Harley, Robert, 1st earl of Oxford

Harley, Robert, 1st earl of Oxford,

1661–1724, English statesman and bibliophile. His career illustrates the power of personal connections and intrigue in the politics of his day. When he entered (1689) Parliament, he was generally associated with the Whigs and introduced (1694) the Triennial Bill (which required new parliamentary elections every three years) in the House of Commons. His sympathies soon shifted, however, and before the accession (1702) of Queen AnneAnne,
1665–1714, queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1702–7), later queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1707–14), daughter of James II and Anne Hyde; successor to William III.
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 he was a leader of the Tories. He was secretary of state for the north (1704–8) but was forced out of office by John Churchill, 1st duke of MarlboroughMarlborough, John Churchill, 1st duke of
, 1650–1722, English general and statesman, one of the greatest military commanders of history.
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, because of his intrigues against the predominantly Whig government. His influence on the queen continued, however, through his kinswoman Abigail MashamMasham, Abigail, Lady
, d. 1734, favorite of Queen Anne of England. Her maiden name was Abigail Hill. A plain, intelligent person, she became (1704) bedchamber woman to the queen through the influence of her cousin Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough.
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. The unpopularity of the War of the Spanish Succession and the uproar caused by the trial of Henry SacheverellSacheverell, Henry
, 1674?–1724, English clergyman, the center of a religio-political incident in the reign of Queen Anne. In two sermons (1709) Dr. Sacheverell attacked the Whig government, lashing out especially against its toleration of religious dissenters.
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 brought the fall of the Whigs, and Harley came to power with Henry St. JohnSt. John, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke
, 1678–1751, English statesman. Political Rise

Although he was one of England's great orators, Bolingbroke was also an unstable profligate, and he was generally distrusted.
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 (later Viscount Bolingbroke) in 1710. He survived an attempt on his life in 1711 and was made earl and lord treasurer. Consolidating his power, he undertook secret peace negotiations that led to the Peace of Utrecht (1713) and founded the South Sea Company (see South Sea BubbleSouth Sea Bubble,
popular name in England for the speculation in the South Sea Company, which failed disastrously in 1720. The company was formed in 1711 by Robert Harley, who needed allies to carry through the peace negotiations to end the War of the Spanish Succession.
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). His position, however, was undermined by the intrigues of St. John, and he lost office just before Queen Anne's death (1714). After the accession of George I, he was imprisoned (1715) and impeached (1716) for his conduct of the peace negotiations and for dealings with the Jacobites, but he was acquitted. The manuscript collection gathered by Harley and his son Edward constitutes the important Harleian LibraryHarleian Library
, manuscript collection of more than 7,000 volumes and more than 14,000 original legal documents, formed by Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford, and his son Edward, 2d earl of Oxford.
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 in the British Museum.

Bibliography

See B. Hill, Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier (1988); bibliography by A. Downie (1989).

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