Letters between the earls of Nottingham and Shrewsbury

Letters between the earl of Nottingham to the earl of Shrewsbury, October 1689. [1]

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Charles Talbot, 12th earl and later 1st duke of Shrewsbury was Secretary of State for the Southern Department at the time of the investigation into Lundy’s military leadership in Londonderry.  Shrewsbury had been born a Catholic, but converted in early 1679 during the Popish Plot.  He served against the duke of Monmouth during his rebellion in 1685, though when he refused to accede to James II’s persuasions to lapse to Catholicism, he resigned his commission and lost his lieutenancy of Staffordshire in 1687.  At this time he had become a leading opponent of James, meeting with William’s envoy Everard van Weede van Dijkvelt in January 1687, and used his own home as a meeting place for leading courtly opposition to the King.  Shrewsbury was also one of the ‘Immortal Seven’ who sent a letter to William on the 30th of June 1688 to intervene in English politics.  The earl even raised £12,000 borrowed against his estate to help fund a military intervention, eventually joining William in the Netherlands.  Shrewsbury returned to England with the invasion fleet and was a member of the advance Dutch party which took possession of Exeter on the 7th of November.

Daniel Finch, second earl of Nottingham and seventh earl of Winchilsea, held the more junior position of Secretary of State for the Northern Department.  Alongside George Savile, marquess of Halifax, he opposed the earl of Shaftesbury’s campaign to exclude James, duke of York, from the throne.  They preferred that limitations be put on any Catholic successor rather than advocating outright exclusion.  Nottingham was a leading Tory minister and was often decried as a crypto-Jacobite due to his rather tempered support for William of Orange.  When James fled London for France in December 1688, he proposed that William and Mary rule as regents in James’ name, though Parliament ultimately rejected this.  He also proposed that the oath of allegiance be revised that would mean an individual could lend them their fidelity without recognizing them as rightful rulers.

The short letters between these leading English ministers of state demonstrate the legal difficulties and complexities facing the Williamite government in bringing Lundy to trial.  On the 1st of October 1689, Nottingham wrote to Shrewsbury and informed him of a meeting he had the previous night at his office between himself, the Attorney General, Sir George Treby, and the Lord Privy Seal, the marquess of Halifax, about the method of sending Lundy to Londonderry for trial.  He noted that during their discussion Governor Walker appeared before them, ‘absolutely of opinion that tis not fit to send Lundy into Ireland as yet (and much less to London-Derry where he has a faction for him) for the most material witnesses against him are dispurst’.  Nottingham further informed Shrewsbury that Walker, Colonel Crofton and others were currently in London, while other key witnesses were serving elsewhere in Ireland with the duke of Schomberg.  This had led Walker to assert that ‘if Lundy should go now, he would certainly escape’ for want of witnesses to bring evidence against him.  Nottingham therefore asked Shrewsbury to acquaint the King with this opinion to ascertain if he wished to still send Lundy to Londonderry for trial.  On the 3rd of October 1689 Shrewsbury replied to Nottingham and indicated that the King did not wish to delay shipping Lundy to Ireland to await judgment.  The following day Nottingham acknowledged the King’s commands and informed Shrewsbury that he had instructed the Attorney General to settle upon the method of executing the order to safety transport the former governor to the city he had abandoned on the eve of the siege.

Furthermore, Nottingham wrote again to Shrewsbury on the 5th of October and informed him that the Committee for Irish Affairs had met that very evening to put the King’s directions into execution and send Lundy to Londonderry for trial.  Nottingham stated that,

the committee find such difficultyes in this matter, both in law and prudence, that they think it for his Majesty’s service to consider further of it, and have therefore have appointed to meet again on Monday and have desired my Lord Chief Justice to be with them, as well as Mr Atturney, Dr. Walker and others, and then I hope to give your Lordship a further account of this matter.

Two days later the earl of Nottingham once again wrote to Shrewsbury and expressed his concern at putting Lundy on trial.  He noted that he had met with the Lord Chief Justice who was ‘very doubtful whether Col. Lundie can be tried by martial law, but will consider of it and give the King his opinion when he returns from Newmarket’.  This correspondence promptly stops between the Secretaries of State, but it may be safe to presume in light of the legal advice of the Attorney General, Lord Chief Justice and the earl of Nottingham, the King may have been persuaded that it would be unwise to sent Lundy to Londonderry for trial at this time.

[1] HMC Finch, III, pp. 250-251, 252-253.