BELASYSE, Sir Henry (c.1648-1717), of Potto, Yorks. and Brancepeth Castle, co. Dur.
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Family and Education
b. c.1648, 2nd s. of Sir Richard Belasyse of Ludworth, co. Dur. by his 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Sir William Lambton of Lambton, co. Dur. educ. Kepyer sch. Houghton-le-Spring, co. Dur.; Christ’s, Camb. 1666; M. Temple 1668. m. (1) lic. 3 Mar. 1680, Dorothy (d. 1696), da. of Tobias Jenkins of Grimston, Yorks., sis. of Tobias Jenkins* and wid. of Robert Benson of Wrenthorpe, Yorks., 1s. d.v.p. 3da. d.v.p.; (2) 23 Apr. 1709, Fleetwood (d. 1733), da. of Nicholas Shuttleworth of Forcett, Yorks., 1s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p. Kntd. by 1681.1
Capt. Eng. regt. in Dutch service (later 6 Ft.) 1675–Oct. 1676, lt.-col. Oct. 1676–Mar. 1678, col. Mar. 1678–88; col. 22 Ft. 1689–June 1701, 2 Ft. June 1701–3; envoy, Bavaria 1694; brig.-gen. 1689, maj.-gen. 1692, lt.-gen. 1694; gov. Galway 1691–2, Berwick-upon-Tweed 1713–15; commr. inquiry into forces and garrisons in Italy, Portugal and Spain 1711–12.2
Freeman, Galway 1691, mayor 1691–2.3
Asst. R. Fishery Co. [I] 1692, Mines Co. 1693.4
MP [I] 1692–3.
For Belasyse, younger son of a Durham squire, soldiering was a profession in which he could make his fortune, and one to which he was physically and temperamentally suited. In 1674 he raised a company of musketeers for the service of the United Provinces, where he spent the next 14 years, seeing action in the war against France at Grave (1674), Maastricht (1676) and St. Denis (1678). He was probably knighted abroad, between January 1678 (when he sailed back to Holland from England as mere ‘Colonel Belasyse’) and March 1681 (when as Sir Henry he was given a licence to recruit volunteers for his Dutch regiment in the city of London). In 1685 he accompanied his men to England to assist in the suppression of the Monmouth rebellion. Some mystery attaches to his part in the preliminaries to Prince William’s invasion in 1688. There is a story, emanating from an unknown source, that he incurred the Prince’s displeasure in April 1687 and was forbidden the Dutch court. He did not, however, lose his regiment until April 1688, at which time he came over to England, making contact with Orangist conspirators in Yorkshire and in the words of Sir John Reresby, 2nd Bt.†, a Jacobite loyalist, ‘lurking’ there until the Revolution broke out. It is possible that the rumour of his unpopularity with the Prince of Orange was a contrivance to enable him to conduct covert operations safely in England, and it may be significant that his regiment was only provided with a new colonel on the eve of its sailing with William’s invasion fleet. The one piece of direct evidence is unclear, a letter from a Dutch official to William in January 1688 referring to Belasyse’s recent illness and suggesting that his present weakened physical condition offered an occasion (perhaps a pretext) for him to discontinue his service in Holland. If he had fallen into disfavour with William, he doubtless redeemed himself in the Prince’s eyes by his behaviour at the Revolution, when he assisted the northern rising under Lord Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne†), leading a detachment of troopers in the successful action to secure the city of York. By March 1689 he had been given a commission for a new regiment, which eventually materialized the following September, and he was raised to the rank of brigadier-general. He participated in the Irish campaigns from the very first, going over with the Duke of Schomberg in September 1689, serving at the Boyne and at the siege of Limerick the following year, and in 1691 at the crossing of the Shannon at Athlone and at the battle of Aughrim. Receiving some personal reward in the form of a grant of forfeited estates in county Galway, he served as military governor of Galway after the capitulation of the garrison in 1691, and in that capacity secured his own return for Galway city to the Irish parliament of 1692. However, he probably did not take his seat, since by the time the parliament met he was on military service elsewhere. Meanwhile, in January 1691, back in England during a break in the Irish war, he had been challenged to a duel by Colonel Richard Leveson*, ‘upon an old quarrel that had happened between them in Ireland’, and had been worsted, receiving ‘a large wound’ in the thigh, and other less serious injuries. Besides lending his sword to the new regime, he was also lending his money: £7,000 in 1689 on the security of the 12d. aid, and a further £6,000 by March 1691.5
When a descent on France was proposed in the spring of 1692, Belasyse asked the Queen if he might take part. The request was granted, and he was given the rank of major-general in that abortive expedition. The next year he was in Flanders, and took part in the battle of Landen. After Hon. Thomas Tollemache’s* death at Camaret Bay in 1694 he applied for the succession to Tollemache’s regiment but was overlooked. However, he was employed by King William on a diplomatic mission to congratulate the Elector of Bavaria on the birth of a son. In 1695 he again saw action in the continental campaign, helping to repel Marshal Villeroi at Nieuport, and was a member of the court martial of the Danish general Ellenberg for alleged treachery at Dixmude.6
In 1693 his nephew Richard Belasyse* had released to him all rights to the family estates, encumbered as they were with debt, and in the 1695 election Sir Henry was elected for the borough of Morpeth, in the adjoining county. His old comrade, Lord Cutts (John*), the governor of the Isle of Wight, had been asked to find a seat for him in one of the island’s boroughs, but claimed that this was impossible, and there was also talk that Belasyse might put up for the venal borough of Stockbridge, where, although he was not a candidate, he sought to promote an interest after the election through sponsoring a petition against those who had been returned. At Morpeth he had to combat malicious reports that he was disaffected with the Williamite regime, the story started by a barber in Drury Lane, who had tried unsuccessfully to interest the lords justices in information that Belasyse attended mass and was in contact with French agents. When a letter was intercepted conveying this tale to the Morpeth electors, Belasyse brought a legal action against the barber, and in due course won £5,000 damages. He had not attended the election himself, being still on campaign, but in November he requested permission to return to England before Parliament opened. At this stage, his family background (his father appears to have favoured Parliament during the Civil War), his record at the Revolution and his profession aligned him closely with the Whig ministry, and although he was forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, he signed the Association promptly, voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. and subsequently, on 25 Nov. 1696, supported the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†. In 1698, when he was re-elected without opposition at Morpeth, he was listed as a placeman and a Court supporter. Somewhat surprisingly he was also included in a list of likely opponents of the standing army, but on 18 Jan. 1699 he voted against the third reading of the disbanding bill. Although the bill passed, Belasyse’s regiment avoided disbandment through being placed on the Irish establishment, when he was one of the colonels criticized for continuing to ‘sell their vacancies’ rather than fill places with experienced and deserving men. Belasyse was an inactive Member, and his only impact upon the records of the 1698 Parliament was his classification as a placeman in an analysis of the House into interests, dating from early 1700. The close friendship he had contracted with Lord Stamford drew him into a bitter quarrel in the summer of 1699 with Sir Basil Firebrace*. It was an episode in a long-running feud between Stamford and Lord Denbigh, centring on the disputed jurisdiction of Enfield Chase, where Denbigh was ranger but Stamford, as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, claimed overall authority. Firebrace was woodward under Denbigh and sought to impose restrictions on hunting in the Chase, restrictions that were to extend to Stamford and his underlings. The particular quarrel arose from an incident in which Firebrace’s gamekeeper encountered one of Stamford’s hunting parties and killed a greyhound belonging to Belasyse, who demanded that Firebrace dismiss the keeper or give satisfaction, threatening to pull the woodward’s nose if he did not. Both men appealed to their patrons, and the affair was brought before Secretary Vernon (James I*), the lords justices, Privy Council and even, in 1701, the Commons, before subsiding. At one point Belasyse and Firebrace met one another by accident in Temple Lane and after spitting in each other’s faces were narrowly prevented from drawing their swords. Firebrace had been frightened enough of his practised antagonist to have hired ‘a kind of little guard’ to attend him about town.7
The 1701 Parliament witnessed a shift in Belasyse’s party-political affiliations. In common with Lord Cutts and other army officers, he offered some support to the new Tory ministry, being listed with those who supported the Court in February 1701 over the ‘Great Mortgage’. That this amounted to a repudiation of his previous Whig loyalties became clear in the autumn of 1701 when James Lowther* reported that Lord Carlisle (Charles Howard*) intended to oppose Belasyse’s continued return at Morpeth because Belasyse ‘did not differ from Sir C[hristopher] M[usgrave] [4th Bt.*] two votes all the last session’. Belasyse prudently transferred to Durham City at the second election of the year, and though his return was calculated by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) as a gain for the Whigs, Robert Harley* listed him with the Tories. The accuracy of Harley’s judgment is demonstrated by Belasyse’s inclusion upon the list of those who had favoured the motion of 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the previous session. The turn to the Tories paid off in terms of his career, for in the summer of 1702 he was chosen to act as second-in-command under the Duke of Ormond in a proposed landing at Cadiz. The Prussian envoy, reporting the appointment, dismissed Belasyse as a mediocre general and a covetous man, and events did not prove this judgment wrong. The success of the assault was marred by the behaviour of the troops under Belasyse’s command, who landed at El Puerto de Santa Maria (Port St. Mary’s) across the bay, and pillaged the town, ransacking churches as well as secular buildings, and allegedly raping the female inhabitants, including nuns. Belasyse apparently led the plundering himself. Directly Ormond heard of the outrage he placed his subordinate under arrest, the Imperial envoy, Count Wratislaw, urging the severest punishment. On arrival in England, however, Belasyse claimed parliamentary privilege. Immune from trial for misconduct in Spain, he was charged with breaking his arrest and was cashiered. The Queen’s Speech to the newly elected Parliament on 21 Oct. 1702 referred publicly to reports of the ‘disorders and abuses committed at Port St. Mary’s’. In the House Belasyse voted on 13 Feb. 1703 against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill extending the time for taking the abjuration oath. The following year he applied to Robert Harley, now secretary of state, for the Queen’s recommendation to serve with the forces in Portugal, as a means of rehabilitating himself. After losing his regiment he had ‘resolved the passing the remainder of my time in a retreat, but by the little experience I have had of that way of living I find it is not so agreeable to me, as I expected or could have wished’. The request was rejected. Listed in October 1704 as a probable supporter of the Tack, he was lobbied by Harley but still voted for it in the division on 28 Nov. 1704. As a result, he was classified as ‘True Church’ in a list of the Parliament elected in 1705. On 25 Oct. Belasyse voted against the Court candidate for Speaker. He made little impact upon the records of this Parliament, though on 23 Jan. 1706 he was nominated to draft a bill to allow the construction of a pier at the mouth of the Wear, county Durham. At the end of the Parliament he was described as a Tory in a parliamentary list.8
Despite having the backing of the Church interest at Durham in the 1708 election, Belasyse anticipated defeat and ‘decamped’ before the poll. In August 1710 he wrote once more to Harley to acquaint him with ‘the great joy’ with which ‘the county received the news of your being at the head of the new ministry and that they will pay their taxes very cheerfully, since they now think their Church out of danger’. He accompanied these welcome tidings with an application for a renewed commission as lieutenant-general, to take rank from the date of his previous commission, arguing that such preferment ‘would give me a further credit in my country and do me a further great service at my next election’. Although he was not reinstated, he won back his seat at Durham, with help from some of the clergy, and his own open purse, and after a bitter contest in which he and his wife were abused at the hustings. Marked as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, he figured among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of the 1710 Parliament exposed the mismanagements of the old ministry. It did not take him long to renew his solicitations to the chief ministers, first seeking in vain the governorship of Tynemouth Castle, near his Durham estate, and then applying to be sent back to Spain, whereupon Jonathan Swift remonstrated to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley) that it would be shameful to return that ‘most covetous cur’ to the scene of his earlier disgrace. Oxford agreed in principle, but observed that it was not easy to find men who understood business and yet had no love for money; and so, late in 1711, Belasyse was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the state of the forces in the Peninsula and Italy, a move which had at least the political virtue of removing from Westminster a difficult and potentially disruptive individual, at a time when military men in general were developing doubts about the government’s foreign policy. To complete the effect, Belasyse was expelled the House on 15 Feb. 1712, after a division, on the grounds that he had accepted an office of profit subsequent to his election, contrary to the ‘place clause’ of the 1706 Regency Act. By 1713 his spell as a commissioner was over, and, though still hankering after an army commission, he was appointed governor of Berwick. Taking refuge in a Cornish borough at the general election of that year, he seems to have followed an undeviating party line in the 1714 Parliament and in the Worsley list was marked as a Tory.9
Belasyse was turned out of his governor’s post after the Hanoverian succession, and, although no longer in Parliament, was still recognized as a Tory, and thus as an enemy, by Whigs in Durham and Northumberland. He would not have had enough time to work his way into the favour of the new dynasty even if he had possessed the inclination and energy to do so, for he died on 16 Dec. 1717, aged 69. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / D. W. Hayton
- 1. Surtees, Dur. i. 158–60, 203; Westminster Abbey Reg. (Harl. Soc. x), 239–40, 290, 338, 411; CSP Dom. 1683–4, p. 191; St. James Duke Place Mar. Reg. iv. 90.
- 2. J. Childs, Nobles, Gent. and Profession of Arms (Soc. for Army Hist. Res. sp. publn. xiii), 7; F. J. G. ten Raa, Het Staatsche Leger, vi. 255; info. from Mr A. Exelby; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 266; Bodl. Rawl. C.393, f. 44; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 25 Dec. 1712; Post Boy, 13–16 June 1713.
- 3. Univ. Coll. Galway, Galway corp. mss Liber D, pp. 1–2.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 112; 1693, p. 207.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1677–8, p. 575; 1680–1, p. 226; 1689–90, p.