HYDE, Henry, Visct. Cornbury (1710-53).
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Family and Education
b. 28 Nov. 1710, 1st surv. s. of Henry Hyde, M.P., 4th Earl of Clarendon and 2nd Earl of Rochester, high steward of Oxf. Univ., by Jane, da. of Sir William Leveson Gower, 4th Bt., of Stittenham, sis. of John, 1st Baron Gower. educ. Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1725, D.C.L. 1728. unm. summ. to Lords in his fa.’s barony as Baron Hyde of Hindon 23 Jan. 1751.
The great-grandson of Lord Chancellor Clarendon, and the grandson of James II’s brother-in-law, Lord Rochester, Cornbury as a young man was inducted into the Jacobite councils by James II’s daughter, the Duchess of Buckingham, with whom he went to Rome to meet the Pretender secretly in January 1731. There he submitted to the Pretender a plan for gaining both the Whig and the Tory chiefs of the Opposition by promising them places and honours in the event of a restoration. The proposals were approved by the Pretender, who appointed him a lord of his bedchamber before his departure in April.1
On returning to England Cornbury, who was badly off, refused a pension of £400 a year which had been obtained for him from the King by his brother-in-law, Lord Essex,2 entering Parliament for Oxford University, with which his family had long been connected. During the next few years he became involved in the negotiations opened by the English Jacobites with the French government for the restoration of the Stuarts with French help. In 1733 he went over to Paris to communicate to the French authorities the plans which had been prepared for seizing the Tower, with the names of the leaders of the rising in the various counties, and of the military officers who were thought could be relied on. Louis XV promised that an attempt should be made, but on examination the French were dissatisfied with the arrangements for an English rising and with Cornbury’s demand for 14,000 French troops. The outbreak of the war of the Polish succession finally led to the abandonment of the project. Disheartened by what he regarded as the French breach of faith, and by accusations brought against him by the English Jacobites of having disclosed the negotiations to his friend Bolingbroke, he wrote in 1735 to the Stuart court announcing his intention henceforth of severing his connexion with the Jacobites.3 Turning to his parliamentary duties, he took an active part in his university’s campaign against the mortmain bill of 1736, which aimed at restricting bequests of lands to and the number of livings owned by charitable bodies. In 1737 and 1738 he spoke against the army.4 Under the influence of his cousin, Sir William Wyndham, he engaged in a flirtation with the Prince of Wale’s party and was incorrectly reported to have been appointed a gentleman of the Prince’s bedchamber.5 In fact he was beginning to drift away from the Opposition, refusing to join in their secession from Parliament in 1739.6 He spoke against the motion for Walpole’s removal in 1741.
In the next Parliament Cornbury generally supported the Government. Before Walpole’s fall he voted against the opposition motion of 18 Dec. 1741 for papers on foreign affairs.7 He was included in both the government and the opposition lists for the secret committee, to which he was elected, subsequently opposing an opposition motion for the indemnification of witnesses against Walpole. In April 1742 he refused an offer of a peerage, made on Pulteney’s recommendation.8 He was absent on the Hanoverian troops in November 1742, spoke for the Address in December 1743 and for the Hanoverians in January 1744, and supported the loyal address on the threatened French invasion in February. During the Forty-five he was one of the ‘friends’ of the Government who voted against them on the question of recalling British troops from Flanders. He also opposed the sending of Hessians to Scotland, ‘the national being the only constitutional troops’.9 In the division on the Hanoverians in 1746 he voted against the Government and was classed among the ‘doubtfuls’. In 1747 he was reclassified as Opposition.
In 1748, disgusted with the state of public affairs and despairing of doing any good, Cornbury applied to George II for leave to go abroad for the recovery of his impaired health. He wrote to the King:
Family attachments, the habits and prejudices of first connections, and the consequences of these in several parts of my life, have deprived me of all the satisfaction I could have felt, and of all the advantages I must have found, in being more particularly attached to your Majesty’s service.10
Abroad he occupied himself with arranging to pay off the family debts by selling his estate of Cornbury. In December 1750 he returned to England to apply to the King for a peerage, which was readily granted, on the ground that
I felt ... the impossibility of my ever taking my seat again in the House of Commons with any satisfaction. I had seen too much of opposition, and knew too well the materials of which it was made, to put to sea again in that rotten vessel. I knew the inefficiency, and had long enough felt the difficulty of standing single and unconnected in that assembly. I believed too, that my health would not allow my attendance there, even if I could have attended with any satisfaction, and to any purpose.
On Cornbury’s elevation to the Lords he wrote to Arthur Onslow, the Speaker, to explain his reasons for leaving the Commons. He told Onslow that he regarded the Pelhams as the best available ministers and that if he had been beginning his career he would have connected himself with them, but that his previous political affiliations made it impossible for him to do so consistently with self-respect. He considered ‘party divisions and distinction the greatest national misfortune’ and deplored the lack of ‘authority in Government’, which, he told George II, was ‘felt in every corner of the country’ but could be remedied ‘without much difficulty. There belongs enough ... to the crown of England’.11 This letter, or something like it, seems to have been read and approved by George III soon after he came to the throne.12
Cornbury died of a fall from his horse in Paris, 26 Apr. 1753.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Stuart mss 142/99; 143/176; 144/49.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs., 1731-3, pp. 102, 146, 184.
- 3. Stuart mss 162/124, 165; 163/156; 164/194; 183/131.
- 4. HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 255, 350; HMC Carlisle, 193.
- 5. Stuart mss 224/122; Gent. Mag. 1738, p. 222.
- 6. Coxe, Walpole, iii. 519.
- 7. Owen, Pelhams, 25.
- 8. Letter to Speaker Onslow, 27 Jan. 1751, Royal archives.
- 9. Yorke's parl. jnl. Parl. Hist. xiii. 153, 463, 648; Owen, op. cit. 285; Walpole to Mann, 20 Dec. 1745.
- 10. Add. 32715, f. 163.
- 11. Add. 32723, f. 422; letter to Onslow.
- 12. Sedgwick, Letters from Geo. III to Bute, 82-83.