SAVILE, Sir George, 4th Bt. (1633-95), of Rufford Abbey, Notts. and Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 11 Nov. 1633, 1st s. of Sir William Savile, 3rd Bt., of Rufford and Thornhill, Yorks. by Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Coventry†, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, ld. keeper 1625-40; bro. of Henry Savile. educ. Shrewsbury 1643; privately (Eleazar Duncon, DD); travelled abroad (France and Italy) by 1647-52. m. (1) 29 Dec. 1656 (with £10,000), Lady Dorothy Spencer (d. 16 Dec. 1670), da. of Henry, 1st Earl of Sunderland, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 1 da.; (2) Nov. 1672, Gertrude (d. 1 Oct. 1727), da. of Hon. William Pierrepont of Thoresby, Notts., 1da. suc. fa. 25 Jan. 1644; cr. Visct. Halifax 13 Jan. 1668, Earl of Halifax 16 July 1679, Mq. of Halifax 22 Aug. 1682.1
Commr. for militia, Yorks. Mar. 1660; j.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) Mar. 1660-d., Notts. July 1660-d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Midland and Northern circuits July 1660; assessment W. Riding and Notts. Aug. 1660-8, sewers, Hatfield Chase Aug. 1660; dep. lt. (W. Riding) c. Aug. 1660-Feb. 1667, Oct. 1667-?77, 1679-?d.; commr. for corporations, Yorks. 1662-3; custos rot. liberty of Cawood 1662-?d., (W. Riding) 1689-d.; capt. of militia ft. (W. Riding) 1662-3, col. 1663-Mar. 1667, Sept. 1667-?77.2
Capt. Prince Rupert’s Horse June-Sept. 1667.
Commr. for public accounts 1667-70, trade 1669-74, loyal and indigent officers accounts 1671, plantations 1672-4; PC 17 Apr. 1672-7 Jan. 1676, 21 Apr. 1679-21 Oct. 1685, 14 Feb. 1689-23 June 1692, ld. pres. 18 Feb.-21 Oct. 1685; ambassador extraordinary, France and the United Provinces June-July 1672; ld. privy seal 1682-5, 1689-90; gov. of Society of Mineral and Battery Works 1682-d., Mines Royal 1683-d.; chancellor to Queen Catherine of Braganza 1684-5; Speaker, House of Lords Jan.-Oct. 1689.3
Savile’s ancestors had been major Yorkshire landowners and knights of the shire since the late 14th century. His father represented Yorkshire in the Short Parliament and Old Sarum in the Long Parliament, until expelled as a Royalist. He acted as governor of Sheffield in 1643 and of York until his death in 1644, when Parliament granted Savile’s wardship to Lord Wharton, who was to receive £4,000 from his trustees. Savile was brought up by his mother, who married Thomas Chicheley as her second husband. He was privy to a royalist conspiracy centering around Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire in 1655-6, and his estates were conveyed to his uncles Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper and William Coventry to preserve them from danger of confiscation. At the Restoration Savile was one of the largest landowners in England, with estates chiefly in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, bringing in £10,000 a year. Since Thornhill had been burnt down during the second Civil War, Rufford became his principal seat.4
Although ineligible under the last ordinance of the Long Parliament, Savile stood for Pontefract at the general election of 1660. The rough-and-tumble of the canvass and the hustings was always uncongenial to his fastidious taste, and in his absence he was involved in a double return. He was seated on 16 May on the merits of the election, and became a moderately active Member of the Convention. Doubtless a court supporter, he did not speak, but was named to 19 committees. He was given leave on 19 July to petition the Lords for a proviso to the indemnity bill to enable him to recover the £4,000 paid over to Wharton in 1647. He was appointed to the committees that produced the navigation bill, reported on the revenue, and considered the bill to settle ministers in their livings. Little is known of Savile’s business activities, but he was later engaged in the sale of annuities at nine years’ purchase; he may thus have been concerned in a bill to reduce the maximum rate of interest to 6 per cent, and he was named to the committee. He was also one of the Members sent into the City on 14 Aug. to raise an urgent government loan. At the end of the month he attended a conference to hear a message from the King about the need to provide money for disbandment before the recess. In the second session his only important committee was for the attainder bill.5
Savile declined an invitation to stand for the county in 1661 and took no part in public affairs for the next few years. His hospitality to the Duke of York in 1665 earned him a recommendation for a peerage, which was blocked by Clarendon because of his reputation for atheism. He was never able to shake himself free from this awkward imputation, though he told Burnet that such a thing was hardly conceivable. He was closely connected with the Duke of Buckingham, on whose dismissal he resigned from the West Riding lieutenancy in 1667, returning to office with his patron a few months later. He first made his mark in national politics as a member of the public accounts commission set up after the fall of Clarendon. A peerage could no longer be denied to him and he was created Viscount Halifax, though Samuel Pepys thought that it ‘would displease the Parliament’ by suggesting that he had gone over to the Court. He was appointed to the council of trade, and during the third Dutch war he was made a Privy Councillor and sent on a diplomatic mission. Never on good terms with Lord Treasurer Danby, he was struck off the Privy Council after advocating the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, and classed as ‘thrice worthy’ in Shaftesbury’s list of the House of Lords in 1677.6
As a firm opponent of exclusion the King reluctantly recalled him during the crisis, and to his eloquence has been credited the defeat of the bill on 15 Nov. 1680. In the Commons two days later Ralph Montagu moved for his dismissal. Though no better grounds could be found than advising the dissolution of the previous Parliament, and this depended on ‘common fame’, a motion for the adjournment was defeated by 219 votes to 95, and a committee was appointed to draft an address, which was rejected by the King. On 7 Jan. 1681 he was attacked by (Sir) Henry Capel as occupying the unconstitutional position of prime minister. The Commons declared him a promoter of Popery and an enemy to the King and kingdom. Although not admitted to the King’s closest confidence, he bore much of the responsibility for the judicial murder of Stephen College. His intrigues against Lord Treasurer Rochester (Laurence Hyde) ensured that his influence did not survive the reign, and on declaring his opposition to James II’s ecclesiastical policy he was dismissed. His Character of a Trimmer, an attack on party politics, was circulating at this time, and he followed it up with the even more influential Letter to a Dissenter, published anonymously in 1687, which persuaded most nonconformists not to be deceived by the King’s blandishments. He was in touch with Dykvelt, but took no part in the invitation to William of Orange, and vainly sought to act as a go-between during the Revolution. In the first session of the Convention he acted as Speaker of the House of Lords, and supported the transfer of the crown to William and Mary. He was appointed lord privy seal under the new regime, but the Whigs hoped to make use of the ill success of the Irish campaign to discredit him. A condemnatory address moved by Sir John Guise in the Commons on 2 Aug. 1689 was lost by only 11 votes, and Halifax retired from the chair. After the recess John Hampden gave evidence to a Lords’ committee that Halifax had been chiefly responsible for persuading Monmouth to confess to the Rye House Plot. It came to nothing, but Halifax could not be persuaded to remain in office. He died from the effects of vomiting on 5 Apr. 1695, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His reputation as a far-sighted and moderate statesman was established by Burnet and endorsed by Macaulay, and his wit enlivened many arid passages of intrigue. No leading politician was ever less of a House of Commons man, and his importance lay rather in his opinions than his acts.
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Eveline Cruickshanks
This biography is based on H. C. Foxcroft, Life and Letters of Halifax.