Bulstrode Whitelocke (1605-1675)

The title page of the 1732 edition of Bulstrode Whitelocke’s Memorials of the English Affair which covers Turnham Green

The title page of the 1732 edition of Bulstrode Whitelocke’s Memorials of the English Affair which covers Turnham Green

Bulstrode Whitelocke was born in 1605, the son of Sir James Whitelocke of Fawley Court, near Henley-on-Thames, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Edward and Ciceley Bulstrode of Hedgerly Bulstrode, Buckinghamshire. He attended St John’s College, Oxford, and the Middle Temple. He was elected to the parliament of 1626, was called to the bar in 1627 and quickly developed a practice as a successful lawyer. When he inherited Fawley Court in 1632 he established himself there as a country gentleman, while continuing his legal career and maintaining an involvement in politics, supporting John Hampden’s opposition to Ship Money.

In 1640 Whitelocke was elected to the Long Parliament as MP for Marlow. On the approach of civil war in 1642 he acted to prevent the implementation of the king’s Commission of Array. A royalist force occupied Fawley Court on its advance along the Thames valley in the autumn, doing considerable damage to the house and estate, killing his deer and taking most of his horses. On the news of the royalist attack on the parliamentarian detachment in Brentford on 12 November, he was one of the delegation from Parliament to Guildhall requesting the City to send its militia regiments to join Essex’s army assembling at Turnham Green, to block the royalist advance on London. He marched out with their commander, Philip Skippon, and recorded Essex and Skippon’s rousing words to the troops, but he served that day with Hampden’s regiment, as it was raised in Buckinghamshire.

He was acceptable to the king as a negotiator and was a member of the delegations sent to Oxford in 1643 and 1644, and took part in the abortive peace talks at Uxbridge in 1645. After the end of the first Civil War he moved away from Holles’s Presbyterian grouping in Parliament and towards the army’s political allies. In 1648 he was appointed one of the keepers of the Great Seal. He was listed among the committee appointed to prepare charges against the king, but did not attend it or the trial, which he had spoken against in the Commons. Nevertheless, he was appointed to the new Council of State and was frequently consulted by Oliver Cromwell, even on such a sensitive issue as the possibility of Cromwell taking the crown.

A rather conservative figure during the Interregnum, he spoke against the dissolution of the Rump Parliament, in 1653, and opposed reform of the legal system. In 1653 he went to Sweden as ambassador-extraordinary, where he established good relations between the two countries, expressed in a treaty signed in 1654. He was elected MP for Buckinghamshire in the Protectorate Parliaments, acting as speaker in the second, and was appointed by Cromwell to the new upper house, in 1657.

Although not a regicide, Whitelocke feared for his life at the Restoration and his pardon cost him a considerable amount of money in bribes. His advice was later sought by Charles II and Prince Rupert, but he no longer had a place in public affairs and spent much of his time on his estate. He sometimes preached at Nonconformist services near Hungerford. He died in July 1675. For much of his life Whitelocke kept a diary, published in 1682 in an edited version as Memorials of the English Affairs and in full in 1990, edited by Ruth Spalding, as The Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke.