HERVEY, John, Lord Hervey (1696-1743), of Ickworth, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



2 Apr. 1725 - 11 June 1733

Family and Education

b. 15 Oct. 1696, 1st s. of John Hervey, M.P., 1st Earl of Bristol, by his 2nd w.; half-bro. of Carr, Lord Hervey, and bro. of Hon. Felton and Thomas Hervey. educ. Westminster 1712-13; Clare, Camb. 1713-15; visited France and Hanover 1716-17. m. 21 Apr. 1720, Mary (maid of honour to the Princess of Wales c.1717-20), da. of Brig.-Gen. Nicholas Lepell, 4s. 4da. summ. to Lords in his fa.’s barony as Lord Hervey of Ickworth 1733.

Offices Held

Vice-chamberlain 1730-40; P.C. 8 May 1730; ld. privy seal 1740-2.


Hervey was returned on his family’s interest for Bury St. Edmunds in 1725, at the opening of Pulteney’s seventeen year political opposition to Walpole. He states that ‘he lived in long intimacy and personal friendship with the former, and in his public and political conduct he always attached himself to the latter’ (103).1 At George II’s accession in 1727, when most people expected Walpole to be replaced by Sir Spencer Compton,

there were none among the many his power had obliged (excepting General Churchill and Lord Hervey), who did not in public as notoriously decline and fear his notice as they used industriously to seek and covet it. These two men constantly attended him, and never paid so much as the compliment to Sir Spencer Compton, who had already opened a levee (28).

Chosen to move the Address at the opening of George II’s first Parliament, he went abroad for his health in July 1728, with a pension of £1,000 a year procured for him by Walpole. Returning in September 1729, he was pressed by Pulteney to join him in opposition, but refused to do so, at the cost of a breach, leading to a duel, with Pulteney. Simultaneously he resigned his pension in a letter to Walpole, expressing the hope that the King would ‘consider me in some manner which I shall not be ashamed to own’ (103-10). At the end of the next session, during which he spoke and wrote for the Government, he was appointed vice-chamberlain to the King, in succession to Lord Harrington. ‘Lodged all the year round in the court’ (1), he became the chief friend and mentor of Frederick, Prince of Wales, till the end of 1731, when he discovered that he had been supplanted by Bubb Dodington (xxxvi-ix). In April 1732, ‘perceiving the Prince to show more coolness than usual towards him, [he] took it into his head’ that this was due to Frederick’s mistress, Miss Vane, then six months gone with a child, to whose paternity the Prince, Harrington, and Hervey were supposed to have co-equal claims (290). On this he sent her a letter by his brother-in-law, Bussy Mansel,

wherein he upbraided her with the ill services she did him with the Prince, and if she did not repair them would discover what he knew of her and use her as she deserved. Upon reading of this letter she fell into a fit, which surprised Mansel, who asked her what was in the letter. She threw it him. He swore he would be my Lord Hervey’s death, for making him the messenger of so great an affront, and for deceiving him, for that my Lord told him his letter was only to recommend a midwife. To prevent murder, Miss Vane was obliged to acquaint the Prince with what happened, who made the matter up, but much resented the ill-treatment of his mistress, as did the King and Sir Robert Walpole, when they heard it.2

In January 1733 he is described as having ‘tried the humblest and meanest ways possible to be reconciled to the Prince, but to no purpose; he attends his levy every day and has not for some months been spoken to’.3 The Prince never forgave him, but he soon made his peace with the King and Queen, bringing them accounts of parliamentary debates, particularly those on the excise bill, which they were so impatient to hear that when he returned to St. James’s after the second reading had been carried at one o’clock in the morning, ‘the King took him into the Queen’s bedchamber, and there kept him without dinner till near three in the morning, asking him ten thousand questions, relating not only to people’s words and actions, but even to their looks’ (143, 149). Raised to the Lords at the end of the session to strengthen ministerial debating power there, he devoted the summer to attending on the Queen, who mounted him on days when the King was hunting

so that he might ride constantly by the side of her chaise, and entertain her, whilst other people were entertaining themselves with hearing dogs bark and seeing crowds gallop.
Sunday and Monday Lord Hervey lay constantly in London; every other morning he used to walk with the Queen and her daughters at Hampton Court. His real business in London was pleasure; but as he always told the King it was to pick up news, to hear what people said, to see how they looked, and to inform their Majesties what was thought by all parties of the present posture of affairs, he by these means made his pleasure in town and his interest at court reciprocally conducive to each other (221-2).

At the beginning of 1734 the Prince complained

that it was extremely hard that a man whom the whole world knew had been so impertinent to him and whom he never spoke to should be picked out by the Queen for her constant companion and her most distinguished favourite.
He told his sisters that the reason of his coming so seldom to the Queen was Lord Hervey’s always being there; that they knew he had as lief see the devil as Lord Hervey; that the Queen knew it too, and consequently he supposed kept Lord Hervey there to keep him away.
His sisters ... owned that Lord Hervey had been in the wrong to him once ... but that he had behaved with great penitence ever since... . They said, too, that this crime was committed two years ago; that the Queen had resented it at first; but when Lord Hervey had done all he could to atone for his fault, and was so assiduous a servant in private and so useful to the court in public, that it would neither be prudent in the Queen with regard to herself, nor just in her with regard to Lord Hervey, still to behave to him as if he was never to be forgiven, and that all his attachment, submission, and services should for ever for the future be to no purpose.
Besides this they said that the King liked to have Lord Hervey with him and made him come to give an account of the proceedings of one House of Parliament or the other every day, in short that he was useful and agreeable both to the King and Queen, and though his crime had been of such a nature that the Prince might expect the Queen not to protect him at first, yet it was not the sort that no repentance could wipe away the remembrance of it; and that if Lord Hervey’s past conduct had deserved the Queen’s anger, it must be owned too that by his behaviour ever since he had merited her forgiveness (274-5).

In the summer he describes himself as

in greater favour with the Queen, and consequently with the King, than ever; they told him everything, and talked of everything before him. The Queen sent for him every morning as soon as the King went from her, and kept him, while she breakfasted, till the King returned, which was generally an hour and a half at least. By her interest, too, she got the King to add a thousand pounds to his salary, which was a new subject of complaint to the Prince. She gave him a hunter, and on hunting days he never stirred from her chaise. She called him always her ‘child, her pupil, and her charge’; used to tell him perpetually that his being so impertinent, and daring to contradict her so continually, was owing to his knowing she could not live without him; and often said ‘it is well I am so old, or I should be talked of for this creature’.
Lord Hervey made prodigious court to her, and really loved and admired her. He gave up his sole time to her disposal; and always told her he devoted it in winter to her business, and in summer to her amusement (398-9).

By 1737 his favour had begun to excite the jealousy of Walpole, a man ‘apt to conceive jealousies and suspicions and ... to annoy and depress those against whom these jealousies and suspicions were conceived’ (809, 924).

On the Queen’s death that year,

several of Sir Robert Walpole’s enemies, as well as some of Lord Hervey’s injudicious friends, tried to stimulate and persuade Lord Hervey at this time to endeavour to ruin Sir Robert Walpole in the palace, to make use of his perpetual access to the King for this purpose, ... telling him how capable he was of stepping into Sir Robert’s place, and how glad the at present broken Whig party would be to unite under his banner, if he would set up his standard. But these people knew little of the true situation of things.

Instead he raised the question of his future with Walpole, who promised to look after him; but ‘he now began to know Sir Robert Walpole too well to depend much on the most lavish professions of kindness and esteem’ (921-4). In 1739 according to Horace Walpole, Hervey and his friends forced Stephen Fox ‘into the secretaryship of the Treasury, against the inclination of the minister [Walpole]; an instance then unparalleled’.4 When in the same year Newcastle learned that Hervey was to be appointed lord privy seal he protested so violently that Walpole advised against it, ‘but nevertheless he obtained it, having much the King’s ear and favour’.5 He retained his office for five months after Walpole’s fall, though the new chief ministers, his personal enemies, at odds with one another on many points, were agreed on one, ‘which is to get me from the King’s ear, and not to suffer the traversing power to all their schemes, which they have felt in so many instances I have there, to maintain its hold’. In Pulteney’s words, he ‘stuck like a burr and there was no brushing him off’.6 It was not till ‘they told the King that the whole machine of government at present was at a stop merely on my account’ that George II gave way, saying to Hervey:

My Lord, you know I have resisted this measure as long as ever I could; I am now forced to bring it into immediate execution. I hope in time to do something you may like and in the meantime am very ready to give you a pension of £3,000 a year (942-59).

Refusing ‘to be rolled in the dirt of that pensionary gutter’, he went into opposition, though his appearance was such that most people were ‘thinking my natural death not far off and my political demise already over’ (944, lv). In the short time left to him he published two anti-ministerial pamphlets, as well as a lampoon on the King and Carteret, which ‘made a great noise’; made ‘three remarkably fine orations’ against the repeal of the Gin Act by the new chancellor of the Exchequer; and spoke ‘an hour and a half, with the greatest applause, against the Hanoverians’.7 He died 5 Aug. 1743, aged 46, leaving a historical masterpiece, his Memoirs of the first ten years of the reign of George II, based on his experiences at court.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. The references in brackets in the text are to the pages of the 1931 ed. of Hervey's Memoirs.
  • 2. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 264-5.
  • 3. HMC Carlisle, 6.
  • 4. Mems. Geo. II, i. 205.
  • 5. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 140.
  • 6. L. Twells, Lives of Pocock etc. ii. 62.
  • 7. Walpole to Mann 16 Oct. 1742, 2 Feb. 1743; Mems. Geo. II, i. 67.