|Member of the English Parliament|
|Member of the Parliament of Ireland|
|2nd President of the Royal Society|
|Preceded by||William Brouncker|
|Succeeded by||Christopher Wren|
|Secretary of State for the Northern Department|
|Preceded by||Henry Coventry|
|Succeeded by||Robert Spencer|
|Born||25 July 1633|
|Died||3 October 1701 68) (aged|
|Resting place||Westminster Abbey|
|Spouse(s)||Katherine Stewart,Baroness Clifton|
Sir Joseph Williamson,PRS (25 July 1633 –3 October 1701) was an English civil servant,diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons of England variously between 1665 and 1701 and in the Irish House of Commons between 1692 and 1699. He was Secretary of State for the Northern Department from 1674 to 1679.
Williamson was born at Bridekirk,near Cockermouth in Cumberland,where his father,also called Joseph,was vicar. His father died when he was very young,and his mother remarried the Reverend John Ardery.  His relatively humble origins were often referred to unkindly in later life by his enemies,especially after he married into the aristocracy. He was educated at St. Bees School,Westminster School and Queen's College,Oxford,of which he became a fellow. 
In 1660 he entered the service of the Secretary of State for the Southern Department,Sir Edward Nicholas,retaining his position under the succeeding secretary,Sir Henry Bennet,afterwards Earl of Arlington. He made himself indispensable to Arlington,due to his enormous capacity for hard work,which resulted in his employer delegating most of the routine work of the department to him. He was involved with the foundation of the London Gazette in 1665.
Williamson was elected Member of Parliament for Thetford in 1669 and held the seat until 1685.  No less than three previous attempts to enter Parliament had been unsuccessful,due to an increasing "backlash" against Government candidates. Samuel Pepys in his celebrated Diary records that when Williamson appeared at the hustings in 1666,he was shouted down by cries of "No courtiers!"  In 1672 he was made one of the clerks of the council and was knighted.
During the Third Anglo-Dutch War,he drew up plans for the Zealand Expedition which was intended to land a newly formed English Army in the Netherlands. The strategy was abandoned after the naval defeat at the Battle of Texel and the Treaty of Westminster which ended the war.
In 1673 and 1674 he represented his country at the Congress of Cologne,and in the latter year he became Secretary of State for the Northern Department,having practically purchased this position from Arlington for £6,000,a sum that he required from his successor when he left office in 1679. He served as Master of The Clothworkers' Company from 1676 to 1677. In 1677,he became the second President of the Royal Society,but his main interests,after politics,were in antiquarian rather than in scientific matters.
As Secretary of State,he largely continued Arlington's policy of friendship towards France,and hostility towards the Netherlands. Sir Joseph represented England at the Congress of Nijmegen (1678–79). William III of Orange developed a deep aversion to Williamson:quite apart from their opposing policies,he is said to have found the tone of Williamson's dispatches unbearably patronising ("as though I was a child to be fed on whipped cream" William grumbled).
Just before his removal from the post of Secretary of State,he was arrested on a charge of being implicated in the Popish Plot ,  but he was at once released by order of Charles II. Williamson was a particular target of the informers because he was one of the few Ministers who openly disbelieved in the Plot:  when Israel Tonge first approached him with "information",Williamson,who believed,with some reason,that Tonge was insane,gave him a "rude repulse".  As for the other informers,several of whom were members of London's criminal underworld,his efficient intelligence service no doubt told him everything necessary about their characters. For this reason,the King,who was equally sceptical about the Plot's reality,wished to retain his services,at least in the short term. The actual charge made against Williamson,of commissioning Roman Catholic army officers,was entirely spurious since these officers were intended for foreign service.
Williamson's nerve began to give way under the strain of the Plot,and he became a political liability. Charles finally dismissed him after he gave orders to search Somerset House,the Queen's official residence,without the King's permission;the King,"in great anger" told him that "I marvel at your effrontery in searching my house... your head is turning.....I do not wish to be served by a man who fears anyone more than me".  Danby was suspected by many of having a part in Williamson's downfall,as he was said to have taken offence at Williamson's recent marriage to Lady Clifton,a wealthy widow and cousin of the King. 
His marriage,at the beginning of the Popish Plot,should on the face of it have strengthened him politically:his wife was Katherine Stewart,Baroness Clifton,daughter of George Stewart,9th Seigneur d'Aubigny,and sister of Charles Stewart,3rd Duke of Richmond,and thus a member of a junior branch of the Stuart dynasty.  Her first husband,by whom she had several children,was Henry O'Brien,Lord Ibrackan(c. 1642 –1 September 1678),an old friend of Williamson;she and Williamson had no children.
Despite the obvious advantages of the match to Williamson himself,John Evelyn reported that it was very unpopular,and it probably weakened Williamson politically. Since Katherine as well as her first husband was an old friend of Williamson she was not a surprising choice as a bride;but the fact that O'Brien had been dead for only three months when she remarried gave rise to ill-natured gossip that Williamson and Katherine had been lovers during her first marriage:"'Tis said they live together less happily than before they married" ran one gibe. More seriously in an age of marked class distinctions,it was considered improper that the sister of a Royal Duke should marry a country clergyman's son,and even her children are said to have objected to the marriage.  Danby,who reportedly thought that Katherine would be a good match for his own son,was suspected of having had a hand in Williamson's downfall.
After a period of comparative inactivity,in 1698 he signed the Treaty of The Hague (1698),the first treaty for the partition of the Spanish Monarchy. It was characteristic of William III that despite his personal dislike of Williamson,so evident in the 1670s,he did not hesitate to make use of his diplomatic skills. The negotiations had been kept a strict secret,and news of the Treaty caused uproar in England,but Williamson himself escaped any serious censure.
In 1690,Williamson was elected Member of Parliament for Rochester and held the seat until 1701.  He was also elected MP for Thetford in three separate elections,but each time chose to sit for Rochester instead.
Between 1692 and 1695,Williamson was also MP in the Irish House of Commons for County Clare. In 1695 he represented Portarlington for a few months and subsequently Limerick City until 1699. He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 1696,as a tribute to his interest in civic improvements in Dublin. In return,he presented the city fathers with a silver cup.
Williamson died at Cobham,Kent,on 3 October 1701,and was buried in Westminster Abbey,where his widow joined him a year later. He had become very rich by taking advantage of the many opportunities of making money which his official position gave him;and despite the heavy debts left by her brother,his wife is also said to have brought him a fortune. He left £6,000 and his library to Queen's College,Oxford;£5,000 to found a school at Rochester,Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School;and £2,000 to Thetford. A great number of Williamson's letters,dispatches,memoranda,etc.,are among the English state papers.
He has been described as one of the greatest English civil servants of his time,and is credited with building up an intelligence service as efficient as that which John Thurloe had operated under Oliver Cromwell. His detailed notes of Privy Council meetings are an invaluable source of information about its operation,especially in the political crisis of 1678–79. On the other hand,he was a poor public speaker:even Charles II,himself a very hesitant speaker,complained of his "droning".
Despite his gifts,he was not popular,being described as dry,formal and arrogant,an uncertain friend and a harsh employer. Many of his colleagues,like Sir Leoline Jenkins,felt the lash of his sharp tongue. On the other hand,his will,in which he remembered all those who had a claim on him,suggests that he did not lack a certain generosity of character;and he was capable of forming lifelong friendships,notably with Samuel Pepys.
He is a recurring character in the Thomas Chaloner series of mystery novels by Susanna Gregory,in which he plays a somewhat villainous role:his wife and her first husband appear in the seventh book in the series,The Piccadilly Plot. Williamson also appears regularly in Andrew Taylor's series of novels about the adventures of Whitehall clerk James Marwood and architect Cat Lovett.
Sir Leoline Jenkins was a Welsh academic,diplomat involved in the negotiation of international treaties,jurist and politician. He was a clerical lawyer who served as Judge of the High Court of Admiralty from 1668 to 1685,and enjoyed a high reputation for judicial integrity. As a statesman he served as Secretary of State from 1680 to 1684.
Titus Oates was an English priest who fabricated the "Popish Plot",a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II.
Anthony Ashley Cooper,1st Earl of Shaftesbury PC FRS,22 July 1621 to 21 January 1683,was an English politician and statesman from Dorset. He held senior political office under both the Commonwealth of England and Charles II,serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1661 to 1672,and Lord Chancellor from 1672 to 1673. During the 1679 to 1681 Exclusion Crisis,he headed the movement to bar the Catholic heir,James II from the succession,often seen as the origin of the Whig party. He was also a patron of the political philosopher John Locke,with whom he collaborated with in writing the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina in 1669.
Thomas Osborne,1st Duke of Leeds,,was a prominent English politician. Under King Charles II,he was the leading figure in the government for around five years in the mid-1670s. He fell out of favour due to corruption and other scandals,and was impeached and eventually imprisoned in the Tower of London for five years until the accession of James II of England in 1685. In 1688 he was one of the Immortal Seven group that invited William III,Prince of Orange to depose James II as monarch during the Glorious Revolution. He was again the leading figure in government,known at the time as the Marquess of Carmarthen,for a few years in the early 1690s.
Roger North, KC was an English lawyer,biographer,and amateur musician.
The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy invented by Titus Oates that between 1678 and 1681 gripped the kingdoms of England and Scotland in anti-Catholic hysteria. Oates alleged that there was an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II,accusations that led to the executions of at least 22 men and precipitated the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually,Oates's intricate web of accusations fell apart,leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.
The Exclusion Crisis ran from 1679 until 1681 in the reign of King Charles II of England,Scotland and Ireland. Three Exclusion bills sought to exclude the King's brother and heir presumptive,James,Duke of York,from the thrones of England,Scotland and Ireland because he was Roman Catholic. None became law. Two new parties formed. The Tories were opposed to this exclusion while the "Country Party",who were soon to be called the Whigs,supported it. While the matter of James's exclusion was not decided in Parliament during Charles's reign,it would come to a head only three years after James took the throne,when he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Finally,the Act of Settlement 1701 decided definitively that Catholics were to be excluded from the English,Scottish and Irish thrones,now the British throne.
Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey was an English magistrate whose mysterious death caused anti-Catholic uproar in England. Contemporary documents also spell the name Edmundbury Godfrey.
Sir William Scroggs was Lord Chief Justice of England from 1678 to 1681. He is best remembered for presiding over the Popish Plot trials,where he was accused of showing bias against the accused.
William Bedloe was an English fraudster and Popish Plot informer.
Henry Howard,7th Duke of Norfolk,KG PC FRS Earl Marshal was an English nobleman,politician,and soldier. He was the son of Henry Howard,6th Duke of Norfolk,and Lady Anne Somerset,daughter of Edward Somerset,2nd Marquess of Worcester,and Elizabeth Dormer. He was summoned to the House of Lords in his own right as Baron Mowbray in 1678. His unhappy marriage was a subject of much gossip,and ended in divorce.
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Sir George Wakeman was an English doctor,who was royal physician to Catherine of Braganza,Consort of Charles II of England. In 1678,in the allegations of the fabricated Popish Plot,he was falsely accused of treason by Titus Oates,who had gained the backing of Thomas Osborne,1st Earl of Danby,the effective head of the English government. Oates accused Wakeman of conspiring to kill the King with the help of the Jesuits,and to put his brother James,Duke of York on the throne in his place. At his trial in 1679 Wakeman was acquitted,the first sign that the public was beginning to lose faith in the reality of the Plot.
Israel Tonge,aka Ezerel or Ezreel Tongue,was an English divine. He was an informer in and probably one of the inventors of the "Popish" plot.
Miles Prance was an English Roman Catholic craftsman who was caught up in and perjured himself during the Popish Plot and the resulting anti-Catholic hysteria in London during the reign of Charles II.
William Petre,4th Baron Petre was an English peer and victim of the Popish Plot.
William Harbord,of Grafton Park,was an English diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1661 and 1690.
Edward Colman or Coleman was an English Catholic courtier under Charles II of England. He was hanged,drawn and quartered on a treason charge,having been implicated by Titus Oates in his false accusations concerning a Popish Plot. He is a Catholic martyr,beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
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