Wharton, Thomas (1648–1715), 1st marquess of Wharton , lord lieutenant of Ireland, was born in August 1648 at Watford in Hertfordshire. He was the third but first surviving son of Philip, 4th Baron Wharton, and his second wife, Jane. His father was a presbyterian and Thomas, after a Calvinist education at home and at a protestant academy in Caen in Normandy (1662–4), made the grand tour (1664–6).
He entered the English house of commons in 1673 and sat as an MP in every parliament until he succeeded to his father's peerage in 1696. He was an opponent of James, duke of York (qv), and supported his exclusion from the succession. Some time after James II's appointment of Richard Talbot (qv), earl of Tyrconnell, as lord deputy of Ireland in 1687, he composed ‘Lillibulero’, a parody in doggerel of the expectations of ‘Teague’ (Tadhg), the archetypal Irishman, on hearing the news: ‘Ho! Brother Teague, dost hear de decree, / Lillibulero bullen a la; / Dat we shall have a new debittie, / Lillibulero bullen a la’. The third verse parodies Irish attitudes to law: ‘But if dispense do come from de pope / Lillibulero bullen a la; / We'll hang Magno Carto and demselves in a rope’. In the crisis of autumn 1688, ‘Lillibulero’ (or ‘Lilliburlero’) became an instant success. Regularly published and set to music by Henry Purcell, it became the marching song of the Williamite army and was played and sung at the crossing of the Boyne on 1 July 1690.
Wharton declared early for William of Orange (qv), who in February 1689 made him comptroller of the household and a member of the English privy council. In 1690, during William's war with James, he had a valuable contract to supply horses for the army in Ireland. He took a close interest in the elections for the Irish parliament in 1695, and in July travelled to Dublin to be present for the session. His presence was not welcomed by the lord deputy, Lord Capel (qv); on the death of the latter in May 1696, Wharton canvassed to be appointed in his place. King William, however, who never entirely trusted him, would not agree. His ambition to become a chief governor of Ireland or one of the secretaries of state in England was not realised during William's reign, though he held many local offices. On the death of his father on 4 February 1696 he succeeded as 5th Baron Wharton , and took his seat on 24 February in the English house of lords. He continued to have much influence in the commons, however, especially through electioneering, to which he devoted much skill and expenditure.
Wharton's puritan background influenced his political views – he made the barest pretence of conforming to the Church of England and was strongly sympathetic to dissenters – but not his personal morality. He was one of the most notorious rakes of his day, devoted to horse racing and a frequent duellist. He was obnoxious to Queen Anne who, on her accession, dismissed him from all his offices. However, as one of the leaders of the whig junto, he could not be excluded from power indefinitely. In 1706 he was appointed one of the commissioners for the union with Scotland and in December 1708 was named lord lieutenant of Ireland. His reputation always polarised opinion sharply, and his arrival in Ireland in April 1709 raised hopes among dissenters and strong whigs and apprehensions among tories and the high-flying party in the Church of Ireland. Wharton brought with him as his chief secretary the more moderate Joseph Addison (qv).
Irish presbyterians and many (but not all) Irish whigs wished to see the repeal of the test clause, which had been added to the 1704 act against the growth of popery and which excluded protestant dissenters from public office. Wharton's predecessor, the earl of Pembroke (qv), had tried unsuccessfully to obtain repeal of the test. Wharton's own efforts were stymied by the cool attitude of the Irish parliament and a lack of support from the English government. The first parliamentary session of his viceroyalty, in 1709, saw the enactment of an important new penal act, which elaborated and strengthened the popery act of 1704. By the new act, any protestant who proved evasion of the prohibitions on sale and lease of land to catholics was to be rewarded with the interest thus conveyed. The effect was to accelerate greatly the conformity of landowning catholics to the Church of Ireland.
Having declined to press the repeal of the test, Wharton engaged in no substantive contest with the established church. His viceroyalty however saw a largely symbolic controversy with the high-flying clergy of the Church of Ireland in convocation. Some of their leading figures, Francis Higgins (qv) and William Percival, were attacked in print by Wharton's chaplain, Ralph Lambert (d. 1732), whom convocation moved to censure. The dispute was terminated by the prorogation of convocation, but not before both sides had sent representatives to state their case in London. Wharton, personally and politically, was anathema to Jonathan Swift (qv), who received little encouragement from the lord lieutenant in his campaign for the remission of the first fruits. Swift, who once dubbed him ‘an atheist grafted upon a dissenter’, remained Wharton's bitter enemy after his viceroyalty.
Wharton encouraged the Irish parliament to sponsor the settlement of protestant refugees from the German Palatinate, and the general tone of his administration was the most whiggishly protestant in Anne's reign, as Capel's was in William's. In the winter of 1709–10 he undertook a purge of tories from Irish offices, replacing, for example, the solicitor general Sir Richard Levinge (qv) with John Forster (qv). But these changes of personnel were not enduring, for Wharton left Ireland in August 1710 and was soon replaced by the 2nd duke of Ormond (qv). The Irish viceroyalty was – very unusually for a political figure of such prominence and ability – the highest office enjoyed by Wharton in his career.
He was created, in 1706, Viscount Winchendon and earl of Wharton; in February 1715, marquess of Wharton and marquess of Malmesbury; and, on 12 April 1715 (the day of his death) baron of Trim, earl of Rathfarnham, and marquess of Catherlough, all the latter being in the Irish peerage.
He died at his house in Dover Street in London. He married on 16 September 1673 Anne (1659–85), younger daughter of Sir Henry Lee and Anne Danvers, daughter of Sir John Danvers, the regicide. He married secondly, in July 1692, Lucy (d. 1717), daughter and heir of Adam Loftus, Viscount Lisburne, and his wife Lucy, daughter of George Brydges, 6th Baron Chandos of Sudeley. He was survived by two daughters and a son from his second marriage. After his death, the estate at Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, which had come to him through his second marriage, was sold by his son for £62,000 to William Conolly (qv).