LEGGE, Hon. Henry (1708-64), of Mapledurham, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 29 May 1708, 4th s. of William, 1st Earl of Dartmouth, by Lady Anne Finch, da. of Heneage, 1st Earl of Aylesford. educ. Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1726. m. 29 Aug. 1750, Hon. Mary Stawell, da. and h. of Edward, 4th Baron Stawell; she was cr. Baroness Stawell 21 May 1760, 1s. suc. to Mapledurham under the will of Leonard Bilson and took name of Bilson before Legge 1754.
Sec. to Sir Robert Walpole c.1735-9, to the ld. lt. [I] 1739-41, to Treasury Apr. 1741-July 1742; surveyor of woods and forests south of the Trent July 1742-Apr. 1745; ld. of Admiralty Apr. 1745-June 1746, of Treasury June 1746-Apr. 1749; envoy to Prussia Feb.-Nov. 1748; P.C. 28 June 1749; treasurer of the navy Apr. 1749-Apr. 1754; chancellor of the Exchequer Apr. 1754-Nov. 1755, Nov. 1756-Apr. 1757, July 1757-Mar. 1761.
On Pelham’s death Legge was made chancellor of the Exchequer under Newcastle and presided at the Cockpit meeting of Government supporters in the new House of Commons. Notwithstanding his promotion he found himself systematically ignored and humiliated by Newcastle, who at the Treasury Board ‘gave papers cross him to Lord Dupplin to read’, even sent Dupplin ‘into the City to negotiate the money matters for the Government’, and generally treated ‘that creature of ours’, as he called Legge, ‘with authority and contempt’. Legge retorted by allying himself with Pitt, withholding his co-operation from Newcastle’s attempt to dispense with a responsible minister in the House of Commons, and finally refusing as chancellor to countersign a warrant for a payment due under one of the unpopular subsidy treaties which had been concluded in preparation for the impending war. As soon as Parliament reassembled he attacked the subsidy treaties in a speech described as ‘humble, artful, affecting moderation, gliding to revenge’, for which he was dismissed a few days later.1
In opposition Legge added to his reputation by his criticisms of his successor’s budget proposals. On the fall of the Newcastle Government in November 1756 he was disappointed at being invited by Pitt to return to his previous office, doubting whether after his humiliations under Newcastle he could ‘with honour accept the chancellorship without being made first commissioner’. Recognizing, however, that Pitt could not be expected to let him have both offices, ‘which was in truth making him the minister’, he agreed to accept the chancellorship ‘under a proper peer’ such as Devonshire, ‘not an old sour courtier that should be like a schoolmaster over him’, provided that something was done for two or three of his friends ‘which might convince the world that he was not under a Duke of Newcastle’. He did not however conceal his chagrin at Pitt’s ascendancy, or his wish to be ‘connected again with the old corps’.2
During the interregnum following the Pitt-Devonshire Administration Legge sent a message to Newcastle implying that it was only ‘Pitt’s visionary notions’ that had prevented the Opposition leaders from joining with Newcastle in the previous winter, and asking for a secret interview.3 The interview, which ended in nothing more than assurances of mutual good will, was disclosed by one of Newcastle’s agents to Pitt, with a view to inducing him to moderate his demands by showing him that if he persisted he could not depend upon his own friends.4 This object was achieved at Legge’s expense in the ensuing negotiations between Pitt and Newcastle, when Pitt waived his original proposal that Legge should be made a peer and first lord of the Admiralty, with a seat in the Cabinet, and agreed that he should return to his former non-Cabinet office under Newcastle.5 In a letter to Bute, Pitt described Legge’s reception of this decision:6
Legge’s agitations continue. He must accept. I have again pressed it, and I understand that he will accept, but a more miserable being I have not seen. I pity him with all my heart, and I leave him and all his weaknesses to Lord Bute and all his generosity.
According to Legge’s friend, Samuel Martin, Legge was so distressed at his exposure that ‘for many mornings successively he would come into Martin’s bedchamber before he was up, and roll upon the floor like a man tortured with bodily pain, and vent expressions of compunction little short of frenzy’.7 In the end he accepted, in Dodington’s words, ‘detected by Mr. Pitt and Leicester House; acting under one whom he hates, who hates him and betrayed him ... AND ALL FOR QUARTER DAY’.8
In January 1758 Legge succeeded to a sinecure in the customs given to him in reversion by Sir Robert Walpole, thereby becoming disqualified for a seat in Parliament. He at once resigned his seat and renewed his claim for a peerage, on the ground of his treatment by Pitt, who ‘seldom let him within his doors and made him wait two hours when he did’, and wished him out of the Commons. However, under pressure from Newcastle, who could find no one suitable to replace him, he agreed ‘to remain under the harrow’ on condition that his customs place should be transferred to his brother, with reversion to himself, and that if he found he could not go on he should have his peerage.9
On the death of his brother, 29 Aug. 1759, Legge again resigned his seat and claimed his peerage, threatening that if it were not forthcoming he would retire into private life.‘I don’t wonder at him’, Newcastle wrote. ‘He is at open war with Mr. Pitt which he has not the courage to support. I wish he could carry me with him for I don’t know what to do. George Grenville chancellor of the Exchequer I can’t submit to and who else is there?’10 This time Legge secured a promise of the peerage for his wife and the customs place for his son, in return for ‘paying meantime in my person in the House of Commons which, next to Bridewell, is the last house in the kingdom I should choose to work in’.11
Legge’s decision to re-enter Parliament coincided with a vacancy for Hampshire, where he had recently come into property from a distant relative and also through his wife. He was nominated by the Duke of Bolton, and was returned against Simeon Stuart, set up by Lord Carnarvon and supported by Leicester House. Summoned by Bute to make amends for ‘triumphing over the Prince in present’ by undertaking to support his nominees at the next general election, Legge declined, thus incurring the hatred of Leicester House, where he had hitherto been regarded with favour. ‘Legge’s letter’, the Prince wrote to Bute, ‘makes me more incensed against him than ever; it is drawn up in his usual tricking manner; my dearest friend, we must look out for new tools, our old ones having all deserted us; if I am but steady and have your assistance, we may make them all smart for their ingratitude.’12
Legge was made to smart in the new reign a year later when orders were issued that at the forthcoming general election the employees at the Portsmouth docks should be allowed to vote as they pleased. ‘It is meant at Legge, and you hate Legge’, Newcastle remarked to Fox, adding, when Fox demurred:
Well then, you despise him, and there is the Duke of Bedford hates or despises Legge, and the Duke of Devonshire, and Mr. Pitt hates or despises Legge, and Lord Bute hates or despises Legge, and I don’t care a farthing for Legge, (you know I have no reason), but whilst he is chancellor of the Exchequer ought not he to have the Government interest?13
In March 1761 he was dismissed, Bute explaining ‘that it was the King’s own disgust and dislike of the man; that it was not his, Lord Bute’s, doing; that his own real opinion was that it was most advisable to let him stay in till the end of the war’.14
After his dismissal Legge went into Opposition, voted against the peace preliminaries, and re-allied himself with Newcastle. He died after some months’ illness on 23 Aug. 1764, his political epitaph having been already composed by Lord Winchilsea: ‘He had more masters than any man in England and never left one with a character.’15
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 191-2, 391; ii. 54-55; Dodington, Diary, 305; Yorke, Life of Hardwicke, ii. 216-20, 234-5, 238-42.
- 2. Sir R. Wilmot to the Duke of Devonshire, 20, 22, and 26 Oct. 1756, Devonshire mss.
- 3. Yorke, ii. 391.
- 4. Dodington, 405-7; Glover, Mems. 148-9.
- 5. Yorke, ii. 403-4.
- 6. Sedgwick, ‘Letters from W. Pitt to Lord Bute, 1755-8’, Essays Presented to Sir Lewis Namier, 124.
- 7. Glover, 149.
- 8. Dodington, 407.
- 9. Add. 32877, ff. 15, 49, 122.
- 10. Add. 32895, f. 76.
- 11. Add. 32896, ff. 120, 137.
- 12. Some Account of the Character of the Rt. Hon. H. B. Legge (1764); Sedgwick, Letters from Geo. III to Lord Bute, 1756-66, pp. 19, 35.
- 13. Fox’s memoir, Life Letters of Lady Sarah Lennox, 39.
- 14. Add. 32919, f. 42.
- 15. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 36.