HENLEY, Robert (c.1708-72), of The Grange, Alresford, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1708, 2nd s. of Anthony Henley, M.P., by Mary, da. and coh. of Hon. Peregrine Bertie, 2nd s. of Montagu, 2nd Earl of Lindsey. educ. Westminster 1720; St. John’s, Oxf. 1724; fellow of All Souls 1727; I. Temple 1729, called 1732. m. 19 Nov. 1743, Jane, da. of Sir John Huband, 2nd Bt., of Ipsley, Warws., sis. and coh. of Sir John Huband, 3rd Bt., 3s. 5da. suc.bro. 1746; kntd. 29 Oct. 1756; cr. Baron Henley 27 Mar. 1760; Earl of Northington 19 May 1764.
K.C. 1751; bencher, I. Temple 1751; recorder of Bath 1751; solicitor-gen. to Prince of Wales 1751-4, attorney-gen. to him 1754-6; attorney-gen. Nov. 1756-June 1757; P.C. 30 June 1757; ld. keeper June 1757-Jan. 1761; ld. chancellor Jan. 1761-July 1766; ld. lt. Hants 1764-71; ld. pres. of the Council July 1766-Dec. 1767.
Henley, an ambitious lawyer, was a former Leicester House man who went over to the Pelhams after the Prince of Wales’s death in 1751. When Sir Richard Lloyd was made solicitor-general in 1754, Hardwicke instructed Charles Yorke to write to Henley explaining the reason for this appointment, and adding:
With respect to yourself, you were not forgotten, and I have lord chancellor’s direction to tell you that he was not wanting to do you justice to the King and that he persuades himself he has possessed his Majesty with an opinion of you which will make him open to future applications in your favour.
The letter went on to assure Henley of Hardwicke’s support for his claim to succeed to the vacant post of attorney-general to the Prince of Wales, to which he was duly appointed, being succeeded as the Prince’s solicitor-general by Charles Yorke.1
On the death of Lord Chief Justice Ryder in 1756 Henley wrote to Hardwicke:2
The great kindness I received from your Lordship (when on a late occasion you were pleased to mention your favourable intention towards me) induceth me on this great event in the profession ... to throw myself on your Lordship’s protection. I can, my Lord, say nothing for myself, but that my principles with regard to his Majesty and the public are such as your Lordship would approve, and that my morals will ever retain a most unalterable sense of gratitude for your Lordship’s protection at this critical juncture.
On Hardwicke’s recommendation Henley was made attorney-general in succession to William Murray and over the head of Sir Richard Lloyd.
Henley retained his post till the formation of the Pitt-Newcastle Coalition, when Pitt insisted that Charles Pratt should be attorney-general. Meanwhile the Great Seal, in commission since Hardwicke’s resignation, had been refused by Mansfield and the master of the rolls, Sir Thomas Clarke, while Lord Chief Justice Willes was unwilling to take it without a peerage. In these circumstances, on Hardwicke’s advice, it was conferred upon Henley, with the style of lord keeper, together with the reversion of a tellership of the Exchequer for his son and a pension of £1,500 p.a. till the tellership fell in. In accordance with precedent, Henley also became Speaker of the House of Lords, without the right to speak or vote there. Hardwicke regarded the appointment3
as the best disposition [of the Great Seal] that could be made at present and much better approved at Westminster Hall than a commission, which is always disliked and should never be continued long. Sir Robert Henley has abilities and law and I hope will do very well, if his health permits of it.
Owing to George II’s aversion to granting peerages, Henley remained for nearly three years, as he put it to Newcastle, in a ‘very disagreeable situation ... with respect to that rank in which (by his Majesty’s grace only) I am placed in the House of Lords’,4 where his decisions in Chancery were liable to be reversed before his face without his being empowered to defend them. At last in 1760 he received a peerage to enable him to officiate as lord high steward at the trial of Lord Ferrers. He was not a regular member of the Effective Cabinet, attended by Hardwicke and Mansfield, till made lord chancellor, 16 Jan. 1761.
He died 14 Jan. 1772.