HARLEY, Edward, Lord Harley (1689-1741), of Wimpole, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. 2 June 1689, 1st s. of Robert Harley, M.P., 1st Earl of Oxford, by Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Foley of Witley Court, Worcs. educ. Westminster, Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1707. m. 31 Aug. 1713, Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, da. and coh. of John Holles, M.P., 1st Duke of Newcastle, 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl 21 May 1724.
High steward, Cambridge 1728-d.; gov. Foundling Hospital 1739.
The friend of Swift, Pope, and Prior, connoisseur, antiquarian, and collector of books, manuscripts, coins, and pictures, Harley took little interest in politics. In 1715 his uncle, Edward Harley, arranged for him to be nominated as a Tory for New Radnor and Bishop’s Castle but he was defeated at both, without, so far as is known, troubling to appear at either. In 1722, after his father had tried unsuccessfully to secure his adoption for Herefordshire, he was returned on his family’s interest for Cambridgeshire. There is no record of his having voted or spoken during his two years in the Commons before succeeding to the title. In 1725 the Duke of Wharton included him in a list of Jacobite peers. He and Shippen are mentioned as the only Tories of note who did not go to court on the accession of George II. Lord Cornbury described him to the Pretender in 1735 as ‘pretty unfixed, fond of seeming to do what is popular’.1 He was one of the Tory peers who voted against the motion for Walpole’s removal in 1741.
In spite of his wife’s great fortune he was always in financial difficulties. As early as 1714 his tutor, Dr. Stratford, warned him of the urgent need for drastic economies:
You may, without care, be in a worse state than you were before your marriage. Upon your present resolutions the honour, the peace, and the plenty of your future life depends.2
The prediction was fulfilled. In 1737 his wife’s estates had to be vested in trustees for the payment of debts, including one to the late Dr. Stratford, amounting to nearly £250,000.3 In 1740 Wimpole was sold to Lord Hardwicke for £86,740.4 For some time before his death, 16 June 1741, he had
been so entirely given up to drinking that his life has been no pleasure to him or satisfaction to his friends ... He had had no enjoyment of the world since the mismanagement of his affairs, it has hurt his body and mind, and has led to his death.5
After his death the great Harleian collection was sold, the coins, medals and pictures by public auction, the books to a bookseller, and the manuscripts to the British Museum for £10,000.