Arthur Onslow bigraphy, stories - Speaker of the British House of Commons

Arthur Onslow : biography

1 October 1691 - 17 February 1768

Arthur Onslow (1 October 1691 – 17 February 1768) was an English politician. He set a record for length of service when repeatedly elected to serve as Speaker of the House of Commons, where he was known for his integrity.

Early life and education

Onslow was born in Kensington, the elder son of Foot Onslow (died 1710) and his wife Susannah née Anlaby. He was educated at The Royal Grammar School, Guildford and Winchester College and matriculated at Wadham College, Oxford in 1708, although he took no degree. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1713, but had no great practice in law.


When George I came to the throne, Onslow's uncle Sir Richard Onslow was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Arthur became his private secretary. When Richard left office in 1715, Arthur obtained a place as receiver general of the Post Office. He became recorder of Guildford in 1719. As his Post Office position was not compatible with a parliamentary seat, he passed it on to his younger brother Richard when he entered Parliament in 1720 for Guildford.


In February 1720, Onslow had been returned as Whig Member of Parliament for Guildford at a by-election. He represented that borough until Parliament was dissolved in 1727. During this period, he was known to have declared against a proposal to levy Roman Catholics in 1722, and opposed the motion to reverse Bolingbroke's attainder in 1725. In 1726, he was one of the Commons managers for the trial of Macclesfield for corruption.

In 1727, he was returned both for Guildford and Surrey, with the highest majority ever recorded, and elected to serve for Surrey; his younger brother Richard Onslow replaced him at Guildford in a by-election.

On 23 January 1728, Onslow was unanimously elected Speaker of the House of Commons, a post which had been held by his uncle Sir Richard Onslow, Bt and his ancestor Richard Onslow. He would be unanimously re-elected Speaker in 1735, 1741, 1747 and 1754, setting a record for length of service in that office. On 25 July 1728, he was sworn of the Privy Council, and was also made a bencher of the Inner Temple that year. The following year, on 13 May 1729, he was made Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal to Queen Caroline, who was godmother to his son George in 1731.

Onslow's speakership was distinguished by his great integrity in a corrupt and jobbing age. His great achievement as Speaker was to assert the independence, authority, and impartiality of that post. While he continued to participate in ordinary political activity, speaking and voting in committee, he did not hesitate to oppose Government policy when necessary. Onslow saw his role to be the protection and defense of Parliament in the tradition established by the Glorious Revolution. He insisted on rigidly observing parliamentary forms and procedure, which he viewed as a protection to independent MPs. But his devotion to precedent led him to condemn the reporting of parliamentary debates as breach of privilege.

On 20 April 1734, Onslow received the valuable office of Treasurer of the Navy. In 1742, after casting his vote on a highly political issue, he resigned the post to confute claims of political influence. He continued to receive emoluments from the office of Speaker, such as those for private bills. He also became recorder of Guildford and high steward of Kingston upon Thames in 1737. During the 1730s, he was involved in the effort that led to the charter of the Foundling Hospital and was one of its founding governors.

Due to failing health, he retired from Parliament in 1761, doing so with the unanimous thanks of the House of Commons. He received an annuity of £3000 from the King for his life and that of his son, the first occasion upon which a retiring Speaker was pensioned.


Speaker Onslow's nephew, George Onslow (1731–1792), a son of his brother Richard, was a lieutenant colonel and Member of Parliament for Guildford from 1760 to 1784. George had a younger brother Richard (1741–1817), who entered the navy and was made an admiral in 1799.

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