HILL, John (d. 1735), of Egham, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. yr. s. of Francis Hill, merchant, by Elizabeth Jenyns. educ. St. Albans g.s. 1690–1. unm.1
Page to Prince George 1692–98; groom of bechamber to Duke of Gloucester 1698–1700, to Prince George ?1700–8.2
Capt. Coldstream gds. 1702; adjt.-gen. Portugal 1703; col. 11 Ft. 1705–15; brig.-gen. 1710; c.-in-c. Canada 1711; gov. Dunkirk 1712; maj.-gen. 1712; lt.-gen of Ordnance 1712–14; PC 19 Oct. 1712–14.3
Commr. inspect fortifications at Dunkirk 1713–14.4
‘Jack’ Hill’s father was a prosperous London merchant who, just after the Revolution of 1688, was ‘reduced to want of bread by projects and losses at sea’. Fortunately, the four children were rescued by their cousin Sarah Churchill, the future Duchess of Marlborough (her father being Hill’s uncle), and Hill was sent to school in St. Albans. From thence he went to court as a page to Prince George, before joining the Duke of Gloucester’s household. After a brief period back in the Prince’s household in November 1702 he obtained a commission in the Coldstream Guards, and then an appointment as adjutant-general in Portugal. By 1705 his sister Abigail’s emerging relationship with the Queen saw her soliciting for a regiment for her brother, and in May Hill was named colonel of the 11th foot, James Stanhope’s* regiment, although ideally the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) would have preferred to allocate him a different one. Immediately, he sent a letter to another powerful relative, Robert Harley* (Harley’s sister referred to one of Hill’s parents as her ‘cousin’), mentioning the bounty money available to all who suffered during the Blenheim campaign and asking him to forward a letter to Marlborough in which Hill bewailed his shortage of money to ‘equip him for his Grace’s generosity’. In the first part of 1706 there were rumours of an intended match between Hill and Elizabeth Colyear, a maid of honour to the Queen, who later married the 7th Earl of Dorset. In October his regiment was shipped to the Spanish theatre of war and in the following year he was captured at Almanza after helping to lead the retreat of the infantry. By mid-September he had been paroled and arrived back in England. He was again on active service in 1708 and the following year was wounded at the siege of Mons.5
At the beginning of 1710 Hill’s career became the subject of a quarrel between the Queen and Marlborough which severely damaged the latter’s standing at Court. The death of the Earl of Essex left vacant the colonelcy of his dragoon regiment. According to Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), Harley was behind the Queen’s decision to appoint Hill. Marlborough was furious, having earmarked the post for General Thomas Meredyth* and believed it was a deliberate attempt to undermine his authority in the army. Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) and other members of the ministry attempted to find a way out of the impasse and eventually neither Hill nor Meredyth got the regiment. However, the perceived role of Hill’s sister Abigail in advising the Queen led to Whig plans for a parliamentary address calling for her dismissal, which furthered emboldened the Queen in her search for a new ministry. In April Marlborough was unable to block Hill’s promotion to brigadier and in May Hill received a pension of £1,000 p.a. out of the Post Office to be held during the Queen’s life which had been promised ‘ever since he was disappointed of the regiment of dragoons’. In July 1710 the Duke of Argyll mentioned that Hill was among those who would not serve another campaign under Marlborough. In September Hill was reported to be on his way, in company with Colonel Disney, to Aix-la-Chapelle for his health, and in late October he asked leave to go to England rather than return to the army camp. It was reported on 14 Nov. that he had landed in England after a dangerous passage. Consequently, he was out of the country when returned for a Cornish borough at the 1710 election.6
Hill was classed as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’ of the 1710 Parliament and was listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous ministry. However, he was an inactive Member. His military career blossomed under the Harley administration and he was given command of the expedition to take Quebec, a scheme promoted by Henry St. John II*. He sailed in late April 1711, but the expedition proved disastrous, news of its failure reaching London on 6 Oct. Hill was back home by the 12th, being ‘privately blamed by his own friends for want of conduct’ in calling a council of war which had then decided to return home. As compensation, however, on 29 Nov. 1711 he was elected to the ‘Board of Brothers’ founded by St. John, a convivial gathering which Hill hosted on one occasion, much to Swift’s acclaim. The end of January 1712 saw reports that Hill would succeed William Cadogan* as governor of the Tower, but these proved false. Instead, in June he was named lieutenant-general of the Ordnance and given command of the troops sent to occupy Dunkirk. He accomplished this task on 8 July, and almost simultaneously was re-elected for Lostwithiel following the by-election necessitated by his appointment to office. However, by September he was reported to be seriously ill with ‘no great hopes of doing well’, and one report even reached England of his death. He returned to England in September, however, and despite intending to go into the country to recover his health, he was present in London on the 19th to be sworn a member of the Privy Council. Indeed, in November 1712 Swift told Alice Hill, that her brother ‘promises to be more thrifty of his health, and seems to have a pretty good stock of it’.7
In April 1713 John Drummond† thought Hill a candidate for a role in Brussels as a counterweight to the Dutch until Emperor Charles could take possession of the city. In May Hill was presenting information to the Commons on Ordnance matters and on 18 June he voted for the French commerce bill. July saw talk of Hill being created a peer, but nothing came of it. He did not stand at the 1713 election. In February 1714 he was directed by Secretary Bromley (William II*) to return to Dunkirk. Although reported to be in the country on 29 July, he was present in Whitehall on 1 Aug. to sign the proclamation of George I. Despite Erasmus Lewis’* fears for Hill following the death of the Queen (he ‘has not a sou’), Hill seems to have survived the succession fairly well. He lost his offices, but had his commission as a major-general renewed in March 1715 and retained his regiment until July. Thereafter he lived in retirement. Travellers often mentioned his ‘hunting seat’ in Berkshire, a ‘handsome’ house actually at Egham, just over the border in Surrey. He outlived his sister by a few months, dying on 19 or 22 June 1735 at his house in Jermyn Street and leaving his estate to his nephew, the eldest son of Lord Masham. The Duchess of Marlborough disparaged him as ‘good for nothing in the world but to drink and mimic’.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. F. Harris, Passion for Govt. 60–61.
- 2. Add. 70116, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley*, 16 Aug. 1692; E. Gregg, Q. Anne, 112, 116.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 387; 1703–4, p. 268; H. Tomlinson, Guns and Govt. 224; Scots Courant, 29–31 June 1712.
- 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 781.
- 5. Gregg, 111–12, 116, 235; Harris, 60–61, 84; Marlborough– Godolphin Corresp. 434; HMC Portland, viii. 182; iv. 300 406; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2349, Philip Craig to Justinian Isham, 18 Feb. 1705–6; R. O. Bucholz, Augustan Court, 306; HMC Lords, n.s. vii. 449; Boyer, Anne Annals, viii. app. 45, 69; ix. 57; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 213; HMC Cowper, iii. 79.
- 6. Archaeologia, xxxviii. 9–11; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1408, 1410, 1412, 1415, 1488, 1494, 1500, 1522; Coxe, Walpole, ii. 13–17; Huntington Lib. Q. iii. 237; HMC Portland, iv. 548, 593; Bolingbroke Corresp. i. 19; Add. 61289, f. 143.
- 7. Swift Stella ed. Davis, 257, 378, 383, 423; Add. 47026, f. 110; 22225, f. 172; Scots Courant, 23–25 June 1712; HMC Portland, v. 201; Bolingbroke Corresp. ii. 79–80; HMC Cowper, iii. 174; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 319.
- 8. HMC Portland, v. 281; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/3/13, Jane to James Lowther*, 20 July 1713; HMC Lords, n.s. x. 289; Swift Corresp. ii. 88, 108; iii. 509; Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 117; G. S. Holmes, Augustan Eng. 271; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 399; S. Markham, John Loveday of Caversham, 69; London Mag. 1735, p. 335; T. Wright, Essex, ii. 348; Add. 61133, f. 203.