MORDAUNT, Hon. Harry (1663-1720).
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Family and Education
b. 29 Mar. 1663, 2nd s. of John, 1st Visct. Mordaunt by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Carey, 2nd s. of Robert Carey†, 1st Earl of Monmouth; bro. of Charles, 1st Earl of Monmouth and 3rd Earl of Peterborough. educ. M. Temple 1674; Westminster (KS) by 1676; Christ Church, Oxf. 1680, BA 1684. m. (1) Margaret (d. 1706), illegit. da. of Sir Thomas Spencer, 3rd Bt., of Yarnton, Oxon., 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) Penelope, da. and h. of William Tipping of Ewelme, Oxon., 1da.
Ensign by 1689, capt. 1 Drag. Gds. by 1693–Apr. 1694, col. regt. of ft. Apr. 1694–Aug. 1698, marines Aug. 1698–May 1699, 1702–May 1703, ft. May 1703–13; c.-in-c. Guernsey 1697, 1702; treasurer of Ordnance 1699–June 1702, 1705–12, Dec. 1714–d.; brig.-gen. 1704, maj.-gen. 1706, lt.-gen. 1709.
Conservator, Forest of Dean 1698–1712.1
In pertness and wit Mordaunt did not lag behind his schoolfellow and college contemporary, Francis Atterbury. In 1682 he was selected by the university to deliver verses ‘in the commendation of Africa’ at a convocation in honour of a visiting ambassador from Morocco. In 1685 he joined as a lieutenant the company of Christ Church men formed by Lord Norreys (Montagu Bertie*) at the time of the panic over Monmouth’s rebellion, but at the Revolution he came out against King James, undertaking the part of proclaiming William’s declaration at a meeting in Oxford on 6 Dec. 1688 ‘before a great appearance of horse’ and at the request of the city corporation. His elder brother Charles had come over with William. After army service, part of it in Ireland, he was returned at a by-election for Brackley, probably at his brother’s recommendation. He was quick to point out, in this context, that his was a Northamptonshire family, beginning his maiden speech, ‘I will take the freedom to acquaint you with some things that my country I serve for think worthy of your advice and consideration.’ The occasion was a debate in committee on 21 Nov. 1692 on advice to be given to the King. In spite of his inexperience Mordaunt spoke vigorously and without restraint: he attacked the leading ministers, ‘a cabal of four or five’; complained that ‘most of the people that King James left behind him are continued in places of trust and profit’; condemned the employment of ‘foreigners’, especially as officers in the army, reserving his sharpest comments for Count de Solms, ‘who had been the cause of the loss of so many brave Englishmen’ at Steenkerk; rehearsed army grievances over arrears of pay; lambasted the allies – ‘those . . . we do have, must either come sooner into the field or, when they do come there, do better’; and even criticized the King himself. Not only did William have three kingdoms to govern, and the United Provinces, he was also responsible for the direction of the ‘confederacy’, and it was impossible for one man to carry out so many different, and perhaps conflicting, responsibilities. As a result the King risked neglecting the interests of ‘old England’. William was ‘too much in Holland, and Holland too much here’. Mordaunt’s closing remark – ‘I would have all those worthy foreign generals returned, though to our great loss’ – was greeted with ‘jeering’. At the reopening of the debate two days later Mordaunt began by admitting that: ‘I have been told by some that the last time . . . I was too hot and that I said more than was fit for a young man to say.’ His immediate reaction was to bluster: ‘I am sorry I was not plainer . . . if elder men will not, younger men must see to rectify abuses.’ He carried on, however, in a more muted strain, confining his criticisms to the ministers. In crossing swords with Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., on the question of army pay, he even conceded, ‘as for general officers, I would have no man discharged that has done well by the English officers. I have served under foreigners who did very well, and I hope they will be excepted.’ These remarks were still regarded as provocative, and in a third speech in this committee, on 30 Nov., he was obliged to justify himself once more:
Some persons have made various reflections on what I said the last time. However, I can say what some cannot. His Majesty has my advice freely; it costs him nothing and shall always be the same . . . it is my opinion, give what advice you will, if the same men have the management of affairs you will have but little effect of your advice or your supplies.
He spoke on 14 Dec. in favour of the abjuration bill, ‘the national time of the day requiring it to obviate the designs of our enemies’; intervened on 21 Jan. 1693 in a debate on Blount’s King William and Queen Mary Conquerors, to welcome the acknowledgment made in passing by Hon. Heneage Finch I* that King William I had been king de jure and to taunt Finch with it, wishing ‘that all his [Finch] relations were of the same opinion’; and supported two days later a motion to have Bishop Burnet’s Pastoral Letter burned. He made four speeches in favour of the triennial bill: on 28 Jan., when he answered an objection ‘that by change from the Convention to this Parliament, there were not above 50 different’, by saying ‘that he wished . . . the opinions of the Convention and this Parliament had been the same’; on 1 Feb.; on 7 Feb., in committee, supporting the clause that provided for a meeting of Parliament every year; and on 9 Feb., at the report stage. He was closely involved with the inquiry into mismanagements in Ireland, which his brother-in-law James Hamilton of Tollymore, County Down, was active in promoting on the Irish side. On 22 Feb. he spoke in favour of calling in the Irish witnesses, and on 24 Feb., having backed a proposal to expel William Culliford, he endorsed the motion to agree that ‘great abuses and miscarriages’ had been committed in Ireland and was appointed to the committee to prepare an address to that effect. Twice more he spoke against Culliford: on 8 Mar., in favour of his expulsion; and on 14 Mar., after Culliford’s vindication of himself, when he broke the ensuing silence to ‘desire the order of suspension of him from his privilege might be continued’. Despite the fear he had expressed in the House in his speech of 23 Nov. 1692 that he would ‘not long continue’ in the army, he retained his commission, being classed for this reason as a placeman in Grascome’s list and in another list from 1693. Grascome also listed him as a Court supporter, which he may have been becoming. He made a careful speech in the debate of 1 Feb. 1694 on the King’s answer to the Commons’ representation:
I question whether the answer called ‘gracious’ yesterday be so today. I think it doth not answer the intention of the gentlemen that drew the representation, neither doth it answer the body, but I am of opinion that it answers the prayer at the ending thereof. I would willingly have a better answer, but not by jangling and farther representing, which will show we did not well at first. But I would have us stay and observe what the King will do for the future.
Later that month, on 23 Feb., he was given leave of absence to recover his health. In April 1694 he obtained his brother’s regiment when Monmouth was deprived of it, and although his pay was slow the effect of the commission was to cement his connexion with the ministry. He voted on 3 Dec. with Hon. Thomas Wharton* and other Whigs in a division on the triennial bill, when what was at issue was party advantage, but was classed as a supporter of the government in a list of 1694–5, and acted as a teller with Lord Coningsby (Thomas), on 2 Feb. 1695, on an amendment to the land tax bill. On 27 Feb. he was again granted leave of absence on health grounds.2
Chosen again in 1695, he obtained leave of absence on 25 Jan. 1696 for his health, but was none the less included in the forecast for the division of 31 Jan. on the proposed council of trade, as likely to vote with the Court, and on 24 Feb. was sent with a message to the Lords to desire a conference on the King’s disclosure of the Assassination Plot, a conference for which he was also appointed one of the managers. He signed the Association, voted in March in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s., and on 15 Apr. acted as a teller against adjourning the report of the committee on the bill confirming the Earl of Torrington’s (Arthur Herbert†) grant in the Bedford level. Involved by Wharton in planning the Court’s parliamentary tactics in the Sir John Fenwick† affair, it was he who by prior arrangement ‘broke up the committee’ on the corn bill on 6 Nov. 1696, so that Fenwick’s ‘papers’ could be laid before the Commons. Then, when the motion for a bill of attainder was introduced, he ‘stood to it resolutely’. He intervened on several occasions during the proceedings on the bill. On 9 Nov. he ‘fell upon’ his former antagonist, Sir Edward Seymour, who had quoted the declaration of a ‘Roman . . . in the case of Catiline’ that ‘he had rather ten guilty persons should escape, than one innocent should suffer’. Mordaunt pointed out ‘that the Roman who made that declaration was suspected of being a conspirator himself’. His other speeches, on 13 and 17 Nov., concerned procedural matters, and were designed to expedite the bill’s passage. Surprisingly, he was not listed among those who voted for it on 25 Nov. Named as commander-in-chief on Guernsey in 1697, he appears to have been at his post there in September but was back in London by late November when he talked of impeaching Lord Sunderland. On 8 Jan. 1698 Mordaunt intervened in the debate on the size of the establishment of ‘guards and garrisons’, which concerned him directly. Having first, ‘by his presence of mind and adroit manner’, succeeded in extricating Charles Montagu* from a minor embarrassment, he addressed himself to the main topic, arguing that ‘the militia [had been] settled too late’ for it to be a practical solution to defence problems, and that with a substantial settlement of guards and garrisons ‘the loans will come in better, insurrections [will be] suppressed’. Following talk that his regiment was to be disbanded, he put in for the place of master of the jewel office, but despite the ‘interest’ at his disposal and the ‘affection’ in which the King was said to hold him, was passed over in favour of his friend Charles Godfrey*, a disappointment which sent him sulking into the country and even when he returned to town kept him away from the House for a while. Although his regiment was saved, being transferred to the naval establishment, as a ruse to prevent its having to be disbanded, he suffered a further indignity in July 1698 when, even with the support of Wharton, who now enjoyed a powerful interest at Brackley, he lost his election. Nor, by an unhappy combination of circumstances, was Wharton able to bring him in elsewhere. Strenuous efforts were made: a recommendation at Cockermouth failed; and at Malmesbury Mordaunt was treated ‘very cavalierly’ by Wharton’s steward and could not even set himself up as a candidate. Once the elections were over the campaign to find him a bolt-hole assumed an air of panic. James Vernon I* approached Lord Stamford with a scheme for Bere Alston, where a likely vacancy existed, and also asked the Trelawnys for their interest in any available Cornish borough. The most persistent attempts were made to persuade Lord Cutts (John*) to put him up at Newport, Isle of Wight, first by Wharton and later by Vernon, who was even empowered to write to Cutts on the King’s behalf that ‘his Majesty, being desirous to do what he can towards bringing Mr Mordaunt into the House, would have him proposed at Newport’. All failed. Mordaunt was listed as a supporter of the Court ‘left out’ of the new Parliament, and his peculiar talents seem to have been missed. Walter Moyle*, viewing the disarray of the Court party in February 1699, asked: ‘Have they lost . . . their wit with Harry Mordaunt?’ Worse was to follow. When the disbanding bill was under consideration in January 1699 it was reported that his regiment would be broken, the device of placing it on the naval establishment having been exposed for what it was, and the vote on the naval estimates in the following month made this certain. In compensation the King, pressed by Wharton and Shrewsbury, promised him the treasurership of the Ordnance, a promise eventually made good, despite some suspense, in May, shortly after his regiment was disbanded. That the appointment was made as a favour to the ministerial Whigs was clear from Lord Peterborough’s comment, who himself avowed it to be ‘no mark of good disposition towards him, for his brother was one who would cut his throat if they would have him, and he had not come near him these two years’. It was thought odd that Mordaunt should have accepted a place worth only £500 p.a., and he did indeed succeed in having himself continued on the half-pay list as well.3
With Wharton’s support Mordaunt regained his seat at Brackley at the next election. Henceforth he acted as one of the Junto’s ‘chief lieutenants’ in the Commons. On 29 Jan. 1702 he presented a petition from Wharton’s agents at Malmesbury and took an active part in this electoral dispute. His regiment was reconstituted in April 1702, and on 2 May he spoke in opposition to the motion for an address against ‘foreign officers’, defending in particular the Huguenots, of whom there were a number under his command: ‘though he loved his own countrymen very well’, he said, ‘he could not but own that these Frenchmen had behaved themselves very well, nay, better than the English’. His regiment was once more despatched to Guernsey, about which he joked in his speech of 2 May that ‘of late he had been disbanded from London’, and in June the new Tory government relieved him of his Ordnance office. Although transferred from the marines to the land establishment in March 1703, the regiment stayed where it was, and Mordaunt himself is known to have been at his station in July of that year. In 1704, however, he was probably back in England. The satirical ballad ‘An Address to our Sovereign Lady’, published in April 1704, has been attributed to him, one of a number of such Whig squibs in which he may have had a hand. The 1704 volume of Poems on Affairs of State listed him among ‘the greatest wits of the age’. Now, with the High Tories out of favour, his prospects improved. In April 1705 he received his commission as brigadier-general, back-dated a year, and very soon after was restored to the treasurership of the Ordnance, estimated this time to be worth some £800 p.a.4
Although a group of Brackley burgesses had pledged loyalty to Mordaunt in order to encourage him to put up again, he did not contest this seat in 1705. Instead he stood on the Wharton interest at Cockermouth, albeit unsuccessfully. He was eventually returned for Malmesbury at a by-election in November, as a nominee of the Earl of Bridgwater, courtesy of the Duchess of Marlborough who had interceded for him. He spoke twice in debates on the regency bill in January 1706: on 10 Jan., on the clause making it treason to oppose the Queen’s right to the throne, or the Hanoverian succession, ‘by preaching, teaching or advised speaking’, when he took sideswipes at those who cried that the Church was ‘in danger’, and at the clergy generally, commenting, ‘the best teaching where no preaching’; and five days later, regarding the arrangements for summoning Parliament on the Queen’s death, when with heavy sarcasm he announced his pleasure at hearing Tories so ‘zealous [for the] succ[ession]’ and inquired of those who cavilled at some stipulations, ‘Are we in earnest or no?’. He voted with the Court over the ‘place clause’ on 18 Feb. An unsuccessful applicant in October 1706 for Charles Churchill’s* post as lieutenant-governor of the Tower, he received a promotion the following May to the rank of major-general. Meanwhile he had spoken in the House on 7 Feb. 1707 in reply to remarks by Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, on the Anglo-Scottish union as it affected the status of the Established Church in each country. Pakington had questioned whether it was not impossible to reconcile the claim of both to exist jure divino, to which Mordaunt answered that ‘he knew of no other jure divino than God Almighty’s permission, in which sense it might be said that the Church of England and the Kirk of Scotland were both jure divino’. He rejected a proposal to refer the question to Convocation: ‘it would be derogatory from the rights of the Commons of England to advise on this occasion with an inferior assembly, who had no share in the legislature.’ Classed as a Whig in a list of early 1708, he introduced a private bill in December for the sale of part of the estate of his deceased brother-in-law James Hamilton, and was heard again on 24 Feb. 1708 in the debate on the conduct of the war in Spain. Referring to recent ministerial changes, he observed that ‘if a late, modest scheme had taken effect, we should neither have had troops abroad nor generals at home’. He was in characteristically facetious mood on 16 November 1708 in supporting the nomination of Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt., as Speaker, beginning with ‘his usual pleasantry’ by recommending instead the clerk of the House, ‘who having been assistant to good Speakers, to indifferent ones, and the worst, seems to be as well qualified for this station as anybody’. Having ‘had his jest’, he proceeded to extol the merits of Onslow, who ‘being possessed of a good estate . . . did not lie open to the temptations that might bias persons who had their fortunes to make against the interest of their country’. Despite an ‘impudent’ speech in March 1709 on a subject offensive to the Queen, an address urging her to remarry quickly, which with unseemly levity he proposed ought to be presented ‘only by Members who had not yet reached their thirtieth year’, he was raised to the rank of lieutenant-general in May. He voted for the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. He opposed Tory objections to the articles of impeachment on 9 Jan. On 23 Jan., other Whigs having abandoned their plans to address for the removal of Mrs Masham, in the face of a House ‘too full’ for their purpose, Mordaunt nevertheless offered ‘some broad hints’ against ‘giving any further supplies, unless some certain persons were removed from the Queen’s presence’. Although he had been added to the list of Commons’ managers for the impeachment on 10 Feb., he took no part in Sacheverell’s trial on account of ill-health. Tories gleefully suggested that he and another absent manager should be thanked ‘for their faithful management in never appearing’. Mordaunt did his best to make up for lost time in the aftermath of the trial. On 22 Mar. a resolution demanding ‘judgment’ was moved, upon which he was ‘according to custom . . . very pleasant . . . thinking the Lords had done the doctor a kindness by keeping him from exposing himself for so long a time, and giving him a sinecure for high crimes and misdemeanours’. He ‘begged leave to conclude with a misconstrued text of Scripture, as the reverend divine had set the example . . . “’Tis the Lords’ doing, but not marvellous in our eyes”’.5
Mordaunt was marked as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’ of 1710, following his return on the Wharton interest for Richmond. He reacted to the transformed complexion of the Commons in his usual style: ‘I must go into the court of requests’, he loudly stated on entering the House, ‘to try if I can meet a face I know, for by [God] I know not one here.’ On 26 Jan. 1711 he made ‘a witty and comical speech, taking notice of . . . the reflections which daily passed upon the last Parliament . . . and that he heard a saying that those that dealt with sharpers must lose if they played upon the square . . . and gave many instances even of the justice of this Parliament’. He retained his Ordnance treasurership for a surprisingly long time, but it was being applied for by Tories from the beginning of May 1712, and was taken away from him a month later. He also lost his place as conservator of the Forest of Dean, and the following year his regiment was broken. In the Worsley list of 1715 he appeared as a Whig who had often voted with the Tories in the old Parliament and might do so again in the new. Restored to the Ordnance by George I, he figured as a Whig in a list of the Members re-elected in 1715.6
Mordaunt died on 4 Jan. 1720, leaving property in Berkshire and Surrey. In his will he declared that his second wife, ‘with whom I had no fortune’, he yet ‘valued . . . of all things for her personal good humour and temper’. A pamphlet which appeared not long afterwards, and which has been attributed to Bernard Mandeville, arguing for the social usefulness of state-organized prostitution, and dedicated to ‘the gentlemen of the Societies for the Reformation of Manners’, was purported to have been written ‘by the late Colonel Harry Mordaunt’.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Rec. Old Westminsters, ii. 661–2; Supp. 103; Collins, Peerage, iii. 328; E. G. S. Reilly, Hist. Anecs. 67; PCC 15 Shaller; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 58; 1693, p. 145; 1694–5, p