Annesley, Francis (1663–1750), barrister and politician, was born 14 October 1663, eldest son of the Hon. Francis Annesley (1628–a.1705) of Castlewellan, Co. Down, and his wife Deborah (d. 1672), daughter of Henry Jones (qv), bishop of Meath, and widow of John Bowdler of Dublin. He had two brothers and five sisters. Having attended school with Dr Wetenhall, Annesley entered TCD on 5 May 1679, and received his BA in 1682. In 1684 he entered the Inner Temple in London; he was called to the bar in 1690, became a bencher in 1713, and was made LLB and LLD in 1725.
It is uncertain whether it was Annesley himself or his father who was elected MP for Bangor in the short-lived parliament of 1692. Following the precipitate prorogation of that assembly in November 1692 over the ‘sole right’ claim, the Bangor MP was one of four ‘sole right’ advocates who petitioned the lord lieutenant, Henry Sidney (qv), Viscount Sidney, for permission to travel to England in order to make a representation on the state of Irish affairs. To add to the confusion it has been suggested that the Francis Annesley who, along with several other Irish MPs, gave evidence during the Westminster parliament's ensuing inquiry in 1693 into the state of Ireland was in fact a cousin, who was elected MP for New Ross in 1695.
Annesley married Elizabeth Martin, daughter of a leading London merchant, Joseph Martin, in July 1695. The connection was a lucrative one, which not only introduced him into the whiggish moneyed interest in England, but also resulted in his appointment in 1700 as one of the directors of the New East India Company. However, Annesley's credentials as a whig were becoming suspect, and in the later 1690s he moved ever closer to the tories in politics, not least because of his growing concerns over Scottish presbyterian influence in Ulster.
In the general election of 1695, Annesley was returned as MP for Downpatrick. Although most of the ‘sole right’ MPs had entered into an understanding with Ireland's whig lord deputy, Henry Capel (qv), Annesley was numbered among the small opposition to the newly enlarged court party, and even stood, unsuccessfully, against the court's candidate for the speakership. Described as ‘a good ingenious gentleman of the north’ (BL, Add. MS 28879, f. 104), he was an active MP and was appointed to the first official committee of public accounts on 9 September 1695. In 1696 he signed the parliamentary association for the protection of William III (qv).
Annesley also pursued an active legal career in London. In 1697 he became counsel for William King (qv), bishop of Derry, in his case against the Irish Society of London. Around the same time it was reported that he planned to take issue with various grants made from the estates in Ireland forfeited to the crown following the war of 1689–91. Over the next few years this interest in the forfeited estates was to propel Annesley to centre stage – and to public notoriety – in Irish political life.
Increasing discontent in the Westminster parliament over William's grants from the Irish forfeitures to his personal favourites resulted in the appointment in 1699 of a parliamentary commission of inquiry. Annesley was one of the seven people appointed for this task, and, like his fellow commissioners, was most probably chosen because his previous actions suggested he would be supportive of the English parliament's demand for the resumption of all the forfeitures for the benefit of the public purse. Unfortunately, the seven commissioners, six of whom were members of the Irish parliament, split into two groups. Nine books of statistical data on the forfeited estates and a separate report were presented to the Westminster parliament by Annesley on 15 December 1699. While eight of the books were signed by all seven commissioners, the ninth (on the private estate of James II (qv)) and the report itself were signed by only four of the commissioners, of whom Annesley was one. The other three entered a minority protest. The report was damning of the government's handling of the forfeitures, a conclusion which suited the aims of the tories in the Westminster parliament.
In March 1700 Annesley was appointed one of the thirteen trustees for the forfeitures in accordance with the provisions of the Westminster parliament's Act of Resumption, which had resulted from the findings of the 1699 commission of inquiry. As a trustee, Annesley kept copies of their proceedings, which, along with his records of the inquiry commissioners, provide the most comprehensive account of the Williamite forfeitures in Ireland. (The Annesley manuscripts were preserved initially at Castlewellan and are in the possession of the PRONI.)
Annesley was one of the most active trustees, making several trips to London in 1701–2 to report on proceedings in Ireland. While in London he also acted as advisor and solicitor for a variety of people, including Bishop King, who were petitioning for legislation to exempt them from the effects of the Act of Resumption. Annesley's activities as a trustee identified him in Ireland not only with the English tories, but also with an apparent anti-Irish sentiment in England. Coupled with the discontent that the proceedings of the trustees provoked among Irish protestants in general, it was not surprising that Annesley was targeted when a new Irish parliament convened in 1703.
Elected once again for Downpatrick, he lasted only a week as an MP. On 28 September he was questioned in the house of commons over his part in writing a paragraph in the 1699 report on the Irish forfeitures, which suggested that, owing to their dislike of the disposition of the forfeitures, their ‘new’ friendship with the ‘Irish', and their ‘inter-purchasing with one another', the protestant freeholders of Ireland were ‘scarce willing to find any person guilty of the late rebellion, even upon full evidence'. The commons concluded that this statement ‘scandalously and maliciously misrepresented and traduced the Protestant freeholders of this kingdom, and thereby endeavoured to create a misunderstanding and jealousy between the people of England and the Protestants of this kingdom’ (Commons’ jn. Ire., iii, 22–3). It was therefore resolved that Annesley be expelled from the house for his part in the writing of the said passage of the report.
Thereafter Annesley put his energies into advancing his political career in England. Initially he acted as an agent in London for the Irish administration of the duke of Ormond (qv), but in 1705 he was elected to the Westminster parliament for Preston, Lancashire, an event that represented the start of a long career in English and British politics. Having represented Preston until 1708, he then sat for Westbury, Wiltshire, until 1715. In 1711 he was appointed to the commission for public accounts, served as a commissioner for taking subscriptions to the tory-inspired South Sea Company, and was also appointed as a commissioner for the building of fifty new churches in London. By 1712 he was considered to be one of the leading members of the tory October Club. After a brief return to Irish politics, with his election as MP for Downpatrick for the short-lived parliament of 1713–14, Annesley was one of the group known as the ‘Hanoverian tories’ in England during 1714. He was unseated on petition following his election in 1715. He was once again elected for Westbury in 1722, and continued to sit for that constituency until 1734. By that time he had become a permanent absentee from Ireland. He died 7 April 1750.
Annesley and his first wife, Elizabeth Martin, had seven sons and two daughters. In 1732 Annesley married his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Cropley of Rochester, and widow of William Gomeldon of Summerfield Hall, Kent. In 1737 he was married for a third time, to Sarah, daughter of William Sloane of Portsmouth, and widow of Sir Richard Fowler bt of Harnage Grange, Shropshire. Apart from the family properties in Castlewellan and Thorganby, Yorkshire, Annesley also inherited the unentailed English estates of his cousin Arthur Annesley, 5th earl of Anglesey, in 1737, and made further land purchases in both Ireland and England.