YORKE, Philip (1690-1764), of Lincoln's Inn and Carshalton, Croydon, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Dec. 1690, s. of Philip Yorke of Dover by Elizabeth, da. of Richard Gibbon of Dover, wid. of her cos. Edward Gibbon of West Cliffe, Kent. educ. Samuel Morland’s, Bethnal Green, M. Temple 1708, called 1715, bencher 1720; L. Inn 1724, bencher 1724. m. 16 May 1719, Margaret, da. of Charles Cocks, M.P., of Worcester, wid. of John Lygon of Madresfield, Worcs. and niece of Lord Chancellor Somers, 5s. 2da. Kntd. 11 June 1720. cr. Baron Hardwicke 23 Nov. 1733; Earl of Hardwicke 2 Apr. 1754.
Recorder, Dover 1718-d.; solicitor-gen. 1720-4; attorney-gen. 1724-33; c.j. of King’s bench 1733-7; P.C. 1 Nov. 1733; ld. chancellor 1737-56; high steward, Cambridge Univ. 1749-d.
Philip Yorke, the son of a Dover solicitor, was brought up for the bar, where his pre-eminent ability quickly attracted the attention of Lord Chancellor Macclesfield.1 On Macclesfield’s recommendation he was brought into Parliament by the Duke of Newcastle in 1719 and made solicitor general in 1720, less than five years after being called.2 In 1725, as attorney-general, he refused to be a manager of the impeachment of his old patron and benefactor, with whom he remained to the end on affectionate terms.3 For his first ten years in the House his comparatively few recorded speeches are confined to legal matters. In 1729 he is mentioned as speaking in a debate on the Hessians; in 1730 he defended a bill, which he had drafted, prohibiting loans to foreign powers without a licence; and in 1732 he spoke in justification of maintaining the strength of the standing army at 18,000 men. He distinguished himself next year in the debates on the excise bill, delivering a powerful speech in its support on 14 Mar. and taking part on 10 Apr. in the debate on the City of London’s petition against the bill, ‘in which the great speakers on both sides appeared’. On 12 Apr., after Walpole had been mobbed in the lobby, Yorke made
a warm and learned speech on the fatal consequences of such tumultuary behaviour, and aggravated it by the consideration that the person aimed at was one of the King’s Council, a magistrate of high degree, and a member of the House; that if this was suffered to pass without a proper notice taken of it, there was an end of meeting there and even of the Legislature. He therefore proposed several resolutions, which all passed nemine contradicente, tending to the freedom of debates, and to the prevention of mobs gathering together to impede or promote bills passing in Parliament.
At the Cockpit meeting of government supporters called by Walpole on 23 Apr., the only speakers besides Walpole himself, were Yorke, Henry Pelham, and the Speaker.4
When the chief justiceship of the King’s bench fell vacant at the end of March 1733, neither Yorke nor his friend, the solicitor-general, Talbot, ‘two as great and eminent lawyers as this country ever bred’, was willing to take it, Yorke on financial grounds—the salary was only £2,000—and Talbot because he was a purely equity lawyer and not an expert on the common law; but on Lord Chancellor King’s resignation later in the year they both laid claim to the great seal.5 Walpole, however, persuaded Yorke, who was equally qualified for both positions, to waive his superior claim in Talbot’s favour and to take the lower but permanent office with an additional £2,000 a year.6 He also received a peerage, dated before Talbot’s,7 taking the title of Lord Hardwicke from an estate in Gloucestershire which he had bought in 1725, apparently as an investment, for he never lived there.
On Talbot’s death in 1737 Hardwicke succeeded to the great seal, with the reversion of a tellership of the Exchequer for his eldest son, which fell in the next year. In 1738, as a result of the death of his wife’s uncle, Sir Joseph Jekyll, he acquired control of a seat at Reigate. In 1740 he entered the territorial aristocracy by buying the estate of Wimpole in Cambridgeshire from the 2nd Lord Oxford for £86,740.8 In the same year he married his eldest son to the grand-daughter and heiress of the Duke of Kent, on whose death shortly afterwards she succeeded to Wrest in Bedfordshire, becoming a Marchioness in her own right.
In a conversation with Sir Dudley Ryder, the attorney-general, on 18 Oct. 1739, Walpole said that
Lord Hardwicke was one of the greatest men this nation ever bred, and if he himself should drop or quit, the public affairs must fall into his hands, though he seemed very unwilling to accept them.
Recurring to the subject in February 1740, he told Ryder that
he would now quit if he could put the administration of affairs into any other hand that was fit. That he saw none but the Chancellor fit for it. That he had often urged him to prepare himself for it, had given him opportunity of conversing with the King and gaining his confidence. But the Chancellor is much averse to it, and says he had rather retire and live at £1,000 a year than bear the fatigue that he, Sir Robert, goes through. On which, Sir Robert told him he must either take it, or it must in case of any accident to himself fall into hands that would never suffer him in the post he is, that they had friends of all sorts to provide for and doubly manned in the law and every other sort of preferment. But he has not yet been able to prevail on him to think of it.9
During the last days of his Administration Walpole complained that Hardwicke
was acting a part to sa