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Thomas Chicheley

Sir Thomas Chicheley was a politician and a designer active, especially in Cambridgeshire, England, in the 17th century. He was son of Sir Thomas Chicheley (born 1578, died 1616) and his wife, Dorothy, and the owner and designer of Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, England, built during the period of 1630-50.

Chicheley was descended from a London Grocer, the elder brother of the future Archbishop of Canterbury, who represented the City in 1397. His ancestors had held Wimpole, nine miles from Cambridge, under Henry VI, but his father, who sat in the Addled Parliament, was the first of the family to represent Cambridgeshire. Extravagant by nature, Chicheley incurred debts at an early age and spent almost £40,000 on Wimpole in the 1630s. A ship-money sheriff, he was returned to the Long Parliament for the county, sat at Oxford and lent the King a considerable sum during the Civil War. He compounded for £1,985 10s. 8d. on the Oxford articles in 1647, his estate being valued at £1,100 5s.4d. p.a. Little is known of his activities during the Interregnum, but in November 1659 Sir Edward Hyde described him as ‘a very worthy person and my good friend’. After the Restoration he was nominated a knight of the Royal Oak with an estimated income of £2,000.5

Chicheley was returned for Cambridgeshire in 1661, and was a moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, being appointed to 68 committees. In the first session he was given special responsibility for the security bill and named to the committees for confirmation of public acts, for restoring the bishops to the House of Lords, and for the corporations bill. But his principal concern in the opening sessions was the drainage of the Bedford level. As one of the new Adventurers, he served on three committees, twice acted as teller, and acted as second to Lord Gorges (Richard Gorges) in his quarrel with (Sir) William Tyringham and Samuel Sandys, although the House intervened to prevent bloodshed. Despite the professed friendship of Hyde (now Lord Chancellor Clarendon), Chicheley seems to have joined the rival faction formed by Sir Henry Bennet, two branches of whose family were established in his constituency. They shared in the grant of a modest reversion of £200 p.a. in 1663, and when the Ordnance was put into commission on the death of the borough Member, Sir William Compton, he took his first step into the official world by purchasing a seat on the board with a salary of £134 13s.4d. Mindful of his family connexions with the city, he contributed to the construction of a new barge for the Grocers’ Company and to the rebuilding of St. Stephen’s Walbrook after the Great Fire. In the 1666-7 session he was named to two committees of local interest, for the plague bill, to which a clause for the benefit of Cambridge had been added, and for the bill to unite the two parishes in Swaffham. He was teller for the Court on 4 Jan. 1667 in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the description of Irish cattle as a nuisance. He took no part in the attack on Clarendon, though he was added to the committee to establish a public accounts commission.6

The ordnance office was by no means blameless for the miscarriages of the second Dutch war, but, rather to the chagrin of Samuel Pepys, they seem to have escaped the grilling that befell the navy board. Chicheley was in high favour at Court, thanks in part to his prowess at tennis. His promotion was less rapid than in the case of his colleague Sir John Duncombe; but he was able to secure repayment of £12,000 advanced to the royal cause during the Civil War, and to impress Pepys with his affluence. After a visit to Chicheley’s house in Great Queen Street on 11 Mar. 1668, the diarist wrote:

A very fine house, and a man that lives in mighty great fashion, with all things in a most extraordinary manner noble and rich about him, and eats in the French fashion all; and mighty nobly served with his servants, and very civil, that I was mighty pleased with it; and good discourse. He is a great defender of the Church of England and against the Act for Comprehension, which is the work of this day, about which the House is like to sit till night.

He was named to the committees to receive information about conventicles (18 Nov. 1669) and to consider the continuance of the Conventicles Act (2 Mar. 1670). As a court dependant he was included in both lists of the government supporters in 1669-71. His appointment as master of the ordnance in 1670 at the much increased salary of £1,500 was followed by a knighthood, a seat on the Privy Council, and preferment to other public offices. He attended the meeting of the court caucus on 21 Dec. 1672 to prepare for the next session, though he did not play a prominent part in it, and he was named on the Paston list of 1673-4. Prince Rupert declared himself ‘satisfied and extremely pleased with the punctual performance of the master of ordnance’ during the third Dutch war; and when he was given a similar appointment in Ireland, where ‘all matters relating to the ordnance were in confusion’, the lord lieutenant declared that the office could not be ‘in a more worthy person’s hands’. Chicheley was included in the working lists, and as a government supporter in 1676. But Sir Richard Wiseman blamed him for the absence from the House of his son-in-law, Richard Legh, and desired that the King ‘would please to let him and other of his servants know that he expects from them all a diligent attendance and a faithful and honest discharge of their duty’. Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’. In his sole recorded speech on 14 Feb. 1678 he gave an estimate of the expenditure on the ordnance. He came to blows with Lord Ibrackan (Henry O’Brien) in a division of the House and both were committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms on 10 May, but the cause of their quarrel is not recorded. He was appointed to the committees to examine the arrears due to the forces to be disbanded, and to take account of the additional excise. He was not active in the last session, though he was on both lists of the court party, and on 23 Dec. delivered a curt message to the House from the King on their importunate anxiety for his safety. He was further rewarded with the grant of a market and three annual fairs at Soham, a Cambridgeshire manor which he had drained and developed.7

One of the ‘unanimous club’, Chicheley had to step down from the county seat in the Exclusion Parliaments, despite vigorous canvassing, but as high steward of Cambridge he was returned for the borough. Again marked ‘vile’ by Shaftesbury, he was named to no committees in 1679, but on 27 Mar. he brought a message from the King about the inquiries into the Popish Plot, and he voted against exclusion. When the King resolved to return the ordnance to commission in June, Chicheley was offered a seat on the board, but preferred to pass it on to his son. His Irish office went to Lord Longford (Francis Aungier), who also purchased his Irish regiment, but he remained a Privy Councillor. He left no trace on the records of the second and third Exclusion Parliaments. His stepson, Lord Halifax ( Sir George Savile,) was now one of the leading figures in the Government, and in 1682 obtained for him the dignified and influential post of chancellor of the duchy. Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme), who had also coveted the office and was hopeful of an imminent vacancy, was told that Chicheley was ‘threescore and ten years old, but as vigorous and healthy as most men of his age, only sometimes troubled with the gout’.8

In 1685 Chicheley was returned for Preston on the duchy interest, but remained faithful to his old constituency. An inactive Member of James II’s Parliament, he was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges and to that to take the accounts of the disbandment commissioners. He was listed among the opposition. His strongly Anglican views were no passport to favour in the new reign, and it was an additional misfortune that during his years in the Ordnance he had fallen out with Lord Dartmouth (George Legge), the most reliable of the King’s Protestant advisers. As his son-in-law observed, ‘Whilst he has so great an enemy as the Lord Dartmouth, there is small hopes for him, poor man. He must sink under his burden.’ Remarking on Ormonde’s removal as lord lieutenant of Ireland, Chicheley compared the Duke’s hard usage with his own.

When I see how that honourable good man my Lord of Ormonde is used, I hope I shall pass by my usage with great ease and follow the example of a man that had got a neat’s tongue in one hand and a piece of bread in the other, and went up and down the town and told everybody he held his tongue and ate his bread.

By this time his finances were also in a depressed state, partly due to electoral expenses, and he was obliged to retrench his expenditure, a difficult task for one of his nature. He reduced his household and moved into his son’s house in Southampton Square, but in 1686 he was forced to sell Wimpole to Sir John Cutler.9

Chicheley, when closeted by the King, refused to agree to the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test. Accordingly he was requested to deliver up the seal of the duchy. According to Roger Morrice, Chicheley told the King’s messenger ‘to give his most humble duty to his Majesty and to tell him he hoped he should never suffer so much for his Majesty ... as he had for his father King Charles I. But this is so great it cannot be true.’ He was removed as custos rotulorum, and in May 1688 was replaced as high steward of Cambridge by Lord Dover. Dover, however, fled the country at the Revolution, and Chicheley not only regained the stewardship but was re-elected to the Convention. Though presumably a Tory, he left no trace on its records, and retired from politics at the dissolution. He resumed his drainage activities, this time on Humberside, but he was heavily in debt when he died on 1 Feb. 1699, and was buried at Wimpole.10



'Elrington, C.R., ed., 'Parishes: Wimpole', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 5 (1973), pp. 263-272. <; [accessed 17 March 2008]

National Archives, National Register of Archives, 'Person Details, Chicheley, Sir Thomas (1614-1699) Knight Politician Master General of the Ordnance, GB/NNAF/P162562', <http://www.nationalarchives.go...; [accessed 17 March 2008]

Sadler, S. L., ‘Chicheley, Sir Thomas (1614–1699)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008)<; [accessed 17 March 2008]

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