YARD, Robert (c.1651-1705), of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. c.1651. educ. Holland 1666–7. m. ?(1) lic. 19 Nov. 1680 Ellenor Pearce; (2) lic. 22 Oct. 1681, aged about 30, Jane, da. of Henry Weston† of Ockham, Surr., sis. of John Weston*, 1s.1
Clerk in secretary of state’s office 1668–?Dec. 1688; chief clerk Feb. 1689–Nov. 1693; under-secretary Mar. 1694–May 1702; secretary to envoy extraordinary in Spain 1669, Russia 1669, Poland 1669–70; secretary to lords justices 1698–1701; writer of Gazette ?1670–1702; commr. for prizes 1702–d.2
Yard’s origins are obscure, but from the age given on his second marriage licence, he was born about 1651. He appears to have been a protégé of Sir Joseph Williamson* who arranged for his schooling at The Hague and who employed him as his clerk or ‘secretary’ on his return to England in 1667. Thereafter, he served in the office of successive secretaries of state until the Revolution of 1688 (apart from some diplomatic service as an envoy’s secretary in 1669–70), before being advanced to chief clerk and then to under-secretary. From about 1670 Yard was also responsible for editing the London Gazette, a task at which he was ‘very careful and diligent’, and which saw him supplement his income through the production of manuscript newsletters. Care and diligence, together with his obvious facility for working under various secretaries of state, ensured that he remained a permanent fixture in the secretary’s office under William III. Indeed, he was probably one of the best-informed men in the government and his letters a valuable source of news to many politicians absent from London. A further office came his way in 1698 when Secretary Shrewsbury and Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*) combined to ensure that Yard served as secretary to the lords justices when William III was abroad: James Vernon I*, for one, assumed that the lords justices would use Yard because he was Shrewsbury’s servant and ‘one that was very capable of the business’. Similarly, Shrewsbury ensured that he was continued in his employment by Secretary Jersey.3
Yard’s political views are difficult to discern, but his long period of employment for the state inevitably provided him with a Court point of view. Thus, after the 1698 election he could write: ‘in general we are very well pleased at Court and expect to have a greater majority in this House of Commons than the last’. Yard was elected for Marlborough in November 1701, James Lowther* informing his father that ‘Mr Robert Yard of the House is our old friend in the secretary’s office, brought in by the Duke of Somerset’. Joseph Addison* was to note many years later that Yard ‘was never at the charge of getting himself elected into the House of Commons’. No doubt Somerset (who had been a lord justice in 1701) bore the campaign expenditure and it was probably Yard’s connexion with Somerset which explains why Robert Harley* classed him as a Whig in his analysis of December 1701. Yard was not active in the Commons, being appointed to only one committee of significance.4
It was widely assumed at the outset of the new reign that Yard would continue to serve in the secretary’s office. Indeed, in May 1702 John Isham wrote that as Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) had taken Yard ‘into the office, who has already a good employment there by writing the Gazette, there might be some conditions annexed of resignation, when I shall be at liberty to return to my old post’. However, Yard was in fact promoted to commissioner of prizes at a salary of £500 p.a. He was then defeated at Marlborough in the 1702 election despite the personal support and presence of the Duke of Somerset. In compensation Somerset recommended Yard’s appointment as a clerk extraordinary to the Council. Still keen to return to the Commons, Yard was also defeated at a by-election for Marlborough in November 1702.