HARE, James (1747-1804).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



5 May 1772 - 1774
3 July 1781 - 17 Mar. 1804

Family and Education

bap. 9 Apr. 1747 at Somerton, Som., 2nd s. of Joseph and Frances Hare.  educ. T. Hodgkinson’s sch. at Exeter; Eton 1760-5; King’s, Camb. 1765, fellow 1768-74; L. Inn. 1768.  m. 21 Jan. 1774, Hannah, da. of Sir Abraham Hume, 1st Bt., sis. of Sir Abraham Hume, 2nd Bt., 1 da. Hare and his wife soon separated; he had several children by subsequent liaisons.

Offices Held


A widely accepted identification of Hare, started by the obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine which placed him at Oxford, and elaborated by Foster who made him matriculate at Oxford six years after entering Parliament, is disproved by Austen-Leigh, Venn, and the Lincoln’s Inn Register. However, the statement that his father was an apothecary was current among contemporaries. Martin Whish, who was with him at Eton, is quoted as saying that Hare was ‘son to an apothecary at Wells in Somersetshire, and had not a shilling of fortune’.1 Mrs. Thrale, in Thraliana, 7 Mar. 1778:

The famous Mr. Hare is the son of an apothecary; remarkably lean, and has an odd way of dancing country dances, popping up, and popping down; this fellow, says George Selwyn, puts one for ever in mind of his father’s pestle and mortar.

And Wraxall writes:2 ‘Hare was, I believe, like myself, a native of Bristol, and as I have been assured, of obscure origin.’

Unfavoured in his beginnings, Hare, a brilliant scholar, formed his connexions at Eton and Cambridge: and there emerged ‘the Hare and many friends’ (a saying of the Duchess of Gordon, repeated in almost every note on Hare). ‘The child of whim’3 and no toady, always looked after by friends—Charles Fox, Lord Carlisle, the Duke of Devonshire, etc.—he lived in the most fashionable set, doing no work and empty of achievement. It is impossible to recapture social charm or the flavour of warmed-up witticisms; but Wilberforce spoke of his ‘captivating manner and charm’; Sir Thomas Lawrence described him as ‘excelling all others in conversation’; and Horace Walpole, when a joke of Hare’s was ascribed to him, protested: ‘He has a great deal too much wit for me to presume to deck myself in his plumes, I who am a jackdaw to him.’4 His company was in demand, and he was courted. Carlisle, in July 1772, felt hurt when Hare failed to visit Castle Howard—‘one whom I have always looked upon and always treated as the warmest friend’;5 and a favourable opinion from him was valued by Georgiana Devonshire ‘because ... he has got good sense and good taste, but a difficulty in liking, that doubles the price of a praise’.6

Charles Fox, when warmly congratulated on his maiden speech, is said to have replied: ‘Wait till you hear Hare’;7 but when returned for Stockbridge (probably on a remnant of the Fox interest in the borough) Hare ‘wondered how any man could open his mouth in that place or keep it shut out of it’.8 In the very full parliamentary reports for 1772-4 there is no trace of his having even attempted to speak; and his only recorded vote was given with the Government minority against perpetuating Grenville’s Act—but this was the last time that Fox still voted with North. In 1774 Hare, jointly with Fox, stood on a hopeless interest at Pontefract; and Hare had no safe constituency for a hedge.

How Hare supported the expense of elections or of life in London is a mystery. On 18 Jan. 1774, three days before his marriage to the sister of Sir Abraham Hume, Selwyn wrote to Carlisle:9

If I was to credit his own insinuations, Hare is upon the point of bringing his affair to a conclusion ... He drives about in an old chariot ... with a servant of his own in livery; and this occasions so much speculation, that his great secret diu celari non potest. I would advise him to conclude as soon as he can this business; sans cela la machine sera derangée.

Wraxall’s statement that the marriage ‘brought him a very considerable fortune’ is probably a guess; anyhow, it was not equal to the occasion. Selwyn wrote to Carlisle, 30 July 1774:

There is reason ... to fear for Hare. Boothby assures me that as yet no prejudice has been done to his fortune. I have my doubts of that, but am clear that he runs constant risk of being very uneasy. But there is no talking to him; he has imbibed so much of Charles’s ton of qu’importe, que cela peut mener a l’hôpital.

And on 5 Dec. 1775 Carlisle inquired of Selwyn:

What is Hare about? Lose much I hear he cannot; therefore, if he is not winning your money, I hope he is successful.

Selwyn replied on 9 Dec.:

You ask what is Hare about? He is about town; he plays at night, but not very extravagantly; il joue pourtant, and what will be the end of him God knows ... We should have been all better pleased, s’il n’avoit jamais sorti de son état ... that he has been deluded, that he has been precipitated into what both his head and heart condemn, is what I am very sorry for ... And yet ... there is one spot which will be totally indelible ... I ... mean ... in regard to his wife, for that is the heaviest charge against him.10

The next chapter in Hare’s career was an attempt to obtain a diplomatic appointment.

I have lost a great deal this winter [he wrote to Selwyn on 18 May 177911] and, in considering my resources, very naturally looked to Carlisle ... We could think of no better scheme than his asking Lord North to appoint me to fill one of the vacancies, either to Warsaw or Munich. He applied to Lord North; the chancellor seconded his application; and Eden, who sees Lord North frequently and familiarly, promised to give the thing as favourable a turn as he could. As yet we can get no answer, and I have found out that the old Fish [John Craufurd jun.] is trying to get the same appointment for the Colonel [James Craufurd]. If I could get this appointment, it would be a comfortable provision till some of my friends are able to serve me at home ... Carlisle ... has acted with a degree of zeal and kindness that I never shall forget.

After long delays Hare obtained the appointment, but when he was to have kissed hands for it, was not in town.12 Next, Hare obtained permission for personal reasons to defer his departure for Warsaw, and, on 26 Apr. 1780, he wrote again to Lord Stormont, secretary of state for the northern department:13

I had flattered myself that I should have been by this time ready to ... set out for Warsaw; but the extreme confusion of my affairs obliges me ... to desire your Lordship’s ... indulgence, as it is quite impossible for me at present either to leave the country honourably, or to support myself suitable to my future abroad.

He was allowed a ‘further lease’ of two months, but when it expired, and he still found himself ‘surrounded by the same embarrassments’, his resignation was accepted, an event foreseen by his friends.14

In February 1781 Carlisle, now lord lieutenant of Ireland, offered Hare the Black Rod, in case of its becoming vacant; but Hare declined—the Duke of Devonshire, on hearing of Boyle Walsingham’s death, offered to return Hare for Knaresborough, preferring him to ‘many other competitors’.

To any one in my circumstances [wrote Hare to Carlisle, 13 Feb.15] personal security is a great object, and grows every day more necessary; I did not therefore hesitate to accept this offer, which, though it by no means bids fair to enable me to live comfortably, will at least keep me out of jail. The Duke of Devonshire is so little subject to caprice, that I need not fear his leaving me out in the next Parliament; but, without being very sanguine, I may reckon on a seat for Knaresborough as a seat for life.
I had much rather, on many accounts, remain out of Parliament, and the privilege of freedom from arrests is the only one I care a farthing for. There is no chance of my taking any pains to make myself master of the business that comes before the House, and in my opinion nothing can be more irksome than the attendance there to a person who takes no active part.

In London Hare shared with Fox a house in St. James’s Street; and at Brooks’s helped him and Fitzpatrick to hold a faro bank. ‘Hare is ... indefatigable’, wrote Selwyn on 31 May 1781. 15 June: the bank won £2,300; Hare’s share was one-twelfth, besides six guineas an hour for dealing. 18 June: ‘the bank turns out to Hare better than an embassy to Warsaw’.16 On 3 July, a week before the House was adjourned, Hare was returned for Knaresborough; left London in ‘opulent circumstances’; stayed at Foxley; but having returned to London in October, ‘lost near £4,000 in three nights to a set of fellows’ whom he had never seen before.17

In the House he voted with the Opposition in the divisions which brought down the North Government; but his most sustained effort was at Brooks’s, ‘in his semi-circular niche at the faro table, improving his fortune every deal’. He wrote from Foxley, 5 Jan. 1782: ‘It is very pleasant to have such a retreat from the fatigue of dealing at faro, and the late hours that it occasions.’ When the House re-assembled, and the political crisis thickened, even more of the ‘drudgery of dealing’ fell on Hare. On 1 Mar. Selwyn wrote to Carlisle:

I own that to see Charles closeted every instant at Brooks’s by one or the other, that he can neither punt nor deal for a quarter of an hour but he is obliged to give an audience, while Hare is whispering and standing behind him, like Jack Robinson, with a pencil and paper for mems., is to me a scene la plus parfaitement comique que l’on puisse imaginer.

Selwyn never liked Hare; but to hear Hare talk of ‘executions’ among placemen made him for once burst out about Hare to Carlisle.

When people of low birth [he wrote on 30 Mar.] have by great good luck and a fortunate concurrence of events been able to obtain, from lively parts only, without any acquisitions which can be useful to the public, such situations as are due only to persons of rank, weight, and character, it is surely an easy task not to be insolent. It is all I require of them.18

Hare came out of the change of Administration empty-handed; and at the end of July he congratulated Fox ‘on coming from the service of the King of England, once more to attend the King of Egypt’.19 Nor did Hare obtain office under the Coalition; but he steadily voted with Fox both before and after: over Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, the East India bill, and even in favour of Pitt’s proposals of parliamentary reform, both 7 May 1783 and 18 Apr. 1785. He did not vote in the divisions on the Regency, 1788-9.

Hare died 17 Mar. 1804.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Farington Diary, vii. 216.
  • 2. Mems. iii. 384.
  • 3. Duchess of Devonshire to her mother, Lady Spencer, 17 Oct. 1786, Georgiana, ed. Ld. Bessborough, 111.
  • 4. Farington Diary, vi. 122, vii. 8; Walpole to Lady Ossory, 9 Sept. 1783.
  • 5. Jesse, Selwyn, iii. 30.
  • 6. Georgiana, 166.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. 1804, p. 287.
  • 8. Farington Diary, ii. 122.
  • 9. HMC Carlisle, 263.
  • 10. Ibid. 273, 308; Jesse, iii. 124.
  • 11. Jesse, iv. 141-2.
  • 12. Ibid. 223, 292.
  • 13. SP 88/114.
  • 14. HMC Carlisle, 436.
  • 15. Ibid. 457.
  • 16. Ibid. 488, 499, 501.
  • 17. Hare to Carlisle, 29 Dec. 1781, ibid. 554.
  • 18. Ibid. 564, 580, 586, 613.
  • 19. Auckland Corresp. i. 15.