LEGGE, Hon. Henry (1706-64), of Mapledurham, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 29 May 1708, 4th s. of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth; bro. of Hon. Edward Legge and George Legge, Visct. Lewisham. educ. Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1726. m. 29 Aug. 1750, Mary Stawell, cr. Baroness Stawell 21 May 1760, da. and h. of Edward, 4th Baron Stawell, 1s. suc. to Mapledurham under the will of Leonard Bilson taking the name of Bilson before Legge 1754.
Sec. to Sir Robert Walpole c.1735-9, to the ld. lt. [I] 1739-41, to Treasury 1741-2; surveyor of woods and forests north and south of the Trent 1742-5; ld. of Admiralty 1745-6, of Treasury 1746-9; envoy to Prussia Feb.-Nov. 1748; P.C. 28 June 1749; treasurer of the navy 1749-54; chancellor of the Exchequer Apr. 1754-Nov. 1755, Nov. 1756-Apr. 1757, July 1757-Mar. 1761.
A younger son, with a living to earn, Legge was intended for the navy but gave it up after one or two voyages to become secretary to Sir Robert Walpole, to whom he had been introduced by Edward Walpole. In 1739 he was appointed secretary to the Duke of Devonshire as lord lieutenant of Ireland on the understanding that the post would not involve residence in Ireland or interfere with his attendance on Walpole, and that he should retain it till a secretaryship to the Treasury fell vacant: ‘in the meanwhile’, he told his father, ‘my income is very much increased, and if Sir Robert should die I shall still have a very good place in present, and I dare say find a most kind and generous patron in the Duke of Devonshire’. Brought into Parliament by Walpole in 1740, he became joint secretary to the Treasury in 1741. Walpole remained ‘fond of him to the greatest degree of partiality’ till Legge tried to marry his daughter, after which, according to Horace Walpole, he ‘could never bear his name’. Nevertheless, one of Walpole’s last acts as minister was to provide for Legge by procuring for him and Benjamin Keene jointly the reversion to a place in the customs worth £1,200 p.a.1
After Walpole’s fall Legge appealed to the Duke of Bedford, his ‘intimate friend and companion’, to save him from being turned out of the Treasury to make room for a friend of Pulteney’s. ‘This’, he wrote, ‘is the crisis of my fortune, upon which the whole success of my future life depends ... Not only my whole income is taken away, but that which was my study and profession, and by which I hoped, one day or other, to have been serviceable to the public’. In reply to Bedford’s representations, Pulteney pointed out that ‘Lord Orford [Walpole] himself thought a step of this kind so natural (I mean that whoever was to be in the Treasury should bring a friend of their own into Mr. Legge’s place), that he provided for Mr. Legge with a reversion which he imagined likely to happen soon’. However, in deference to Bedford, Legge was compensated with the office of surveyor of woods and forests, observing, ‘to be sure, it is a fall, but ... they have laid the boughs of trees under me to break it’.2 He spoke for the Hanoverians in 1744 and for Admiral Mathews in 1745, when Bedford, now 1st lord of the Admiralty, gave him a seat on that board. He moved the Address at the opening of the next session, also speaking very well for an address thanking the King for sending for 6,000 Hessians during the rebellion.3 Promoted next year by Pelham to the Treasury board, he was sent by Newcastle in 1748 on a goodwill mission to Berlin, where he offended George II and Newcastle by saying, or being reported as saying, that the King’s arrival in Hanover had spoilt a promising negotiation with Prussia, and that Newcastle was ‘under the tutelle of the Hanoverian ministers’. The King was for dismissing Legge, calling him ‘fool every day’ and abusing Newcastle ‘for sending a man purely because he can make a speech in the House of Commons’; while Newcastle, though not prepared to go so far, thought it ‘cruel of my friend Legge’, who, he wrote to Pelham, had showed himself not ‘the simple, plain, disinterested man we all thought him’. Pelham replied that he had never supposed Legge to be a simple, plain, disinterested man;
nor do I think so of any others, whose professions are the following of a Court and raising themselves in the world by that means. I think him full as good a man as his neighbours; more able and as willing to serve those that serve him as any one I have been acquainted with, in that way, for a great while. I hope, therefore, he has not, in the most absurd instance, made that impracticable, which his other qualities made eligible.4
As it happened, Legge’s diplomatic gaffes led to his promotion in 1749 to the post of treasurer of the navy, vacated by Bubb Dodington. In the ordinary course this lucrative office would have been filled by his senior, Henry Fox, whom he would have succeeded at the War Office. But the duties of the secretary at war brought him into personal relations with the King, who since the Prussian affair had taken such a dislike to Legge that he would not have him in his closet.5
When the Pelhams broke with Bedford by turning out his friend Sandwich in 1751, Legge
submitted to break his connections with the two latter by being the indecent messenger of Lord Sandwich’s disgrace. The Duke met him on the steps of Bedford House ... and would scarce give him audience; but even that short interview could not save Legge from the confusion he felt at his own policy; and, with the awkwardness that conscience will give even to an ambassador, he said, he had happened, as he was just going out of town, to visit the Duke of Newcastle, where he had not been in two months before, and had been requested by him to be the bearer of this notification.6
Continuing to change from patron to patron, he died 23 Aug. 1764.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. Some Account of the Character of the Rt. Hon. H. B. Legge; HMC Dartmouth, 328; Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 190-2 seq.; Walpole to Mann, 26 Jan. 1748; Sir R. Wilmot to Devonshire 12 Jan., 4 Feb. 1742, Devonshire mss.
- 2. Bedford Corresp. i. 1-9.
- 3. Yorke's parl. jnl. Parl. Hist. xiii. 463, 1268; Owen, Pelhams, 291.
- 4. Coxe, Pelham, i. 446, 447-8.
- 5. Walpole to Mann, 23 Mar. 1749.
- 6. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 191-2.