Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers
Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers PC (ca. 1654 – 18 August 1712) was the second son of Thomas, 3rd Earl; and after the death about 1680 of his elder brother Thomas, styled Viscount Colchester, he was designated by that title until he succeeded to the peerage.
Early in life Richard Savage acquired notoriety by his dare-devilry and dissipation, and he was, too, one of the most conspicuous rakes in the society of the period. After becoming Lord Colchester on his brother's death he entered Parliament as member for Wigan in 1681 and procured a commission in the Horseguards under Sarsfield in 1686. He was the first nobleman and one of the first persons who joined the Prince of Orange on his landing in England, and he accompanied William to London.
Obtaining promotion in the army, he served with distinction in the Williamite war in Ireland and in the Netherlands. and was made Major-General in 1698 and Lieutenant-General in 1702. In 1694 he succeeded his father as 4th Earl Rivers. He served abroad in 1702 under Marlborough, who formed a high opinion of his military capacity and who recommended him for the command of a force for an invasion of France in 1706. The expedition was eventually diverted to Portugal, and Rivers, finding himself superseded before anything was accomplished, returned to England, where Marlborough procured for him a command in the cavalry.
The favour shown him by Marlborough did not deter Rivers from paying court to the Tories when it became evident that the Whig ascendancy was waning, and his appointment as constable of the Tower in 1710 on the recommendation of Harley and without Marlborough's knowledge was the first unmistakable intimation to the Whigs of their impending fall. Rivers now met with marked favour at court, being entrusted with a delicate mission to the Elector of Hanover in 1710, which was followed by his appointment in 1711 as Master-General of the Ordnance, a post hitherto held by Marlborough himself.
Swift, who was intimate with him, speaks of him as an arrant knave; but the dean may have been disappointed at being unmentioned in Rivers's will, for he made a fierce comment on the earl's bequests to his mistresses and his neglect of his friends. In June 1712 Rivers was promoted to the rank of general, and became commander-in-chief in England; he died a few weeks later, on 18 August 1712.
He married in 1679 Penelope, daughter of Roger Downes, by whom he had a daughter Elizabeth, who married the 4th Earl of Barrymore. He also left several illegitimate children, two of whom were by Anne, countess of Macclesfield. Rivers' intrigue with Lady Macclesfield was the cause of that lady's divorce from her husband in 1701. Richard Savage, the poet, claimed identity with Lady Macclesfield's son by Lord Rivers, but though his story was accepted by Dr Johnson and was generally believed, the evidence in its support is faulty in several respects. As Rivers left no legitimate son the earldom passed on his death to his cousin, John Savage, grandson of the 2nd earl, and a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, on whose death, about 1735, all the family titles became extinct.
- William Coxe, Memoirs of Marlborough (3 vols., London, 1818);
- Letters and Despatches of Marlborough, 1702-1712, vol. v., edited by Sir George Murray (5 vols., London, 1845);
- Gilbert Burnet, History of his own Time (6 vols., Oxford, 1833);
- FW Wynn, History of Great Britain during the Reign of Queen Anne (2 vols., London, 1876);
- GEC, Complete Peerage, vol. vi. (London, 1895).