FOX, Henry (1705-74), of Holland House, Kensington.
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Family and Education
b. 28 Sept. 1705, 2nd surv. s. of Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen Fox, M.P., of Farley, Wilts. by his 2nd w. Christian, da. of Rev. Francis Hopes, rector of Haceby and subsequently Aswaby, Lincs.; bro. of Stephen Fox. educ. Eton 1715; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1720; L. Inn 1723. m. 2 May 1744, Lady Georgiana Caroline Lennox (cr. Baroness Holland of Holland 3 May 1762), da. of Charles, 2nd Duke of Richmond, 4s. (1 d.v.p.). cr. Baron Holland of Foxley 17 Apr. 1763.
Surveyor gen. of works 1737-43; ld. of Treasury 1743-6; P.C. 23 July 1746; sec. at war 1746-Oct. 1755; Cabinet councillor Dec. 1754; sec. of state for southern dept. Oct. 1755-Oct. 1756; granted Apr. 1757 reversion to sinecure post of clerk of the pells [I] for his life and those of his two elder sons (suc. to it July 1762); paymaster gen. June 1757-May 1765; ‘Cabinet councillor and H.M.’s minister in the House of Commons’, Oct. 1762-Apr. 1763.
Henry Fox stood unsuccessfully as a Tory for Hindon in 1727, soon after coming of age. On petition ‘the whole power of the ministry was exerted’ in favour of his opponent (George Heathcote), who was confirmed in his seat, though Fox ‘was generally supposed to have the fairer right’.1 Next year he tried again at Thomas Pitt’s borough of Old Sarum, ‘losing the election’, as his friend, Thomas Winnington, wrote to him, ‘by one vote only, for Pitt not suspecting any opposition, had but two voters there except the person who voted for you’.2 In 1731, having dissipated his fortune ‘in the common vices of youth, gaming included’, he was obliged by his debts to go abroad, where he met ‘a very salacious Englishwoman’, Mrs. Strangways Horner, ‘whose liberality restored his fortune, with several circumstances more to the honour of his vigour than his morals’. Succeeding his brother at Hindon in 1735, he returned to England with Mrs. Horner, who next year clandestinely married her 13 year old daughter to Stephen Fox. Eight years later he himself, the son of a footman, was to scandalize society by clandestinely marrying a King’s great-grand-daughter.
In Parliament, Fox, now a Whig, supported the Government, developing into a useful though
a most disagreeable speaker ... inelegant in his language, hesitating and ungraceful in his elocution, but skilful in discerning the temper of the House, and in knowing when and how to press, or to yield.3
His claims to promotion were vigorously pressed by his friend, Lord Hervey, who, by persistently importuning Walpole, succeeded in obtaining a minor place for him.4 But about 1741, according to Horace Walpole,
Lord Hervey persuaded Fox to make love to the Duchess of Manchester, in order to betray this amour to rich Mrs. Horner, who kept Mr. Fox; she quarrelled with Mr. Fox, and flung herself and her presents into Lord Hervey’s power, and the Duchess refused Mr. Fox, who broke with Lord Hervey.5
At the opening of the next Parliament, Fox took part in Walpole’s defence, speaking against the appointment of a secret committee of inquiry into the Administration on 21 Jan. and again on 9 and 23 Mar. 1742. Consulted by Pelham on the compilation of the Cockpit list in October 1742, he spoke against the revival of the secret committee, 1 Dec. 1742.6 ‘Fox you cannot do without’, Walpole now Orford, wrote, 25 Aug. 1743, to Pelham,7 who brought him into the Treasury when the board was reconstituted in December 1743. Though occasionally differing from Pelham on matters cutting across normal parliamentary lines, he atoned by resigning with him in February 1746.
On Winnington’s death in April 1746, Fox would have liked to succeed him at the pay office, but had to give way there to Pitt, taking instead the war office, much against his own wishes. ‘I fear I must take it’, he wrote, ‘to quarrel with the army and, hated, as I already am, by the Duke [of Cumberland], to do business from morning to night.’8 In the event, however, he soon became so attached to his chief, the captain-general, that when Cumberland was passed over for the regency in 1751, Fox, though obliged as a member of the Government to declare himself for the regency bill, ‘spoke against almost every part of it’.
Though since Winnington’s death Fox had been Pelham’s ‘ostensible second’ in the Commons, with ‘the seeming right of succession’, his relations with the chief ministers, already affected by his allegiance to Cumberland, were strained by his behaviour in the debates on the clandestine marriages bill in 1753. Resenting the bill as a slur on his own and his brother’s marriages, he made a violent personal attack in the Commons on its author, Lord Chancellor Hardwicke; then, finding that he had gone too far, denied that he had intended his remarks to apply to Hardwicke, with great professions of regard for him; thus exposing himself to Hardwicke’s rejoinder in the Lords: ‘I despise the invective and I despise the recantation; I despise the scurrility ... and I reject the adulation.’ In this affair, writes Horace Walpole, Fox
first discovered some symptoms of irresolution; and the time advanced but too fast when the provocation offered to Yorke [Hardwicke], and the suspicion of his want of a determined spirit, were of essential detriment to him.9
So it proved, for, when Pelham’s death a few months later opened the way to the succession to the position of first minister, Hardwicke threw all his weight into the scale against Fox, whose yellow streak, ever more apparent, became the determining factor in his future career.
He died 1 July 1774.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 27.
- 2. Ilchester, Lord Holland, i. 30.
- 3. Ld. Chesterfield, Characters (1777), 38-40; HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 150; see HORNER, Thomas.
- 4. Hervey, Mems. 453, 667-8, 740-1.
- 5. Corresp. H. Walpole (Yale ed.), xxx. 313.
- 6. Ilchester, i. 89-90, 92.
- 7. Coxe, Pelham, i. 91-93.
- 8. Ilchester, i. 113-14, 117-19, 129, 132.
- 9. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 132, 349-53, 379.