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Speech by William Wright upon the 1st Earl of Abingdon's election as High Steward of Oxford

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Speech by William Wright upon the 1st Earl of Abingdon's election as High Steward of Oxford

William Wright
16 September 1687

The Earl of Abingdon had been a firm opponent of Whig attempts to exclude the Catholic Duke of York from the succession during the reign of Charles II. The Earl was retained in his office as Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire when the Duke succeeded to the throne as James II in February 1685. The Earl's loyalty to the Crown, however, was severely strained by James's efforts to secure religious freedom for his Catholic subjects. Abingdon's usefulness in Oxfordshire was therefore greatly diminished. Abingdon was removed from the lord lieutenancy in November 1687 (CSP Dom. June 1687-Feb. 1689, p. 106). His election as High Steward of Oxford was a direct challenge by the Oxford Council to the King's policies. In this address, celebrating his election, Abingdon is lavishly praised for "his temperate Zeale for the establish'd Religion; his firm adherence to the Lawes of England" and a "true Champion for the Rights & Privilidges of this Corporation."


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This speech marks a significant sea change in relations between the Tory earl of Abingdon and the Whig-leaning corporation of Oxford in the years leading up to the overthrow of James II. Abingdon was a member of an extensive family that had acquired influence in Oxford by the marriage of the 2nd earl of Lindsey into the Wray family of Rycote. Abingdon, the eldest son of this marriage, in time was rewarded with titles and offices in return for his loyal service to the crown. He was made lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire and proved a sterling government enforcer during crucial events such as the Oxford Parliament of 1681, the trial of Stephen Colledge of the same year and the Monmouth rebellion in 1685.

By 1687, though, Abingdon, a staunch Anglican, had fallen foul of James II's programme in favour of Roman Catholics and had been relieved of his lieutenancy. His stance attracted him the support of his former implacable foes among the corporation of Oxford and it was very much as an act of defiance that they elected him their high steward. The following year he was the first of the English peers to rally to William of Orange at Exeter. He remained a significant political broker in Oxfordshire for the remainder of his life, though he was far from satisfied with the terms of the Revolution Settlement.

Dr Robin Eagles 01/05/2013

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