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Portrait of George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, c. 1638

George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol KG (5 November 1612 – 20 March 1677) was an English politician and peer who sat in the House of Commons from 1640 until 1641, when he was raised to the House of Lords by a writ of acceleration.[1] He supported the Royalists during the English Civil War, but his ambition and instability of character caused serious problems to himself and both Kings he served.

Early life

Digby was baptized in Madrid, the eldest known son of John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol, who for many years was the English Ambassador to Spain, and his wife Beatrice Walcott.[1] He is presumed to have been born there shortly before.[1] At the age of twelve, he appeared at the bar of the House of Commons and pleaded for his father who was then imprisoned in the Tower of London. His youth, graceful person and well-delivered speech made a great impression. He was admitted to Magdalen College, Oxford, on 15 August 1626,[2] where he was a favourite pupil of Peter Heylin. He spent the following years in study and in travel, from which he returned, according to George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, "the most accomplished person of our nation or perhaps any other nation, and distinguished by a remarkably handsome person". In June 1634 Digby was committed to the Fleet Prison till July for striking Crofts, a gentleman of the court, in Spring Gardens, and possibly his severe treatment and the disfavour shown to his father were the causes of his hostility to the court. He became MA in 1636.[2] In 1638 and 1639 were written the Letters between Lord George Digby and Sir Kenelm Digby, Knt. concerning Religion (published in 1651), in which Digby attacked Roman Catholicism.[3]

Politics and the Civil War

In April 1640, Digby was elected member of parliament for Dorset in the Short Parliament. He was re-elected MP for Dorset for the Long Parliament in November 1640.[4] In conjunction with John Pym and John Hampden he took an active part in the opposition to Charles I of England. He moved on 9 November for a committee to consider the deplorable state of the kingdom, and on 11 November was included in the committee for the impeachment of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, against whom he at first showed great zeal. However, after the failure of the impeachment, he opposed the attainder of Strafford, and made an eloquent speech on 21 April 1641, accentuating the weakness of Henry Vane's evidence against the prisoner, and showing the injustice of ex post facto legislation, in condemning a man for acts which were not treason when they were committed. He was regarded in consequence with great hostility by the parliamentary party, and was accused of having stolen from Pym's table Vane's notes on which the prosecution mainly depended. On 15 July his speech was burnt by the public hangman by the order of the House of Commons.[3]

On 8 February he made an important speech in the Commons advocating the reformation and opposing the abolition of episcopacy. On 8 June, during the angry discussion on the army plot, he narrowly escaped assault in the House, and the following day, in order to save him from further attacks, Charles I of England called him up to the House of Lords by writ of acceleration in his father's Barony of Digby.[3]

King Charles mistakenly followed Digby's advice in preference to such men as Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon and Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland. In November 1641 Digby was recorded as performing "singular good service", and "doing beyond admiration", in speaking in the Lords against the instruction concerning evil counsellors. He suggested to Charles the impeachment of the five members, and urged upon him the fatal attempt to arrest them on 4 January 1642. He failed to play his part in the Lords in securing the arrest of Lord Mandeville, to whom on the contrary he declared that the king was very mischievously advised, and according to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon his imprudence was responsible for the betrayal of the king's plan. On the next day, Digby advised the attempt to seize the five members in the city by force.[3]

In the same month Digby was ordered to appear in the Lords to answer a charge of high treason for a supposed armed attempt at Hull, but fled to the Dutch Republic, where he joined Queen consort Henrietta Maria of France, and on 26 February was impeached.

Subsequently, he visited Charles at York disguised as a Frenchman, but on the return voyage to the Dutch Republic, he was captured and taken to Hull. For some time he escaped detection, but at last, after revealing his identity, he cajoled Sir John Hotham into letting him escape. Later on a second visit to Hull, he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hotham to surrender York to the King. He was present at the Battle of Edgehill, and was wounded while leading the assault at Lichfield. After a quarrel with Prince Rupert of the Rhine, he threw down his commission and returned to the King at Oxford, over whom he obtained more influence as the prospect became more gloomy.[3]

On 28 September 1643 he was appointed secretary of state and a privy councillor, and on 31 October high steward of Oxford University.[2] He now supported Henrietta Maria's policy of foreign alliances and use of help from Ireland, and took part in several imprudent and ill-conducted negotiations which damaged the king's affairs. His fierce disputes with Prince Rupert and his party caused further embarrassment.

On 14 October 1645, he was made lieutenant general of the royal forces north of the River Trent. The intention was to push through to join James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, but he was defeated on 15 October at Sherburn, where his correspondence was captured. This correspondence revealed the king's expectations from abroad and from Ireland and his intrigues with the Scots. Digby reached Dumfries, but finding his way barred, escaped on 24 October to the Isle of Man. He then crossed to Ireland, where he caused Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquess of Worcester, who had been sent to negotiate with the Irish Confederacy, to be arrested. In Ireland, he believed he was going to achieve wonders.[3] "Have I not carried my body swimmingly," he wrote to Hyde in irrepressible good spirits, "who being before so irreconcilably hated by the Puritan party, have thus seasonably made myself as odious to the Papists?" [5]


Digby's plan was to bring over Charles, Prince of Wales, to head a royalist movement on the island. When he joined Charles at Jersey in April 1646, he intended to entrap him on board, but was dissuaded by Hyde. Digby then travelled to Paris to gain Henrietta Maria of France's consent to his scheme, but returned to persuade Charles to go to Paris, and accompanied him thither. He revisited Ireland on 29 June once more, and on the surrender of the island to Parliament escaped again to France.

At Paris, amongst the Royalists, he found himself in a nest of enemies eager to pay off old scores. Prince Rupert challenged him, and he fought a duel with Lord Wilmot. He continued his adventures by serving in Louis XIV of France's troops in the war of the Fronde, in which he greatly distinguished himself. He was appointed in 1651 lieutenant-general in the French army, and commander of the forces in Flanders. These new honours, however, were soon lost.[3]

During Cardinal Mazarin's enforced absence from the court Digby aspired to become his successor. However, when the Cardinal was restored to power, he sent Digby away on an expedition in Italy, having penetrated his character and regarded him as a mere adventurer.[6] When Digby returned to France he was told that he was included in the list of those expelled from France, in accordance with the new treaty with Oliver Cromwell.[3]

In August 1656 he joined Charles II at Bruges, and wanting revenge on the cardinal, offered his services to John of Austria the Younger in the Southern Netherlands. He was instrumental in effecting the surrender of the garrison of St. Ghislain to Spain in 1657. On 1 January 1657, he was appointed by Charles II secretary of state, but shortly afterwards, he was compelled to resign office as he had become a Roman Catholic — probably with the view of adapting himself better to his new Spanish friends. Charles took him with him to Spain in 1659 on account of his "jollity " and Spanish experience.

Although unwelcome to the Spanish, he succeeded in ingratiating himself, and was later welcomed by Philip IV of Spain at Madrid. Digby succeeded to the peerage as 2nd Earl of Bristol on the death of his father in January 1653 and was made K.G. the same month.[3]


As Lord Bristol, he returned to the Kingdom of England at the English Restoration, when he found himself excluded from office on account of his religion, and relegated to only secondary importance. He tried to make an impression through restless and ambitious activity in parliament and he was violently hostile to Clarendon. In foreign affairs, he inclined strongly to the side of Spain, and opposed the king's marriage with Catherine of Braganza. He persuaded Charles to despatch him to Italy to view the Medici princesses, but the royal marriage and treaty with Portugal were settled in his absence.[3]

In June 1663 Bristol tried to upset Clarendon's management of the House of Commons, but his intrigue was exposed to the parliament by Charles, and he had to attend the House of Lords to exonerate himself. When he confessed that he had "taken the liberty of enlarging", his "comedian-like"[7] speech excited general amusement. In July, he broke out into fierce and disrespectful reproaches to the King, ending with a threat that unless Charles granted his requests within twenty-four hours "he would do somewhat that should awaken him out of his slumbers, and make him look better to his own business". Accordingly, on 10 July he impeached Clarendon in the Lords of high treason. When the charge was dismissed he renewed his accusation, was expelled from the court, and only avoided the warrant issued for his apprehension by hiding for two years.[3]

In January 1664 Bristol appeared at his house at Wimbledon, and publicly renounced before witnesses his Roman Catholicism and declared himself a Protestant. His motive was probably to secure immunity from the charge of recusancy preferred against him.[8] When, however, the fall of Clarendon was desired, Bristol was again welcomed at court. He took his seat in the Lords on 29 July 1667. "The king," wrote Samuel Pepys in November, "who not long ago did say of Bristol that he was a man able in three years to get himself a fortune in any kingdom in the world and lose all again in three months, do now hug him and commend his parts everywhere above all the world."[9] He pressed eagerly for Clarendon's committal, and on the refusal of the Lords accused them of mutiny and rebellion, and entered his dissent with "great fury".[3]

In March 1668, Bristol attended prayers in the Lords. On 15 March 1673 though still ostensibly a Roman Catholic, he spoke in favour of the Test Act, describing himself as "a Catholic of the Church of Rome, not a Catholic of the Court of Rome", and asserting the unfitness of Romanists for public office.[3] In 1674, he acquired Buckingham House (later Beaufort House) in Chelsea.[10] His adventurous and erratic career was closed by his death on 20 March 1677.[1]


Portrait of George Digby in 1637 with William Russell, 1st Duke of Bedford, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Althorp, Northamptonshire.

Bristol was one of the most striking and conspicuous figures of his time, a man of brilliant abilities, a great orator, one who distinguished himself without effort in any sphere of activity he chose to enter, but whose natural gifts were marred by a restless ambition and instability of character fatal to real greatness.[3]

Clarendon describes him as "the only man I ever knew of such incomparable parts that was none the wiser for any experience or misfortune that befell him", and records his extraordinary facility in making friends and making enemies. Horace Walpole characterized him in a series of his smartest antitheses as "a singular person whose life was one contradiction". "He wrote against popery and embraced it; he was a zealous opposer of the court and a sacrifice for it; was conscientiously converted in the midst of his prosecution of Lord Strafford and was most unconscientiously a persecutor of Lord Clarendon. With great parts, he always hurt himself and his friends; with romantic bravery, he was always an unsuccessful commander. He spoke for the Test Act, though a Roman Catholic; and addicted himself to astrology on the birthday of true philosophy."[3] Samuel Pepys in 1668 records in the great Diary an outburst against Bristol from an elderly Cavalier, Mr Ball: "I said at the King's coming back that the nation could never be safe while that man was alive".[11]

Besides his youthful correspondence with Sir Kenelm Digby on the subject of religion, already mentioned, he was the author of an Apology (1643) [Thomason Tracts, E. 34 (32)], justifying his support of the king's cause; of a comedy, Elvira (1667) [Printed in R. Dodsley's Select Collection of Old English Plays (Hazlitt, 1876), vol. xv], and of Worse and Worse, an adaptation from the Spanish, acted but not printed. Other writings are also ascribed to him, including the authorship with Sir Samuel Tuke of The Adventures of Five Hours (1663). His eloquent and pointed speeches, many of which were printed, are included in the article in the Biog. Brit. and among the Thomason Tracts; see also the general catalogue in the British Museum. The catalogue of his library was published in 1680.[3]


Bristol married Lady Anne Russell, a daughter of Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford and his wife Catherine Brydges. She died in 1697. They were parents to four children:


  1. ^ a b c d Ronald Hutton, ‘Digby, George, second earl of Bristol (1612–1677)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009.
  2. ^ a b c 'Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714: Dabbe-Dirkin', Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714: Abannan-Kyte (1891), pp. 366-405. Date accessed: 11 June 2011
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainYorke, Philip Chesney (1911). "Bristol, George Digby, 2nd Earl of". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 576–577. This cites:
  4. ^ Willis, Browne (1750). Notitia Parliamentaria, Part II: A Series or Lists of the Representatives in the several Parliaments held from the Reformation 1541, to the Restoration 1660 ... London. pp. 229–239.
  5. ^ Clarendon State Papers,
  6. ^ Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz (2859), app.
  7. ^ Pepys Diaries, entry for Wednesday 1 July 1663
  8. ^ 437, 442.
  9. ^ Pepys Diaries IV. 19
  10. ^ "Landownership: Later estates Pages 123-145 A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12, Chelsea". British History Online. Victoria County History, 2004. Retrieved 24 November 2022.
  11. ^ Pepys Diaries, entry for 17 March 1668.

External links

28 Annotations

First Reading

vicenzo  •  Link

He attended the House of Lords on most Occassions as Comes Bristoll, no oher record found in the Houses.

Pedro  •  Link


Virginia Rau (Catarina de Braganca: Rainha de Inglaterra.)

Digby showed his

jeannine  •  Link

From Grammont's footnotes

George Digby. The account here given of the practices of this nobleman receives confirmation from Lord Clarendon, who observes of him, "that he had left no way unattempted to render himself gracious to the king, by saying and doing all that might be acceptable unto him, and contriving such meetings and jollities as he was pleased with." -- Continuation of his Life, p. 208. Lord Orford says of him, that "his life was one contradiction. He wrote against popery, and embraced it; he was a zealous opposerof the court, and a sacrifice to it; was conscientiously converted in the midst of his prosecution of Lord Strafford, and was most unconscientiously a prosecutor of Lord Clarendon. With great parts, he always hurt himself and his friends; with romantic bravery, he was always an unsuccessful commander. He spoke for the Test Act, though a Roman Catholic, and addicted himself to astrology on the birth-day of true philosophy." -- Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, vol. ii. p. 25. The histories of England abound with the adventures of this inconsistent nobleman, who died, neither loved nor regretted by any party, in the year 1676.… see note 107

Terry F  •  Link

George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol (22 February 1612 - 20 May 1677), eldest son of the first Earl.

An extensive bio with contenporary and subsequent verdicts on his life, character and conduct:…

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
Digby, George, Baron Digby 1641, succ. as 2nd Earl of Bristol 1653 (1612-77). Politician, soldier, and playwright--a man of brilliant gifts, but almost no achievements, having, in Burnet's word, 'no jugment nor steadiness'. He had served Charles I, briefly and disastrously, as a Secretary of State in 1643 and was appointed to the same office by Charles II in 1657, but was made to resign on becoming a Roman Catholic. His religion excluded him from high office thereafter and he played a spoiling game in the politics of the diary period, making himself unpopular and mistrusted on all sides. The diary has several revealing references to his vendetta against Clarendon. The only play he published was "Elvira" (1667).

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

The earl of Bristol, well known for his fine parts, his levity, and extravagant passions, was secretary of state and privy-counsellor to Charles II. at the time of the Interregnum. But he forfeited both these offices, by reconciling himself to the church of Rome, against which he had written several pieces of controversy. He imputed his removal to the influence of his friend the lord-chancellor Hyde, whose ruin he afterwards sought with all that vehemence which was natural to him. It is pity that the romantic history of this nobleman's life was never written. Dr. Swift, in one of his letters, styles him "the Prototype of Lord Bolingbroke." Ob. 15 March, 1672-3. Æt. 64.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1769.

Bill  •  Link

DIGBY, GEORGE, second Earl of Bristol (1612-1677), son of John Digby, first earl of Bristol; born at Madrid; entered Magdalen College, Oxford, 1626; M.A, 1635; attacked Roman Catholicism in correspondence with Sir Kenelm Digby, 1638-9; M.P., Dorset, 1640; opposed third reading of bill for Strafford's attainder, though on committee for his impeachment, 1641; succeeded as Baron Digby, 1641; fled to Holland (1642) and was impeached by default for levying royalist troops; fought for Charles I at Edgehill, 1642, but gave up his command after a quarrel with Prince Rupert; secretary of state and privy councillor, 1643; high steward of Oxford University, 1643; lieutenant-general of the king's forces north of the Trent, 1646; defeated at Carlisle Sands; retired to France and took part in the Fronde, 1648; lieutenant-general in French army, 1651; detected in an intrigue against Mazarin, and forced to leave France; reappointed secretary of state to Charles II, 1657; subsequently deprived of the seals as a catholic; K.G., 1661; ineffectually impeached Clarendon (1663), who had foiled his scheme of an Italian marriage for the king; wrote comedies and, according to Walpole, translated from French first three books of 'Cassandra.'
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

L&M: George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol 1612-77.
Politician, soldier, playwrite -- a man of brilliant gifts, but of almost no achievements, having, in Burnet's words, "no judgment or steadiness".
He served King Charles, shortly and disasterously, as a Secretary of State in 1643, and was appointed to the same position by Charles II in 1657, but was made to resign on becoming a Roman Catholic.
His religion excluded him from high office thereafter, and he played a spoiling game during the Diary years making himself unpopular and distrusted by everyone.
The Diary has several revealing entries about his vendetta against Clarendon.
The only play he published is called "Elvira" (1667).

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The Parliamentary bio of George Digby's son, John, gives us a more personal look into his life:

JOHN "Digby’s grandfather, the 1st Earl of Bristol, came from a cadet branch of the Midland family. He was granted the Sherborne Castle estate as a reward for diplomatic services in 1616.
"His father [GEORGE] sat for the county in both Parliaments of 1640 before being called up to the Lords, having made the Lower House too hot to hold him by his unexpected and well-publicized opposition to Strafford’s attainder.
"During the Interregnum, when [GEORGE] was in exile he became a convert to Rome, [JOHN] Digby seems to have lived with his Puritan mother [Lady Anne Russell, da. of Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford], whose ‘zeal cannot suffer a Catholic under her roof’. She bought back the estates from the Treason Trustees by selling her own jointure, and settled it on [JOHN] Digby on his marriage."

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

This is extracted from a very long biography which seems to be from the House of Lords. This is the time covered by the Diary; the detail explains the tensions which Pepys experiences but often doesn't understand:

George Digby succeeded to the earldom of Bristol in 1653, but even after that date his contemporaries sometimes referred to him as Lord Digby or earl of Digby, thus creating some confusion between Bristol and another branch of the family who held the barony of Digby of Gleashill in the Irish peerage (but who were English and resident in England).

Bristol was a prominent member of the court in exile and equally prominent in the factional rivalries that beset it. ...
Given his earlier defence of the Church of England, Bristol’s conversion to Catholicism early in 1659 was a matter of astonishment that embarrassed Charles II and forced him to remove Bristol from the post of secretary of state.

As the Restoration unfolded, Bristol, involved in negotiations in Spain, found himself left behind by the pace of developments. Nevertheless, he naturally expected to reap the rewards of loyalty, including compensation for his losses in the king’s service, the restitution of his estates and payment of the arrears of his salary as secretary of state, which he estimated at £8,500.

Initially fearful that Monck would insist on some form of conditional restoration, Lady Bristol began to press Charles II for what she perceived as Bristol’s well-earned reward, apparently afraid that her husband’s absence would lead to him being overlooked.
Bristol was far more confident of the king’s favour and feared only that his wife’s importunities might backfire to his discredit He counselled discretion, assuring her that, "I cannot fail to succeed in all that we reasonably propose to our selves for my person, fortune and family; so certain am I of his Majesty’s favourable kindness, unalterable, by any thing but by your letting him see, that we precipitating prefer the satisfying our own vanity and ambition, the consideration of drawing inconveniences upon by pressing to be near him, before he is master enough of his affairs to be able to admit it without ill consequence unto them."

He did not doubt there might be obstacles to his advancement. These included his Catholicism but, more importantly, the rivalry of those who were jealous of his credit with the king and of his ‘parts and ambitions’. He suggested that an emphasis on a desire to live quietly at Sherborne rather than to pursue places at court would persuade even his enemies ‘to be forwardest as a matter of justice, to counsel his majesty to repair my losses liberally.’

He was also convinced that Edward Hyde, the future earl of Clarendon, and James Butler, Marquis of Ormonde in the Irish peerage and subsequently also in the English peerage, would support his pretensions.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Bristol had considerable expectations.
Whilst in exile, he had been granted the wardship of his wife’s nephew, Francis Greville, 3rd Baron Brooke of Beauchamps Court. This, ‘the only thing he relied upon to repair the losses of his family in his service, and to pay his debts, without being burdensome to the crown’, was valued at £30,000.
He also had a claim to the arrears of a pension of £2,000 a year that had been granted to his father and which by the Restoration came to £36,000.
He also alleged that he and his family had lost £16,000 as the price of their loyalty to the crown during the Civil Wars and Interregnum.
The gap between these expectations and what he received would soon engender an implacable hostility to Edward Hyde.

Bristol returned to England in time to take his seat in the Lords on 16 June, 1660.
His willingness to attend Parliament coupled with his access to the king and his Catholicism led the Abbé Montagu (the Catholic brother of Edward Montagu, 2nd earl of Manchester and high in the esteem of the queen mother) to tell Cardinal Mazarin that Bristol ‘could be useful to cultivate, even if he does not realize it’. Mazarin welcomed the abbé’s offer to influence and manage Bristol.

Bristol attended 72 per cent of the remaining sittings in the Lords that session, becoming a significant member of the House involved in debate on crucial post-restoration issues; over the course of the session he was named to 23 committees.
On 19 June, 1660 he was named to the committee for privileges, the subcommittee for the Journal, and the committee to examine the acts and ordinances of the Interregnum.
On 4 July he was named to the committee to confirm the privileges of Parliament and the fundamental laws of the kingdom; he also obtained an order of the House for the restoration of goods that he had lost during the ‘late wars’.
Bristol’s hard-line attitude to the king’s former enemies and inability to accept the case for moderation was soon apparent.
On 7, 11 and 14 July he reported from the committee for privileges on the executions of James Hamilton, duke of Hamilton, Henry Rich, earl of Holland, and James Stanley, 7th earl of Derby, as a result of which the House ordered those responsible to be secured.

On 20 July, 1660 during the debate on the bill of indemnity he told the House of his rage, ‘That many of the wickedest and meanest of the people should remain, as it were, rewarded for their treasons, rich and triumphant in the spoils of the most eminent in virtue and loyalty, of all the nobility and gentry of the kingdom’.
Although he would be ‘irreparably ruined’ in his fortune by the bill, the public interest nevertheless called for it to be passed quickly.
He argued, successfully, that the murder of the late king had to be washed away by the ‘blood of the guilty’ and should be dealt with as a particular issue in a separate bill.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Contrary to his statements to Lady Bristol about sublimating his private interests to the wider public good, Bristol was determined to extract revenge and reparation from his own old enemies.
He also put considerable effort into securing the rewards to which he believed himself entitled. He obtained a grant in reversion of the office of writer of the tallies (auditor of the receipt of the exchequer) for his younger son, Francis Digby.
His countess petitioned for a lease of Theobald’s Park as compensation for giving up her jointure to raise the £30,000 demanded after the Civil Wars for the ‘redemption’ of her son John Digby, later the 3rd Earl of Bristol (1634 –1698) .

On 2 Aug. 1660 Bristol introduced a bill to recover £6,500 given ‘by the late pretended Parliament’ to Carew Raleigh; it received its third reading on 22 Aug. but failed to pass the Commons.
Bristol also, on 11 Aug. obtained an order of the House putting him into possession of all lands formerly belonging either to himself or his father and which had been confiscated and sold for delinquency.

The question of reparations and how far they could or should be pursued was a sensitive one.
On 6 Aug. in the course of debates on private provisos in the act of indemnity, Bristol’s support of the merits and sufferings of William Cavendish, marquess (later duke) of Newcastle over and above those of George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham, caused an open quarrel in the House and fears of a duel, forcing Charles II to order the men to confine themselves to their lodgings. They appear to have been reconciled by the end of the month.

On 10 Sept. Bristol reported from the committee for the potentially controversial bill to restore Sir George Lane (Ormonde’s secretary) to possession of Rathclyne, Lisduff and other lands in Ireland.
The following day he was named to the committee to amend the contentious bill for restoring ministers, apparently as part of an alliance with York and Clarendon that aimed to conciliate the Presbyterians and offer the hope that a more general toleration would follow.
He was also named to the committees for the annexation of Dunkirk, Mardyke and Jamaica to the crown and, after reporting from the committee for the bill for disbanding the army, was named to assist Hyde in managing the consequent conference on the subject.

The Abbé Montagu’s hopes for securing Bristol’s support for France seemed to have been borne out, for by late Sept. at the latest Bristol was in regular communication with the French court, telling Mazarin that his desire to serve him was second only to his desire to serve Charles II.

Bristol was active in court life, entertaining the king of Spain’s representative, Claude Lamoral, Prince de Ligne, accompanying Charles II on state occasions and welcoming the royal household to his London house.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


He is known to have been present at at least one gathering of Catholic nobility and gentry, in Nov. 1660; this may have been the meeting called to discuss a general toleration described by William Howard, Viscount Stafford, in his ‘confession’ of Dec. 1680, although the presence of Ormonde suggests that Irish interests rather than purely Catholic ones may have been the focus of the meeting.
On 6 Dec. he sought further direction from the House for the benefit of the committee considering the bill to vacate Sir Edward Powell’s fines and reported the bill itself as fit to pass on 8 Dec.
On 12 Dec. after a debate in a committee of the whole he was named to the subcommittee to consider provisos to the bill against the regicides.

Given that the most substantial part of Bristol’s claims related to his father’s unpaid pension and the wardship of Lord Brooke, he was naturally extremely concerned about the prospect of the formal abolition of the court of wards. The Commons passed a bill to this effect in Dec. 1660 and backdated it to the last sitting of the court in Feb, 1646.
Bristol prepared a petition against the bill, asking it be revised either to secure his claim to the wardship of Lord Brooke or to provide him with compensation, but when he told Clarendon of his intention he was persuaded to take no action on the grounds ‘that it might be of great ill consequence to his majesty’s service to set on foot, in the House of Commons, a claim to such a compensation, since it might be of example to divers others to do the like’.
Bristol’s compliance was secured by a promise from Clarendon, given in the king’s name, that he would be provided for in other ways.

Clarendon’s failure to keep his promise, aggravated by subsequent political and factional differences, led to a rapid deterioration in the relationship between the two.

The passage of the bill to abolish the court of wards was speedy – it was brought up from the Commons on 17 Dec. and received the royal assent on 24 Dec. –- but Clarendon was probably correct in thinking that Bristol had raised a potentially controversial issue that could have delayed it.
The House received a petition against it from the dowager duchess of Somerset as well as two provisos on 18 Dec. and a petition from the officers of the court the following day. The alterations made in the Lords became the subject of a conference with the Commons on 21 Dec.

In Jan. 1661, Bristol together with York joined Albemarle in the suppression of Venner’s uprising.

He also emphatically restated his willingness to serve the interests of the French at the English court.
Despite his professions of poverty and ruin, he was able to buy a magnificent house in Wimbledon, which he described as the ‘noblest place in England’, from the queen mother for £4,000. He later sent her a diamond valued at £500 by way of thanks.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Early in Feb. 1661 it was reported Bristol was to visit to Flanders and Germany. The purpose was variously given as personal business relating to his daughter’s marriage, or to the ‘unhandsome disbanding of British regiments’ by the king of Spain, but it was widely suspected to relate to the choice of a bride for the king, particularly the need to provide convincing proof that serious consideration had been given to finding a suitable Protestant bride.
According to the French ambassador there was another reason: Clarendon’s desire to get Bristol out of the way so he could increase his influence over the king.
Despite his earlier protestations of support for the French, Bristol, who was born and brought up in Spain, advocated a Spanish match for the king.
Clarendon and Ormonde had initially agreed, but by the time Bristol returned to England (early May, 1661) Clarendon had switched his support to an alliance with Portugal, a policy that Bristol vehemently opposed.

Differences between Clarendon and Bristol also reflected larger rivalries at court. Bristol enjoyed the friendship of the king’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, Lady Palmer, as well as Queen Mother Henrietta Maria, who were both against Clarendon.

Bristol again took his seat in the House on 10 May, 1661, 2 days after the opening of the new session.
He was present on 75 per cent of sitting days and was named to many committees, which included some on the most significant issues of the day: the reversal of the attainder of Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, on 14 May,
the security of the king’s person and government on 24 May,
the regulation of corporations on 18 July
and the restoration of ecclesiastical jurisdiction on 19 July.
In July it was thought Bristol would support the attempt of Aubrey de Vere, 20th earl of Oxford, to secure the great chamberlaincy.

Differences with Clarendon were becoming more obvious.
In June 1661 the House debated Catholic demands for inclusion in the benefits of the Declaration of Breda, a modification of the oath of allegiance and the removal of the penal laws.
Such demands faced considerable opposition especially as it was widely believed that Catholics did not consider themselves bound by oaths that conflicted with their obedience to the pope.
As Bristol admitted during the debates, ‘there is little hopes for us to obtain any ease from penalties till your lordships be satisfied what security we will give by oath of our duty and allegiance to his majesty.’
The debates did produce a committee to draft a bill to repeal the sanguinary laws against Catholics on 28 June to which Bristol was named.
The resultant proposals would have reduced rather than abolish the various restrictions on Catholics but were never introduced.
Just who was responsible for the failure remains unclear. Clarendon blamed divisions amongst the Catholics. The Catholics, including Bristol, blamed Clarendon.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


In July, Samuel Pepys noted that Bristol and Buckingham endeavoured to undermine Clarendon at court.
In the same month the French ambassador told Louis XIV that Clarendon had openly declared that Bristol was his enemy and that Clarendon had opposed concessions to Catholics solely in pursuit of his feud with Bristol. He later went on to suggest that Clarendon had been organizing opposition to Catholic demands by underhand methods.

Charles II’s known sympathy to some form of toleration for Catholics coupled with his open humiliation of the chancellor in Aug. 1661 when he gave the post of keeper of the privy purse to Bristol’s ally Henry Bennet (the future earl of Arlington) encouraged Clarendon’s ‘enemies and enviers’ to believe that the time was right for an attack.
Emboldened, Bristol and Bennet spoke openly to Charles II, only to find that he ‘took it very ill that they should conspire to decry the conduct of a man who served him well’.
Bristol and Clarendon were summoned before the king who ‘told both of them to forget the past and in future to live in harmony together’.

Perhaps it was this attempt at reconciliation that prompted a grant that month to Bristol of the Broyle and Ashdown Forest in Sussex, for which he had petitioned the crown in Dec. 1660.
Clarendon may have thought this went a long way towards fulfilling his promise but the grant proved to be a source of litigation and little profit. It also soured relations with Richard Sackville, 5th earl of Dorset, who had previously received a grant of the same properties for his own and his son’s lives.

Further evidence of some sort of reconciliation at court was provided in September when a Privy Seal passed for the payment of £6,000 to Bristol in consideration of his father’s pension on the court of wards; of this £2,000 was paid the following Feb.

Bristol continued to be an important member of the Lords.
On 7 Dec. 1661 he was deputed to be one of the managers of the conference concerning the swearing of witnesses to be examined in the Commons regarding Sir Edward Powell’s fines, on 14 Dec. of that concerning legislation to confirm private acts and on 4 Feb. 1662 on the bill for the execution of attainted persons.
On 6 Feb. 1662 he protested against the bill to restore the estates of Charles Stanley, 8th earl of Derby.

One doubts that Bristol’s reconciliation with Clarendon was genuine; but it was short-lived.
In Mar. 1662 a furious row broke out between the 2 during the debates over the bill of uniformity.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


On the first day of the debate, 18 Mar., Clarendon proposed a proviso which he claimed to be at Charles II’s instigation which granted the king a power of dispensation over the wearing of the surplice and making the sign of the cross.
Bristol declared a proviso proposed by the king amounted to a breach of privilege, that it was improper, and he knew that the king opposed it. He drew some support from John Cosin of Durham, who denied that the king had any power of dispensation in such matters.
The next day Bristol spoke at length against it, then interrupted Clarendon’s response, claiming that Clarendon’s references to Cosin’s speech amounted to a transgression of the rules of the House as well as a denial of free speech.
At the end of the debate, which lasted several hours, Bristol put in his own proviso –- to enable the king to give liberty to all.
Clarendon, appalled, pointed out that this would admit popery, insisted on a division and threatened to enter a protest.
Bristol’s proviso was rejected. Clarendon’s was accepted, but perhaps ominously for Clarendon, on the following day (20 Mar.), Bristol was added to the committee for the bill.
On 8 Apr. he was named to the committee to draw up a different kind of proviso, one that would enable the king to offer some form of compensation to those clergymen who would be deprived under the Act of Uniformity.

Bristol remained an active and powerful member of the House.
On 25 Apr. 1662 he was named to the committee for the bill for loyal and indigent officers.
On 10 May when the bill was returned by message from Commons with further amendments, the House decided that the proper method of proceeding would have been for the Commons to have requested a conference rather than simply return the bill. Bristol was named to a small committee to draw up an appropriate response.
That day he was also named as one of the managers of the first conference on the militia bill (settling the forces).
On 13 and 16 May he was named as a manager for the second and third conferences on the bill.
Despite the setbacks over the Act of Uniformity, Bristol was still a significant political figure at a court beset by faction and in command, so it was said, of ‘a powerful cabal’.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


One of Bristol’s identifiable allies at this time was another member of the committee of 8 Apr. 1662, the moderate episcopalian John Gauden, Bishop of Exeter, who wrote in glowing terms of Bristol who ‘takes nothing upon trust, but brings all to the test of reason and religion, justice and honour.’

Over the next few months Gauden corresponded with Bristol, sought his ‘potent interception’ with Charles II on behalf of one of his clients and stayed at his house in Wimbledon. Yet he seems to have had no inkling of the news that would astonish the political world early in June: that Bristol had turned Protestant.
In July Gauden wrote again to Bristol asking for more information about his decision to change ecclesiastical communion.
Sir Henry Yelverton (who had always believed Bristol to be ‘too learned for a papist’) concluded that the conversion reflected a belief that rewards were more easily available to Protestants than to Catholics and, much as he deplored the possibility of Bristol’s advancement, he was glad to learn that ‘interest runs against popery’.

Late in July 1662 it was reported that the rift between Clarendon and Bristol had been repaired and ‘that the king is the master and the chancellor has all the credit’.

It did not last.

In Aug. the ejection of nonconformist ministers on ‘Black Bartholomew’s day’ brought about an alliance between Bristol and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley, and John Robartes, 2nd Baron Robartes in favour of toleration;
then in Oct., Sir Edward Nicholas was replaced as secretary of state by Bennet at the behest of Bristol and other members of the anti-Clarendon faction at court.

Charles II was still trying to ensure a permanent reconciliation between his warring courtiers. In order to do so he promoted the possibility of a marriage between Bristol’s daughter, Anne, and Clarendon’s heir, Henry Hyde, then styled Lord Cornbury.
It is unlikely the alliance was taken seriously for only a few months later arrangements were being made for the marriage of Anne Digby to Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland.

In December 1662, whilst Clarendon was incapacitated by illness, Charles II agreed to a declaration of indulgence. Although Bristol’s involvement was obvious, he was, according to the French ambassador, ‘very prudently’ holding himself at a distance from it.
The declaration, published on 26 Dec. 1662, promised to seek an act of Parliament to enshrine the king’s claim to a dispensing power in matters of religion, but to Clarendon’s horror the draft bill that emerged for presentation to Parliament when it met again on 18 Feb. 1663 was much more radical.
Its chances of success, like the possibility of a reconciliation of factions at court, were not improved by news that Bristol had returned to the Catholic church.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Bristol seems to have been confident of his position and on 14 Feb. had renewed his request for payment of the arrears of his salary as secretary of state.

Bristol attended the 1663 session for 63 per cent of sitting days and was named to 13 committees.
The early weeks of the session were dominated by controversies over the declaration and opposition to the bill that it had spawned.
By mid-March the bill was dead but factional discord at court continued. ‘They are so bent on destroying themselves that the sky might fall without them noticing’, wrote the French ambassador in April 1663, ‘the king could not occupy himself with anything of greater importance than reconciling them … [but] to achieve this would require more resolve, firmness, involvement and even authority than he has’.
The Ambassador was not the only observer to believe that Bristol would win out in the end.
Bristol, Ashley and Robartes, together with the two secretaries of state, often (or so it was said) transacted business in which Clarendon played ‘only a small part’, whilst in the Commons Bristol’s allies including Sir Richard Temple led an oblique attack on Clarendon by seeking an enquiry into the sale of public offices.

That Bristol remained in favour was demonstrated in May by the king’s decision to order payment of £10,000 for his arrears as secretary of state.
Bristol and his allies, wrote Pepys, ‘have cast my lord chancellor upon his back, past ever getting up again; there now being little for him to do, and waits at court attending to speak to the king as others do’.

Yet more attempts to promote a reconciliation with Clarendon followed but Bristol now began to overplay his hand.
On 12 June, 1663 Bristol’s Commons ally Sir Richard Temple opposed the court on a vital supply motion.
Clarendon’s ally Henry Coventry then created a furore in the Commons when he delivered a message from the king denouncing Temple as an ‘undertaker’ who had offered, via a ‘person of quality’, to manage the Commons in order to secure supply.
Bennet deserted to the chancellor and Bristol was left dangerously exposed, his situation made all the worse by a temporary deterioration in the king’s relationship with Lady Castlemaine resulting from his infatuation with Frances Stuart and her alleged affair with Henry Jermyn, Baron Jermyn.

By 15 June, 1663 Charles II had formed an inner group of advisers from which Bristol and his allies were pointedly excluded. The king even avoided meeting Bristol socially.
Bristol made matters worse by threatening to ruin the king’s business unless Ashley and Robartes were made part of the new group of advisors.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


On 20 June the Commons formally demanded the name of the 'person of quality' who had acted as go-between.
On 21 June Bristol was banned from court; he was also barred from Lady Castlemaine’s. Then Sunderland broke off his engagement to Bristol’s daughter on the eve of the wedding.
On 22 June, judging by the heavily altered surviving draft, Bristol went to great lengths composing a letter to Charles II agreeing his name be revealed, and that he was ready to vindicate his actions to the Commons.

According to Gilbert Burnet, later bishop of Salisbury, the king tried to dissuade Bristol from addressing the Commons.

In the meantime, either convinced he could retrieve his situation or desperate to do so, Bristol continued his search for information with which to discredit Clarendon.
His speech to the Commons on 1 July was a magnificent performance, in which he stressed his own loyalty and service to the crown contrasting it with pointed references, easily interpreted as allusions to Clarendon, to those who negotiated for cardinals’ caps, and who amassed and sold offices for their own profit.
Bristol won over Members of the Commons who, impressed by Bristol’s eloquence, cleared Temple from all charges.
Members of the Lords were upset at his decision to address the Commons without the leave of the House, although they were forced to accept that there was a precedent for his conduct.
The king, to whom Bristol repeated his speech, was furious.
Ruvigny, Louis XIV’s envoy, told his master that Charles II considered it, "... the most seditious speech there could be in an assembly, that he now thought that everything he had been told about his ambition, that being Catholic and being unable to enter offices because of his religion, he had resolved to turn everything upside down so as to find a place in the disorder and confusion. The earl of Bristol’s reply was bold; his master told him quite mildly that he would be a poor king if he could not manage an earl of Bristol. God preserve your majesty from such subjects and so little power."
Ruvigny went on to report that Bristol had asked the king for permission to accuse Clarendon in Parliament and although the king had specifically forbidden this, Bristol was ‘in the depth of despair’ and intent on revenging himself on king and chancellor.
Comminges, the French ambassador, concluded that, "The earl, full of vanity and feeling triumphant at the victory that he imagined he had carried off in the lower chamber, and thinking that he had a fair wind, he could undertake anything, and that the fall of the chancellor hung only on his pressing his point, misinterpreted the king’s kindness and flattered himself at the mildness of his behaviour."

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


On 10 July, 1663 in the House of Lords, Bristol accused Clarendon of high treason. The charges included taking money from the Dutch to make peace, and from the Portuguese to secure the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II, of selling offices, and tricking York into marrying his daughter, Anne Hyde.
The Lords ordered a copy of Bristol’s accusations be delivered to Clarendon and Charles II, and that the judges be asked to report ‘whether the said charge hath been brought in regularly and legally? and whether it may be proceeded in? and how? and whether there be any treason in it, or no?’

On 13 July, 1663 the judges declared it was not regular or legal for one peer to bring charges of treason against another in the House of Lords and that, even if Clarendon were guilty of all the charges brought by Bristol, they did not amount to high treason.
The king’s attitude was made abundantly clear in his message of thanks to the House in which he could not but ‘take notice of the many scandalous reflections in that paper upon himself and his relations’ and which he considered as a ‘libel against his person and government’.
On 14 July the House voted unanimously to concur with the judges.

Bristol’s accusations bewildered many of his peers. Many of the Lords concluded the affair had no other foundation than the ‘spleen of an enraged and disappointed enemy’.
Pepys was not the only one to be puzzled that the accusations against Clarendon included helping Catholics.
Ormonde sarcastically remarked that, ‘My lord of Bristol’s care of the protestant religion, and against the pope’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction in England is very admirable and deserves commendation if it be the motive of his zeal against my lord chancellor.’

The potential for exacerbating strife at court worried Roger Pepys who wrote ‘What this will come to God only knows. The one hath great friends the other a great and high spirit.’

The public airing that the affair gave to the weaknesses at the center of government appalled even French observers who noted Bristol’s accusations had ‘caused a great commotion here, and will do so no less abroad, where they will be astonished that a minister of state can be accused of things which the king declares to be for the most part false’.

With the recess imminent the court wanted the matter over, but Clarendon, ‘full of confidence’ and perhaps feeling obliged to make a show of magnanimity, advised the House to give Bristol until the first week of the next session to produce witnesses to substantiate his lesser charges, particularly Ormonde and Secretary of State for Scotland, John Maitland, 2nd Earl of Lauderdale.
He even told Bristol ‘that notwithstanding he had been more injured than ever any man was by a private subject, yet he would be ready to do him all the service in the world.’
Whether he meant these public protestations to be taken seriously is a matter for conjecture; he later indicated the opposite.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


That Charles II wanted Bristol arrested was widely known; questions about whether this could or could not be achieved without a breach of parliamentary privilege were being asked.
Conscious of the danger in which he stood, Bristol refused to request the protection of the House in the interval between sessions, ‘as being to doubt his majesty’s justice, and to no purpose, for that if they denied him he was undone, but if granted it would give no more security than their order to proceed, which is an implicit protection, and his restraint will do the other person more injury than it can do him’.
With the assistance of Buckingham and Philip, 4th Baron Wharton, he was lobbying behind the scenes in an attempt to secure a resolution ‘that no member ought to be questioned elsewhere, for what passes within those walls’.
He also made a determined effort to secure wider support, presumably aiming at influencing opinion in the Commons.

From 9 July, "and some days after, he quitted his ordinary way of going to the Lords house, and came through the great hall and exchequer chamber with his hat in his hand saluting with a sad and humble countenance all the crowd that followed, wishing him all success, he showed himself several days upon the exchange and told many considerable merchants his story, which is but too well received and credited."

For the rest of the session Bristol continued to parade himself in public, ‘playing on the bowling green every day’. He was also paying attention to his own personal affairs.
French ambassador Comminges wrote that, "the very day that he caused all this uproar he married his elder son, a man of less than mediocre talent, to an advocate’s daughter, a great friend of the late Cromwell, who is giving him ten thousand jacobus in cash, ten thousand at the birth of the first child and ten thousand after his death, which is a fine marriage, especially only having one son who might die."

The session ended on 27 July, 1663.
Attempts were then made to arrest Bristol ‘for attempts of a high nature by him committed against our person and government and to the end he might be brought to answer, and to a legal trial’.
No specific crime was imputed, but according to Secretary Morrice, Bristol’s offence was to have told Charles II in July 1663 that ‘if he suffered his enemies to have such an access to and credit with his majesty, he would raise such a storm as he should feel the effects thereof.’

Bristol vanished.
A proclamation for his apprehension was issued on 25 Aug. and, balked of its prey, the Privy Council also ordered that Bristol be prosecuted in his absence for recusancy.
According to French ambassador Comminges, this was yet another sign of the government’s weakness that ‘will assuredly serve only to undermine royal power and blame the conduct of his ministers.’

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


But Bristol had not stopped trying to find evidence against Clarendon; it was reported in Sept. that he had sent an agent to the Dutch Republic, looking for a financial connection between de Witt and Clarendon.

He also prepared his defence. His papers include an undated fragment in which he wrote: "In case an imaginary charge of treason should be brought in to the House against the earl of Bristol to keep him from coming to the Parliament as was done heretofore to his father. It is hoped the lords will do him the same justice they did to the lord chancellor that it may be put to the judges to know whether his charge amount to treason or no before their lordships proceed to remove him from his place in the house. If he be charged of any lesser crime it is hoped he shall according to the constant practice of the peers be heard speak for himself in his place, before there be any proceeding against him."

At the Old Bailey in late Aug. or early Sept. 1663, Bristol and John Digby, son of Sir Kenelm Digby, were indicted for recusancy. John Digby’s estate was sequestered, more as an affront to Bristol than as a punishment for Digby. Bristol’s estates were safe as he had protected his property by transferring them to his son.

Bristol also reconverted to the Anglican church. Rumors of his conversion surfaced in Nov. when he was said to be in London ‘and bottoms himself mostly on the Presbyterian interest being now turned Protestant again’.

At first the accuracy of the story was doubted; as one observer remarked, no versions agreed ‘in the circumstances of time, place, or accidents contributory to the publication of his conversion.’

The rumors were confirmed in Jan. 1664 when Bristol attended the parish church in Wimbledon.
The following month the minister and 3 of Bristol’s servants were arrested and imprisoned for failing to obey the king’s proclamation, as were the churchwardens and parish constable, but Bristol’s recusancy was discharged.

Rumors that Charles II was still fond of Bristol, and that the attack on Clarendon would be renewed continued to circulate.
As the new session of Parliament approached there were reports that Bristol’s agent was preparing ‘rich liveries coaches and other equipage’ so his master could make a magnificent entrance.
Bristol, apparently unrepentant, was making ‘great brags’ about what he would do in the new session leading Clarendon to insist the session open on 16 Mar. as planned rather than be postponed as might have been appropriate.
The king tried to dispel any belief that he still had a lingering regard for Bristol by declaring, "that if any of his privy council abet my Lord Bristol he will remove him from the council, if any of his servants he will dismiss them his service, if any other person he will forbid them his presence: and take such farther course against my lord and all that appear for him as the indignities offered to his person and government deserve."

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Charles II’s fickle nature left some of his courtiers convinced that, for all his protestations, Bristol’s disgrace might not be a lasting one.
In March 1664 even as the king fulminated against Bristol, Thomas Killigrew made him and the rest of the court laugh as he waved two sixpences and demanded to know what the king would give him ‘for this money, when you believe him again?’

Almost simultaneously Bristol wrote letters to several of the king’s ministers.
In his letter to Secretary Morrice he explained that his actions in the previous session had been prompted ‘by an excess of zeal … beyond the bounds of that great reverence with which subjects ought to tender even their best and most affectionate advices to their sovereign’ and that having been forbidden the court he naturally withdrew to a ‘strict retirement’ which meant that he was entirely ignorant of the proclamation for his apprehension.
Determined to appear immediately before the Privy Council, he had been prevented from doing so by illness and with the approach of the session was now in a quandary knowing, "not which way to govern my self betwixt the duty which I owe unto his majesty’s proclamation, obliging me to appear before the honourable board, and that regard which at the same time I owe to the high and important privilege of the house of peers; It is that wherein I humbly desire the direction of the honourable board; how a person so resigned as I am to duty and obedience in all kinds ought to behave himself."
Morrice appears to have given his letter to Clarendon.
A letter directed to Albemarle is also amongst Clarendon’s papers.
Arthur Annesley, earl of Anglesey, left his sick bed and took his straight to the king.

In a letter addressed to the king, Bristol requested a private audience to reveal a ‘great secret’ that had been kept from him by Clarendon; he threatened that the king would be ‘lost’ if the matter were revealed in Parliament and offered to surrender to Albemarle or Oxford.
Comminges reported that, behind the scenes, first d’Aubigny and then Henry Jermyn, earl of St. Albans, and Sir John Berkeley attempted to act as mediators.
Charles II and York were prepared to settle for a recantation in Parliament but Clarendon considered this would reduce the king’s authority and strengthen that of Parliament.
An offer from Bristol to apologize verbally or in writing to the king and volunteer to stay away from court until permitted to return was also refused by Clarendon.
Bristol volunteered to go into exile, but only if he could have an act of indemnity so he could eventually return to England without fear of further proceedings.
This was refused by Clarendon who considered it ‘prejudicial to royal authority and shameful to his dignity.’
Bristol had not abandoned his attempts at intimidation for he maintained he had evidence against Clarendon ‘but that he would never make use of it out of the respect he had for his majesty’.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


With Bristol threatening to attend the new session, its opening was delayed as troops laid in wait to arrest him as he arrived at the House; when he did not, they went to search his house in Wimbledon -- but he escaped through a back door.

Bristol wrote a further letter to his ally James Compton, 3rd earl of Northampton.
During the ensuing debate on 22 Mar. Northampton, with the backing of John, Baron Lucas of Shenfield, spoke of Bristol’s rights and privileges as a peer, but the House decided to deliver the letters unopened to the king.
The following day Lady Bristol approached several peers in the lobby in an attempt to deliver a petition; all refused to accept it.
The king declared that ‘no age had produced so false and shameless a person’ and rumors circulated that Bristol would be impeached.

Bristol was now ‘flying on only one wing’; in a last desperate attempt to justify himself he circulated copies of his letters, but the failure of the House to defend his claim to privilege had handed victory to the king and Clarendon.
Further searches were made for him, but Bristol had fled and was, wrote Sir Thomas Brathwaite, ‘looked upon as a lost man’.

Payment of the £10,000 that had been ordered towards his arrears as secretary of state was suspended.

Bristol's health broke down and in Oct. 1664 he petitioned Charles II for readmission to his presence or for the right to return to his own house.
Lady Bristol presented a further petition in Nov. asking for her husband to be allowed to return home for health reasons.
The queen mother supported the request, and Bristol was allowed to return to Sherborne.
Slowly Killigrew’s prediction about Bristol’s rehabilitation proved to be correct.

By Jan. 1665 Lady Bristol was being ‘graciously received at court’.
By Feb., the king would once again allow Bristol’s name to be mentioned in his presence, although those who visited him still took care to let it be known that it was Lady Bristol who was the object of their attentions.

Bristol stayed away from Parliament but his allies Lauderdale and Ashley were increasingly in favour.
A further sign of Bristol’s restoration to favour came with Sunderland’s marriage to Anne Digby in June 1665.

In Aug. 1666 Pepys reported that ‘Bristol’s faction is getting ground apace against my lord chancellor.’

In Jan. 1667 when the Commons’ decision to investigate 3 chancery decrees signalled that Clarendon’s position was once more under threat, there were some who believed that despite his absence from Parliament, Bristol’s hand was again at work.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


Military reverses over the summer of 1667 also strengthened Bristol’s position by discrediting the ministry in which Clarendon had played so important a part.

Bristol took his seat again on 29 June, 1667 for the prorogation. He and Clarendon saluted each other, but Bristol did not wear his robes and carefully absented himself from the chamber whilst the king was present.

Ominously for Clarendon, Bristol returned to the House on 16 Oct. 1667, a few days after the opening of the 1667-9 session. He was then present for just over 82 per cent of sitting days and was named to 16 committees.
His return took place amidst reports that he was rising in the king’s favour.
By mid-Nov. 1667 Pepys wrote that Bristol and Buckingham provided ‘the only counsel the king follows’.
Bristol was also reported to have encouraged Lady Dacres to petition for a private bill which suggests that his intention to return to public life was well known.

The business of the House for the remainder of 1667 was dominated by the attack on Clarendon.
Bristol was named as one of the managers of the conferences with the Commons concerning Clarendon’s impeachment that were held on 15, 19, 25, 28 Nov. and 4, 6 and 14 Dec. 1667.

He was not present for the conference on 21 Nov.
On 22 Nov. he was appointed to the committee to draw up reasons for a conference about procedural issues relating to conferences but did not attend the House on 23 Nov. when the conference was held.
His involvement in the attack on Clarendon was underlined by his signature to the protest of 20 Nov. against the resolution not to commit Clarendon without a specific charge.
During a debate in the House on 27 Nov. about the conference to be held the following day, he repeated his belief that the House should reverse its vote and commit Clarendon, ‘but the generality of the House disliked that and it was ordered without a question that we should give them a free conference’.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


In Feb. 1668 Edward, Viscount Conway remarked of the uncertainties and chaos afflicting government policy that ‘Lord Bristol thinks himself in as good favour as ever, but Lord A[rlington], says he is not, and never will be employed. The king gives good words and good countenance to friends and foes alike, without any distinction’.

Bristol was influential enough to be credited with the reconciliation between Charles II and his namesake Charles Stuart, 3rd duke of Richmond.

In April Bristol was granted the superintendence of banks and monts de piété (a form of pawnbroker) in London, Westminster and other cities.

In Parliament also in April he was named as one of the managers of the conference on the impeachment of Adm. Sir William Penn.
On 8 May during the debate relating to the conference over the dispute arising from Skinner’s case Bristol was said to have spoken ‘excellently well, and in favour of the Commons’ which probably explains why his name was deleted from the list of managers in the manuscript minutes.

That Bristol was now in favour with Charles II is confirmed by a warrant for the payment of £1,000 issued to him in June 1668.
In July a further £200 was granted and there was a report that he was to go ambassador to Spain.

Although he and Buckingham had taken opposite sides during Skinner’s case, Bristol was still reckoned to be one of Buckingham’s followers in Jan. 1669.

That same month his growing confidence in Charles II’s goodwill led him to draw up a petition to the crown for recompense in which he pointedly referred both to his own merits and to his frustrations at Clarendon’s hands.
His claims were referred to a small committee consisting of Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Anglesey and the two secretaries of state.
They reported in his favour recommending that his £10,000 grant should be renewed and that he should be given a pension of £2,000 ‘so that after his eminent services, he may be comfortable the remainder of his life.’
The king subsequently turned this into a grant of a pension of £2,000 plus a second pension to Lady Bristol of £1,000 with a reversion after her death to their younger son, Francis, until he in turn succeeded to his own reversion of a place as auditor of the receipt.

During the short 1669 session Bristol was present on 64 per cent of sitting days.
Although still considered an ally of Buckingham, in Nov. 1669 the 2 peers were again at odds over the bill spawned in the Commons as a result of Skinner’s case and designed to prevent the House of Lords from hearing original causes.
Bristol and George, 9th Baron Berkeley were said to be the only peers who voted in its favour.

Excerpted from:

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Having spent the afternoon with this strange tale of George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol, I have great sympathy with his wife, Anne Russell Digby, Lady Bristol. She married a Protestant, threw him out of the house when he became a Catholic -- but still had to cooperate with him in petitioning Charles II to protect son John's future.
Then she had to spend her own money buying back the rights, presumably because Digby was too stubborn to do so?
His mansion in Wimbledon was a palace, see…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.