Bulstrode was the eldest son of the Justice of the King's Bench, Sir James Whitelocke of Phyllis Court at Henley in Oxfordshire and Fawley Court at Fawley in Buckinghamshire (both just across the Thames from Remenham), by his wife, Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward Bulstrode of Hedgerley and Upton (near Slough), also in Buckinghamshire. He was nephew of the suspected Gunpowder Plotter, Edmund Whitelocke. In the previous generation, the family were resident at Beaches Manor in Wokingham and Bulstrode's 2nd cousins, William and Richard, from the elder branch, were living there during his lifetime. Bulstrode was born at his uncle Sir George Croke's house in Fleet Street on 6th August 1605 and christened at St. Dunstan's-in-the-East just under two weeks later. He was admitted to Merchant Taylors' School in 1615 and matriculated at Oxford on 8th December 1620 as a member of St. John's College. Dr. Parsons was his tutor and William Laud, who was then pre¬sident of St. John's and was his father's friend, took a great interest in his education. In his spare time, Bulstrode liked to play music and take part in field sports, joining other members of the college to maintain a pack of beagles.
Leaving Oxford without a degree, Whitelocke was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1626. He represented Stafford in the parliament of 1626. At Christmas 1628, he was chosen Master of the Revels and Treasurer of the Middle Temple, and in 1633, when the four inns of court joined together to perform a masque before the King and Queen, he and his friend, Edward Hyde, represented the Middle Temple on the committee. Whitelocke had "the whole care and charge of all the music for this great masque, which was so performed that it excelled any music that ever before that time had been heard in England." But while distinguishing himself socially, he did not forget his professional studies, as to which Selden gave him valuable advice. He became, about 1631, Recorder of Abingdon and Counsel for the Corporation of Henley. In 1632 he earned by fees no less than £310 which dropped, however, to £46 in the following year, when he was no longer backed by his father's influence.
In 1630, Whitelocke had married, but his wife became insane shortly afterwards and, four years later, he placed her under the care of a doctor and travelled to alleviate his melancholy. In Paris, he was received with great favour by Cardinal Richelieu and offered the command of a troop of horse in the French service. Returning to England in June 1634, he resumed his legal practice and earned some local reputation by a speech he made as Chairman of the Oxfordshire Quarter Sessions, in which he vindicated the jurisdiction of the civil against the ecclesiastical courts. This was further enhanced by his opposing the extension of Wychwood Forest in the interest of the gentlemen of the county. Having thus become popular, he was elected to the Long Parliament as the member for Marlow, where he took, from the start, a prominent part in its proceedings. He was chairman of the committee which managed the prosecution of Strafford and was especially entrusted with the conduct of articles nineteen to twenty-four of the charge. Strafford told a friend, speaking of the committee that managed the evidence against him, that Glyn and Maynard used him like advocates, but Palmer and Whitelocke used him like gentlemen, and yet left out nothing material to be urged against him. Whitelocke also prepared the bill against the dissolution of the Long Parliament without its own consent, supported and added an amendment to the 'grand remonstrance,' and took part in the proceedings against the illegal canons drawn up by Convocation.
In February 1642, Whitelocke made a trimming speech on the militia question, asserting the authority over it to be jointly held by both King and Parliament, following up with a speech against raising an army in July. But this did not prevent him from becoming a deputy lieutenant both of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, from finally preventing the execution of the King's Commission of Array and from raising troops to occupy Oxford. He urged Lord Saye to make that city a parliamentary garrison and was himself proposed as Governor, being one whom "the city, the university and the country thereabouts did well know and would be pleased with". Saye, however, declined to fortify Oxford. Whitelocke's subsequent military service during the Civil War was slight. At Brentford, in November 1642, he marched with Hampden's regiment. In 1644, when the association of the three counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire was established, Whitelocke was one of its governing committee and was proposed to command its forces, but declined. Instead, he became Governor of Henley and of his own house at Phyllis Court there, which was made a garrison. As his other residence, Fawley Court in Buckinghamshire, had been occupied and plundered by Prince Rupert in the Autumn of 1642, the damage caused by the war to his property was considerable. Whitelocke was on tolerably intimate terms both with Essex and Fairfax. Essex, whom he frequently praises in his writings, consulted him in December 1644 on the feasibility of accusing Cromwell as an incendiary, a course which Whitelocke deplored. Whitelocke spoke against the self-denying ordinance, but Clarendon describes him as instrumental in getting it passed. He claimed kinship with the Fairfax family, was present in Sir Thomas Fairfax's army during the Siege of Oxford, in 1646, and was admitted by Sir Thomas to his council of war.
Throughout the 'First' Civil War, Whitelocke describes himself as "industriously labouring to promote all overtures for peace". He was one of the eight commissioners sent by Parliament to the King at Oxford in January and March 1643. In the Spring of 1644, he made a speech urging that fresh overtures should be made to the King. In November 1644, he was again sent to Oxford to arrange the preliminaries of a treaty, and he was one of the parliamentary commissioners at Uxbridge in January 1645, where he gained great honour among his friends by successfully combating Hyde's arguments about the militia. Hyde, in his narrative of this treaty, describes Whitelocke as one who had, from the beginning, concurred with the Presbyterian leaders "without any inclination to their persons or principles," the reason being that "all his estate was in their quarters, and he had a nature that could not bear or submit to be undone". Yet he sincerely desired peace and "to his old friends who were commissioners for the King, he used his old openness and professed his detestation of all their proceedings yet could not leave them". Whitelocke's intimacy with Hyde excited suspicion and, in July 1645, Lord Savile accused Whitelocke and Holies, in Parliament, of treasonable communications with the King and his counsellors during the negotiations of 1644. But parliament acquitted both of them on 21st July, and gave them permission to prose¬cute their accuser. Whitelocke was one of the thirty lay members of the assembly of divines (12th June 1643) and both in the assembly itself and in the House of Commons persistently combated the view that the Presbyterian form of church government existed jure divino. For that reason he says, "I did not pass uncensured by the rigid Presbyterians, against whose design I was held to be one, and they were pleased to term me a disciple of Selden and an Erastian". He also incurred the displeasure of the same party by his arguments in favour of toleration. In May 1617, when the disbanding of the army was under discussion, Whitelocke opposed the rash policy of Holies and the Presbyterian leaders. He separated himself from them in the debates on the subject which, he adds, "took very well, and created an interest for me with the other party". He was consequently 'courted' by Oliver Cromwell and escaped impeachment, in June 1647, when the army impeached the eleven members, although one of the chief charges against Holies was that which Lord Savile had brought against Whitelocke also. During the troubled Summer of 1647, Whitelocke stayed away from the House of Commons as much as possible and avoided committing himself to either party. His rapidly increasing legal business, carefully recorded in his 'Memorials,' supplied him with an excuse for his absence. On 15th March 1648, Whitelocke was appointed by Parliament as one of the four Commissioners of the Great Seal for one year, with a salary of £1,000. In that capacity, he swore in the newly appointed serjeants-at-law, in November 1648, delivering, then and at the swearing-in of Chief-Baron Wilde, long speeches on judicial antiquities. Throughout the military revolution of December 1648, he continued to act in his judicial capacity, "glad of an honest pretence to be excused from appearing in the house". At the end of the month, he and his colleague, Sir Thomas Widdrington, discussed, with Cromwell, the settlement of the nation and endeavoured to frame some compromise between Parliament and the Army. When it was decided to bring the King to a public trial, Whitelocke was one of the committee appointed to draw up a charge and consider the method of the trial, but declined to take any part in the proceedings, purposely leaving London till the trial had begun. He sat in the House of Commons during the progress of the trial but, on the day of the King's execution, he says, "I went not to the House, but stayed all day at home in my study and at my prayers, in the hopes that this day's work might not so displease God as to bring prejudice to this poor afflicted nation".
Whitelocke was elected a member of the Council of State of the Republic, though declining the retrospective approval of the late proceedings which its members were ori¬ginally required to express. He was obliged, however, to declare his disapproval of the vote of 5th December 1648, declaring the King's con¬cessions sufficient, in order to retain his seat in the House of Commons. He opposed, in vain, the abolition of the House of Lords and had the duty of drawing the act for that purpose imposed upon him. A new great seal was made and Whitelocke was appointed one of the three commissioners, with Lisle and Keble as his colleagues, on 8th February 1649. He justified his conduct by the consideration that the business to be undertaken was "the execution of law and justice, without which men could not live one by another". In this office, he did considerable service to the Republic by procuring an alteration in the oath of the judges which enabled them to act under the new government, drawing up a new treason law and attempting some reforms in chancery procedure. But he felt continually called upon to defend the law and its practitioners against popular prejudice, succeeded in defeating a proposal to exclude lawyers from parliament and promoted the act for conducting all legal proceedings in English. The Earl of Pembroke had appointed Whitelocke his deputy as Ranger of Windsor Great Park in July 1648 and he had quickly installed himself at the Manor Lodge there, which he found a "pleasant place of retirement from the anxieties of London". He spent most of the Summer of 1649 there, following the death of his second wife, hunting fox, hare and deer. He visited Cromwell at Windsor Castle, but resisted as best he could the break up of the park: expelling the same man's surveyors and refusing offers of tapestries from the castle. However, it was divided up and sold off by early the next year. Whitelocke's son, James, later lived at Cranbourne Lodge also in the Great Park.
In June 1650, Whitelocke was one of the committee appointed to remove Fairfax's scruples about the invasion of Scotland and, in September 1651, he was similarly selected by Parliament to congratulate Cromwell on his victory at Worcester. Cromwell gave him a captured horse and two Scottish prisoners as "a token of his thankful reception of the Parliament's congratulations." Whitelocke records two long conferences between himself and Cromwell, one soon after Worcester and another in November 1652, in the first of which, he urged the restoration of the Monarchy and, in the second, recommended Cromwell to make terms with Charles II in preference to taking it upon himself to be king. In consequence of this Cromwell, according to Whitelocke, wishing to get him out of the way, proposed to make him Chief Commissioner for the Government of Ireland and, finally, sent him as Ambassador to Sweden. In April 1653, Whitelocke opposed Cromwell's scheme for the dissolution of the Long Parliament and the devolution of its authority upon a provisional council created for the purpose. When Cromwell dissolved the Long Parliament Whitelocke was one of the persons he especially attacked in his speech to the house. He is described as "looking sometimes and pointing upon particular persons, as Sir B. Whitelocke, & co, to whom he gave very sharp language though he named them not, but by his gestures it was well known that he meant them".
For a few months Whitelocke remained in complete retirement but, in August 1653, he heard that the Council of State intended to nominate him as Ambassador to Sweden in place of Lord Lisle, who had been originally appointed. In the most flattering terms, Cromwell pressed Whitelocke to accept the post and, more from fear of the consequences of refusing than from any desire for the distinction, he finally accepted. On 14th September, his nomination was approved by Parliament. His instructions authorised him not only to make a general treaty of friendship, but also to come to an agreement with Sweden for securing the freedom of the Sound against Denmark and the United Provinces. Whitelocke’s cousin, Nathaniel Barker (originally from Sonning), was in financial difficulties at the time and begged him to take his son to Sweden as part of his retinue. Whitelocke sailed on 6th November with a large retinue and a squadron of six ships, reaching Gothenburg nine days later. He returned, through Germany, landing again in England on 1st July 1654. The treaty he negotiated was signed on 28th April 1654, though dated 11th April. It had been long delayed by the desire of the Swedes to await the outcome of the peace negotiations between England and Holland, and by the difficulties which the impending resignation of Queen Christina threw in its way. In substance it was little more than a general expression of friendship between the two states. Questions such as the trade relations of England and Sweden and the suggested alliance for the freedom of the Sound were discussed, but postponed, and it was understood that a Swedish ambassador was to be sent to England to settle them. During his mission Whitelocke showed considerable diplomatic skill and succeeded in gaining the Queen's favour. She freely discussed with him the affairs of Europe, the revolutions of England and her own intention to abdicate. Whitelocke plumed himself on proving to the Swedish court that a Puritan could possess all the graces of a cavalier. His self-satisfaction is amusingly evident throughout his narrative, but its portraits of Christina, Oxenstierna, and other notable persons, and its description of Sweden and the Swedes render it an authority of permanent value.
Whitelocke landed in England again on 1st July 1654 and gave an account of his embassy to the Council of State on 6th July. During his absence from England, a new commission for the custody of the Great Seal had been issued in April 1654. Whitelocke, who was first named of the three commissioners, was sworn into his office on 14th July 1654. At the opening of the parliament of 1654, to which he was returned by three constituencies - Buckinghamshire, Bedford and the city of Oxford - Whitelocke carried the purse before Protector Cromwell and, in his opening speech, dwelt on the importance of the treaty with Sweden, "an honourable peace, through the endeavours of an honourable person here present as the instrument". On 6th September, Whitelocke gave a narrative of his negotiations to the House and was voted £2,000 for his services. In 1655, the Protector and his council passed an ordinance for the reform of the procedure of the Court of Chancery which seemed objectionable both to Whitelocke and to his colleague, Widdrington. "It would be of great prejudice to the public," argued Whitelocke on behalf of both, and he had also private objections as to the authority making the law. As their scruples could not be overcome by argument, both were deprived of their offices on 6th June 1655. Whitelocke had, however, been appointed one of the Commissioners of the Treasury, on 2nd August 1654, and was permanently continued in that post with a salary of £1,000 per annum. It was at this time that he entertained the Swedish Ambassador by taking him, incognito, to visit Sir Humphrey Forster at Aldermaston House. Though a man of few words, Sir Humphrey was well known for his hospitality and the two were kept amused with a day of hawking, hunting, fishing and card games.
On 2nd November 1655, Whitelocke was named one of the Committee for Trade and Navigation, and he was frequently consulted by the Protector on foreign affairs. The negotiation of the commercial treaty with Sweden, concluded on 17th July 1656, was mainly trusted to his hands and, in January 1656, he was much pressed by Cromwell to undertake a second mission to Sweden. In the parliament called in 1656, he again represented Buckinghamshire and, during the illness of Thomas Widdrington, he filled the place of Speaker for three weeks, to the great satisfaction of the House. When the humble petition and advice was brought in, and Parliament invited the Protector to take the title of King, Whitelocke was chairman of the committee appointed to confer with Cromwell. In this capacity he made frequent reports to the House and several speeches urging Cromwell to accept the Crown. It was about this time, according to his own statement, that Whitelocke was most intimate with the Protector, who would be familiar with him in private, lay aside his greatness and make verses by way of diversion. In the ceremonial of the Protector's second inauguration, Whitelocke played a conspicuous part. He was summoned to the new House of Lords on 11th December 1657 and it was generally reported that he was to be made Baron of Henley. He states that Cromwell actually signed a patent to make him a Viscount, which he refused.
When Richard Cromwell succeeded his father, Whitelocke presented the congratulatory address of Buckinghamshire to the new Protector. Richard, he adds, "had a particular respect for me," as the result of which, without any solicitations of his own, Whitelocke was again made a Commissioner of the Great Seal, on 22nd January 1659. In April 1659, Richard consulted him on the question of dissolving the parliament then sitting, which Whitelocke ineffectually opposed. He considered that the young Protector was betrayed by his near relations and by those of his own council. "I was wary," he concludes, "what to advise in this matter, but declared my judgment honestly, and for the good of Richard, when my advice was required". The fall of Richard did not necessarily imply the fall of Whitelocke. As a member of the Long Parliament, he took his place again in that assembly when it was restored and was elected, by it, a member of the new Council of State on 14th May. He lost, however, the Commissionership of the Great Seal, which was placed in new hands on the same day. Parliament charged him to bring in a bill for the union of England and Scotland, which it was held necessary to re-enact, and offered him the post of ambassador to Sweden, which he refused. His enemy, Thomas Scott (d. 1660), accused him of being in correspondence with Charles II, but the charge was discredited. In August 1659, Whitelocke was elected President of the Council of State and, holding that post at the time of Sir George Booth's insurrection, was enabled to show favour to Booth and other Royalists, which stood him in good stead at the Restoration. When the army turned out the Long Parliament again on 11th October, Whitelocke was one of the Committee of Safety appointed by the officers to succeed the Council of State. According to his own account, he accepted the post offered him solely to prevent Vane and his party from contriving to overthrow of magistracy and ministry which the officers were too much inclined to do. He was appointed one of the committee to draw up a scheme for a new constitution, along with his friend, the republican leveller, John Wildman of Beckett House in Shrivenham. On 1st November 1659, the Great Seal was again committed to his keeping and, in December, he consented to issue writs for a new parliament. When Monck declared for the restoration of the Long Parliament, Whitelocke, in the company of Fleetwood and Desborough, made a speech to the Lord Mayor of London and common council warning then against his designs. According to his own account, he distrusted Monck throughout, urged Lambert to attack him at once instead of allowing him to gain time by negotiating and, finally, perceiving that he meant to restore Charles II unconditionally, urged Fleetwood to anticipate him by offering to restore the King upon terms. Whitelocke offered to be Fleetwood's emissary to Charles II himself, but, after at first consenting, Fleetwood withdrew the appointment, and Whitelocke's plan was frustrated.
When the military revolution collapsed and the Long Parliament was a second time restored, Whitelocke, who had been Constable of Windsor Castle since 1653, was offered the command of 3,000 cavalry by Wildman if he would defend the fortress for Parliament against the Army. Whitelocke refused, thinking this imprudent considering the impending return of the Monarchy, but his deputy later surrendered their charge to the MPs' control. Whitelocke then found himself in danger for having acted on the Committee of Safety. His enemy, Scot, threatened to have him hanged with the Great Seal about his neck. There was a report that he would be sent to the Tower and there were evident signs of impending prosecution. To be out of the way, he retired to the country, while his wife prepared for the worst by burning many of his papers. He escaped, however, all punishment, and, at the Restoration of King Charles II, he was equally fortunate. He quickly surrendered his Constableship at Windsor Castle, and even managed to recover much of its Royal furnishings for the new monarch, including the famous Unicorn's Horn. Wildman was one of the few friends who stood by him during this period, and he returned the favour when the former was imprisoned for six years for suspected involvement in a republican conspiracy in 1661. Clarendon classes together Whitelocke and John Maynard as men who, though they "did bow their knees to Baal and so swerve from their allegiance, had yet acted with less rancour and malice than other men; they never led but followed, and were rather carried away with the torrent than swam with the stream". This view was general and hence, when, on 14th June 1660, William Prynne moved that Whitelocke should he excepted from the Act of Indemnity, the motion was not carried. Sir Robert Howard, Sir George Booth and other Royalists who were under obligation to him, spoke in his favour. It was also urged that he had sent £500 to the King and that his son, James, who had been Governor of Lynn in August 1659, had undertaken to secure it for Charles II. According to family tradition, the King demanded £90,000 from Whitelocke for his pardon, and Whitelocke actually paid £50,000 of this. This, however, is contradicted by the dedication of Whitelocke's book: "When it was in the power of your majesty and the purpose of men," writes the author, "to have taken my small fortune, liberty and life from me, you were pleased most graciously to bestow them on me, and to restore me to a wife and sixteen children". No doubt, however, he paid something to the King and in his 'Annals,' he also mentions having paid £500 to the Earl of Berkshire as compensation for the imprisonment of Lady Mary Howard in 1659 and £250 to Sir Robert Howard for the benefit of the Lord Chancellor in order to get his pardon passed under the Great Seal. During the rest of his life, Whitelocke lived in retirement at Chilton Lodge at Leverton, the Berkshire part of Chilton Foliat (later transferred to Hungerford), which had been purchased with his third wife's fortune in 1663. He died there on 28th July 1675, and was buried at Fawley in Buckinghamshire.
Whitelocke married three times. Firstly, in June 1630, he wed Rebecca, the daughter of Thomas Bennett, an alderman of the City of London. She became insane and died on 9th May 1634. Their only child, James, born on 13th July 1631, served in Cromwell's guard in Ireland, was chosen colonel of an Oxfordshire militia regiment in 1651, was knighted by the Protector on 6th January 1657, represented Aylesbury in the parliament of 1659, and died in 1701. Whitelocke married, secondly, on 9th November 1635, Frances, the sister of Francis, Lord Willoughby of Parham, by whom he had nine children. His eldest son, by his second marriage, William Whitelocke, entertained William III at Phyllis Court while on his triumphal journey to London and was knighted by him on 10th April 1689. She died in 1649 and Whitelocke married, thirdly, on 11th September 1650, Mary, the daughter of one Carleton, and widow of Rowland Wilson, by whom he had five sons and two daughters. Sir Bulstrode should not be confused with his son and grandsons of the same name.
Whitelocke was a very voluminous writer. His best known work, 'Memorials of the English Affairs from the beginning of the Reign of Charles I to the happy Restoration of King Charles II' was first published in 1682. This is a compilation put together after the Restoration, consisting partly of extracts from newspapers, partly of extracts from Whitelocke's autobiographical writings, and swarms with inaccuracies and anachronisms. The British Library possesses Whitelocke's history of the forty-eighth year of his age, interspersed with Scripture lectures addressed to his children and annals of his life from 1653 to 1656. He also wrote a 'Journal of the Swedish Embassy in the Years 1653 and 1654'; 'Notes on the King's Writ for choosing Members of Parliament, 13 Charles II'; 'Memorials of English Affairs from the supposed Expedition of Brute to this Island to the end of the Reign of James I'; 'Essays Ecclesiastical and Civil' and other works.
Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1900).
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