1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aylesford, Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of
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Aylesford, Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of
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AYLESFORD, HENEAGE FINCH, 1st Earl of (c. 1649-1719), 2nd son of Heneage Finch, 1st earl of Nottingham, was educated at Westminster school and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on the 18th of November 1664. In 1673 he became a barrister of the Inner Temple; king's counsel and bencher in 1677; and in 1679, during the chancellorship of his father, was appointed solicitor-general, being returned to parliament for Oxford University, and in 1685 for Guildford. In 1682 he represented the crown in the attack upon the corporation of London, and next year in the prosecution of Lord Russell, when, according to Burnet, “and in several other trials afterwards, he showed more of a vicious eloquence in turning matters with some subtlety against the prisoners than of strict or sincere reasoning.” He does not, however, appear to have exceeded the duties of prosecutor for the crown as they were then understood. In 1684, in the trial of Algernon Sidney, he argued that the unpublished treatise of the accused was an overt act, and supported the opinion of Jeffreys that scribere est agere. The same year he was counsel for James in his successful action against Titus Oates for libel, and in 1685 prosecuted Oates for the crown for perjury. Finch, however, though a Tory and a crown lawyer, was a staunch churchman, and on his refusal in 1686 to defend the royal dispensing power he was summarily dismissed by James, He was the leading counsel in June 1688 for the seven bishops, when he “strangely exposed and very boldly ran down” the dispensing power, but his mistaken tactics were nearly the cause of his clients losing their case. He sat again for Oxford University in the convention parliament, which constituency he represented in all the following assemblies except that of 1698, till his elevation to the peerage. He was, however, no supporter of the House of Orange, advocated a regency in James's name, and was one of the few who in the House of Commons opposed the famous vote that James had broken the contract between king and people and left the throne vacant. He held no office during William's reign, and is described by Macky as “always a great opposer” of the administration. In 1689 he joined in voting for the reversal of Lord Russell's attainder, and endeavoured to defend his conduct in the trial, but was refused a hearing by the House. He opposed the Triennial Bill of 1692, but in 1696 spoke against the bill of association and test, which was voted for the king's protection, on the ground that though William was to be obeyed as sovereign he could not be acknowledged “rightful and lawful king.” In 1694 he argued against the crown in the bankers' case. In 1703 he was created baron of Guernsey and a privy councillor, and after the accession of George I. on the 19th of October 1714, earl of Aylesford, being reappointed a privy councillor and made chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which office he retained till February 1716. He died on the 22nd of July 1719. According to John Macky (Memoirs, p. 71; published by Roxburghe Club, 1895) he was accounted “one of the greatest orators in England and a good common lawyer; a firm asserter of the prerogative of the crown and jurisdiction of the church; a tall, thin, black man, splenatick.” He married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Banks of Aylesford, by whom, besides six daughters, he had three sons, of whom the eldest, Heneage, succeeded him as 2nd earl of Aylesford. The 2nd earl died in 1757, and since this date the earldom has been held by his direct descendants, six of whom in succession have borne the Christian name of Heneage.
Many of his legal arguments are printed in State Trials (see esp. viii. 694, 1087, ix. 625, 880, 996, x. 126, 319, 405, 1199, xii. 183, 353, 365). Wood attributes to him on the faith of common rumour the authorship of An Antidote against Poison ... Remarks upon a Paper printed by Lady (Rachel) Russel (1683), ascribed in State Trials (ix. 710) to Sir Bartholomew Shower; but see the latter's allusion to it on p. 753.
- Hist. of His Own Times, i. 556. Swift has appended a note, “an arrant rascal,” but Finch's great offence with the dean was probably his advancement by George I. rather than his conduct of state trials as here described.
- Ibid. 572, and Speaker Onslow's note.
- N. Luttrell's Relation, i. 447.
- State Trials, xii. 353.