YORKE, Hon. Joseph (1724-92).
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Family and Education
b. 24 June 1724, 3rd s. of Philip, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, and bro. of Philip, Visct. Royston, Hon. Charles and Hon. John Yorke. educ. Hackney. m. 23 Jan. 1783, Christiana Charlotte Margaret, Baroness de Stöcken, da. of Johan Henrik, Baron de Stöcken of Denmark, and wid. of Baron de Boctzalaer of Holland, s.p. cr. K.B. 23 Mar. 1761; cr. Baron Dover 18 Sept. 1788.
Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1741, lt. 1743; capt. 1 Ft. Gds. and lt.-col. 1745; col. army 1749; col. 9 Ft. 1755-9; maj.-gen. 1758; col. 8 Drag. 1759-60, 5 Drag. 1760-1787; lt.-gen. 1760; gen. 1777; col. 22 Lt. Drag. 1787-9, 1 Life Gds. 1789- d.
Sec. to Paris Embassy 1749-51; minister at The Hague 1751-61, ambassador 1761-80; P.C. 29 June 1768.
Joseph Yorke was British diplomatic representative in Holland for nearly thirty years; he was sent in 1756 for a short time to Berlin; was twice offered, in 1763 and 1766, the embassy to Spain; but left The Hague only on the outbreak of war in 1780. No further permanent appointment was offered him; he was, however, consulted by Government on foreign affairs as late as 1787.
Holland was an important centre for the continental intelligence service, especially in war time, and this is reflected both in Yorke’s official and in his copious private correspondence; it was also an important station for travellers to the continent—an additional burden for Yorke. James Harris wrote to his mother, 5 Nov. 1765:1
No person is more universally esteemed as a man at The Hague than Sir J. Yorke, and none more respected as an ambassador; he preserves his rank with great dignity ... and has ... as much homage paid him driving in the street and entering the play as a prince in England. He is said, which I don’t believe, not to countenance his countrymen; if it is so, I have more reason to be obliged to him, there not being a civility he has not shown me.
And Rigby to Bedford from The Hague, 27 July 1764:2
We found Yorke’s character for pride and hauteur established, which made us determined to screw up our dignity to the highest pitch and it had its effect, for he was more civil to us remarkably than usual.
George III thought highly of Yorke, and, without consulting his ministers, employed him, June-July 1766, to negotiate the marriage of his sister Louisa to the Prince of Orange—‘the whole of this correspondence’, wrote the King, ‘is unknown to anyone.’ In 1778 he was considered for the office of secretary of state: ‘One is sorry’ wrote the King to Lord North on 17 July, ‘when there is so great a dearth of able men, he should be immured in the post of foreign political watchman at The Hague.’ North had objected that Yorke’s ‘course of life not having led him to parliamentary studies he will probably not take an active part in the House of Commons’—which was indeed a valid objection, though Yorke had been a Member for nearly thirty years.3
Yorke sat for East Grinstead on the interest of the Duke of Dorset, who also supported him at Dover in 1761. But it was Hardwicke’s personality and prestige which secured Yorke’s election—and Hardwicke in fact wrote his election address and made all the necessary arrangements.
I most entirely approve all the steps your Lordship has been so good as to take about my election for Dover [Yorke wrote to him on 3 Feb. 1761] ... it will certainly be a great honour ... to me to represent the town in which you was born, and in a manner upon your personal interest.
And on 27 Mar.: ‘It is very visible they are highly pleased to have a son of yours to represent them.’ By 1768 Hardwicke and Dorset were dead, and the new lord warden, Lord Holdernesse, was antagonistic. But Yorke wanted to continue in Parliament
for two considerations, one that it may give me a decent cause of crossing the water whilst there is no Parliament sitting to dip me in hot water, the other that the foreign circle I live in might imagine I was in disgrace.4
Government at first hesitated about re-nominating him at Dover; but when it was found that many would vote for him against official directions, Holdernesse, engaged at Hythe, raised no further objection. Opposition was raised in Dover but not against Yorke, whose interest was so secure that he headed the poll although, delayed by contrary winds, he did not arrive till after the election.
Yorke did not stand for Dover in 1774; he feared a contest, and his ‘greasy constituents’ had become distasteful to him. He wished for ‘a more quiet and independent seat’,5 and wrote to Sir James Porter, 11 Jan. 1774:6 ‘I know the prices are high, thanks to the unfortunate wealth which has rolled in upon us, but I should hope ... some channel may be found.’ ‘I set you down for Mr. Eliot’s borough of Grampound’ wrote North to him on 16 Sept. 1774. ‘I am afraid the election will cost you £2,500 but you will be free from both trouble and risk.’ Yorke did not stand in 1780. There is no evidence that he ever spoke or voted during his thirty years in Parliament; it was the prestige of Membership which he valued. He wrote to Hardwicke on 26 Sept. 1780, when war with Holland was imminent:
In the present embarrassing scene I am engaged in it is not possible to say precisely what will be the unravelling of the plot; if I continue in a public character there is a kind of decency in being decorated with such a distinction; if the catastrophe should happen to send me home, without a character of the representative kind, I at present think I should like to be out of Parliament; not choosing to embark in that bustle so late in life.
In other words, he wished to continue in Parliament provided he remained abroad and did not need to attend. And on 3 Oct.:
I feel no passion for the thing ... it is too late to set out in a new line, in a generation which furnishes so many able rising candidates, at least who think themselves so; spirits are still good, but ambition flags, and the body grows weary, after two and thirty years.7
Yorke’s position at The Hague had placed him outside home politics. When Charles and John Yorke resigned, he wrote to Lord Hardwicke, 1 Nov. 1763:
At my time of life and in the situation of a younger brother, I have thought myself very lucky and for fear of being either thrown out of life or obliged to begin again I have meddled in nothing which did not properly belong to me ... if no alteration [in the King’s attitude] is observed towards me I suppose nobody will blame my continuing to act as I have done hitherto, since as I have already said I have not the least ground of discontent.
And four days later:
If I am left at my post I am not warm enough in party nor of consequence on either side to think of doing anything but my duty and continuing to serve the King as heretofore.
Rumours that the Grenville Administration intended to recall him proved ill-founded.
Sir Joseph Yorke was never called upon to give up his honourable and advantageous state at The Hague [wrote the 2nd Lord Hardwicke in 1771] ... He has all along kept out of the way of our dissensions at home, and never passed above two months in his own country from that time till this.
In fact he often failed to keep abreast with the kaleidoscopic changes at home. When the Bedfords broke with the Rockinghams and went over to Administration, Yorke wrote to Hardwicke on 5 Jan. 1768: ‘I am assured the present arrangement is quite agreeable to the Duke of Newcastle’—he remembered that two months earlier Newcastle had referred to Bedford as his ‘great and good friend’ and he failed to realize how much this strengthening of Administration prejudiced Charles Yorke’s chances of obtaining the Great Seal. Hardwicke scrawled on the letter: ‘What nonsense Sir J.Y. hears and writes about our matters.’ And John Yorke commented: ‘There is surely a strange difference between the same things seen at The Hague and at London.’8
After 1770, like the rest of the family, Yorke had no sympathy for Rockingham’s politics.
The principles we were bred up in ... were certainly not those which Lord Rockingham and his party has supported of late years ... The absurdity of supposing the Princess Dowager and Lord Bute to be the springs of action of late years is too gross for me to swallow, because I am convinced of the contrary, nor have I the least inclination to prefer the guidance of Edmund Burke to any of the ministers his Majesty has taken in rotation. Lord North I know little of, but I shall always honour him for standing by the Crown.9
And in 1774 he commented on the ‘jumble of parties and denominations as the present times offer’.10
Created a peer on 18 Sept. 1788, on 26 Dec. he gave his only recorded vote in Parliament: against Lord Rawdon’s motion to make the Prince of Wales Regent.
He died 2 Dec. 1792.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: A. N. Newman
- 1. Malmesbury Letters, i. 135.
- 2. Bedford mss 50, f. 40.
- 3. Fortescue, i. 361-3; iv. 16, 20.
- 4. Add. 35358, ff. 149, 158; 35385, f. 204.
- 5. Yorke to Hardwicke, 7 Mar. 1774, Add. 35370, f. 205.
- 6. Egerton 2157, f. 211.
- 7. Add. 35370, f. 275; 35327, ff. 254, 256.
- 8. Add. 35358, f. 403; 35360, f. 373; 35368, f. 266; 35374, f. 342; 35428, f. 6; Bedford mss 56, f. 96.
- 9. Yorke to Hardwicke, 24 Feb. 1772, Add. 35370, f. 16.
- 10. Add. 35369, f. 204.