HARCOURT, Simon III (1684-1720), of Nuneham Courtnay, Oxon.
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Family and Education
bap. 9 Oct. 1684, 2nd s. of Simon Harcourt I* by his 1st w. educ. Eton 1698; I. Temple 1701, called 1710; Christ Church, Oxf. 1702, MA 1712; travelled abroad (Italy) 1706; Padua Univ. 1706. m. 21 July 1709, Elizabeth (d. 1760), da. of John Evelyn of Wootton, Surr., sis. of John Evelyn II*, 1s. 4da. (2 d.v.p.).1
Freeman, Wallingford 1710, Abingdon 1713; freeman and bailiff, Oxford 1711.2
Harcourt’s mother died when he was an infant, as did his elder brother, leaving him heir apparent in the care of his busy father. Even after his father’s remarriage it seems likely that he was often deposited with relations. His aunt Martha Evelyn’s description of the Easter holiday in April 1697 may have been typical. She had been obliged to take young Simon, but found it a heavy responsibility. Comparing her own children with her guest, she found ‘great difference between them and their companion . . . who is of such rambling temper he is never within doors but towards bedtime which makes me in pain for fear of him’. After attending Eton with John Evelyn II*, Harcourt progressed to the Inner Temple, Oxford and Italy. Significantly, his marriage ceremony in 1709 was conducted by Francis Atterbury, then dean of Westminster. Both his call to the bar and his master’s degree were owing to his father’s political influence and it was clear that Harcourt was expected to follow in the paternal footsteps. His political views ran in tandem with his father’s. Thus, on the Tack, he acquiesced in his father’s opposition, writing with an air of weary cynicism to Adam Ottley:
let thou and I sit contented, and leave the occasional bill to fools and madmen . . . Perhaps you may wonder at this so unexpected change, but I am convinced of my error, and agree with Mr Selden, who says, ’tis as ridiculous to hear an upstart Oxonian talk of politics, as ’tis to see an unpowdered periwig and dirty boots in a drawing room.
Behind the attempted wit lurks an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the abandonment of a revered High Tory policy in favour of pragmatism.3
His father’s status afforded Harcourt an entrée into polite society, enabling him to meet such luminaries as Jonathan Swift, and to act as the secretary of the exclusive dining ‘society’ whose membership included the Duke of Shrewsbury, Henry St. John II*, Lord Harley (Edward*) and Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt.* Contemporaries detected a certain indulgence of Harcourt by his father, and Dr William Stratford canon of Christ Church was able to explain away Harcourt snr.’s original refusal of the lord chancellorship as a ploy designed to secure an office for life for his son. However, only one source mentions Simon jnr.’s possible appointment to a specific office and that was more in the line of professional training, as an under-secretary to St. John, a post which in the event was given to someone else. The general election which followed the formation of the Harley ministry saw Harcourt enter Parliament for Wallingford, an election made much easier, no doubt, by his father’s role in the Sacheverell trial.4
Unfortunately, the presence in the Commons during 1710–15 of Simon Harcourt II* makes it impossible to identify either for certain as the ‘Mr Harcourt’ in the Journals. Moreover, both men were classed as Tories on the ‘Hanover list’. A ‘Mr Harcourt’ acted as a teller twice in the opening session of the 1710 Parliament. He may also have supported Bishop Nicolson on 14 Mar. during the censure debate on Nicolson’s involvement in the Carlisle election. From the summer of 1711 a series of letters from Dr Stratford to Lord Harley includes information on Harcourt’s activities. Two topics predominate: the plans of Lord Keeper Harcourt for his son; and the latter’s youthful indiscretions, which seem to have begun in Italy, where Harcourt had quarrelled with his companion, Ambrose Philips, after ‘drinking a health in all companies to a young person abroad [the Pretender], saying that he knew enough who were for him and able to bring him in, and that he was sure his father was in that interest’. Stratford also noted that Harcourt was very much more reserved in the presence of his father. The lord keeper had hopes of extending his own political influence within Oxford University in order to promote his son’s candidature at the next election. By December 1712, when Harcourt was in Oxfordshire to take possession of Nuneham Courtnay, purchased by his father for £17,000, Stratford was able to suggest that he had come down to take possession of the university. Thus, the presentation of Harcourt’s MA, later that month, was, in effect, ‘a sort of public recommendation of him to the whole university’.5
Although in London during April 1713, where he claimed in an argument with Lord Castlecomer (Christopher Wandesford*) that Joseph Addison’s* tragedy Cato was a Tory play, since the hero was obviously Oxford or Bolingbroke, Harcourt missed most of the parliamentary session. He did not vote in the key division on the French commerce bill because he was himself in France. The trip was probably for health reasons, although it may have included a courtesy call on Maréchal Harcourt, with whom he shared a common ancestor. Needless to say, he behaved with his usual lack of caution, dining with the Duke of Berwick; and declaring, a little too openly even for his Jacobite host, his good wishes for the Pretender. By early August he was back in England, having missed most of the election campaign. His father’s attempts on his behalf had failed in Oxfordshire, the University, and at Wallingford, but he was returned for Abingdon. By October 1713 Stratford was concerned that Harcourt’s reckless statements were being interpreted as echoing the true thoughts of his father. Thus, when he noted that ‘young Simon is very much displeased with the present management and is resolved to model the ministry anew’, he added, ‘I am afraid he is not aware that many judge of his father’s sentiments by what he says’. He was classed as a Tory on the Worsley list. In June 1714 he was honoured by the Queen on the birth of his first son with a gift of gilt plate worth £45. Although Harcourt stood at Abingdon in 1715, he was defeated. His health continued to be poor. In March 1715 Stratford reported that Harcourt’s rheumatism had returned and the following year he journeyed to Wales for a cure. In 1718 he was drinking ‘Spau’ water under Dr Fruin’s direction. Harcourt died while on another trip abroad, this time to Paris, on 1 July 1720. Bolingbroke, with whom he was staying, recounted the manner of his death to Lord Harcourt. A ‘bloody flux’ was deemed the immediate cause, but drink was ultimately blamed as, upon a close examination, his liver had ‘perished’. As Evelyn recorded in his diary the surgeon attributed his death to ‘an inflammatory fever occasioned I’m afraid by being too free with champagne and burgundy, wines not so agreeable to an English constitution, especially one no stronger than his’.6
Harcourt clearly suffered from the expectations of his father, and in comparison with him Dr Stratford may be allowed the last word: ‘Never was a son more lamented by a father than Sim., nor less lamented by everyone else that knew him . . . Had his capacity been equal to his inclinations he would have outdone his father. I cannot say more.’ His son succeeded as 2nd Viscount in 1727.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Eton Coll. Reg. 1698–1752, p. 159; Grosvenor mss at Eaton Hall, Sir Richard Grosvenor to ‘Mr Cholmondeley’, 21 Aug. 1706; IGI, London.
- 2. J. K. Hedges, Hist. Wallingford, 239; Berks. RO, D/EP/7/80/26, p. 1; Oxford Council Acts (Oxford Hist. Soc. n.s. x), 67–68.
- 3. BL, Evelyn mss, Martha Evelyn to Mrs G. Evelyn, 8 Apr. 1697, John Evelyn to [–], 2 Apr. 1697; 279, diary entry of John Evelyn II for 1709; NLW, Ottley mss 1983, Harcourt to Ottley, 9 Nov. 1704.
- 4. Swift Stella ed. Davis, 248, 294, 505; HMC Portland, vii. 11, 13; Addison Letters, 238.
- 5. Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 560; HMC Portland, vii. 34–37, 45, 49, 78.
- 6. G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 44–45; Add. 41843, f. 32; 15916, ff. 33–34; Bodl. Carte 211, ff. 234–5; HMC Portland, vii. 115, 118–19, 121–2, 126, 139, 153, 158, 169, 213, 277–8; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 307; Harcourt Pprs. 168–73, 175–8, 186; Evelyn diary, 4 July 1720.
- 7. HMC Portland, vii. 278.