Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet

Sir William Temple shown in an Indian gown[1]
Sir William Temple

Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet (25 April 1628 – 27 January 1699) was an English statesman and essayist.


William Temple was the son of Sir John Temple of Dublin and nephew of Rev. Dr. Thomas Temple DD.[citation needed] Born in London, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge,[2] Temple travelled across Europe, and was for some time a member of the Irish Parliament, employed on various diplomatic missions. During his time as a diplomat, Temple successfully negotiated the marriage of the Prince of Orange and Princess Mary of England, and the Triple Alliance of 1668. On his return he was much consulted by Charles II, but disapproving of the anti-Dutch courses adopted, retired to his house at Sheen.[3]

He was called out of retirement to implement a plan of his design to reform government rule. He was the architect of the Privy Council Ministry, which, though it failed, was an early effort to establish an executive along the lines of what later came to be understood as Cabinet government. Charles II disapproved of the scheme, which in his view took away too much of the Royal Prerogative, although in the exceptional circumstances of the Exclusion Crisis he was willing to give it a brief trial.[4]

Temple later left Sheen and purchased Compton Hall, Farnham. He renamed the house Moor Park after Moor Park, Hertfordshire, a house he much admired and which influenced the formal gardens he built at Farnham. Here the later-famous Jonathan Swift was his secretary for most of the period from 1689 onward.[5] It was here that Swift met Esther Johnson, who became his lifelong companion and whom he immortalised as Stella.[6] Despite rumours that she was Temple's own daughter, the evidence suggests that her widowed mother lived in the house as companion to Temple's sister Martha. Temple installed his family motto "God has given us these opportunities for tranquility" above the door and took great pleasure from this house in his retirement from public life.[7]

He took no part in the Glorious Revolution, but acquiesced to the new regime, and was offered, but refused, a role as Secretary of State.[8]

Temple died in Moor Park, Surrey, England in 1699.[8] His memorial in Westminster Abbey names also his wife Dorothy, and their daughter Diana; in 1722 the name of his sister Martha was added. He was much loved by his friends; Swift wrote that all that was good and amiable in mankind departed with him.[9] The normally cynical Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, was deeply grieved by his death, writing to Temple's sister Martha that "the chief pleasure I proposed to myself was to see him sometimes".[10]


Temple married Dorothy Osborne, daughter of Sir Peter Osborne and Dorothy Danvers, in 1654.[11] It was a love marriage and the couple were noted for constancy during their long engagement: Dorothy resisted pressure from her family to accept any of several other more eligible suitors, including Henry Cromwell and her cousin Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds. She and William outlived all of their nine children, most of whom died in infancy; the suicide of their adult son John in 1689 was the greatest tragedy of their lives. There were two grandchildren. Dorothy died in 1695. After her death William's strong-minded sister Martha, Lady Giffard kept house for him. She had married Sir Thomas Giffard in 1662 and been widowed young; she spent many years with William and Dorothy, for both of whom she had a deep affection. In her last years she wrote a short Life of her brother which was published anonymously after her death in 1722.

"Dorothy, Lady Temple" by Gaspar Netscher 1671

Retirement and death

Temple saw his retirement from political life to his country estate at Moor Park as following the example of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. In his essay of 1685 "Upon the Gardens of Epicurus" Temple wrote of "the sweetness and satisfaction of this retreat, where since my resolution taken of never entering again into any public employments, I have passed five years without once going to town". As a result of his introducing the term sharawadgi in this essay, Temple is considered the originator of the English landscape garden movement.[12]

Temple died on 27 January 1699. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart, by his special wish, was placed in a silver casket under the sun-dial at Moor Park, near his favourite window seat. Swift recorded, "He died at one o clock in the morning and with him all that was great and good among men".[13]


His literary works consist for the most part of essays, which were collected under the title Miscellanea. However, he did write some longer pieces such as Observations upon the United Provinces, and Essay on the Original and Nature of Government.[5]

  • Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands, 1673. Republished by Cambridge University Press, with an introduction by G. N. Clark, Cambridge, 2011.
  • Miscellanea: The First Part. (4th ed.). London: Printed For Jacob Tonson. 1705. Retrieved 24 August 2009.

See also

  • General opinion, a concept introduced by Temple in his Essay on the Original and Nature of Government[14]


  1. ^ The meaning of this painting is explained in Wybe Kuitert "Japanese Robes, Sharawadgi, and the landscape discourse of Sir William Temple and Constantijn Huygens" Garden History, 41, 2: (2013) pp.157-176, Plates II-VI and Garden History, 42, 1: (2014) p.130 ISSN 0307-1243 Online as PDF
  2. ^ "Temple, William (TML644W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Prothero 1911, pp. 602–603.
  4. ^ Kenyon, J.P., Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland 1641-1702, Longmans Green, reissued 1992, pp. 23–30
  5. ^ a b Cousin 1910.
  6. ^ Stephen, Leslie (1898). "Swift, Jonathan" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  7. ^ Venn[full citation needed]
  8. ^ a b Prothero 1911, p. 603.
  9. ^ Stephen p. 208
  10. ^ Kenyon p. 309
  11. ^ Osborne, Dorothy (2002). Parker, Kenneth (ed.). Dorothy Osborne: Letters to Sir William Temple, 1652-54: Observations on Love, Literature, Politics and Religion. Aldershot, Burlington USA, Singapore, Sydney: Ashgate. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0 7546 0382 2.
  12. ^ See:Geoffrey Jellicoe (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Gardens, Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 513
  13. ^ Stubbs, John, Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel, p. 176
  14. ^ Hans Speier, "Historical Development of Public Opinion", American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Jan., 1950), pp. 376–388.


External links

Baronetage of England
Preceded by
new creation
(of Sheen)
Succeeded by

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