LEGGE, George (c.1647-91), of Pall Mall, Westminster.
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Family and Education
b. c.1647, 1st s. of William Legge I, and bro. of William Legge II. educ. Westminster; King’s, Camb. 1664. m. c. Nov. 1667, Barbara (d. 28 Jan. 1718), da. and h. of Sir Henry Archbold of Abbots Bromley, Staffs., 1s. 7da. suc. fa. 1670; cr. Baron Dartmouth 2 Dec. 1682.1
Capt. RN 1667, 1672-3; capt. of ft. 1669-78, col. 1678-9, 1685-9 (R. Fusiliers, later 7 Ft.); lt.-gov. Portsmouth 1672-3, gov. 1673-82; gen. of artillery 1678; adm. 1683-4; constable of the Tower 1685-9; adm. of the fleet Oct. 1688-9.2
Groom of the bedchamber to the Duke of York 1668-73; lt. of the Ordnance 1672-81, master 1681-9; master of the horse to the Duke of York 1673-85, (as King) 1685-Dec. 1688; PC 3 Mar. 1682-9; master, Trinity House 1683-5, elder bro. 1685-d.3
Keeper, Alice Holt and Woolmer forests, Hants 1670-d.; freeman, Portsmouth 1672, 1682, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1682; commr. for assessment, Hants and Staffs. 1673-80, Westminster 1679-80; j.p. Hants 1674-89, dep. lt. 1685-9; ld. lt. Tower Hamlets 1685-9; high steward, Kingston-upon-Thames 1685-9; recorder, Lichfield 1686-Oct. 1688; common councilman, Berwick-on-Tweed 1686-Oct. 1688; master, shipwrights’ co. of Rotherhithe, Surr. 1686-7.4
During the second Dutch war Legge first saw service as a volunteer under his cousin, Sir Edward Spragge, and was almost immediately given a commission, much to the disgust of William Penn, who had risen the hard way. He entered the Duke of York’s household and became one of his closest friends. He returned to the sea during the third Dutch war, took part in most of the engagements, and inherited from Spragge a bitter dispute with Sir Robert Holmes.5
Legge was elected for Ludgershall in 1673, no doubt chiefly on the interest of the Roman Catholic Brownes and with court backing. The original return was among those declared void by the House when it met, but he was re-elected within a week, probably unopposed. He delivered his maiden speech three days later, telling the House of desertions in the fleet ‘upon the rumour that the Parliament would give the King no money’. But he was not an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, in which he made only three more speeches and was named to seven committees. On the passing of the Test Act he succeeded the Duke of York as governor of Portsmouth. His name appeared on the Paston list, and in the 1674 session he was among those appointed to hear complaints from the Newcastle coal fleet against the pressing of seamen. In committee on 2 Nov. 1675 he urged the building of more second-rates for the navy. ‘Supposed to be a Papist’ by the author of A Seasonable Argument, though quite without grounds, he was alleged to have received £40,000 in boons. He was listed among the officials in the Commons, and noted on the working lists as possessing influence over Ranald Grahme. Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’, and his name appeared on both lists of the court party in 1678. He was appointed to the committees to consider the reports from the Admiralty and Ordnance on 7 Feb. and to examine payments due to the forces (including his own regiment) which were to be disbanded.6
Although one of the ‘unanimous club’, Legge’s exercise of government patronage at Portsmouth was undisturbed, and he was returned for the borough to the Exclusion Parliaments with colleagues of his own choice. His letter of excuse for preferring Sir John Kempthorne to the court nominee John Ernle I at the first election of 1679 was described by Henry Coventry as ‘too witty for a governor and too plain dealing for a courtier’. He was marked ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list, and in the first Exclusion Parliament was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges and to that for the reform of the bankruptcy laws. He strove to allay fears caused by the movement to Portsmouth of artillery which the Whigs claimed was more suitable for a marching army than a garrison. He told the House on 12 May that the guns were needed to prevent a surprise attack and scandalized many Members by his expressions of great respect for the Duke:
Ten times that preparation of artillery will not serve a land army. ... I am the Duke of York’s servant, and I will serve him affectionately, but I have been bred amongst them that speak no language but my own, and I will live and die as a Protestant, and am as loyal as my family has always been.
He voted against the exclusion bill, and spoke against it in the second Exclusion Parliament:
It is my misfortune to lie under the disreputation of being a Papist, but have now an opportunity of showing myself otherwise, in declaring that I am against this bill, for I think there is none but Papists that are of opinion that a man may be disinherited for his religion. I have also an opportunity to show my duty to my master, in declaring that those reproaches which have been cast upon him are in my opinion very unjust, because I believe he abhors the thoughts of doing those actions that have been imputed to him, and therefore do think it very hard that because he may differ with us in points of religion, [that] therefore his reputation should thus be called in question in this House.
In the Upper House the Earl of Salisbury urged the cancellation of his appointment as lieutenant-general of the Ordnance, on the grounds of his ‘too great addiction to the Duke’. Legge again spoke against exclusion at Oxford on 26 Mar. 1681, but was appointed to no committees in either Parliament. Throughout the crisis he remained in touch with the Duke, and retained his favour even after urging him to return to the church of his baptism. In the wreck of the Gloucester in 1682 he saved the Duke’s life by preventing with drawn sword the overcrowding of the escape boat. Raised to the peerage as Lord Dartmouth, he was entrusted with the evacuation of Tangier in 1683-4. After successfully accomplishing this mission, he made his only venture into high politics, proposing a truly national party independent of the Halifax and Sunderland factions, and ‘averse to fanaticism on one hand, and to Popery and a French interest on the other’. The scheme was enthusiastically supported by Danby, out of office since his impeachment, but its proposer lacked the strength or suppleness needed to bring it into effect.7
Although Dartmouth had had to give up his Portsmouth command, much to the Duke’s regret, when he became master-general of the Ordnance, he feasted the corporation on his way to Tangier, and was able to secure his brother’s election for the borough in 1685. His interest at Lichfield, originally acquired by marriage and strengthened by his good relations with the corporation, he gave to the candidate nominated by Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne I). From the outset of the new reign he warned the King of the danger from William of Orange, and when Dutch intentions became unmistakable he was given command of the fleet. But he failed to intercept the invaders, who landed in Torbay while the English ships lay becalmed. Dartmouth wrote to James of ‘the great torment I am in, for not being able to serve you better’. The King professed satisfaction with his admiral’s conduct, but privately referred to ‘the conflicts, which my Lady Dartmouth owned he had, betwixt his religion and loyalty’. When he refused to send the infant Prince of Wales to France, James became convinced that loyalty had been worsted. On II Dec. 1688 Dartmouth wrote to William:
Out of a duty to my country and the reformed religion of the Church of England ... I readily embrace the fair invitation given me by your highness’s particular letter ... to dispose the fleet under me to join with your highness’s.
He brought the ships back to the Nore and handed over command. In spite of the intercession of John Churchill II he was stripped of all his offices by the new regime. But he took the oath of allegiance on 2 Mar. 1689, and remained active in the Lords until denounced by Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme) for sending naval intelligence to St. Germains. He was thrown into the Tower, where he died of apoplexy on 25 Oct. 1691, aged 44. He was buried with his father at Holy Trinity. His son became a leading Tory peer in the reign of Queen Anne, and three of his grandsons sat in the Lower House under the Hanoverians.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. HMC Dartmouth i. 16; iii. 115.
- 2. Bulstrode, 120; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 526; 1672-3, p. 184; 1678, p. 148; Jan.-June 1683, p. 331; 1684, p. 388; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 373.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1672-3, p. 229; 1679-80, p. 264; 1682, p. 7; 1685, p. 8; HMC Dartmouth, iii. 114.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1671, p. 120; 1685, p. 266; 1686-7, pp. 21, 231; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 360; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 342.