1st Viscount Harcourt Simon Harcourt (16611727)



  • Attorney
  • Politician
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

HARCOURT, SIMON, first Viscount Harcourt (1661?–1727), the only son of Sir Philip Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, kt., by his first wife, Anne, daughter of Sir William Waller of Osterley Park, Middlesex, kt., was born at Stanton Harcourt, and was educated at a private school kept by Mr. Birch at Shilton, near Burford, Oxfordshire, where Robert Harley, afterwards earl of Oxford,_ and Thomas Trevor, afterwards lord chief justice of the common pleas, were among his contemporaries. At the age of fifteen he was sent to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. on 21 Jan. 1678. On 16 April 1676 he was admitted a student of the Inner Temple, and, having been called to the bar on 25 Nov. 1683, was appointed recorder of Abingdon. In 1688 his father died, and Simon succeeded to the family estates, which were then in a very embarrassed condition. At the general election in February 1690 he was returned to parliament in the tory interest for the borough of Abingdon, for which constituency he continued to sit until the dissolution in April 1705. Harcourt made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 9 April 1690, during the debate on the Recognition Bill (Parliamentary Hist. v. 582). On the 26th of the same month he spoke against the Abjuration Bill (ib. pp. 596–7), and two days afterwards he protested against the proposed suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act (ib. pp. 606–7). In 1696 Harcourt refused to sign the voluntary association of the commons for the defence of the king, and in the same year strenuously opposed the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick (ib. pp. 1016–17, 1032, 1067–70, 1136–9). On 14 April 1701 Harcourt was selected by the House of Commons to impeach Lord Somers at the bar of the House of Lords for his share in the partition treaty of 1698 (ib. p. 1246). He served as chairman of the committee appointed to direct the proceedings, and conducted the several conferences between the two houses, but the impeachment was ultimately dropped. On 30 May 1702 he was appointed solicitor-general in the place of Sir John Hawles, and was knighted by Queen Anne on 1 June following (Luttrell, v. 178, 180). He accompanied the queen to Oxford, where he was created a D.C.L. on 27 Aug., and in the same year was elected to the bench of the Inner Temple. Harcourt supported the bill, which was introduced in the first session of the new parliament, for preventing occasional conformity, and in July 1703 took part in the prosecution of Defoe at the Old Bailey for the publication of his anonymous tract, 'The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.' In the same year he became chairman of the Buckinghamshire quarter sessions. In 1704 he took part in the debates on the constitutional case of Ashby v. White, and his resolution asserting the exclusive right of the House of Commons to take cognisance of all matters relating to the election of their members was adopted after some slight alterations by the house (Parliamentary Hist. vi. 264–267). At the general election in May 1705 Harcourt was returned to parliament for the borough of Bossiney, Cornwall, and on 5 April 1706 was made a deputy-lieutenant for the county of Oxford, and about this time acted as chairman of the Oxfordshire quarter sessions. He was appointed a commissioner for the union with Scotland on 8 April 1706, and it was owing greatly to his dexterity in drafting the Ratification Bill that it passed with so little opposition through both nouses in the following year. He succeeded Sir Edward Northey as attorney-general on 25 April 1707, but upon Harley's dismissal he resigned office on 12 Feb. 1708, and formally surrenderee his patent by a deed enrolled in chancery At the general election in May 1708 Harcourt was again returned for Abingdon, bin was unseated on petition on 20 Jan. 1709 after making a speech on his own behalf (ib. vi. 778–9). Being without a seat in parliament, Harcourt was able to appear for Sacheverell at the bar of the House of Lords, and on 3 March 1710 made a very able speech in his defence (Howell, State Trials, 1812, xv. 196–213). llarcourt was, however, obligee to withdraw from taking any further part in the proceedings owing to his election to parliament for the borough of Cardigan. The whigs made the unsupported assertion that while he was inveighing against the impeachment he was in possession of the intelligence of his election. As a token of gratitude to his 'great benefactour and advocate,' Sacheverell presented Harcourt with a handsome silver salver, which is still preserved at Nuneham. In August Harcourt underwent the operation of couching, which was successfully performed on one of his eyes by Sir William Read (Luttrell}}, vi. 620); and on 19 Sept., Sir James Montagu having resigned, he was once more appointed attorney-general. At the general election in the following month Harcourt was returned once more for the borough of Abingdon, but on 19 Oct., before parliament met, he was appointed lord keeper of the great seal, and sworn a member of the privy council. In this year he purchased from the Wemyss family theNuneham-Courtney estate in Oxfordshire, but his visits there were only occasional, his principal place of residence being at Cokethorpe (some two miles and a half from Stanton Harcourt), where Queen Anne paid a state visit. On 12 Jan. 1711 he presented the vote of thanks of the House of Lords to Lord Peterborough for his conduct of the war in Spain (Harcourt Papers, ii. 35–7), and on 1 June congratulated the Earl of Oxford on his appointment as lord high treasurer in the court of exchequer (ib. pp. 37–9). After presiding over the House of Lords in the anomalous position of lord keeper without a title, he was created a peer of Great Britain on 3 Sept. by the style of Baron Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt in the county of Oxford, the preamble to the patent being drawn up, according to the fashion of the day, in terms of the most extravagant eulogy. Harcourt took an active part in the negotiations for the treaty of Utrecht, and on 7 April 1713 was appointed lord chancellor. On the death of his stepmother in July of this year he came into possession of the family mansion at Stanton Harcourt, where the Harcourts had resided since the twelfth century. His father, Sir Philip Harcourt, was the last to live there, and his widow suffered the buildings to fall into decay. The uppermost chamber of the tower over the chapel is still known as Pope's study, where in 1718 Pope finished the fifth volume of his 'Homer.' Harcourt sided with Bolingbroke against Harley in the dissensions which broke out in the cabinet, but beyond the assertions of the whigs that he was a Jacobite, there is no evidence to show that he either gave, or promised to give, any assistance to the Pretender. On the queen's death llarcourt was immediately reappointed lord chancellor by his colleagues the lords justices, but on 21 Sept. 1714, the day after the arrival of George in London, the great seal was taken from him, and he was succeeded in office by Lord Cowper (Lord Raymond's Reports, 1790, ii. 1318). Harcourt now retired to Cokethorpe, where he amused himself with social and literary pursuits Pope, Prior, Gay, and Swift being his constant visitors. In 1717 he was successful in fomenting a quarrel between the two houses of parliament, and by this means obtained the acquittal of the Earl of Oxford; but they were both excepted from the operation of the Act of Grace (3 Geo. I, c. 19). In the following year Harcourt took an active part in the opposition to the Mutiny Bill (Parliamentary Hist. vii. 541, 543, 544, 548). Walpole, who was not then in office, assisted Harcourt with his advice in his endeavours to defeat the government in the matter of Lord Oxford's impeachment, and they were thus bound together by ties of mutual interest. He was created Viscount Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt on 24 July 1721, and on 25 Aug. 1722 was readmitted to the privy council. In the following year he assisted in procuring the pardon of his old friend and political associate, Bolingbroke. He acted as one of the lords ustices during the king's absence in Hanover in 1723, 1725, and in 1727. While calling upon Walpole at Chelsea on 23 July 1727, Harcourt was struck with paralysis. He was removed to Harcourt House, Cavendish Square, where he died on the 29th, in the sixty-seventh year of his age, and was buried n the family vault under the chancel of Stanton Harcourt church on 4 Aug. following. 'Trimming' Harcourt, as Swift calls lim on the occasion of one of their quarrels, was neither a great lawyer nor a great judge, but he acquired the reputation of being he most powerful and skilful speaker of his day. Smalridge, in giving an account of Sacheverell's trial, wrote: 'We had yesterday the noblest entertainment that ever audience had from your friend Sir Simon Harcourt. He spoke with such exactness, such force, such decency, such dexterity, so neat a way of commending and reflecting as he had occasion, such strength of argument, such a winning persuasion, such an insinuation into the passions of his auditors as I never heard. . . . His speech was universally applauded by enemies as well as friends, and his reputation for a speaker is fixed for ever' (Nichols, Illustrations of the Lit. Hist. of the Eighteenth Century, 1818, iii. 280–1); while Speaker Onslow declared that Harcourt 'had the greatest skill and power of speech of any man I ever knew in a public assembly' (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, v. 441 n.) Harcourt's name appears but rarely among the counsel given in Lord Raymond's 'Reports' or in the t State Trials,' his principal practice being probably in the equity courts. His judgments will be found in the first volume of Peere Williams's 'Reports' (1826), and in the second volume of Vernon (1828). Swift's pamphlet, 'Some advice humbly offered to the members of the October Club in a letter from a Person of Honour,' was erroneously ascribed by his contemporaries to Harcourt, who, however, left nothing behind him in print except the meagre reports of his judgments before referred to, and two short speeches. 'Sir Simon Harcourt's Commonplace Book for a Justice of the Peace' is preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum. It is bound up with the notes of his charges to the Buckinghamshire grand jury from July 1704 to Michaelmas 1705, and has the signature 'Sim. Harcourt, 13 Aug. 1724,' pasted on the front page (Harleian MS. 5137). Harcourt was a member of the Saturday Club, which used to meet at Harley's every week during his administration, and numbered among its members Swift, St. John, Lord Peterborough, and others. He erected the monument in Westminster Abbey to his friend John Phillips, the author of the 'Splendid Shilling,' bearing the extravagant inscription 'Uni Miltono secundus, primoque paene par.' Some twelve letters written by Pope to Harcourt will be found in the 'Harcourt Papers' (ii. 86–103). There are two portraits of Harcourt, by Kneller, in the possession of Colonel Edward William Harcourt at Nuneham Park, the one painted in 1702 when solicitor-general, and the other when lord chancellor. A portrait of Harcourt hangs in the hall of the Inner Temple, and in the benchers' reading-room is a mezzotint engraving by Simon after Kneller. Harcourt married three times. When under age he clandestinely married Rebecca, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Clark, his father's chaplain, by whom he had three sons, viz. Philip and Walter, both of whom died in infancy, and Simon, and two daughters, viz. Anne, who married John Barlow of Slebeck, Pembrokeshire, and Arabella, who married Herbert Aubrey of Clehonger, Herefordshire. His first wife was buried on 16 May 1687 at Chipping Norton, where they took up their residence after leaving Stanton Harcourt upon the discovery of the marriage. His second wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Spencer of Derbyshire, and widow of Richard Anderson. She died on 16 June 1724, in the sixty-seventh year of her age, and was buried at Stanton Harcourt. Harcourt married thirdly, on 30 Sept. 1724, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park, Middlesex, kt., and widow of Sir John Walter of Sarsden, Oxfordshire, bart.,who survived him, and, dying in July 1748, was buried at Sarsden. Harcourt had no issue by his second or third wife, and was succeeded on his death by his grandson, Simon, afterwards first earl Harcourt [q. v.] Harcourt's second son, Simon Harcourt (1684–1720), baptised at Chipping Norton on 9 Oct. 1684, was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was created M. A. on 13 Dec. 1712. He represented the borough of Wallingford in the parliament elected in 1710, and the borough of Abingdon in the following parliament. He married Elizabeth, sister of Sir John Evelyn, bart., of Wotton, Surrey, by whom he had one son, Simon, afterwards first earl Harcourt [q. v.], and four daughters: Elizabeth, who died unmarried on 28 Sept. 1765; Anne, who died young; Martha, who married, as his third wife, George Venables Vernon of Sudbury, Derbyshire, afterwards created Baron Vernon, by whom she had two sons, Henry, third lord Vernon, and Edward, archbishop of York [see Harcourt, Edward], and two daughters; and Mary, who died in infancy. Harcourt died at Paris in June 1720, aged 35, and was buried at Stanton Harcourt, where a monument was erected to his memory, on which an epitaph written by Pope was engraved. Harcourt was a young man of considerable promise, and acted as secretary to the famous society of 'Brothers.' Gay, in his 'Epistle to Pope on his having finished his translation of Homer's Iliad' (Chalmers, 1810, x. 473), refers to the striking resemblance which existed between the father and son:

Harcourt, I see, for eloquence renown'd, The mouth of justice, oracle of law! Another Simon is beside him found, Another Simon, like as straw to straw.

He was the author of the set of verses 'addressed to Mr. Pope on the publishing his works' (Elwin, i. 30–2), which were published in the preface to Pope's 'Works' (1717). Other verses of his will be found in the 'Harcourt Papers' (ii. 161–5), and a copy of his verses which were spoken before the queen at Christ Church is contained in a volume of the Lansdowne MSS. at the British Museum (958). His portrait, painted in Paris by Le Belle, and given by the sitter to Prior, is preserved at Nuneham. His widow survived him many years, dying on 6 April 1760.

[Harcourt Papers, i. 24–5, 30–1, 251–2, ii. 1–272; Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, vols. iv. v. vi.; Burnet's Hist, of his own Time, 1833, vols. iii. iv. v. vi.; Swift's Works; Welsby's Lives of Eminent English Judges of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, pp. 172–203; Foss's Judges of England, viii. 33–41; Lord Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors, v. 352–410; Lord Stanhope's Eeign of Queen Anne; Wyon's Reign of Queen Anne, 1876; Lord Mahon's Hist. of England, vols. i. and ii.; Collins's Peerage of England, 1812, iv. 443–7; Doyle's Official Baronage, ii. 112–13; Noble's Biographical Hist. of England, 1806, ii. 13–15; Masters of the Bench of the Inner Temple, 1883, p. 58; Catalogue of Oxford Graduates, 1851, p. 293; Fester's London Marriage Licenses, 1887, p. 622; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. i. pp. 564, 572, 579, 586, 593, 600, pt. ii. pp. 1, 9, 16, 18, 29; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 188, 236, 371, 478; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.

Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)

HARCOURT, SIMON HARCOURT, 1st Viscount (c. 1661–1727), lord chancellor of England, only son of Sir Philip Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, by his first wife, Anne, daughter of Sir William Waller, was born about 1661 at Stanton Harcourt, and was educated at a school at Shilton, Oxfordshire, and at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1683, and soon afterwards was appointed recorder of Abingdon, which borough he represented as a Tory in parliament from 1690 to 1705. In 1701 he was nominated by the Commons to conduct the impeachment of Lord Somers; and in 1702 he became solicitor-general and was knighted by Queen Anne. He was elected member for Bossiney in 1705, and as commissioner for arranging the union with Scotland was largely instrumental in promoting that measure. Harcourt was appointed attorney-general in 1707, but resigned office in the following year when his friend Robert Harley, afterwards earl of Oxford, was dismissed. He defended Sacheverell at the bar of the House of Lords in 1710, being then without a seat in parliament; but in the same year was returned for Cardigan, and in September again became attorney-general. In October he was appointed lord keeper of the great seal, and in virtue of this office he presided in the House of Lords for some months without a peerage, until, on the 3rd of September 1711, he was created Baron Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt; but it was not till April 1713 that he received the appointment of lord chancellor. In 1710 he had purchased the Nuneham-Courtney estate in Oxfordshire, but his usual place of residence continued to be at Cokethorpe near Stanton Harcourt, where he received a visit in state from Queen Anne. In the negotiations preceding the peace of Utrecht, Harcourt took an important part. There is no sufficient evidence for the allegations of the Whigs that Harcourt entered into treasonable relations with the Pretender. On the accession of George I. he was deprived of office and retired to Cokethorpe, where he enjoyed the society of men of letters, Swift, Pope, Prior and other famous writers being among his frequent guests. With Swift, however, he had occasional quarrels, during one of which the great satirist bestowed on him the sobriquet of “Trimming Harcourt.” He exerted himself to defeat the impeachment of Lord Oxford in 1717, and in 1723 he was active in obtaining a pardon for another old political friend, Lord Bolingbroke. In 1721 Harcourt was created a viscount and returned to the privy councils; and on several occasions during the king’s absences from England he was on the council of regency. He died in London on the 23rd of July 1727. Harcourt was not a great lawyer, but he enjoyed the reputation of being a brilliant orator; Speaker Onslow going so far as to say that Harcourt “had the greatest skill and power of speech of any man I ever knew in a public assembly.” He was a member of the famous Saturday Club, frequented by the chief literati and wits of the period, with several of whom he corresponded. Some letters to him from Pope are preserved in the Harcourt Papers. His portrait by Kneller is at Nuneham. Harcourt married, first, Rebecca, daughter of Thomas Clark, his father’s chaplain, by whom he had five children; secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Spencer; and thirdly, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Vernon. He left issue by his first wife only. His son, Simon (1684–1720), married Elizabeth, sister of Sir John Evelyn of Wotton, by whom he had one son and four daughters, one of whom married George Venables Vernon, afterwards Lord Vernon (see Harcourt, Sir William—footnote). Simon Harcourt predeceased his father, the lord chancellor, in 1720, leaving a son Simon Harcourt (1714–1777), 1st Earl Harcourt, who succeeded his grandfather in the title of viscount in 1727. He was educated at Westminster school. In 1745, having raised a regiment, he received a commission as a colonel in the army; and in 1749 he was created Earl Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt. He was appointed governor to the prince of Wales, afterwards George III., in 1751; and after the accession of the latter to the throne he was appointed, in 1761, special ambassador to Mecklenburg-Strelitz to negotiate a marriage between King George and the princess Charlotte, whom he conducted to England. After holding a number of appointments at court and in the diplomatic service, he was promoted to the rank of general in 1772; and in October of the same year he succeeded Lord Townsend as lord lieutenant of Ireland, an office which he held till 1777. His proposal to impose a tax of 10% on the rents of absentee landlords had to be abandoned owing to opposition in England; but he succeeded in conciliating the leaders of Opposition in Ireland, and he persuaded Henry Flood to accept office in the government. Resigning in January 1777, he retired to Nuneham, where he died in the following September. He married, in 1735, Rebecca, daughter and heiress of Charles Samborne Le Bas, of Pipewell Abbey, Northamptonshire, by whom he had two daughters and two sons, George Simon and William, who succeeded him as 2nd and 3rd earl respectively.

See Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vol. v. (London, 1846); Edward Foss, The Judges of England, vol. viii. (London, 1848); Gilbert Burnet, Hist. of his own Time (with notes by earls of Dartmouth and Hardwicke, &c., Oxford, 1833); Earl Stanhope, Hist. of England, comprising the reign of Queen Anne until the Peace of Utrecht (London, 1870). In addition to the above-mentioned authorities many particulars concerning the 1st Viscount Harcourt, and also of his grandson, the 1st earl, will be found in the Harcourt Papers. For the earl, see also Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George II. (3 vols., 2nd ed., London, 1847), Memoirs of the Reign< of George III. (4 vols., London, 1845, 1894); also, for his vice-royalty of Ireland, see Henry Grattan, Memoirs of the Life and Times of the Right Hon. H. Grattan (5 vols., London, 1839–1846); Francis Hardy, Memoirs of J. Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont (2 vols., London, 1812); and for his genealogy, see Sir John Bernard Burke, Genealogical History of Dormant and Extinct Peerages (London, 1883).

(R. J. M.)