1902 Encyclopedia > Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon
English lawyer, politician and historian
(1609-74)




EDWARD HYDE, FIRST EARL OF CLARENDON, (1609 1674), historian and statesman, born at Dinton in Wiltshire, on the 18th February 1609, was the third son of Henry Hyde, a gentleman belonging to an ancient Cheshire family. The profession first chosen for him was the church ; and consequently, after being educated at home by the vicar of the parish up to the age of thirteen, he was sent to Magdalen College, Oxford. But his eldest brother having died young, the death of his second brother in 1625 left him heir to his father's estate; and the law being now considered a more appropriate profession, he was entered at the Middle Temple by his uncle, Sir Nicholas Hyde, then treasurer of that society. At the age of twenty he married a daughter of Sir George Ayliffe ; but in six months he was left a widower ; and three years later he took as his second wife a daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, Master of Requests.
While yet a young man Hyde had the happiness, as he boasts in his autobiography, of being admitted into the most brilliant literary society of his time. Among poets he knew Ben Jonson, Waller, and Carew; he was ac-quainted with Selden, and with nearly every other scholar of eminence in his day; and he had a rare opportunity of acquiring, from the conversation of the subtle and impartial Chillingworth and the outspoken but liberal-minded Hales, a breadth of sympathy which unhappily his natural temper and the rough pressure of the times combined to prevent him from ever displaying. The brilliant, tender-hearted Falkland also was his most intimate friend. And, fortunately for his professional advancement, besides possessing considerable family influence, he enjoyed the favour of Laud, who, as commissioner of the treasury, regularly consulted him in regard to mercantile affairs.
When, therefore, in April 1640, Hyde took his seat in the Short Parliament as representative of Wootton-Basset, he was already known as a lawyer of mark. During its session of barely three weeks, he made himself prominent as a zealous supporter of the popular party; and his maiden speech consisted of a vigorous attack upon the Earl Marshal's Court, which had become notorious for the savage manner in which it resented the least affront offered to a man of rank.
In the Long Parliament (in which he sat as member for Saltash) his zeal for reform was at first in no degree diminished. He effected the final overthrow of the Ear] Marshal's Court. He sat as chairman of the committee which collected evidence against the Councils of York and of the Marshes, and of the committee which was appointed to consider the advisability of remodelling the government of the church. He went entirely with the popular party in their condemnation of ship-money ; and it was largely through the earnest speech which Hyde delivered against him that Lord Keeper Finch was driven into exile. When, however, Episcopacy was threatened, and it became apparent that the popular leaders were not to be satisfied with merely temporary reform, but were resolved on gaining a permanent triumph, Hyde, in perfect accordance with both his religious and his political principles, went over to the royalist party. He uttered an open and determined protest against the Grand Remonstrance, and drew up an answer to it which was adopted and published by the king, and which procured for him the offer of the post of solicitor-general. This he declined; but he complied with the request that he would watch over his Majesty's interests in the House of Commons, in conjunction with Falkland and Colepepper. The king's deepest policy, however, was not disclosed to him, and there is no reason to doubt that the arrest of the five members surprised him as much as he professes. After the retreat of Charles from London, Hyde remained for some weeks in his seat in the Commons, maintaining constant but secret communication with the court; but in May, having been summoned by the king, and being besides alarmed for his own safety, he fled to York. In March 1643 he was made chancellor of the ex-chequer. He was also chosen one of the royal commis-sioners at Uxbridge, and was employed in many other matters of importance; and the most persuasive and dignified of the state papers on the royalist side are from his pen.
In 1645, after the final ruin of the king's cause at Naseby, Hyde was appointed, with Lord Capel, Lord Hopton, and Sir John Colepepper, to watch over the safety of the prince of Wales. In the spring of the next year they were com-pelled to take refuge in Scilly, whence, after six weeks' stay, they passed to Jersey. Soon the prince was called by hi3 mother to Paris, against the will of the council, none of whom accompanied him except Colepepper. Hyde resided at Jersey for nearly two years, solacing himself by studying the Psalms and recording the meditations which they suggested, and also by composing the first four books of his greatest work, the History of the Rebellion. In April 1648 he drew up an answer to the ordinance which had been issued by the parliament declaring the king guilty of the civil war, and forbidding all future addresses to him. At length, in May, his attendance was required by the prince, who about this time assumed the command of the seventeen ships which had gone over to his side; but various accidents, of which the most serious was his capture by privateers, prevented him from meeting Charles till August, when he found him at Dunkirk.
In the agreement with the Covenanters and in the Scottish expedition of 1649 Hyde had no share, as he was then absent with Lord Cottington on a fruitless embassy to Spain. The two years which he passed there were not unpleasantly spent; for he was free from all serious cares, and had little to do but study Spanish etiquette and write his Animad-versions on the Supremacy of the Pope. In 1651, the slights offered by the Spanish ministers having been crowned by a request that he would leave the country, he rejoined Charles at Paris. During the nine weary years which had to elapse before the Restoration he was not the least un-fortunate of the exiles. It was no easy matter to fulfil the duty which his office imposed upon him of supplying the wants of his careless master ; and his family and himself were often scarcely able to procure the necessaries of life. Besides, he was far from popular. His attachment to the English church, admitting of compromise with no other sect, brought upon him the aversion alike of the Pres-byterians and of the queen and the Papists. Charles, however, was wise enough to appreciate his disinterested fidelity. He was recognized as chief adviser of the king, and all state papers were drawn up by him; he conducted the correspondence with the English Royalists; and, in 1658, the dignity of lord chancellor was conferred upon him.
On the Restoration, Hyde retained his posts of lord chancellor and chancellor of the exchequer, and at once assumed the direction of the Government. What the Episcopalian Royalists now required was not so much a leader to stimulate, as a guide to control. Their fervour and their strength were more than sufficient to replace the king firmly on the throne, and to raise the church to a loftier position than it had ever before attained. The parliament hastened to restore to the Crown the command of the militia, to repeal the Triennial Act, and to vote a revenue of ¿£1,200,000. The Corpor-ation Act, the Act of Uniformity, and the Five Mile Act avenged the church on her enemies, and forced all but the most determined of the clergy into her ranks. Thousands showed as much enthusiasm for monarchy as Hyde himself, and he was no longer the most Episcopalian of Episco-palians. To some extent, if not to as great an extent as was to be desired, he has the credit of having restrained his party from too insolent a triumph. Desirous as he was of the re-establishment of the full royal prerogative, he had no wish to see it transgress the limits which he believed to be assigned to it by the constitution, for which he cherished the true lawyer's reverence. Strongly as he held that all were guilty who had in any way countenanced the govern-ment of Cromwell, he was statesman enough to see that it was necessary to carry out the Declaration of Breda by pressing the Acts of Oblivion and Indemnity on the reluctant parliament. On the other hand, with regard to the triumph of the church over dissent, if he was somewhat alarmed at its completeness, his fear arose from no pity for the dissenters. His opinion of them, and of the policy which ought to be observed towards them, is emphatically stated in his Life (vol. ii. p. 121):—" Their faction is their religion ; nor are those combinations ever entered into upon real and substantial motives of conscience, how erroneous soever, but consist of many glutinous materials of will, and humour, and folly, and knavery, and ambition, and malice, which make men cling inseparably together, till they have satisfaction in all their pretences, or till they are absolutely broken and subdued, which may always be more reasonably done than the other."
But, notwithstanding his exaggerated reverence for the sovereign, his passionate attachment to the church, and his real worth, Hyde rapidly became the most unpopular man in the kingdom. The settlement of landed property which had been made by the Act of Indemnity deeply offended hundreds of the cavaliers; for, while it restored all they had lost to those who, like Hyde himself, had both escaped the necessity of selling their land and refused to bow to the government of Cromwell, it did nothing for those who had sold their property, even though they had ruined themselves to support the cause of the king. By the people, who had no means of judging for what he was responsible and of what he was innocent, he was blamed for every misfortune. The sale of Dunkirk was the chief crime with which they charged him; but there is no reason to disbelieve his own declaration that he was at first opposed to the scheme, while it must be allowed that there is force in his excuses that the fortress was expensive to maintain, that the money offered for it was sorely needed, and that its worth to England was by no means great. Still its surrender was a great political mistake; it displayed to the popular eye in far too striking a light the difference between the government of Clarendon and the government of Cromwell. He was also held responsible for the marriage of the king with the childless and Catholic princess of Portugal, and he was even accused of having selected her in order that his own descendants might inherit the throne. And, though his worst political weakness—his allowing Charles to accept the bribes of France—was not then made known, it was the general belief that his splendid mansion in Piccadilly had been erected with foreign gold. Of all dissenters, Catholic and Protestant, his bitter dislike had made determined enemies; and his repellent hauteur, his somewhat conceited austerity, offended the courtiers, and aroused their derision. All these enemies, however, he could afford to scorn so long as he retained the regard of the king, who, to do him justice, was unusually mindful of his debts to Hyde. In 1661 the chancellor, on the disclosure of the marriage of his daughter to the duke of York, was created Baron Hyde of Hindon, and shortly after earl of Clarendon, at the same time receiving a gift of £20,000 ; he had already refused the offer of a garter and 10,000 acres. Two years later the attempt to impeach him, made by the earl of Bristol, resulted in a miserable failure, and the accuser sought safety in flight. But in 1667 a second impeachment found him powerless to resist. His dignified censoriousness must always have been disagreeable to the king, who was also annoyed by his strenuous opposition to every scheme for tolerating the Catholics; and when Clarendon ventured to thwart his plans and interfere with his pleasures, annoyance was turned into hatred. Charles, ha ving become enamoured of Miss Fanny Stewart, resolved to marry her, and therefore determined to effect a divorce from the queen. This scheme, which threatened to exclude his descendants from the throne, Clarendon was told enough to oppose ; and it was in-sinuated by his enemies that the marriage of Miss Stewart to the duke of Richmond, which put an end to the project, had been brought about partly by his contrivance. Mis-fortunes now pressed thick upon him. About the middle of 1667 his wife died ; and a few days after the duke of York was sent to him with a message requesting him to resign the chancellorship. This he could not be persuaded to do; he so far forgot his dignity as to plead personally with his master to be allowed to retain his office; and he also addressed to him a humble letter, in which he denied that he had been in any way concerned with Miss Stewart's marriage, and declared that he had no acquaintance with either herself or her husband. But his humiliation was in vain; and on the 30th of August Secretary Morrice was sent to take from him the great seal. On the 6th November the Commons drew up seventeen articles of impeachment against him. It would not have been easy to convict him of high treason. Several of the charges were exag-gerated, and one or two were altogether false ; there were some, however, sufficiently serious. The chief articles were:—that he had sought to govern by means of a standing army, and without parliament; that he had confined prisoners uncondemned in places where they could not appeal to the law ; that he had sold Dunkirk ; that he had made a sale of offices, and obtained money by means of his position in various illegal ways ; that he had introduced arbitrary government into the colonies ; and that he had deceived the king with regard to foreign affairs, and had betrayed his plans to the enemy. It was, however, a general charge of high treason, without specified grounds, which was presented to the Lords, and this they refused to accept. Nevertheless it became plain even to Clarendon himself that he was deserted, and that his cause was hope-less. On the 29th November 1667 he left England for ever, after addressing a vindication of his conduct to the Lords, which, being communicated to the Commons, was voted seditious, and burned by the hangman. A bill of attainder was brought in against him, but the Lords rejected it; and the matter was finally compromised by the passing of an Act which condemned him to perpetual banishment, unless he should appear for trial within six weeks.
Meanwhile, sick in body and in mind, he had landed in France; but, before reaching Rouen, he was stopped, and informed that he could not be allowed to remain in the country. After several refusals, however, permission to stay was granted ; and he was conducted to Avignon by a French officer. At Evreux an incident occurred which shows the bitterness of the feeling with which he was regarded by his countrymen. A party of English sailors who happened to be working in the town, on hearing of his arrival, broke into his Ded-room, burst open his trunks, attacked and wounded him with their swords, and were only prevented from murdering him by the arrival of a body of French troops. From Avignon he passed to Montpellier ; and the rest of his life was spent chiefly in this town and in Rouen. His time was thenceforth passed in the quiet pursuit of literature. He resumed his Meditations on the Psalms, concluded his History of the Rebellion, and wrote his Life, A Short View of the State of Ireland, most of his Essays, and his Survey of Hobbes's Leviathan. Twice he humbly appealed to Charles that he might be allowed to die in his native land; but not even a reply was vouchsafed, and it was at Rouen that he expired on the 9th December 1674.
The character of Clarendon is well-marked. In the court of Charles II. he was almost the only man who lived chastely, drank moderately, and swore not at all. Three principles guided his life. The first, from which he never swerved, was a passionate attachment to the religion and polity of the Church of England. The second, to which he was faithful on the whole, though with some declensions, was the determination to maintain what he regarded as the true and ideal English constitution. The third, which he more than once nobly sacrificed to the other two, was a desire for personal advancement. In political practice he sadly wanted both insight and tact, and, though he could plead most cleverly and affectingly in a state paper, he was too apt, when confronted by opposition in Parliament, to lose his temper. He was, however, ready in debate; he could speak well; and for business he was admirably adapted. In political theory he was intensely conserva-tive ; no royalist squire who had never seen the king but in moments of dignified ceremony could have cherished a deeper reverence for him than did this courtier, who had watched his every act of crime and selfishness. Cold and haughty as he was towards his equals, at least in the end of his life, in his bearing towards the royal family, he sometimes appeared to abjure every feel-ing of manly independence. On two occasions this was miserably exemplified. He was too proud to allow his own wife to visit any woman of disreputable character, whatever her position ; yet, at the command of his master, he was base enough to urge the queen to admit her husband's favourite mistress as one of her ladies in waiting. And there is another scene in which we cannot help regarding him with still deeper scorn. In his Life he calmly tells us the story. About the time of the Restora-tion the duke of York had fallen in love with his eldest daughter, Anne Hyde, and before their intimacy had been discovered had given her a written promise of marriage. Of this Clarendon professes to have been completely ignorant; and when the affair could no longer be con-cealed, he tells us he was the last to be informed of it. Nor is this surprising if his own account of the manner in which he received the news is to be credited in the least. He broke into " a very immoderate passion." He would turn his daughter from his house. He hoped she was the duke's mistress, and not his wife, for then he could refuse to harbour her. He would have her sent to the Tower; he would have an Act passed to execute her; nay, he would be the first to propose such an Act. "Whoever knew the man," he adds, " will know that he said all this very heartily." Modern historians are perhaps too kind in doubting him. Soon after he told the king that he " so much abominated " the thought of his daughter's becoming the wife of the prince, that he " had much rather see her dead, with all the infamy that is due to her presumption." He even informed the duke himself—when an infamous conspiracy was hatched against her honour, and Sir Charles Berkley swore that she had granted him favours inconsistent with her duty to her husband—that since she had deceived himself he could not answer for her fidelity to any other man. The conclusion of the affair displays a depth of meanness which could not have been credited on any other testimony than his own. In fear of death Mary of Orange confessed that the accusation was false, and Berkley admitted his perjury; but in Clarendon's breast there does not appear to have been kindled a spark of the burning indignation which an honourable stranger could not have repressed; Berkley himself had only to ask forgiveness. It is possible that this humiliating story— this basest display of the " besotted loyalty " of the time, is altogether true. Much of it is beyond denial; and if we hold that in the rest Clarendon was merely acting a part, we miserably save a very small portion of his man-liness at the expense of all his sincerity.
It is in literature that Clarendon's name best deserves
to be remembered. His Essays (which are chiefly didactic)
and his Survey of Hobbes's Leviathan scarcely rise above
the commonplace, but his History of the Rebellion and his
Life of Edward, Earl of Clarendon have a high and per-
manent value. That he was a historian of wide grasp and
deep insight cannot be maintained; his works are pro-
fessedly pleadings on behalf of the Episcopalian Royalists
and himself; but, though it would be too much to allege
that his accuracy is never warped by his purpose, we may
in general accept his statements of fact as correct. It is,
however, as works of literary art that his histories have at-
tained to the position they hold. They charm us by their
calm and never-failing grace, by their quiet humour, by
their general tone of lofty dignity, but perhaps most of all
by the exquisite portraits which they contain. It is true
he cannot penetrate to the innermost recesses of men's souls,
and let us read the motives of their lives; but he can in-
troduce them to us, as it were, in society, can let us observe
their career, watch their humours, and listen to their talk.
Clarendon's style, too, though extremely loose and often
amusingly ungrammatical, has many beauties. His sentences
are of extraordinary length, and usually contain numerous
involved parentheses; but while these qualities threaten
obscurity, obscurity is always avoided ; and they have the
merit of enabling the writer to produce a slow, stately,
graceful music, of which the short sentence is altogether
incapable. (T. M. W.)









Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries