Pretending to be a Peer? The unlikely Lord Griffin and the Convention of January 1689

In today’s blog Dr Robin Eagles, editor of our Lords 1715-1790 project, looks into the case of Edward Griffin, a man raised to the peerage in December 1688. But, in the face of James II’s decision to flee the country, was he actually allowed to sit in the Lords Chamber?

Griffin is profiled in more detail in our House of Lords 1660-1715 volumes. Published in 2016 and not yet available online, you can find out more about the publication here.

On 22 January 1689, after a space of almost four years, Parliament returned to Westminster following the elections called in the wake of William of Orange’s invasion. Technically, this was not a true Parliament, but a convention, but most of the familiar elements were there in place to settle the crisis. Initially, attention was concentrated on how best to resolve the question of James II’s decision to flee the country: was the throne vacant or not and, if it was, who should occupy it? Gradually, those in favour of a moderate settlement lost ground to more radical voices, and Lords and Commons agreed ultimately that the throne was vacant and that it should be offered to William and Mary jointly. At the same time enquiries were established to look into some of the controversial actions of the 1680s, in particular the convictions and executions of William, Lord Russell, and Algernon Sidney.

Edward Griffin, 1st Lord Griffin; Enoch Seeman the younger; English Heritage, Audley End House via Art UK

While such great matters of state were being addressed, a less obvious drama was also played out. Before fleeing to the continent in December 1688 James II raised Edward Griffin to the peerage as Baron Griffin of Braybrooke. Griffin was the son of a court official to both Charles I and Charles II and had gone on to inherit his father’s office in 1679. He married Essex, one of the daughters of the earl of Suffolk, and gradually built a reputation for himself as an unquestioning supporter of the Stuarts. That said, Charles II found him irritatingly officious and, in spite of supposedly being related to both William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon (Viscount St Alban), Griffin was believed to be barely literate.

The Revolution proved a trying period for Griffin who had so firmly attached his colours to James II’s mast. He and his son accompanied James to Kent and were deputed to report the news of his departure to William of Orange. On the first day of the Convention, 22 January 1689, Griffin joined his fellow peers in the House of Lords when thanksgivings were ordered for William’s intervention. No objection was made to Griffin’s presence, which was unusual as a new peer appearing in the Lords for the first time. He was back in the chamber on the 23rd and 24th, again apparently without anyone batting an eyelid, or querying why he had not been formally inducted.

It was not until the 25th, on which day there was a call of the House, that Griffin was finally noticed by the earl of Berkeley, who drew the Lords’ attention to the fact that a new member was attending. Griffin stood up and explained the circumstances of his creation, pointing out that his patent was ‘at the door ready to be produced’. The unusual circumstances of Griffin being made a peer prompted a lively debate in the Lords. Some argued that no peer should attend before being formally introduced, while others cited the example of the 1660 Convention, when several Lords, created by Charles II when he was in exile, did precisely that. Most vocal against allowing Griffin his place was Lord Delamer and it looked for a time as if he would not be recognized by the assembly.

Just when it looked as if Griffin might be shown the door, the least likely of supporters emerged in the form of Lord Lovelace, the normally inebriated radical supporter of the Revolution. He sprang forward and – joined implausibly by Delamer – agreed to induct Griffin. Flanked by these two unlikely sponsors, Griffin presented his patent and was admitted to his place as Lord Griffin. According to the earl of Clarendon it was:

the first time, I believe, that ever a peer was introduced, when the King’s authority was pretended to be set aside; and when the Lords did not pretend to be a Parliament

The debates over allowing Griffin to take his place point to the febrile atmosphere in Parliament in January 1689 with the results of the Revolution still a long way off being settled. Griffin was the last person to be made a peer by James II (not counting subsequent ‘Jacobite’ peerages) and although his patent of creation was dated 3 December, several days before James’s first flight from the capital, for the more radical supporters of Revolution there was a lack of legitimacy in someone nominated in those circumstances. Also, at the beginning of the Convention there was no certainty that the result of their debates might not be to invite James back, even if they were to do so with a number of restrictions.

In the event Griffin’s career in the Lords proved to be of short duration. After it was resolved to offer William and Mary the crown Griffin ceased to attend, and he refused to take the new oaths. He appeared in the Lords for the final time at the opening of the next session, on 19 October, only to decline taking the oaths once more. For the next few years Griffin proved a decided nuisance to the regime. He was involved in numerous plots, including the spectacularly ill-conceived ‘Pewter Pot Plot’, and by the mid-1690s had decamped to the court in exile. In 1696 he was outlawed, for failing to appear to answer a treason charge, and stripped of his peerage. In 1708, he attempted to stage a return aboard the Salisbury, the only ship to be captured during James Edward Stuart’s abortive rebellion that year. He was carted off to the Tower, where he died of natural causes in November 1710, after a series of stays of execution. The peerage was eventually restored to his grandson 17 years later.

RDEE

Further reading:

The Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon… ed. S.W. Singer (2 vols. 1828)

The History of Parliament: The House of Lords 1660-1715, ed. R. Paley (5 vols. 2016)

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