he ‘strongly’ opposed a proposal to allow individuals to brew their own drink provided that they paid excise, fearing that ‘it was only a sly pretence to make way for a general home excise’ and would give excise commissioners unwarranted powers of search. Three days later he used the search for acceptable ways and means in order to bolster his image as a champion of the Church by suggesting that any MPs who missed daily prayers ‘should pay 1s. to the use of the poor’. On 25 Nov. he gave Members the benefit of his expertise about the value of the Irish revenue in Charles II’s reign, in response to the appointment of a committee to investigate how much Ireland could contribute towards the support of troops stationed there. On 1 Dec. he complimented the commissioners of public accounts for having ‘discharged their parts very well’, and used the opportunity as a further way to spotlight once more the inadequacies of the present administration: ‘you see what great sums have been given to idle persons who sleep at home while we are not able to bear this war any longer’, he told the House. He successfully pressed for the commissioners’ report to be examined, and spoke in the debate on it the next day, observing that it was ‘hard the King should pay for the patent’ of grants to officers. He again championed the position of the country gentleman by moving on 3 Dec. to have the bill for the relief of London orphans thrown out because it taxed neighbouring counties and was thus ‘a form of irregular taxation’. On 29 Jan. 1692 he opposed a tax on coals to pay for the orphans, arguing that this was ‘to raise a tax upon a great part of the people of England’, and again on 13 Feb. 1692, when he was named to the drafting committee for the orphans bill, he argued that a private debt should not be paid through public taxes, since this set a precedent ‘for granting a tax in perpetuity’. On 29 Jan. 1692 he suggested instead that money could be raised by using the proceeds of the sale of offices as a fund on which to raise credit.19

This helpfulness in promoting methods of supply while simultaneously retaining Country support was most apparent in Seymour’s proposal for a poll tax. In a speech in mid-January (printed by Grey as having been given on the 11th but probably delivered on the 18th, in view of an entry in Luttrell’s diary and the fact that he appears to have remained absent until after the 14th, when he was summoned to attend) he complained that the burden of the army threatened the introduction of a tax ‘upon land in general . . . nothing can be of worse consequence than to multiply taxes . . . it is your interest to make this tax as equal as you can’. Jibing that ‘this was a well-officered Parliament’, he recommended a poll tax ‘because of the great inequality of the tax when it falls wholly upon the landed men . . . since we are come into a war, we must get out of it as well as we can’. This suggestion allowed him to retain his Country credentials and complain about the conduct and burden of the war, while at the same time appearing to the Court as if intent on making a constructive contribution to the levying of supply. On the 19th he urged MPs to give shape to the poll bill by ‘naming what persons shall pay in this act and ascertaining the sum’, and when Sir John Lowther objected to a levy of 1s. he haughtily retorted that ‘those that will be your enemies for 2s. are not in my opinion worth preserving to be your friends’. Although he further suggested other forms of taxation, on 20 Jan. he opposed ‘taxing according to the militia [rates] for that is but another land tax in masquerade’. His enthusiasm for the tax earned him the reputation of being ‘a great mover for money’ and perhaps to override this impression by a display of zeal for the Church, he supported on 3 Feb. a proposal to tax Nonconformist preachers and teachers.20

The question of national finances was also to the fore in the debates during the 1691–2 session about the East India Company. On 27 Nov. Seymour made it plain that he was

for a new company to make this trade, which is become so large, to be as national as possible, which this present company is not. Nor are they able to carry on the trade . . . I shall move you therefore that we may address to his Majesty that he will be pleased to dissolve this company according to the power reserved in the charter and that he will permit this House to regulate a new company. On 2 Dec. he opened the debate on the details of such regulation by presenting ‘several heads’ for an Act to establish a new company, and on 10 Dec. proposed to debate ‘what sort of men’ should constitute it. A week later the debate was resumed and he spoke ‘very large and fully against the old company’, repeating his call for it to be given notice of dissolution. On 26 Jan. 1692 he also defended East Indian goods from further impositions, and supported a proposal that members of the new company who offered security should come to the House. On 6 Feb., after members of the old company had refused to give security without statutory recognition and establishment, Seymour protested that ‘they had not dealt fairly with the House’, and once more pressed for an address to the King to dissolve the existing company and establish a new one. When the House agreed, he moved that it be presented to the King by the Privy Councillors of the House.21

Having demonstrated his ability to raise money without abandoning the interests of the gentry, Seymour paraded his suspicions of the encroaching power of the Upper House, perhaps in order to quell reports that he would soon take a peerage himself or to show his concern that the Commons retain control over supply. On 28 Jan. he objected to the peers’ attempt to nominate commissioners for public accounts, on the grounds that

the Lords have no power in the matter of money, either in giving it or having an account thereof. The Lords are very tender of their privileges; so I would have you be of yours, especially in and about money which is the great thing this House has to recommend itself to the crown. On 5 Feb. he further accused the Lords of ‘having been long nibbling at money matters’, and when the Lords adhered to their amendments, Seymour spoke ‘very largely’ on 10 Feb. ‘to the unusualness of adhering upon the first free conference as taking away all intercourse between the two Houses’ and ‘that if the necessary supplies desired should be denied the next winter till the Commons saw how the money already given was disposed of, it will lie at the door of those that obstruct this bill’. Nevertheless when, on 15 Feb., Hon. John Granville moved to tack to a supply bill a clause to revive the bill of accounts, Seymour ‘urged strongly’ against it because, he told MPs,

in the beginning of the sessions you were for carrying on a vigorous war against France, but now at the close you are in a fair way to carry on a vigorous war between the two Houses. This is a method to undermine the constitutions of this government and therefore not now to be practised . . . I am for an account yet I am not for it this way.22 On the less controversial matters that came before the House in November and December 1691, Seymour continued to side with the Church and Country elements, presumably in order to maintain his credibility. On 20 Nov. he pressed for the examination of the Whig publisher of the Observator, which he thought had been ‘bold with the proceedings of the House’. On 9 Nov. he supported a motion to read the treason trials bill, and on 12 Dec., remembering that he himself had ‘had the honour or misfortune to have been impeached’ in 1680, he spoke in favour of an amendment which ‘levelled impeachments by this House with indictments, giving the party the same advantages thereon’. He urged Members not to ‘make it harder in impeachments than in any other trial, when the whole weight of the kingdom is upon the prisoner’. When the issue was debated on the 25th, he gave a digest of proceedings, warning the House not to insist on its amendments if this meant that the bill would be lost. On 11 Dec. he was first-named to an inquiry into precedents for the punishment of false and double returns, an inquiry which he and his brother-in-law Sir Joseph Tredenham had requested immediately after the rejection of a bill to this purpose, his zeal perhaps inspired by the hearing on 8 Dec. on the Dunwich election, when he remarked that MPs voted ‘against all justice . . . and against all honesty’.23

Indeed, apart from exchanging ‘hot words’ with Hon. Thomas Wharton on 22 Jan. 1692 over the report on Sir Basil Firebrace’s election, ‘which occasioned them to meet in St. James’s Square’, though they ‘did not fight’, Seymour had become a voice of caution and moderation as the session drew to an end. On 16 Feb. he joined the chancellor of the Exchequer, Richard Hampden I, to speak ‘mightily against private bills, the number and multitude of them’. Two days later, in a debate about the bills for forfeited estates (which he regretted had become so ‘clogged’ with clauses and provisos that they were virtually useless), he urged ‘union at this time of absolute necessity against the common enemy, and therefore I would not show any distrust or jealousy’ of the Lords’ delay in considering the bills, ‘but as you have given money so let the King have it in season since his necessities press for it’. On 20 Feb. he again acted with Hampden to prevent an incorrectly drafted bill from being carried up to the Lords, and, ‘being the chief protagonist’, sided once more with the chancellor on 19 and 22 Feb. against the bill to confirm the charters of Cambridge University. On 23 Feb. he could not resist a final glance at the Lords, arguing that the amendments made by the Upper House to the mutiny bill would ‘make a precedent for the Lords to dispose of your money . . . if you give them this, they will in time get purse and strings too’, and the next day opposed Ranelagh’s late motion promising supply to pay the wages of courtiers, declaring that he was ‘not for pawning the House nor laying a nest egg the last day of a sessions’. But his stature as a minister-in-the-making was confirmed when he successfully moved a resolution condemning the informer William Fuller, a vote which effectively removed the Jacobite card from Carmarthen’s stack of objections against his own appointment. Even so, Dartmouth thought Seymour needed some browbeating before accepting office, claiming that the King sent for Seymour ‘and told him Lady Dorchester had offered to be a second witness, but if he would come heartily into the service, he should be a lord of the Treasury; if not he should be prosecuted’. The story may have been one put about by Seymour at a later stage, for all the evidence from his activity in the House and from reports of observers and newswriters suggests that he had been actively courting preferment.24

Seymour was finally rewarded on 1 Mar. with appointment to the Privy Council. More importantly, a few days later William took him ‘by the hand and carried him to the Queen, recommending him as a person fit for her Majesty to take advice of in his absence’, and on 21 Mar. he was named as a commissioner of the Treasury. Although Seymour’s pride and thick skin made him impervious to charges of turning his coat, the appointment of a man who had not only ‘opposed everything but had reflected on the King’s title and conduct’ shocked Burnet and even irritated the Queen. The manner in which he accepted office also caused controversy, since he disputed precedence with Hampden. Seymour laid claim ‘to take place next the lords as a baronet, the other as chancellor of the Exchequer’, and it was only after a fortnight of wrangling that the King decided ‘that Mr Hampden keep his place, and Sir Edward Seymour to be of the cabinet council, which, ’tis believed, will satisfy both’. This ominous start highlighted the paradox of taking Seymour into the ministry: it had been necessary to include him more because of his nuisance value than for his ability to bring over to the Court many of the Country opposition, yet within government he threatened to remain an unsettling factor, unable or unwilling to work easily with Whig colleagues. The question for the King in his relationship with Seymour always remained how far he could afford to let him attack from without, and whether he could permit him to disturb the government from within. By giving him office the King had, at least for the moment, ensured that Seymour’s interest with the Country malcontents was undermined, even though the result of this was also to reduce Seymour’s usefulness in the House. His effectiveness in government was also questionable when he failed to attend Privy Council or Treasury meetings between 1 July and 8 Aug.; and when he did attend he spoke ‘doubtfully’ about the prospect of raising money when Parliament met. He did however show himself surprisingly sensitive to fears that the Jacobites had sought to make use of him. Although his wife was one of those invited in April to witness the birth of King James’s child, he brushed off attempts by Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) to pump him for information about the investigations into Jacobite plotting, and although Halifax thought his line of questioning to Bishop Sprat had been ‘unusual’, a Jacobite agent reported in September that Seymour ‘had proved stark naught’.25

Seymour was said in November 1692 to be visiting the King by the back stairs, and at the beginning of the 1692–3 session duly acted his part of Court spokesman well. He moved on 4 Nov. for the ‘thin’ House to be called over. On 10 Nov. he argued that while he was ‘against engaging this House underhand in a matter of money’, he supported a motion for supply, ‘for if it came once to be known that this House once made a question of assisting his Majesty, what fine work your enemies will make with it’. On the 15th he spoke in favour of a debate on supply ‘on the soonest day’ possible, and on the 25th again urged hasty consideration of the estimates for the land forces, ‘for to delay is next door to denying’. Indeed, it was over the issue of supply for the army that Seymour’s volte-face was most obvious. On 23 Nov. he had overcome the weight both of his own son’s reports of the misconduct of Dutch officers (see SEYMOUR, William*) and his own natural xenophobia to argue in favour of retaining the foreign generals, on the practical grounds that ‘a man is not born a general but attains it by time and long experience and if you removed the present I am afraid you will find a want to supply them’. On 2 Dec. Seymour supported Coningsby’s motion for MPs to debate the army estimates, arguing that there was no time ‘to spare, whereon not only your well-being but even your very being depends . . . the Treasury at this time is very low; there is hardly any money to pay the army their weekly subsistence’. So strong had his support for the war become that the next day he asked

gentlemen to consider if they think they can support themselves when they are left alone [without alliances]. Some gentlemen are pleased [as he himself had been the previous year] to call this a defensive war, but I am sure if you help not to support it will prove an offensive one upon you. The seat of the war is now in another kingdom, but if you break the alliance you may chance to bring it into your own . . . your all lies at stake: your being and your well-being too. England, he professed, could not stand alone without sacrificing her trading interests, and he hoped MPs would ‘seriously consider with themselves if it is not better to bear some small inconveniences now than to have King James come back with a French power’. On 23 Feb. he moved for the enlargement of the customs revenue ‘for some time longer’, and was the only government minister prepared to give support when the proposal ran into difficulties.26

A further reversal of Seymour’s position was also evident in his opposition to the place bill. On 27 Dec., with a degree of self-justification, he spoke against the preamble, because of slights to the Cavalier Parliament, which had

made some of your best laws which are the foundation of the English liberties, and by reflecting on them at such a rate you seem to reflect upon their laws and, in some measure weaken the same. Then I believe this bill will not answer your intentions, for you will but put men upon more close contrivances. Such weak reasoning prompted Paul Foley to quip that it was ‘no new thing to see a man incline one way and when he is got into a place to go another way’. Similarly, Seymour supported the Court over the triennial bill, though here his opposition was more of a piece with his attitudes in the early 1680s. He argued that although frequent Parliaments were ‘very good for this nation’ he did not find the bill ‘contrived for those ends’, but aimed instead to force an immediate dissolution, ‘which I believe is a thing [that] was never offered at before. It takes away the King’s prerogative in a very material branch.’ Although he said he was ‘no more for setting up prerogative above the law than any man within this House . . . [he] would support the prerogative that it may be able to preserve us and the law’. Moreover, he suggested, a dissolution at the present time, while the country was still at war, would be inconvenient and damage the government’s financial credit. Seymour was so strongly identified with opposition to the bill that during the division on 7 Feb. a quarrel arose between him and the fierce Whig Lord Brandon (Charles Gerard*), ‘occasioned by some words between them as they crossed the House’.27

Seymour also abandoned his former position in favour of the commission for public accounts. On 14 Feb. 1693, he spoke against a bill for stating the accounts, ‘for that he did not see any good was done by it answerable to what it costs you, which is about £10,000 p.a. At least if you are resolved to have such a commission I desire other gentlemen may take their turn as well as these.’ Seymour’s assistance to the Court chimed with his own party interests on 8 Mar. when he tried to protect the placeman William Culliford*, who was being used as a pawn in a more important attack by the Whigs on Lord Coningsby. Seymour had already defended Coningsby on 16 Dec., when he spoke ‘experimentally’ in the light of his own impeachment of 1680.28

Seymour’s support for the Court was again apparent in the debates on naval affairs. On 12 Nov. 1692 he made a speech apparently encouraging MPs to investigate the conduct of the fleet, thinking ‘it fit to have all before you, because you have a seeming accusation’, and advised the House how to conduct the questioning of witnesses; but thereafter refrained from any further exploitation of Admiral Edward Russell’s* difficulties, perhaps because they were also Nottingham’s, and even his own. On 21 Nov. he accordingly opposed an address requesting the King to place the Admiralty in different hands: ‘I am indeed of the opinion [that] your safety lies chiefly in your fleet, but . . . I think you ought to examine matters a little better before you so severely reflect on the gentlemen who, though perhaps they had not the experience requisite at first, yet now I believe they have it at your costs, and therefore I think they may be serviceable.’ On 29 Nov. he and Lowther informed the House of the need for more than 17,000 naval personnel, and Seymour presented the estimate as a ‘demand from the King himself’. When, the following day, there were ‘reflections on the management of the descent’, Seymour felt compelled ‘to say something of it since I am concerned in a station where this has been managed. Some gentlemen have been pleased to make us either fools or knaves’, but he attacked the report on the matter as ‘very partial’, and suggested that if the committee considered all the relevant papers they would ‘find the fault lies in another place’. His speech was taken to have reflected on William Palmes, the chairman of the committee, who was roused into ‘a warm debate and charging the ministers with miscarriages and produced this question, that his Majesty be advised not to employ any in his councils etc. whose principles did not own his title superior to King James or any other’. On 5 Dec. Seymour again pointed out that the committee had not had ‘all the papers before them’, and declared that

what is done is rather designed against persons than to rectify what things . . . and as to what had been hinted at of the Lord Nottingham and the reflections upon him, I will say never any person has taken more care and industry to serve this government than he has. Seymour’s defence of Nottingham (which suggests that Renaudot’s observation that Seymour and Rochester were plotting Nottingham’s overthrow needs to be treated sceptically) was not enough to prevent a vote of censure, but Seymour had reminded the House that the matter would be investigated by the Lords.29

Although Seymour had reversed his position in favour of the Court on so many significant issues, he remained constant on matters relating to trade. On 16 Nov. he agreed that the merchants’ grievance over shipping losses ‘is too true and worth your inquiry’; but believed ‘it will be found as much their fault as for want of convoys, and though so many have been lost, I can assure you the customs are much higher now than in times of peace heretofore’. The same day he opposed a bill to encourage the export of various consumables, on the grounds that ‘your consumption at this time is very great in this nation (greater almost than the product thereof) whereby these things already bear a great price, so that if they be sent beyond sea you will want them here for your own occasions’. Yet, protecting traders in his own constituency, he did seek to encourage the export of woollens. On 19 Jan. 1693 he opposed a clause in favour of the Hamburg Company in the bill to continue the Act for the encouragement of the woollen industry, because ‘it would much hinder the exportation of your manufacture’, and duly opposed the bill’s third reading. He found its title fraudulent, for

if the bill really be for the benefit thereof, I doubt not but I should have heard from my corporation in the matter. But I take the bill before you to be a door to let in foreigners, and when they have got the trade in their hands they will beat you out of it or make their own terms with you and set their own prices . . . I do not think this bill for the interest of the nation. Local trading concerns were also apparent on 27 Feb., when he offered a rider to the bill for reviving expired laws, so that Irish wool could not be imported to Exeter, it ‘being no advantage to the city’ and actually encouraging further export into France. Similarly, on 6 Mar. he opposed a clause in the third reading of the bill to encourage privateers, because it would destroy the Turkey trade and would ‘carry on a trade with France’.30

Seymour’s principal commercial concern was still the establishment of a new East India Company. On 14 Nov. he informed the House of the King’s answer to the address of the previous session calling for the dissolution of the old company, and introduced a bill to regulate the trade. On the 16th he reminded MPs that it represented ‘a fifth part of the trade of the whole nation and therefore may well deserve your consideration to preserve the same from being lost, which I assure you is very much endangered’ unless a new company were to be established. He nevertheless thought it ‘consistent with your justice to hear the company to it before you quite destroy it’. On 18 Nov. his close friend Thomas Coulson*, an interloping merchant whom he nominated at this time for a by-election at Totnes, was ordered by the interlopers to meet with Sir Thomas Cooke* for the Company ‘to debate the matters in contest before Sir Edward Seymour’, though Seymour could hardly have been considered an impartial referee and the talks proved fruitless. On 7 Dec. Seymour moved in the House for a system of voting rights proportional to investment, ‘since it was well known that the mischiefs of the late company were occasioned by plurality of voices’, and spoke again on 19 Dec. at the second reading of the bill. In a committee chaired by his Treasury colleague Charles Montagu, he supported an address on 25 Feb. for the company’s dissolution.31

On some other matters Seymour continued to side with anti-Court elements, perhaps in an attempt to regain credit and also as a means of exerting pressure on rivals within the administration. Thus, on 15 Dec. 1692 he supported Thomas Neale’s* project for an annuity fund on the grounds that it was ‘a good thing to ease your land and to shut the door against a home excise. I have seven sons, and I like this proposal so well that I will venture all mine’, and he opposed an excise on goods, preferring a poll tax. On 10 Jan. he boosted his credentials as a Churchman by speaking in favour of the bill to prevent the profanation of the sabbath, requesting a clause forbidding the execution of legal writs on Sundays. He continued to show a suspicion that the peers aimed at interfering in supply. On 8 Mar. he opposed a Lords’ amendment to the bill to enable the crown to make leases in Cornwall, ‘because it was laying a charge upon the subject in matters of money, which the Lords cannot do’. On 17 Jan. he remarked that the Lords ‘are going to set up for themselves’, and believed that the triennial bill’s origin in the Lords, ‘who only represent themselves’, meddled with the constitution. He also continued to support Country Tories in disputed elections, intervening on 14 Nov. 1692 in favour of Sir Christopher Musgrave and on 14 Feb. 1693 on behalf of Sir Eliab Harvey.32

Seymour enjoyed the status that office gave him because it allowed him to become a self-appointed adviser to the House on matters of procedure. He may have intended such contributions as a means of impressing his authority as a pseudo-Speaker. Thus, on 11 Jan. 1693, he believed Sir Francis Winnington to have mismanaged the resolutions of ‘advice’ to be offered to the King, and gave his own opinion; five days later he even corrected his own ministerial colleague Montagu on a point of form. Repeating his speech of the previous year, he ‘inveighed against private bills and the many mischiefs arising therefrom’. On occasion procedural interventions provided him with a pretext to encourage Tories or to disguise his own policy shifts, particularly over the succession. Thus, on 1 Dec. 1692, he ostensibly supported John Smith I’s proposal of a clause making illegal a declaration against the right of the King and Queen to the throne; but opposed the motion as irregular, suggesting that it was more properly treated in a separate bill. He was also believed to have given underhand support for a motion against grants and pensions.33

Although Seymour had lost some credit in the House, he had been successful in retaining good relations with Musgrave, and even Foley was said in one tract published early in 1693 to have turned ‘cadet and carries arms under the general of the west Saxons’. Indeed, Seymour’s continued alliance with Members critical of the Court created suspicion. When reviewing the session Sunderland remarked that Seymour’s opposition to the oath in the abjuration bill and his ‘fine behaviour at council will not be forgot’ and as the pressures within the mixed ministry grew as a result of the shift towards the Whigs, Seymour’s unsettling influence became more and more apparent. In the Treasury he opposed action over the coinage, advising the King ‘to look on, and let the matter have its course’, believing that ‘the badness of the money quickened the circulation’ and would thus make men more ready to loan to the government. Such a policy brought him into conflict with the reform-minded Montagu, and friction with the new Whig ministers was increasingly obvious. Although he was on good terms with Trenchard, who was made secretary of state, Seymour found the appointment of Somers far harder to swallow, and according to Tindal he formed a party with Musgrave ‘that studied to cross and defeat everything’. In July he retired into the country, where he encouraged local Tories, looking ‘so extremely brisk and prosperous as if none of our misfortunes could ever affect him’. In rivalry to a Whig conference at Althorp, a meeting was held in September at the Duke of Somerset’s house, attended by Seymour and his ally Rochester, together with Ranelagh and ‘some others’, presumably to try to co-ordinate the Tory faction. When Parliament reassembled, Seymour was still in office, but it was clear that he found it increasingly prudent to play to the Country or Tory gallery and to prune his activity on behalf of the Court to a bare minimum. Although never distinguished in his committee activity, Seymour’s contribution in the 1693–4 session was unusually meagre, and (allowing for the fact that the session is much less well reported) he appears to have made markedly fewer speeches. Even before the session was under way, there were rumours that he would lose his post.34

When Parliament reassembled for the 1693–4 session Seymour did, however, support the Court in opposition to the triennial bill, perhaps because its defeat had become a matter of personal reputation. According to one pamphlet, after the King’s veto of the bill the previous session Seymour had undertaken ‘that it should be thrown out the next time they sat’. On 23 Nov. 1693 he argued against annual meetings, though his speech included the provocative statement that he wished ‘our condition such that we might support the government without Parliament. I would willingly bate my share in Parliament to have a share in that condition.’ On 22 Dec. he spoke against the bill’s third reading, declaring that ‘the dislike I have to this bill is because I think it not for the public service’ and because it was a ‘remedy worse than the disease’, for though ‘faced with good things, yet the intention is dissolving this Parliament . . . you give the lords power to dissolve Parliament’.35

Seymour’s speech on 4 Dec. against the place bill was also a repeat of his performance the previous session: defending the Cavalier Parliament for its ‘stand against popery and the French interest’, he warned that there were ‘other ways than places to corrupt men, which may be turned into pensions’. Having defended Coningsby and Porter in the previous session, Seymour may also have felt obliged to do so again; but his pressure on behalf of the Court for supply was only half-hearted. Although on 13 Nov. he observed that ‘without supply, for support of the government, we are lost’, and he later supported Hampden’s motion for supply for the land forces because ‘time is too precious to delay’, he had done nothing to help press for the increase in troops, and had even publicly shared Harley’s misgivings that the size of the army would require a general excise. According to one source, on 14 Dec. Seymour had said he hoped to die before ever seeing such a tax, and on 16 Mar. 1694 he pressed for a call of the House in order to mobilize opposition to the excise bill. Moreover, Seymour was increasingly preoccupied with commercial legislation rather than government business. By early December he had proposed heads to regulate the New East India Company and on 4 Jan. 1694 presented a bill to promote woollen manufactures.36

Yet it was the inquiry into the misconduct at sea that most revealed Seymour’s distance from his ministerial Whig colleagues, even though at first he seemed to share their desire for a full investigation. On 13 Nov. 1693 he declared ‘with the greatest sadness, we have lost the discipline of the fleet and I am afraid our honour too. The House will never go along cheerfully till inquiry be made into miscarriages.’ It soon became clear, however, that Seymour did not seek the same targets as the Whigs. On 21 Nov. he asked to know when the Tory admirals had been informed that the French fleet was laid up, because ‘without the best evidence in the world I would not have the Admirals discouraged in their service’, and the following day sought to turn the inquiry into a witch-hunt after the victualling commissioners. Once the inquiry had been deflected from Nottingham and the admirals, and towards Secretary Trenchard (Sir John*), Seymour taunted the Whigs, who had been ‘so warm in pursuing the miscarriage in the fleet’, for growing ‘cool’. The cumulative effect of his semi-detached status was to provoke Montagu, who was rapidly establishing his control over the House, into an open attack. On 19 Mar. he listed Seymour’s inconsistency ‘à changer de parti, sa conduite bizarre dès le commencement de la révolution jusques à présent, son attachement à ce qui était de son intérêt préférablement à celui du public, et ses perpétuelles infidélités envers le dernier parti qu’il avait épousé’. According to Bonet, most MPs secretly applauded a speech which rendered the usually loquacious Sir Edward speechless.37

The attack on Seymour, who, as Robert Yard* observed, had ‘of late . . . been against the Court in all debates in the House of Commons’, signalled his impending loss of office. Rumours of his dismissal had circulated in February 1694, and so alienated from the ministry had he appeared that the Jacobites once again held out hope that he might be useful to their cause; but the King waited until the session had ended before finally purging his ministry of Seymour. According to Musgrave, Seymour had ‘added to his wealth’ by his term at the Treasury, but ‘whether he hath gained ought else I will not determine’. Such a comment from so near an ally revealed how hard Seymour had to work to reconstruct relations with his former friends, whose credit, unlike his own, was untarnished by the smear of self-interest. Seymour set about the task immediately, for by early July the government was bracing itself for his attack from the back benches about the ‘vast amounts of money’ which he claimed had been raised for a war which ‘only benefited [the] Dutch and foreigners, contrary to the intention of the Parliament in establishing the Bank’.38

In the 1694–5 session Seymour made good his promise of vigorous opposition. On its first day he opposed the request for supply, claiming that

it was the old parliamentary way to begin with the redress of grievances before they entered upon the giving money and within these six months last there had been so many maladministrations that it would take another six months to make a thorough enquiry into and redress the same. Seymour then lambasted the ‘designs of Aaron Smith’, a member of the Green Ribbon Club whose radicalism Seymour would have encountered during the Popish Plot investigations over a decade earlier. Smith had been in charge of prosecutions for the Lancashire Plot, which Seymour suspected was part of a larger Whig design to strengthen their electoral interest in that county. Seymour then proceeded to attack the King himself:

He said the King was a stranger to us and we to him, for that generally he came from Flanders against the opening of the Parliament and went back immediately after the recess, and what he did in Flanders in relation to England we know little of, affairs being managed by foreign councils. He said that we had been threatened into a war and bubbled. At which words Mr Clarke [Edward I] took great exception, calling them harsh expressions, to which he replied he did not mean we were bubbled into the war but bubbled into the management of it, we had given vast sums and there appeared but little done for the benefit of England. The policy of stopping the French overrunning Spain was, he declared, ‘only advantageous to the Spaniard to obtain better terms with the French; he said it would be time enough to applaud the policy when they returned home with safety and honour’.39

This blistering attack fully justified his identification as one of the ‘grumbletonians for being turned out’, and as one of three leading MPs ‘who have been taken notice of for talking freely’. Seymour’s combative mood was again apparent on 18 Dec. 1694 when, in response to Sir Ralph Dutton’s call to bar from office all those who had held posts under Charles II and James II, he gave a highly partial vindication of his own career. He

said he had the honour to serve King Charles II; that under the late king he had no employment, not but that he might if he had sought it, but he was no complier with the times. In this reign he had been brought into the council and into employment unknown to him and without his desire, and he thought himself as much obliged for putting him out as taking him in. This speech, a good example of the unashamed gloss Seymour put on his sudden reverses of direction, was followed by a lengthy speech on 14 Dec., when the House resolved to renew tonnage and poundage, in favour of a three-month interval between the expiry of the old and the start of the new ‘afin que les communes fissent voir qu’elles étaient en droit d’en disposer’, and a call on 18 Dec. for the customs revenue to be applied to the war. Yet, caught between Court and Country, Seymour was evidently finding the House uncomfortable, and on 20 Dec. was granted a fortnight’s leave of absence. In the new year his activity in committee was again at a very low level, though the death of Queen Mary gave some chance of rallying a specifically Tory following. Early in February 1695 he ‘gave great offence by letting fall an expression that without doors it was made a question whether the Parliament by the death of the Queen was not dissolved’, and queried the propriety of including the word ‘heirs’ in future legislation. He argued that a long-term view was needed because if the King remarried there was a danger that the right of succession would be established in his children, to the exclusion of the more direct claims of Princess Anne; and that even if William had no more children, the word ‘heirs’ still opened the way to his other relations. Yet any chance of Seymour re-establishing his status as a leader of the House disappeared when he overplayed his self-appointed part as assistant Speaker. One day towards the end of March the

House was in great disorder (as it often has been), everybody talking to his neighbour so that none could hear what was doing. Sir Edward Seymour rose and in a smart and weighty speech reproved the disorder and casually expressed himself that they appeared more like an assembly of trade or merchandise than of legislature. This brought the House into some order, many other gentlemen seconding him, but one of them took notice of his comparing them to a market and said if the reports without doors were true it was a market, for ’twas said both public and private business came to market there and neither could be done unless paid for. Although at other times this inquiry into corruption would not have been unwelcome to Seymour, the House began an inquiry into the underhand dealings of the East India Company, from which it emerged that Seymour had deserted his former friends the interlopers in return for money, though he had managed the affair carefully, making sure that he had a paper contract through the agency of Thomas Coulson to supply saltpetre at a rate by which he could not have failed to make a profit of £10,000. Seymour turned on 6 Apr. to defending the company’s governor, Sir Thomas Cooke, though it was noted that his reasons failed to sway the House because everyone believed that he was really pleading his own cause by proxy. Although it emerged that Seymour had distanced himself from Sir Basil Firebrace’s naked bribes to obtain a new charter for the company, telling him that ‘if he made any more such proffers, he would never have anything more to do with him’, the damage to Seymour’s reputation was severe.40

Perhaps in an attempt to regain some of the lost ground, Seymour’s parting shot of the session was aimed against Montagu and the Court. On 24 Apr., during a debate on the bill to prevent counterfeit coin, he made a long speech to prove that the war was not in the interest of the nation, and that if it continued, disorder and the country’s ruin were inevitable, since the country had been squeezed dry of money. He therefore urged MPs to make an address to the King calling for peace. Bonet noted that since no one expected a speech of this nature, Seymour found no support for his proposal, which was rejected. Privy Councillors were nevertheless requested to represent to the King the hardships that the war was causing, a resolution which suggests that Seymour’s instincts were right, even if his style was unnecessarily strident and his message marred by MPs’ awareness that he was motivated by personal discontent. He had thought ‘que la conjuncture serait favorable, parce qu’il n’y avait presentement dans la chambre des communes qu’environ le tiers des Membres’, but he had failed to carry the House even when the odds were stacked heavily in his favour.41

Moreover, Seymour probably alienated more MPs by picking a quarrel on 2 May with Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt. Seymour cast aspersions on the committee drafting the articles of impeachment against the Duke of Leeds, who had shared Seymour’s fate in being attacked over the East India Company affair. Onslow ‘replied too with some reflections on Seymour’, who in turn challenged him to a duel, which forced the Speaker to intervene. ‘With much difficulty the House reconciled them and the Speaker carried them with him to dinner’ to prevent any further trouble, but the irony that Seymour had nearly fought over a man whom he had long tried to displace from office cannot have been lost on observers, nor on Seymour himself, who found that although he was unable to benefit from his rival’s downfall the Whigs could. To make matters even worse, the Treasury, inspired by Montagu, pressed him soon after the session ended to explain the sum of £131,785 outstanding from his accounts as treasurer of the navy, ‘a great part of which ’tis believed he cannot well discharge himself of’.42

The evidence from the 1694–5 session that Seymour’s credit was on the point of collapse was reinforced by his difficulties at the 1695 election, when ironically the Duke of Leeds now regarded him as an ally. Leeds had written to thank Seymour for his assistance in the House, only to receive back a formally cordial letter which made it clear that Seymour claimed to have been acting out of high principle:

The cause we appeared in was pretty universal, for while we defended your Grace we preserved ourselves from oppression. For had the reformers of the times succeeded, it would have been hard to have imagined where their fury would have stopped. None that were truly loyal, but must have been either removed or disgraced to make room for the saints that their virtues, might have shown with greater lustre . . . it was a formal design began and carried on by Mr Montagu and Mr Wharton by menacing and threatening some, and encouraging others with rewards and places, to say something that should cast a blemish on your Grace.43 Although he might privately dress up his personal misfortunes as Whig persecution, Seymour nevertheless failed to impress the electorate at Exeter, which was dissatisfied with his conduct in the last Parliament. The Whigs duly ousted him there, though the sheriff adjourned the poll, on purpose, Seymour thought, to prevent him from attending the opening of the new Parliament and hence from supporting the candidature of his ‘friend’ Paul Foley I as Speaker. Typically, Seymour sought to elevate his own electoral problems into a national grievance, complaining to Robert Harley that ‘if these practices be not checked in the beginning the sheriffs shall make what Parliament they please. It’s not my case alone, but generally to all that are not of their kidney. It may be a good reason to adjourn matters of consequence till you have account of your Members.’ Harley ignored the suggestion, and Seymour was ‘forced to betake himself to Totnes’, though he was only returned there ‘by the mayor disqualifying a number of legal votes against him’.44

Seymour saw the best chance for a revival of his fortunes in emphasizing Tory rather than Country concerns. In the summer of 1695, and throughout the winter, he led an ‘association’ of 30 MPs, including John Grobham Howe, Musgrave, Hon. Heneage Finch I (whose advice Seymour sought on his electoral difficulties) and Simon Harcourt I, Tories who

were resolved to stick close to each other, and not to give subsidies for to carry on the war; they had each of them more or less friends in the House that would stand by them in all they resolved on, and Sir Edward Seymour especially governed the western Members in a great measure, styling them his west Saxons. Although there are signs that such a cabal was working together in the 1695–6 session they could rely only on a fluctuating body of support. Thus, although on 3 Dec. the group unsuccessfully ‘endeavoured all they could’ to press for a reduction in the size of the army, Seymour nevertheless went on to argue that increasing the money supply, as the Court wanted, to counteract the effect of inflation, would only add to the cost of living, and did obtain a reduction in the amount to be paid to seamen, even if L’Hermitage thought the House was flexing its muscles for the sake of doing so. The Tory group was again active in opposing the Court over the issue of the weight of the intended new coin, and on 13 Feb. 1696 ‘words of heat’ passed between Seymour and Sir Richard Atkins, 2nd Bt., during a debate on the price of guineas. He was listed as having voted against the Court on this question, and remarked that making silver ‘but a token’ would ruin foreign and domestic trade. The Tories also exploited the issue of the proposed council of trade: on 2 Jan. Seymour and his allies were observed to be ‘zealously contending’ for the right of Parliament to appoint the councillors, and he was listed as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan.45

Yet although the Tories had found some measure of support on Country issues, they proved unable to lead the House towards more partisan ends. On 31 Jan. Seymour opposed the proposed Abjuration. He

began extremely well but towards the close of his speech his consideration seemed to leave him when he said that some Members who appeared the most zealous in behalf of this oath drank K[ing] James’s health every day. Being called on to name them, he desired to be excused in regard they might prove persons against whom he is a petitioner. This was a reference to Sir Joseph Tiley, Seymour’s successor at Exeter, who was able to ridicule the accusation and reply that he had ‘come over with the King and was at his elbow long before Sir Edward approached him’, leaving Seymour speechless. Seymour had clearly lost his reputation in the House. Although his return for Totnes was confirmed almost without opposition, he received only one vote in the ballot on 1 Feb. for commissioners of accounts and was shown to be bluffing at the committee for privileges in asserting that a breach committed against an MP during the lifetime of one Parliament could be investigated in a new one; when challenged to produce his precedents, Seymour was unable to do so. On 16 Mar. he unsuccessfully opposed a motion to give money to poor French Protestants, the House refusing to accept his claim that such financial help had already been included in the civil list. His attitude was ascribed to anger at the electoral support Huguenot refugees had given to Whig candidates.46

Although Seymour’s influence and prestige in the House were under threat he did not curb his opposition even after the revelation in late February 1696 of the Assassination Plot. Indeed, he exploited the opportunity to thrust himself forward as one of the ‘ringleaders’ of those who refused to sign the Association, thereby provoking the King to erase his name from the Privy Council register. On 27 Feb. Seymour explained his refusal to subscribe:

He was not so far abandoned of his reason as to believe that this was not a hereditary kingdom, and that he was very sorry that this test of rightful and lawful was brought to be applied to King William; there was a great difference betwixt what was done upon an emergency and in state difficulties, and what was to be done upon deliberation to violate the constitution of the realm; he thought it enough for him to pay his allegiance and not to specify upon what head it went, but to define it in this manner was to prejudice the monarchy and to infringe the laws, which he thought every Member of that House was obliged to avoid. Characteristically, however, Seymour sailed too close to the wind. On 4 Apr. his assertion in the Commons that the Association was contrary to law and public liberty prompted calls for him to be sent to the Tower. He was forced to explain himself and, sensing MPs’ hostility, ‘adoucit les choses d’une telle manière que quelqu’un même du parti de la cour voulut bien prendre sa défense en main’. So successful was his retraction that he was excused the formality of pleading his pardon at the bar. Nevertheless, the House thought it necessary to pass a vote condemning as Jacobites anyone who claimed that the Association was illegal, and almost immediately an account of the proceedings relating to the Jacobite conspiracy was published in which Seymour was singled out for particular castigation, so that at the beginning of the next session he persuaded the House to have it censured as a breach of privilege. The imputation of Jacobitism was also raised after the arrest in June of the plotter Peter Cook, who described Seymour as ‘an errant Jacobite, and let him whistle or trim as he would, yet he was sound at bottom and they were sure of him’.47

Seymour’s fortunes were now at perhaps their lowest ebb. He had alienated both Court and Country, and come near to a humiliation, without having been able to mobilize, or place himself at the head of, the Tories. Yet ironically it was the prosecutions of the Jacobites that offered him the best hope of recovering ground, for the trials and bill of attainder against Fenwick grated on Tory sensibilities, and the lack of corroborating evidence raised concerns about the liberty of the subject. Even so, Seymour was able to return to prominence only among a small band of discontented MPs, who were constantly outnumbered by the Court.

At the beginning of the 1696–7 session Seymour, whom L’Hermitage thought was now consciously seeking to distance himself from the Court, barracked from the back benches. Opposing an immediate resolution on supply, he argued that the House was not full enough to debate such an important matter, and that while MPs deferred the debate until more colleagues came up to Westminster, they should begin by discussing the arrears of the previous year. The cabal of malcontent MPs backed him, but were defeated in a division. He allied himself on 29 Oct. with Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt., and Robert Harley to ‘offer some rubs’ against the Court’s policy on the recoinage. The same day he also took up John Grobham Howe’s complaints about the state of the nation and ‘took an occasion to say that the men of the best estates and interest in his county were not allowed to be in commissions of the peace and lieutenancy, because of their votes in that House’. James Sloane wanted to have him called to the bar for the remark, ‘but was not seconded’. Indeed, one MP appears to have slighted Seymour’s speech as a manifestation of discontent at having been ousted from his post.48

Seymour’s antipathy to the Court was sharp but often unsupported. On 4 Nov. he worked with Howe to stir up opposition during the debate on the state of the nation. Rather than concentrate on the lack of money available to fund the war he ‘voulut frapper son coup d’une autre manière et, sachant combien le commerce est un sujet propre à exciter la jalousie, dit qu’il savait de bonne part qu’il y avait un traité conclu entre la Hollande et la France’, though Secretary Trumbull (Sir William*) remarked that Seymour’s information was only mercantile gossip and the tittle-tattle of newspapers. He was also unable to lead the House on 6 Nov. when he criticized the evidence against Fenwick on the grounds that there was only one witness to the treason. According to some accounts he closed by proclaiming himself to be ‘of the same opinion with the Romans who, in the case of Catiline, declared he had rather ten guilty persons should escape than one innocent should suffer’, to which Hon. Harry Mordaunt replied ‘the worthy Member who spoke last seems to have forgot that the Roman who made that declaration was suspected of being a conspirator himself’. Seymour did not even attend the afternoon session that day, a sign that he wished to slip away from an embarrassing debate.49

Yet it was sensitivity to the prosecution of Fenwick which Seymour decided to exploit. On 9 Nov. he ‘vented . . . as much malice as he could, saying he supposed Sir John might have injured some persons, but he could not be assured of it till he saw it proved, for men might alter their sentiments’, though Charles Montagu ‘fell upon him for it’. Seymour’s concern throughout was to insist that the correct procedure be followed in Fenwick’s case, even if strict adherence to the letter of the law allowed the plotter to escape punishment. As he remarked in the debate on the committal of the attainder bill, ‘you may judge the prisoner and others will judge you . . . it may fall out that by this precedent an innocent man may be punished and then we that make this precedent are guilty of his blood’. On 25 Nov., during the bill’s third reading, Seymour strained all his eloquence against its passage:

You all know I have borne my testimony against this bill, being not persuaded that it is just . . . and if I am more tedious than I used to be, I hope the occasion is such that you will pardon me, for . . . I think that in this case you have no evidence; and instead of two witnesses, you have no witnesses at all . . . I would have been glad that in cases more reasonable we had exerted this authority and power of Parliament: I wish it had gone to the preventing the debasing and abusing your coin . . . but contrary to that, you are fond of being sprinkled with the blood of Sir John Fenwick. As long as the country is not in danger I believe the country would be glad that their blood might secure men in their views, and not be tapped upon every occasion to serve a turn; for if you break the laws, what man can promise himself security? . . . this bill is against the law of God, against the law of the land; it does contribute to the subversion of the constitution and to the subversion of all government. Although his eloquence was not enough to overturn the Court majority, Seymour joined Musgrave, Temple and Harley in a controversy about the tellers and the division and the same day proposed a debate on the grievances of the nation, particularly the quartering of troops in the provinces, though the word ‘grievance’ was rejected, and only 37 votes could be mustered in favour of Seymour’s motion.50

Perhaps recognizing that open confrontation alienated rather than won support, Seymour changed tack. On 8 Dec. 1696 he and Musgrave opposed a proposal to allow premiums for loans, taking ‘pains to have it understood it was not to be done by consent’, but ten days later lent the government £10,000 and offered at least as much again in cattle for victualling the fleet. The loan may have been designed to demonstrate to the King that the Tories were worth cultivating, if only for their money; but if so, Seymour’s tactics are bewildering, for all his recent actions had sought to undermine the Court. Contemporaries were puzzled, but the explanation may lie in L’Hermitage’s observation that it was the most discontented who were the first to lend money, implying that they were buying popularity at a time when the recoinage was causing hardship. Indeed, Musgrave and Seymour said that it was necessary to expedite business in the light of the necessity of granting the King money. Not only did this new compliance strike an accord with back-benchers, who had evidently been unimpressed by the malcontents’ opposition earlier in the session, but it also helped clear the Tories of the smear of aiding the Jacobites, who had been said to have been exploiting the financial crisis. There is no record of Seymour having made a speech during the remainder of the 1696–7 session.51

Perhaps sensing that he had lost touch with back-bench opinion, Seymour ostentatiously set himself up after the session as a country gentleman, aloof from politicking, spending the summer ‘like the Czar of Muscovy’ on a hunting trip ‘with a pack of hounds, ten horses besides his six coach horses, and servants’, in a ‘progress’ from the West country to Wales. The journey was not devoid of political meaning, since he was entertained along the way by Tories such as Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, Sir Richard Myddelton, 3rd Bt.*, and Sir William Whitmore, 2nd Bt.*, and L’Hermitage thought he had spent time in the provinces ‘pour attirer des gens à son parti à fin d’inciter qu’on eut la paix’. Having taken the pulse of the Country Tories, Seymour was ready to exploit the new situation that the peace had brought about. In November 1697 even Titus Oates, who thought that Seymour ‘never did a good thing’, looked to him to oppose Court Whig designs to maintain a standing army. The evidence suggests, however, that Seymour’s courting of Country opinion had achieved a disappointing return. He opposed making a reply to the King’s Speech until a bill had first been debated, as parliamentary custom demanded, but was not supported. On 7 Dec. he backed Musgrave’s motion to consider the King’s Speech rather than move immediately for supply, on the grounds that the request for money was unprecedented. When Montagu pointed out that the House had done so only the year before, Seymour replied that although in a wartime emergency precedent might be suspended, at other times normal procedure ought to be followed. Seymour also ‘took occasion to say that there were divers abuses which ought to be inquired into, and particularly about the Exchequer notes, and the proceedings of those who had pawned the Parliament’. Montagu and Thomas Pelham I objected to his phrasing and offered to investigate abuses ‘and go as far backward as he pleased’, a threat to dredge up Seymour’s unaccounted time as treasurer of the navy. Undeterred, Seymour was one of the ‘chief of those who spoke for the disbanding’ of the army on 10 Dec., though the threat to hound him for past misdemeanours was used again on the 15th during the debate on the public debt, when Montagu answered Seymour’s proposal to establish a department on the French model to examine debts incurred since 1690 by declaring that its remit ought to go back to the Restoration.52

Although Seymour had joined with, and partly led, the Country opposition to the army, he found such support melting away when he pursued a more distinctively Tory concern, such as limiting the civil list. Wanting either to show that he did not favour the Jacobite court or simply to score a political point, he opposed the proposed grant to James II’s queen, claiming that it was astonishing that the House should consider such a pension on the same day as it debated a bill to make corresponding with the exiled court a treasonable offence; but on 20 Dec. 1697 it was pointed out that ‘in the last session he thought she had so good a right by her jointure, and she had no attainder on her, and might take it’. The House duly agreed to what the Court requested, and Seymour and Musgrave received another setback the following day, when they tried to divert the debate on the civil list ‘and afterwards would have entered into the examination of every particular’ but ‘were not heard’. Seymour seemed to distance himself further from prevailing opinion by preparing in late December to defend Lord Sunderland, either from a belief that Sunderland’s fall would only benefit the Junto or simply on the principle that Montagu’s enemy must be his own friend.53

The feud with Montagu flared up again in January 1698. On the 8th Seymour opposed, on procedural grounds, the chancellor’s attempts to reopen the question of the size of the standing army, and on 17 Jan., during a debate on the provision for disbandment, he queried ‘whether any of the officers were the worse for their service’, provoking Sir Charles Hotham, 4th Bt., to answer ‘very bluntly that the officers had spent more honourably in their employment than he had got in his’. On 22 Jan. Tiley moved to consider all grants made since the Restoration, a motion aimed among others at Seymour, who had received an Irish grant of £5,000. These moves, together with the removal of (Sir) Charles Duncombe*, who was the ‘cement that kept’ Sunderland’s allies and Montagu’s enemies united, were successful pre-emptive strikes against Seymour’s expected attack. On 16 Feb. Seymour was so incensed that Montagu had emerged unscathed from accusations over the Irish forfeitures, that he charged the chancellor with violating his oaths of office, only to be rebuffed by a galling vote in Montagu’s favour.54

On 22 Feb. Seymour, joined by Musgrave and Harley, changed tack and criticized the Treasury’s handling of bills of exchange, but the commissioners’ explanation that their intention had been the public good ‘satisfied the House, and the question, endeavoured by Sir Edward Seymour and the rest of the gentlemen of that side, was carried in the negative by a great majority’. The rivalry between Seymour and Montagu was again apparent when the minister countered Sir Edward’s opposition to a plan to raise money in return for a grant of a monopoly of trade to the New East India Company: the chancellor made it clear that Seymour had ‘been apprised of the tenor of his Majesty’s intentions better formerly than he seems to do now’. Smarting from defeat, Seymour may have temporarily absented himself from business in the House: certainly he was not present on 5 Mar. when a privilege case concerning him came before the Commons, though he had returned a few days later, and on 21 Mar. carried up the bill to prevent the export of wool, which he had drafted and seen through committee with great diligence.55

Attention to local trading concerns about Irish wool, and zeal to disband the army, may explain Seymour’s ability to regain his seat at Exeter in the general election of 1698, even though he was absent at the poll and had already been chosen at Totnes. Yet although he had distinguished himself as one of the leaders of the opposition, he once again misjudged the extent of his following and overplayed his hand by making it known that he wished to resume his occupation of the Chair, even though this meant pitching himself against other Country candidates. According to Robert Price*, it was Seymour who ‘set up Harley and Harcourt to divide [John] Granville’s interest’ and although it was reported towards the end of September that he would ‘carry it if he push for it’, his calculation that he could ‘come in between Court and Country’ proved disastrously wrong. His candidacy was seen by some ‘as if it were to end in getting’, a suspicion heightened by Montagu’s deliberate leaking of the news that he had ‘come to a good understanding’ with his former opponent. The meetings may have originated in the Treasury’s more zealous pursuit of Seymour’s debt, but the Court’s hold over Seymour was skilfully used to undermine his standing with the Country party.56

Seymour’s status was further damaged by the publication in November 1698 of Considerations Upon the Choice of the Speaker, which attacked him as an ‘old prostitute of the exploded pensioned Parliament in Charles II’s reign, who has from that time been tricking in the House in so shameful a manner, that the several periods of his life may be marked out by the bargains he has made there, when the Court has come up to his price’. Seymour had been squeezed by both Court and Country into a hopeless position. At first there was the prospect of ‘great disputes’ among opposition ranks as Seymour would ‘not yield to Colonel Granville, nor he to him’, but by early December it was reported that Seymour had ‘so small a party that he gives over his pretension, but with a great deal of anger for the slight they put upon him’. From believing he had the leadership of the Commons within his reach, Seymour had been humiliated into the position of a mistrusted has-been, and had helped split the anti-Court coalition.57

Seymour’s discontent with the Country opposition almost matched his hostility to the Court, so that he retreated into a passive neutrality. Although he opposed Littleton’s election as Speaker, saying (as L’Hermitage recorded) that ‘la nation n’avait été en plus grand danger pour la liberté publique qu’elle avait dans son sein une armée, quoi qu’on fût en pleine paix et qu’il n’y a eût rien à craindre de nulle part et que si on allait choisir un orateur qui fut à la dévotion de la cour, que le péril était certain’, his speech made little impact, and thereafter he made relatively little contribution to the anti-army debates. According to one report, he ‘spoke nothing, but voted’ on 18 Jan. 1699 for the third reading of the disbanding bill, and on 4 Mar. opposed the army estimate as imposing too great a charge. This unusual reticence did not mean, however, that he had ceased to be a problem for the government. The spoiling trick played on him by Montagu about the Speakership reanimated his hostility, and on 22 Dec. he tried to divert the condemnation of Sir Henry Dutton Colt’s petition against Montagu’s return at Westminster by raising the personal objection concerning the propriety of a lord justice sitting in the House. In retaliation Montagu made Seymour and Howe in March ‘eat the words they formerly spoke’ about the shortfall of the land tax.58

Despite puncturing Montagu’s ego, Seymour was of limited effectiveness in opposition because of his desire to pursue an independent, and often unco-ordinated, line of attack. Thus on 16 Feb. 1699 when Harley and Musgrave ‘proposed and carried the lumping of the ordinary of the navy . . . Sir Edward Seymour opposed it, and would have particulars inquired into, which would have been wrangling work’. Jack Howe ‘was at first for lumping, but when he saw a more waspish thing proposed he closed with it’, and it was Howe with whom Seymour worked most closely. On 21 Feb. the pair declared ‘that they had no thought this year of taking care for deficiencies’ in the revenue, though such a naked avowal of opposition brought reproaches, ‘the House showing no inclination to break parliamentary credit’.59

Assuming that the speeches recorded by Salwey Winnington* as having been made by ‘Seymour’ refer to Sir Edward, the fleet seems to have been one of his principal concerns during the 1698–9 session. On 10 Feb. 1699 he complained about the state of the navy and on the 16th moved for the House to decide the fleet’s size before the committee of the whole debated supply. Seymour also joined the attack on corruption at the Admiralty. On 24 Jan. he opposed an attempt to delay the inquiry into the delay the previous summer in sending Admiral Aylmer’s (Matthew*) squadron to the Straits, and on 11 Mar. James Vernon I* thought the matter ‘would hardly have been taken notice of if Sir Edward Seymour had not come out with it that the Admiralty were so far justified as they acted by superior orders’.60

Yet although he carped at the government, Seymour was a secondary figure in the opposition, and turned his energies to commercial issues. On 20 Dec. 1698 he introduced ‘a bill verbatim the same with that of the last sessions against the woollen manufacture of Ireland’. The bill had to be withdrawn because of imperfections in its drafting, but although Seymour reintroduced it the following day, he seems to have had nothing further to do with it. He was also first-named on 20 Feb. 1699 to the drafting committee of the bill to encourage the Newfoundland trade, and it was this issue that dominated his opposition on 4 Mar. to the army estimates. While believing that it was not in England’s interest to leave the trade to the French, he opposed having a large garrison at Fort St. John, the principal English settlement on Newfoundland, and thought that more should be done to encourage fishing ships from England rather than promote plantations. Bonet regarded such opposition as part of a factious attempt by supporters of the Old East India Company to harry the ministers, once Montagu had made the struggle between the two companies into a party issue.61

Seymour’s decline might have taken him out of the public eye for the summer and autumn of 1699 had it not been for the murder in July of his son Popham Seymour in a duel instigated by Percy Kirke, an army officer. Always deriving his political outlook from personal circumstances, and ignoring the fact that one of his other sons William (himself an army officer) was a notorious duellist, Seymour was galvanized into action when Parliament reassembled. He opposed consideration of the King’s requests for money, claiming as he had done the previous year that it was customary to debate first the nation’s grievances, and that although the usual forms had been abandoned during the war it was now necessary to return to the rule of precedent. Having secured a debate for 27 Nov. on the decay of the wool trade, he probably exploited the situation by arguing that the New East India Company had failed to export its quota of woollen goods. With others he then attacked those who had advised the King’s Speech at the end of the last session, protesting that the Commons had been misrepresented to the King and the nation unnecessarily alarmed by ministerial talk of foreign dangers. Finally he sought to make political capital out of the essentially private concern of his murdered son by attacking the public state of morality, picking up the reference in the King’s Speech to the desirability of a reformation of manners in order to attack the state of public morality. Complaining that murder was rife, and that duels seemed to be sanctioned by the law and its officers, Seymour suggested that vice had become fashionable. When reported on 30 Nov., the Address was observed to contain allegations that there had been a deliberate increase in the number of justices, a charge which most took to be an attack on Somers. Montagu tried to defend his colleague on the grounds that the opposition ‘would find that what he had a hand in was ordered by his Majesty in Council’, to which Seymour replied simply ‘that was what they had most reason to complain of’.62

Seymour’s renewed vigour was in part a response to the weakness of the ministry. It was presumably because of the possibility of changes at Court that he sought to appease the Duke of Shrewsbury. On 4 Dec. 1699, during a debate on Captain Kidd’s commission (which Shrewsbury had sealed) Seymour supported Harley’s motion that the grant had been illegal, but at the same time asked James Vernon I to convey to the Duke his own professions of friendship. Sensitivity to Shrewsbury’s position did not, however, deter Seymour from assaults on the Junto. On 6 Dec. he asserted that the grant to Kidd had ‘beggared Ireland, set Scotland in a flame and ruined England’. On 8 Dec. he advanced Musgrave’s attack on the proposed grant to pay off the Prince of Denmark’s debt, saying that it ‘ought to be done without charging the people’ and that it should be found out of the extra £100,000 which the House had voted for the civil list. On the 12th he was among those Tories who opposed the reading of the minority report from the Irish forfeiture commissioners, and it was noted that he was one of the most venomous of the Court’s enemies over the resumption, though the Journals show no record that he was, as reported, appointed on 15 Dec. to the drafting committee on the resumption bill.63

Seymour’s harassment of the ministers was relentless. When the resolution of censure on the Irish grants was presented to the King on 22 Jan. 1700 it was attended by ‘all the grandees that voted for it, particularly Sir Edward Seymour’, and on 13 Feb. Seymour again attacked Somers over the grant; but he came off worse in an exchange with John Smith I, who remarked that Seymour had ‘got more by his places than ever [Somers] had, that [Somers] would be willing to take a moiety of what he sold one place for, which when he was impeached he pleaded his pardon, and that he never had any £10,000 for salt petre’. On 15 Feb., when the debate on the state of the nation was resumed, Seymour, noted to be irreconcilable against all the ministers, proposed an address demanding that the King purge his government, though Harley urged moderation and reminded him that measures not men were at stake, an indication of tension between the two wings of the opposition. Harley again parted company with Seymour on 29 Feb. over the decay of excise revenue, and Seymour’s additional clause, that this had come about through the mismanagement of the present commissioners, was ‘not admitted’.64

For the moment these differences were overshadowed by a common concern to bring down the Junto. On 20 Mar. Seymour, impatient for the arrival of Kidd for questioning, moved for a debate on the report of the committee investigating the commissions of the peace and charters, and on the 28th joined Harley to put forward a slate for the ballot for Irish commissioners. In debate he followed Howe’s violent attack on Somers by saying that it was time to ‘pull back the curtain’: he claimed that ever since the lord chancellor had been a minister public affairs had gone badly; that in religion Somers ‘was a Hobbist’; and on 10 Apr. ‘plainly said . . . that the original of all this [the Kidd affair] proceeded from the ministers, and from the chief of them, the chancellor’. Seymour saw here another opportunity to attack the peers for infringing the Commons’ sole right to grant supply, though he was evidently not as familiar with the Upper House as he was said to have been with the Lower: on the 10th he reported the Commons’ reasons for insisting on their disagreement and told Members that ‘he could judge by the countenances of the lords, they would have a good effect on their bill’, only to be greeted with the news half an hour late

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Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Baronet's Timeline

Berry Pomeroy,Devonshire,England
Age 31
Maiden Bradley,,Wiltshire,England
February 8, 1664
Age 32
May 28, 1679
Age 47
Berry Pomeroy,Devonshire,England
February 17, 1708
Age 76
Maiden Bradley,Wiltshire,England