Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Elliot, Hugh

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896622Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17 — Elliot, Hugh1889Henry Morse Stephens

ELLIOT, HUGH (1752–1830), diplomatist, second son of Sir Gilbert Elliot, third baronet of Stobs, M.P., by Agnes, daughter and heiress of Hugh Dalrymple-Murray-Kynynmound of Melgund, and younger brother of Gilbert, first Earl of Minto, was born on 6 April 1752. He was educated with his elder brother Gilbert, first at home, and then from 1764 to 1766 at the Abbé Choquant's school in Paris, where he struck up a friendship with his fellow-pupil, the great Mirabeau, and accompanied his brother to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1768. After two years at Oxford, he went to the famous military school at Metz, but in 1771 his longing after a military career was checked by the refusal of Lord Barrington, then secretary at war, to confirm the commission which had been granted to him as a child. This was a severe blow to his hopes, and being foiled at home, he went to Vienna in the hope of getting a commission in the Austrian service. In this also he was unsuccessful, but he determined to see war, and served as a volunteer with the Russian army in the campaign of 1772 against the Turks, when, in the words of Romanzow, the Russian general, 'he distinguished himself by a truly British courage.' His father then used his influence to get him a diplomatic appointment, and in 1773, when but one-and-twenty, he was appointed minister plenipotentiary at Munich, and in 1775 representative of the kingdom of Hanover at the diet of Ratisbon as well. He threw up this post in 1776 and returned to England, when his father and brother exerted themselves on his behalf, and in April 1777 he was sent to Berlin as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Prussia. Nothing of great importance happened during his stay at Berlin, but he was recognised as an able diplomatist, and in 1782 he was transferred to Copenhagen. He remained in Denmark for nine years, years of great importance in the history of Denmark, and which finally established Elliot's reputation as a diplomatist. He had every need to exercise his powers, for the King of Denmark, in spite of his relationship to George III, was by no means well disposed towards England, and it was with difficulty that Elliot could carry out Pitt's policy of keeping Denmark in a close political relation with England, in order to counteract the growing power of Russia in the Baltic. In 1791 he was recalled from Copenhagen, and sent on a most secret mission to Paris, of which the details have been hitherto unpublished, but which was almost certainly intended to win over the support of Mirabeau, then the leading statesman of the French assembly, who was an old and intimate friend, and a frequent correspondent of Elliot. After this secret mission he was sent as minister plenipotentiary to Dresden, and remained at the court of Saxony until 1803, when he was transferred to Naples. At his new post he struck up a warm friendship with the queen, the sister of Marie Antoinette, and former friend of Lady Hamilton, and came so far under her influence that he angrily forbade Sir James Henry Craig [q. v.], who was sent to Naples at the head of an English army, to leave Italy, and ordered him to defend the Neapolitan dominions in Italy. Craig wisely refused, and took his army to Sicily, whither the king and queen of Naples speedily fled, and Elliot was recalled from his post. The government decided not to employ him again in diplomacy after this behaviour, but they could not neglect the brother of the powerful and influential Earl of Minto, and in 1809 he was appointed governor of the Leeward Islands. He returned to England in 1813, and in 1814 was sworn of the privy council, and made governor of Madras. Nothing of importance happened during his term of office in India, which lasted until 1820. He afterwards lived in retirement until his death on 10 Dec. 1830. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son. Sir Charles, is separately noticed.

[Memoir of the Right Hon. Hugh Elliot, by the Countess of Minto, 1868.]

H. M. S.