HARLEY, Robert (1661-1724), of Brampton Bryan, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Dec. 1661, 1st s. of Sir Edward Harley* by his 2nd w.; bro. of Edward*. educ. Shilton, Oxon. (Mr Birch), 1671–80; Sherwood Street Academy, London (M. Foubert), 1680–1; M. Temple 1682. m. (1) 14 May 1685, Elizabeth (d. 30 Nov. 1691), da. of Thomas Foley I* of Witley Court, Worcs., sis. of Edward Foley*, Richard Foley* and Thomas Foley III*, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) 4 Oct. 1694, Sarah, da. of Simon Middleton of Edmonton, Mdx., s.p. suc. fa. 1700; cr. Earl of Oxford 23 May 1711; KG 26 Oct. 1712.1
Sheriff, Herefs. Mar.–Nov. 1689; freeman, New Radnor 1690, Ludlow 1701; steward of crown manors, Rad. 1691–1714; custos rot. Rad. 1702–14; warden, Sherwood Forest 1712–14.2
Commr. public accts. 1691–7; sec. of state (north) 1704–8; PC 23 Apr. 1704–May 1708, 13 Aug. 1710–Sept. 1714; commr. union with Scotland 1706; chancellor of the Exchequer 1710–11; ld. treasurer 1711–14; housekeeper, St. James’s Palace May–July 1714.3
Commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, Q. Anne’s Bounty 1704; gov. Charterhouse by 1716.4
Speaker of the House of Commons 10 Feb. 1701–5 Apr. 1705.
Gov. S. Sea Co. 1711–14.5
Not only was Harley the most important parliamentarian of his day; he remains the most extensively documented. An inveterate hoarder, he left behind a vast archive of letters, notes, memoranda, drafts, memoirs, petitions and assorted official papers. Yet despite this wealth of documentation, there is much about him that we do not know, and may never know. Devious and secretive, Harley was a man whose motives and intentions were often a puzzle to his contemporaries; a political wizard and master of ‘schemes’, in his latter years he was given such popular nicknames as ‘Harlequin’, ‘the dragon’, or, most familiarly, ‘Robin the trickster’. The air of mystery which surrounded him was in part a natural emanation of his serpentine intelligence and love of intrigue. It also reflected the many paradoxes of his life and career: the moral schemer; the Presbyterian who became a pillar of the Church of England; the simple country squire who revived for himself an ancient peerage title, and gloried in marrying his children into the nobility; the upright public servant who protected the corrupt; the self-righteous puritan who took to drink; the uxorious husband accused of keeping mistresses; the devotee of ‘Country’ principles who became an archetypal courtier; and the ‘moderate’ man, hating the ‘violence’ of parties, who presided over one of the most partisan administrations of this period.6
Harley grew up in a household dominated by his father, and pervaded by the heavy atmosphere of Puritan religiosity. Sir Edward instilled into his children not only the principle that politics was a moral duty, a means of ‘doing good in one’s own generation’, as the Presbyterian divines had it, but also a proud belief that the Harleys themselves boasted a pedigree of virtuous public service, disdaining pecuniary rewards in obeying the dictates of conscience. Self-examination featured often in correspondence between the brothers and sisters, and especially in letters to their father, before whom the young Robert was often called to cast up the equivalent of a moral balance sheet, to demonstrate the probity of his conduct. This practice may well have prepared the way for the development in later life of a habit of calculation which resulted in the production of innumerable notes and aides-mémoire on political and parliamentary strategy.7
It would take many years for Harley to free himself from his father’s influence; indeed, in some respects he never did. Religious meditations were as much a feature of his last years as they had been of his early life. The Scottish Presbyterian Robert Wodrow was certainly convinced of his piety: ‘it is said, sometimes he takes a bottle, but otherwise he is moral, and never fails to pray with his family at night, and be it never so late ere he come in on post nights, yet still they must all wait till prayers’. On the other side, the journalist George Ridpath was convinced that such ostentatious Puritanism was a sham. He assured Wodrow that Harley
was, even when a boy at the schools, observed to be tricky and cunning to a degree. He . . . is a person who makes a stalking horse of his religion, and consequently [is] an atheist. He [Ridpath] has it from a minister to whom he [Harley] let his diary be seen, and he did so, he hears, to others. It contains an account of his conversion, etc., and this he discovers to not a few.
Increasingly, the tone of seriousness and earnestness found in Harley’s letters to Sir Edward and to other members of his family, became the exception to the rule of his other correspondence. This might suggest the practised reassumption of a character that was becoming increasingly unnatural to him, yet it would be altogether too simplistic to suggest that in relation to his father he was merely playing a part, for even after Sir Edward’s death, when Robert spent most of his time in London, in the company of men of wit and fashion, he would occasionally revert, in conversation or in his writing, to the language and preoccupations of his father’s household. As Richard Steele* rather cruelly observed, some time after the Hanoverian succession,
it is an hard thing to unlearn gestures of the body, and though [Harley] has quite got over all the prejudices of his education, not only as to superstition, but as to religion also, he makes a very queer figure, and the persecuted sneak is still in his face, though he now sets up for a persecutor.8
It is possible that, as well as instilling in him a preoccupation with maintaining his own moral rectitude, Harley’s upbringing may also have helped to form his character in other, less attractive ways. Being required to conform to a pattern of behaviour insisted upon by an overbearing parent may have encouraged him to develop a talent for dissimulation, or at least for playing different roles in different social situations. The emphasis placed among the Harleys on the cultivation of family relationships and friendships also reappears in his own concern to maintain connexions with his extended family, where ‘cousins’ in the second or third degree could exercise a powerful claim on his patronage, and to create for himself a supporting network of political allies. Loyalty to family and friends, while commendable in itself, easily shaded into nepotism, while the creation of the kinds of social circles, dining clubs and kitchen cabinets which helped to sustain Harley’s public career through the provision of a quasi-domestic context for political activity, might equally well give way to cronyism, and a rather less worthy imperative to shine as the brightest light, or to preside as the patron, amid a throng of dependants and inferiors.
Originally brought into Parliament for a Cornish borough in a by-election to the Convention, Harley had wasted little time in delivering his maiden speech, and had gone on briskly to make a reputation for himself as a young man of promise. At this point he seemed an orthodox Whig in Sir Edward’s mould, and in the summer of 1689 had been introduced to the King at Hampton Court by two of his father’s Whig friends. Retaining a seat at the general election of 1690, however, presented difficulties. His family’s influence was simply too weak for him to succeed in his first choice for a constituency, the Herefordshire borough of Leominster, where existing Whig interests predominated – those of the Dutton Colts, with whom the Harleys were at this time on good terms, and Thomas Coningsby*, with whom they were not. He therefore turned to the boroughs constituency in neighbouring Radnorshire, which his father had formerly represented, and where the potential existed for the Harleys to develop a controlling interest, once they had supplanted the outgoing Whig Members. In his way stood the former knight of the shire Sir Rowland Gwynne*, who rebuffed the somewhat cavalier demand of the Harleys that he withdraw, and instead made a fight of it. The tactics to which Gwynne resorted were, however, more than ordinarily dubious, and although the bailiff of New Radnor was prevailed upon to return Gwynne, the petition which Harley lodged against the election was accepted by the committee with ‘not above three noes’, and endorsed by the House with only one contradictory voice. Harley had canvassed his father’s many friends and connexions in the House, mostly Whigs but including a few Tories, and the vote was as much a personal endorsement, and a statement of the ‘great respect and kindness’ felt towards his father, as a judgment on the merits of the case.9
The speed with which Harley became involved in the business of the House, once the election had been decided in his favour, was highly impressive. The day after his election his name was added to the committee of inquiry into the estimates and accounts of the armed forces, and a month later he was to be found reporting from a committee on a private bill. Letters home described an arduous regime of attendance at Parliament and preoccupation with public business. He was, or so he claimed, ‘under the pressure of continual solicitation’. Little evidence survives from this session to indicate how often he spoke in the House, or on what subjects, but he had evidently made enough of an impression on his fellow Members within his first month to be elected in December as a commissioner of public accounts, albeit in last place on the ballot. The other commissioners included his wife’s uncle, Paul Foley I*, already a parliamentarian of the first rank. In political terms, the relationship between the two men was, at this time, akin to that of master and apprentice, and it was possibly through Foley’s intercession that Harley found himself named on the Country party slate for the election. By itself an important step to political advancement, the commissionership conferred the added advantages of an official salary (£500 p.a.), and opportunities for patronage, without the odium attaching to the ‘placeman’. Thus Harley had acquired the benefits of office without compromising his virtue. He explained his good fortune to his father with what sounds a rather affected modesty:
That ever I came to be a commissioner was as much unexpected by me as undeserved, and not solicited for me by my relations in the House. I desire with humble thankfulness to acknowledge it to be the Lord’s doing . . . though a Herefordshire gent[leman] and his son said last night . . . they wondered how Mr H[arley] came to be put in the highest place of honour etc., but all things are carried by party, though I know not what party were inclined for me.10
As always, Harley’s letters to his father were couched in language which would have flattered paternal prejudices; coloured by a Puritan providentialism and Whiggery. Thus in December, in reporting debates on the government of London, Harley wrote of ‘God’s great goodness in the affair of the City’, and of the fact that ‘the High party is much broken and discontented about this business’. He was, however, very much a Country Whig, and remained self-consciously distant from factional politics. The image he projected to Sir Edward was one of thoughtful ‘moderation’, refusing on 5 Dec. to vote for the Irish forfeitures bill, on the grounds that ‘too many are in hopes of grants out of it’; and similarly remaining aloof from Whig attempts to impeach the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). This ‘moderation’ was compatible with an image of ‘Country’ virtue, of being concerned, first and foremost, with ensuring that public money was properly spent and the taxpayer not soaked for the benefit of a few corrupt courtiers, which was the raison d’être of the commission of accounts. It was also compatible with the tactical alliance Harley and his wifes uncle Foley were fostering with some veteran back-bench Tories, notably Sir Thomas Clarges, and Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt. Harley’s correspondence now showed these men in a rather different light from the bitter hostility which had characterized the party battles of the 1680s. The rapprochement was not sudden, nor was it all Robert’s work; for Sir Edward Harley had been able to solicit Tory support for his son before the hearing of the New Radnor election in November, when not only Clarges and Musgrave but many other Tories, including Simon Harcourt I, Sir Robert Sawyer, and even Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., had voted for him. But undoubtedly the daily round of parliamentary co-operation allowed sympathy and then friendship to blossom. In January 1691 Musgrave sent Harley a complimentary letter, which asked for the writer’s good wishes to be passed on to Sir Edward at Brampton. Robert also began to correspond in a similar vein with Clarges and other High Tories, and to develop more equal friendships with a number of Tories of his own age, or level of experience, like Francis Gwyn*, and the Welshmen Thomas Mansel I* and Robert Price*. Although still retaining some of his father’s old ties, to Whigs like the Hampdens and even the Whartons, he was beginning to trim his politics to accommodate the predilections of his new friends. In March 1691 he expressed satisfaction rather than outrage at the removal of the veteran republican John Wildman† from the office of postmaster-general; and not long afterwards Musgrave was able to write in appreciation of the ‘tenderness’ Harley had publicly shown towards the cause of the Jacobite conspirator Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme†).11
Parliament had been prorogued in January 1691, and after a brief respite from public affairs Harley was back in Westminster at the beginning of March to start upon his duties as a commissioner of accounts. It was hard work, beginning every day at nine in the morning – he wrote to his wife, ‘we are at present in a crowd of business . . . all day long’ – but he was now at the very nerve-centre of politics, interviewing ministers and government officials, probing into the interstices of government, and being entertained and flattered by the powerful. As the most junior member of the commission in terms of age and parliamentary experience, he was handed many of the more menial tasks, such as settling the details of accommodation, but was able to turn this to his advantage. Constant attendance, and application to business, gave him a mastery of the details of the commission’s affairs, which soon promoted him to a position of influence, so that by June 1691 he was sometimes entrusted with the chair of the board. There were even signs that he was beginning to emancipate himself from the tutelage of Paul Foley, sufficiently at least to venture to criticize the Foleys in general, and Paul in particular. On one occasion, when Foley and Clarges fell out, Harley refused to take sides between them, and in a letter to his father suggested that some of the fault at least lay with Foley’s ‘tenacious humour’. Later on, he found himself at odds with Foley in a dispute over a by-election at Weobley. In an aside which hints at the difference in temperament between himself and Foley, he remarked of Foley’s obstinacy in this affair, ‘I suppose his reasons are metaphysical’. The more general effects of the experience in modifying Harley’s political ideas and attitudes can only be conjectured. Certainly he became more accustomed to working with Tory critics of government in a common cause, and was also confirmed in his suspicions of government and its servants. He believed that the commissioners were uncovering serious cases of corruption. At the same time, service on the commission was turning him into a professional politician, now almost permanently based in London, where he remained some 18 months without a break after taking his parliamentary seat, and as such he was falling into habits of which his father disapproved. Chief among them was a fondness for the bottle. In the summer of 1691 he evidently received a stinging rebuke from his father on this score, only the reply to which has survived. ‘The paper received last night’, he wrote to Sir Edward in some distress,
could not but occasion great thoughts of heart, tho’ the commotion and distraction by the multiplicity of business hath been my lot this day . . . I beg leave to say with sincerity and singleness of heart . . . that I dare confess my faults rather by much than add to them by covering of a lie. I can most solemnly declare I have not been in a public house – except just the time of dining – since I came out of the country. I have . . . absolutely withdrawn myself from all acquaintance . . .12
There were other dangers too. In June 1691 Harley was obliged to defend himself once more from his father’s wrath, this time on a rumour that he had been given office: ‘I should be very far from accepting or entertaining anything of much less concern than a place without acquainting you and receiving your counsel and permission. There is no colour for any such report . . .’ The assumption that the Court might want to recruit him, or at least draw him away from the hotter elements in the opposition, was, however, entirely reasonable, and indeed in his later years he was to record how in June 1691 King William, no less, had ‘ordered me to attend him . . . when he was pleased to use me with much freedom and confidence, which continued to his death, notwithstanding all the opposition of his ministers, so that he often pressed at two different times [sic] Mr H[arley] to be secretary, besides greater places’. And while he was unwilling to take high office, he was prepared to cash in his new-found credit by taking the stewardship of the crown manors in Radnorshire, formerly held by his local rival Sir Rowland Gwynne, an appointment which may be viewed as the beginning of a campaign to exploit governmental influence to settle the family’s difficulties in their own county. In May 1692 it was reported that the sheriff of Radnorshire ‘talks very liberally about Mr Harley’s undermining Sir R. Gwynne, and shows a petition that he says was delivered by Mr H[arley] to the King’. Harley was also accused of interference in the appointment of justices of the peace, and of having secured a remodelling of the Radnorshire commission, in favour of his own supporters.13
In the 1691–2 session Harley’s attendance at the House was once again assiduous. His brother Edward wrote to their father that ‘the favour and acceptance that the goodness of God has given my brother in the House of Commons is very extraordinary, and much taken notice of’. It was manifested in his appointment to a large number of important committees. On 31 Oct., for example, his name appeared in the drafting committees for bills to secure the rights of corporations, and to regulate abuses in parliamentary elections, and on 3 Nov. that for the mutiny bill. But, as before, his attention was focused most closely on public finance. The small change of royal favour did not make him more receptive to the arguments of Court spokesmen (however significant these benefits might have been to his family in the local context of competition for political control along the borders). He seems to have been convinced both of the fundamental stability of public finances, which meant that no very substantial subsidy would be required from this Parliament, and of the endemic corruption in public administration. He thus continued to act with the Country opposition, especially in the crucial debates on supply, in which he generally followed Paul Foley. As reported by Narcissus Luttrell*, his speeches tended to be short and businesslike. He undertook the demanding task of chairing the committee on the naval estimates, reporting on 14 Nov. ‘I have not had any part of time at my own dispose’, he told his father; ‘examining and adjusting the accounts prepared for the Parliament requires both attendance and diligence.’ Devotion to parliamentary business seems to have transcended all other obligations.14
Not even the news that his pregnant wife, recently returned from London into the country, was seriously ill with smallpox could budge Harley from the Commons chamber, though to be fair he did make the offer to return to Brampton Bryan if necessary – and in any case, within five days of the first information of the illness, he received a second letter to say that Elizabeth and her baby were both dead. Bereavement kept him within doors for a few days, and a letter to his father does seem to express genuine grief. Touchingly, his wife was reported as having said that she ‘was very glad she had [the illness] in the country and not in London, lest it might have prejudiced her husband, whom she said she loved better than any bit of flesh upon her bones’.15
The workhorse of the Country party was soon back in harness. However, Harley still found time to attend to family concerns, in particular a private bill on behalf of ‘my cousin Pelham’. On 11 Jan., in a debate in the committee of supply, he followed Foley again in moving for a committee to be established to receive proposals for paying off the so-called ‘bankers’ debt’ (originating in loans to the crown from London goldsmiths in 1677, outstanding since 1683, and the subject of litigation). In relation to Ireland, his concern that the public purse should not suffer unduly as a consequence of the reconquest must be set against a properly Whiggish concern for the maintenance of the Protestant interest: he was sharply critical of the administration in Dublin Castle, which he believed to be not only corrupt but ‘giving protection . . . to all rogues of the nations’, including papists; and he regarded the forfeitures bill as likely to produce great ‘advantage to Ireland’; ‘it is more than could ever be obtained since the Reformation, and is designed to secure a Protestant Parliament there’. In ways and means on 20 Jan. he supported a land tax as ‘the equallest sort of tax that can be’, regarding the ‘quadruple poll’ as ‘very severe’, and, when a Court spokesman produced on 10 Feb., in committee of the whole on the poll tax bill, a clause ‘to give credit for £1,314,000, which is the sum this Act is computed to raise’, Harley successfully opposed the suggestion ‘as irregular, the committee having no power to receive such a clause except empowered by the House’. He told his father on 16 Feb. that, on some unspecified issue in the Commons, he had ‘laboured to ease the Dissenting ministers’, only for the ‘mistakes of friends’ to ‘ruin it’. But in other respects his reputation was growing. By this time he was prominent enough in the House to be a natural choice to manage conferences with the Lords. Thus he was named to the committees for conferences on the treason trials bill (5 Jan.) and the mutiny bill (23 Feb.), as well as the bill to appoint commissioners of public accounts (28 Jan.), in which, of course, he had a particular interest.16
Harley finally left London after the prorogation of Parliament in August. After an extended visit to his father and sisters at Brampton Bryan, he proceeded to Radnor, where the renewed strength of the family interest was being tested at a by-election for the county. Thanks largely to a series of purges of local commissions, the family’s hold over county politics had been reinforced sufficiently to enable them to return one of their own nominees. But during the election Harley himself suffered an alarming and painful experience. Two local casualties of his rise to prominence, the brothers Thomas and Nourse Lewis, who believed (probably with some justification) that Harley was personally responsible for their removal as justices of the peace, attacked him in broad daylight in the streets of New Radnor. For once the fencing skills he had acquired at M. Foubert’s academy were brought into play. Having survived what he regarded as nothing less than a conspiracy to assassinate him, Harley immediately took his revenge, effectively ordering the corporation of New Radnor to strike the name of Thomas Lewis from the list of common councilmen, the brusqueness of his letter showing for once the assertive rather than the conciliatory side of his character.17
Despite his relatively late return to London, where he appeared just before the opening of the parliamentary session in October 1692, and the fact that he had still not fully recovered from the wounds the Lewis brothers had inflicted, Harley was named, for the first time, to the committee on the Address. His status as an accounts commissioner was also underlined by his subsequent inclusion in several important committees of inquiry: to examine the proceedings of the commissioners for transports (16 Nov.); to translate various treaties and alliances (16 Nov.); to inspect the book of rates (18 Nov.); to explore new methods of supplying the army which would not involve an outflow of English coinage to the continent (12 Dec.); to investigate the government’s response to information concerning the movements of the French fleet (3 Feb. 1693); and to look into abuses of impressment (7 Feb.). He also made more of an impact in debates during this session, in which he seems to have stepped out from Foley’s shadow: certainly the reports of his contributions which appear in the collections of Anchitell Grey* and Narcissus Luttrell are longer and more detailed than before. The first speech to be recorded took place on 14 Nov. 1692, when he joined his new Tory friends in endorsing a complaint of breach of privilege made by Musgrave’s son Christopher* against the corporation of Carlisle, having been primed by Sir Christopher himself with a full account of the affair. On 18 Nov. he spoke in favour of the treason trials bill at its second reading. In a speech which harked back to 14th- and 15th-century statutes, he countered Whig objections by arguing that the bill should not be thrown out but instead be amended in committee, and teased his opponents by reminding them that they had ‘complained much of the misconstruction that was made in the last reign in cases of trials for treason’. He concluded by remarking tartly that ‘for my part I think it the proper time to get good laws in a good reign, and therefore I am for this bill now’. On 21 Nov., in the debate on the advice to be given to the King, Harley concentrated on ‘the business at sea’, which, he pointed out, had been ‘made use of to this House to get money’. ‘You had a great victory at sea this summer’, he observed, ‘but your enemies reap the benefit thereof by their trade.’ It was obvious that ‘the sea must be our first care, or else we are all prisoner to our island’. More medieval history followed, strategic lessons being drawn from the experience of the Hundred Years War. ‘We must advise now’, he concluded, according to one observer, ‘or nothing after this [is] to be ever found fault with.’ When investigations into the naval campaign produced a difference of opinion with the Lords, Harley served as one of the managers at a conference between the two Houses, although he told his father that he disapproved of the way in which some Whig Members had exploited the affair to attack the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). On 23 Nov. he followed Foley in another debate on the conduct of the war, this time to oppose the employment of foreign generals, moving an amendment to the effect ‘that the English foot may be commanded by the English generals’; and three days later he reported in approving tones a resolution in committee (moved by Foley) to advise the King and Queen that in future only men ‘of known integrity and ability’ should be employed, though he was not recorded as having spoken himself in its favour.18
Once again, however, Harley focused on fiscal issues. Occasionally he can still be found following Paul Foley, as on 15 Dec., when he supported Foley’s proposal for a ‘million fund’, but just as often he struck out on his own. When the naval estimates were presented on 25 Nov., he was first up to propose referral to a committee of the whole, ‘and not to go roundabout as done the last sessions to a private committee’, and he pursued the subject again subsequently, always pressing for more information than government seemed willing to provide. The failure of his friends to reduce the amount of money demanded by the Treasury on this head exasperated him, ‘such a sum’ as had been ‘never heard of for a fleet’, though in other respects the Country party were making tangible progress. He was a frequent contributor to debates on supply and ways and means, where his speeches were pithy and practical. They were also calculated, almost without fail, to frustrate ministerial intentions in the raising of money, especially by means of an excise, to which he was opposed in principle. His great strength was a mastery of detail and a dogged determination to pursue every point as far as possible. On 3 Dec., for example, on the army estimates, he spoke ‘for going head by head’ rather than ‘putting the whole number and lump it’, in a debate which he described to his father as ‘the longest . . . on one question that I ever knew’, and which was carried for the Court, in his own opinion, by the votes of placemen alone. But he also had a clear sight of his ultimate objectives, in which, it must be said, he was to remain remarkably consistent throughout his parliamentary career: that no more taxes should be granted than the ministers could demonstrate to be necessary; that all past expenditure should be properly accounted for; and that any money left over from previous grants of supply should be appropriated to lessen the public debt. He acted as a teller on 10 Jan. 1693, in favour of a clause in the land tax bill to prohibit grants of pensions to public creditors; and was again a manager at a conference with the Upper House over the provision in the bill relating to the assessment of peers. Naturally, he also spoke in support of the bill to continue the commission of accounts, at the second reading on 14 Feb., when he ‘spoke at large in vindication of’ the commissioners, ‘setting forth the great difficulties they had met with from some of the officers; that the business was very troublesome and took up all their time’; and ending with the sharp comment, ‘that they had complied with the orders and commands of the House, and if you will not make use of them they could not help it’.19
On more general questions, Harley’s speech on the abjuration bill, on 14 Dec. 1692, showed how far he was capable of shifting from his family’s traditional political prejudices. Although his essentially pragmatic arguments were plausible enough, and were repeated in his private correspondence, they none the less carried something of an air of casuistry when emerging from the mouth of an ‘old Whig’. As reported, the speech focused on the practical futility of forcing men to swear allegiance.
I believe the multiplying of oaths will neither be for the service nor security of this government. In the late times, how many oaths were there taken? Yet when King Charles II returned, they took them again to him – nay, when the oath of abjuration of the royal family was taken some of those very men were at that time contriving to restore him. So that I think multitudes of oaths no great security; they serve but as a snare to some men and will not hold such as are your enemies.
A draft of the speech, written out by Harley and corrected by him, had developed the thesis that the real danger to government came from those with flexible consciences ‘enlarged by use’, who ‘find distinctions to take the present oaths’ and would ‘not want others to enable them to swallow this’. As framed, the bill ‘catches and marks out none but some scrupulous persons, while cunning, designing men . . . [are] given . . . opportunity and a cover to do greater mischief’. No one would be safe from the tribe of informers (who included madmen, drunkards, and women): ‘whisperers have the time, the place, and power to make men offenders . . . men’s throats may be cut by whisperers’. The lessons of history, from ancient Rome, from the modern United Provinces, and nearer home in England, taught that the imposition of such tests of loyalty was divisive and damaging to the state, rather than promoting its wellbeing; and on this point he rehearsed at length arguments used on a similar occasion in 1675. In a somewhat cryptic aside, he also suggested that government should instead consider whether ‘a just, impartial, and legal distribution of rewards and punishments’ would not be a better means of securing the regime, by ‘making it everyone’s interest to support it’.20
Constitutional proprieties were again to the fore when Harley was involved in conferences with the Lords over the censure of Charles Blount’s King William and Queen Mary Conquerors, and in a debate on 4 Jan. 1693, when, together with Sir Christopher Musgrave, he drew the attention of the House to ‘a scandalous practice, or at least a report that was spread about’, that some members of the public with business before the Commons were seeking to influence Members by offering them dinners and other entertainment. The righteous indignation was certainly in keeping with Country Members’ concern for the maintenance of political virtue, but Harley’s integrity in this respect was perhaps not entirely without blemish, since, in common with several of his Tory allies, he seems to have been involved with the lobbying activities of the interloping East India merchants. Higher up on the Country party agenda were the place bill, which he supported (though not very vociferously in the House) as a measure likely to prove ‘beneficial’ to the country if carefully framed (‘as well as the times will bear’), and the triennial bill, for which he spoke repeatedly, on 28 Jan., 7 and 9 Feb. (acting as teller on 28 Jan. in favour of the second reading). Although he began his speech on the first occasion by taking vigorous exception to the action of the Upper House in producing this bill, in the course of which he ‘touched on their extravagant assuming of judicatory power’, he went on to declare that the virtues of the bill outweighed the unfortunate circumstances of its origin. In his contributions to these debates he repeatedly appealed to precedent, going as far back as Edward III’s reign, and, in an echo of his previous argument over the treason trials bill, played (with some irony) on the identification of the Williamite regime with the preservation of liberty and political virtue: ‘the bill was for the honour of the King. He [William III] has engaged to do what is for the good, the peace and safety of this nation, and that I think this bill is.’ It was even reported that at the first reading, when another Member suggested that the King might resent the passage of the bill, as ‘entrenching upon his prerogative’, Harley ‘in reply, pulled out of his pocket the Prince of Orange’s declaration, and read it to the House’. His last speech on the bill, at the third reading on 9 Feb., was in fact a clear statement of standard Whiggism:
I think you have a useful bill before you . . . It is urged by many gentlemen that it is against the King’s prerogative. I think not, for if saying so will do it may be as well said against the best of laws to take away the worst of grievances, and that in this case I take a standing Parliament to be and therefore fit for you to remedy. Frequent Parliaments are for the safety and security of any government; they are sure to be the true representatives of the people and will maintain the honour of the House.21
Harley also played an important part in helping to orchestrate the Commons’ inquiries into mismanagements in Ireland. He had important personal connexions with the aggrieved Protestant community in Ireland, through his brother-in-law Samuel Foley, bishop of Down, and through Lord Bellomont (Richard Coote*), one of the prime movers of the agitation against the Irish administration. To begin with, his willingness to take up the cause of the Irish parliament was such that on 27 Jan. he and Musgrave found exception in the fact that the royal mines bill had been drafted so as to apply in Ireland as well as in England, which, as Harley pointed out, ‘ought not to have been done without particular order’. Then in the principal debate, on 22 Feb., when witnesses from Ireland were interrogated, and the grievances of Irish Protestants set forth, he exploited his position as an accounts commissioner to make insinuations about the administration of forfeited estates in Ireland, claiming that the commission had inquired into the matter and were ready to lay accounts before the House, although these were ‘not so full as we could wish’. Two days later he joined the Whigs Hon. Goodwin Wharton and Hon. Henry Boyle in moving to address for a recall of the Irish parliament in order to ‘pass some bills absolutely necessary for the preservation of that kingdom, which otherwise might be of fatal consequence to this nation’, and was naturally appointed to the committee entrusted with preparing this address. When the House later came to debate the question of whether William Culliford should be able to claim privilege as a Member of the English Parliament to avoid being interrogated by a recalled parliament in Dublin, Harley took a rather different line on the issue of Irish constitutional rights: ‘I think it a perplexed business’, he observed, ‘and not so fit to subject a Member of your House to the examination of an Irish parliament, which I confess I am against for I would always keep Ireland in subordination to England.’ Nevertheless, he continued to assist the Irish oppositionists in their efforts to obtain redress, helping Bellomont and others draw up papers to be submitted to the English Privy Council. The fact that one of the Irish officials singled out for attack was Lord Coningsby (Thomas), a longstanding rival of the Harleys in Herefordshire politics, can only have added savour to the project.22
Although Harley retained his seat on the commission of accounts, and indeed was re-elected in April 1694, the greater stability and efficiency achieved by what was now a Whig administration at the Treasury, and the closer control the Court was establishing over the Commons, meant that the scope for back-bench involvement in fiscal questions became rather narrower. Moreover, the commission of accounts began to be infiltrated by supporters of the ministry, although in this session its investigations did claim one scalp, in the person of Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*), the first lord of the Admiralty. The commissioners had discovered evidence of at least attempted misappropriation of funds on Falkland’s part, aggravated by suppression of evidence. A preliminary skirmish in the Commons on 7 Dec., in which Harley played a small part, was suppressed by the Court, but in February 1694 the hue and cry began anew, as Harley presented further evidence from the accounts commission, and on the 16th acted as a teller in favour of the motion of censure which sent Falkland to the Tower for ‘a high misdemeanour and breach of trust’. But this was a singular success. At the same time, the initiative in promoting schemes for the raising of supply remained with the Whig-dominated Treasury bench. Harley evidently contributed in some way to the amendment of the tonnage bill (establishing the Bank of England), since a draft of a clause in the bill survives among his parliamentary papers, but at this stage he and Foley had few ideas of their own to put forward as an alternative to the ministerial programme. Some speeches from Harley on fiscal questions were recorded by Grey, as in December, in debates on the army estimates, when he repeatedly urged caution on the House. On these occasions, however, his remarks tended to be allusive, raising general political issues rather than, as in the past, focusing on more detailed and practical matters. For example, to those who advocated ‘general excises’ he warned that Members risked offending ‘them that sent us’ by ‘filling the nation with publicans, and the House with excisemen’; and in relation to treaty obligations he contrasted the need felt by the allies to maintain ‘a barrier . . . by land’, with England’s interests ‘by sea’.23
As a result, opposition groups in the Commons came to give even greater attention to the pursuit of ‘Country’ measures like the triennial and place bills, the exposure of corruption in government, and the protection of trading interests from the consequences of an incompetently waged war. Harley spoke in favour of the reintroduced triennial bill on 28 Nov. 1693 (returning once more to the 14th-century precedents which he had recited the previous year), and again on 18 Dec., when he supported the provision for annual sessions (in a historical diversion that went back as far as the Witenagemot). The second time his father was present, and Robert rose to the occasion in fine style, as Sir Edward proudly recorded, ‘so that some in the House called upon me to bless God that vouchsafed to give me a son so to speak, and also the mercy to hear him’. On 4 Dec. Harley made a vigorous defence of the place bill, against which, he said, ‘I can hear no argument’. The core of his case was that acceptance of office fundamentally changed the conditions under which a Member could be said to represent those who had elected him. Anyone who took office after election was betraying the voters’ trust; he had been chosen on the assumption that he had no connexion with the Court, and should be obliged to resubmit to the will of the electorate in his new guise. ‘If the people make choice of one in office, they are not deceived; but if they [the Members] accept of an office, it voids their place. People may be deceived in their choice.’ When the royal veto was applied to the bill, Harley put himself in the forefront of the ‘Country’ resistance. In the debate on 26 Jan. 1694 he pressed the case for addressing against the Councillors who had given this advice – ‘we can do no less than put a mark on some, by our resolution’ – and, in a statement whose realism contrasts with the constitutional pieties which were to be a feature of his ruminations on government in later years, justified himself against accusations of factious malice by pointing out that party divisions were now a fact of life and could not be ignored. ‘At the first Revolution’, he observed, presumably in reference to 1688–9, ‘if care had been taken, parties might have been prevented, and we should have had but one, and that for the good of England; but industry was used by some to the contrary.’ When the opposition’s first efforts were rebuffed, he spoke again in favour of a modified address, implying that the veto had only been employed on this occasion because taxation had not been as ‘plentifully granted’ as had been hoped. He continued this bold course on the reception of the King’s response on 1 Feb., declaring it to be ‘an answer by inference only’, and expressing regret that the phrasing had not been clearer and ‘more categorical’. He concluded by moving that the House press for a further answer, and acted as one of the tellers in favour.24
Harley took a particular interest in prosecuting inquiries into the conduct of the war at sea, and the effects of naval policy on long-distance trade. In this matter the loss of the Smyrna convoy, which he assumed would directly affect his brother Nathaniel, a Turkey merchant, almost certainly hardened his attitude. In a letter to the Marquess of Halifax (Sir George Savile†) in July 1693 he had complained bitterly that the Dutch and Hamburg merchants were ‘not content to make us the country squires to pay the reckoning, but laugh at our conduct by land and bewail their own misfortune to be joined with us by sea’. A speech in November denounced the conduct of affairs in the most scalding terms, as revealing ‘ignorance, unskilfulness, servile and unreasonable compliance, [and] great abuse of trust’, and moved that a ‘lively representation’ of these faults be made to the King, together with a request for redress, but without naming any names. Harley was chairman of the Commons managers at a conference with the Upper House in January on the subject of the loss of the convoy, and later in the session took responsibility for a bill relating to naval discipline, reporting from the second-reading committee on 23 Apr., and then carrying the bill up to the Lords. He also chaired the committee appointed on 24 Jan. on a petition from the Royal African Company, and the same day was first-named to the committee to investigate ‘the decay of trade’. Other significant parliamentary activity in this session included appointment on 12 Jan. 1694 to the drafting committee on the abortive Irish forfeitures bill, maintaining the interest he had shown in Irish affairs during the previous session; membership of the committee named on 5 Mar., to manage a conference with the Lords over amendments to the mutiny bill; and a tellership, on 15 Mar., on a motion arising from the general naturalization bill.25
Although after the 1693–4 session the political advantage clearly lay with the ministry, Harley received overtures during the following summer from both Halifax and the Duke of Shrewsbury, with the object, at least in Shrewsbury’s case, of coming to some understanding ‘to prevent miscarriages in Parliament, especially relating to excises’. It may be significant that it was Harley rather than Foley whom the ‘great men’ chose to address. But no effect could be ascertained from these general discussions, and in whipping in back-bench attendance prior to the reopening of Parliament Harley showed no sign of abating his hostility to the ministry and its plans for taxation. For example, he pressed the attendance of his Herefordshire colleague Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Bt., in the most urgent tones: Croft’s assistance would be wanted, he wrote, against ‘these exorbitant excises and funds, which will quickly destroy all the landed men of England’, adding that ‘there are some gentlemen’ (presumably himself and Foley among them) ‘have thought upon a way to abate 3s. in the present land tax and prevent polls and excises both’. On a personal note, he was able to celebrate a second marriage in October. His new wife may have lacked influential political connexions, and preferred to avoid society rather than to act as a political hostess, but the marriage was a happy one. Little of the correspondence between husband and wife has survived, but some inkling of the nature of their relationship may perhaps be gleaned from the observations of Lord Strafford many years later, after Harley’s elevation to the lord treasurership and earldom of Oxford in 1711: Lady Oxford, he wrote, makes ‘a very odd figure of a lady . . . who is like an old housekeeper, but I hear Lord Treasurer takes it as a compliment paid to him, for she seldom goes abroad’. Harley may occasionally have enjoyed more vivacious female company, but Sarah provided him with the domestic comfort and uncritical adoration which enabled him to shine on a more exalted stage than she herself had any desire to grace.26
Without even Grey’s collection of debates as a guide, it is difficult to follow the course of Harley’s parliamentary career in the 1694–5 session. He began by putting himself at the spearhead of the Country interest, when he brought in the renewed triennial bill on 22 Nov., and followed this up with a series of blows struck in support of favourite Country causes. On the subject of electoral reform, he was first-named to the committee of 11 Jan. 1695, to search for precedents on the penalties employed on returning officers for making false returns, and the day afterwards was also appointed to the committee to investigate methods of dealing with corruption in elections more generally. He was a teller on 26 Jan. in favour of engrossing the place bill, and again on 20 Feb. that the bill should pass. He served on the committee which undertook a conference with the Lords on the treason trials bill. This had now become rather more of a party cause, as a result of the furore over the Lancashire Plot, on which Harley expressed strong feelings: the management of the trials at Manchester had been, in his view, ‘scandalously vile’, and the evidence against the accused nothing but the ‘most notorious perjury’. Again Harley emphasized his close working relationship with opposition Tories by telling on 6 Feb. in a division on the plot, in favour of inserting into the Commons’ resolution on the matter a clause reflecting on the use of false witnesses. At the same time, he continued to be closely involved in the business of supply. He was a teller on 13 Feb. against the imposition of a leather duty, and again on 28 Feb., on a tactical question, that the report from ways and means be read that day. He had also been first-named on 8 Jan. to the committee on the state of the coinage, to consider the means by which to put a stop to coin-clipping and staunch the export of bullion, which suggests that he had been the Member to raise the issue. But from February onwards it was the issue of official corruption which was to dominate the session, and Harley was at the centre of attempts to expose it.27
Despite the declining overall effectiveness of the accounts commission, Harley was still able to make some political capital out of his membership, and presented papers and reports to the Commons on 25 Jan., 26 Mar. and 20 Apr. 1695. It was, indeed, the investigations of the commission into abuses of army contractors that began the spiral of inquiries into corruption which took up much of the Commons’ time in the latter stages of this session and resulted in the removal from office of the Speaker, Sir John Trevor, and the installation in his place of Paul Foley. At the very outset, with the establishment of a committee on 16 Feb. to look into the activities of regimental agents, Harley’s name appeared first, indicating that he was probably responsible for moving the question. Once Foley had taken over the Speakership on 14 Mar., Harley may even have assumed leadership of the Country party assault. On 26 Mar. he was appointed to draft a measure to oblige the agent Edward Pauncefort to disclose details of payments made over regimental clothing; he presented bills on 1 and 4 Apr. to oblige two other agents to disclose their payments, and then to impose a punishment on Pauncefort and his partner; and on 27 Apr. carried up to the Lords a further bill of pains and penalties. In the meantime, on 2 Apr., he had been named in first place to the committee responsible for drafting a clause to be included in the mutiny bill relating to the quartering of troops. From the peculations of army agents the investigation took a different turn, with disclosures that Trevor and other leading parliamentary figures had taken bribes from vested interests, most notably the East India Company, to advance legislation on their behalf. The opposition’s prime target was none other than the Duke of Leeds (the former Carmarthen), and the chief prosecution witness would be the former East India Company governor, Sir Thomas Cooke*. When the Commons elected a committee to interrogate Cooke, Harley received more votes than any other Country party man, although he figured no higher than ninth in the final list. He also served as a manager for several conferences with the Lords relating to Cooke’s evidence, and the bill for his imprisonment. Finally he was included in the committee of 27 Apr. to draw up articles of impeachment against Leeds, but the prorogation came too soon for a trial and the case dropped.28
Reports during the summer of 1695 that the Junto, and Hon. Thomas Wharton* in particular, had drawn up a list of outgoing Members whom they wished to see excluded from the new House, that the King had approved this document, and that Harley’s name was one of those on the list, prompted Harley to activate his connexion with the Earl of Sunderland’s political agent, Henry Guy*. In a series of meetings and letters Harley talked (on behalf of himself, Foley and others) of concerting measures for the forthcoming Parliament, to a degree that he had not been willing to venture before. Guy was also able to act as an intermediary between Harley and the Earl of Portland, and to reassure Harley of Portland’s, and the King’s, goodwill. Among the subjects discussed was Portland’s grant of the lordships of Denbigh, Bromfield and Yale, and Harley made vague promises that some ‘expedient’ might be found to put a stop to the agitation. What seems to have concerned him more than anything else was the report of the intended proscription and a rumour that he himself had mortally offended the King: supposedly William had declared that ‘he would keep him [Harley] out of anything that should ever be in his power to give’. Guy reassured him that this could not be true, and wrote to Portland in order to set Harley’s mind at rest. But at the same time as Harley was renewing contacts with the Court, and at least some elements within the ministry, he was also renewing his friendships with a number of important Country back-benchers, Whigs as well as Tories, in preparation for an aggressive parliamentary campaign.29
Rumour notwithstanding, Harley was returned unopposed in 1695. The election of his brother Edward alongside him to this and each subsequent Parliament (where they were eventually joined by their cousin Thomas) makes it impossible henceforth to identify with certainty every time Robert is mentioned in the Journals. Edward seems to have been quite an active Member throughout his parliamentary career, and to have undertaken his fair share of routine legislative business, but this does not necessarily mean that nomination to the less important committees and involvement with private or local bills should automatically be ascribed to him rather than to Robert. For example, the ‘Mr Harley’ who ‘promoted’ successive bills to facilitate the rendering up of sheriffs’ accounts, beginning on 3 Jan. 1696, was certainly Robert rather than Edward, despite Robert’s prominence in the House and the many other calls on his time. Where supply was concerned, however, we can be fairly sure that Robert is meant. He was certainly the Member who reported from the commission of accounts on 13 Dec. on the state of the public debts, and served on the committee of 1 Feb. to scrutinize the ballot for commissioners of accounts, to which he was himself elected at the head of the list.30
Robert’s status as one of the leaders of the Country party was underlined by his nomination to the chair of the committee of privileges in December, although this distinction is qualified by the fact that the proposer was the mentally unbalanced Country Whig Sir John Bolles, 4th Bt., who, having offered the nomination, promptly left the House and abandoned the debate. Moreover, although he was not included in the list in the Journals of the Address committee, Harley’s papers include various drafts, written out and amended in his own hand. He had a small success in the debate on the council of trade on 31 Jan., when he appealed to the amour propre of the Commons in objecting against ‘the council’s inspecting the book of rates, which he would not agree to bec[ause] probably some of the other House might be of the council, who ought not to be admitted to intermeddle in a matter of that nature’. He then prepared a powerful speech against making an abjuration oath compulsory for members of the council, which echoed previous denunciations of the Abjuration in 1692–3. He was adamant that ‘there is no security with oaths . . . I am against all these oaths in general. It disquiets my mind.’ The vehemence of the language suggests that he was expressing a sincere belief. The imposition of such tests was wrong in principle; it might lead to the destruction of ‘the toleration’; and, an argument which had surely grown from his collaboration and friendship with many Tories, it was unfair to the genuinely scrupulous, ‘searching the recesses of men’s breasts, and starting questions now laid asleep’. ‘Government that will stand’, he concluded, ‘must support itself by its ease [to] the people.’ Of course, he was also acutely aware of the political difficulties that would follow for the Country opposition if Tory scruples were exposed. In the case of the loyal Association these differing considerations, of principle and pragmatism, were in conflict. Thus, while Harley privately expressed his dislike for the Association, and researched arguments against it, he knew that public opposition would be more damaging to the Country party than if he were simply to let the Association pass, and watch while unreconstructed Tory back-benchers refused to subscribe.31
Until the discovery of the Assassination Plot, Sunderland had been urging the King to come to terms with the parliamentary opposition. The announcement of the plot, and the framing of the Association, changed the fortunes of Court and Country, and placed the Country party on the defensive. But it did not immediately change Harley’s parliamentary tactics, which leavened a generally vigorous opposition with the occasional adoption of a constructive approach, where possible, on economic and financial questions. He was at his most outspoken on constitutional issues. The application of the royal veto to the elections bill clearly upset him: notes for a speech survive in his papers, but aside from vague reference to the ‘right of the people . . . when they have a mind’ nothing much can be made of them. And, despite previous guarantees to Portland, one of the Harleys was included in the drafting committee of 14 Jan., on the address against the grant of the north Wales lordships (although a ‘Mr Harley’ appeared again on 20 Feb., as proposing, and then telling in favour of, committing the bill to confirm the land grant of the Earl of Torrington [Arthur Herbert†]).32
Harley was particularly active on the recoinage, taking issue wherever possible with any proposal that originated with his great rival Charles Montagu. One of the Harley brothers having served as a manager for the first of the conferences with the Lords on the state of the coin, both were named on 12 Dec. to the committee to prepare the address. On 23 Dec. a ‘Mr Harley’ acted as a teller in a division on the recoinage bill. There is a brief record of one of Robert’s contributions to the debates, in the form of a note made by his nephew Salwey Winnington*, who remembered the way in which Harley returned the subject from technical questions of monetary theory to simple themes which back-bench squires could understand, namely the ruinous expense of the war, and the obvious damage that was being done to commerce:
The low exchange [was] not occasioned by the badness of the money . . . but by the great demand for your army abroad, and the decay of your trade, for silver keeps a proportion with goods according to the scarcity or plenty of them, and if you have few goods to go abroad the exchange will rise upon you to your disadvantage.
Harley served on the committee of 3 Jan. 1696 to manage further conferences with the Lords. He may also have been ordered on 14 Jan. to prepare a bill to recompense suppliers of deficient coin, and been appointed on 18 Feb. to the committee to inquire into the minting of guineas.33
The hopes entertained by the leaders of the Country party of finding an answer to the success of the Whig ministers’ schemes for raising public funds and restoring credit were concentrated on the plans for a ‘land bank’. Although there is no evidence that Harley either subscribed to, or was a commissioner for the bank, his close involvement (alongside Foley, whose brainchild the project was) in the negotiations with Sunderland and other royal representatives makes it almost certain that he was the Harley included on 6 Mar. in the drafting committee for the enabling bill. He had certainly given an enthusiastic welcome to the resolution in ways and means on 3 Feb. which paved the way for the establishment of the bank, to settle a fund on the security of the salt tax. It was probably in order to satisfy his and Foley’s friends in the City, and to maintain the goodwill of certain crucial financial interests towards the embryonic land bank, that Harley joined in the Commons campaign against the Company of Scotland, waged on behalf of the East India Company. The land bank project was, however, destined to prove a bitter disappointment to its progenitors. Negotiations with the court, via Portland, Shrewsbury and Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), continued during the summer, but by August it was clear that the bank would only be able to raise a small proportion of the money that had been promised, realization of which left Harley and Foley ‘in despair’.34
Despite the failure of the land bank, Sunderland and King William’s other ‘undertakers’ did not break off their private contacts with Harley and Foley, largely because the ramifications of the Fenwick (Sir John†) affair had left Shrewsbury and one or two other ministers dangerously exposed. The ‘courtship’ of Harley and his friends was carried on principally by James Vernon I*, who found Harley in particular to be a slippery customer: he promised much, but said very little in the House that could be construed to benefit Shrewsbury, except for a speech on the committal of the attainder bill, in which Harley commented in passing that Fenwick had ‘falsely accused persons of the greatest merit, for whom he [Harley] had a particular respect’, an observation which Vernon interpreted, for his patron, as constituting some sort of vindication of the accused ministers. In general Harley’s contributions to the debates on the bill, which he was eventually to oppose in the crucial division of 25 Nov., were characterized by a cautious exposition of the constitutional issues. He was careful not to defend Fenwick himself, ‘who, he was satisfied, was the worst of men’, but to concentrate on the danger of proceeding by means of a bill of attainder in a case in which there were not two witnesses present to prove the charge, an argument which accorded with previous speeches on the issue of trials for treason, but also had the tactical virtue of giving a pretext to oppose the bill without laying him open to allegations of favouring Jacobites. Constitutionally, he regarded the case as ‘of the greatest consequence. Here it is, that the boundaries are established for the lives and liberties of mankind; and this is an observation that is found in history, that those that have broken their bounds down, it hath returned upon them to their prejudice.’ There was no doubt that Parliament possessed the power to act in this way; the question was, should it do so? He poured scorn on the idea that Fenwick could be regarded as a danger to the establishment, and ended his last speech with the pointed remark that, while it was important to show a zeal for the maintenance of the government, it was no less vital to show a zeal for the preservation of liberty.35
Harley’s persistent criticism of the attainder bill was perhaps the most effective aspect of the Country party campaign in the 1696–7 session. As a demonstration of their co-operative nature, or possibly in order to cover their weakness, Harley and his friends did not challenge the estimates (as indeed they had not done in the previous two sessions). The accounts commission continued to rumble on for this last session, before it was allowed to expire, and on 3 Nov. 1696 Harley reported from the commission on the subject of clipped money. His role as an accounts commissioner meant that he was appointed to the committees of inquiry into the deficiencies of parliamentary funds (5 Dec.), and into the conduct of Exchequer officers and local receivers of taxes (13 Feb. 1697). In February he attempted unsuccessfully to press a complaint against the Admiralty, in a foretaste of things to come. He was also on hand to support Foley against criticism from Court Whigs that the Speaker had acted in an arbitrary and improper way in admitting three voters on the opposition side in a crucial division. Later in the session a ‘Mr Harley’ was active on behalf of two Country measures, the bills to prevent the corrupting of jurors, and to prevent the buying and selling of offices; and was also included in the committee to manage a conference with the Lords over a bill, in which the East India Company would have been closely concerned, to restrain the importation of silks and calicoes.36
Before Parliament resumed in the autumn of 1697, Harley found himself once more the object of attentions from the Court. This time the approach came from Sunderland, who may have been acting with the King’s approval, and the intermediary was Henry Guy. This was the beginning of a long correspondence between the two men, and a new phase in Harley’s pursuit of power. For while it appears as if Sunderland (through Guy) was at first only intent on drawing the teeth of prospective parliamentary opposition, rather than constructing a new ministry around the leaders of the Country party, Harley’s letters, even as early as September 1697, show that he himself had in mind a strategy for government. He talked, for example, of the necessity of avoiding ‘the two extremes’. He seems also to have been convinced that co-operation with the Junto ministers, or even with some of them, would not be practicable. Thus, however politely his discussions with Guy might be conducted, there was as yet no possibility that Harley would abandon opposition. Even when admitted to the King’s closet for a lengthy interview on 1 Dec. he seems to have given little away. It is not clear whether this was one of the two occasions in William’s reign on which (according to Harley’s own testimony) he was offered the secretaryship, but whatever blandishments were forthcoming had no effect.37
Returning to the Address committee on 3 Dec. 1697, Harley seems to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into parliamentary business at the outset of the session. On 7 Dec. he moved that the House proceed to consider the King’s Speech in general rather than just the supply, and only lost the division by three votes. With the demise of the commission of accounts, Parliament appointed a committee on 14 Dec. to scrutinize estimates and accounts, and it is likely that the ‘Mr Harley’ named to it was Robert. Given the leading role he was to take during this session in the controversy over the standing army, he may also have been the Member required on 17 Dec. to prepare a bill for the regulation of the militia.38
A week earlier, on 10 Dec. 1697, in a committee of the whole on the King’s Speech, Harley had raised the question of disbandment, following the Peace of Ryswick. According to one observer, he ‘opened the debate on that part relating to the army, and showed the danger and mischief of a standing army in time of peace’. It was, he said, ‘p[ar]t of our constitution to have no forces’. He then produced a motion calling for the disbandment of all troops raised since 1680, which the House was willing to endorse. Either as a small gesture towards appeasing the King, or to give the appearance of being willing to appease, no time limit was specified by which the requested disbandment should have taken place. One account claims that Harley spoke to the effect that ‘the King’s opinion to be a little considered’; depending on the emphasis of his actual words, this condescension could equally well have been as provocative as conciliatory. The resolution was not binding, however. It was, instead, a declaration of intent. The real battle would take place in the committee of supply, and it was there, on 8 Jan. 1698, that ministerialists mounted a counter-attack, pressing for an instruction to the committee to consider the expenditure required for ‘guards and garrisons’, with the aim of settling sufficient funds on this branch of the service to permit the retention of an army of some 15,000 men, twice as many as would have been permitted under the terms of the previous resolution. Harley was one of the first speakers on the opposition side, following Musgrave. The notes of his speech taken by his nephew Winnington make little sense, though they probably reflect the rather diffuse oratorical style Harley affected in set-piece debates, and thus confirm the observation of some contemporaries that, while the underlying import of Harley’s speeches was understood by his audience, it was not always easy to follow every step in his reasoning: ‘in one session twice undertakers a Lord Chancellor the History of Denmark and slavery and thorns and thistles and pay us as well as an army and all the navy neglected, Whitehall, Admiralty, and candles’. (The last reference presumably referred to an order of the House for candles to be brought in.) Fortunately notes for this speech may be found among Harley’s papers. The argument is there revealed as a simple equation of standing armies with ‘slavery’, and the structure as relentlessly historical, beginning with examples from Classical Greece and Rome, and proceeding through medieval France, Germany and Italy (with reference to Giucciardini’s History), to England’s experience in the 17th century, especially under ‘Oliver’ and James II. He concluded with the blunt warning: ‘What has happened may happen again.’ While the impact of these particular words must remain unknown, the outcome of the debate was a success for the Country party, and the grant of a supply which should have limited the army establishment to 10,000 men.39
The triumph over the standing army was followed by a series of victories on issues of supply, smaller in themselves but cumulative in effect, so as to give a popular impression that Harley and his allies were taking control over the House. The contribution made by Harley himself is clear from the many notes and drafts in his papers in debates on supply and ways and means. As a result of his efforts, consideration of the accounts and estimates was subjected to lengthy delays, and in the case of the navy, the Court’s preferred estimate was reduced. Working together with Musgrave, Harley was able to dictate some of the terms of the various supply bills, successfully proposing a 3s. land tax and the addition of appropriating clauses (a device of which he seems to have been particularly fond) to the poll tax and coal duty. His one failure was over the East India bill, which passed despite his diatribe at the third reading. He denounced almost every clause of this portmanteau measure, although in general terms and with a strong political slant, rather than through a forensic examination of the detailed provisions: the imposition of a stamp duty, for example, would ‘ease Westminster Hall of their lawsuits’, but would make it harder for the poor to obtain justice, and would hamper the training of lawyers; the excise on salt was ‘a most mischievous tax entailed for ever’; while the setting up a New East India Company was to reward ‘corruption’ at the expense of the interests of ‘widows and orphans’ who depended upon the old Company, as well as the public purse. To have remembered his earlier strictures on the Old Company would have made these arguments harder to prosecute, and it is noticeable that on this occasion he said as little as possible in its defence, leaving that for ‘others to speak of’, but relied instead upon innuendoes against the prospective New Company men, who ‘have raised themselves to great heights by bribery’.40
Harley’s political strategy in this session was complex, intertwining several objectives: to obstruct the ambitions of the Junto ministers, and to harass them where possible; to demonstrate to the King that he and his friends could control the Commons, and would be able to carry through the crown’s business; and at the same time to preserve his own credentials with Tories and Country Whigs. Attempts in January and February to exploit the Exchequer bill scandal as a means of embarrassing Montagu, to condemn the scheme and to indict the Treasury as a whole rather than merely the receivers, Knight and Burton, were easily rebuffed, and Montagu was also able to see off another potential threat to his own position, in the shape of the inquiry into the activities of interloping merchants in the French lustring trade. Harley was active in both inquiries: he wrote the preamble to the bill of pains and penalties against Bartholomew Burton over the Exchequer bills affair; and, having been appointed to the committee of 4 June 1698 to carry on impeachment proceedings against the interlopers, seems to have played a major role in its deliberations, at one point drafting a message to the Upper House on behalf of the Commons to request that some provision be made for the managers. In order to demonstrate his ascendancy over the House Harley was alternately a help and a nuisance to the King. Having obstructed royal wishes over the standing army, he acquiesced in a generous settlement of the civil list, before leading the way in the campaign to resume crown grants. Finally, in order to keep up his reputation as a man of sound ‘Country’ principles, he joined in the hue and cry after Charles Duncombe*, possibly involving himself in bills to prevent the buying and selling of offices, and to amend the Act against false and double returns – and even speaking in favour of the blasphemy bill, the efficacy of which he privately doubted.41
The advances made by the Tories in the general election of 1698 meant that when the new Parliament convened in December, the Country party found itself in a strong position. Harley’s own personal standing had never been higher. Although Foley had relinquished the Speakership, it was with his reputation substantially dented, so that Harley now appeared as the undisputed leader of the opposition; not yet considered a likely candidate for the Chair himself, but the man on whom all eyes were fixed. When Secretary Vernon seemed to be too ‘familiar’ with Harley, he was called upon to explain himself to Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*), who suspected an intrigue.42
The standing army remained at the head of the political agenda, for this was where the Court was most vulnerable, and the King himself most sensitive. It was thus the best way to show up the weakness of the ministry. The suggestion made by the contemporary historian Alexander Cunningham, that in opposing the standing army, Harley and his colleagues had ‘concerted measures with the Earl of Sunderland in order to embarrass the King and his ministers’, seems unlikely, however. In spite of the size of the supply given in the previous session, and in direct contravention of the Commons’ resolution of December 1697, William had contrived to maintain an army of some 30,000 men (half of them secreted away on the Irish establishment). In November there had appeared the Country Whig John Trenchard’s† Short History of Standing Armies in England, written with Harley’s encouragement and making use of information Harley had supplied, which alleged that the army in fact totalled nearer 60,000. The first opportunity to raise the issue in the Commons came on 16 Dec. 1698 in committee on the King’s Speech, after the paymaster-general Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*) had laid before the House military accounts from which the actual number in arms could be deduced. Harley promptly moved to set a limit of 7,000 on the army in England, and that all other troops on the English establishment be disbanded, a resolution that was accepted by the committee without challenge and endorsed by the House the next working day. An enabling bill was quickly drafted and pushed through its first and second readings. Harley himself was first-named to the drafting committee, and seems to have been personally involved in drawing up the provisions of the bill. Having seconded Lord Hartington’s unsuccessful request for an addition to the original motion for supply, which would have specified the costs of disbandment as one of the occasions for the grant, he was also responsible for the motion in the committee of supply to grant a sum for this purpose. His prominence in the agitation was reflected in several other relevant committee appointments: first-named to the drafting committees on the bills to enable disbanded soldiers to carry on their trades (17 Jan. 1699), and to regulate the militia (6 Feb.), a measure he had himself proposed; and included in the committees entrusted with drafting addresses to thank the King for giving the Royal Assent to the bill (1 Feb.), and on the retention of the Dutch Guards (18 Mar.). Regarding the disbanding bill itself, he spoke on 23 Dec. in favour of committal; on 4 Jan. 1699 against a Court-inspired motion for an instruction to the committee to consider an augmentation, when he rehearsed many of the arguments he had used against a standing army the year before; and again in the crucial division on the third reading on 18 Jan. In private, he expressed himself with even greater vehemence, that the loss of the bill would be ‘nothing but a dissolving of the government, for there is no medium I think but disbanding the army or keeping it up, shutting up the Exchequer, [and] governing by sword and edicts’.43
The second prong of the opposition attack in this session was the inquiry into the administration of the navy. Harley’s close interest in these long-running investigations, which he clearly saw as the ministry’s Achilles’ heel, is clear from the number of relevant documents surviving in his personal archive, many of them official papers, either published or presented to the House, on which he had made notes and observations. When the subject was first raised, by John Grobham Howe on 19 Dec., Harley made sure that it was referred to a committee of the whole, ‘as of too great weight for a private committee’. His intentions were clear to contemporaries: to pave the way for a sustained onslaught on the conduct of the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*), as first lord of the Admiralty and treasurer of the navy. Harley was recorded as speaking twice in committee on 10 Mar., showing an impressive command of the evidence of maladministration that the Commons had uncovered. He had himself prepared a resolution which would have condemned the Whig admiral Matthew Aylmer* for ‘breach of trust’, but was unable to pursue the chase that day. Later he was appointed to the committee of 27 Mar. which prepared an address on the basis of the committee’s findings. In the meantime he found ways to keep up the pressure in the committee of supply, on 3 and 16 Feb., when the naval estimates came under discussion. In these debates he enjoyed the additional advantage of being briefed secretly by the clerk of the acts, Charles Sergison*, who sent him advance information of official accounts, before they were laid before Parliament, evidently in the hope of being able to influence Harley’s thinking, and through him the approach of the Country opposition more generally, on the funding of naval expenditure. In his turn, Harley presumably appreciated this privileged advice on how to frame his proposals in the committees of supply and ways and means in such a way that, as Sergison put it, ‘the Navy will understand you’.44
It was important to Harley that he and the other Country party leaders should appear to the King to be a credible alternative to the current ministers. Contemporaries still did not know what to make of him, but some of the better informed recognized that his aversion was not to office as such, but to serving under the Junto. As Vernon observed in March 1699, ‘I know not whether I am rightly informed as to Mr Harley’s irreconcilableness to the ministry. Some think he would not meddle with any employment whatsoever, or, if he would, he would not put himself under my Lord Chancellor, or Mr Montagu . . .’ Debates over public finance gave him the opportunity to display his talents as a parliamentary manager. He was always to the fore in debates in the committees of supply and ways and means, a prominence formally acknowledged in his appointment on 3 May 1699 to the committee to manage a conference with the Lords over the paper duty bill. Furthermore, he and his friends (most notably Musgrave and Hon. Henry Paget) were often successful in guiding the decisions of the House, to such an extent that, as Bishop Burnet wrote, they had ‘taken the lead’ in management. At one point Montagu became so despondent that he arranged for a prior consultation with Harley, Foley and Musgrave at the Treasury before daring to put forward a scheme to raise funds through a further issue of Exchequer bills. But when the proposal was made in the House, Harley ‘only gave Mr Montagu an opportunity to explain it, and sat still while others argued against it, so that it fell’. On the whole, Harley’s contributions assisted the progress of the supply, though there were exceptions to this general rule. He was not willing to do anything to advantage the New East India Company and continued to harbour an almost obsessive concern with securing value for public money, demanding close scrutiny of estimates, accounts and the likely yield of taxation. At one point his insistence that existing funds would produce an ‘overplus’ brought him into conflict with Treasury secretary William Lowndes*. And, in any case, everything had to be set against the hostile reaction his leadership of the anti-standing army agitation had prompted in the mind of the King. This was no doubt exacerbated by Harley’s outright rejection of William’s request that Parliament reconsider the expulsion of the regiment of Dutch guards. ‘The delivery of such a message’, he was reported to have said in the Commons,
gave him much trouble of thought, more than he could express. He added satirically, that he acquitted the ministers from having any hand in it; at least those of them who were Members, for if they had desired the continuance of the Dutch here, they could have proposed it when they had so many opportunities of doing it regularly, and with greater prospect of success, while the disbanding bill was depending in the House.
Not surprisingly, as Harley later recalled, the episode of disbandment for once interrupted, if only for ‘a little while’, the good relations he claimed to have always enjoyed with King William personally.45
Shortly after the prorogation Orford resigned, and during the summer Charles Montagu followed suit, leaving the Junto ministry in disarray, and Harley the centre of attention. It was at this time that his brother Edward wrote him a reproving letter, referring in vague and allusive terms to an aspect of Robert’s conduct which was overshadowing his successes on the political stage. Bearing in mind Sir Edward’s earlier reprimands, it is possible that what was being hinted at was an excessive liking for drink. If so this might perhaps be interpreted, in an indirect way, as an index of Robert’s growing maturity, or at least of his increasing emancipation from the influence of his ageing father. Political maturity was also visible in his relations with the Court, and with the two ‘undertakers’, Shrewsbury and Sunderland. Harley had retired to the country for the summer to keep out of harm’s way. When he returned to London he was immediately summoned to a meeting with Shrewsbury but reiterated his unwillingness to take a place in a reconstructed ministry. At about this time Sunderland also resumed contact, again using Guy as an intermediary. The time was not right, however, and Harley could not contemplate either joining with the remaining Junto lords or separating from his Tory allies. A draft letter, possibly intended for Guy, proclaimed his willingness to do whatever was necessary in the next parliamentary session for the King’s service and to preserve the public credit, and set out what in retrospect looks like a ‘scheme’ for managing the revenue. ‘Debts and deficiencies’ preoccupied him: in order to steer a course between, on the one hand, the demands of creditors and, on the other, the unwillingness of some MPs (presumably the Tories) to give anything towards the public debt, he proposed that funds be raised to settle part of the debt, and to establish a ‘regular method’ so that the remainder might be paid off in due course. But he was careful to add a ‘caution’, ‘that [it] must not be known at present that I have any intentions this way, for I am convinced by more experiments than one how far some gentlemen will venture to obstruct his Majesty’s service rather than suffer him to be served by any person they causelessly dislike’.46
The sudden death of Paul Foley, just before the opening of the new session, was a blow to the opposition, though perhaps not as great a blow as it would have been several years earlier. As far as Harley himself was concerned, although he mourned his old comrade-in-arms, he must also have appreciated the fact that he himself was now unchallengeable as the leading spokesman for the opposition in the Lower House. ‘It has pleased God to lay a great load on me’, was how he described his situation to his father, and at one point he confessed that ‘I think I have not exceeded four hours’ sleep’. He began the session with nomination to the Address committee on 28 Nov. 1699. The thrust of his strategy was once more to contribute constructively to debates on supply while harrying the remaining Whig ministers, this time over the issue of crown grants, thus demonstrating both his own usefulness to the King and the extent to which the avarice and incompetence of the Junto lords had made them a political liability. Lord Chancellor Somers seems to have been his principal target. Harley began with a preliminary sortie into the affair of Captain Kidd, in which his private papers show that he took a close interest. Having demanded a full-scale parliamentary inquiry, he was said to have ‘put into form’ the Commons motion against the grant. There followed a full-scale onslaught over the Irish forfeited estates, in which Harley again appeared in the van, serving on the drafting committee for the resumption bill and making a powerful speech at the second reading on 18 Jan. 1700, which Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, regarded as the ‘best that day’. However, at other times he seemed to hold back a little. On 13 Feb., for instance, he spoke in the debate on crown grants, which turned into an opposition attack on Somers. He certainly urged the House to pass the resolution condemning the grants, with the somewhat alarmist remark (as reported by Edward Clarke I*) that ‘if this question does not pass, all will be granted away, and they pass all at once’, and he was willing enough to denounce Lord Jersey ‘as one my Lord Sunderland has no kindness for’ (according to Vernon), but he generally preferred to let his colleagues fire the main charges, and contented himself with one other brief intervention, to answer Hon. Thomas Newport, who had referred to the 14th-century precedent of Michael de la Pole and argued that Pole would not have been impeached for receiving crown grants alone. According to Cocks, Harley ‘said he did not know how de la Pole came to be talked on; there was nothing said of him; so that was no answer to anything said before he enforced the question’. This relatively restrained approach antagonized some fiercer Tories, and on the resumption of the debate, on the 15th, Harley’s failure to support Thomas Coke* in bringing into discussion a grant which would have incriminated Montagu so enraged Coke that he stumped off in high dudgeon, ‘cursing all house meeting dogs, meaning Ro[bert] Harley’. Later in the debate Harley ventured to comment, with a rather ostentatious air of ‘moderation’ and disinterested virtue, that ‘he was not for removing this ministry, but for laying down such rules that might prevent these evils for the future’. The hero-worshipping Edward Harley was overwhelmed with admiration, telling their father that ‘my brother spoke wonderfully’, but the Whig Hartington, taking Robert at his word, ‘commended [his] ingenuity . . . and desired him to propose a question upon what he offered’. His bluff called, Harley said he could propose nothing better than to second that motion made by Musgrave, which was to lay before the King the resolutions of the House on 18 Jan. 1700 condemning the grants of forfeited estates in Ireland.47
The explanation for this discretion may lie in a determination to convey to the King an impression of competence and reliability. Such a motive may also be detected in unexpected displays of ‘moderation’ on other occasions, as in a debate on the pamphlet An Enquiry into the Causes of the Miscarriage . . . at Darien, when Harley opposed raking up previous resolutions against the Company of Scotland, lest the remembrance of old grievances provoke Members into over-indulgence of their resentment against the Scots. There were also various differences of opinion with John Grobham Howe, over the number of trustees for Irish forfeitures, the principle of paying salaries to members of the revived commission of accounts, and whether to include in the report of the committee of supply a clause against quartering. Howe seems to have been making a bid for the leadership of the Country interest, but in every case Harley was able to count on the support of old Tory allies like Musgrave and Seymour, and, presumably to avoid being entirely outflanked, Harley made some of the running himself on other matters of concern to Country back-benchers, orchestrating the attacks on the excise commission, for example, and possibly helping to draft the clause in the land tax bill which excluded the commissioners from Parliament.48
The resumption of Irish forfeitures was another issue on which Harley would not compromise, the more so because the forfeitures, and the money which it was assumed was to be gained from them, were a keystone of his ‘scheme’ for the supply. This comprised four strands: rigorous pruning of the estimates; lightening the burden of taxation; appropriating funds to particular purposes; and applying the expected revenue from the sale of Irish forfeitures to the reducing of the public debts. (It is worth noting that, while generally very sensitive to public indebtedness, Harley was now prepared to take a careless attitude to the ‘bankers’ debt’, which in 1692 he and Paul Foley had urged be paid off.) Thus in committee of supply in December and January Harley succeeded almost single-handedly in reducing the naval estimates, while at the same time cutting short any discussion of the army estimates with a snap vote to renew the previous year’s supply, in order to prevent any complaints about the King’s retention of large numbers of cavalry. He was also able to hold down the land tax, arguing that 2s. in the pound was enough to raise the £1,300,000 required for the estimates, if put together with the yield from unappropriated customs duties, the surplus of the civil list revenue, and an improved return from the excise. But it was still necessary to take into account all the proceeds of the forfeited estates, some of which had already been appropriated to the arrears of the army and transport services, and so Harley was obliged to intervene to talk down a Court Whig proposal to reserve a third of the lands to William’s own disposal: ‘he said he wondered anybody had the confidence to demand only a part, for we intended to give him [the King] all; ’twas for his honour to have the public [?debts] made good, and that we ought to be just before we were bountiful’. So completely had he assumed control of fiscal policy that one back-bencher wrote in January 1700: ‘Mr Harley now manages the whole business of supply, and the House hath hitherto entirely approved of his scheme.’ Certainly parliamentary lobbyists and MPs with special legislative interests applied to him for assistance with any projects involving the system of taxation. His ascendancy was reflected in the critical role he played in the passage of much supply legislation: he was first-named to the committees of 20 Jan. to examine the papers concerning half-pay officers in the army and of 12 Feb. to prepare the bill settling the debts due for the army, navy and transports (a bill he himself introduced on 5 Mar.); and he was appointed as a manager for a conference with the Lords on 26 Mar. over the removal of the woollen duties.49
Stories abounded that Harley would be taken into office, but he was resolved to reject any offer while the Junto, and in particular Somers, still held high office. ‘Re-ratting’ on his alliance with the Tories would have been very risky. Although his family and friends, and the connexions he had inherited from Foley, provided him with a nucleus of support, he had not yet developed a personal following substantial enough to sustain an independent political course. Entering into an arrangement with the Whigs would have cost him the co-operation of the Tories and left him exposed to the Junto’s revenge. Moreover, he could not be sure of the King’s goodwill. Harley had after all been responsible for some of the measures that had most offended royal sensibilities – disbandment, the resumption of forfeitures, the attacks on Somers, whom William held in high regard – and as yet he had been able to make only small steps to win back William’s good opinion. That he was still committed to ‘storming the closet’ as the only strategy of achieving power was amply proved when, late in the session, in April 1700, a crisis arose over the combined land tax and forfeitures resumption bill. Encouraged by the King’s personal objection to the measure, Court Whigs in the Lords removed some of the more offensive amendments added by the Commons in committee, provoking a constitutional confrontation between the two Houses. MPs naturally rejected interference from the Upper House, and returned the bill in its original form. Conferences between the two Houses, at which Harley himself served as chairman on the Commons’ side, failed to dissuade the Lords from adhering to their amendments. Eventually, in a debate on 10 Apr., the Commons broke the log-jam by threatening more drastic action, and it was Harley who was responsible, with one of the most audacious speeches of his career. On presenting a report from the latest conference he told the House ‘that it was time to think of England, and that, since that was the last time probably they were to sit there, to show they were not quite insensible’. According to Vernon, he ‘laid open the deplorable state the nation was brought to’, and proposed a declaratory vote, ‘that the army should no longer be kept up’, since its maintenance in peacetime was frankly contrary to the Bill of Rights. The speech also made some reference to foreigners, sufficiently pointed to alarm ministers with fears that ‘all the Dutch would be banished’. The King was prevailed upon to persuade Court dependants to abandon their resistance. But in some respects it was a pyrrhic victory for Harley. Not only had he in effect browbeaten the King, which did not help relations between them, but he had also given an unfortunate example to Tory hotheads, which they were quick to follow, threatening impeachments and eventually passing a resolution for the removal of all foreigners (except Princess Anne’s husband) from the King’s councils.50
To courtiers like Vernon, the lessons of the 1699–1700 session were clear. He wrote to Shrewsbury:
What your Grace observes of the behaviour of the Whigs, that, even while they were discountenanced, the success of affairs in Parliament was in great measure owing to them, since it was in their power to obstruct them if they would, may of late too be said of the Tory party, particularly of Mr Harley, who for these two years past, has given what turn he pleased to the taxes, and could have made things worse than they are.
The removal of Somers from the lord chancellorship soon after the prorogation was a sign that some major ministerial reconstruction was in the offing, but it was not until the summer, when Harley himself was suffering a prolonged period of ill-health, that the King came round to the idea of a Tory ministry, and a dissolution of Parliament, which Harley and his allies considered a sine qua non of taking office. Harley had refused to co-operate in piecemeal alterations, seeing his main hope in a co-ordinated scheme, which would bring in the bulk of the Tories under the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), and would be followed by new elections. As Vernon commented, although Harley ‘professed to be of no party’, he took exception to the reforms in the commission of the peace, ‘as if done by halves’. Harley seems to have enjoyed a pivotal role in negotiations during the summer and autumn, partly because of his own intrinsic importance, and partly because his enduring relationship with Guy provided a ready channel of communication between the King and Sunderland on one side, and Rochester, Godolphin and the Tories on the other. And in many respects the shape of the new ministry bore Harley’s stamp. It could be said to mark the first of several attempts to construct a ministry based on Tory support, but without wholly giving way to the Tory chieftains. Thus although Rochester became a member of the new Cabinet, his appointment as lord lieutenant of Ireland relegated him in some respects to the periphery. Other leading Tories, like Leeds, Nottingham, Seymour and Musgrave, were kept out of office altogether, as was the formidable John Grobham Howe, although Harley does seem to have made efforts to retain their goodwill. Seymour in particular he consulted frequently. However, the crucial figures in the new ‘scheme’ were Harley himself and Princess Anne’s confidant, Godolphin, an experienced Treasury minister, and, although a Tory, a politician with strong managerial instincts. Harley would take no ministerial office himself, but instead coveted the Speakership, where he could hold the reins of Commons management but still argue that he had not betrayed his often reiterated Country principles by joining the Court. The final details were hammered out by Harley, Godolphin and Rochester at an audience with the King in October 1700. Afterwards, according to his own recollections, Harley had several private audiences with William, in which he proposed a bill to declare the succession to the crown in the Hanoverian line. He warned the King that the opposition to the settlement would be indirect, through the addition of various ‘limitations’, but hoped to be able to postpone their operation until the Hanoverian succession, a ploy which would bring in the Tories, and leave only the ‘Commonwealth’s people’ outside.51
Before the election took place, Harley was working hard to ensure a strong Tory representation in the new Parliament. He wrote to the Denbighshire Tory, Sir Richard Myddelton, 3rd Bt.*: ‘I need not mention to you that the faction [the Whigs] . . . are very busy to get in such who may give up the old English government in case there be a new election. Your known zeal for the public, as well as the great interest you have, will, I am sure, stir you up to prevent their pernicious designs . . .’ Although adopted by the Court as candidate for the Chair, Harley still had to canvass support from back-benchers like Myddelton and discourage potential rivals from his own side. But once the outgoing Speaker, Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., acceded to the King’s request to give way and absented himself from the House at the beginning of the session, Harley faced no very serious opposition. When it came to nomination in the House, Seymour proposed Harley ‘as a person well acquainted with the laws of the land, the rules of the House, etc.’ There were complaints from Whigs at the treatment of Littleton, which was said to be ‘against the orders of the House and invasive of our rights’, and the name of Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt., was proposed as an alternative, but Harley was chosen on a division by 249 votes to 129. He made what was described as a ‘short but elegant’ disabling speech, and took his place in the Chair. Drafts of the speech reveal it to have been rather more important, amounting almost to a manifesto for reforming the conduct of business and repairing what Harley saw as the disintegrating dignity and integrity of Commons proceedings: he made much of the need to ‘keep order, which secures your liberties . . . nothing makes a distinction between such an assembly as this, and places of disturbance, as order’. This would be achieved by preventing ‘talking’ during debates, and ‘reflections’ in speeches (Members should ‘argue not reflect’), and putting an end to ‘disorders’ in committees. Ironically, in view of what was to happen during the ensuing session, he also admonished Members against ‘taking notice of things out of doors that pass here’, which was ‘prejudicial . . . and much contrary to the constitution of this House’; and ended on a characteristic note of self-justification: he had ‘come in clean, and will go out so’.52
Occupancy of the Chair held many attractions for Harley, beyond the simple fact that it gave him an official salary without the forfeiture of his public character as a Country stalwart. The Speaker enjoyed an ample portfolio of patronage: the appointment of clerks and chaplains, and less obviously, the power to assist or frustrate those with business before Parliament, petitions to be read, or private bills to be managed through their various stages; and the power to protect absent Members from the wrath of the House, or to facilitate the hearing of election cases. The Speakership also afforded Harley the opportunity to display his mastery of parliamentary lore, and to enhance his already considerable reputation as a House of Commons man. Contemporaries were agreed that in this respect he was almost without peer: ‘very exact and able at orders’, was how Cocks described him, and Cocks’s diary of this session gives many examples of Harley supplying authoritative advice on points of procedure, often bolstered by abstruse precedents (possibly derived from study in his own expanding library, or in the collection at Cotton House, in the public acquisition of which, by statute in this session, he played a significant part). When Harley’s health troubled him at the end of April, and again in May, the House was happy to adjourn; the fact that Members made no move to choose a replacement was regarded in some quarters as testimony to the high esteem in which Harley was generally held, though other commentators ascribed it to a weariness with ‘faction’. His expertise could, of course, be put to partisan use: another hostile witness, Bishop Burnet, complimented Harley in a back-handed way as ‘a man of great industry and application, [who] knew the forms and records of Parliament so well that he was capable both of lengthening out and of perplexing debates’; and on another occasion Burnet wrote, ‘no man understands more the management of that Chair to the advantage of his party; nor knows better all the tricks of the House’. Cocks noted how ‘the crafty Speaker’ would refuse to notice some Members, pre-empt motions from others, and once took advantage of confusion in the House, caused by a Member suffering an apoplectic stroke, to close a committee prematurely by resuming the Chair without waiting for the appropriate order.53
Harley was therefore in a perfect position to manage business for the new ministry in the Commons. His most important tasks were to achieve a settlement of the succession in the Hanoverian line, and to persuade the House to honour England’s commitments to its allies in the inevitable European war, by ratifying the second Partition Treaty and securing an adequate supply. Both major objectives were threatened by the potential recalcitrance of back-bench Tories, but progress on the bill of settlement began well, with Harley using the authority of the Chair to rebuke the only Tory who saw fit to mention the Jacobite alternative. There is no evidence, however, to substantiate the claims of Whig propagandists that in this session he forestalled a motion for an abjuration of the ‘pretended Prince of Wales’, by saying ‘it was to do him too much honour to name that gentleman’, and promising that by the end of the session ‘that gentleman would be never more thought of’. The second strand of Court policy, the endorsement of a more bellicose response to the growing crisis in Europe, proved harder to accomplish. Harley did what he could, pressing the House in ways and means to honour England’s treaty commitments to the Dutch, and asking Members to leave to the King any decision on the question of the Spanish succession. But consideration of the Partition Treaties took the Commons into unexpected areas, and inquiries into the negotiation of the treaties led to demands for the impeachment of Portland, Somers and other ministers. In the debate in committee on 29 Mar. Harley stepped in to try and divert the House away from impeaching Somers, though at the cost of joining in with the denunciation of the former chancellor. The impression he gave to outside observers like the Dutch envoy, L’Hermitage, and Prussian resident, Bonet, was that he had for once abandoned ‘moderation’. What he actually said was recorded by Cocks:
I am sorry this debate ever began. It is of the greatest consequence to England imaginable. I would you would either rise without a question and do nothing in it, or censure it. I have a great honour for the lord concerned, but if this question should be carried in the negative, farewell England, farewell constitution. For God’s sake, let gentlemen consider what they are doing. I earnestly press the consideration of this matter. It is no less than putting an axe to the very roots of our constitution. Our posterity will curse us, and our children hereafter blame us. I would not have and I desire nothing may be done farther than the censuring of this practice, and no severities used.
Clearly Harley had no option but to use strong language in condemnation of Somers, and not to disassociate himself from the pressure for impeachment, since it had built up such an impressive head of steam. He was faced with the possibility that ‘Jack’ Howe would repeat his manoeuvres of the previous session and make a bid for the votes of the more extreme Tories. The two men had already clashed once, with Harley embarrassing his rival when Howe tactlessly supported moves against occasional conformity, and they were to be in conflict again when Howe took a populist line over reducing the civil list, and Harley had to rely on an intervention by Seymour to save the day. In any case, Harley’s personal dislike of Somers was such that the prospect of impeachment, or at least the threat of impeachment, was not unattractive in itself. In due course, and probably quite soon, he seems to have warmed to the idea. He supported the decision on 14 Apr. to take action against Halifax (Charles Montagu), Orford and Somers, and, to judge by various private notes he made on the subject, was determined that, at least in respect of the chancellor (who, he wrote, had ‘confessed’ his guilt) the Commons should push hard, even to the expedient of holding up money bills to extort a satisfactory response from the Lords. Cocks was not alone in observing the cunning manner in which the Speaker proceeded with the business of impeachment, delaying the trial as long as possible until sufficient evidence might be obtained.54
Harley was obliged to face the consequences of the failure of the 1701 Parliament when called to Hampton Court by the King on 31 Oct. ‘Mr Speaker’, he was told, ‘your project of the succession has done me no good.’ That same night, Somers was observed in the palace, ‘in the covered passages . . . wrapped up in his cloak’. A dissolution, and a return to the Whigs, seemed unavoidable. None the less, Harley made last-minute efforts to rally the Tories, consulting Godolphin, Seymour and even Howe, with whom he seems to have made his peace. He was led to believe by Sunderland that William still wished him to remain in the Chair, but sensed that the Junto ‘would not permit it’. While carrying on his increasingly desperate negotiations with the King, he also threw himself into the propaganda campaign which preceded the inevitable general election. Harley had already cultivated close contacts with a number of journalists and political writers, including Charles Davenant*, John Toland and John Trenchard, some of whom had produced pamphlets and broadsides at his bidding, and he was himself said to have written A Vindication of the Proceedings of the Commons . . . (1701) as part of the paper war over the impeachments. Then, before the election, he sent Davenant a copy of a Whig broadside, Some Queries which May Deserve Consideration, with suggestions for a refutation, which eventually appeared as A Letter to the Grecian Coffee-House (1701), and composed a rough draft of The Taunton Dean Letter (1701), which again was probably turned into publishable form by another hand. The distinguishing feature of each of these productions was their concentration on Somers and his supposed iniquities, public and private. In return, the Whig press attacked Harley too by name as a political turncoat; once a Whig himself, and now, as they put it, ‘a leader of the Tory party’.55
Harley accepted the change of ministry, but determined to try and stay as Speaker, and resisted all efforts from the Court to persuade him to step down. He relied on the continued support of back-bench Tories, together with his own personal followers, the Foley connexion, and those Members attached to the reversionary interest at court, around Princess Anne. Littleton was now the Court candidate for the Chair. When Parliament assembled, on 30 Dec. 1701, in ‘one of the fullest Houses the first day that was known’, the question was first put on Littleton, and defeated by 226 votes to 212. The motion to re-elect Harley was then proposed by the Tory Earl of Dysart (Lionel Tollemache), seconded by Henry St. John II, and carried unopposed. In his disabling speech Harley said that he very much regretted ‘the great division in the House on that occasion’, and reassured his audience that ‘the only thing he desired was the union of England, and was assured the way to perfect it must begin in that House, which he would, as much as in him lay, promote’.56
Harley’s election to the Chair evidently induced considerable anxiety in Court circles, for he was promptly summoned to the royal closet and asked for his co-operation in supply, and in any other matter in which he might help to advance the welfare of the country. The fruits of this conversation were seen in a debate in the committee of supply on 31 Jan. 1702, which Harley began with a proposal to pay the costs of the war for the ensuing year, and secure both the existing public debt and accumulating ‘deficiencies’, by extending the ‘Great Mortgage’, or ‘General Fund’, established in 1697. This represented a startling volte-face from previous Tory fiscal policy, and was tantamount to stealing the clothes of the new Whig ministers, who wasted no time in pointing out, angrily, that ‘the Speaker [had been] against continuing the general mortgage last year’. In retrospect, Cocks considered that by this means Harley and ‘his party’ had hoped to ‘ingratiate themselves with the people against the next dissolution’. Harley had certainly larded his speech with alarmist remarks about the growing burden of taxation (‘what we raised and what we paid yearly was £7,000,000, which was the whole silver money in England’), and a tirade against ‘stock-jobbing’, which would have struck a chord in the minds of many electors. These were also useful debating points to carry the Tory back-benchers. In a subsequent debate in the same committee he was on hand again to propose the granting of sufficient funds to ‘make good the treaty with Sweden’. As always he was torn by a desire to retain the good opinion both of the King and of his own parliamentary supporters. The Country Whig Cocks observed, perhaps over-optimistically, that if the abortive scheme Cocks himself had devised for the reduction of the civil list had come before the House ‘the Harleys and Folios would have voted with us in order to have preserved their interest in the Country, and the Speaker could have given that reason to excuse them at Court’. On matters other than supply, therefore, Harley frequently took a partisan line. When he gave the casting vote from the Chair against including in a private bill relating to Irish forfeitures a clause which would have relieved the ‘Protestant purchasers’ of estates formerly granted to Lord Athlone, Bonet thought that he had shown too much regard for his party and not enough for the merits of the case; and even the Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley*), who considered Harley to be at bottom still a Whig, reported an incident in a committee of privileges in February in which the Speaker had ‘betrayed his passion and showed that private animosity and revenge prevailed over all other obligations’. Harley was happy to support Tories like St. John in reviving the issue of impeachments, speaking on 26 Feb. in favour of the proposed resolution that the Commons ‘had not right done them’ in the previous Parliament; and joined in Tory resistance to the Abjuration, which took up a sophisticated line of argument he himself had pioneered in the debates in 1696 on the Association, that is to say if an oath were to be imposed, it should be compulsory rather than voluntary, to enable the scrupulous to subscribe without violating their conscience. (This would of course have been of political benefit to the Tories.) Where he broke with the High Tories was on the question of penalizing occasional conformists, a group which in the past had included members of his own family. He may possibly have been influenced by the words of an anonymous letter writer, who warned him that the Tories were only using him until such time as they were able to secure an occasional conformity bill. Then, thinking ‘this bill will fix them in the saddle and for ever keep under the other party’, they would throw over Harley and the other ex-Whigs in the Country alliance: ‘the men whom you most trust have by their faith pledged and promised to give you up a sacrifice to those who are most your enemies.’ One of Harley’s biographers has argued that this episode was of pivotal importance in determining his aversion to party politics, and that henceforth he abandoned thoughts of constructing a ministry based primarily on the Tories in favour of a coalition of ‘moderate’ men from each side. The evidence, however, is inconclusive.57
King William’s death in March 1702 transformed the political scene, and brought to power Harley’s former ministerial colleague, Godolphin, now lord treasurer, at the head of a ministry composed mainly of Tories, and including many of the party leaders who had been excluded in 1701. Despite his formidable record as a parliamentary manager, and as the effective head of the Country party in the Commons since 1695, Harley’s political position was not as strong as it might have been. He was not entirely trusted by the Tories (opposition to the occasional conformity clause had not helped), and his shifting between Country and Court in 1700–2 had begun to create the public persona of the unprincipled ‘trickster’ which would haunt his later career. So he was happy to take the role of junior partner in the new administration of the ‘duumvirs’, Godolphin and the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†). Again he held no Cabinet office, but remained as Speaker, with prime responsibility for Commons management. From the outset he was the only Member of the Lower House with whom Godolphin discussed the Queen’s Speech; he convened meetings of the ministry’s key supporters in the Commons, both before and during the session; and he led for the Court in the key committees of supply and ways and means. His correspondence shows that he kept in direct touch with the Treasurer throughout the parliamentary session; indeed, at times of crisis they met daily and Godolphin came to rely more and more upon Harley’s knowledge of the dispositions of Members, his tactical skill as a parliamentarian, and, increasingly, his influence with the particular set of affectedly ‘moderate’ Tories, many of them young men on the make, who had hitched their ambitions to Harley’s political star. This close co-operation began in friendship, but gradually relations between the two men would deteriorate. Godolphin, a precise, almost prissy, administrator, grew impatient with Harley’s more instinctive approach to political management, his tendency to over-complicate what the Treasurer saw as straightforward issues, and his sometimes rambling style of expression. Harley, in his turn, eventually came to bridle at the subordinate position in which he found himself, especially when Godolphin insisted on taking major decisions of policy against his express advice.58
When Parliament assembled after the Tory triumph at the general election of 1702, Harley was re-elected as Speaker unanimously, being proposed by Hon. Heneage Finch I, and seconded by Lord Cheyne (Hon. William). His contributions to the draft of the Queen’s Speech demonstrate his flair for appealing to the prejudices of the ordinary Members: (rather gracelessly, perhaps) he added one or two phrases which implied a criticism of the deceased King, and inserted references to the detection of ‘abuses or mismanagements’ in the disbursement of public money. This was in accordance with an idea that he had already put to Godolphin, of pointing the snorting Tory back-benchers in the direction of some suitable targets for their outrage. ‘Will there not be a party that will find imaginary faults unless they be led to what is real and what is expected to be animadverted upon – I mean some accounts?’ This was a reversion to the practices of the Country party in the early 1690s, and it has been observed that ‘throughout Harley’s career, whenever he needed a means to divert the Commons from their course, his thoughts turned to the possibility of finding some financial abuses worthy of investigation’. While he was prepared to allow the House to vent its spleen on the paymaster-general, Ranelagh, he was less happy to countenance attacks on his former rival Lord Halifax, with whom as the years went by he seems increasingly to have cultivated friendship. The diversionary tactic was not entirely successful, but although the Speaker suffered some embarrassment, most notably through his failure to persuade Members in committee to grant the Duke of Marlborough a pension of £5,000 p.a. for life, and difficulties with High Tories like Seymour, Musgrave and Hon. John Granville* over the passage of Prince George’s settlement bill, a satisfactory supply was obtained, and at the end of the session Harley was rewarded by the appointment of his brother Edward to the lucrative sinecure of auditor of the Exchequer.59
Harley’s assessment of the political situation in the summer of 1703 was gloomy: ‘I have had much converse of late with the hot people on both sides’, he told Godolphin,
they who have come off their progress in the north, as well as others, are very angry . . . Their complaints are of the mismanagements of the fleet, the usefulness of an offensive war in Flanders; and both sides will have it that there is a design against the house of Hanover, and particularly that it appeared in Scotland and by direction from the English ministers.
Harley’s relations with the Tories were made more difficult by the bitterness of the dismissed Rochester, his former ally, from whom he was becoming estranged. His response was to circumvent Rochester and appeal directly to the younger generation of Tory leaders in the Commons. His first target was William Bromley II, whom he approached with a ‘scheme’ for agreeing the grant of supply in the forthcoming session of Parliament. It has been suggested that the price for Bromley’s agreement was a tacit acquiescence by the Court managers in the Commons in the passage of a revived occasional conformity bill, and that Harley felt able to renege on his previous commitment to opposing the bill because of his confidence that it would fail in the Lords. Whether or not there is any truth in this conjecture cannot be judged from the available evidence, although a report did surface in November to the effect that Harley was doing all he could to reconcile the ministry and the High Tories over the bill. Otherwise, all we know of Harley’s personal contribution to parliamentary management in this session, apart from various interventions on questions relating to estimates and supply, and another routine performance in the committee of the whole on the provision of seamen for the navy, is his defence of the rights of the Commons in the Aylesbury case. He spoke several times during the debates on the case in committee, and although careful to confine his remarks to constitutional issues, was none the less forthright in his insistence that the presumption of the Lords be rejected. Having at first urged caution on his fellow Members at the receipt of the reports of the committee of inquiry, remarking that this was a matter of the highest consequence, involving ‘the ancient usage and custom of Parliament’, he made a lengthy speech on 21 Jan., stating the historical background to the case and pressing on the Commons the need to preserve the rights of their house. Then in committee on 25 Jan. 1704 he followed a Tory line in a debate dominated by party divisions, speaking at length in favour of the position of the Commons and against that of the Lords. Although the speech, as drafted, began disarmingly with a confession that he was no lawyer, he went on to summarize precedents and legal arguments in some detail. The conclusion, however, was expressed in general terms: ‘if I may have liberty of stating the case, I would divest it from all the circumstances of the particular case of Aylesbury, and make it that of every Member’.60
The dismissal of Nottingham in April 1704 presented Harley with a golden opportunity. He was quickly sworn as a Privy Councillor, but it took three weeks before Godolphin could persuade him to take the secretaryship of state in place of Nottingham. There was great symbolic significance in the final acceptance of a ministerial post; and it would seem that Harley was also concerned at the political implications of the ministerial reconstruction. In taking office in such circumstances he was alienating himself from many High Tories, by whom he was now ‘treated upon all occasions . . . as an enemy, and raged at in private conversation upon . . . his ingratitude to my Lord R[ochester] and treachery to his party’. It was even rumoured that ‘they meditate an accusation against him as author and occasion of the ill conduct of affairs in Scotland’. His own political strategy, and that of the ministry, would now have to change substantially; and it is at this point that one may detect for the first time a clear commitment on Harley’s part to building a non-party, or cross-party, administration, which would draw together ‘moderate’ Whigs and ‘moderate’ Tories into the Queen’s service, alongside the standing Court interest of placemen and pensioners, and the personal followers of the chief ministers. This seems the most cogent explanation for his recruitment of younger Tories like St. John and Mansel to join him in the administration, and his unsuccessful attempts at the same time to persuade the ‘duumvirs’ to appoint as lord privy seal one of his own Whig friends, the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†).61
Immediately upon the news of Harley’s appointment as secretary there was widespread speculation that he would have to give up the Chair. Most observers agreed that the two offices were incompatible: indeed, that there was serious constitutional impropriety in combining them. Harley said nothing publicly on the subject, perhaps because he wished to remain as Speaker, or because the thought of a successor raised too many unwelcome possibilities. There was talk before the session of a likely Tory protest, ‘pretending that he is not capable of being Speaker since he has accepted the secretary’s place’, while on the other side the Whigs were ‘very earnest in opposing the reasons which are urged ordinarily against Mr Harley’, though less out of affection for him than fear of who might replace him. Rumours of a possible challenge continued to circulate until the opening of the session, and the possibility seems to have involved both Harley and Godolphin in some frantic last-minute negotiations.62
The first test of Harley’s new system of management, and of his own capacity to manage, came in October 1704 with the High Tories’ reintroduction for the third time of a measure to outlaw occasional conformity, and their attempt to ‘tack’ it to the land tax bill, in order to overcome the built-in Whig majority in the Lords. Harley played a central role in the defeat of the Tack, organizing ministerial lobbying of potential waverers. The outcome was regarded in government circles as a personal triumph for him, but by diehard Tories as a betrayal. His reputation for political wizardry was enhanced, but at a cost of reminding the public of the ambiguous nature of his political loyalties. He offended the Tories again on 18 Jan. 1705, when he spoke strongly, if somewhat awkwardly (given his own history), against the place bill, which was designed to exclude from the Commons all those in receipt of ‘benefits’ paid out of taxes:
Mr Harley spoke vehemently against this bill, and compared it to the self-denying ordinance in the late times, and thought it would tend to the destroying the constitution and endeavoured with no good grace or success to reconcile his present opinion with what he had said and done in K[ing] Will[iam]’s reign.63
The Tories were able to take advantage of the disarray of the ministry’s management of Scottish politics to extract some revenge for the loss of their favourite projects. Harley’s influence over Scottish policy was evident in the House from the care he took in the promotion of the aliens bill, and many Members chose to direct their criticisms at him rather than at the ministry in general. As one back-bencher commented, ‘the Scots affair was between two: the Speaker and the Secretary’. As a result, there were some uncomfortable moments. On one occasion, a rather airy dismissal of opposition fulminations on the issue of the ‘Scotch Plot’ left him open to ridicule. Having declared in committee that ‘he knew no more of the Scots business than Japan’, he found himself twitted by a Tory Member asking him ‘What news from Japan, Mr Speaker?’64
On the other hand, Harley’s relationships with the Whig Junto were not particularly easy either. The revival of the Aylesbury case he found particularly distressing, and did what he could both in the House, and in his official capacity, to delay its progress. His private reflections on the subject were bitter. His main concern was that the dispute between the two Houses would ‘like a burning glass unite all the Commons to make their beams hotter’; and he laid the blame squarely on the ambitions of the Whig Junto, and Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas) in particular: ‘this case, scandalous, that one lord and one judge, the one to gratify his ambition, the other his singular fancy, shall draw the Queen into inconvenience.’ But in his view ‘the root of the matter’ went much deeper than the electoral politics of Aylesbury. It arose from the cynical political strategy the Junto had adopted since 1698: King William ‘was first angry with the Commons for disbanding his army; his ministers afterwards trifled away their majority, then they found it was not retrievable by them; they set up the House of Lords and ordered their scribblers to write against the Commons’.65
The essential weakness of Harley’s position lay in the relationship of the lord treasurer to the Whig Junto, and Godolphin’s dependence on the support of the Junto in the Lords. The appointment of the Whig William Cowper* as lord keeper in the summer of 1705, against Harley’s advice, was a straw in the wind for the future direction of ministerial strategy. Henceforth Harley would either have to come to some personal accommodation with the Whig party, or fight a rearguard action against the inclusion of more of their number in government. The first test for him came with the choice of a Speaker in the new Parliament, in October 1705. He could not seriously entertain any hopes of holding on to the Chair himself, and declared flatly that he had no wish to do so. Godolphin decided that the ministry should support a Court Whig, John Smith I, and in July 1705 the choice of Smith was agreed upon at a meeting of ministerial supporters (Court Tories as well as Whigs) convened by Harley, at which the treasurer spoke strongly against ‘the Tackers and their party’. Harley had no option but to acquiesce in this decision, although to begin with he had opposed it, and eventually promised that he ‘would undertake for the Foleys that they should come into the project’. There followed a heated exchange of letters with Godolphin, in which Harley set out his ‘crude notions’ of management (as he somewhat archly described them), with a significant emphasis on the position of the monarch:
I take it for granted that no party in the House can carry it for themselves without the Queen’s servants join them; that the foundation is, persons or parties are to come in to the Queen, and not the Queen to them . . . The embodying of gentlemen (country gentlemen I mean) against the Queen’s service is what is to be avoided. Therefore things which another time may be reasonable in themselves may prove dangerous to be granted at this time, if they will shock more persons than they will gain.
It may be that he hoped to restrict concessions to moderate Whigs like Smith, who might be detached from the Junto. If so, he cannot have been encouraged by the enthusiasm the Junto lords themselves showed for Smith’s election. In any event, he carried out his share of the bargain, intervening in the debate in favour of Smith, voting for him in the division, and bringing many, if not quite all, of his followers to do the same.66
Freed from the shackles of the Speakership, Harley was now acting quite openly as the leader of the ministerial forces in the Commons. He was named on 1 Nov. 1705 to the committee on the Address, and as secretary of state was also responsible for conveying royal messages, and for presenting to the House various papers. It was Harley who was entrusted with the responsibility for bringing in the bill to repeal the previous session’s Alien Act, a duty he accomplished with his customary efficiency, despite the passions roused by the issue. With the ministry trying to occupy the middle ground between the parties, and subject to crossfire, the session proved extremely difficult. His own position was particularly exposed, disliked as he was by the extremists on both sides. The course he followed was therefore one of ‘moderation’; its objectives to do the Queen’s business and to avoid controversy. In December he refuted Tory accusations that the Church was ‘in danger’ under the current administration, going so far as to declare that it was ‘an abominable practice to insinuate the danger’, and comparing these ‘noises’ to ‘the false alarm of the Irish that frighted all the nation in the beginning of K[ing] William’s reign’. But in the debate on offering a reward for the apprehension of the printer of the Memorial of the Church of England, Harley argued for a lower figure than his Whig colleagues, which led Lord Cowper (William) to conclude that he knew the identity of the author. Relationships with Whigs like Cowper, who had already been taken into the ministry, remained uneasy. Although Harley gave his backing to the Whig candidate for the chair of the committee of privileges, Hon. Spencer Compton, over the Tory (Sir) Gilbert Dolben (1st Bt.), he was suspected by Whigs of inconsistency in his approach to election cases, sometimes favouring one party, and sometimes another. There was an unpleasant exchange with Cowper in December over the forthcoming hearing of the Hertford election, in which, according to the lord keeper, Harley implied that he would ‘do all he could underhand to spoil the . . . business’, in response to the Whigs’ failure to support the Court in vindicating Godolphin in the debate on Scottish affairs.67
In the debate on 4 Dec. on the most effective method of securing the succession, Harley tried to steer a course between the Tories’ ‘Hanover motion’, and the Junto’s proposal for a regency bill, by the simple expedient of adjourning the debate. The momentum for the regency bill could not be stopped, however, and, because of the determination of a squadron of Country Whigs to use the opportunity to force through further reinforcement of place legislation, it became the cause célèbre of the session. In one of the early debates on the bill, Harley came to the defence of the lord treasurer against the innuendoes of the Tory Charles Caesar, and later his energetic opposition to the ‘whimsical clause’ also earned him Godolphin’s heartfelt gratitude, even though not all Harley’s followers had taken the same line. In a speech on 23 Jan. 1706 he denounced the clause as ‘the worst method’ that could have been chosen to modify the Act of Settlement, since it complicated rather than simplified matters. He then went through the intended exclusions one by one, finding detailed objections. But perhaps his most telling point was to question the motives of those who supported the clause, in order to sow doubt in their minds: some, he said, were in reality against the bill, and hoped by this means to ‘sink’ it; others, who supported the bill, had added the clause to make sure it passed. Each course of action, however, involved risks: either the bill passed, in which case its opponents would end up with ‘two things they do not like’; or it failed, leaving its supporters defeated in both their objectives. In a later speech he developed a quite different set of arguments, more pragmatic in tone, denying that there were now more office-holders in Parliament than before, pointing out that the previous exclusion of the customs commissioners had not led to any decrease in the number of impositions on trade, and more generally insisting on the vague principle that ‘the government is constituted upon a proportionable dependence of each part upon the whole’, and that therefore the Commons should not presume on their power to dictate to the crown. He also harked back to the approach of earlier place bills, the ones he himself had supported in 1692–5, in claiming that the disqualification of individuals in this way infringed upon the rights of the electorate: it was ‘contrary to the rights of the boroughs; if gent[lemen] do not like me, exclude me and my family, but do not limit my borough’. On 4 Feb. Harley was named one of the managers for a conference with the Lords on the bill.68
The crisis over the ‘whimsical clause’ also offered a chance for Harley to try again to drive a wedge between Godolphin and the Junto. A meeting held by the lord treasurer in January 1706 to reconcile Harley with the Whig lords was only a partial success. Halifax and Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) were there, but Somers did not come. When the Junto stepped into the dispute over the clause to broker a compromise, Harley took the opportunity to ‘blow the coals’ by ‘telling the real Court they are sacrificed’. One ‘whimsical’ reported that ‘Mr Harley has left himself a clear stage next session to fall on this administration, for he pretended to be sick all the time this was transacting, and all his own creatures and family friends opposed it, and now he speaks loudly against the wisdom of it’. But this was a risky strategy, and could easily backfire. In March there were rumours of his imminent dismissal: he was to be ‘set at defiance without any consideration’. Nothing was done, however. Rumour had it that the Duke of Newcastle (now brought into office) had interceded with Godolphin on Harley’s behalf, and even that Harley had devised a ‘scheme’ for government in which Newcastle was to be ‘his first minister’, but although intrigues of this kind, with Newcastle and others, would occur two years later, and again in 1710, there is no evidence that at this point Harley was actively conspiring against Marlborough and Godolphin. Indeed, Godolphin was said to have been ‘very glad to lay hold of’ Newcastle’s intervention in order ‘to save him [Harley] and to answer those that desired this, that so bold a step could not be made when the Whigs themselves were not all of opinion to lay him aside’.69
Far from accepting the increased participation of the Junto in government, Harley intensified his efforts to persuade Godolphin to resist Whig advances. Anguished appeals stressed the malignity and presumption of both sets of party leaders, especially in their dealings with the Queen, and the wisdom of seeking some middle way between the factions. ‘I have no inclination to one side more than another’, he wrote, in what has been seen as a confession of his underlying political principles; ‘if it be to any it is to those who have . . . offered to serve. I desire to get as many to help them as I can. I would not depreciate their merit, nor would have them overturned by want of numbers.’ In other words, the treasurer should persist in the enterprise of building up a coalition of ‘moderates’. As for the parties, they should be made to serve her Majesty, not the other way about. He had no objection to making concessions to the Junto, but these should not be disproportionate. What is also clear from his correspondence with the treasurer is that he no longer felt sure of Godolphin’s confidence. ‘I am in the dark’, he wrote in about September 1706, ‘how far would you go?’ He himself had been forced to guess at Godolphin’s intentions, and there is the suggestion, even at this stage, that he had in his turn been the object of suspicions, which may account for his professions of neutrality. Moreover, he was increasingly the repository of the Queen’s confidences, having gained privileged access to the closet through his ‘cousin’ Abigail Hill, and was suspected of stiffening Anne’s resistance to the admission of more Whigs to high office. During the summer and autumn of 1706 the struggle focused on the proposed appointment of Sunderland as secretary of state. For Harley this was a critical concession. He warned Godolphin: ‘if so much pressed now to take them in, when most think him unfit, when will it be possible to part with him?’ ‘If you stop it now, it will make you better served and observed by all sides. It is gone too far; it will be too late hereafter. Everybody will worship the idol party that is set up.’ In one of many such letters, Harley claimed that he himself had ‘no thoughts but for the Queen’s service, and your lordship’s . . . I have no obligation to any party; I have no inclination to one more than another; I have no animosity to any’; but at the same time he spared no pains in his denunciation of the ‘violence’ of the Junto, these ‘real atheists and pretended patriots’, as he now called them. Their flagrant ambition was to engross power: ‘do the Whigs deserve to enjoy all the Queen’s successes’, he wrote, ‘and nobody else?’ Eventually, however, despite all Harley’s pleadings and arguments, Sunderland’s appointment was confirmed just before the parliamentary session opened.70
Harley seems now to have changed the emphasis of his ‘schemes’, paying more attention to moderate or Court Whigs, in the hope of detaching them from their party. Just before the opening of the next session of Parliament, in November 1706, he wrote to Lord Keeper Cowper, whom he saw as a potential ally:
If your lordship had been in town when I came away, I would have asked your lordship’s opinion upon what heads I should discourse the gentlemen of the country against the next session of Parliament. I have seen a great many in several counties, and of both parties, and I find both sorts are very desirous to quit their (pretended) leaders, and unite in the Queen’s service, if they may be permitted. I see plainly that a few good words, and a little impartiality, will make everything easy; and it is plain that the other scheme will not subsist more than one session, if it does that.
By ‘the other scheme’ Harley meant surrender to the Junto. Whether Godolphin was cognizant of this letter, or of any other overtures, is unknown. If the treasurer had been kept in the dark, then Harley’s intrigue to undermine the ‘duumvirs’ had already begun. Godolphin himself entertained suspicions. Having received a long letter from Harley ‘full of professions of being guided . . . by [Marlborough] and [Godolphin]’, he commented to Marlborough, ‘at the same time I doubt so much smoke could not come without some fire’.71
The 1706–7 session began quietly, with no difficulties over supply, and at first no outward sign of the disagreements between the ministers. Harley was probably the Member named on 3 Dec. 1706 to the committee on the Address, and three days later to a drafting committee on a bill to prevent the corruption of jurors. Otherwise, he figured in the Journals only in his official capacity, as secretary of state, as a conduit for passing information to the House. In January he intervened successfully to put off Tory inquiries into the public debts. He was also included in the committee to prepare an address in favour of the Queen making an appropriate ‘provision’ for Marlborough, and was first-named to the drafting committee (presumably as the proposer) on the bill providing for the settlement on the Duke of a pension of £5,000 a year. Although the bill was drafted by the attorney-general, Simon Harcourt I, Harley was asked to submit his comments and suggested amendments. Towards the end of the month he fell suddenly ill, ‘seized with a fit’ and unable to attend debates, even those ‘of infinite consequence’. After his return to the House, in the latter stages of the session, he took occasion to advertise his dislike of the parliamentary alliance Godolphin had made with the Junto. In April, for example, ‘the opposition Mr H[arley] made to the bill for abolishing the use of the Fr[ench] tongue [in parliamentary and judicial proceedings], shows he is not so satisfied with the party [that] brought it in, as might be wished for an entire union at court’. An even more promising opportunity arose during debates over the Anglo-Scottish Union. Harley had played a significant part in bringing about the Union; he had assisted in the drafting of the enabling legislation; and he was also appointed on 6 Mar. 1707 to the committee to prepare the address of thanks to the Queen for her speech on giving the Royal Assent to the Act. Yet he now interfered in Scottish affairs to Godolphin’s annoyance, in support of the protests of English merchants (the so-called ‘fair traders’) at the legal loophole by which Scottish merchants could bring into England after 1 May goods originally imported into Scotland before the Union at a lower rate of duty than had been operative in England, and on these commodities either enjoy greater profit margins than their English counterparts, or undercut English prices, or both. The political implications of the issue affected the connexions the Junto had been seeking to cultivate with Scottish factions, and with the Scots in general, in advance of the first session of the Union Parliament. Thus, when Lowndes presented a Treasury-sponsored bill to close the loophole, by obliging merchants who had imported goods into Scotland between February and May to pay duty at English levels when these goods were subsequently carried into south Britain, Harley (who served on the drafting committee) mischievously brought in an additional clause to exempt those Scots who could prove that the original transactions had been conducted on their own account and had not involved any partnership with English mercantile interests. This nicely impaled the Junto on the horns of a dilemma: to oppose the clause and trample upon Scottish sensitivities; or to support it and offend the English ‘fair traders’. The effects of the bill on public opinion were serious enough to necessitate a tactical prorogation of Parliament to allow it to lapse. Perhaps more important in the long run were the effects of Harley’s intervention on relationships within the ministry. The Junto’s fury was such that some commentators feared that they would abandon Godolphin; instead, they fulminated against the secretary, in Sunderland’s words, ‘the author of all the tricks played here’. The ‘duumvirs’, in their turn, did not know what to do. Harley’s new assertiveness in the Commons had been complemented, and perhaps encouraged, by his increasingly strong position at court, where Abigail Hill, now Mrs Masham, had entirely supplanted the Duchess of Marlborough in the affections of the Queen. Harley’s influence could be detected behind Anne’s obstinate refusal to agree to several episcopal appointments that Godolphin was pushing on the Junto’s behalf. The Duke of Marlborough, seeing the danger, pressed the treasurer to do something to appease Harley, but Godolphin felt himself trapped between a rock and a hard place. ‘[Harley] does so hate and fear [Somers, Sunderland, and Wharton]’, Godolphin replied, ‘that he omits no occasion of filling [her Majesty’s] head with their projects and designs; and if [I] should take with him upon any occasion of that kind, he would either say nothing, or argue against’.72
By the autumn of 1707 the crisis was near. In letters of entreaty that had become even more frequent, longer and urgent, Harley tried to persuade Godolphin into his own way of thinking: ‘I have no enemy but yours’, he wrote, ‘or those who are so upon your account. I never did disagree and have been no unsuccessful servant. I can submit to anything, but I cannot say that black is white.’ Yet at the same time, Harley was expanding his own private negotiations to include Whig grandees like the Duke of Somerset, who could perhaps be brought into some new system of management; and in his relationship with the lord treasurer it is possible to detect a greater impatience, and a willingness to force the issues between them. Harley arrived in London for the new session at the very last minute, and, when Godolphin reminded him that questions of Commons management would require attention, Harley replied somewhat high-handedly that ‘the little experience I have had inclines me to think that they never succeed so well as when they are directed. The people will follow somebody, and if your lordship will not think fit to explain your own thoughts, others will make use of your authority.’ Here was a barely concealed threat, and at the beginning of the session Harley seems to have been able to use it effectively. He secured a compromise on a question over which he and Godolphin had differed, whether the united Parliament was a ‘new’ Parliament under the terms of the Regency Act of 1706, thus necessitating the exclusion of various minor office-holders whom Harley wished to retain in the House; and over the bishoprics. In the Commons he came to the rescue of Marlborough’s brother, George Churchill*, and the lord high admiral, Prince George, when the Whigs tried to put the naval campaigns of the previous year under the microscope; and led the defence of the ministry’s Scottish policy in organizing the defeat of the Junto’s plans to abolish the Scottish privy council. The one area in which he was not so comfortable was in defending the government’s conduct of the war on land, his contribution to the debate on 22 Dec., following his communication of papers to the House, being noticeably low key. He may have been conscious of the potential for grave embarrassment to the ministry in any inquiry into the circumstances of the defeat at Almanza and the discrepancy between the number of troops available in Spain and the number paid for by Parliament. With such dangers lying in wait, an alliance of ‘whimsical Whigs’ and High Tories attacking the ministry with gusto, and the impact of the Scottish contingent on the balance of forces in the Commons still unpredictable, Godolphin seems to have been brought at last to accept the wisdom of Harley’s advice: to go back to a reliance on the Tories, at least the younger generation of Tory leaders in the Lower House, supported by as many sympathetic Whigs as could be recruited. This was in spite of the fact that the arrest of a clerk in the secretary’s office, William Greg, on suspicion of treason left Harley himself open to attack, and perhaps even impeachment. A series of meetings of interested parties culminated on 14 Jan. 1708 with agreement on a ‘moderating scheme’ of Harley’s devising. In the next fortnight, however, the project collapsed. The sequence of events remains obscure, but it seems that Harley decided at some point after 14 Jan. that the new ‘scheme’ would have to proceed without Godolphin; that he attempted without success to detach Marlborough from the treasurer; and that Godolphin gradually became persuaded that the secretary was intending to betray him, and was finally convinced by some decisive event, possibly connected with, or arising from, debates in the Commons. On 30 Jan. Harley wrote to protest his innocence, only for Godolphin to reply, ‘I am very far from having deserved it from you. God forgive you!’ One suggestion has been that the casus belli was Harley’s sudden change of mind on the question of the Scottish privy council; another, more popular, would point to the issue of ‘Spanish troops’, on which Harley and his friends certainly did little to defend the Court on 3 Feb. Whatever the occasion, conflict between treasurer and secretary soon came into the open, and matters moved swiftly to a climax. Harley made one last effort to secure the support of Marlborough, and failed. In turn, the ‘duumvirs’ presented the Queen with an ultimatum, Godolphin telling her that ‘serving her longer with one so perfidious as Mr Harley was impossible’. Harley and Anne frantically canvassed the Tories, but could not find sufficient backing for the January ‘scheme’, and when the Junto moved to open out the investigation of the Greg affair, Harley threw in the towel and on 11 Feb. resigned his office, accompanied by Harcourt, Mansel and St. John (though not by his other friends, Hon. James Brydges*, Thomas Coke, and Henry Paget).73
Harley’s bitterness at the failure of his schemes can be seen in the unpublished pamphlet he composed in the aftermath of his fall, ‘Plain English to all who are honest, or would be so if they knew how . . .’. With arguments foreshadowing the later pamphlet Faults on Both Sides, which was to be written some two years later at his bidding by Simon Clement, he bitterly denounced the ministry, and Marlborough in particular, for corrupting the parliamentary constitution. But although he might gnash his teeth in private, it was not easy to strike back quickly in the Commons. For all that Whigs expected Harley to resume ‘his old part’ and make the Tories ‘his abject slaves’, it was difficult for him suddenly to re-establish his credit with the High Tories whom he had abandoned in 1704, and who viewed recent events as a confirmation of their prejudices. He wasted no time in involving himself in Commons business, being appointed in first place to the drafting committee on the bill to revive the Act for enforcing naval discipline, and possibly serving on two other committees, to prepare addresses assuring the Queen of the Commons’ loyal support against the Jacobite invasion (4, 11 Mar.). He also joined in Tory opposition to the cathedrals bill, to the annoyance of its main progenitor, Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle. But Harley’s recent participation in government made it difficult for him to strike where the treasurer was vulnerable, and even though he and his followers voted against the Court in the debate on 24 Feb. over the missing forces in the Spanish campaign, they were easily defeated in the division.74
Tories in general, and even those individuals with whom Harley had so recently been in negotiation, could not be brought to trust him immediately. In the summer of 1708, for example, Harley wrote to William Bromley, in an attempt to reintegrate himself into the ranks of the Tory opposition:
I can assure you, Sir, that those whom you conversed with last winter are resolved most heartily to enter into measures with you and those other gentlemen, and I make no question but you will find a very great body to join upon such public points as you shall agree to bring on the stage, but they must be such as are of consequence in themselves and will appear to the nation and will comprehend the opinions, and so consequently the assistance, of most people to suppress them.
But it was no longer sufficient to approach younger Tories. Harley was looking beyond Bromley to men like Nottingham, who were harder to convince. Nottingham wrote to Bromley in November 1708:
As much as I wish an increase of our number by any just ways, and would not therefore refuse the concurrence of Mr H[arley], yet to deal freely I do not expect any assistance from him: there is something of a mystery in that affair, and I can’t help my jealousy . . . ’Tis very probable he will desire to meet with you and he should not be refused, but I think you should rather hear his proposals than make any to him, or if for once you should try him and acquaint him with any matter you design to bring into Parliament, if he does not readily concur, I should conclude he came rather to baffle your measures . . .
What Harley had to say to Bromley when they met only fuelled these suspicions. Although Bromley’s correspondence with Harley was affable enough, a different picture of their relationship emerges from Bromley’s correspondence with Nottingham, to whom he wrote in December that
Mr H[arley] seeks to [?reassure] his old friends with all possible professions of sincerity, and of his going entirely into the same interests with them. He proposes schemes that if they are pursued may perhaps save a penny, but what is that when all is at stake? He certainly can lay others and give his assistance in them that are more material and serviceable, and if he will not soon do so, I think he may be justly suspected for the future.75
At the beginning of the 1708–9 session Sir William Trumbull* reported that Harley ‘puts on a jocular behaviour in the House, looks fat and gay’. A few back-benchers even considered him a viable candidate for the Chair; instead, to show good faith, he promised to support Bromley, though nothing came of this initiative. Harley gave an impression of activity and consequence, moving about as if ‘full of business’ and looking ‘as mysterious as ever’. He was nevertheless a little slow in participating in debate, only ‘now and then speaks to the forms and orders of the House’. On 22 Nov. 1708 a ‘Mr Harley’ was named to the committees to prepare the Address, and an address of condolence on the death of Prince George, but the only other committees on which Harley may have served in this session were those appointed on 29 Jan. 1709: to draft a bill to standardize the law of treason as it applied to both parts of Great Britain, a committee of inquiry into the land tax accounts, and a drafting committee on a private bill. When the treason bill came to the Commons Harley secured the insertion of a clause to prevent the heirs of condemned traitors from being disinherited, a move which appealed both to the Tories and to a few moderate or Court Whigs. On 12 Jan. 1709 he again raised the question of the conduct of the war in Spain, moving a resolution to request accounts of the expenditure of public money there. The secretary at war, Robert Walpole II*, told Marlborough that ‘Mr Harley’s speech was very reflecting on the management of the war in Spain, and the great neglect of supporting it’. A draft of a speech on the inquiry into the invasion of the previous year shows him treading a fine line between, on the one hand, the need to ‘open the eyes of the blind’ to the threat from the Jacobites, and, on the other, the damage that might be done by accusing and pursuing the innocent. It was an extremely delicate matter, with potentially devastating political repercussions: to the Tories in general, on whose behalf Harley was speaking, if they could be shown by their opponents to have soft-pedalled on the real dangers posed by the invasion; and to Harley himself, should he go too far in denouncing the Jacobites and seem to endorse ministerial repression. His conclusion was judicious: ‘The fruit expected from this inquiry is not to reflect upon any: if it can terrify and prevent, not hasten, another invasion, it will be well; if it can vindicate those who are aspersed, traduced and calumniated.’ The only other significant contribution to debate of which some record survives concerns the resumed inquiry into the affair of William Greg. Harley seized the opportunity to bring the affair to a crisis in March. His enemies, seeing a thin House on a day appointed for debate, had endeavoured a postponement, no doubt intending thereby to keep Harley on tenterhooks, but he himself pressed the issue, obliging his old friend Secretary Boyle to admit publicly that Greg’s papers contained nothing that would incriminate Harley himself; with the result that the matter dropped. By the end of the session Harley seems to have won over at least some of the Tory back-benchers who had been suspicious of him the previous summer. His correspondence with Bromley had become more cordial and confidential, and he was thought to be the éminence grise behind Tory manoeuvres in the Commons, notably in March during the debates on the invasion attempt of the previous year, when a devious Tory motion was said to have been put forward by one back-bencher ‘upon Harley’s whisper’.76
During the summer of 1709 Harley married his second daughter, Abigail, to Viscount Dupplin (George Hay*), the heir apparent to the Earl of Kinnoull. There was little political capital to be made from the marriage, but the social cachet was gratifying to the proud father. Harley’s political prospects also began to improve: on the one hand, the losses at Malplaquet intensified popular war-weariness; on the other, divisions within the ministry began to create opportunities. By the autumn of 1709 Harley had established ties of political friendship with discontented Whig peers like Shrewsbury and Rivers (Richard Savage*), and had even opened lines of communication with Halifax, the still excluded Junto lord. Clearly Harley already saw that the way back to power would lie in high-political intrigue, and in this respect the situation at court was also immensely promising, with Mrs Masham able to secure her cousin ready access to the Queen via the back-stairs. Harley’s analysis of the political scene in the autumn of 1709, in a letter to Thomas Mansel I, concentrated on the hope afforded by the Queen’s isolation and the increasing dominance of the Junto over the administration:
It is plain to me, whatever has been given out to the contrary, that the ministry will unite themselves closer to the Junto than ever, and go with them to all heights. Though they hate one another, yet they are mutually necessary to support each other. It is too long to write all the extravagant behaviour of [the Duchess of Marlborough]: everyone sees it, and now she never comes to court, and declares she will not . . .
Characteristically, he could not resist gloating over Sarah’s fury at his own recent social success: ‘I mentioned to you before how she raved at my match, and stamped and roared like a bedlam to Lord M[arlborough] the day the wedding was; and then asked him what kin he was to my son-in-law.’77
It is no surprise, therefore, to find Harley slow in coming up to Parliament at the beginning of the 1709–10 session. When he did arrive it was to discover that the ministers had committed a major political blunder by deciding to impeach Dr Sacheverell. To begin with, Harley may not have realized the potential of the Sacheverell affair, and may indeed have been too conscious of the risks involved in defending the doctor, for in one of the early debates he could only offer a rather muddled speech, ‘a circumgiration of words without much order or sense’, in which he expressed disapproval of the sermon but argued that it did not warrant impeachment. On 13 Jan. 1710, however, when the articles were presented, he ‘opened the debate on the Church side, and spoke very much to the purpose, about recommitting the consideration of them to the committee; said that sedition was no law word; that the articles contradicted themselves; and hoped they would take care to preserve the honour and dignity of impeachments’. In characteristic style he cited a precedent for omitting the word ‘seditious’, in this case the notorious prosecution in 1637 of Prynne, Bastwick and Burton. He then voted against carrying the articles to the Lords, and after the trial was over and sentence pronounced, led an abortive Tory attempt to censure the Lords for their proceedings. Apart from this episode, Harley seems to have played a relatively small part in the business of the House during this session. Of the three drafting committees to which he may have been named, only that of 14 Feb. 1710 was of political importance – a bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections – but given their respective interests, it seems more likely that the ‘Mr Harley’ appearing in the Journals on this occasion was his brother Edward. In February 1710 Robert spoke in favour of the place bill but voted against, opening himself up to a smart Whig observation that this behaviour was quite in keeping with his past record of having both supported and opposed place bills.78
Harley’s preoccupation during the spring and summer of 1710 was with the ‘palace revolution’ he was carrying out at Court. The story has often been told, and tribute duly paid to the political skill with which the dismemberment of the Godolphin ministry was effected. Historians have emphasized the ‘moderating’ elements in this project: the key role played in Harley’s intrigues by the kind of independent Whig grandees (Newcastle, Shrewsbury, Somerset, Argyll) whose support he had previously tried to harness in 1707–8; his unsuccessful attempts to persuade Whigs like Cowper to remain in office; and the protection offered to former cronies like the paymaster-general James Brydges. His motives were partly practical, centred on the necessity of maintaining the confidence of financial interests in the City in order to preserve public credit and keep up the war effort; partly sound political sense, in that he wished to retain as much freedom of manoeuvre as was consistent with the establishment of a predominantly Tory administration; and partly an expression of his own instinctive aversion to the violence of ‘faction’. He may also have retained some visceral fear of the suspicion and hostility with which some Tories had always regarded him. Once again, anonymous letters warned him that the High Churchmen were intent on using him to recover power, and on sacrificing him as soon as power had been obtained. This would explain Harley’s refusal to countenance the reappointment of Nottingham (who would also have constituted a serious rival for the leadership of the ministry), and the caution with which he also treated Rochester (who, unlike Nottingham, was brought into office). However, the idea that Harley ever seriously contemplated resurrecting the idea of a ‘mixed’ ministry, with Tories and Whigs as equal partners, or that he would have forgone the political advantages expected by the Tories from a dissolution of the Parliament, seems to be without foundation.79
The size of the Tory majority in the new House was none the less greater than Harley had anticipated; and probably greater than he had hoped. Even before the Parliament opened, reports were spread of his concern that the backlash against the Whigs had been too strong, and that he would find it difficult to restrain the violence of the Tory party. His problem in this and in succeeding sessions was how to channel the energies of the Tories so that their indignation could find a sufficient outlet, but without threatening the stability of government and the maintenance of public credit. As early as the debate on the Address, he was obliged to intervene to prevent Tories from voting down a Whig amendment which added a reference to the Hanoverian succession, reminding his audience ‘of how dangerous consequence it would be without doors if such a clause, after being offered, should be rejected’. (He himself had been careful to send a letter of compliment to the Elector as soon as he had taken office.) At the same time, it was necessary to make some conciliatory gestures towards those Whigs whose loyalty he hoped to retain, which he did by protecting the residual Whig element in the ministry, and occasionally supporting Whig candidates in election cases. The annual place bill, which in this session was promised widespread support from back-benchers on both sides, was his first really significant test. His ‘loud declaration’ against the bill aroused the latent suspicions of some High Tories, who as early as December 1710 formed themselves into a pressure group, the nucleus of the future October Club, to force through their own political agenda, and seem to have obliged Harley, against his will, to acquiesce in the commitment of the place bill shortly before Christmas. In the new year he was prepared to take a stronger line, perhaps because he had drawn others in to support him, in particular the secretary of state, St. John: on 30 Jan. Harley and St. John ‘spoke heartily against’ the place bill at its third reading. Despite their efforts the bill passed.80
The Tory extremists were now in full cry. By February the ‘October Club’ had become well established: some observers even considered that it represented a covert attempt by Rochester to recapture leadership of the Tory interest. While this explanation is improbable, there is no doubt that the ferocity of the High Tory campaign unnerved Harley. He found himself in a peculiar difficulty, grappling with attacks on both flanks. While Tories sought to push through Country measures, and to pursue inquiries into governmental corruption, and to hound from office anyone not of their party, Whigs in the Commons were keeping up a constant sniping on the issues of the prosecution of the war, and the safety of the Hanoverian succession, designed to undermine the confidence of the moneyed interest and the Allies. Presumably in order to protect his government’s position, Harley had himself appointed to the committee to draft an address in response to the news of the defeat at Brihuega (2 Jan. 1711), following a debate in which he had been obliged to justify himself against innuendoes from the Whigs that the war in Flanders would not be waged with vigour under the new administration. He was also obliged to keep a watching brief over the various inquiries into corruption, serving on the committees of 5 Jan., on abuses in the victualling, and on 13 Jan. to look into the imprest accounts, and being first-named to the committee of 10 Jan. to examine the public debts of the navy and of other public offices for which no provision had as yet been made. It was a low point for his parliamentary management, and on 29 Jan. he committed a rare blunder in a debate on a proposal to tax Scottish linens, his exasperation with Scottish protests provoking him to the bitter comment that ‘England was like to buy that Union very dear, and had already paid for it’ (a reference to the Equivalent), which left the way open for the Scottish Tory George Lockhart to respond with a quip of his own, ‘that he had heard Scotland had been sold, and now he knew the buyers’. As the Hanoverian resident Kreienberg observed, ‘it is certain that in no Parliament of which he [Harley] has been a Member has he been less followed than in this’. And always in Harley’s mind was the problem of public finance. He was, of course, closely involved in the Commons’ proceedings on supply: on 13 Jan. he was nominated to the committee to consider the arrears of the parliamentary funds, and between 18 Jan. and 21 Feb. he was appointed to drafting committees on five different money bills (on the malt duty bill, hop duty, £1,500,000 loan, post office, and Exchequer bills). His interventions in debate, however, were not particularly effective. Often he followed the lead given by the Treasury secretary Lowndes, seconding proposals made by Lowndes, or joining in to oppose amendments to which Lowndes had objected. With both Whigs and Tories seemingly more interested in raking up the past, and exposing or denying corruption, Harley did not always succeed in keeping the attention of the House focused on more pressing matters. He had also to cope with some underhand opposition from Whigs in the City to his financial schemes. But, ironically, in view of his own previous fondness for parliamentary inquiries, he was most frustrated by the Tories’ obsession with settling the public debts, reassuring back-benchers that ‘he will pay the debts after we have provided for this year’s service’.81
In February Harley rallied briefly. He succeeded for once in stemming the enthusiasm of High Tories to expose the ‘abuses’ of the old ministry, this time in the commission of victualling, and persuaded Members to ‘first take care of the business of the public’. Then on 20 Feb. he made a very public gesture of conciliation towards the Whigs, and more particularly to Halifax, whose goodwill he had been soliciting ever since the autumn of 1709, by speaking ‘very warmly’ on behalf of Halifax’s brother (Sir) James Montagu I*, and his most prominent backer, Bishop Nicolson, in the Carlisle election, and actually dividing in favour of Montagu and against the Tory petitioner. This action may also have been intended, in part, as a veiled threat to recalcitrant Tories. Combined with hints that Parliament might be dissolved again if the financial estimates were not passed, it suggested the possibility that Harley could opt for a snap election and a coalition ministry. It is unlikely that this was a practical possibility, but Harley may have hoped that he could frighten the October Club into compliance. If this was the intention, however, it did not work, and at the beginning of March Harley was caught in a vice, between the demands of the public creditors for some immediate action on supply and the insistence of the Commons on delaying that supply until the passage of measures which would in themselves alienate the financiers and financial institutions in the City on whom the government depended. One Tory back-bencher, in moving for an inquiry into rumoured irregularities in government finances, went so far as to say that ‘to hear a certain minister speak’, one would believe that nothing untoward had happened under the previous administration. Harley, forewarned, had felt it necessary to stay away from the House to escape embarrassment. Some in the October Club were even hatching a plot to force his resignation ‘unless he rewards their labours better or tell[s] them why his predecessors were in fault’.82
In political terms, therefore, the attempt by the French spy, the Marquis de Guiscard, to assassinate Harley, in a knife attack in a Cabinet committee on 8 Mar., proved to be a blessing, though of course heavily disguised. It could easily have been fatal had Harley not been wearing a thick felt coat which weakened the force of the blow. As it was, he was stabbed in the chest with such force that the blade broke on his breastbone. In this crisis he conducted himself with remarkable sang froid. ‘It is impossible to express the firmness and magnanimity which Mr Harley showed upon this surprising occasion’, reported St. John, ‘I, who have always admired him, never did it so much. The suddenness of the blow, the sharpness of the wound, the confusion which followed, could neither change his countenance, nor alter his voice.’ Harley’s brother Edward wrote to their sister in praise of ‘the tranquillity, the easiness of his [Harley’s] mind after this villainous action’, ascribing his calmness to religious faith: ‘in what he trusted plainly appeared.’ The effect on public business was immediate and profound. All was at a standstill until the chancellor recovered. The sudden realization of Harley’s vital importance, especially to the public credit, temporarily hushed his Tory critics. As one observer wrote, ‘Mr Harley is like to do very well. This accident has much riveted his interest.’83
Harley returned to the Commons in triumph on 26 Apr., when Speaker Bromley expressed the gratitude of the House for his recovery in what appeared at first glance ‘a very handsome speech’. But the flowery language hid the continuing bitterness felt by the Tory leaders, and by the October Club, who, it was said, remained ‘displeased with Mr Harley, notwithstanding of the high compliments the Speaker made him upon his first coming to the House after his wounds, [compliments] which some say were only from the teeth forward’. After his return to the House Harley’s parliamentary activity was still restricted. He did not appear every day, and was named to only two committees, both concerned with the drafting of bills of supply: on the lottery bill (3 May), and the stamp duty bill (14 May). During one of his absences the House voted that there had been ‘a notorious breach of trust’ on behalf of the old ministry, in failing to account for some £35 million which had passed through the office of the auditor of the imprest. There can be little doubt that Harley had once again deliberately absented himself from the House, leaving it to St. John to defend the rather soiled reputation of Brydges. But on the positive side he was able to push through ways and means his scheme for the formation of a South Sea Company, ‘to provide a fund of interest for the national debt’.84
There had for some time been rumours that Harley would be advanced to the office of lord treasurer, and by the end of May this had been accomplished, prefaced by his ennoblement as Earl of Oxford, a defunct title to which he could lodge an indirect claim through a marriage connexion with the De Veres, but which nevertheless represented an extraordinary feat of presumption on his part. The history of the remaining years of his ‘premiership’ can be interpreted as a continuation of the rearguard action fought since the general election of 1710 to prevent his administration from being taken over by Tory extremists. With the death of Rochester in May 1711, the moral leadership of the High Church interest passed briefly to Nottingham, who proceeded to forfeit his own standing among Tories by his tactical alliance with the Junto against the ministry’s peace policy in 1711–12. Thereafter Oxford’s most dangerous political rival was his former protégé, St. John, eventually raised to the peerage himself as Viscount Bolingbroke. The great objective of bringing an end to the war held together the ministry and the Tory party until the peace of Utrecht was signed in 1713. Oxford was even able to dispense with the services of the captain-general, Marlborough, in a way that had not been possible in 1708 or 1710. But, once peace was made, the divisions within Tory ranks, over policy and personality, became more manifest. In the summer of 1713 Oxford temporarily reasserted his authority, in a ministerial reshuffle which showed that he had not lost his political touch. But the stress of high office, and his increasing dependence on alcohol, were weakening his powers, so that in his final year of office his grip on office became ever more feeble, with the objective of his premiership limited to acting, in the words of one historian, as a ‘drag anchor’ on Bolingbroke’s ambitions. Finally, having forfeited the favour of the Queen, Oxford resigned in July 1714, leaving his rival only a short time to consolidate his position before Anne herself died.85
Oxford effectively retired from political life at the Hanoverian succession, but his enemies would not let him rest. In 1715 he was impeached for his part in making the peace of Utrecht, the motion for impeachment having been made by none other than his old rival in Herefordshire politics, Lord Coningsby. Confined to the Tower of London from July 1715 until 1717, Oxford bore his imprisonment with fortitude, devoting himself to reading (in history and classical authors), prayer and religious meditation, and the contemplation of his own career and achievements. His eventual acquittal was interpreted by some observers as a last act of political trickery. In common with others in his position, he maintained contacts with the Pretender, but was cautious enough not to allow himself to be incriminated in Jacobite conspiracy. He died between two and three o’clock in the morning of 21 May 1724, ‘at his house in Albemarle Street’, London, and was buried at Brampton Bryan.86
Harley was a professional politician to his fingertips, at his happiest in the world of Westminster, Whitehall and the court, and gifted not only with an agreeable manner and a cunning intelligence but, until the decline in his political fortunes at the end of this period, a truly enormous capacity for hard work. Where the public saw a man of mystery, and his friends an urbane and congenial companion able to laugh slyly at his own foibles, in what Vernon called his ‘soft, dry way’, his fellow parliamentarians recognized a natural House of Commons man, whose mastery of facts made him a formidable adversary, whether it be the ‘forms and records of Parliament’, medieval precedents for some great constitutional issue, details of the expected yield of the revenue, or the intricacies of government accounts. Lord Strafford observed that he was
generally allowed as cunning a man as any in England, and has been always employing spies and inspectors into every office to have a general information of everything. In King William’s time he was always against the Court, and I heard it said that, though he had but £500 a year, he spent half of it in clerks to copy out what papers were given into the House of Commons concerning treaties, etc., so that Mr Blathwayt [William*] and others of the King’s people were almost afraid to speak before him.87
In consequence, Harley was always at his most successful in the Commons when debating points of detail, especially in committees of supply or ways and means (although in his last session as a Member, while chancellor of the Exchequer, he seems to have been happy to let the Treasury secretary Lowndes make the running). He made his reputation in the early 1690s through his work on the commission of accounts, and probably reached the zenith of his influence in the Commons in the years 1697–1700 when, from the opposition benches, he effectively took over the management of the proceedings on supply. He sometimes appeared less impressive in set-piece debates on great political or constitutional issues, when his oratorical style tended to lose its sharpness and became diffuse and even rambling. That these speeches often included long recitations of precedents, or historical examples, possibly reflects Harley’s perennial determination to be fully briefed. Yet, although on such occasions his speaking style lacked the cutting edge, the polish, and above all the grand manner of someone like St. John, Harley did have a flair for a memorable phrase, and a journalist’s knack of playing upon the prejudices (sometimes the baser prejudices) of his audience in relating the complexities of constitutional dispute or fiscal policy to the simpler confrontational issues that formed the staple of everyday politics: the competing interests of the landed and ‘moneyed’ interests, for example, or the envy harboured by the English for their continental neighbours. He saw the value of the popular press in forming public opinion, and not only gave his patronage to a whole tribe of pamphleteers and ‘hack writers’, from Swift and Defoe to the likes of Toland and Dunton, but often provided his authors with some of their best information and ideas, enabling them to strike just the right spot to produce the expected reflex: Trenchard’s condemnation of the standing army, Davenant’s satires on the ‘new Whigs’, Clement’s Faults on Both Sides, and above all perhaps the Conduct of the Allies, in which Swift distorted difficult questions of foreign policy into a diatribe against warmongering politicians, profiteering financiers, self-advancing generals and England’s greedy and selfish European allies.
Harley’s own accounts of his public career emphasized, just as his father and grandfather had done, his own personal rectitude, and especially the fact that he had gained little or nothing himself from his time in high office. Swift, who knew him well, evidently imbibed some of Harley’s self-regard, referring to his ‘immeasurable public thrift’, and regarding him not only as ‘the greatest [and] wisest’ but also as ‘the most uncorrupt minister’ he had known. In a brief fragment of autobiography written within a year of his death, Harley plumed himself on his resistance to the temptations of office, and, in a perverse way, took pride in the financial losses he had incurred:
I cannot accuse myself of any addition I have made to my fortune out of the public. So perhaps some may blame me on the other hand for being a good steward for the public, and a bad manager for myself. I own it, and I came into the public service with that view, and that resolution not to get by the public.88
In other respects, however, Harley had departed from the traditions of his family. His father had been a strong Whig, but Harley not only co-operated with Tories, but became in effect the leader of the party, and the head of a Tory administration. His own interpretation was that it was the Whigs, rather than he himself, who had changed their principles. To some extent his aversion to the Junto lords was based on a personal dislike (although Halifax may have been exempt), but he also denounced them repeatedly in his private correspondence as men who were vicious in their principles as well as in their morals: atheists in religion, and republicans in politics. Significantly, he referred to the Tories as a party, and the Whigs as ‘the faction’. The Junto were ‘the smaller part of the nation’, who by nefarious means had made themselves ‘formidable and terrible to the greater’. They were to be contrasted with the mass of honest country gentlemen with whom Harley shared certain traditional assumptions about the way in which public business should be conducted: limited taxation according to accurate estimates; properly audited accounts; altruistic public service; the cultivation of the real wealth of the country, in terms of its land and its trade, as the proper objects of foreign policy; the preservation of the liberties of the subject, and the forms of the ancient constitution. In the early 1690s these ideals had constituted the programme of the Country party coalition, in other words of the bulk of the Membership of the Commons; a decade later they had become identified with the Tory party, a transformation in the nature of Toryism for which some commentators accorded Harley prime responsibility. Harley could therefore argue that, rather than he having become a Tory, the Tories had come to be like him.89
But the Tories were also the Church party, and while Sir Edward Harley had been a Presbyterian, albeit of a comprehensivist, Baxterian and conforming kind, Harley ended his career as a Churchman, and a stalwart of the High Church party. The transformation had, however, been a slow process. Even during his period as ‘premier minister’ Harley retained many close friends and confidants among the Presbyterian clergy: men like Daniel Burgess and Daniel Williams in England, William Carstares in Scotland, and Alexander McCracken in Ulster; and these men, like the ‘old Whigs’ among the laity, who also cherished his friendship, continued to believe that Harley was ‘ours at bottom’. In one respect, he may have been: his constant emphasis on ‘moderation’ in secular affairs echoes the language of Baxter’s ecclesiastical politics and the preoccupations of Baxter’s intellectual heirs, the so-called ‘middle way men’ headed by Edmund Calamy. But within English Dissent this conservative element was gradually losing influence to a younger generation who were theologically heterodox and politically partisan. Harley and his family, who had always regarded their spiritual home as lying within a comprehensive Church of England, were becoming more and more alienated from the radical wing of Nonconformity. As in politics, Harley was able to argue that, rather than he having abandoned the Dissenters, they had abandoned their former principles. He expressed offence at their servile dependence on the Whigs, deplored the fact that Dissenters had ‘made themselves common solicitors in elections (where they have no concern)’; and even questioned their commitment to religious toleration, claiming that they ‘advance by degrees from liberty of conscience to dominion’, and adding, ‘a tender conscience has two sides, one as obdurate as a flint’. It was up to the Dissenters themselves, he wrote, to ‘return to the principles and practices of the old Puritans’.90
A final accusation that might be levelled at Harley is that he had betrayed the Country party for Court office. This was a charge to which he was himself highly sensitive, but, taking his career as a whole, it seems to be based on a misreading of his principles and objectives. He and Foley had never envisaged themselves as opposing government for the sake of opposition, but in the hope of effecting reforms, so that government should be conducted frugally, incorruptly and for the benefit of the public, rather than to profit a handful of privileged courtiers. Repeatedly in the 1690s he had moved towards an accommodation with King William, only to be kept out of office by the malice, as he saw it, of the Whig Junto. Unable to divest himself of his alliance with the Tories, since he could put no faith in the Whigs, he was obliged to ‘storm the closet’ to take power in 1700–1. The change of monarch in 1702 afforded him easier and more comfortable access to the throne, and a means of securing power by back-stairs intrigue. Where previously he had been obliged to enter upon a public opposition in Parliament to demonstrate, often quite brutally, the inadequacies of his opponents, he could now put across the same message in private, and to a receptive audience. Harley may have been a professional politician, adapted to flourish in the new world of parliamentary politics ushered in by the Glorious Revolution, but he was also by nature a Court politician rather than a Country backwoodsman, and an ‘undertaker’ rather than a party leader.
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
Harley has been the subject of several modern biographical studies, most notably by A. McInnes, Robert Harley, S. Biddle, Bolingbroke and Harley, and B. W. Hill, Robert Harley. All have their merits, but none is entirely satisfactory. There is also an interesting short study of of Harley's early parliamentary career by T. Rowlands in BL Jnl. xv. 173-86.
- 1. Add. 70126, acct. of sickness and death of Elizabeth Harley.
- 2. HMC Portland, iii. 448; Salop RO, Ludlow bor. recs. min. bk. 1690–1712; Add. 70247, William Levinz* to Harley, 8 July 1712.
- 3. Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. 2; R. O. Bucholz, Augustan Court, 261.
- 4. Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; A. Savidge, Q. Anne’s Bounty, 124; Al. Carth. 78.
- 5. Info. from Prof. R. Walcott.
- 6. Add. 61459, f. 45; History, lvi. 271; Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 67.
- 7. Add. 70130, Sir Edward Harley’s notes on the life of his fa.; 70235, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 6 Dec. 1692; 70019, ff. 314–23; BL Jnl. xv. 158–72; Biddle, 12–26.
- 8. Add. 703313, list of prayers, 16 Dec. 1687; 70290, meditation on ‘religion’, 16 Dec. 1715; Wodrow, i. 324; ii. 216; Steele’s Periodical Journalism 1714–16 ed. Blanchard, 52.
- 9. Add. 70292, notes aft. 1714; HMC Portland, iii. 450.
- 10. Add. 70270, Robert to Elizabeth Harley, 5, 7 Mar. 1690[–1]; 70119, Robert to Sir Edward Harley, 23 Jan. 1691–2.
- 11. Add. 70014, f. 346; 70114, Thomas Foley I to Sir Edward Harley, 29 Oct. 1690; 70119, ff. 19, 38; HMC Portland, iii. 458, 460–4.
- 12. HMC Portland, iii. 459, 467–8; 70270, Robert to Elizabeth Harley, [?2] May 1691; 70015, ff. 19, 22, 55; EHR, xci. 33–51.
- 13. HMC Portland, iii. 467; Add. 70292, notes by Harley, aft. 1714.
- 14. Luttrell Diary, 4, 10, 15, 26, 33, 51, 101, 121; HMC Portland, iii. 481; Add. 70015, ff. 242, 253.
- 15. HMC Portland, iii. 483–5; Add. 70126, acct. of sickness and death of Elizabeth Harley.
- 16. Add. 70119, Robert to Sir Edward Harley, 22, 25 Dec. 1691; 70016, ff. 28–29; Luttrell Diary, 124, 145, 180; HMC Portland, iii. 463.
- 17. HMC Portland, iii. 498–505; Trans. Rad. Soc. xxvi. 50–53.
- 18. Luttrell Diary, 226, 237, 244, 256, 262–3; HMC Portland, iii. 495, 508; Grey, x. 251, 262, 268; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2389, notes on debate, 21 Nov. 1692; Bodl. Carte 150, f. 339; Add. 70016, ff. 216, 224.
- 19. Luttrell Diary, 260, 278–9, 285, 287, 290–1, 303–4, 312, 322, 362, 421, 462; Add. 70016, ff. 219, 223, 230.
- 20. Add. 70016, f. 228; 70332, draft speech on bill ‘for the preservation of their [Majesties] persons and government’ [14 Dec. 1692]; Luttrell Diary, 316.
- 21. Luttrell Diary, 351, 391–2, 406, 413, 449; Bodl. Rawl. C.449, min. bk. (22 Dec. 1692); Add. 70016, f. 234; Grey, 302, 308.
- 22. Add. 70219, Bellomont to Harley, ‘Wednesday morning’; 70017, f. 1; 70062, draft reply by Bellomont and James Hamilton to the PC [Aug. 1693]; 70264, draft of Bellomont and Hamilton to PC, [Aug. 1693]; 70035, ff. 146–7; 70278, draft of Bellomont and Hamilton to PC, [Aug. 1693]; Luttrell Diary, 389, 438, 447, 472; HMC Portland, iii. 534, 539, 542.
- 23. Add. 70150, draft of clause in tonnage bill ; Grey, 341, 351, 360, 363; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 797.
- 24. Grey, 330, 338, 377–8, 384; HMC Portland, iii. 548–9; 70062, draft speech, 18 Dec. 1693.
- 25. 70289, Musgrave to Harley, 22 Aug. 1693; 70062, draft speech, 22 Nov. 1693; BL, Althorp mss, Harley to Halifax, 1 July 1693.
- 26. Add. 70017, ff. 283–4, 344; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 135; Wentworth Pprs. 215, 218.
- 27. HMC Portland, iii. 559; Add. 70017, f. 337.
- 28. Add. 70306–9.
- 29. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 504, 507–8, 512, Guy to [Portland], 18/28 June, 12/22, 13/23 July, 16 Aug. 1695; Correspondentie ed. Japikse, ser. 1, ii. 60–61; Add. 70249, Musgrave to Harley, 20 June 1695; 70197, Sir William Ellys, 2nd Bt.*, to same, 31 Aug. 1695; 70200, Sir Edward Hussey, 3rd Bt.*, to same, 23 Nov. 1695; HMC Portland, iii. 561; Horwitz, 155.
- 30. Add. 22226, f. 103; 70150, draft of bill for the ease of sheriffs in making up their accounts [1695–6], Ambrose Phillips to Harley, 11 Nov. 1695; HMC Kenyon, 399.
- 31. BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 32, acct. of debate [31 Jan. 1696]; Add. 70331–3, notes for a speech, 31 Jan. 1696; HMC Portland, iii. 575.
- 32. Horwitz, 216; J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 280; Add. 70331–3, notes for a speech, 14 Apr. 1696; HMC Portland, iii. 575.
- 33. Life of Halifax, 30–31; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/O59/4, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 3 Dec. 1695; Add. 70062, drafts of Address [Nov. 1695]; HLRO, HC Lib. ms 12, f. 57.
- 34. Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 658; Horwitz, 166–7, 177–8, 180–2; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1124, [Portland to –], 28 July 1696; Coxe, Shrewsbury, 131.
- 35. Horwitz, 183–4; Coxe, Shrewsbury, 422; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 48, 52–53, 63, 66, 82; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/7, 12, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 12, 27 Oct. 1696; Stanhope mss U1590/O59/5, Yard to Stanhope, 17 Nov. 1696; Cobbett, v. 1020–1, 1033, 1046–7, 1052, 1054, 1104–6.
- 36. Horwitz, 184; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 214; HLRO, HC Lib. ms 12, f. 56.
- 37. Kenyon, 294; Add. 70018, ff. 202–5, 237; HMC Portland, iii. 590–1; Horwitz, 222–3, 226.
- 38. Horwitz, 226.
- 39. CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 503–6; Cam. Misc. xxix. 357; Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/163, 177, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 11 Dec. 1697, 8 Jan. 1697[–8]; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 460–1; Add. 70331–3, notes for a speech, 7–8 Jan. 1697–8.
- 40. Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/166, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 17 Dec. 1697; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 3, 180; Add. 70331–3; Horwitz, 227–31.
- 41. Horwitz, 227–34; Add. 703313, ‘Considerations Exchequer bills’, 29 Jan. 1697–8; 70154, draft of bill against Burton; 70062; 70331–3, list of committee to manage impeachment of J. Goudet et al. 4 June 1698; 70019, f. 21; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Manchester mss, Yard to Ld. Manchester, 22 Feb. 1697–8; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 469, 487–8.
- 42. Hill, 55.
- 43. Cunningham, Hist. GB, i. 166–7; Horwitz, 248; Add. 70167, two letters Trenchard to Harley, , lists of troops on English and Irish establishments ; 70275, Robert to [Sir Edward Harley], 17 Jan. 1698–9; 70150, drafts of clause of disbanding bill [1698–9]; 40773, f. 92; Cam. Misc. xxix. 379, 383, 387; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 240, 250, 263; HMC Portland, iii. 601.
- 44. Add. 70306–9, various drafts, Sergison to [Harley], 16 Mar. 1698[–9]; 70261, Thomas Vaughan to Harley, 17 Dec. 1698; 70036, f. 10; 70044, ff. 135–7, 202–3, 357; 70150, ‘Copy of two clauses . . .’; Cam. Misc. xxix. 368, 390–1, 393–6; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 238–9.
- 45. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 258–9, 261, 267–9; Burnet, iv. 398; Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/132, 145, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 14 Jan., 16 Feb. 1698[–9]; Cam. Misc. xxix. 400–1; Coxe, Shrewsbury, 577; Add. 70272, ‘Large Account, Revolution and Succession’, p. 3.
- 46. Add. 70236, Edward to Robert Harley, 7 Aug. 1699; 70019, ff. 116, 117, 119–20; 70275, Harley to [?Guy], 1 Aug. 1699; Hill, 58; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/93, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 13 July 1699; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 364; HMC Portland, iii. 607–8.
- 47. Hill, 59; HMC Portland, iii. 582–3, 612; Add. 70018, f. 172; 70118, Edward to Sir Edward Harley, ‘Thursd[ay] 11 o’clock’ [15 Feb. 1699–1700]; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 375, 444, 431; Cocks Diary, 47, 51, 54–55; Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 4107(a), Clarke’s notes on debate, 13 Feb. 1699[–1700].
- 48. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 408, 451; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/46, 48–49, 51, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 16, 21, 23, 28 Mar. 1700; Add. 70150, draft clause against excise commrs. .
- 49. Horwitz, 263, 265; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/43, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 9 Mar., 1699[–1700]; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 396, 422, 433, 448; iii. 67; Cocks Diary, 47; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/3, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 20 Jan. 1699–; Add. 70161, William Brockman* to Harley, 20 Dec. 1699.
- 50. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 435; iii. 20–21; Horwitz, 266–7; Add. 70272, ‘Large Acct. . . .’, pp. 6–7; 28053, f. 402.
- 51. Horwitz, 274–9; Kenyon, 314, 317–20; Add. 57861, ff. 55, 59; HMC Portland, iii. 625–33; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 90; 70272, ‘Large Acct. . . .’, pp. 7–10.
- 52. NLW, Chirk Castle mss E 6138, Harley to [Myddelton], 3 Oct. 1700; NLW, ms 14362E, Sir Humphrey Mackworth’s* diary, 23 Dec. 1701; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 25 Jan. 1701; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/4809, Gawin Mason to Hamilton, 8 Feb. 1700–1; C. Cole, Memoirs (1735), 303; Cocks Diary, 61–64; NMM, Sergison mss Ser/103, ff. 62–63; Add. 70264, drafts of speeches, 11 Feb. 1700–1.
- 53. Add. 70036, ff. 268, 277; 70037, ff. 116, 118, 120, 122, 123, 125, 127–8; 70201, Littleton to Harley, 7 June 1701; Cocks Diary, 84–85, 91, 97, 100, 109, 123–5, 128, 130, 134, 142–3, 148, 159, 161, 206, 218, 222, 233, 286; Liverpool RO, Norris mss 920NOR 2/210, William Clayton* to Richard Norris*, 26 Apr. 1701; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 50, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 28 Apr. 1701; PRO 31/3/188, f. 45; Burnet, 197; Macky, Characters, 115–16.
- 54. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 8, 22, 29; Add. 70020, ff. 143–4; 17677 WW, ff. 212–13; 30000 E, f. 121; 70264, queries, 19 June 1701; AN, K.1301, no. 42; Some Queries, which May Deserve Consideration (1701), 18; Cocks Diary, 78–79, 81, 102–3, 108, 122, 140, 156–7; Ralph, ii. 739–40; Hill, 65–66; Horwitz, 288.
- 55. Add. 70272, ‘Large Acct. . . .’, pp. 15–18; 70330, Harley to Davenant, 6 Oct. 1701; 70275, ‘Letter from Taunton Dean’; Toland, Misc. Works (1747), ii. 227; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 156; J. A. Downie, Robert Harley and the Press, 48, 50–52; ‘Jura Populi Anglicani’, in Wm. III State Tracts (1705–7), iii. 260.
- 56. Annandale mss at Raehills, bdle. 829, Thomas Bruce to [Ld. Annandale], 8 Jan. 1702; Add. 7074, ff. 75–76, 78; Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I, 30 Dec. 1701; Norris Pprs. (Chetham Soc. ix), 76.
- 57. DZA, Bonet despatches 6/17 Jan., 5/16 May 1702; Cocks Diary, 198–9, 207, 247; Norris mss 920NOR 2/244, Thomas Johnson* to Norris, 31 Jan. 1701[–2]; Hill, 69–70, 72; PRO 30/24/20/135–6; Horwitz, 302–3; Bath mss at Longleat House, Portland misc. mss, anon. to Harley, 16 Dec. 1701.
- 58. Hill, 71–75, 85–86; Huntington Lib. Q. xxx. 241–71; Tindal, Continuation of Rapin de Thoyras, i. 438; Bonet despatch 20/31 Oct. 1702; Add. 70020, ff. 184–5; 70284–5, letters of Godolphin to Harley, passim; 61118, ff. 60–61; Bath mss, Portland misc. mss, letters of Godolphin to Harley, passim; Hill, 85–86; McInnes, 62–66.
- 59. Hill, 72–79; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 121; PRO 31/3/190, f. 58; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, newsletter 20 Oct. 1702; Add. 70264, copies of speeches, 20 Oct. 1702; McInnes, 69; Norris Pprs. 106–7; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 173.
- 60. Hill, 81–83; Add. 61118, Harley to Godolphin, 20 Sept. 1703; 70330, draft speech, 24 Jan. 1703/4; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 43; Bonet despatch 12 Nov./3 Dec. 1703; Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Methuen–Simpson corresp. C.163, Sir William Simpson to John Methuen*, 30 Dec. 1703; Sergison mss Ser/103, ff. 450–6; Party and Management in Parl. ed. C. Jones, 91; Cobbett, vi. 230–1, 277–9; Coxe, Walpole, i. 20.
- 61. Hill, 83; Methuen–Simpson corresp C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 4 Jan. 1703/4; Vernon–Shrewsbury Corresp. iii. 260; HMC Portland, ii. 184–5.
- 62. Hill, 88–90; John Rylands Univ. Lib. Manchester, Legh of Lyme mss, Sir Roger Mostyn, 3rd Bt.*, to Peter Legh†, ; Trumbull Add. mss 50, Bateman to Trumbull, 23 May 1704; Methuen–Simpson Corresp. C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 3, 10, 17, 24 Oct., 7 Nov. 1704; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Corresp. 358, Spencer Compton* to Robert Walpole II*, 12, 14 Oct. 1704; Coxe, Walpole, ii. 5.
- 63. McInnes, 71–73; Hill, 90–91; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 92–6; xli. 172–92; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 397; Methuen–Simpson Corresp. C.163, Simpson to Methuen 23 Jan. 1704[–5].
- 64. SRO, Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 38, [?Lady Cromarty] to Cromarty, ; Methuen–Simpson Corresp. C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 26 [Dec.] 1704.
- 65. Party and Management, 99–100; Add. 70335, memo. 24 Feb. 1704–5.
- 66. Hill, 93–94; McInnes, 95; Methuen–Simpson Corresp. C.163, Simpson to Methuen 27 Feb. 1704[–5], 1 May, 3, 31 July 1705; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss L530, Harley to Thomas Mansel, 23 July 1705; HMC Bath, i. 74; Trumbull Alphab. mss 53, John Bridges to Trumbull, 26 Oct. 1705; Bull. IHR, xxxvi. 20–46.
- 67. Lockhart Pprs. i. 139; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 44; 70330, draft speech, 24 Jan. 1703–4; Methuen–Simpson Corresp. C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 11 Dec. 1705, 7 Jan. 1705[–6]; Add. 17677 AAA, f. 51; Cowper Diary, 25, 29.
- 68. Duchess of Marlborough Corresp., ii. 221–3; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/10/259/3, William Cleland to Hon. James Erskine†, 6 Dec. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 51–52, 57, 60–63, 65, 68, 75–77, 80; Add. 70284–5, Godolphin to Harley, ‘Friday noon’; 70336, draft speeches, 23 Jan., 11 Feb. 1705–6; Hill, 99.
- 69. Cowper Diary, 33; PRO 30/24/20/282–4; Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, to James Stanhope*, 19 Feb., 26 Mar., 2 Apr. 1706; U1590/O24, Erasmus Lewis* to Alexander Stanhope, 5 Mar. 1705–6; Add. 4291, ff. 60–61.
- 70. Hill, 104–7; Add. 70331–3, memoranda. Sept. 1706, c.1706; 70337, ‘Note’, 25 Sept. 1706; 61118, f. 93; EHR, lxxx. 82.
- 71. Harley to Cowper, 3 Nov. 1706 (ex inf. Dr C. Jones); Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 715.
- 72. Hill, 107–9; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Mellish mss Me 157–96/44, ‘Squiril’ [William Wrightson*] to Joseph Mellish, 16 Jan. 1706[–7]; Add. 70230, Harcourt to Harley, 10 Jan. 1706[–7]; 70305, drafts of clauses relating to the bill of union, [c.1706]; 4291, ff. 119–20, 123; 40776, f. 55; Tindal, i. 789; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 305–10; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(1), p. 95; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 831, 836.
- 73. Hill, 109–17; EHR, lxxx. 673–98; Huntington Lib. Q. xxx. 241–71; McInnes, 87–110; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 916–17; Add. 70331–3, memo. 9 Sept. 1707; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 90–94; NLW, Plas-yn-Cefn mss 2649, Edmund Gibson to [?Bp. of Hereford], 6 Dec. 1707; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 302–3; Cunningham, ii. 138; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/183, 193, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 29 Jan., 24 Feb. 1707–8; Manchester mss, Joseph Addison* to Manchester, 13, 24, 27 Feb. 1707–8.
- 74. Downie, 105; PRO 30/24/21/17–18; Nicolson Diaries, 455–6, 461; Manchester mss, Addison to Manchester, 24 Feb. 1707–8; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/193, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 24 Feb. 1707–8.
- 75. Add. 61459, f. 39; 70214, Harley to Bromley, 20 Aug. 1708; Leics. RO, Finch mss, Nottingham to Bromley, 15 Nov., 7 Dec. 1708; McInnes, 113; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1073.
- 76. Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Gilfrid Lawson* to James Grahme*, 9 Sept. 1708; Hill, 121–3; Trumbull Misc. mss 53, Trumbull to William Aglionby, 1 Dec. 1708, 4 [Feb.], 18 Mar. 1708–9; Nicolson Diaries, 495; DZA, Bonet despatch 14/25 Jan. 1709; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, 65/6, Walpole to Marlborough, 14 Jan. 1708–9; Add. 70295, draft speech 8 Feb. 1708–9; Newdigate newsletter 8 Mar. 1708–9; McInnes, 114.
- 77. Hill, 124; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 129; Add. 61459, f. 62; Penrice and Margam mss, L648, Harley to Mansel, 30 Sept. 1709.
- 78. Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 171; Cunningham, ii. 285–6; Huntington Lib. ms HM30569, newsletter 4 Jan. 1709–10; Trumbull Alphab. mss 54, Bridges to Trumbull, 13 Jan. 1710; Cobbett, vi. 809; Hearne Colls. ii. 234; Boyer, Anne Annals, viii. 225–6; BL, Evelyn mss, [John Evelyn II*] to [Hugh Boscawen II*], Mar. 1709–10; Wentworth Pprs. 106.
- 79. Burnet, vi. 13–14; Cowper Diary, 45; Hill, 124–32; McInnes, 115–29; C. Roberts, Schemes and Undertakings, 199–217; E. Gregg, Q. Anne, 297–329.
- 80. Hardwicke SP, ii. 487–8; Cobbett, vi. 930; Impartial View of Two Late Parls. (1711), 264; NLS, Ad