HERVEY, John (1665-1751), of Aswarby, Lincs.; St. James’s Square, Westminster; and Ickworth, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



31 Mar. 1694 - 23 Mar. 1703

Family and Education

b. 27 Aug. 1665, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Thomas Hervey† of Ickworth by Isabella, da. of Sir Humphrey May† of Carrow Priory, Norf.  educ. Bury St. Edmunds g.s.; Clare, Camb. 1683, LL.D 1705.  m. (1) 1 Nov. 1688, Isabella (d. 1693), da. of Sir Robert Carr, 3rd Bt.†, of Aswarby, coh. to her bro. Sir Edward, 4th Bt. (d. 1683), 1s. d.v.p. 2da. d.v.p.; (2) 25 July 1695, Elizabeth (d. 1741), da. and h. of Thomas Felton*, 10s. (6 d.v.p.) 6da. (4 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. 1694; cr. Baron Hervey of Ickworth 23 Mar. 1703, Earl of Bristol 19 Oct. 1714.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Bury St. Edmunds 1694, high steward 1694.2


Although diligent enough in his parliamentary duties, Hervey preferred the environment of home or the racecourse. His letters breathe a grandiloquent uxoriousness, a deep attachment to his ‘sweet Ickworth’, which he made his principal residence in 1702, and above all a love of the turf. His fortune was considerably augmented by his marriages. The first brought him part of the Carr estate in Lincolnshire, an interest he consolidated by purchasing the remaining moiety from Charles Fox* for over £12,000. His second wife, who wrote love poetry to her ‘charming Suffolk swain’, eventually inherited her father’s property at Playford, and in the meantime associated Hervey with leading Whig and court circles. While Sir Thomas Hervey was alive, ‘my best and dearest friend, as well as father’, John may well have espoused the family’s moderate Toryism, but later, especially after acquiring Thomas Felton as a father-in-law, he became, to adopt a Tory adjective, a ‘stinking Whig’. Whether Felton, whom Hervey quickly learned to call ‘papa’, had any influence over the shaping of his principles and party sympathies, cannot be discovered; certainly, as master of the Household and a crony of the 2nd Earl of Sunderland, Felton was in a position to bring Hervey into contact with such powerful patrons as the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and his influential wife, and this new relationship was to prove far more important than Hervey’s existing distant connexion with Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), whose wife was his third cousin. It is difficult to infer much about Hervey’s politics from the florid manifesto issued in the form of an acceptance speech at his return at a by-election in 1694 (a previous candidature, in 1689, had ended in failure), though it does illustrate his characteristic self-regard. He offered Bury corporation

this firm assurance, that you have cast the lot on such a man, who always thought and may most safely say, cursed may he be who for any by-end or self-consideration shall e’er assist in or be consenting to the removal of those sacred landmarks, which the unwearied care and admirable wisdom of our ancestors have so judicially and critically laid, between the just and necessary prerogatives of the crown and the inestimable, happy privileges of the people; a sort of geography, which hath of late employed my strictest search and closest study, being fixedly purposed according to the best of my perception and ability impartially to endeavour the maintenance and preservation of both in their allowed extent or limitations; the golden mean appointed being the only recipe to keep this nation’s constitution in a lasting health and happiness.3

Hervey worked hard to maintain good relations with his constituents, corresponding regularly and giving accounts of his conduct on any topic which concerned them. It is often impossible, however, to distinguish his appearances in the Journals from those of namesakes. His policy of local consultation was highly successful, and Hervey could count on the unanimous support of the Bury voters at every subsequent election. Described as ‘doubtful’ in the forecast for the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, though considered more likely to support than oppose the Court, he showed his Whig colours more openly as the year progressed. He signed the Association promptly and favoured the Court side over the question of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March (explaining his reasons to ‘the gentlemen of the corporation’ of Bury). On 25 Nov. he voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Hervey received a fortnight’s leave on 22 Dec., recording in his diary that his wife was seriously ill at the time. A month later he was rumoured to be in line for a peerage, but nothing came of it. Loyalty to the ministry was manifest in his prompting Bury corporation to address on the peace in 1697, but he was not especially active in the 1697–8 session, being granted a further fortnight’s leave on 2 Apr. 1698, which he spent at Newmarket. In July he was appointed to the Suffolk lieutenancy, which may have further assisted his re-election, if assistance was necessary.4

The 1698 election was the occasion for a further statement of principle. He reassured the Bury electorate

that I ever had and by the grace of God ever will keep a conscience void of the offence of any partial, prejudicial leaning towards the King’s prerogatives or people’s privileges, but endeavour to preserve the monarchy and hierarchy in their just and legal rights.

In practice, this seems to have meant following the Court Whigs’ lead. He was blacklisted as having voted against the third reading of the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699. He presented the Lark navigation bill on 24 Jan. 1700 and managed it though the Commons. On 10 Feb. he told for his father-in-law in the disputed election for Orford. In an analysis of the House into interests in early 1700 he was listed with the Junto, but the classification was queried. He may have told on 14 Apr. against finding Lord Somers (Sir John*) guilty of a ‘high crime and misdemeanour’ in his conduct over the Partition Treaty, and again on 10 May in favour of adjourning the report of the Lichfield election. The diary of his friend Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, records only one speech by him: on 21 May 1701, in ways and means, against Tory proposals to amend the plan for reducing the civil list. At the November general election he managed to oust the Tory Sir Robert Davers, 2nd Bt.*, from the second seat at Bury, replacing him with (Sir) Thomas Felton. In this Parliament Hervey was listed with the Whigs by Robert Harley*. He spoke in support of Sir Rowland Gwynne’s motion on 2 Jan. for a bill of attainder against the Pretender, ‘making some reflections on the late House of Commons’ and was ‘so smartly replied upon that he had much ado to explain himself’. He may have acted as a teller on five occasions: against accepting any further petitions on the Irish forfeitures (3 Feb.); in favour of an instruction to the committee on the bill regulating the King’s Bench and Fleet prisons (7 Mar.); for an instruction to the committee on the bill relating to Irish forfeitures (7 May); and to add a clause to a private bill on the same subject (12 May). In February 1702 Hervey had been tipped for a post as a Treasury commissioner, but the accession of Queen Anne dashed his prospects of office. The new political scene was deeply uncongenial: on being informed in May 1702 that the dukes of Somerset and Devonshire (William Cavendish†) and the Earl of Carlisle (Charles Howard*) had resigned their places, he applauded this ‘noble example’ and expressed the hope that ‘they won’t want disciples’.5

If Hervey felt himself estranged from the new ministry, Felton did not, and it was through his intervention that a long-awaited advancement was finally obtained. Felton secured a promise from the Duchess of Marlborough that, in her words, ‘if her Majesty should ever make any new lords, I would certainly use my interest that Mr Hervey might be one’. The opportunity arose not long after the close of the first session of the 1702 Parliament. On hearing of a scheme to create four new Tory peers, the Duchess informed her husband and Godolphin that if they failed to have Hervey’s name added to the list ‘I neither would nor could show myself more’. Her success in this endeavour, she later boasted, came ‘at a time when affairs at court ran so violently against the whole party of Whigs, that Mr Hervey had laid aside all hopes of the peerage’. There was considerable Tory hostility to Hervey, and in particular Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, one of the designated Tory creations, ‘was so angry that he wrote to my Lord Godolphin, that if the Queen made Mr Hervey a peer, he would not be one himself’. Under pressure from friends, Leveson Gower returned ‘to his senses, and they were graciously pleased to accept of their being peers, and to allow the Queen to make Mr Hervey one with them’. The new peer was appropriately grateful, naming Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) and Lady Harriet Godolphin among the godparents of his newly born twins, and taking pains to deny the ‘malicious’ tales of those who represented him as ‘no well-wisher’ to the Marlborough–Godolphin administration. As he wrote to the Duke of Marlborough:

Even this signal mark of distinction cannot possibly engage me farther than it found me (for otherwise I should never have thought of asking such a favour) in all things that concern the interest and support of her Majesty’s government.6

Once a peer, Hervey seems to have permitted himself to indulge his conscience over points of principle. He took an independent line on some issues, and his correspondence after 1703 with Cocks, replete as it is with exhortations to independent-minded patriotism, and references to the model republicanism of classical Rome, has been taken as evidence of a commitment to the ‘old Whiggism’ preached and practised by Cocks and by the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony, Lord Ashley*). It may be significant that Hervey adopted this tone only in his letters to Cocks. Other friends were not treated to denunciations of the ‘scandalous measures’ of his ‘quondam acquaintance’ the Junto, or, as he once put it, ‘our bastard Whigs’. However, he does appear to have continued as a critic of Court Whiggery under Walpole. Hervey died on 20 Jan. 1751, and was buried at Ickworth. Despite their political differences, his son John, Lord Hervey†, characterized him as ‘a judicious, dispassionate, just, humane and thoroughly amiable man’.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. A. Hervey, Hervey Fam. 107, 122–3; Hervey Diary, 29, 36, 200–3; Bury St. Edmunds G.S. List (Suff. Green Bks. xiii), 189; Howard, Vis. Suff. i. 197–8.
  • 2. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Bury St. Edmunds bor. recs. EE 500/D4/1/3(a), p. 12.
  • 3. D. A. Ponsonby, Call a Dog Hervey, 12; Hervey Diary, 21, 36, 189; C. Clay, Public Finance and Private Wealth, 272; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 74–75, 122; Hearne Colls. iii. 40.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 83; 1698, p. 342; Murrell thesis, 265–6; Hervey Diary, 24–25, 27–28, 33, 35; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 174; Hervey Letter Bks. 123.
  • 5. Hervey Letter Bks. 139, 160; Cocks Diary, 140; HMC Portland, iv. 26–27; Luttrell, v. 140.
  • 6. Duchess of Marlborough Conduct, 135–6, 219–20; Burnet, v. 66; Add. 4107, f. 77; Hervey Diary, 38; Hervey Letter Bks. 160, 179–80, 182.
  • 7. Hervey Letter Bks. 219, 229–30, 262–6, 270–5; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 221, 429; Party and Management in Parl. ed. C. Jones, 157; HMC Portland, 590; HMC Lords, n.s. x. 241, 279; DNB.