|Quite a dashing young man, wasn't he?|
James Craggs II was born on 9 April 1686 in Westminster, London as the second, but only surviving son, of James Cragg the elder, postmaster-general and his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Jacob Richards, a corn chandler of Westminster. He began his education at Monsieur le Fevre’s school in Chelsea but the rest of his education consisted of traveling about the continent. The experience of being a well-versed traveler would come in handy later in his life. Richard Hill, envoy to Savoy in 1703, was initially his chaperone and supervisor but in 1704, his father recalled Craggs to England because of his son’s spendthrift and extravagant habits (His father was even tempted to disown him). Nevertheless, his grounding did not last long and in 1706, he was abroad again and spent most of his time in Hanover, Germany. While in Hanover, Craggs developed a speculatively romantic relationship with the electors’ half sister, the countess Sophia Charlotte von Platen. Although the nature of their relationship beyond amicable fondness is hazy, she did provide him with the opportunity to make an acquaintance with the elector of Hanover, the future King George I. During his time in Hanover, Craggs somehow became involved in an unspecified “difference” with Emmanuel Scrope, the British envoy, to whom Craggs’s habit of incurring debt was considered embarrassing and distasteful.
Due to the invaluable information and experience that Craggs gained throughout his travels, his father, who had influence with the duke of Marlborough, decided to find a way to utilize his knowledge. James Craggs I helped secure his son, once again through his father’s relationship with Marlborough, a position as secretary to James Stanhope, the envoy to Spain, on 8 April 1708. Craggs began his duties when he arrived in Barcelona on 29 May but soon return to London in September. Due to the fact Stanhope spent most of his time on campaigns away from Spain, Craggs requested to be made a minister in Spain so he would be allowed act and speak in Stanhope’s place. Lord Godolphin and Marlborough granted these credentials to Craggs on 29 September. For the next several years, he gained important political experience through his involvement as messenger in the secretive diplomatic network between Stanhope, Marlborough, and the London ministry. Stanhope required Craggs’s services when Stanhope was in the middle of negotiations with Charles III in regards to the succession of Minorca to Britain between 1708 and 1709 but these plans were eventually abandoned. Already an experienced traveler, Craggs spent his time between Spain, Germany, the Dutch Republic, and Italy. In 1709, Stanhope was embroiled in issues with a failing Spanish campaign and was torn between remaining on the continent and returning to Parliament. Craggs, who often regarded Stanhope as a “master and best friend” (Hanham), convinced him to return to England and defend the ministry, which was “persuaded you are the properest person to justify them and put ‘em in a good light” (Hayton, 545). Craggs himself returned to London around October 1710, only to have his post in Spain annulled in 1711. From an early age, Craggs was highly aware of how his non-aristocratic birth affected his possibilities for advancement and his desire for advancement would follow him for most of his life.
Craggs the elder was highly involved with the Duke of Marlborough. At the end of the year 1711, Marlborough fell from grace, which left Craggs the elder out of a job and his son out favor. The juvenile ways of Craggs II's youth came back vigorously once Craggs had more time on his hands. His old ways led him to face off Captain Montagu in a duel after a disagreement and ended up wounding the Captain. His friendship with the Duchess of Marlborough ended with his attempted rape of one of her servants. Afterwards it appears she, not unsurprisingly, never wished to speak of hear from him again.
In the autumn general election in 1713, Craggs the younger gained a parliamentary seat in Tregony, a rotten borough in Cornwall. After his election to the Commons, Craggs joined the Hanover Club, which was founded in 1712 under the pretense of providing support for the Hanoverian succession but mostly functioned as an adjunct of Kit-Cat in order to coordinate Whig activities in Parliament and the constituencies. The members of this hebdomadal club swore to provide “all the opposition they could in their several stations” (Hayton, 1.765) to Tories and Jacobites. By 1714, Craggs had developed a friendship with Richard Steele and helped disseminate Steele’s controversial pamphlet, The Crisis. When Richard Steele was expelled from Parliament for his offense writings in favor of a Hanoverian succession, Craggs fiercely defended Steele and suggested the ministry was responsible for jeopardizing the succession. In 1714, likely due to his familiarity with Hanover, Craggs was assigned by the Privy Council to deliver the message to the Hanoverian Elector that Queen Anne was dying. The Hanoverian envoy, Bothmer, sent a letter to the Elector from London and recommended the new King reward Craggs with an office, as opposed to gold, for his fidelity.
Once the Hanoverian dynasty was established, Craggs was rewarded for his loyal support by being appointed to cofferer to the Prince of Wales. In 1715, he was reelected to Tregony and was proclaimed secretary of war two years later on 13 April 1717. Craggs did not hold this position long and resigned in December on 1717 due to the acrimonious quarrel between the king and the Prince of Wales. Nevertheless, an appointment to secretary of state for the south on 15 March 1718, which included a position on the Privy Council, made Craggs believe he was finally moving on the better things.
Craggs continued to hold Stanhope in great esteem throughout his life and once he became part of the Commons, Craggs stuck firmly with the Stanhope- Sunderland ministry. In April of 1713, Craggs joined with Robert Walpole against the Tories and the Treaty of Utrecht however, he would eventually split with Walpole. Walpole suggested in 1718 to reduce the size the standing army, to which Craggs responded that “in all wise governments, the security of the state is the rule chiefly to be regarded… after all, it is no less than a piece of justice than matter of prudence to keep up as great a number of officers as possible” (Cobbett, 7.505-506). Later that year in a debate on half-pay officers, Craggs spoke out adamantly, only to be belittled by Walpole’s mention of his lack of experience. Craggs conceded that he had not long been in office but “he was sure of, that as a novice, he would, ten years hence, be of the same opinion he was of at present, and not imitate them who changed theirs, as they were in and out of place” (Ibid, 7.534). Craggs butted heads against Walpole again in 1719 in his avid defense of the Peerage Bill, although he personally did not like the measure, while Walpole definitively argued in opposition.
In 1720, Craggs became embroiled in the South Sea scandal. He, in collaboration with John Aislabie, helped manage legislation “that converted national debt into South Sea stock” (Handley). His father was even more involved in the scandal and was accused of having received a transfer of 30,000 pounds worth of stock in 1720. His son was not a beneficiary of the stock but managed lists of subscribers and found a way to make the king’s mistresses beneficiaries. He apparently believed it would prove beneficial for the company to “have friends in the Royal Family” (Carswell, 115), so he set up subscriptions the Duchess of Kendal, her daughters by the king (referred to as her “nieces”) and Craggs’s patroness and old friend, Countess von Platen. An equivocal comment by William Shippen on 4 January 1721 implicated “there were some men in great stations… who were no less guilty than the Directors” (Cobbett, 7.693) in propagating the scandal. Reading in between the lines, Craggs boldly stated, “he was ready to give satisfaction any man that could question him, either in that House or out of it” (Ibid, 7.694). This comment was seen by Lord Molesworth as a challenge to the entire House of Commons and sent the members into an uproar. Craggs quickly attempted to clarify his comment by stating that he only meant to clear his own conduct.
Craggs passed away after a bout of smallpox on 16 February 1721, the same day the secret committee was set to present their report of their investigation of the South Sea scandal to the Commons. He was buried in Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey overnight on 2 March. Although Craggs died without a wife, he fathered a natural daughter with the actress Hester Santlow. Harriot Craggs was born around February 1713 and from the lack of sources, it appears she did not correspond with her father frequently.
“Booth , Hester (c.1690–1773),” Moira Goff in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eee ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, January 2008, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24662 (accessed February 26, 2015).
“Craggs, James, the younger (1686–1721),” Stuart Handley in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eee ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, January 2009, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6568 (accessed February 26, 2015).
Cruikshanks, S., D. Hayton, S. Handley. “Craggs, James II (1686-1721), of Jermyn Street, Westminster.” The History of Parliament. Accessed February 25, 2015. http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1690-1715/member/craggs-james-ii-1686-1721#footnote4_t6ruf6f
Hansard, Thomas Curson. Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England. London: T. C. Hansard, 1811. https://books.google.com/books?id=qjQyAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Hayton, David. The House of Commons, 1690-1715, Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. https://books.google.com/books?id=OInk_j_os8UC&pg=PA930&lpg=PA930&dq=Commons,+1715%E2%80%9354&source=bl&ots=n85p0UV1iI&sig=yWYIt98-PkrhpHJiE8JhzWKT4vI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=5d3sVLryNo-eyATYqICwCg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false
Hayton, David, Eveline Cruickshanks, and Stuart Handley. The House of Commons 1690-1715: Constituencies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. https://books.google.com/books?id=9XFwZYYl3M4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false