Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer

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On the accession of George I of Great Britain, the defeated minister retired to Herefordshire, but a few months later his impeachment [24] was decided upon and he was committed to the Tower of London on 16 July 1715. He was accused of high treason and high crimes and misdemeanours, with the death penalty a distinct possibility. Many of the charges related to his negotiation of the Treaty of Utrecht. Further charges were added regarding his alleged secret plotting with the Jacobite claimant James. [25] His political allies St John and Ormonde both fled to France before they could be arrested on similar grounds and entered the service of James. Initially, he was in ill health, suffering from pneumonia and was cared for by his wife Sarah who remained with him during the first weeks of his imprisonment. [26]

Not long after he was detained a major Jacobite Rising occurred and was defeated. Interrogators of Jacobite prisoners tried to discover if there was a connection with Harley in the plan, but none could be established. [27] This significantly delayed Harley's trial, as priority was given to the leading rebels, several of whom were executed. This may have benefited him as the angry mood amongst Whigs against him had calmed by 1717. [28]

Harley also benefited from the Whig Split between rival factions led by James Stanhope and Robert Walpole. Walpole and his supporters went into opposition and joined with the Tories to attack Stanhope's government on many issues.

After an imprisonment of nearly two years, Harley was formally acquitted of the charges of high treason and high crimes and misdemeanours for which he had been impeached two years earlier, and allowed to resume his place among the peers.

Later life: 1717–1724

Immediately following his release Oxford was informed by George I that he was no longer welcome at court. [29] He joined with the Tory lords to oppose the new Whig Oligarchy in Parliament, in alliance with the Opposition Whigs. In 1719 they joined together in opposition to Stanhope's Peerage Bill which was defeated. After this Lord Oxford increasingly took little part in public affairs, and died almost unnoticed in London on 21 May 1724.

Literary importance

Harley's importance to literature cannot be overstated. As a patron of the arts, he was notable. As a preservationist, he was invaluable. He used his wealth and power to collect an unparalleled library. He commissioned the creation of ballad collections, such as The Bagford Ballads, and he purchased loose poems from all corners. He preserved Renaissance literature (particularly poetry), Anglo-Saxon literature that was then incomprehensible, and a great deal of Middle English literature. His collection, with that of his son Edward, 2nd Lord Oxford and Mortimer, was sold to Parliament in 1753 for the British Museum by the Countess of Oxford and Countess Mortimer and her daughter, the Duchess of Portland; it is known as the Harley Collection. [30]

When he was in office, Harley promoted the careers of Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Gay. He also wrote with them as a member of the Scriblerus Club. He, along with The 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, contributed to the literary productions of the Club. His particular talent lay in poetry, and some of his work (always unsigned) has been preserved and may be found among editions of Swift's poetry. Additionally, he likely had some hand in the writing of The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, though it is impossible to tell how much.

In the opinion of the historian David C. Douglas, in Harley's time "the whole company of scholars looked up to Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, as the great Maecenas of English medieval learning, and they were right to do so, for he was the correspondent and benefactor of very many of them, and he deserved their gratitude as surely as he earned through his book-collecting the thanks of posterity". [31]


Brampton Bryan Hall Brampton Bryan Hall (geograph 3907060).jpg
Brampton Bryan Hall

In May 1685 Harley married as his first wife Elizabeth, a daughter of Thomas Foley, and they had four children before she died in November 1691: [32]

They lived at Brampton Bryan Hall, which he inherited from his father in 1700.

After Elizabeth's death, Harley married Sarah (died 17 June 1737), daughter of Simon Middleton of Edmonton, London, on 18 September 1694. They had no children. [32] He died in 1724 at his house in Albemarle Street, Westminster, and was buried in the churchyard of St Barnabas, Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire.

See also


  1. E. S. Roscoe, Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, Prime Minister, 1710–14 (London: Methuen, 1902).
  2. Brian W. Hill (1988). Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier Minister . Yale University Press. p.  7. ISBN   978-0-300-04284-9 . Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Hill, p. 10.
  4. House of Commons 1690–1715 Volume 1 p.244
  5. Hill, pp. 17–18.
  6. Hill, p. 18.
  7. Hill, p. 30.
  8. 1 2 Hill, p. 31.
  9. Hill, p. 26, pp. 33–34.
  10. Hill, p. 24.
  11. Hill, p. 32.
  12. Hill, pp. 44–45.
  13. Hill, p. 55.
  14. Hill, p. 58, pp. 59–60.
  15. Hill, p. 63.
  16. Hill, p. 66.
  17. DNBO1 reference to William Gregg
  18. Thomson, Mark A. (1932). The Secretaries of State: 1681-1782. London: Frank Cass. p. 19.
  19. Hill, p. 131.
  20. 1 2 Hill, p. 134.
  21. Hill, p. 136.
  22. Roscoe, 1902, pp 146–51.
  23. Hill, p. 152.
  24. Earl of Oxford and E. Mortimer impeached. at the journal of the House of Lords.
  25. Hill p.227-228
  26. Hill p.228
  27. Hill p.229
  28. Hill p.229
  29. Hill p.230
  30. Illuminated manuscripts: a guide to the British Library’s collections British Library Illuminated Manuscripts; The Foundation Collections
  31. David C. Douglas, English Scholars. 1660–1730. Second, revised edition (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1951), p. 263.
  32. 1 2 "Oxford, Earl of, and Mortimer, Earl (GB, 1711 – 1853)". Cracroft's Peerage. 31 January 2004. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 1 January 2011.

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Further reading


  • Biddle, Sheila. Bolingbroke and Harley (London: Allen & Unwin, 1975).
  • Downie, J. A. Robert Harley and the Press (Cambridge University Press, 1979).
  • Hamilton, Elizabeth. The Backstairs Dragon: A Life of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford (Hamish Hamilton, 1969).
  • McInnes, Angus. Robert Harley: Puritan Politician (Littlehampton Book Services, 1970).
  • Miller, O.B. Robert Harley Earl of Oxford. The Stanhope Prize Essay, 1925. Oxford. Blackwell, 1925.

Background studies

  • Bennett, Gareth Vaughan. "Robert Harley, the Godolphin ministry, and the bishoprics crisis of 1707." The English Historical Review 82.325 (1967): 726–746. in JSTOR
  • Cobbett, William, Thomas B. Howell, and J. Thomas, State Trials (London: 1809–26, part of a 34 vol. series).
  • Feiling, Keith. A History of the Tory Party, 1640–1714 (1924).
  • Davies, Godfrey. "The Fall of Harley in 1708." The English Historical Review 66.259 (1951): 246–254. in JSTOR
  • Gregg, Edward. Queen Anne (1980)
  • Geoffrey Holmes, 'Harley, St John and the Death of the Tory Party', in Geoffrey Holmes (ed.), Britain after the Glorious Revolution 1689–1714 (London: Macmillan, 1969), pp. 216–237.
  • Holmes, Geoffrey S., and William Arthur Speck. "The Fall of Harley in 1708 Reconsidered." The English Historical Review 80.317 (1965): 673–698. in JSTOR
  • Holmes, Geoffrey. British politics in the age of Anne (A&C Black, 1987).
  • Hoppit, Julian. A land of liberty?: England 1689–1727 (Oxford UP, 2000).
  • Johnson, Richard R. "Politics Redefined: An Assessment of Recent Writings on the Late Stuart Period of English History, 1660 to 1714." The William and Mary Quarterly (1978): 691–732. in JSTOR
  • William Edward Hartpole Lecky. History of England in the Eighteenth Century. London, 1878–90
  • Thomas B. Macaulay, History of England (London, 1855).
  • McInnes, Angus. "The Appointment of Harley in 1704." The Historical Journal 11.2 (1968): 255–271. in JSTOR
  • MacLachlan, A. D. 'The Road to Peace 1710–13', in Geoffrey Holmes (ed.), Britain after the Glorious Revolution 1689–1714 (London: Macmillan, 1969), pp. 197–215.
  • Roberts, Clayton. "The Fall of the Godolphin Ministry." The Journal of British Studies 22.1 (1982): 71–93. in JSTOR
  • Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope, History of England, Comprising the Reign of Queen Anne until the Peace of Utrecht (London: 1870).
  • Snyder, Henry L. "Godolphin and Harley: A Study of Their Partnership in Politics." The Huntington Library Quarterly (1967): 241–271. in JSTOR
  • Sundstrom, Roy A. Sidney Godolphin: Servant of the state (University of Delaware Press, 1992).
  • Trevelyan, G.M. England under Queen Anne (3 v 1930–34).

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Courtney, William Prideaux (1911). "Oxford, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 20 (11th ed.). pp. 403–404.

The Earl of Oxford
and Earl Mortimer
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (2).jpg
Portrait by Godfrey Kneller, 1714
Chief Minister of Great Britain
Lord High Treasurer
In office
30 May 1711 30 July 1714
Parliament of England
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Tregony
With: Hugh Fortescue
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Radnor
Succeeded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Speaker of the House of Commons of England
Succeeded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Parliament of England
Member of Parliament for Radnor
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Custos Rotulorum of Radnorshire
Succeeded by
Preceded by Northern Secretary
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
In commission
First Lord: The Earl Poulett
Lord High Treasurer
Succeeded by
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer
Succeeded by