Sir Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, 1609-74
Conservative Royalist who became an adviser to Charles I and Lord Chancellor to Charles II. He wrote one of the earliest histories of the Civil Wars.
Edward Hyde was the sixth of the nine children of Henry Hyde, a gentleman of Dinton, Wiltshire, and his wife Mary. Edward went to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, from 1622-6. He intended to enter the Church, but the death of his two elder brothers left him the heir to his father's estate. Encouraged by his uncle, chief justice Sir Nicholas Hyde, he began legal training at the Middle Temple. As well as pursuing his studies in law, Hyde cultivated an interest in literature and history. He sought the society of wits and scholars and became a member of Ben Jonson's circle.
Hyde's first marriage, to Ann Ayliffe in 1632 lasted only a few months before she fell ill and died. However, the match brought lasting connections with the powerful St John and Villiers families. Hyde's first historical tract was a vindication of George Villiers, the late Duke of Buckingham, which was favourably received by King Charles I.
Legal & Political Career
Hyde was called to the bar in November 1633. With his colleague Bulstrode Whitelocke, he was chosen to represent the Middle Temple on a committee called by the Inns of Court to prepare a masque in response to Histrio-Mastix, William Prynne's notorious attack on the theatre and the culture of the Caroline court. The Inns wished to distance themselves from Prynne, who was a member of Lincoln's Inn. The masque The Triumph of Peace was successfully performed before the King and Queen in February 1634. Hyde's involvement once again brought his name to the attention of the court.
In July 1634, Hyde married Frances, daughter of the courtier Sir Thomas Ayelsbury. This marriage brought further useful connections that enabled him to establish a successful legal practice with a list of clients that included William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Hyde also became a friend of Viscount Falkland and was a member of the circle of philosophers, intellectuals and divines that congregated at Falkland's estate at Great Tew in Oxfordshire during the 1630s.
Hyde's political career began in 1640 when he was elected MP for Wootton Basset in the Short Parliament as a client of the St Johns. He was concerned about the abuses of the law perpetrated by King Charles during the eleven-year Personal Rule, especially the infamous ship-money case, and was thus initially associated with the opposition to the King. However, Hyde hoped to mediate between the King and the House of Commons and tried to use his influence with Archbishop Laud to prevent the dissolution of Parliament.
Hyde was elected MP for Saltash in the Long Parliament (November 1640). Although he supported the impeachment of the Earl of Strafford, he became associated with Viscount Falkland and Sir John Culpeper in a nascent Royalist party. Hyde opposed the Root and Branch Bill which threatened to abolish episcopacy, and in November 1641 he voted against the Grand Remonstrance which he regarded as too disruptive of the balance of power between King, Church and Parliament. Hyde's pamphlet in answer to the Remonstrance was adopted by King Charles and published as an official response entitled His Majestie's Declaration to all his Loving Subjects.
From 1641, Hyde became an adviser to the King. He drafted most of the declarations issued in the King's name and attempted, where possible, to tone down his more reckless policies. Always acutely aware of legal and constitutional considerations, Hyde despaired at the King's attempt to arrest the Five Members in January 1642, but joined him at York in May, after which he was expelled from Parliament and denounced as one of the King's "evil councillors".
Hyde attended the King on campaign during the opening stages of the English Civil War. He was present at the battle of Edgehill, where his role was to look after the royal princes, Charles and James.
In February 1643, Hyde was knighted and appointed to the privy council; the following month he was made chancellor of the exchequer. During the autumn of 1643, he was appointed to the secret committee or "junto" which discussed all important matters with the King before they were put before the privy council. Hyde was anxious to reach a political settlement with Parliament rather than rely upon a military victory, and to this end he made efforts to win over key individuals to the King's cause. He advised the King to summon the alternative Oxford Parliament in December 1643, hoping to deprive the Long Parliament of its authority. However, the Oxford Parliament proved ineffective, which damaged Hyde's prestige.
In January 1645, Hyde supported peace negotiations with Parliamentarian and Scottish commissioners at the Uxbridge Treaty. The failure of these talks further reduced his influence, and in March 1645, he was removed from the King's immediate circle and appointed to the council of the Prince of Wales at Bristol. After the defeat of the Royalist cause at Naseby, Hyde and his fellow councillors accompanied Prince Charles into Cornwall, then to the Scilly Isles and finally to Jersey where they arrived in April 1646. Hyde advised against the Prince's moving to Paris to join Queen Henrietta Maria, but could not prevent him from going. He remained on Jersey for two years, during which time he began writing his great history of the civil wars.
In February 1648, Hyde involved himself in politics once again when he published an attack on Parliament's Vote of No Addresses. On the outbreak of the Second Civil War, the Queen and Prince of Wales summoned him to Paris and he left Jersey on 26 June 1648. Prince Charles had already left to take command of the warships that had mutinied from Parliament, and Hyde had the misfortune to be captured and robbed by pirates on his way to join him. He finally caught up with Charles at The Hague in September after the Royalist defeat in the Second Civil War.
Against the Queen's advice, Charles retained Hyde as a privy councillor after the execution of Charles I in January 1649. Hyde went with Lord Cottington as Charles II's ambassador to Madrid where he tried unsuccessfully to raise money from the King of Spain for the Royalist cause. As a devout Anglican, Hyde was appalled to learn of Charles II's alliance with the Scottish Covenanters and of his promises to impose Presbyterianism in England. After Cromwell's victory at Dunbar and the murder of the Commonwealth representative Anthony Ascham, the Royalist embassy in Spain became untenable, and Hyde left in March 1651.
Following Charles II's escape from England after the battle of Worcester in 1651, Hyde rejoined him in Paris and remained with him throughout the rest of his exile as the King's most trusted adviser. Hyde's aim was always to keep Charles from making any move that would alienate English Protestants or damage the Anglican church. This brought him into conflict with the "Louvre" faction that revolved around Henrietta Maria, and many attempts were made to turn Charles against him. Hyde also discouraged wild plots for the reconquest of England, fearing that they would only reunite the republican and radical factions against Charles.
After Cromwell's death in 1658, Hyde was appointed lord chancellor and entered into negotiations with English Presbyterians and others who supported the return of the monarchy. He was instrumental in drawing up Charles' manifesto the Declaration of Breda in 1660.
After the Restoration
Shortly after the Restoration, a scandal broke when Hyde's daughter Anne (1637-71) was discovered to be pregnant. She claimed that James, Duke of York (later King James II), was the father and that they had been secretly married. Although James initially denied his marriage to a commoner, Anne was recognised as Duchess of York early in 1661. Hyde was offered a dukedom but, aware of his vulnerability to charges of deliberately insinuating himself into the royal family, he preferred to accept the lesser title of first Earl of Clarendon. Although Anne died before James became King, she was the mother of the future queens Mary and Anne.
Clarendon continued to hold the office of lord chancellor and was a strong influence during the early years of Charles II's reign. He favoured the Anglican church and opposed moves towards toleration of nonconformists. However, his caution and conservatism made him enemies in Parliament while his criticism of the loose morals of the Restoration court irritated the King and his ladies. As the King's chief minister, Clarendon became the scapegoat for England's defeat in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-7), even though he had opposed going to war against the Dutch.
Threatened with impeachment by Parliament, Clarendon went into exile in France where, despite chronic ill-health, he completed his history of the civil wars. He died at Rouen in December 1674. His body was returned to England and buried in Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded as second Earl of Clarendon by his eldest son, Henry Hyde (1638-1709).
Between 1702 and 1704, Clarendon's history of the civil wars, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, was published under the direction of his son Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester (1641-1711). Fifty years later, Clarendon's great-grandson presented his papers and manuscripts to Oxford University on the understanding that all profits from the copyright of the History were to be used to finance buildings for the University press, which was subsequently housed in the Clarendon Building at Oxford until 1830.
C.H. Firth, Edward Hyde, first earl of Clarendon, DNB, 1891
Ronald Hutton, Charles II, King of England, Scotland & Ireland, (Oxford 1989)
Lockyer, Roger (editor), Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion, (Folio Society 1967)
Paul Seaward, Edward Hyde, first earl of Clarendon, Oxford DNB, 2004
C.V. Wedgwood, The King's War (London 1958)
Selections from Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion www.archive.org