Hesilrige, Arthur (DNB00)
|←Heseltine, James||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 26
HESILRIGE or HASELRIG, Sir ARTHUR (d. 1661), statesman, was eldest son of Sir Thomas Hesilrige, bart., of Noseley, Leicestershire, and Frances, daughter of William Gorges of Alderton, Northamptonshire (Nichols, Leicestershire, ii. 743). His father died in 1629, and he was, according to Clarendon, ‘brought up by Mr. Pym’ (Rebellion, iii. 128). On the death in 1632 of his first wife, Frances, daughter of Thomas Elmes of Lilford, Northamptonshire, Hesilrige married Dorothy, sister of Robert Greville, lord Brooke [q. v.] (Nichols, p. 748). His early political conduct seems to have been largely guided by the influence of Pym and Brooke. Himself a staunch puritan, he was bitterly opposed to the ecclesiastical policy of Laud, with whom he seems also to have had a personal quarrel (Diary of Thomas Burton, iii. 89; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1641–3, p. 547). In the two parliaments which met in 1640 Hesilrige was elected for Leicestershire. His opponent in the second election was sent to the Tower for breach of privilege in characterising Hesilrige as a man with ‘more will than wit’ (Commons' Journals, ii. 43). In like manner Clarendon terms him ‘an absurd, bold man,’ and adds that he was used by the leaders of his party, like the dove out of the ark, to try what footing there was when new propositions were to be brought forward (Rebellion, iii. 128, 156, 244). His name is associated with the introduction of the bill of attainder against Strafford. He was one of the promoters of the ‘Root-and-Branch Bill,’ and the proposer of the Militia Bill (7 Dec. 1641). To the last he probably owed his inclusion among the five members impeached by the king on 3 Jan. 1642, of which he gives some account in a later speech (Burton, Diary, iii. 93).
In June 1642 Hesilrige was very active in executing the parliamentary commission of array in Leicestershire (Lords' Journals, v. 147). He raised a troop of horse in Essex's army, and fought under the command of Sir William Balfour at Edgehill (Peacock, Army Lists, p. 53; Holles, Memoirs, § 11). A letter from Hesilrige to Essex is printed by Sanford (p. 559). Hesilrige then became second in command to Waller, and Vicars calls him Waller's ‘Fidus Achates.’ He took part in the captures of Chichester and Malmesbury, and did not hesitate to seize the communion plate of Chichester Cathedral, to devote it to the parliament's service (Vicars, Jehovah-jireh, pp. 235, 292; Mercurius Rusticus, ed. 1685, p. 243; Military Memoir of Col. Birch, p. 203). At the head of a regiment of cuirassiers, known to their opponents as ‘the Lobsters,’ he greatly distinguished himself in the victory of Lansdowne (5 July 1643). At Roundway Down his regiment bore the brunt of the battle, and some accounts attribute Waller's defeat to Hesilrige's mistaken tactics (Clarendon, Rebellion, vii. 104, 118; Holles, Memoirs, § 11; Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, p. 193). At both these battles he was wounded, and it is said that after the latter he was publicly prayed for in the London churches (Mil. Mem. of Col. Birch, p. 51). Nevertheless, he at once set to work to recruit his cuirassiers, with whom he again did excellent service at the battle of Cheriton (29 March 1644). He undertook also to raise a regiment of foot, but ‘delighting all in horse,’ left the management of it entirely to Birch, his lieutenant-colonel (ib. pp. 3, 14; Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. 1751, p. 43; Clarendon, Rebellion, viii. 13). Holles, who always accuses his enemies of cowardice, relates a story of Hesilrige's misconduct at Cheriton, which has obtained more credit than it deserves (Memoirs, § 28). His fault throughout his life was overboldness rather than want of courage. Parliament showed appreciation of his services by stipulating in the Uxbridge treaty that he should be made a baron, and given lands worth 2,000l. a year (Commons' Journals, iv. 360). In the disputes which led to the passing of the self-denying ordinance Hesilrige was prominent among the opponents of Essex, and he was one of the witnesses for Cromwell in his quarrel with Manchester (Holles, § § 25, 28; Manchester's Quarrel with Cromwell, Camden Soc., 1875, pp. lxvi, 85, 87, 97).
Hesilrige now laid down his commission, and taking his place in parliament became one of the recognised leaders of the independents there. In the summer of 1647 he took part boldly with the army against the presbyterians. He was suspected of complicity in Joyce's seizure of the king, and of arranging the flight of Lenthall to the army. On one occasion he told the House of Commons that he feared the parliament of England would not save the kingdom of England, and that they must look another way for safety (Holles, § 96; Walker, Hist. of Independency, ed. 1661, pt. i. pp. 47, 51, 57). On 30 Dec. 1647 the House of Commons approved Fairfax's appointment of Hesilrige as governor of Newcastle, a post which the danger of a war with Scotland made one of consequence and trust (Commons' Journals, v. 239). Hesilrige's letters announcing the rising of the cavaliers and their seizure of Berwick (28 April 1648) are printed in Cary's ‘Memorials of the Civil War’ (i. 397, 410, 413, 419). With the small force at his command he succeeded in maintaining Newcastle, defeating Colonel Grey and the Northumbrian royalists (1 July), and recapturing Tynemouth (11 Aug., Rushworth, viii. 1177, 1227). In October he accompanied Cromwell into Scotland, and was entertained with him at Edinburgh by Leven and Argyll (ib. p. 1295; Whitelocke, Memorials, ed. 1853, ii. 422). When Cromwell, in 1650, invaded Scotland a second time, Hesilrige was charged to raise a second army of new levies to second him (Mercurius Politicus, 3 Aug. 1650). To him Cromwell wrote the night before the battle of Dunbar, urging him to gather what forces he could, either to fall on the rear of the Scottish position, or to prevent their further progress into England (Carlyle, Cromwell, letters cxxxix. cxli.) After the battle Hesilrige was charged with the custody of the Scottish prisoners, of whose miserable condition he gives an account in a letter to the council of state (Old Parliamentary Hist. xix. 417).
During this period of service in the north Hesilrige was freely accused of abusing his position for his own emolument (A true and exact Account of the great and heavy Pressures and Grievances the well-affected Northern Counties be under by Sir Arthur Hesilrige's Misgovernment, by John Musgrave, 1650; answered in Musgrave Muzzled, or the Traducer gagged, 1650; Surtees, Hist. of Durham, ii. 21). He was accused of unjust and oppressive dealings with respect to some collieries at Harraton, Durham, part of the confiscated estate of John Headworth (Surtees, ii. 178; Headworth, The Oppressed Man's Outcry). He became engaged in a long lawsuit with the Collingwood family for the possession of the manor of Esselington, Northumberland, which finally ended in a verdict for his opponent (Nichols, p. 745; Mercurius Politicus, 16 June 1658). Still more notorious was his quarrel with John Lilburne, who accused him of unlawfully ejecting his uncle, George Lilburne, from some estates in Durham (A Preparative to an Hue and Cry after Sir Arthur Haslerig, 1649; A Just Reproof to Haberdashers' Hall, 1651; these pamphlets are answered in An Anatomy of Lieut.-Col. John Lilburne's Spirit, 1649; Lilburne Tried and Cast, 1653; A true Narrative concerning Sir Arthur Haslerig's possessing of Lieut.-Col. John Lilburne's Estate, 1653). On 23 Dec. 1651 the parliament appointed a committee to examine into these charges. It reported them to be false, and Lilburne was sentenced (15 Jan. 1652) to pay 2,000l. damages to Hesilrige, to pay a fine of 3,000l. to the state, and to be banished for life (Commons' Journals, vii. 71; Godwin, Commonwealth, iii. 333–7). During the same period Hesilrige was building up a great estate by purchasing the lands of the see of Durham, which parliament had confiscated and put up to sale. He bought for 6,102l. the manor of Bishop Auckland, for 5,833l. that of Easingwood borough, and for 6,704l. Wolsingham manor (Nichols, ii. 745). Contemporary satirists continually refer to these purchases; one styles him
Of the bishops Uriah-like fall the contriver,
To get the fair Bathsheba of the revenue
(The Rump, 1662, i. 346, ii. 15, 63).
In public affairs, so long as the Commonwealth lasted, Hesilrige took a very prominent part. He had been appointed one of the king's judges, but refused to act, and also refused to take the engagement retrospectively, although approving of it (Nalson, Trial of Charles I, p. 3; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 9). He made a merit of this abstention at the Restoration, but spoke approvingly of the king's execution in 1659 (Burton, Diary, iii. 96, 99). Hesilrige was a member of every council of state elected during the Commonwealth, and steadfastly resisted the army's proposal that parliament should dissolve themselves and devolve their authority on a small select council. ‘I told them,’ he says, ‘that the work they went about was accursed, that it was impossible to devolve this trust’ (ib. p. 98; cf. Ludlow, p. 176). From the day when Cromwell forcibly expelled the Long parliament, Hesilrige was the bitter enemy of his government. He refused to pay taxes not levied by parliament, and preferred to see his ‘oxen of value’ sold for 20s. and 40s. apiece (Burton, iii. 57). In 1654, 1656, and 1659 he was returned to parliament for Leicester. At the beginning of the parliament of 1654 he was ‘very instrumental in opening the eyes of the young members’ to Cromwell's usurpation, but was soon excluded (12 Sept.) for refusing to take the engagement to the Protector and the new constitution (Ludlow, p. 190; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1654, p. 286). For the same reason he was excluded at the opening of the parliament of 1656, and his name appears at the head of the list of those who signed the protest (Whitelocke, Memorials, ed. 1853, iv. 274). In order to keep him out of the House of Commons, the Protector appointed him one of the upper house, constituted in 1657 in accordance with the terms of the ‘Petition and Advice.’ But Hesilrige, in spite of all pressure, refused this dignity, and on 25 Jan. 1658 succeeded in taking his seat in the commons (Ludlow, p. 227; Burton, ii. 346). ‘I will not take the Bishops' seat,’ he said, ‘because I know not how long after I shall keep the Bishops' lands’ (ib. ii. 423). Forthwith he proceeded to attack the new second chamber, denounced it as a return to the bondage of a monarchy, and urged the rejection of its claim to be acknowledged as the House of Lords (ib. ii. 403, 407, 436, 462).
In the parliament called by Richard Cromwell, Hesilrige played a still more prominent part in attacking the government. He opposed the recognition of the new protector, and the admission of the representatives of Ireland and Scotland. He opposed, also, the vote to transact business with ‘the other house,’ saying, ‘If this pass, we shall next vote canvas breeches and wooden shoes for the free people of England’ (ib. iv. 79). He urged the release of Overton and other persons imprisoned by the late protector, and inveighed against his war with Spain. On one occasion he spoke for three hours, giving an exhaustive review of public affairs from the beginning of the Long parliament (ib. iii. 27, 117, 457, iv. 86, 152, 271). Even before Richard was forced to dissolve parliament, Hesilrige seems to have begun to intrigue with the officers of the army (Thurloe, vii. 660, 666; Ludlow, p. 242). Immediately afterwards a meeting took place between Hesilrige and three other republican leaders and some representative officers, in consequence of which the army declared for the restoration of the assembly expelled by them in 1653 (ib. p. 246).
Hesilrige now became one of the most powerful men in England. He was a member of the committee of safety (7 May), one of the council of state (17 May), one of the committee of seven for the appointment of officers, and the recognised leader of parliament (ib. pp. 257, 259; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1658–9, pp. 341, 349). He was also given the command of the regiment lately Colonel Howard's. But, exaggerating the theoretical claims of the parliament, and forgetting that its power rested solely on the support of the army, he offended the officers by restricting their commissions and injudiciously limiting the Act of Indemnity (Ludlow, pp. 252, 258). From the beginning he suspected Lambert's designs, and when his officers petitioned that he might be appointed major-general, Hesilrige openly accused them of intending to set up again the rule of ‘a single person.’ At his instigation, when the officers persisted in their demands, the parliament passed a stringent act against raising money without parliamentary sanction, and cashiered Lambert and seven other officers (Baker, Chronicle, ed. 1670, pp. 676–682). Ludlow, while admitting the rectitude and sincerity of Hesilrige's intentions and his anxiety ‘to keep the sword subservient to the civil magistrate,’ nevertheless lays on him the blame of the breach, describing him as a man of disobliging carriage, sour and morose in temper, liable to be transported with passion, to whom liberality seemed to be a vice (Memoirs, p. 273). After Lambert had turned out the parliament, Hesilrige and others of the old council of state wrote a joint letter to Monck, promising to stand by him in the attempt to restore the parliament (Baker, p. 695). Then, in company with Colonels Morley and Walton, he repaired to Portsmouth, gained over the governor (3 Dec. 1659), and proceeded to collect troops against Lambert (A Letter from Sir Arthur Haselrigge in Portsmouth to an Honourable Member of the late Parliament, 1659; Several Letters from Portsmouth by Sir Arthur Haslerig, &c., to the Lord Fleetwood, 1659; Ludlow, pp. 284, 291, 297).
Monck's march into England and the restoration of the Rump were both facilitated by this demonstration. Hesilrige marched into London at the head of a body of cavalry, received the thanks of parliament, and was appointed one of the new council of state (2 Jan. 1660). On 11 Feb. 1659–60 he was named one of the five commissioners for the government of the army (Commons' Journals, vii. 841). Blind to the precariousness of his position, he was ‘so elevated that he could scarce discern friend from foe, and eager for the punishment of the officers who had acted against parliament’ (Ludlow, pp. 284, 308). Monck's ambiguous conduct roused his suspicions for a moment, but they were stilled by the general's protestations of devotion to ‘the good old cause,’ which he swallowed with the greatest credulity (ib. pp. 311, 317, 320, 323). He not only consented to the removal of his own regiment from London, but agreed to a conference with the secluded members, and even to their readmission to parliament. Then, when it was too late to resist, he found himself accused of intriguing with Lambert and other officers against Monck, and sank into the deepest dejection (ib. pp. 325, 330; Baker, p. 709). According to some accounts, he sought to prevent a restoration by urging Monck to assume the crown (ib. p. 715; Clarendon State Papers, iii. 706). Failing in that, he promised to stop all further opposition on receiving an engagement from Monck that his own life should be safe in the event of the return of the Stuarts (ib. iii. 740; Egerton MS. 2618, f. 71). Though his son took part in Lambert's rising, he remained passive himself (Kennett, Register, p. 120).
When the Restoration did take place, he presented a petition urging his innocence so far as the king's trial was concerned; but so bitter was the feeling of royalists and presbyterians against him, that Monck's intervention alone saved his life (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1, p. 8; Old Parliamentary History, xxii. 348, 402, 434, 444, 451). By section 40 of the Act of Indemnity Hesilrige was excepted for pains and penalties not extending to life, to be imposed by a future act for that purpose. The rest of his life was passed in the Tower, where he died on 7 Jan. 1660–1 (Nichols, pp. 749, 753). His epitaph is given by Nichols, who mentions a portrait. He was succeeded in the family estates by his son, Thomas Hesilrige. Sir Arthur Grey Hesilrige, the eleventh baronet, altered the spelling of his surname to Hazlerigg by license dated 8 July 1818 (Foster, Baronetage, 1883).
[Nichols's History of Leicestershire, pt. ii.; Ludlow's Memoirs, ed. 1751, folio; Diary of Thomas Burton, ed. J. T. Rutt, 1828; authorities cited above.]