Gibraltar Governor Thomas Stanwix (c.1670-1725), army officer and politician, was the son of Thomas Stanwix of Carlisle, Cumberland, and his wife, Grace, nee Fairfax, of Parkhead. He joined the army and is first noted as a captain-lieutenant in Hastings’s foot regiment in January 1692. He fought in Flanders in several regiments, and by 1702 he was a captain in the 6th dragoon guards. In March of that year he was elected MP for Carlisle. One member was usually returned in the earl of Carlisle’s interest, and Stanwix’s election was the start of an alliance from which he began his political rise.
Stanwix’s military promotion owed more to his attachment to the duke of Ormond. The duke was instrumental in his appointment as lieutenant-colonel in a new regiment in 1704 and Ormond’s correspondence has several references to him over the next few years. Stanwix’s regiment was in Ireland between 1705 and 1707, though much reduced in numbers by the latter year, and in Spain by 1708. There it was reported that Stanwix ‘never fails a day to drink his Grace’s health’ (Ormonde MSS). His military and political activities joined in his appointment in 1705 as lieutenant-governor of Carlisle city (the earl was governor), an important military position at the time of the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707, and Stanwix was active in the suppression of smuggling over the border.
Stanwix was present at the battle of Caya, Portugal, in 1709 and was promoted brigadier-general the following year. In that rank he was appointed in January 1711 to be governor of Gibraltar, though he did not take up the post until June. Gibraltar had been captured in 1704 and was still occupied enemy territory, much of the occupation force being Dutch; Stanwix failed to understand that one of his tasks as governor was to ease out these men so that, in the peace negotiations by the new tory ministry, Gibraltar could be claimed for Britain. Instead he concentrated on lining his pockets. His administration was judged unsatisfactory, not surprisingly, but he was a good commander of soldiers. He was superseded as governor by General David Colyear early in 1712 but stayed on as lieutenant-governor into 1713.
Stanwix’s regiment was disbanded at some point between April 1711 and April 1713. The accounts and documents of the regiment were found to be in disarray, as were those of many others. His association with the tory Ormond, by now captain-general, may have protected him in this case, but it was his connection with Carlisle, both the earl and the city, which was the more significant after the death of Queen Anne in 1714. In July 1715 Stanwix was named colonel of one of the new regiments raised to face the Jacobite rising in that year, but his post as lieutenant-governor of Carlisle city was even more important.
Stanwix commanded the city’s garrison, and his authority was reinforced by his appointment as mayor of the city, undoubtedly the earl’s doing, and as deputy lieutenant of Cumberland, a concentration of offices giving him very substantial local power. He maintained contact with all the nearby loyal authorities and held several important prisoners in the town’s gaol, but he did not have enough troops to contest the advance of the Jacobite force invading from Scotland, though that force made no attempt to take the city in the face of evident local resolution.
Carlisle held important prisoners in the aftermath of the rising, and Stanwix was their gaoler until they were tried or transferred. In 1715 he became governor of Chelsea Hospital. By now he was a figure of some note and had deftly survived the connection with Ormond (who fled to the Pretender in Paris). In the Commons he voted as a government supporter in 1716-18 in favour of the Septennial Act and for the government over the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, but in 1719 he voted against the Peerage Bill. Even before that he had broken with the earl of Carlisle, no doubt on this issue. Carlisle was informed by the third earl of Sunderland in August that ‘no regard or favour shall be had of Stanwix, his behaviour of late having not deserved much of that’ (Carlisle MSS, 23). He thus emerged as a Walpole whig, and when he was displaced from the Chelsea post in 1720 he was made governor of Kingston upon Hull instead. He also retained the colonelcy of the 12th foot, which he had held since 1717. He did, however, have difficulty in retaining his Commons seat.
The house insisted, over his objections, that his appointment as governor of Hull required that he stand for re-election. Without the earl of Carlisle’s influence he lost the Carlisle by-election in 1721, and he lost again in the general election the following year, despite Lord Lonsdale’s support. He was valuable enough to the government of Walpole, however, to be found a seat in an Isle of Wight pocket borough in each case-in 1721 at Newport and in 1722 at Yarmouth.
Stanwix died on 14 March 1725, still MP for Yarmouth, colonel of the 12th foot, lieutenant-governor of Carlisle, and governor of Kingston upon Hull. He had navigated the political perils of the time very well, cleverly allying with both a tory duke and a whiggish earl. His career might be seen as a military version of that of the vicar of Bray, but it is perhaps better seen as a man who held true to his politics and served with principle and ability while carefully guarding his back, an example of clever survival in revolutionary times. His actions in 1715 are perhaps the best indication of his political beliefs. He had no children with his wife, Susannah (about whom no further details are known); his heir was his nephew John Roos, who took the name Stanwix on inheriting [see Stanwix, John (bap. 1693, d. 1766)].
John D. Grainger
Sources R. R. Sedgwick, ‘Stanwix, Thomas’, HoP, Commons, 1715-54 + C. Dalton, ed., English army lists and commission registers, 1661-1714, 3 (1896) + R. S. Ferguson, Cumberland and Westmorland MPs: from the Restoration to the Reform Bill of 1867 (1871), 437-8 + W. G. F. Jackson, The rock of the Gibraltarians (1987) + R. C. Jarvis, ed., The Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745 (1954), 155, 172 + The manuscripts of the marquis of Ormonde, the earl of Fingall, the corporations of Waterford, Galway, HMC, 14 (1885) + The manuscripts of his grace the duke of Portland, 10 vols., HMC, 29 (1891-1931) + The manuscripts of the House of Lords, new ser., 12 vols. (1900-77) + The manuscripts of J. J. Hope Johnstone, HMC, 46 (1897) + The manuscripts of the earl of Carlisle, HMC, 42 (1897) + Report on the Laing manuscripts, 2 vols., HMC, 72 (1914-25)
Wealth at death £90 p.a.; also £54: will