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Antique print of Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon -  Nash Ford PublishingHenry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon
(1638-1709)
Born: 2nd June 1638 at Westminster, Middlesex
Lord Cornbury
Earl of Clarendon
Died: 31st October 1709 at Westminster, Middlesex

Henry was the eldest son of Edward Hyde, the 1st Earl of Clarendon, and his second wife, Frances, the daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury. As Royalist exiles, both he and his brother, Laurence (later Earl of Rochester), spent part of their boyhood under their mother's care in Antwerp and Breda. Of their attachment to their father, they afterwards gave ample proof. Clarendon Senior, during several years before the Restoration, made frequent use of his eldest son as copyist, decipherer and confidential secretary, entrusting him with part of his correspondence with distant Royalists. Many of Henry Hyde's letters from this period are among the 'Clarendon Papers' in the Bodleian Library. The earliest paper in his handwriting is dated from Cologne, 2nd August 1655. His father called him 'as secret as he ought to be'.

Very soon after the return of his family to England in 1660, Hyde married Theodosia, daughter of Lord Capel and sister of the Duchess of Beaufort. He lost his wife as early as February 1662 and nearly forty years afterwards, on 17th May 1701, described to Pepys a strange supposed instance of second-sight connected with her death. In 1666, he married Flower the daughter of William Backhouse, the Rosicrucian Philosopher, and widow of her cousin, Sir William Backhouse, bart. Through her, Henry became possessed of the manor and house of Swallowfield Park in Berkshire where the two lived together for most of their lives. The second Lady Clarendon, who in her later years became first lady of the bedchamber to her niece by marriage, the Princess Anne, is tartly described by a junior colleague as one who "looked like a mad-woman and talked like a scholar".

In 1601, Lord Cornbury - Henry's title after his father's elevation to the Earldom of Clarendon that April - was elected to parliament for Wiltshire, which he continued to represent till the death of the 1st Earl in 1674. In 1662, he was appointed private secretary to the new queen, Catherine of Braganza, whose Lord Chamberlain he became in July 1665. Burnet asserts, with questionable accuracy, that she "thought herself bound to protect him in a particular manner," because of "his father being so violently prosecuted on the account of her marriage." He seems to have been a vigilant guardian of her interests, although many years later an interminable lawsuit arose between them concerning certain arrears which he considered due to himself in respect of his office. With many of the most prominent members of the court and council, however, and with the King himself, the son was no more popular than the father, whom in disposition he much resembled. The company in which he took pleasure was such as John Evelyn's who, as early as 1664, helped him to plant the park at Cornbury.

In parliament, where he spoke neither infrequently nor ineffectively, he, like his brother, courageously raised his voice on behalf of his father on the occasion of his impeachment in 1667; and, after his fall, Lord Cornbury became a steady opponent of the court party and the cabal. Not less than twenty speeches by him are extant from 1673 alone and his denunciation of the scandalous immorality of the Duke of Buckingham and his attack upon Arlington are alike to the credit of his courage. On his father's death, in 1674, he succeeded to the Earldom of Clarendon; but it was not until 1680, when the state of the parties was more equally balanced, that he was made a Privy Councillor, through the influence of Prince James, Duke of York, the husband of his sister, Anne. About the same time, he was named Keeper of Denmark (later Somerset) House and Treasurer and Receiver-General of the Queen's Revenues; and the Duke would have willingly seen him made Secretary of State. At this, as in most other seasons of his life, he seems to have been much hampered by pecuniary troubles.

The friendship of the Duke of York led to Clarendon's inclusion, with his brother, among those against whom the Commons, early in January 1681, addressed the King as persons inclined to Popery. In Clarendon's case, the accusation is absurd on the face of it, but it may for a time have stood him in good stead. His reputation for loyalty was such that he could afford to visit, in the Tower, both the Earl of Essex, in 1683, and, in the new reign, the Duke of Monmouth, and to plead the cause of Dame Alice Lisle when under sentence by Judge Jeffreys. Immediately upon the accession of the Duke of York as King James II, Clarendon had been appointed to the great office of Lord Privy Seal in the place of Halifax and, during the earlier part of the year, had, in various ways, exerted himself on behalf of the Crown.

In September 1685, Clarendon's office of Privy Seal was put into commission (Evelyn being one of the commissioners), and he was named Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. It may be, as Burnet surmises, that James reckoned on finding a subservient instrument for his Irish policy in his kinsman, the head of a broken house. But being first and foremost a protestant of the Church of England, Clarendon could not, except for purely selfish ends, fall in with the policy of governing Ireland for and by the Irish Roman Catholics. The Earl of Tyrconnel had been summoned to London from the command of the military forces in Ireland in December 1695, about the date when Clarendon set out for Dublin. The journey occupied the better part of four weeks, including Christmas festivities at Chester and a memorable crossing of Penmaenmawr, in Carnarvonshire, in three coaches and a wagon. On 9th January 1686, the new Lord-Lieutenant arrived in Dublin. He speedily found his authority overshadowed by that of the absent commander-in-chief, whose return was talked of, in London, as early as the middle of January and, in Dublin, from the beginning of March. Soon afterwards, Clarendon was bluntly apprised by Sunderland of the King's intention to introduce large numbers of Roman Catholics into the Irish judicial and administrative system, as well as into the army. Clarendon, while he sought to allay the panic which spread among the Dublin protestants, complained bitterly of the position in which he was placed. He conformed to the wishes of the King and of the extreme party, by warning bishops and preachers against offending Roman Catholic feeling and by admitting Roman Catholics as councillors and as officers of the army, as well as by urging their admission into town corporations. But he thoroughly disliked the policy, although he only permitted himself certain guarded protests against it to the King. When, in June 1686, Tyrconnel actually returned with full power as commander-in-chief, Clarendon still clung to his office, striving to keep his "natural unfortunate temper" despite manifold provocations and indignities inflicted upon "the huffing great man".

In August 1680, Tyrconnel, who had entirely transformed the army and even made a change in the command of the Lord Lieutenant's own bodyguard, visited England to obtain the King's permission for the completion of his work by undoing the Act of Settlement, which Clarendon was desirous of upholding. Clarendon sent many protests to both King and Queen during his rival's absence; but as his brother's influence visibly sank, he began to doubt whether his complaints were ever permitted to reach the King. At last, he came to the conclusion that no hope of retaining his post in Ireland remained, except through the kindness of the Queen, and even this support he feared to have forfeited for some petty reason. Not until about three weeks after the dismissal of Rochester on 8th January 1687, did he receive his letter of recall from Sunderland. Tyrconnel, who took Clarendon's place had a final interview with the outgoing viceroy on 8th February. On 21st February, Clarendon landed at Neston in Cheshire. He had taken the precaution of carrying with him the books of the stores, with the design, as Tyrconnel suggested to Dartmouth, of leaving his successor in the dark.

Clarendon, at the time, solemnly placed on record his resolution that nothing should tempt him to contribute in the least to the prejudice of the English protestant interest. His friends hoped that his Royal brother-in-law, who granted him several private audiences during the month after his arrival, would restore to him the Privy Seal. It was, however, given, on 16th March 1687, to a zealous Roman Catholic, Lord Arundell of Wardour, and Clarendon had to withdraw into private life. Evelyn, in August 1687, records a visit to Swallowfield, where Lord Cornhury was on a visit to his father. The Earl was, at the time, sorely troubled by a marriage project of his eldest son, from the difficulty of raising the sums required for a settlement on the encumbered family estates. To relieve himself of pecuniary difficulties, he engaged in speculations, ranging from the digging for coal in Windsor Forest to the traffic of Scotch pedlars. A pension of 2,000 per annum conferred on him by James II, about the beginning of 1688, was probably welcome, although Halifax thought it, inadequate. Macaulay ignored it.

Clarendon, more than ever, identified his interests with those of the church. While in Ireland, he had received a mark of confidence from Oxford by being named High Steward of the University on 5th January 1686 and, on leaving England, he had done his best to keep the ecclesiastical appointments open for better days. He advised the famous 'Bishops in the Tower' concerning their bail and was asked by Judge Jeffreys to use his good offices with Sancroft. Accordingly, the course of events soon made the Queen anxious for his countenance, for, while in Ireland, Clarendon had persistently wooed her goodwill and, in 1681, he had been placed upon her council. On 24th September 1688, the day after her friendly reception of him, Clarendon found the King himself, in view of the Dutch preparations for invasion, anxious to "see what the Church of England men will do."
"And your majesty will see that they will behave themselves like honest men, though they have been somewhat severely used of late". By-and-by, he became still more resolute and, on 22nd October, at the council summoned by the King to hear his declaration concerning the birth of the Prince of Wales, Clarendon declined to sit by the side of Father Petre, and asked to attend as a peer only. On the other hand, he seems to have loyally used his influence with the Princess Anne.

King James may have been sincere giving credence to Clarendon's assurance, on 1st November, that he had had nothing to do with the invitation to the monarch's nephew and son-in-law, the Prince of Orange, to take the Throne of England. Unfortunately, on 14th November, nine days after the landing of the Prince, followed the desertion to him of Henry's eldest son, Lord Cornbury; which was, afterwards, with some show of reason, thought, to have "begun the general defection". Clarendon immediately threw himself at the feet of the King and Queen, on 16th November, and his anguish was probably genuine, though his motives may have been more complex. His wife was not in on the secret of the flight of the Princess Anne, in which, according to the Duchess of Marlborough, he would have well liked to have had a chance of sharing. In the council of peers, called by the King, upon his return, on 27th November, to discuss the question of summoning a free parliament, Clarendon inveighed unsparingly against the Royal policy; and, on 1st December, he set out for Salisbury to make his peace with William of Orange. Two days later, he had an interview with the Prince at Berwick, near Hindon, and speedily made up his mind, with a view to the interests of his family as well as to the destinies of the country, to tender his support to him. He was present at the Hungerford Conference, which took place at the Bear Inn in that town on 8th December, and followed the advance of the Prince as far as Henley, where, on 13th December, he obtained leave of absence, wearily informing his friend, the Bishop of Ely that "all was naught". By the Prince's desire, he waited on him again at Windsor Castle on 16th December, and took heart to present to him, his brother, Rochester. It was at the conference held at Windsor that Clarendon is said to have suggested the confinement of King James II to the Tower of London; while, according to Burnet and improved by Macaulay, he proposed his relegation to Breda. He himself distinctly declares that, except at the Windsor meeting, he had never been present at any discourse concerning what should be done with King James, but that he was against the King being sent away. He was certainly now fully alive to the gravity of the crisis, though he may have doubted whether or not he ought to "kick against the pricks"; but such efforts as he made to warn the unfortunate King against being hurried into an irretraceable step were frustrated by his flight of which he was informed by the Prince himself.

Under the new regime, Clarendon, at first, continued to bear himself as the representative of the protestant interest in Ireland and, early in 1689, had several interviews on their behalf with King William. Indeed, Burnet affirms that Clarendon's hopes were set on a return to Dublin, but that Tyrconnel's agents found means to frighten William III into altogether declining to discuss Irish affairs with Clarendon, who thereupon took his revenge by "reconciling himself to King James." He certainly both repudiated the whig assumption of 'abdication' and the settlement of the Crown upon William and Mary, speaking with vehemence against this measure in Parliament and, afterwards, refused to take the oaths to the new government. He remonstrated with his younger niece, Anne, as to her unconcern for her father's misfortunes; while, with the loss of Queen Mary's favour he, of course, abandoned all present prospect of office.

Clarendon spent part of the Summer of 1689 "for his health" at Tunbridge Wells and was, at other times in the year, "diverting himself" at Swallowfield, Cornbury, and Oxford. Early in 1690, King William, specially irritated by reports that Clarendon had represented him as averse to the interests of the church, informed Rochester that, but for the Queen's sake, he would have excepted him, on account of Clarendon's cabals, from the act of grace. Not long afterwards, these suspicions took a more definite shape. Clarendon was in frequent intercourse with Richard Graham, Lord Preston, who was plotting in behalf of King James. On 21st June, by the express direction of Queen Mary, who wrote to the absent King that she was "sorrier than it may well be believed" for her uncle, he was placed under arrest and, on the following day, lodged in the Tower. Here he remained, under not especially considerate treatment, although his wife bore him company for a time, till 15th August. After his liberation, the threads of the conspiracy, the nucleus of which seems to have consisted entirely of protestants, were resumed. When Lord Preston was on his way to St. Germains, he was arrested on the Thames on 31st December 1690 and the letters found upon him included one from Clarendon to King James, expressing a hope that the marriage he had been negotiating would soon "come off" and adding, "Your relations have been very hard on me this last Summer. Yet, as soon as I could go safely abroad, I pursued the business". Preston afterwards named Clarendon among his accomplices and reaffirmed this statement before King William. Clarendon, who, after being examined before the cabinet council on 4th January 1691, had been once more consigned to the Tower, remained there for several months. His wife was, once more, his companion during part of his confinement and, as on the previous occasion, he was visited by Rochester, Lord Cornbury and John Evelyn. In the July, he was allowed to go for air into the country under care of his warder; and his release on bail soon followed.

The remainder of Clarendon's life was passed in tranquillity at his residences in the country. Cornbury was, in 1694 owing to his pecuniary difficulties, denuded of many of the pictures collected by his father and of at least a great part of its library; and, in 1697, or shortly before, was sold by Clarendon to Rochester, though to spare his pride the sale was kept a secret till his death. Of the publication (1702-1704) of the first edition, in three volumes, of the 'History of the Rebellion' by its author's sons, the chief credit belongs to Rochester; but Clarendon took a great interest in the work. In 1704, he presented Evelyn with the three printed volumes.

Clarendon died on 31st October 1709. He has no pretensions to eminence as a statesman; but it is unnecessary to follow Macaulay in concluding private interest to have been the primary motive of his public conduct, or to accept all the cavils of Burnet against a man whom he evidently hated. A Church of England tory of a narrow type, he was genuinely trusted by the great interest with which, on both sides of St. George's Channel, inherited sentiment and personal conviction identified him. At the time of the catastrophe of King James' reign, he probably drifted further in opposition than he had intended; but there is no proof that he set great hopes for his own future upon the new government and then became a conspirator through disappointment. In his 'Diary (1687-1690) and Correspondence,' which, with the letters of his younger brother, Rochester, first appeared in 1828, he appears as a respectable man, devoid neither of principle nor of prejudice, without any striking capacity for the management of affairs of state, and with none at all for the management of his own, at times querulous, and occasionally, as was natural in the friend of so many bishops, rather unctuous in tone. In Macky's 'Characters,' he is said to have "wit, but affectation." Of his literary tastes, his correspondence with John Evelyn furnishes some illustrations. He had a remarkably fine collection of medals and was author of the 'History and Antiquities of the Cathedral Church at Winchester' (1715). Lely's portrait of Clarendon (when Lord Cornbury) and of his first wife Theodosia, at the Grove, Watford, is described as one of this painter's best pictures. He was succeeded in both his title and his estates by his eldest son, Edward.

Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1891)

     

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