HARCOURT, Simon I (1661-1727), of Essex Street, London; Inner Temple; Chipping Norton and Cokethorpe, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. ?Dec. 1661, o. s. of Sir Philip Harcourt† of Stanton Harcourt, Oxon. by Anne, da. of Sir William Waller† of Osterley Park, Mdx. educ. Shilton, Oxon. (Samuel Birch) to 1677; I. Temple 1676, called 1683, bencher 1702, treasurer 1702; Pembroke, Oxf. matric. 30 Mar. 1677, aged 15, BA 1679, DCL 1702. m. (1) 18 Oct. 1680, Rebecca (d. 1687), da. of his fa.’s chaplain, Rev. Thomas Clarke, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) aft.1695, Elizabeth (d. 1724), da. of Richard Spencer, Vintner, of Berry Street, Aldgate, London and Newington, Surr., wid. of Richard Anderson† of Pendley, Herts., s.p.; (3) 30 Sept. 1724, Elizabeth (d. 1748), da. of Sir Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park, Mdx., wid. of Sir John Walter, 3rd Bt.*, s.p. suc. fa. 1688; kntd. 1 June 1702; cr. Baron Harcourt 3 Sept. 1711, Visct. Harcourt 11 Sept. 1721.1
Recorder, Abingdon June–Dec. 1687, Oct. 1689–Apr. 1711; clerk of the iter to c.j. in eyre south of the Trent 1695–?9; steward, Woodstock manor and hundred of Wootton, Oxon. 1705–9; freeman, Ludlow 1707, Hereford 1710.2
Solicitor-gen. 1702–Apr. 1707; attorney-gen. Apr. 1707–8, Sept.–Oct. 1710; commr. union with Scotland 1706; ld. keeper Oct. 1710–Apr. 1713; ld. chancellor Apr. 1713–Sept. 1714; PC 19 Oct. 1710–Sept. 1714, 25 Aug. 1722–d.; ld. justice 1723, 1725, 1727.
Commr. rebuilding St. Paul’s 1702–7, Q. Anne’s bounty 1704, building 50 new churches 1712–15; gov. Charterhouse by 1712.3
Harcourt spent 37 years in Parliament, over half of them in the Lower House. A Tory who was too young to be fatally compromised by the events of the 1680s, he adapted remarkably quickly to life in the Commons after the Revolution. He was one of the most eloquent lawyers of his day, and he became one of the most effective back-bench Members during William’s reign. His second decade in the House was marked by continued involvement in important issues, for much of the time in the position of an office-holder in a ‘mixed’ ministry. The apogee of his career came as lord keeper and then lord chancellor in the Harley ministry of 1710–14. But perhaps his most remarkable feat was to re-emerge after the crushing defeat of the Tories in 1715 to accept a viscountcy, a place on the Privy Council and a pension under Walpole (Robert II*).
Initially, such a glittering career seemed unlikely, as the Harcourt family was in straitened circumstances. They had been established in Oxfordshire since the end of the 12th century, although their position in the county’s elite was threatened during the 17th century by a series of financial misadventures. Harcourt’s great-grandfather dissipated much of the family’s fortune on ‘chimerical’ projects; his grandfather turned to soldiering, but was killed in Ireland at the beginning of the Civil War; finally, his father, connected through marriage to the Parliamentarian general and prominent Presbyterian, Sir William Waller, found himself out of favour under the Protectorate. At the Restoration Sir Philip conformed to the Church of England, but retained a number of ejected ministers as domestic chaplains. Furthermore, he sent Simon to Shilton dissenting academy, where Robert* and Edward Harley* were numbered among his schoolfellows. The family finances continued to deteriorate, land being mortgaged in 1672 and most of the estate being settled on his father’s second wife. Meanwhile, Harcourt was sent to Oxford and admitted to the Inner Temple, at the request of Richard Holloway (reader in 1674 and later a King’s bench judge 1683–9). While in London he secretly married Rebecca Clarke, daughter of his father’s chaplain, setting up house at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. The hardships consequent upon this early marriage, under parental disapproval, were cited by Thomas Hearne as the motivation behind Harcourt’s professional ambition. The death of his father brought little material relief, as his stepmother held Stanton Harcourt until her death in 1713, by which time it was empty and so dilapidated that it was abandoned, eventually being demolished by Harcourt’s grandson.4
Harcourt probably made his mark as a barrister on the western circuit. His legal abilities would explain his appointment as recorder of Abingdon (dominated by the Tory Stonhouse family) in 1687 and again in October 1689. Although a parliamentary career beckoned, scruples over the events of 1688 may have kept him from standing in the elections to the Convention of 1689. If so, no such qualms prevented his return at Abingdon the following year. His principles were known to be Tory, Arthur Charlett, an Oxford don, reporting on 20 Feb. 1690 that ‘Mr Harcourt was chose[n] by the Church interest’. This assessment was confirmed in the Marquess of Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) list of the new Parliament.5
Such was Harcourt’s assurance that within three weeks he had spoken in debate, his first recorded speech, on 2 Apr. 1690, being in favour of an instruction to the committee of supply that no land tax be granted without leave of the House. On 8 Apr. he was named to the first of his six drafting committees during the session, although he was only involved in the management of one of these items of legislation, a bill concerning wine licences. On 9 Apr., when the Commons debated the Lords’ bill recognizing William and Mary and avoided doubts touching the acts of the Convention, Harcourt argued that the bill should be committed for possible amendments: his doubts centred upon belief in the hereditary nature of monarchy, a point made through analogy with the disposition of private property, and the need to ‘confirm’ acts made in a Convention. His next recorded speech on 17 Apr. places him firmly with the Tories. When the sheriffs of London sought to present a petition putting forward the common council’s ideas for the government of the City, Harcourt argued against admitting them: ‘it seems that this petition is framed rather at a cabal, than from the City; and not only brought in by the sheriffs, but against the very act of the Members of the House’. Harcourt was also involved in the proceedings on the bill to reverse the judgment of quo warranto against the City corporation and restore its privileges. When, on 24 Apr., the City’s counsel attended to be heard on the bill, Harcourt suggested asking them which points they wished to speak to, stating that ‘if they think what is lost of their privileges is not sufficiently confirmed by this bill [or] if the judgment is not sufficiently reversed’, it would be appropriate to admit them. After the failure of counsel to convince the House, the Whigs sought to adjourn the committee, but this ploy failed by 214 votes to 144, Harcourt acting as a teller for the winning side. At the second reading on 26 Apr. of the bill introducing an oath of abjuration for ecclesiastical, civil and military officers, he observed that oaths offered no security: those prepared to ‘equivocate’ over the oath of allegiance would do the same over the new test. He dismissed the argument that the bill would foster unity in the kingdom and encourage the allies; on the contrary, it would foment jealousies at home, and prompt the suspicion that ‘there is some defect in the government, when such an oath was never required in this government to support it’. On 28 Apr. Harcourt was on his feet again, to oppose a motion to suspend habeas corpus: ‘as we are sent here to preserve the liberties of England, so there is no greater security for them than this Act, and I think I have acquitted my trust very ill, if I give it up’. Persistent resort to suspension of the Act was tantamount to repeal, and ‘at this particular time, now we have an army of foreigners in our bowels, we should rather increase our liberties than diminish them’. On 30 Apr. he told against going into committee of the whole on the bill discouraging the import of thrown silk, most probably in order to move the House onto its next piece of business, the disputed election for Hertfordshire, since he subsequently supported the bill, taking the chair of the committee of the whole on it. His only other management of legislation concerned two private bills. On 1 May he intervened in the debate on the regency bill, declaring that it was the duty of the Commons to assist the King to take personal command in Ireland, and that he had no objection to the Queen who, since she ‘may sway the sceptre . . . I know not why she should not have the power’. Finally, all disputes concerning the determination of existing commissions under royal authority could be remedied by a proviso, as could the validity of the King’s orders from Ireland. On 3 May he acted as a teller against the bill to erect a court of conscience in Southwark.6
In the 1690–1 session Harcourt was active from the first week in November when he managed the estate bill of a Berkshire Tory, David Bigg. His name appears on one parliamentary list dating from December, which probably indicates support for Carmarthen in connexion with a possible attack on the Marquess. On 27 Dec. 1690 he told against an amendment to the bill for the speedier determination of elections, which proposed that all double returns ‘and other matters relating to elections’ be settled at the bar before any other business. Two days later he reported from the committee on the bill for raising the militia. On the last day of the session, on 5 Jan. 1691, he was much involved in a series of conferences with the Lords on the bill suspending part of the Navigation Acts for the duration of the war. In about April 1691 Robert Harley* classed him as ‘doubtful’ in an analysis of the Commons into Court and opposition. Harley’s hesitation probably reflects the paradox presented by Harcourt’s pronounced Tory opinions combined with his willingness to espouse traditional Country measures against a ministry dominated by men of his own party.7
Harcourt’s first important committee appointment of the 1691–2 session was on 28 Oct. to draft a general highways bill, one of only three such appointments for him during the session. On 13 Nov. he spoke in support of the East India Company, arguing in favour of considering its accounts prior to a parliamentary confirmation of its charter. His support for the company is interesting, given that the interlopers had once been keen to acquire his services as a counsel. On 2 Jan. 1692 he intervened at the second reading of the bill for the better relief of creditors, to secure an instruction to the committee that those detained not be kept at the houses of the arresting bailiff. His connexion with the East India Company was again apparent on 8 Jan. when he acted as a teller against leave to set up ‘an’ East India company, rather than ‘the’ company. He was also involved in trying to find a way to satisfy the debts due to the city of London’s orphans, chairing a committee of the whole on this subject on 29 Jan. When Anthony Bowyer* reported from the committee on 13 Feb. Harcourt told for the resolution that the ancient duties of water bailage and the duty of weighing at the King’s Beam be applied towards the debt. He then moved for a bill pursuant to the resolution. His only other important legislative activity was to manage two private bills through the House.8
Harcourt was quickly involved in partisan matters at the start of the 1692–3 session. On 14 Nov. 1692 he strongly seconded Sir Thomas Clarges’* condemnation of Carlisle corporation for depriving Christopher Musgrave* of the freedom of the borough (and thus the parliamentary franchise). He played a leading role in championing the treason trials bill, another measure designed to curb executive power, chairing the committee of the whole on the bill. Following his report on 1 Dec. he then intervened in the ensuing debate to oppose the addition of a clause proposed by John Smith I which in his view was irregular, ‘being to repeal a law (a statute of 25 Edw. III) by making words to be treason, which could not be brought into the House without leave first had’. He then laid out the case against the amendment:
I am at all times against making words to be treason; many times they are spoken out of heat and very apt to be mistaken and misconstrued. Words have seldom been made treason but in troublesome and difficult times and often prove snares to honest men.
The House took to heart this procedural point and ordered a separate bill. Harcourt returned to the fray on 14 Dec. when the resultant bill, ‘for the better preservation of their Majesties’ sacred persons and government’, received its second reading. He poured scorn on the ministry’s discovery of plots, asking why, if these were so well known, there was ‘no care taken for their prosecution’. Finally, he denounced the proposal for an oath to be imposed on all office-holders, to defend the government against James II and his adherents: this would not catch the wary, but would ‘undermine’ the government. He was heavily involved in other items of business. On 17 Dec. he presented a private bill and on the 30th was a teller for agreeing to a conference over the relative merits of the Whig Admiral Edward Russell* and the Tory secretary of state, Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). He told again on 9 Jan. 1693, over a clause in the land tax bill. His connexion with the East India Company saw him act as a teller twice in their interest on 18 Jan., on both occasions against setting a time for the committee of the whole to consider the bill to regulate the trade. By this time he himself was trafficking in East India stock. He was again vital to the campaign to secure the London orphans’ debt. On 16 Feb. he chaired the committee to consider the City’s petition, and the following day reported resolutions in favour of legislation. He presented the ensuing bill on the 20th and chaired the committee of the whole upon it. However, after the second session of the committee on 4 Mar. he asked the House to dispense with his attendance and to dismiss him from the chair as he had ‘extraordinary business which called him into the country’, and no further action was taken on the bill. On 20 Feb. 1693 he had acted as a teller in favour of an amendment to the bill to continue expiring laws, which provided for the revival of the Act for regulating the press and printing. His last action, before leaving the House on 6 Mar., was to speak and act as a teller against a bill from the Lords setting aside amendments made by Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys to legal records in Glamorgan.9
In the following session Harcourt was not active in important matters until January 1694. On the 16th he told at the report stage of the land tax bill against retaining the assessors’ oath. On 17 Feb. he was ordered to prepare a bill for securing the debt due to the London orphans. Although not a parliamentary manager of this bill, he had attended a meeting in October 1693 at which heads of proposals had been discussed for raising a fund at 4 per cent perpetual interest for satisfying the debt, a scheme the Commons seem to have adopted. Further evidence of his involvement in this legislation was revealed by the investigations conducted by the Commons into allegations of bribery against Paul Jodrell, the City’s solicitor, who paid Harcourt five guineas on 21 Feb. 1694 in relation to the bill. Harcourt was involved in managing two other bills during this session: on 19 Feb. he was ordered to prepare a bill amending the law in taxing of costs, and preventing of suits, by involuntary trespass, which he presented the following day; and on 3 Mar. he reported the Axe navigation bill. He acted as a teller once more, on 30 Mar. 1694, against the passage of the bill disfranchising Stockbridge.10
Harcourt must have been present at the Jacobite trials at Manchester during the summer of 1694, for on 22 Nov. he was one of the Members who ‘gave an account of the fact and of the scandalousness of the evidence’ and the conduct of the judges. On 7 Jan. 1695 he chaired the committee of the whole considering the Paper Duty Act of the previous session, and, after a select committee was appointed to take over proceedings, he probably took the chair again, for he subsequently reported from this committee. Meanwhile, on 22 Jan., he had acted as a teller on a more partisan matter, concerning an attack on the Bank of England. The dispute revolved around a petition against the duty on the tonnage of ships (one of the funds underpinning the Bank). The Commons refused to allow counsel to represent the petitioners, but were willing to hear those merchants attending the House. The merchants, however, claimed that they were unprepared and requested another day. Harcourt told in their favour. On a more local matter, pertaining to the tenfold increase in charges for passage through the locks and weirs on the Thames, which had led to a petition from four counties, including Oxfordshire and Berkshire, Harcourt reported from the committee considering the petition on 9 Feb. 1695 in favour of legislation regulating the rivers. He was ordered to prepare the bill and presented it four days later, leaving the subsequent management to one of the MPs for Gloucestershire. Harcourt chaired the committee of the whole on the bill for the better encouragement of privateers, and after receiving leave of absence for a month on 22 Feb., possibly to go on circuit, resumed this task on 20 Apr. Five days later he chaired another committee of the whole, this time on the Lords’ bill to continue the Acts prohibiting trade and commerce with France.11
Harcourt was returned unopposed for Abingdon at the 1695 election. Indeed, so uneventful was his election that he was able to devote some attention to the problem of the vacancy for Oxford University caused by the death of Sir Thomas Clarges. Early in October he gave advanced warning of Clarges’ probable demise as ‘early thoughts and preparation in these cases never do harm’, and was soon inquiring into the possibility that Sir William Trumbull* might fill the vacancy. At this time Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†), citing John Grey*, described Harcourt as ‘the most zealous’ attender of a series of meetings with Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, John Grobham Howe* and Hon. Heneage Finch I*, among others, thereby locating Harcourt as an ally of the High Tories rather than one of the ‘old Whig’ adherents of the Harleys and Foleys. In November, before the new Parliament met, Harcourt was engaged in trying to ensure that those responsible for fabricating the Lancashire Plot were punished. When Lunt and his confederates moved for a new trial, Harcourt was one of the counsel employed on the opposite side.12
Although Harcourt was mentioned in the Journals in December 1695, he again saved his important activity until the new year. On 14 Jan. 1696 he chaired the committee of the whole on the bill encouraging privateers. On 24 Jan. he was added to the committee impeaching those concerned in the Company of Scotland. His name appears among those forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the division of 31 Jan. over the proposed council of trade. On 4 Feb. he chaired the committee of the whole on the bill for establishing a commission of public accounts. On the 6th he was ordered to prepare a bill to ascertain and settle the payment to Balliol College of the impropriate tithes of a London parish, which he subsequently managed through all its stages in the House. Later in February, he not only refused to sign the Association, but was reported to be one of the ‘ringleaders’ of resistance. He received leave of absence on 2 Mar., for three weeks but was probably back in the Commons by late March when he was listed as voting against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was now beginning to attract the attention of political lampoonists: one Whig tract, listing fictional measures to be introduced by the ‘cabal’, named Harcourt to bring in a bill ‘to repeal the Association and to settle the succession in the right line’. He actually signed the Association in Oxfordshire, symbolically dating his signature after the passage of the Act compelling subscription.13
Harcourt’s legal and rhetorical talents were even more prominent in the 1696–7 session in relation to his opposition to the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†. As early as September 1696 one of Sir William Trumbull’s correspondents reported a meeting at Oxford between Sir Bartholomew Shower* and Harcourt, which may have had some relevance to Fenwick’s case since Shower was one of the defence counsel for the expected trial. When this course of action was abandoned, Harcourt spoke against the motion on 6 Nov. for a bill of attainder. On 13 Nov., when Fenwick’s counsel argued that no evidence should be produced ‘but what related to the proof of the allegations in the bill’, unless they were given further time to produce witnesses to answer it, Harcourt was firmly of the opinion that no more time should be allowed as ‘there is nothing certain that is alleged in the bill; and should you allow him further time to answer that which is not alleged, I cannot imagine what effect you would have of it’. In short, the Commons should stick to the procedure established in the recent Treason Trials Act whereby defendants need only answer accusations laid down in the indictment. On 16 Nov., in the debate on the merits of admitting Goodman’s evidence, he made it clear that he regarded this attempt to introduce the deposition of an absent witness as absurd: if it were to be accepted there would be no point in having a bill, as the case could be tried by due legal process (a debating point of ‘great shrewdness’, according to Ralph). Later that day he again intervened in the debate over reading the record of the trial and conviction of Peter Cook, arguing that this was not only unprecedented but, if anything, an even more absurd method of proceeding, ‘that a record should be given in evidence against a man, that is no manner of party to the record’. At the end of the debate he acted as a teller against the question that the record be read. On the following day, in the debate on committing the bill, he again attacked the weakness of the prosecution case as laid out in the indictment, stating that ‘the greater the crime is that any person is accused of, the clearer the proof ought to be by which he is convicted’. Furthermore, he condemned the whole method of proceeding by bill of attainder. The fact that the Commons had the power to pass such a bill did not mean that it should be passed. Previous resort to attainder bills had usually been a reproach for misrule and was not to be imitated. Finally, he attacked the credibility of the one remaining witness, who had not been examined on oath, arguing that the rules of Westminster Hall should be the guide to conducting the trial. At the third reading, he spoke once more against the bill. First, he dealt with the view that the security of the government necessitated such action: clearly this could not be the case, as Fenwick was in safe custody. Second, there was no proof that Goodman had been persuaded to leave the country by Fenwick and his family. Third, the only facts were that an indictment had been found and that one of the witnesses had withdrawn; even if Fenwick was guilty the House should not proceed in so extraordinary a manner. Finally, as Fenwick did not appear to be guilty on the legal evidence, Harcourt said he could not vote for the bill. His name duly appeared on lists of those voting on 25 Nov. against it.14
Harcourt was also active in other parliamentary business during the 1696–7 session. He was named to five drafting committees, but played a managerial role in only two bills. Between December and February he piloted the bill to prevent vexatious suits in law and equity through all its stages in the House. On 2 Jan. 1697 he reported from the committee to consider the petition of London merchants relating to the acceptance by the excise commissioners of bills of exchange. He reported again from the same committee on 18 Feb., this time with reference to a petition from several brewers, with a resolution for a bill to repeal a clause in the recent Low Wines Duty Act. On 5 Jan. 1697 he received ten days’ leave of absence. However, it is unlikely that he was away for long, for he was summoned back from Oxford on 9 Jan. On 8 Feb. he chaired a committee of the whole on the bill regulating the Africa trade, a task he handed over later in the session to William Norris*. His one other tellership during the session was on 24 Feb., in favour of recommitting a resolution from the committee of supply for a sum not exceeding £515,000 to be granted for the civil list. The following day he received leave of absence for three weeks.15
In the last session of the Parliament, Harcourt was again active. On 15 Dec. 1697 he was ordered to prepare a bill for further regulating abuses in prisons. He managed the bill to prevent the use of hammered silver coin, chairing the committee of the whole. As in the previous session, he acted as a teller on 21 Dec. in favour of recommitting a resolution from the committee of supply voting money for the civil list. On 7 Feb. 1698 he was ordered to prepare a series of bills to resume all crown grants since the Restoration. He presented a bill on 9 Feb. relating to grants in Ireland in William III’s reign, and chaired the committee of the whole on 19 Feb., but proceedings on the bill petered out. He also presented three bills on 12 Feb. vacating grants in England and Ireland, one each for the reigns of Charles II, James II and William and Mary. As usual, he received leave of absence in the spring, this time on 12 Mar. He was almost caught out by a call of the House on 4 Apr., but was excused on a division by 79 votes. Back in the House by early May, he acted as a teller on the 6th for receiving a petition from several landlords of Suffolk Place in Southwark, against an Act relating to privileged places which had resulted in their being unable to let their houses. On 13 May he took the chair of a committee of the whole on the bill explaining the manner in which leather duties should be collected. He had not previously been involved in the management of this bill and the committee never sat again. On 5 May 1698 he was ordered to prepare a private bill on behalf of the children of Sir William Walter, 1st Bt. Harcourt presented the bill to the House on 19 May, but left the management of the bill to Lord Norreys (Montagu Venables-Bertie), Member for Oxfordshire. Since the seat of the Walter family at Sarsden lay only two miles from Chipping Norton, where Harcourt had settled with his first wife, he was the obvious choice to manage a local estate bill. As if to underline the point, his third wife was to be the widow of the third Walter baronet of Sarsden.
In June 1698 there was some talk of Harcourt standing as a candidate for Oxford University, but he declined on hearing that Trumbull intended to stand. The fact that he was willing to consider another seat suggests that his position at Abingdon was insecure, and this proved to be the case, for he was challenged by William Hucks*, supposedly at the behest of Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) and speci?cally in order to remove Harcourt from the Commons. The manoeuvres attendant upon the election meant that the return was delayed until mid-August owing to pressure on the mayor to return Hucks. Meanwhile, there was talk of returning Harcourt on Lord Hereford’s interest at Orford. Such was his prestige, at least among High Tories, that he was considered a possible candidate for Speaker in the new Parliament, having the ‘good opinion’ of both Court and Country. This assessment was not shared by the Court, Robert Yard* informing one of his correspondents that the Court’s choice was likely to be opposed by Harcourt, ‘a young lawyer, who in the former Parliament was always against the Court’. Several parliamentary lists confirmed the point. Harcourt was classed as a Country supporter on one list compiled about September 1698 and forecast as likely to oppose a standing army. His inclusion in a list of placemen in July 1698 was in error for his namesake, clerk of the Crown Office and later Member for Aylesbury.16
In early December 1698, just before the Parliament met, Harcourt’s name was still being mooted as a possible Tory challenger to Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., for the Speakership. No doubt for Harcourt the first session of the new Parliament was overshadowed by the election petition presented to the Commons on Hucks’s behalf on 12 Dec. 1698: indeed, it may have curtailed his activities in the chamber during January 1699. He was named to five drafting committees, but did not manage any of the resultant legislation. However, two snippets of correspondence detail his involvement with the disbanding bill. On 14 Jan. it was reported that ‘a clause of Harcourt’s had been accepted in the committee of the whole for disbanding the French though they were not named’. Four days later the bill passed the Commons in the teeth of opposition from the Court and some back-benchers, who were answered by Christopher Musgrave, Harcourt and Robert Harley. Harcourt maintained the pressure on the Court to restrict the armed forces by acting as a teller on 18 Feb. in favour of an amendment to a resolution from the committee of supply that the 15,000 seamen voted by the Commons should be defined ‘only according to ancient usage of the navy’, i.e. excluding marines. On 3 Mar. the Commons declared him duly elected and the following day he obtained a month’s leave of absence. He was back in the Commons by 13 Apr. and two days later acted as a teller against sending Henry Chivers* into custody for failure to attend the House: Chivers’ original offence had been to distribute a list of those Members who had opposed the disbanding bill. On 20 Apr. Harcourt was appointed to the committee to scrutinize the votes for commissioners of Irish forfeited estates, reporting the results of the ballot on the following day. He was clearly perceived as a Member with a keen interest in Irish affairs, no doubt because of his role in drafting bills relating to forfeited estates. In March 1699 the Irish lord chancellor, John Methuen*, wrote to him: ‘I depend if any be so malicious to mention my name with any ill design you will take me into your protection.’ On 26 Apr. he told in favour of an amendment to the paper duty bill exempting the two universities from the duties in the printing of books that ‘will be of great honour and advantage to the nation’. Henry Boyle, Member for Cambridge University, drew up the clause but ‘Harcourt was the true solicitor, who got together the Members of both universities and discoursed privately Mr Lowndes [William*]’. When the bill ran into trouble in the Lords, Harcourt was appointed on 3 May to draw up reasons for a conference with the Upper House, and reported from the conference the same day. By the end of May he was in Oxfordshire, staying with Sir John Stonhouse, 3rd Bt.*, and no doubt helping to allocate the recently deceased Earl of Abingdon’s offices in local boroughs to deserving friends and to sort out the county seat, vacant now that Lord Norreys had succeeded to the Abingdon title. In June Harcourt acted as one of the defence counsel for Charles Duncombe*, accused of falsely endorsing Exchequer bills. Even more important, for his legal career, November 1699 saw him acting for the first time as a counsel before the Lords.17
Harcourt’s commitment to such aspects of the Country programme as the dismantling of the standing army and the resumption of forfeited estates had brought him again into close contact with Robert Harley. In October 1699 Harley wrote effusively to Harcourt, ending with the cryptic note, ‘many things seem to require consideration before we meet’. Harcourt’s first recorded intervention in debate in this session came on 6 Dec. in the committee of the whole on the state of trade, during an attack on the Whigs over the affair of Captain Kidd. He seconded the motion that Kidd’s patent be declared ‘dishonourable to the King, against the law of nations, contrary to the laws and statutes of the realm, invasive of property, and destructive of trade and commerce’. On 15 Dec. the Commons received a report from the commissioners of inquiry into the Irish forfeited estates. In the debate, ‘Harcourt stood up and complained of such vast grants [of Irish forfeitures] when the nation was in such want, etc., and concluded with a motion to have these Irish estates to go towards the use of the public’. He was duly appointed to the committee to prepare legislation covering all grants of forfeited estates in Ireland since 13 Feb. 1689, one of six drafting committees during the session. As had already been clear the previous year Harcourt was perceived to possess influence over the House on this subject, and in January he was even solicited by his physician, Dr Lancelot Blackburne, to promote a saving clause in favour of John Ellis*. On 9 Jan. 1700 James Vernon I* reported that ‘Mr Harcourt has prepared the Irish bill and given the committee notice to meet upon it on Thursday morning’ (11 Jan.). Presumably colleagues accepted his draft without major revision because he was able to present it to the House the following day. On the 15th he was embroiled in further controversy over Irish forfeitures, when the Commons took Charles Montagu* to task over remarks made against Harcourt during the debate on the bill’s first reading on 13 Jan. Montagu had declared that some Members had written dishonourably of the King to the inquiry commissioners. He was challenged as to the source of his information and named John Methuen, who refuted Montagu’s version of events, and disclaimed any knowledge of such correspondence, but noted that members of the commission had discussed disclosing Lady Orkney’s grant from the King. The upshot was that Montagu’s allegations were voted ‘false and scandalous’. Harcourt followed up with a motion vindicating the four commissioners who had signed the majority report on the forfeitures, but the debate was adjourned to the next day (the 16th). When it was resumed, some of the commissioners attended in order to explain themselves. Francis Annesley* admitted receiving one letter from Harcourt but said this had not mentioned the King; nor had he himself made use of Harcourt’s name during discussions in the commission. Harcourt was thus thoroughly vindicated. On 1 Feb. 1700 the Irish forfeitures bill was tacked to the land tax bill to protect it from amendment in the Lords. Harcourt was determined to protect the integrity of the bill, opposing clauses which threatened to dilute it by exempting individual grants: on 22 Mar., he told against accepting a clause on behalf of Sir Charles Porter’s* family, and again on 1 Apr. in opposition to a saving clause for the Earl of Clancarty’s sister. However, on 2 Apr., he did promote one such amendment himself when, according to Vernon, he brought in a clause in favour of the Duke of Ormond, ‘that he should have the debts owing by his ancestors to any forfeiting person’. Indeed,
the clause was intended to be more comprehensive, and to reserve to him all the forfeitures within his county palatine of Tipperary, and a sum of money was to be added to it; but they doubted the success of any great attempt, and brought their clause within a compass to be passed.
This may be a tribute to Harcourt’s recognition of the art of the possible, given the climate he had helped to create against statutory exemptions to the resumption bill. On 8 Apr. the Commons got wind that the Lords would shortly return the bill to them with amendments, and in due course the amendments were rejected and a committee, including Harcourt, appointed to draw up reasons in readiness for a conference. There was also much criticism of the King’s foreign advisers, and of Lord Somers (Sir John*). As Vernon described it, the ‘whole day’s debate was managed by Mr [John Grobham] Howe, Mr [Robert] Harley, Mr Harcourt, Sir Edward Seymour, Sir Bartholomew Shower and Sir Christopher Musgrave, very few besides speaking in it’. When stalemate appeared to have been reached on 10 Apr. Harcourt moved for Somers’ impeachment, a resolution which, because it was so late in the session, was altered to a call for the chancellor to be banished from the King’s councils, though this was still defeated. Eventually the Lords gave way on the forfeitures bill and the session ended. Although the Irish forfeitures had occupied much of Harcourt’s attention, he was involved in other business during the session. Thus he was prominent in Tory attacks on Lord Somers on 13 Feb., which coupled political gain with principle, for the subject of the attack was the procurement by ministers of grants from the King. Harcourt was prominent among those seconding Howe’s motion that obtaining such grants was ‘highly injurious to his Majesty, prejudicial to the state and a violation of the trust reposed in them’. When Speaker Littleton was taken ill on 20 Feb. 1700 Vernon thought that Harcourt or John Conyers would be proposed as a temporary replacement, an indication of Harcourt’s stature. Somewhat surprisingly, it appears that he was absent from London from 25 Feb. until 2 Mar., paying a visit to his constituency of Abingdon. Finally, Harcourt spoke on one private matter, the Duke of Norfolk’s divorce bill, on 19 Mar. 1700. He was in a small minority against the bill, ‘doubting whether it were allowable to differ from the constitutions of the Church that restrains the liberty of remarrying’, a view consistent with the High Churchmen’s determination to preserve the authority of the ecclesiastical courts.18
Following the dismissal of Somers in April 1700 there were rumours of a reconstruction of the ministry. Harcourt’s name was mooted for office, and in May 1700 he was suggested as solicitor-general. In June, Vernon discussed Harcourt’s position with Harley, arguing against preferment at this time because of Harcourt’s unacceptability to the Whigs. Instead, Vernon offered ‘any other gratifications’, so that the King might see first how Harcourt could serve him. In reply Harley pointed out that to ignore Harcourt might push him to a stronger alliance with the High Tories, speaking ‘of the pains’ he had himself taken ‘to keep Mr Harcourt from falling in with the Duke of Leeds [Carmarthen]’. Harcourt appears to have been in London in the early summer of 1700. On 15 May he acted as counsel for the Old East India Company before the Treasury, concerning its petition over the seizure by the customs of a quantity of diamonds from a company ship. The return of Lords Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) and Godolphin (Sidney†) to the ministry in December 1700 provoked another bout of speculation concerning Harcourt’s advancement to solicitor-general. Others, foreseeing the dissolution, saw him as a possible Speaker. Harcourt left London on 14 Dec. for Abingdon: after Hucks’s challenge in 1698 he intended to pay careful attention to his own constituency. However, he was soon able to report to Harley that he did not expect any opposition, a correct assessment, since he was returned for Abingdon without a contest.19
Several sources mention Harcourt as a possible candidate for Speaker in January 1701, but with Harley’s name being put forward it was unlikely that the Tories would have risked splitting their votes as in 1698. At the beginning of the new Parliament Harcourt was appointed on 20 Feb. to prepare a bill for the qualification of Members and to regulate elections, one of only three drafting committees. His name appears on one list probably indicating Members willing to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. His connexions with Oxford University proved invaluable in mollifying the Tories when Sir Christopher Musgrave elected to sit for Westmorland rather than the university. Harcourt patiently explained to Arthur Charlett that political calculation rather than disrespect to the university underlay this decision, as a new election at Oxford was far less likely to produce ‘a bad choice’ than Westmorland. On 5 Mar. he intervened in the debate on the bill of settlement to suggest a clause based on one enacted when Philip of Spain had married Mary I, ‘that no foreigner should be capable of a grant or place in this kingdom’. On 6 Mar. Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, reported Harcourt’s support, along with Jack Howe and Charles Coxe*, for Arthur Moore’s* election petition (in the Old East India Company interest) against William Cotesworth, sitting Member for Grimsby (in the New Company interest). Harcourt was heavily involved again in legislation appertaining to Irish forfeited estates. As early as 16 Jan. Sir Richard Levinge* asked Peter Shakerley* for notice of any bill relating to Irish forfeitures so that he could secure a clause on his own behalf. Levinge had heard that he might expect Harcourt’s favour, but warned Shakerley that as Harcourt and John Methuen corresponded constantly, ‘you must not name the second to the first in my affair’. On 11 Mar. Annesley, one of the forfeiture trustees, recounted the Commons’ proceedings the previous day on the trustees’ report, the end result of which had been to send for two other trustees, as Harcourt had informed the House that ‘he had read every word of it but could not understand one paragraph’. As usual, there was a gap in Harcourt’s parliamentary attendance as he went on circuit. He was back in time to be one of the prime movers in the impeachment of Somers on 14 Apr. On that day, according to Cocks, Harcourt ‘reflected upon the Lord Somers for his mean original, for his great riches, for his grants, and seconded the question for his being guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours’. This may well have been the speech alluded to by Robert Walpole II when he noted that ‘Harcourt began with extremely fallacious, but as plausible remarks’, successfully designed to provoke a response in order to prolong the debate and distract attention from the powerful defence offered by Somers. This tactic worked wonderfully well, for Somers was found guilty and Harcourt was sent to the House of Lords to present the impeachment. Although Harcourt was not noted in the Journals as being appointed to the committee to prepare the articles of impeachment against the four lords, he was responsible for the management of the case against Somers. On 26 Apr. he met Hon. James Brydges*, Anthony Hammond*, and William Bromley II* at Shower’s house ‘about the articles of impeachment’ (all the rest being appointees to the committee). While the case against Somers was being prepared, Harcourt remained active in other parliamentary business, speaking frequently in debates. Most interesting, perhaps, was his stance on the old Country theme of retrenchment, now that many Tories were in the ministry. On 2 May, in ways and means, when Howe proposed appropriating towards the payment of the public debts the £100,000 previously taken from the civil list for the use of the war, Harcourt was one of the Court Tories who tried in vain to ‘divert’ Howe’s motion ‘to get 4s. on the pound in order to establish and show the interest and credit of the new ministry in our House’. At the vote on the resolution on 5 May, Harcourt remained silent and both he and Seymour ‘divided for it, for they were ashamed to do otherwise’. On 21 May, again in ways and means, the same group of pro-ministerial Tories, including Harcourt, tried to make more palatable the scheme to take revenue from the civil list by substituting a plan to appropriate £3,000 per week to finance a loan. The burden of Harcourt’s somewhat specious argument was that he had previously supported Howe’s plan as a substitute for the land tax or an excise, but that, since both were now necessary, Howe’s original plan should be altered. Harcourt was also in the forefront of the Commons’ response to the Kentish Petition. After Seymour had denounced the petition on 8 May, Harcourt successfully moved that it was ‘scandalous, insolent and seditious, tending to destroy the constitution of Parliaments, and to subvert the established government of this realm’. When the disorderly behaviour of those petitioners taken into custody was brought to the attention of the Commons on 13 May, Harcourt successfully proposed that they be placed in the Gatehouse. On 12 May the House, in ways and means, considered how to assist the Dutch: much to Cocks’s amusement the Tories split, with Harley, Musgrave and Harcourt wanting to send money rather than men, while Seymour, Howe and Shower spoke for men rather than money. Amid these political battles Harcourt found time to manage another private bill on behalf of the Duke of Ormond. On 16 May it was back to the business of the impeachments, Harcourt reporting the articles against Somers, and carrying them up to the Lords. He chaired the committee of the whole on the bill appointing commissioners of accounts. On 7 June Hammond wrote that the part of the bill establishing a general commission of accounts (as opposed to continuing the more specific commission to state the debts of the military departments) was under attack from the Court, with Harcourt and Robert Harley prominent. Hammond hoped that ‘if we cannot bring ’em to reason, we shall at least expose ’em to shame’, for being seen to be supporting the Court on a quintessential Country measure, and Hammond and his friends succeeded in retaining the general commission in the bill which Harcourt carried to the Lords on 18 June. However, it was then killed off in a dispute between the Houses on the composition of the commission, in which Harcourt played his part as a member of the committee appointed on 24 June to prepare reasons for a conference. On 23 May 1701 he and Bromley were appointed by the Commons to request Francis Atterbury to preach to them on Restoration Day. Harcourt acted as a teller on 28 May against the bill to prevent the corrupting of jurors. In keeping with his interest in the question of forfeited estates, he was appointed on 31 May to the committee set up to examine petitions relating to Irish forfeitures. In order to maintain good relations with the King, he may well have been privy to a meeting at Lord Nottingham’s house which resulted in an address on 12 June to William III pledging the Commons’ support in preserving the liberties of Europe. Not surprisingly, he acted as a teller for the minority on 14 June against a clause offered to a supply bill, aimed at respiting the sales of Irish forfeited estates. Despite all this activity Harcourt still found time to engage in the major business of the later months of this session, the impeachments. On 27 May Somers’ answer was read in the Commons. A debate ensued on the next step to be taken, some Whigs wishing to reply instead to Orford’s answer, but this was opposed because of the necessity of impeaching Somers first, whereupon Harcourt informed the House that his committee required a few days to consider Somers’ answer. On 31 May the Lords launched an attack on the impeachments, sending a message to the Commons in which they set a date for Orford’s trial and criticizing the Lower House for failing to exhibit articles against Portland and Halifax (Montagu). Harcourt was appointed to the committee to search for precedents concerning such messages. He reported on 4 June that the Lords’ actions in setting the date of the trial before the Commons had signalled their readiness, and the message relating to Portland and Halifax, were unprecedented and unparliamentary. He was then despatched to the Upper House with this reply. A message from the Lords on 4 June on the need for a speedy trial of impeached peers was referred on 5 June to the committee appointed to draw up the impeachments so that reasons could be drawn up for a conference with the Lords. Harcourt reported from this committee on the 6th. His contribution to these proceedings was esteemed so highly that the committee of the whole on the public accounts bill which he was chairing on 6 June was adjourned so that he could attend the conference. The reply sent by the Commons on 4 June, through Harcourt, provoked a reply from the Lords on the 9th respecting their rights in matters of impeachments. Harcourt returned with a reply to this on 10 June which was followed by another conference. On 9 June the Lords set 13 June as the date for Somers’ trial. This challenge was referred to the committee preparing the impeachments from which Harcourt reported again on the 11th. At one of the conferences on this subject, on 13 June, Lord Haversham (Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.*) accused the Commons of partiality in only attacking some of the ministers involved in the negotiation of the Partition Treaties. Harcourt reported these words to the Commons and a further conference took place on the need to punish Haversham for reflecting on the honour of the Lower House. When the Lords communicated to the Commons the rules for the trial of Somers on the following day, the message was referred to the impeachments committee. On the 17th Harcourt reported the reasons why the Commons were not yet ready to proceed with the trial. This session marks a transitional stage in Harcourt’s political development. His partisan politics remained resolutely Tory, as seen in his pursuit of the former Whig ministers. Yet there were examples in which the needs of the Tory ministry tempered his Country radicalism.20
Shortly after the prorogation the King chose Edward Northey* as attorney-general, Harcourt being one of the other candidates. In the second 1701 election Harcourt expected no opposition at Abingdon, but Wharton Dunch* had secretly made an interest there, no doubt encouraged by various Whig grandees and the publication of Harcourt’s name on the ‘black list’ of those who had opposed preparations for war with France. Broadside ballads smeared Harcourt with Jacobitism: in one case the verse ‘Harcourt by Musgrave’s compass rails’ was finished with the line ‘Their aims to crown the Prince of Wales’. Harcourt easily defeated this challenge and then instituted an ‘instruction’ from his constituents mandating him to inquire into the advisers of the dissolution, to further the impeachments and to ensure that all public money was accounted for. The unusual pro-Tory nature of these instructions gained Harcourt yet more credibility as one of the chiefs of the Tory party (as L’Hermitage described him). Before the new Parliament met it was reported that Harcourt had been chosen by the Old East India Company to replace the recently deceased Shower in the amalgamation talks with the New Company.21
Harley’s analysis of the new Parliament, not surprisingly, listed Harcourt with the Tories. On 6 Jan. 1702 he was named to draft both a public accounts bill and a bill to revive the commission to examine military debts, two of the nine bills he was ordered to draft during the session. He managed the second of these bills through all its stages in the Commons. The other bill was disliked by the King and, with the two parties struggling for influence at court, Harcourt steered clear of further association with such a provocative measure, although James Brydges recorded a visit to Harcourt on the day the bill was committed (14 Jan.) when ‘we talked about commiss[ion] of accounts’. Further tension between those Tories committed to winning the battle for the King’s favour and those committed to the success of a Country programme may be seen in L’Hermitage’s report on the events of 9 Jan., which details Harcourt’s support for Musgrave against the Whigs and, it would appear, Seymour, in contending that debates on supply should wait for the delayed naval estimates. Harcourt would seem to have been supporting the Court in the committee of supply on 16 Jan. when he helped to secure the rejection of a resolution declaring that the 7,000 troops based in England count towards the 40,000 troops voted to fight against France. In view of the fine balance between the parties at Westminster, it is not surprising to find Harcourt devoting considerable attention to disputed election cases, which held the key to control of the Commons. On 29 Jan. he supported the sitting Members for Malmesbury, and then played a leading role in ensuring that their defeated opponent was taken into custody for bribery. Harcourt was appointed on 2 Feb. 1702 to the committee to prepare reasons for a conference with the Lords on the bill to attaint the Pretender. Much later Thomas Hearne recalled assurances he had been given that Harley and Harcourt had been the ‘chief contrivers and penners of the damnable abjuration oath’ as well as the Act of Settlement. As a man of scrupulous conscience, Hearne may not have appreciated the Tory tactic to ensure that the oath was compulsory. However, there is evidence that Harcourt was involved in shaping at least part of the Act. On 5 Feb. Cocks reported that the committee of the whole had gone through the bill, including ‘Harcourt’s clause to preserve the Princess of Denmark from treasonous designs’. Harcourt also spoke in a debate on the bill on 19 Feb., possibly in support of a rider against occasional conformity, when he ‘reflected’ upon Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt.* On 7 Feb. he intervened in the final stages of the Maidstone election case to ensure that Thomas Colepeper, one of the Kentish Petitioners, who had been voted guilty of promoting a ‘scandalous, villainous and groundless reflection’ upon the Commons, should be sent to Newgate gaol rather than the Gatehouse. Heneage Finch I followed by successfully moving for a committee of the whole to consider the ‘rights, liberties and privileges of the House of Commons’, which was ordered for 17 Feb. On that day the Tories secured the passage of three resolutions upholding the authority of the Commons, but ran into trouble when Bromley moved a resolution that to address the crown for a dissolution was tending to sedition. Harcourt backed the motion but other leading Tories, such as Seymour and Musgrave, did not, and the committee adjourned in confusion. On 21 Feb. Harcourt was instrumental in delaying the report of the committee of ways and means in favour of a malt tax, so that he could make a proposal to the House relating to Irish forfeitures. He wanted to ask the trustees ‘if lands would not sell better if there were leases made and a term of years granted to the tenants for that then the tenants could advance the rents and the estates would sell according to the advancements of the rents’, and was ‘disappointed’ when it was ruled that only matters relating to petitions on the estates could be discussed. Preparatory to another sitting of the committee of the whole on the rights of the House, Lord Hartington (William Cavendish) moved on 24 Feb. that the committee also consider ‘the rights and liberties of all the commons of England’. This was unavailingly opposed by the Tories, including Harcourt. Later, on 24 Feb., Harcourt appeared on the Tory side in the Coventry election case. When the House considered on 26 Feb. the resolution of the committee of the whole on the rights and privileges of the Commons Harcourt voted for the motion vindicating their proceedings in the impeachments. Early in March he went off on circuit and was therefore absent from London when the King died. Nor did he seem inclined to leave his lucrative legal work in order to return to the capital. Hon. Robert Bertie* carried a message back to London that only Harley’s ‘special commands’ would entice Harcourt thither, and he himself wrote to Harley in similar vein: ‘had I thought it possible for me to be wanted I should ’ere this time have been with you; but I have persuaded myself that the greatest part of those we differed with are ready to fall down and worship’. He was still on circuit at the end of the month. This absence may have been partly diplomatic, so that he could assess the opportunities which the new reign had opened up for the Tories. He was back by 13 Apr., when he destroyed Cocks’s attempt to allow Quakers to affirm rather than swear the oath of abjuration, by pointing out that the clause introduced verbally by Cocks disagreed with the one actually presented in writing. Then on 6 May he was named to the committee to prepare reasons for a conference to explain why a similar amendment made to the bill by the Lords was unacceptable. Harcourt seems to have been concerned about the bill establishing Worcester College, Oxford, in particular that the university’s Tories had not given him any instructions to oppose it. This must have been remedied before 29 Apr. when Harcourt opposed the bill’s commitment on the grounds that ‘it altered the testator’s will and that the heir [Sir Thomas Cookes Winford, 2nd Bt.*] might indeed be well pleased for that he had a power given him by the Act that the will never designed him’. The House duly refused to commit the bill. Harcourt was later to settle the issue during the Harley ministry when he held high legal office. As the session neared its close, Harcourt was involved in the management of two further bills. In response to a petition relating to the Irish forfeited estates, he was ordered on 30 Apr. to prepare a bill, described by Cocks as one ‘to oblige Irish clergy to a residence’ but presented by Harcourt on 2 May as one making provision out of the Irish forfeitures for building churches and augmenting small vicarages. The previous day, 1 May, he had reported from a committee on the Earl of Abingdon’s estate bill. Harcourt’s close political connexion to Abingdon made him the obvious Member to manage the bill.22
By the middle of May 1702 it was confidently asserted that Harcourt would be solicitor-general. He was sworn into office on 30 May and knighted on 1 June. The appointment has been widely seen as a gesture from Godolphin towards Harley. Subsequent events seem to confirm this, as the difficult decisions Harcourt made over whether to stay with Harley and the Court, or to support a series of High Church measures, particularly legislation against occasional conformity, betray Harley’s influence. Harcourt’s new status within the legal establishment could only enhance his law practice, as indeed it did, if his appearances as counsel before the Lords are any guide. There was no visible effect on his interest at Abingdon where he was returned unopposed at the 1702 election.23
The most immediate consequence of appointment as solicitor-general was Harcourt’s metamorphosis into a ministerial spokesman. Furthermore, his legal duties reorientated his daily routine towards executive action in the preparation of legal reports and advice for Cabinet and Council. Although he was named to draft 12 bills, he played no role in their subsequent progress. Thus, the Journals are very much less informative about his political role in Anne’s reign. Some indication of the conflicting pressures Harcourt faced is contained in a letter from Godolphin to Harley on 4 Nov. 1702, in which the lord treasurer complained about the Commons’ disinclination to prosecute the war, and mentioned that he had spoken to Harcourt on the matter, whose response was to suggest that ‘another meeting at your house tomorrow might rectify what is passed’. Clearly, Harcourt must have felt sympathy for the meticulous way in which the Commons insisted on proper estimates for the armed forces, and his previous role as a ‘Country’ champion must have made men of Godolphin’s outlook keen to ensure that his credit with back-benchers would be used to forward supply. Harcourt was in fact committed to the Tory cause in the opening session of the Parliament, as was seen during the proceedings of 19 Nov. on the election petition of Sir John Guise, 3rd Bt.*, against Jack Howe’s election for Gloucestershire. According to Guise, the Commons, ‘without hearing my cause’, and on Harcourt’s motion, declared Howe duly elected, a scandalous way for the Members to proceed, more particularly as ‘this was not done in a drunken committee’ but at the bar of the House. Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, concurred, noting that Harcourt ‘was often reproached with it to his face: but he was a man without shame, although very able’. There is no evidence to connect Harcourt with the first occasional conformity bill until it was returned with amendments from the Lords on 9 Dec. The following day he was appointed to the committee to consider the seventh amendment made by the Lords. This committee was then given the task of drawing up reasons for disagreeing with some of the amendments. Although Harcourt did not take the lead in this battle, his one recorded opinion seems to indicate complete agreement with the purposes of the bill, that ‘if a national church be necessary, which the Lords did not venture to deny, the only effectual way to preserve it is by keeping the civil power in the hands of those whose practices and principles are conformable to it’.
The same committee was appointed to manage the conferences on 17 Dec. and 9 Jan. 1703. Another ‘very long’ conference took place on 16 Jan., in which Harcourt was named by Luttrell as one of the five managers from the Commons, and Bishop Nicolson confirmed that Harcourt spoke for the House at the conference. The same committee managed the last conference with the Lords on 29 Jan. Given the duumvirs’ deep concern to avoid any threat to the war effort, Harcourt’s advocacy of such a divisive measure must have caused unease. Other parliamentary activity may have exacerbated this feeling. Furthermore, he adhered to the Tory cause on 13 Feb. 1703, voting against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration. An indication of the pressure Harcourt felt is to be found in a letter he wrote to Harley in March 1703 while on circuit: he complained that first the sitting of Parliament and now the campaign itself had been used as excuses for not making ‘alterations’ (presumably of local office-holders), and continued, ‘I endeavour to give satisfactory answers, but most of our friends are growing infidels’, which could have ‘mischievous’ consequences.24
In the new session of Parliament Harcourt was appointed once more to the committee to prepare the Address, reporting from it on the 11th. The Journals again record many nominations to drafting committees, but little involvement with the passage of bills. During the first month of the new session the Tories were engaged in promoting a second occasional conformity bill. Again Harcourt seems to have favoured the bill, for on the day it passed the Lower House, a contemporary noted, ‘Mr Solicitor was zealous for the bill and his friends do him the honour to magnify his virtue which they say was proof against my lord treasurer’s solicitation upon this occasion.’ Trumbull, too, seemed to group Harcourt with the Tories rather than the Court when compiling a ‘secret committee’ of the Commons on the back of a letter dated 17 Dec. Other Members included Musgrave, Henry St. John II, Thomas Coke, Howe, Robert Byerley and Sir Humphrey Mackworth. However, Atterbury found grounds to criticize Harcourt’s moderation when discussing the proceedings of the Commons on 21 Dec. The Commons were furious that the Lords had taken some people accused of treason from the custody of the crown into their own hands, an action denounced in a draft address in which the House expressed concern over ‘any violation’ of the ‘royal prerogative’. According to Atterbury some Members, including Harcourt, wished to substitute ‘diminution’ for ‘violation’. In fact, the amendment was to remove the reference to ‘violation’ and replace it with the phrase ‘concern we have of the preservation of your royal prerogative’. In this matter Harcourt sided with the Court. By 25 Dec. Godolphin was writing to inform Harley that he had personally thanked the solicitor-general for an unnamed favour, possibly in the affair of the address aimed at the Lords which, it was reported, ‘Harcourt decided against his party’, or the decision not to proceed further with charges against Lord Halifax, when Harcourt contributed to ‘letting it drop’. On 25 Jan. he made a long speech in committee on Ashby v. White, which put him in the happy position of defending the Tory side on the specific question of the Aylesbury election and also of defending the rights of the Commons. His position was summed up in the resolution he proposed
that the sole right of examining and determining all matters relating to the election of Members to serve in Parliament except in such cases as are otherwise provided for, is in the House of Commons; and that neither the qualification of the electors, or the right of the person elected, is elsewhere cognizable or determinable.
Harcourt’s motion provided the basis of the first two resolutions adopted by the committee and thence by the House, after he had fended off an amendment from Lord Hartington to exclude the reference to the Commons having an exclusive jurisdiction over the qualification of electors. Harcourt had pointed out the form that such a question should take, observing that ‘leaving out those words, leaves out all you debated on’.25
Harcourt was reported on 23 May 1704 to have been struck by a fever and to be ‘dangerously ill’, but he had recovered by the 26th, when he appeared in court as counsel for the Tory physician Dr John Radcliffe*. Also in May a letter from Godolphin to Harley indicated that the treasurer was still concerned at Harcourt’s political conduct: ‘by what you write and some other observations, I am afraid Mr Solicitor is not very right’. Late in July Harcourt wrote to Harley lamenting the death of Sir Christopher Musgrave and referring to ‘my affair for the university’. Clearly, he still felt himself to be attached to the High Tory interest as well as the more moderate Toryism propounded by Harley. The forthcoming session of 1704–5 would force him to choose.26
The pre-sessional meetings between Members in October 1704 yielded some criticism of Harley’s decision to accept office and some plans to have him ousted as Speaker because of it. Although Harcourt’s name was mentioned as a possible successor, others thought the Tories would rather have William Bromley II. Harley rode out this storm and the session started normally. Harcourt was soon deeply perturbed by the intention of the High Tories to force through the occasional conformity bill by tacking it to the land tax, and appalled by the prospect of a dispute between the Houses and the possible danger to supply. On 19 Nov. Godolphin wrote to Harley: ‘I wish both Mr Solicitor and Mr St. John [Henry II] had been sensible a little sooner, that they must not expect any quarter from their old friends, unless they go along with them in everything.’ About this date Harcourt enunciated his concerns to Harley, especially his view that the occasional conformity bill would be consolidated with the land tax bill unless more lobbying was done to prevent it. Harcourt had clearly been arguing against the proposed tack, for he concluded,
’Tis not in my power to contribute much to your service. The interest I had with my old friends I have entirely lost by endeavouring to serve them. I will endeavour to bear the loss with Christian patience, and as soon as I become so unfortunate as to please nobody I am determined to please myself with being quiet.
On 30 Oct. 1704 Harcourt was forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack and he did not vote for it on 28 Nov. This controversy did not impinge on his work as a legislator, indeed he took an active role in managing two of the eight bills he was appointed to draft. On 12 Jan. 1705 he asked leave of the House to bring in a bill for better preventing correspondence with the Queen’s enemies, chairing the resultant bill in the committee of the whole. He also chaired the committee of the whole on the bill to secure England from the dangers that might arise from several acts passed by the Scottish parliament (23 Jan. 1705), although Conyers reported it. As the session neared its end, Harcourt’s political position had become precarious. His erstwhile friends, the High Tories, ‘hate the solicitor and all that did not join with ’em in that tacking vote’, while ‘the Whigs spoke favourably of him’ but did not trust him.27
At the 1705 election Harcourt lost his seat at Abingdon to ‘a more pronounced anti-Tacker’, the Whig Grey Neville*. However, the Court stepped in to find him a seat at Bossiney. The Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in particular had mixed feelings about Harcourt: he knew him to be very able, hence Harcourt’s appointment as his deputy steward at New Woodstock. But he also knew that Harcourt could only maintain his commitment to the Court with difficulty, and remarked to Godolphin in April 1705, ‘I am not at all surprised at their not liking [Harcourt]. I pray God we may like him in November next.’ With the election results favouring the Whigs, there was some pressure to remove Harcourt but Harley ‘protected him’. Harley may even have suggested Harcourt as a possible Speaker for the new Parliament, but those who did not like John Smith I ‘would not come into him’.28
A little over a week before the opening of the 1705 Parliament one commentator summed up Harcourt’s position thus:
The condition of the solicitor-general is very precarious, he has nothing to trust to but the gratitude of the court. His party with whom he [had] credit hate him irreconcilably and the Whigs will never forgive him. In these circumstances a man is not in a condition to do either good or hurt in the House of Commons.
On one list of 1705 he was named as a placeman; another classed him as a ‘Sneaker’ in the vote on the Tack. More importantly, he voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, rather than his old friend William Bromley II. This swing to the Court, plus his employment by Marlborough, gave the Tory satirists an easy target. Harcourt was accused of ‘a servile temper’, of being ‘a rising man, the darling of his lord’, or ‘great at court, and has her Grace’s [the Duchess of Marlborough] ear’. Such Tory pressure may explain Godolphin’s comment in November 1705 that ‘our solicitor-general is wavering again, but I don’t know how to believe him so weak, to say no more’. The remark was probably in relation to the election petition for St. Albans, in which the Duchess of Marlborough was concerned to see Henry Killigrew* returned in the place of John Gape*, a Tacker. Here Harcourt succumbed to Court pressure and voted for Killigrew. In this session Harcourt’s legislative input was minimal: he was nominated to draft seven bills, but managed none of them. Evidence does survive, however, to illuminate his conduct on some of the important issues confronting the House. On 4 Dec. 1705 he opposed the Tory ‘Hanover motion . . . in plain terms’, stressing the indignity the Queen would suffer from having the heir presumptive in the country and supporting the motion that the chairman of the committee of the whole, Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt., leave the chair. On 8 Dec. the Commons voted to concur with the Lords’ resolution that the Church of England was in a ‘most safe and flourishing condition’. Both Harcourt and St. John voted with the majority on this occasion, prompting the comment that ‘considering how they talked and voted last session [this] is no small drudgery’. Support for the Court position on the major issues of the day was balanced by a propensity to endorse Tories, and even Tackers, in election petitions. In December 1705 Halifax spoke with the Duchess of Marlborough about the 20 Members who voted for Smith as Speaker but for Sir Samuel Garrard, 4th Bt.*, in the Amersham election, ‘as indeed they have done for every Tacker except Mr Gape in all the committees, and always show their inclination as far as they dare’. Halifax clearly perceived Harcourt as a leading Tory partisan on election cases, even crediting him with persuading Henry St. John II to stay in the House one day and vote for a Tacker. His final point was obvious: ‘it is a little strange to have the Queen’s solicitor not only voting but speak[ing] for Tackers as I think he has done in most if not every committee except St. Albans’. The Whigs were exerting pressure on Godolphin to remove the less amenable Tories in order to replace them with their own men. Harcourt, in keeping with Harley’s commitment to mixed ministries, was willing to support Tories in most election cases in the hope of maintaining an approximate equality between the parties in the Commons and thereby consolidating his own position. However, his support for Tories did not extend to indulgence of the more extreme, whose actions jeopardized the moderate Tories’ case for appointment to office. Hence his firm line against the indiscretion of Charles Caesar*, on 19 Dec., during the debates on the regency bill. In four interventions Harcourt argued that Caesar’s words had reflected upon the Queen, pressed for Caesar to explain them and, when he was satisfied that the words were dishonourable to the Queen’s person and government, seconded the motion that Caesar be sent to the Tower. The irritation caused among Caesar’s friends was thought likely to force Harcourt to abandon his attempt to overturn the Abingdon election, which he had lost ‘because he has no friends of either party’; and, indeed, the Abingdon petition was quietly dropped later in January. Harcourt was heavily engaged in the debates on the regency bill. On 10 Jan. 1706 the committee discussed a topic which had occupied him more than a decade before: the extension of the treason laws to include the spoken word. Harcourt retained his earlier doubts about the justice of such a law, but now made a distinction between speaking and preaching. On 15 Jan. he spoke against a Parliament meeting ‘immediately’ on the death of the Queen: there was no necessity, as executive power would lie with the regents. On 19 Jan. he appears to have spoken initially to clarify the composition of the regency and then, later, in support of the division of the regents between the great officers of state and the nominees of the successor. On 21 Jan. he spoke against the ‘whimsical’ clause and duly supported the Court on 18 Feb. when that clause came before the full House. As if to confirm his independence of the Court on election matters, he voted in February for Salwey Winnington* at Bewdley despite pressure to support the Whig candidate. Harcourt found himself still in office at the end of the 1705–6 session. No doubt Harley’s support was vital but Sir William Simpson detailed his survival as follows:
Mr Solicitor has weathered the storm that threatened him in the beginning of the session. I believe my lord treasurer has taken pains with the Whigs to reconcile them to him, which was easier to do because the solicitor joined with them in the question about places and some other great points and now they talk of making him attorney.29
Little information survives concerning Harcourt’s activities for the remainder of 1706, except for his reluctant acquiescence in Harley’s request to travel to London to sign the articles of union with Scotland in July. In the 1706–7 session, on 7 Jan. he was named to a committee to prepare an address to the Queen indicating the Commons’ willingness to enable her to make provision for the heirs of the Duke of Marlborough. He reported this address the same day, and there is evidence that he drafted it. The Queen’s favourable response on 9 Jan. led to Harcourt’s being appointed to prepare a bill to settle on the Duke and his posterity a pension of £5,000 p.a. in the same way that the manor of Woodstock had been settled. Harcourt managed this bill through the Commons. It was perhaps this measure which the Duchess of Marlborough had in mind when she referred to ‘the part you took in obtaining the grant of Woodstock for the Duke . . . which was chiefly owing to your good management and interest’, since the 1705 Act granting the actual manor was managed through the House by John Smith I. In either case it represents a change of position for a man previously seen as one of the keenest advocates of legislation to resume estates alienated by the crown. Harcourt’s previous support in 1702, for the bill appropriating forfeited impropriations for building churches and augmenting poor vicarages in Ireland, saw Francis Annesley eager for the Irish bishops to unite for his support for a bill making the previous Act more effective. As this bill had a rapid passage in February 1707 one may assume that such approaches were successful. On 11 Feb. Harcourt was appointed to the committee to prepare the bill of union. This was expected to be hotly contested, with opponents hoping to challenge each article in turn. Burnet gave Harcourt the credit for avoiding this pitfall by preparing a bill ‘with so particular a contrivance, that it cut off all debates’, that is one with a preamble reciting the articles and the other relevant Acts, plus a single enacting clause, ratifying them all. Harcourt must have been in London for the short session held in April 1707 because he acted as a teller on 24 Apr. against a motion to read the Lords’ amendments to the bill preventing dangers which might arise from bringing great quantities of gunpowder into London and Southwark. Immediately after the end of the session, probably on 26 Apr., Harcourt was advanced to the post of attorney-general, doubtless a reward for his solid support for the Court on major issues such as the Union, and a reflection of the desire of Godolphin and Marlborough, stiffened by the resolve of Harley, to maintain a mixed ministry. Godolphin wrote to Marlborough on 2 May: ‘Mr Solicitor seems very well pleased to be made attorney and I hope he will be very serviceable in that station.’ Marlborough, on the other hand, when writing to his wife, disclaimed all knowledge of the appointment, which, she wrote, ‘gives discontent to [the Whigs]’.30
In the 1707–8 session Harcourt was appointed to 11 drafting committees, but again he undertook no role in the management of legislation. However, he played an active part in the debates of the session. On the question of the fate of the Scottish privy council, he spoke for retaining both councils. In fact, the Court were ‘extremely earnest’ to have the Scottish council continued, with Harcourt being joined by Harley, Smith and Henry Boyle. However, the Country Whigs were joined by the High Tories to ensure that the resolution adopted was that ‘there be but one Privy Council in the kingdom of Great Britain’. Harcourt’s next recorded intervention in debate came in January 1708, over the vexed question of recruitment for the army. In committee of the whole on 16 Jan. he sternly advocated removing the qualification for enforced recruitment which covered only men with no visible means of livelihood. At the report, on 21 Jan., he successfully moved an amendment to the resolution to delete any reference to visible means of maintenance, substituting the definition of persons with no real or personal estate for their maintenance. His role in shaping this bill was recognized by appointment to the committee to prepare the legislation. A further debate on recruiting on 23 Jan. yielded an address to the crown on the matter of encouraging parish officials to use the existing statutes to bring in recruits. Harcourt moved this motion, proposing ‘that the rewards given for the bringing in of men should be doubled’. On 28 Jan. he was again active in debate, in ways and means, in support of a proposal by William Lowndes that the East India Company have its charter extended in return for a further loan of £1,200,000. The Scottish Members saw this as a breach of the Union unless a new subscription was coupled with the extension of the charter, but they were ‘answered by Mr Attorney and Mr Secretary [Robert Harley]’. Although Harcourt acted as if it were a routine parliamentary session, relations between the various factions within the ministry had reached breaking point by January 1708. Indeed, it was Harcourt who informed Harley on 29 Jan. that the latter had fallen under the lord treasurer’s ‘displeasure’, probably due to his scheme to reconstruct the ministry. Harcourt was a key ally of Harley in this enterprise, for on many occasions Godolphin chose him as an intermediary with the secretary, and believed the two acted in concert in the Commons. Indeed, James Vernon I saw Harley’s plan as that of a ‘triumvirate . . . framing a new scheme of administration’, and another report was that Harcourt was to be lord chancellor. With the failure of the scheme, Harcourt resigned his post on 12 Feb., along with St. John and (Sir) Thomas Mansel I*. The most pressing parliamentary question during this period of high intrigue was the revelations concerning the number of troops actually present in Spain at the time of the battle of Almanza. This was St. John’s department but Harcourt was in the forefront of attempts to minimize the damage to the ministry while he remained in office. It was Harcourt who was to talk ‘easily and thoroughly’ with Henry Boyle, Spencer Compton* and Robert Walpole II over the ‘estimates of Spain’, according to an undated letter from Godolphin to Harley. When the question came to a conclusion, on 24 Feb., Harcourt was out of office and under no obligation to support the Court. The Tories proposed a motion that the ‘deficiency’ of English troops in the theatre of operations was mainly a result of a failure to send ‘effectual’ recruits in time. St. John withdrew, after vindicating himself, but Harcourt, Harley and Mansel all supported the motion. There is a further glimpse of Harcourt’s renewed role as a back-bencher. On 29 Feb. Sir James Montagu* visited Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle to give him an ‘account of yesterday’s intemperate behaviour of Mr Harley, Mr Harcourt, and (especially) Mr Sharp [John*]’ against the committal of the cathedrals bill, a measure which had originated in the quarrel between Nicolson and his dean, Francis Atterbury, and developed into a party cause. Despite Harcourt’s long association with the Court, the compiler of a parliamentary list of early 1708 had no difficulty in identifying him as a Tory.31
Harcourt’s immediate problem in May 1708 was to secure a seat in the Commons now that Bossiney was no longer available. He was returned at Abingdon against strong opposition from William Hucks, but had to face the near certainty of an election petition to a House which had a Whig majority and spent considerable time looking for an alternative seat. August 1708 was taken up with the assizes, including a detour to visit Harley in Herefordshire where, no doubt, the conversation turned to tactics in the new Parliament, and specifically to the election of a Speaker. Gilfrid Lawson* in early September thought the Tories were divided over this important office between Harley, Bromley and Harcourt. Bromley was certainly suspicious that ‘endeavours are using underhand to have Sir Simon Harcourt set up by the Church party and the Court will join with them’. However, with Dr Stratford as a go-between, the Tories seem to have patched up their differences and Harley agreed that Bromley be put forward as Speaker, although he added that he hoped care had been taken to consult Harcourt. Harcourt seems to have acquiesced, and was probably busy with legal work, as in mid-October Harley took it for granted that he was in London ‘and very deep in Chancery’. Not surprisingly, a parliamentary list of 1708 with the election returns added classed him as a Tory and his election was reckoned by the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) to be a loss for the Whigs. In the new Parliament Harcourt was preoccupied with the Abingdon election petition, which was heard at the bar on 18 Jan. 1709. The case was decided against Harcourt in the early hours of 21 Jan. Facing almost certain defeat at the hands of the Whig majority, Harcourt turned his considerable rhetorical skills to achieve a propaganda triumph. Many observers commented on his ‘dying speech’ and numerous copies survive. He declared that according to the right of election, as understood for 150 years, he was the duly elected Member. Hucks’s candidature was used to ‘give a handle to a petition, no matter for the justice of it, power will maintain it’. The whole election had been secretly carried on to turn Harcourt out, which was indeed exactly what happened. In the final analysis Harcourt blamed a ‘great man [Lord Wharton]’ for his defeat, referring to him as ‘a person that long since abandoned all truth, justice, honour, honesty, gratitude’. Contemporary observers, on the whole, seem to have sided with Harcourt. Robert Walpole limited his comments to the fact that ‘the whole affair [was] carried on with greater heat and warmth on both sides than usual’, while on the other side a Scottish Tory remarked: ‘who has the justice on their side I know not, nor does it import much, for party will carry it; witness Sir Simon Harcourt’s case, who, though he had certainly a majority, was turned about because he was a Tory’. In the medium term the case provided a useful piece of propaganda in the war waged against the Whigs in 1710–11 by such polemicists as Swift. Harcourt’s reaction to defeat was to resolve ‘to come no more into the House of Commons unless I am brought thither in custody’, although almost immediately he attempted to make an interest at Wallingford in place of the deceased William Jennens*. In the event he had to be content for the remainder of 1709 with expanding his lucrative legal practice.32
Paradoxically, the Whigs’ determination to unseat Harcourt at the beginning of 1709 proved to be a mistake, as he was free to act as the leading defence counsel for Sacheverell when the doctor’s trial began on 27 Feb. 1710. However, Harcourt was nearly rendered ineligible to act by his determination to regain a seat in the Commons. His chance had come in Wales where Lewis Pryse* had been elected for both the shire and borough of Cardigan, although the return for the county had been challenged. As early as December 1709 (by which time he had already been retained as Sacheverell’s counsel), Harcourt was being suggested as a candidate for the borough if Pryse was declared elected for the county. The election petition was finally heard on 18 Jan., with Pryse victorious, and on 28 Jan. a new writ for the boroughs was issued. Harcourt had a rival there, the Tacker Sir Humphrey Mackworth*, who seems to have taken umbrage at the intervention of Harley and Thomas Mansel on Harcourt’s behalf. The Tories were divided on Harcourt’s election, Dyer putting the dilemma thus: ‘the friends of Dr Sacheverell hope the first [i.e. Mackworth] will carry it, otherwise the doctor will lose his principal counsel’. Indeed, on 23 Feb. Dyer reported again that the ‘gentleman [Pryse] who has the great interest there’ had excused Harcourt for that very reason. In fact Harcourt was elected on 22 Feb., but the return was delayed so that he could deliver his much-anticipated defence of Sacheverell on 3 Mar. At the opening of the trial, ‘when Sir Simon rose, all the Lords appeared very eagerly to hear him’, only to be disappointed when he admitted the sermon to be the work of his client. Harcourt faced a difficult task when his turn came again on 3 Mar., later remarking that ‘his speaking was like dancing upon the rope, if he slipped he was sure to break his neck, they watched his words so’. Tory propagandists were in no doubt of his success: his speech ‘at least equalled anything we yet know of the Grecian or Roman oratory, both in exactness according to their rules of delivery, the cadences, and the strength, the justness, and the beauty of the expression’. Harcourt’s task was to defend Sacheverell against the first article by justifying his remarks on the general illegality of resistance, especially when applied to the Revolution of 1688. He achieved this by depicting Sacheverell as merely reiterating the timeless doctrine of the Church of England on non-resistance, although this teaching was now refined to relate to the crown in Parliament. Abigail Harley was delighted with the argument, particularly the use of episcopal quotations in support, and the future bishop, George Smalridge, was equally effusive on the proofs used
from authority human and divine, from our municipal laws, from our homilies, from the testimonies of the Fathers, and writers of our Church, from irrefragable reasons, that it was lawful for a preacher, that it was his duty, to lay down the general rules of non-resistance, without making any exceptions; which was very different from affirming it admitted of no exceptions.
Jacobites and non-jurors were less happy. George Lockhart* thought Harcourt and Sir Constantine Phipps ‘defended [Sacheverell] the best way they could’, though he noticed the inconsistency of counsel in maintaining ‘hereditary right and unlimited doctrine of non-resistance’ while not condemning the Revolution of 1688. Thomas Hearne concurred with a fellow non-juror who thought Harcourt’s speech contradicted Sacheverell’s sermon, as Harcourt allowed exceptions to the doctrine of passive obedience while the doctor did not. Whatever the merits of the case, the political significance of the trial was clear: it boosted the fortunes of the Tories and provided the background for Harley’s manoeuvres which ended in the formation of a new ministry. Harcourt must have been able to judge this shift in opinion at first hand as the spring assizes turned into a personal triumph. He was sworn in the Commons on 7 Mar. amid rumours that the more zealous Whigs would wreak their revenge by sending him to the Tower. Not surprisingly he was listed as voting against Sacheverell’s impeachment, even though there were no votes during his short stay in the House between 7 and 14 Mar., when he received leave of absence for three weeks, probably to begin his progress on the western circuit.33
Given his close political relationship to Harley, Harcourt was certain to be a major figure in the new ministry. Contemporaries were aware of this potential influence and attempted to use him as a channel of communication to Harley. However, Harcourt’s own position was problematic. In the middle of August 1710 it was rumoured that he would be appointed lord chancellor, but he himself was opposed to such promotion, preferring instead to take up his old post of attorney-general. This would have had advantages for Harley in making it possible to retain the services of Lord Chancellor Cowper, as the Queen desired. Dr Stratford, however, was inclined to view Harcourt’s diffidence or obstinacy as a tactical ploy to raise the terms of his appointment in order to secure a post for his son. Speculation as to Harcourt’s role died down in the second half of August when he was recuperating from an operation to have his eyes ‘couched’. Harley may have broached the issue of the lord chancellorship, for he was anxious that certain Members of the Commons, Harcourt included, should be provided for prior to the general election. Two days later Harley was able to inform the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) that the Queen wanted Cowper to continue in office and that she would appoint Harcourt attorney-general. Harcourt kissed hands on 16 Sept. Within the week, however, Cowper had resigned, necessitating the appointment of a commission on 29 Sept. Harcourt meanwhile was electioneering. Abingdon presented no problem, although he faced a harder task to ensure his son’s election at Wallingford. His good offices were also sought at Bishop’s Castle and Ludlow. Harcourt still appeared reluctant to accept the post of lord chancellor, probably for financial reasons. As Charlwood Lawton wrote to Harley, although Harcourt was obviously the ‘fittest man you can pitch upon’, yet,
unless a good pension is settled upon him for life, I cannot wish he should be put into a post that is precarious and out of which if he is put, he hath lost the opportunity of increasing his fortune by his profession, at the top of which he now stands as a private man.
Harley finally prevailed, and on 16 Oct. Harcourt kissed hands as lord keeper. Thus, although marked as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the 1710 Parliament, he took no part in the proceedings of the Commons.34
Harcourt remained lord keeper until his elevation to the lord chancellorship on 7 Apr. 1713 (having been raised to the peerage in September 1711). He played a highly significant role in the 1710–14 ministry, eventually siding with Bolingbroke (St. John) against Oxford (Harley), but possibly helping to ensure that Shrewsbury succeeded as lord treasurer just before the Queen’s death. Although he lost office at the Hanoverian succession, he was able to exploit the divisions within Whig ranks to return to favour. As early as 1717 he was being courted by the ministry. Office followed in 1720, and he eventually became a trusted servant of George I, and a useful link with the Tories. Ironically, his death was occasioned by ‘an apoplexy and dead palsy’ while visiting (Sir) Robert Walpole. He died on 29 July 1727, being succeeded by his grandson the 2nd Viscount who was created Earl Harcourt in 1749.35
Assessments of Harcourt have varied enormously. Naturally enough, the most favourable view, expressed at the height of his power, was in the patent creating him a baron, which declared:
his faculty of speaking is so full of variety, that whether he is fitter to manage causes in the lower courts, or to speak before a full Parliament, is doubted by many; but it is unanimously confessed by all that among the lawyers he is the most eloquent orator, and among the orators the most able lawyer.
Later legal historians have conceded his legal ability. For Holdsworth he was ‘an able statesman and a competent lawyer’, who ‘as an orator and an advocate . . . was sometimes brilliant’. Campbell laid more stress on his Tory partisanship, but also conceded that he was ‘a tolerably good lawyer, an accomplished orator, and an ardent lover of polite learning’. During his visit to England in 1712, Prince Eugene summed up Harcourt as ‘a country gentleman of small fortune, but a good lawyer, and of a bold spirit, a great asserter of the Church of England, very compliable to all the treasurer’s measures’. To the Whigs, remembering Harcourt’s career, he ‘had a passion for a hot and furious management’, and was ‘more avaricious than ambitious, and as blind in his politics as in his eyes’. Tories, too, were apt to view uncharitably his later acceptance of office from the Whigs, even if he did use his influence to shield former colleagues. Bolingbroke satirized him as ‘Atticus, whose great talents were usury and trimming, who placed his principal merit in being rich, and who would have been noted with infamy at Athens for keeping well with all sides and venturing on none’. This stress on material reward is undoubtedly correct, and it would be wrong to depict Harcourt as a trimmer out of principle. He was able to join the winning side more often than others: as Sichel put it, ‘he did not sit on the fence, but always managed to keep on the right side of it’. Harcourt acquired this knack for survival during the difficult years of Anne’s reign, 1704–8, but the key point in his political development was probably 1701. After ten years of breathing fire from the back benches he became more discerning in the selection of targets for his rhetorical skills, so as not to jeopardize Tory efforts to win over the King. Thenceforth he had to balance allegiance to long-held principles with the exigencies of office. Unlike St. John and Harley, it was Harcourt who died in office, as a lord justice with a pension of £4,000 p.a., a tribute to both his legal ability and his political acumen.36
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Add. 70320, Harcourt to [Harley], 17 May 1677; IGI, London; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parlty. Pol. 1661–89.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 16; 1689–90, p. 307; Abingdon bor. recs. min. bk. 2, 3 Dec. 1687, 3 Apr. 1711; Harcourt Pprs. ii. 5–6; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 470; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 422; Salop RO, Ludlow bor. recs. min. bk. 1690–1712; Add. 70420, newsletter 1 Apr. 1710.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 313; A. Savidge, Q. Anne’s Bounty, 125; E. G. W. Bill, Q. Anne Churches, p. xxiii; Al. Carth. 73.
- 4. VCH Oxon. xii. 274–5; Harcourt Pprs. i. 24–25; ii. 1–4; HMC Portland, iii. 398; Cal. I. Temple Recs. iii. 106; Foss, Judges, viii. 34; Hearne Colls. ix. 334.
- 5. Macaulay, Hist. Eng. vi. 2665; Surr. RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/1, f. 239.
- 6. Grey, x. 37, 47–48, 56, 77–78, 89, 106; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 56; G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 60; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, ff. 73v, 79v.
- 7. Grey, 151.
- 8. Luttrell Diary, 16, 105, 186; Rawl. C.449, 21 Oct. 1691.
- 9. Luttrell Diary, 226, 281, 317–18, 463, 453, 469; CJ, xii. 260.
- 10. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 360; CJ, xi. 270.
- 11. Bodl. Carte 130, f. 353.
- 12. Bodl. Ballard 10, f. 92; Bodl. Tanner 24, f. 65; Ailesbury Mems. 359; HMC Kenyon, 385–6.
- 13. HMC Kenyon, 405; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2714, ‘The Titles of Several Public Acts agreed to in the Cabal’; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs. 121.
- 14. HMC Downshire, i. 692; Vernon– Shrewsbury Letters, i. 50; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1016–17, 1032, 1043, 1067–70, 1136–9; Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 693.
- 15. HMC 13th Rep. XI, 44.
- 16. HMC Downshire, i. 780; NLW, Kemeys-Tynte mss 333, Thomas Lloyd to Sir Charles Kemys, 3rd Bt.*, 3 Mar. 1698–9; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss box 20, Yard to William Blathwayt*, 23 Aug. 1698; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac. 454/840, Sir Edward Turnor* to Ld. Hereford, 21 July 1698; 1023–4, John Hooke to Turnor, 26, 29 July 1698; Vernon– Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 148; Ballard 5, f. 131; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/O59/7, Yard to Alexander Stanhope, 23 Aug. 1698.
- 17. Blathwayt mss box 20, Yard to Blathwayt, 2 Dec. 1698; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/132, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 14 Jan. 1698[–9]; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), ii. 238; Add. 15858, f. 76; Tanner 21, ff. 10, 80; LJ, xvi. 461; Howell, State Trials, xiii. 1061–1106.
- 18. HMC Portland, iii. 609; Add. 70019, Harley to Harcourt, 25 Oct. 1699; 28885, f. 1; 20853, f. 402; Cocks Diary, 40, 52; Horwitz, 261–2, 264, 267; Locke Corresp. vi. 755; CJ, xiii. 556; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/17, 47, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 9 Jan. 1700, 19 Mar. 1699[–1700]; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 410, 437; iii. 1–2, 12; Chandler, iii. 115–17; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2188, John to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 27 Feb. 1699–1700.
- 19. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 55–56, 61–62, 79, 88–90; HMC Cowper, ii. 398; HMC Portland, iv. 9–19; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 79; Luttrell, iv. 646, 651; Add. 38855, f. 173; Hull Univ. Lib. Bosville mss DDBM 32/1, William Jessop* to [?Godfrey Bosville], 12 Dec. 1700; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 25, ff. 39–40.
- 20. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 25 Jan. 1701; Add. 70225, [–] to Harley, ‘past 2 o’clock’ [?5 Feb. 1701]; 17677 WW, f. 23; Ballard 10, f. 113; Cocks Diary, 71–72, 79, 90, 108–9, 112, 115, 122, 125, 140, 153, 174; Cheshire RO, Shakerley mss, Levinge to Shakerley, 16 Jan. 1700[–1]; Nat. Archs. Ire. Wyche mss 1/214, Annesley to Sir Cyril Wyche*, 11 Mar. 1700–1; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 188; HMC Cowper, ii. 428; Coxe, Walpole, i. 14; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 26 Apr. 1701; Horwitz, 289–92; S. B. Baxter, Wm. III, 387.
- 21. Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 1 July 1701; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 452; HMC Cowper, ii. 440; Add. 47126, ff. 73–74; 17677 WW, f. 387; 70075, newsletter, 16 Dec. 1701; Ballard 11, f. 168.
- 22. Add. 17677 XX, ff. 169, 190; 70210, Hon. Robert Bertie to Harley, 14 Mar. 1701[–2]; Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 14 Jan. 1702; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, newsletter 17 Jan. 1701–2; Cocks Diary, 194, 202, 204–5, 220–4, 267, 273–4; Hearne Colls. vi. 226–7; vii. 92–93; Horwitz, 302; HMC Portland, vii. 84; iv. 34–36; Ballard 10, f. 115; L. S. Sutherland, Pol. and Finance in 18th Cent. 536–7, 540–7.
- 23. Luttrell, v. 172, 176, 178, 180; Hist. Jnl. xi. 257; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 261; Cobbett, vi. 14–15.
- 24. Wyche mss 1/259, John Baggs to Wyche, 27 Oct. 1702; HMC Portland, iv. 50, 58; Guise Mems. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xxviii), 144; Burnet, v. 47–48; Harcourt Pprs. ii. 15; Luttrell, v. 259; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 175.
- 25. Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Methuen–Simpson corresp. C163, Simpson to Methuen, 7, 30 Dec. 1703; HMC Downshire, i. 817; HMC Portland, iv. 77; Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iii. 154; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 244–5; Cobbett, vi. 267, 299.
- 26. Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. 184, 186; HMC Bath, i. 57; HMC Portland, iv. 105.
- 27. Coxe, Walpole, ii. 5; Methuen– Simpson corresp., Simpson to Methuen, 3 Oct. 1704, 13 Mar. 1705; Bath mss at Longleat House, Portland misc. pprs. f. 199, Godolphin to Harley, 19 [?Nov. 1704]; Add. 70230, [Harcourt] to [Harley], Sat. night [18 or 25 Nov. 1704]; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 422.
- 28. K. Feiling, Tory Party, 379; HMC Portland, iv. 176, 223; Add. 61458, f. 159; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 426, 422.
- 29. Methuen–Simpson corresp., Simpson to Methuen, 16 Oct., 11 Dec., 7 Jan. 1705[–6], 2 Apr. 1706; Hearne Colls. i. 51; HMC Portland, iv. 273; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 31–32, 43, 51–52, 55–56, 58, 68, 75, 76, 80; Bull. IHR, xlv. 47–49.
- 30. HMC Portland, iv. 315; mss sold at Sotheby’s, 21 July 1980, lot 455, Joseph Addison* to George Stepney, 7 Jan. 1706[–7]; Add. 70230, Harcourt to Harley, n.d. [Jan. 1707]; 61469, f. 57; Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) mss 2002/1249, 1255, Annesley to Abp. King, [Jan./Feb. 1707], 26 Apr. 1707; Burnet, v. 295; Stanhope, Reign of Anne, 278–9; Luttrell, vi. 165; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 765, 770.
- 31. HMC Portland, iv. 452–3; HMC Bath, i. 189–90; Lonsdale mss, D/Lons/L1/4, Thomas Hopkins to Ld. Wharton, 29 Nov. 1707; NLW, Plas-yn-Cefn mss 2740, E. Gibson to ‘my lord’, 6 Dec. 1707; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 266, 273, 281, 292, 296–7; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 311, 319, 321–2, 345, 355–6; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/183, 193, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 29 Jan., 24 Feb. 1707–8; G. Holmes, Pol. Relig. and Soc. 63–64; Huntington Lib. Q. xxx. 265; Nicolson Diaries, 458.
- 32. Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F55, ff. 115–16, Ld. Cowper to Robert Monckton*, 2 Sept. 1710; F136, f. 15, Harcourt’s speech; HMC Portland, iv. 491, 515, 517; HMC Bath, i. 192–3; Add. 70419, Robert Harley to Stratford, 4 Aug., 10 Oct. 1708; 70141, Nathaniel Stephens to Edward Harley, 6 Aug. 1708; 70259, Stratford to Robert Harley, 8 Oct. 1708; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, (Sir) Gilfrid Lawson to James Grahme*, 9 Sept. 1708; Leics. RO, Finch mss box 6, bdle. 23, f. 55, Bromley to Nottingham, 2 Oct. 1708; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss 65/6, Robert Walpole II to Duke of Marlborough, 21 Jan. 1708–9; Luttrell, vi. 397; Wentworth Pprs. 72–73; Cromarty Corresp. ii. 88; Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 81–82; Swift v. Mainwaring, 99; Pittis, Present Parl. 84; Newdigate newsletter 8 Feb. 1708–9; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1331.
- 33. Add. 70420, newsletters 24 Dec. 1709, 16, 23 Feb., 30 Mar., 1, 13, 20 Apr. 1710; 61367, ff. 102, 111, 153; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 143, 180, 182, 186, 236; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. ‘Acct. of Trial of Dr Sacheverell’, ff. 3, 10–11; HMC Portland, iv. 533, 539, 534–5; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 70; Nichols, Lit. Hist. iii. 280–1; Lockhart Pprs. i. 312; Hearne Colls. iii. 35–36; Carte 230, ff. 225–6.
- 34. HMC Portland, iv. 545–6, 611, 615; vii. 11, 13; ii. 219, 220; Midleton mss 1248/3, f. 9; Add. 70420, newsletters 12, 24 Aug. 1710; 70236, Edward to Robert Harley, 13 Oct. 1710; 70332, memo. 12 Sept. 1710; Bagot mss, Bromley to James Grahme, 13 Aug. 1710; Addison Letters, 233–4; Luttrell, vi. 620; Salop RO, Forester mss, Sir William Forester* to George Weld II*, 31 Aug. 1710.
- 35. L. Colley, In Defiance of Oligarchy, 178, 181, 191, 197, 206; HMC Popham, 288.
- 36. The Reasons which Induced Her Majesty to Create . . . Sir Simon Harcourt a Peer . . . (1711); Holdsworth, Hist. Eng. Law, xii. 202; Campbell, Lives, iv. 430; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Rich mss, The White Staff’s Character (1714).