Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Rochester
KG PC
Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester.jpg
Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, by Willem Wissing (c. 1685-1687).
First Lord of the Treasury
In office
1679–1684
Monarch Charles II
Preceded by The Earl of Essex
Succeeded by The Lord Godolphin
Lord President of the Council
In office
1684–1685
Monarch Charles II
Preceded by The Earl of Radnor
Succeeded by The Marquess of Halifax
Lord High Treasurer
In office
1685–1686
Monarch James II
Preceded by
Succeeded by
The Lord Belasyse
as Lord High Treasurer Commission
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
1700–1703
Monarch
  • Charles II
  • James II
Preceded by Lords Justices
Succeeded by The Duke of Ormonde
Lord President of the Council
In office
1710–1711
Monarch Anne
Preceded by The Lord Somers
Succeeded by
Personal details
Born March 1642
England
Died 2 May 1711
London, England
Resting place Westminster Abbey
Political party Tory
Children Henry Hyde
Religion Anglican

Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester KG PC (March 1642 – 2 May 1711) was an English statesman and writer. He was originally a supporter of James II but later supported the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

Early life[edit]

The second son of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon and his wife, Frances Aylesbury, Hyde was a near contemporary of King Charles II of England. He was baptized at St Margaret's, Westminster on 15 March 1642.[1]

Following the Restoration, he sat as member of parliament, first for Newport, Cornwall and later for the University of Oxford, from 1660 to 1679.[1]

In 1661, he was sent on a complimentary embassy to Louis XIV of France, while he held the court post of Master of the Robes from 1662 to 1675.

In 1665, he married Lady Henrietta Boyle (died 1687), daughter of Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington and Cork.

When his father was impeached in 1667, Laurence joined his elder brother, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, in defending him in Parliament, but the fall of Clarendon did not injuriously affect the fortunes of his sons. They were united with the royal family through the marriage of their sister, Anne, with the future King James II, making her Duchess of York.

In 1676, Laurence Hyde was sent as ambassador to Poland; he then travelled to Vienna, whence he proceeded to Nijmwegen to take part in the peace congress as one of the English representatives.

Early career[edit]

Having returned to England, he entered the new parliament, which met early in 1679, as member for Wootton Bassett; in November 1679 he was appointed First Lord of the Treasury, and for a few years he was the principal adviser of Charles II. Hyde was an opponent of the Exclusion Bill that would have prevented James, Duke of York from acceding to the throne.[2]

He was created Earl of Rochester, Viscount Hyde of Kenilworth, and Baron Wotton Basset on 29 November 1682. Compelled to join in arranging the treaty of 1681, by which Louis XIV agreed to pay a subsidy to Charles, he was simultaneously imploring William, Prince of Orange, to save Europe from the ambitions of the French monarch.

Rochester's enemy Lord Halifax called for an inquiry into Rochester's stewardship of the finances and it was found that £40,000 had been lost by mismanagement. As a consequence Rochester was, in August 1684, removed from office and given the post Lord President of the Council, a more dignified but less lucrative and important office. Halifax said: "I have seen people kicked down stairs but my Lord Rochester is the first person that I ever saw kicked up stairs".[3]

Reign of James II[edit]

Although appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Rochester did not take up this position; he was still President of the Council when James II became king in February 1685, and he was at once appointed to the important office of Lord Treasurer. But in spite of their family relationship and their long friendship, James and his Treasurer did not agree. The king wished to surround himself with Roman Catholic advisers; the Earl, on the other hand, looked with alarm on his master's leanings to that form of faith.

In 1686, James tried to convert Rochester to Catholicism and every audience Rochester had with the king was spent in arguments over the authority of the Church and the worship of images. Rochester had interviews with Catholic divines in order to appear open-minded but he refused to convert. The king agreed to a conference between Catholic and Protestant divines in a formal disputation. James allowed Rochester to choose any Anglican ministers except John Tillotson and Edward Stillingfleet. Rochester chose two chaplains who happened to be in waiting, Simon Patrick and William Jane. The conference was held in secret on 30 November at Whitehall and the divines discussed the real presence, with the Catholics taking on the burden of proof. Patrick and Jane said little, with Rochester defending the Anglican position. At one point Rochester lost his temper and angrily asked whether it was expected that he would convert on so frivolous grounds. He then composed himself, knowing how much he was risking, and complemented the divines and requested that he be given time to digest what was said. James knew now that Rochester did not intend to be convinced.[4]

News of the conference leaked and Tory churchmen were shocked that Rochester might have wavered in his faith. Rochester requested another conference and James consented. Rochester let it be known to influential Catholics at court that he would do everything they requested (except convert) so long as he remained in office. He told them that as a Protestant he would prove more useful to them as a Catholic. However on 17 December James called Rochester into an audience and told him that so high an office of Lord Treasurer could not be held by a staunch Anglican under a Catholic monarch. James asked him to think again on his refusal to convert but Rochester would not and on 4 January 1687 he was dismissed. However he received a pension of approximately £4000 per annum and £40,000 and estates from a convicted traitor.[5]

In October 1687, James asked the Lord Lieutenants to provide three standard questions to all members of the Commission of the Peace: would they consent to the repeal of the Test Act and the penal laws; would they assist candidates who would do so; and would they accept the Declaration of Indulgence. As Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Rochester eagerly pursued this but was told by the county squires that they would send no man to Parliament who would vote away the safeguards of the Protestant religion.[6]

Glorious Revolution[edit]

On 5 November 1688, William, Prince of Orange landed at Torbay. Rochester was a leading voice for the calling of a free and legal Parliament and that negotiations should be opened with William. James replied to this petition that he wished for a free Parliament but would only call one after William had left England, declaring that so as long as he was present a free Parliament was impossible as William could command nearly one hundred votes.[7] At the council of Lords held by James, Rochester defended the petition and declared that he saw no hope for king and country except through a Parliament. He added that negotiations should be opened with William.[8]

Rochester opposed the election of William and Mary as king and queen, raising his voice for the establishment of a regency on behalf of the exiled James.[9] But he soon reconciled himself to the new order, perhaps because he could not retain his pension unless he took the oaths of allegiance.[10] After this he was quickly in the royal favour and again a member of the Privy Council. He advised the queen in ecclesiastical matters, and returned to his former position as the leader of the High Church party.

Later life[edit]

From December 1700 until February 1703 he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, although he did not spend much time in that country, and the concluding years of his public life were mainly passed in championing the interests of the Church. In 1710 he was again made Lord President of the Council. On his death, he was succeeded by his only son, Henry (1672–1758), who in 1724 inherited the earldom of Clarendon. When Henry died without issue on 10 December 1758, all his titles became extinct.

Literature[edit]

Laurence Hyde had some learning and a share of his father's literary genius. The main employment of his old age was the preparation for the press of his father's History of the Rebellion, to which he wrote a preface in which he expounded his Tory philosophy.[11]

Legacy[edit]

Thomas Macaulay in his History of England said of Rochester:

He had excellent parts, which had been improved by parliamentary and diplomatic experience; but the infirmities of his temper detracted much from the effective strength of his abilities. Negotiator and courtier as he was, he never learnt the art of governing or of concealing his emotions. When prosperous, he was insolent and boastful; when he sustained a check, his undisguised mortification doubled the triumph of his enemies: very slight provocations sufficed to kindle his anger; and when he was angry he said bitter things which he forgot as soon as he was pacified, but which others remembered many years. His quickness and penetration would have made him a consummate man of business but for his selfsufficiency and impatience. His writings prove that he had many of the qualities of an orator: but his irritability prevented him from doing himself justice in debate: for nothing was easier than to goad him into a passion; and, from the moment when he went into a passion, he was at the mercy of opponents far inferior to him in capacity. Unlike most of the leading politicians of that generation, he was a consistent, dogged, and rancorous party man, a Cavalier of the old school, a zealous champion of the Crown and of the Church, and a hater of Republicans and Nonconformists. He had consequently a great body of personal adherents. The clergy especially looked on him as their own man, and extended to his foibles an indulgence of which, to say the truth, he stood in some need, for he drank deep, and when was in a rage—and he very often was in a rage—he swore like a porter.[12]

In John Dryden's satire, Absalom and Achitophel, he is "Hushai," the friend of David in distress.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Speck 2008.
  2. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 127.
  3. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 136.
  4. ^ Macaulay 1889, pp. 401–402.
  5. ^ Macaulay 1889, pp. 402–403.
  6. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 489.
  7. ^ Macaulay 1889, pp. 575–576.
  8. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 584.
  9. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 637.
  10. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 671.
  11. ^ Speck, W. A. (1970). Tory & Whig. The Struggle in the Constituencies. 1701-1715. London: Macmillan. p. 90. 
  12. ^ Macaulay 1889, p. 125.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Rochester
1682–1711
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Henry Hyde