HOBART, Sir Henry, 4th Bt. (c.1657-98), of Blickling Hall, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. c.1657, 1st s. of Sir John Hobart, 3rd Bt.†, of Blickling Hall by his 2nd w. Mary, da. of John Hampden† of Great Hampden, Bucks. educ. Thetford g.s.; St. John’s, Camb. adm. 6 May 1674, aged 16, MA 1675. m. 9 July 1684, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Joseph Maynard† of Clifton Reynes, Bucks., 1s. 8da. (1 d.v.p.). Kntd. 29 Sept. 1671; suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 22 Aug. 1683.1
Steward of estates of duchy of Lancaster, Norf., Suff. and Cambs. 1680–d.; freeman, King’s Lynn c.1681; v.-adm. Norf. 1691–aft.1696.2
Treasurer, King’s Bench and Marshalsea 1683–d., equerry 1689–?91; commr. customs 1697–d.3
His father's death left Hobart the undisputed leader of the Norfolk Whigs, but he had succeeded to an estate so encumbered that despite selling property he remained considerably in debt for the rest of his life; nor could his wife's ‘fortune’ rescue him, for there were ‘law entanglements’ upon it.4
Hobart's influence in Norfolk, though still considerable, was insufficient to enable him to retain a seat at the 1690 election when, the only Whig to stand for the county, he slipped to third place in the poll. In his capacity as an equerry he attended King William on the Irish campaign and fought at the Boyne. Luttrell reported in June 1691 that he would lose office, being unable any longer to perform his duties adequately, as he had ‘a great lawsuit to attend’, and it is likely that he was replaced at that time. Anxious to get back into Parliament, he was spoken of in 1693 as likely to be returned for Norfolk at the next election, and in May of the following year came in at a by-election for Bere Alston on the interest of his briother-in-law the 2nd Earl of Stamford.5
Hobart was soon prominent as an industrious, if not eloquent, Member. As a Whig and apparently a friend of Edward Russell*, he naturally gravitated to the Court. When on 13 Apr. 1695 the Commons resolved to ask for a conference with the Lords on the question of examining Sir Thomas Cooke*, Hobart was sent to convey the request, and he was subsequently appointed a manager for the conference. He chaired the committee supervising the election of the Commons' representatives on the joint committee of the two Houses which was to examine Cooke, and was himself elected to it. He was also named in April to the committee to prepare the impeachment of the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†), and was a teller on 13 Apr. for a motion that the House go into committee on the bill against James Craggs I* and Richard Harnage*, and again on 15 Apr. on the Court side, against committing to the whole the bill requiring certain persons to take the oaths.6
Returned for Norfolk in 1695, Hobart continued to support the ministry assiduously. He was forecast as likely to vote with the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. Having himself signed the Association promptly, he promoted it zealously in his own county. In March he voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. His tellerships in the 1695-6 session demonstrate his Court allegiance, and he also guided through the Commons bills for repairing roads in Norfolk, for encouraging the subscription for the Greenland trade, and for restraining the wearing of imported East Indian cloth. This last measure had originated in various petitions from Kent and East Anglia, including one from the weavers in and around Norwich, with whom Hobart was in close touch, and on 7 Mar. 1696 he reported from the committee to which the petitions had been referred. Despite his successful parliamentary management in the Commons, the bill was eventually lost in the Lords. Shortly after the prorogation, in pursuance of a family feud dating back to the elections to the Exclusion Parliaments, he obtained an order from the Privy Council for the arrest of one of his father's enemies, a Norfolk non-juror, Sir Christopher Calthorpe†. Humphrey Prideaux, who disliked Hobart greatly, considered the arrest to have been a matter of ‘peevish malice not to be countenanced’, and went on:
I wish Sir Henry instead of persecuting his neighbours would think of paying his debts, which he takes no care of, but useth his privilege to protect him, to the doing of great prejudices to some of his creditors. There is a lady of one of the best families in the country who hath all her fortune in his hands, and he hath not paid her any interest these several years ... The case of several others of the like nature will come against him next sessions, and I hope the House will not think fit to protect him in such practices. He stays in London [?as] agent for the party; he heads all their malicious devices.
When the inoffensive Calthorpe was released, following a decision on a similar case at the county assizes, there was talk of a further order from the Council to ‘re-commit’ him, and Prideaux was told that Hobart ‘threatens he will bring the matter into Parliament’.7
In the next session Hobart achieved some importance as a leader of the Rose Club. He was even busier than usual in the House and generally on the ministry's behalf; certainly never in opposition. A firm supporter of the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, he was one of the three Members who on 6 Nov, 1696 were given the responsibility of seeing that Fenwick was brought up to the House, and during the debate on the bill of attainder he made his only known speech in this period, a short one, in favour of admitting as evidence a written deposition from the absconded witness, Goodman, a speech in which he answered succinctly the argument that to admit written evidence would be to set a bad precedent: ‘As to that, I shall only say, in a good reign, and a good Parliament, there is no danger; and in an ill reign, and an ill Parliament, they will make precedents without your giving of them.’ He duly voted for the attainder on 25 Nov. Two days later he acted as a teller in favour of referring to the committee on the bill for regulating elections one of many petitions from boroughs against the bill, a petition from Southwark praying that the proposed qualification of landownership might be dispensed with in the case of parliamentary candidates for that particular borough. Hobart took the chair of the committee which drew up reasons against the Lords' amendments to the bill ‘for further remedying the ill state of the coin’ and which managed the conference on 2 Dec. when the reasons were communicated. On 4 Dec. he presented a second bill against the wearing of imported East India cloth, which he and one of the Norwich Members, Thomas Blofield, had been ordered by the House to bring in. He told on 2 Jan. 1697 in favour of extending for ten days the leave of absence to Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt. Having served as chairman of the committee of the whole on his own East Indian cloth bill, he acted as a teller twice in support of the bill (1 and 3 Feb.). On 8 Feb. he and Hon. Goodwin Wharton told for introducing a general naturalization bill and were appointed to bring it in. Robert Price*, a Tory, commented that it was
very strange, that one week there was a mighty contest for a bill against East India commodities and to improve the woollen manufacture, which was alleged to be to employ the poor, and a few days after a bill of naturalization, which will bring few rich and all the poor of other countries to make our own poorer.
Hobart was one of seven ministerialists elected on 12 Feb. to fill the commission of accounts. This was a successful move, said to have been engineered by Charles Montagu* ‘in alliance with the Rose Club’, to stifle the commission: the opposition, faced with a situation in which the commissioners were all Court men, were forced to acquiesce in a vote to drop the bill to renew the commission for another year. Hobart had reached third place in the ballot for the commissioners. Referring to Hobart's bill against East Indian cloth, Robert Price had earlier warned that ‘the bill for Norwich stuffs and against the East India goods is believed will not prosper in the House of Lords’, but in the event Hobart and a fellow Whig told on 25 Feb. for agreeing with the first of the Lords' amendments to the bill. They were in the minority, however, and after this vote the remaining amendments were all rejected without a division. Hobart was then named to the committee to draw up reasons for the Commons' disagreement, which he presented at a conference. Also on 25 Feb. he was a teller against an opposition amendment to the instructions to the committee of ways and means, to exclude the civil list from the Commons' provision of supply. He told again on 2 Mar., for committing the general naturalization bill, which Goodwin Wharton had previously introduced, and in the same month acted as a teller twice more on the ministry's side in divisions on the supply: on 3 Mar. in favour of an amendment to a resolution of ways and means; and on 15 Mar., in favour of the second reading of the malt duty bill. He had also brought in two private bills in this session, both on behalf of Norfolk families.8
In April 1697, as the session was drawing to a close, Hobart was given a promise by Lord Sunderland that he would be appointed to the next vacant commissionership of customs, but instead this went to another Court Whig, Sir John Austen, 2nd Bt.* Hobart's parliamentary associate Goodwin Wharton was also advanced to office at about the same time, as a lord of the Admiralty. Chagrined, Hobart wrote to one of the secretaries of state, Sir William Trumbull*,
[I] am sorry you placed your favours upon one so undeserving, since I have not been thought fit to be anything but the town talk Sir John Austen supplies the vacancy in the customs. I thought the King had promised me the first vacancy. I will go busy myself in the country. Would I had been so long since and not have been the theme for news.
Presumably Hobart was reassured by Sunderland, for shortly afterwards, on 7 May, he wrote to Trumbull from Blickling, in a better temper:
A country gentleman, who wishes well to the government, would gladly have a letter now and then out of your office.
All things are well here, the King’s faithful subjects in heart, the Jacobites despond, and the taxes are cheerfully paid, even the duty on malt, so terrible at first to this county, is no longer a bugbear, nor Sir H. Hobart so criminal now, who voted for it.
This time Hobart did not have long to wait for Sunderland to keep his promise. Within a fortnight another customs commissioner had died, and Hobart was not overlooked again. The day after the vacancy occurred, Trumbull, on Sunderland’s order, ‘sent for him to town’, and by 5 June it was known that he was to be appointed. Soon afterwards Humphrey Prideaux recorded the news that ‘an ejectment hath been left at Sir H. Hobart’s house for £80,000, which will reach a great part of his estate’.9
Hobart was one of a number of leading Whig MPs satirized in a poem which appeared early in the session. When Sunderland left office towards the end of December, full of resentment against the Whigs for not coming to his defence in Parliament, Hobart hastened forward with assurances of his own loyalty to the departed minister. Sunderland told James Vernon I* that ‘Mr Montagu [Charles] had been with him to make his good intentions known’, but, Vernon observed, ‘I think he takes it yet kindlier of Sir Harry Hobart, who brought him likewise the compliments of Sir Walter Yonge [3rd Bt.*] and Mr Clarke [Edward I*], that they should not have been backward in their respects to him when it came to the trial’. Hobart told on 3 Jan. 1698 on the Court side for an amendment to the bill against hammered coin, and on 10 Jan. was a teller for the majority in favour of a motion for leave to bring in yet another bill against the wearing of East Indian cloth: he and Thomas Blofield were again ordered to prepare the bill, and Hobart himself introduced it in the House, only for it to be eventually defeated like his two previous bills to this purpose. These failures may well have affected his standing in the county. He introduced three more bills during this session, one a private bill, another to regulate the manufacture of gold and silver thread and the third to facilitate the opening up of trade with Russia. On 23 Feb. he told against committing the Russian trade bill to the whole House. He acted as a teller again on 28 Mar., for a bill to protect timber in the New Forest, and two days later, with another Whig, in favour of a motion to adjourn the debate on an amendment to the blasphemy bill: the motion failed and the amendment was defeated. Chairman of the committee of the whole on the militia bill, he told on 15 Apr. 1698 for a Court-sponsored amendment to the bill against counterfeiting. He was also to the fore in the ministry’s attack on the Old East India Company, reporting on 14 June from the committee appointed to inspect the company’s books, and subsequently acting as a teller twice in support of the East India bill, on 23 and 25 June. In July 1698 he was listed as a placeman, and in about September was listed as having been a supporter of the Court party in the last Parliament.10
In the 1698 general election Hobart lost his seat to a Tory, and this after having ‘parted with his borough of Bere Alston to Sir Rowland Gwynne* and Sir John Hawles*’. He had insured himself by putting up at St. Ives, where he had an interest through his wife, but had been defeated there too, and so quickly made an approach to the corporation of Thetford, where, James Vernon I reported on 6 Aug., ‘I believe he may get in . . . when Sir Jo[seph] Williamson* resigns’. But before any alternative arrangements for a return to Parliament could be effected Hobart was dead. Quick-tempered and passionate, he had been enraged upon hearing after his election defeat (itself alarming to one so deeply in debt) that a neighbouring Tory squire, Oliver Le Neve, on whose behalf he had the year before introduced a private bill into the Commons, had been ‘spreading a report that he was a coward, and behaved himself so in Ireland, by which ’tis said he lost his election for the county’. He immediately issued a challenge, and although Le Neve, who was an innocuous character and in comparison with Hobart no swordsman at all, denied the accusation, Hobart would not accept an apology and pressed the matter to a fight. But the duel, on Cawston Heath on 20 Aug. 1698, resulted in Hobart himself being mortally wounded. He was borne home to Blickling and died there the following day, leaving ‘his affairs but in a confused condition and his two brothers almost destitute’. According to Vernon, ‘his eldest brother . . . was with him when he died; all that he could say to him was that he recommended him to a most gracious prince’. By his will Hobart had appointed Sir Thomas Trevor* and Robert Walpole I* as guardians, with his wife, of his four-year-old son and heir, Sir John Hobart, 5th Bt., who later sat for Norfolk under George II and was eventually raised to the peerage.11
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Vis. Norf. (Norf. Arch. Soc.), ii. 80.
- 2. Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 198; Cal. Freemen of Lynn, 191.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 1290–1; xiv. 121; Ind. 24557.
- 4. R. W. Ketton-Cremer, Norf. Portraits, 60; HMC Lothian, p. xiii; Correspondentie ed. Japikse, ser. 1, ii. 92; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 158.
- 5. Ketton-Cremer, 61; Morrice ent'ring bk. 3, pp. 167-8, 195-6; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 252; Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 156.
- 6. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 190.
- 7. Prideaux Letters, 166-7, 176-81, 183-4.
- 8. J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 290-1; A. McInnes, Robert Harley, 52; Horwitz, 187, 190; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1040; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 381.
- 9. Kenyon, 290–1; Luttrell, iv. 213, 235, 239; HMC 5th Rep. 325; HMC Downshire, i. 537, 772; Prideaux Letters, 188.
- 10. Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vi. 24; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 455–6; Horwitz, 232–3.
- 11. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 370; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 146, 157, 158; Ketton-Cremer, 56–68; Luttrell, iv. 418–19; Correspondentie, ii. 92; PCC 133 Pett.