Temple, Sir William (1628–99), author and diplomat, was born 25 April 1628 in Blackfriars, London, eldest son of Sir John Temple (qv), master of the rolls for Ireland and author of The Irish rebellion (1646), and his wife Mary Hammond of Chertsey, Surrey. His grandfather, Sir William Temple (qv), had been provost of TCD. The eldest of seven children, Temple was educated at Bishop's Stortford school, Hertfordshire, and entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, on 13 August 1644. He took no degree, and travelled in Europe afterwards (1648–54), marrying Dorothy Osborne, of Chicksands, Bedfordshire, on 25 December 1654. Of a number of children, two daughters and a son survived to adulthood.
Temple moved to Ireland c.1655, dividing his time between Dublin and his father's estate in Carlow. He later claimed to have been unwilling to accept office under the commonwealth, but equally, none was offered. Uninvolved in politics, Temple read extensively, later attributing the basis of his learning to his time in Carlow. Elected to the 1660 convention for Carlow (apparently without foreknowledge), Temple was involved in drawing up its declaration of grievances in March 1660, being chosen to present it to the English council of state. Alongside his father, he was elected to the Irish parliament for Carlow in 1661. He acted as emissary from the commons to the lords, and in the first session was appointed to a variety of committees on customs, security, the act of settlement, and parliamentary dealings with both the lords and the king. On 3 July 1661 he became one of the parliamentary agents to the king, being introduced at court by James Butler (qv), duke of Ormond; he soon overcame Ormond's hostility to his father. After his return to Ireland, his committee service acquainted him with Sir William Petty (qv), who influenced him greatly. Temple left Ireland after the prorogation of May 1663, intent on a diplomatic career, but in March 1664 his father, while ill, requested that he succeed him as master of the rolls in Ireland. Temple was apparently unaware of this, but was strongly recommended by Ormond, who also aided him in his diplomatic career. The patent for the office (in reversion) was delayed as Sir Maurice Eustace (qv) had a claim on it, but the patent was confirmed in May by order of the king.
After a mission to the prince-bishop of Munster in June 1665, Temple was appointed resident in Brussels (October 1665), and recommended by Ormond for a baronetcy (February 1666). He enjoyed a successful diplomatic career, serving two terms as ambassador to The Hague; he was a key figure in negotiating the 1668 triple alliance during his first term (1668–71), and in negotiating the 1677 marriage of William of Orange (qv) and Princess Anne during his second (1674–9). Despite occasional visits, his contacts with Ireland after 1663 were tangential at best, most evidently taking the form of two unpublished treatises. The first, ‘An essay upon the present state and settlement of Ireland’ (c.1668), addressed to his patron Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, dealt with the settlement of the 1660s and its flaws. Temple astutely perceived the divisive nature of the land settlement; while opposed to further alteration, he perceived the necessity for some kind of final settlement. Given the connections between finance, security, and investment, he argued that only a secure government, with a strong financial base, could provide the necessary confidence to ensure immigration and investment. A streamlined, highly trained, 4,000-strong standing army was to be created, and protestant immigration, alongside further plantation in the counties of Wicklow, Kildare, Carlow, and Waterford, was to be promoted. Aware that, through both division and incompetence, the Irish exchequer needed to be propped up by English subvention, and slightly wary of the Irish parliament, Temple advocated the takeover of Irish offices by English appointees, ‘to own and support upon all occasions that which is truly a loyal English protestant interest, and to make it as comprehensive as can be’ (Select letters, 213). Foreshadowing issues that prevented the calling of an Irish parliament in 1677–81, Temple's essay essentially advocated recolonisation under strong Irish government, subordinate to English control. This period was an interlude in his diplomatic career, and facilitated literary endeavour. In May 1670 Temple offered advice on Irish industry to the then viceroy, Lord Berkeley of Stratton (qv); while he was serving as ambassador at The Hague, Dutch merchants had highlighted the relative underperformance of the Irish economy. Temple expanded on this in his second major treatise, ‘An essay on the advancement of trade in Ireland’ (c.July 1673), addressed to the viceroy, Arthur Capel (qv), earl of Essex. He stressed the financial implications of his previous analysis: lack of trade was due to a lack of people, a situation compounded by the disruption of war, and factional division, as exacerbated by court politics. His extensive recommendations for the improvement of the Irish economy were dependent on strong and financially secure government, an evident continuity.
On his father's death (November 1677) Temple became master of the rolls for Ireland, but (because of his diplomatic post) received a three-year exemption, the office being administered by Ralph Wallis and Andrew Ram (d. 1698). In September 1678 Ormond noted the dissatisfaction abroad at the remarkable profits Temple and his brother Sir John Temple (qv), the solicitor general, were likely to make from their posts. He returned to England in February 1679, being suggested as a possible secretary of state. Instrumental in remodelling the privy council in April 1679, Temple was again exempted as master of the rolls in September 1680 due to his possible appointment as ambassador to Spain, the office going instead to John Bennett; in May 1679 he had stressed to Ormond his lack of knowledge on current Irish affairs. In the latter half of 1680, during the exclusion crisis, Temple proved a loyal advocate of Ormond in London, sitting on the privy council and occasionally attending the committee for Irish affairs; he strongly opposed the proposals of Sir James Shaen (qv) for the Irish revenue in September 1680. Election for Cambridge in the second exclusion parliament precluded appointment to Spain, and he was struck off the privy council in January 1681 as a supporter of Robert Spencer, earl of Sunderland. He was appointed as a commissioner for defective titles in Ireland in March 1683, being reappointed master of the rolls in 1685. Temple lost the latter post in 1689 under James II (qv), but was reinstated by William, with whom he had a strong relationship. He declined further service under William, requesting instead an office for his son John and retiring to Moor Park, his estate in Farnham, Surrey. As secretary of war in 1689, John Temple recommended that Richard Hamilton (qv) be released to negotiate with Richard Talbot (qv), earl of Tyrconnell, in Ireland, but he committed suicide after Hamilton's subsequent defection.
In retirement, Temple employed Jonathan Swift (qv). It has been suggested that Temple was actually Swift's father; there was certainly a connection through Dorothy Temple. Their relationship was turbulent, but was one of mutual regard: Temple was a major influence on Swift, inspiring elements of A tale of a tub (1704) (which he helped revise) and The battle of the books (1704). He used his influence to obtain Swift's Oxford MA, but his reluctance to press for employment for Swift may have contributed to the latter's entry into the church. At Moor Park Swift tutored and met Esther Johnson (qv) (‘Stella’), the daughter of Temple's steward, and aided Temple in preparing his considerable writings and memoirs for publication, becoming his unofficial literary executor.
On 29 May 1696 Temple finally relinquished the office of master of the rolls. He died at Moor Park on 27 January 1699, and was buried in Westminster abbey, though his heart was buried beneath a sundial in his garden. His baronetcy became extinct on his death. Two portraits of Temple, one after the style of Sir Peter Lely and one by Caspar Netscher, are held in the National Portrait Gallery, London. A substantial collection of his personal papers is retained in the Palmerston papers in the University of Southampton.