Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Aylesford
He was second son of Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Nottingham, he was educated at Westminster School and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 18 November 1664. In 1673, he became a barrister of the Inner Temple; king's counsel and bencher in 1677; and in 1679, during the chancellorship of his father, was appointed Solicitor General, being returned to parliament for Oxford University, and in 1685 for Guildford.
In 1682, he represented the crown in the attack upon the corporation of London, and next year in the prosecution of Lord Russell, when, according to Gilbert Burnet, and in several other trials afterwards, he showed more of a vicious eloquence in turning matters with some subtlety against the prisoners than of strict or sincere reasoning. He does not, however, appear to have exceeded the duties of prosecutor for the crown as they were then understood. In 1684, in the trial of Algernon Sidney, he argued that the unpublished treatise of the accused was an overt act, and supported the opinion of Jeffreys that scribere est agere (to write is to act). The same year he was counsel for James II in his successful action against Titus Oates for libel, and in 1685 prosecuted Oates for the crown for perjury.
Finch, however, though a Tory and a crown lawyer, was a staunch churchman, and on his refusal in 1686 to defend the royal dispensing power he was summarily dismissed by James. He was the leading counsel in June 1688 for the Seven Bishops, when he strangely exposed and very boldly ran down the dispensing power, but his mistaken tactics were nearly the cause of his clients losing their case.
He sat again for Oxford University in the convention parliament, which constituency he represented in all the following assemblies except that of 1698, till his elevation to the peerage. He was, however, no supporter of the House of Orange, advocated a regency in James's name, and was one of the few who in the House of Commons opposed the famous vote that James had broken the contract between king and people and left the throne vacant. He held no office during William's reign, and is described by John Macky as always a great opposer of the administration.
In 1689, he joined in voting for the reversal of Lord Russell's attainder, and endeavoured to defend his conduct in the trial, but was refused a hearing by the House. He opposed the Triennial Bill of 1692, but in 1696, spoke against the bill of association and test, which was voted for the king's protection, on the ground that though William was to be obeyed as sovereign he could not be acknowledged rightful and lawful king. In 1694, he argued against the crown in the bankers case.
In 1703, he was created Baron Guernsey and a privy councillor, and after the accession of George I in 1714, Earl of Aylesford, being reappointed a privy councillor and made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which office he retained till February 1716. He died on 22 July 1719.
He married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Banks of Aylesford, by whom, besides six daughters, he had three sons, of whom the eldest, Heneage, succeeded him as 2nd earl of Aylesford. The 2nd earl died in 1757, and since this date the earldom has been held by his direct descendants, six of whom in succession have borne the Christian name of Heneage.
Some of his children with Elizabeth Banks were:
- Heneage Finch, 2nd Earl of Aylesford (c. 1683-29 Jun 1757)
- Lady Anne Finch (d. 30 Nov 1751)
- Hon. John Finch
- Lady Frances Finch (d.c. 21 Mar 1759)
- Lady Elizabeth Finch (c. 1679-26 Feb 1757)
According to John Macky (Memoirs, p. 71; published by Roxburghe Club, 1895) he was accounted one of the greatest orators in England and a good common lawyer; a firm asserter of the prerogative of the crown and jurisdiction of the church; a tall, thin man. He was eloquent, industrious, and judicious, with inflexible integrity.
Many of his legal arguments are printed in State Trials (see esp. viii. 694, 1087, ix. 625, 880, 996, X. 126, 319, 405, 1199, xii. 183, 353, 365). Wood attributes to him on the faith of common rumour the authorship of An Antidote against Poison . . .Remarks upon a Paper printed by Lady (Rachel) Russel (1683), ascribed in State Trials (ix. 710) to Sir Bartholomew Shower; but see the latter's allusion to it on p. 753. In Hist. of His Own Times, i. 556. Swift has appended a note, an arrant rascal, but Finch's great offence with the dean was probably his advancement by George I. rather than his conduct of state trials as here described.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aylesford, Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- "Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Aylesford". thepeerage.com. 29 Jan 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.