HARLEY, Edward (1664-1735), of Eywood, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. 7 June 1664, 2nd s. of Sir Edward Harley, M.P., of Brampton Bryan, Herefs. by Abigail, da. of Nathaniel Stephens of Eastington, Glos. educ. Westminster; M. Temple 1681, called 1688. m. Sarah, da. of Thomas Foley, M.P., of Witley Court, Worcs., 3s. 1da.
Jt. auditor of the imprest for life 1702; recorder, Leominster 1692-1732.
The Harleys were descended from a long line of Herefordshire squires. In the seventeenth century they were Presbyterians, parliamentarians and Whigs. Sir Edward Harley, M.P. for Herefordshire in ten Parliaments, raised a troop of horse in support of the Prince of Orange in 1688, seized Worcester, and was rewarded by William III with a grant in Radnorshire, carrying extensive electoral influence there. His son, Robert Harley, began as a Dissenter and Whig, but gradually changed his politics, became leader of the Tory party, and was created Earl of Oxford in 1711. Both Robert and his younger brother, Edward, married sisters of the 1st Lord Foley, with whose family the Harleys were closely allied in national and local politics.
Edward Harley, like his elder brother Robert, began his political career as a Whig but gradually evolved into a Tory. In 1715 he exerted himself with little success to maintain his family’s electoral interests in Radnorshire, Bishop’s Castle and Leominster. In Radnorshire, he wrote, ‘I never met with so much open villainy and secret perfidy as universally prevailed ... which has brought me to a resolution to dispose of my estate in that county’. The same applied to Bishop’s Castle, where ‘the baseness and perfidy that I met with in this place has brought me to the like resolution of parting with it, being unwilling to leave the temptation to my son of being drawn into a great expense upon such mercenary rascals’. Only Leominster, ‘where I had the least reason to expect success’, remained loyal.1 Re-elected after a contest, he vigorously opposed the motion for the impeachment of his brother, Lord Oxford, successfully refuting charges of financial dishonesty brought against himself as auditor. In February 1718, Lord Mar, the Pretender’s secretary of state, suggested that Harley and Lord Harley should be asked for money through Lord Oxford, for a project to restore the Stuarts with the help of Swedish troops (see Caesar, Charles).2
At the general election of 1722 Harley at first proposed to decline nomination for Leominster on account of his health, but not wishing to ‘refuse the kind invitation’3 he had received from the borough, he stood, only to be heavily defeated. He lodged a petition but allowed it to drop. Withdrawing into private life, he was responsible for the supervision of the development of the Cavendish-Harley estate in Marylebone, which began in 1717.4 During his last years he wrote several devotional works. He died 30 Aug. 1735.