Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Henry (1705-1774)

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FOX, HENRY, first Baron Holland (1705–1774), younger son of Sir Stephen Fox [q. v.], by his second wife, Christian, daughter of the Rev. Francis Hopes, rector of Haceby, and afterwards of Aswarby, Lincolnshire, was born at Chiswick on 28 Sept. 1705, and was educated at Eton, where he was the contemporary of Pitt, Fielding, and Sir Charles Hanbury Williams. It has been generally asserted that Fox went up to Oxford University, but there is no record of his matriculation in ‘Alumni Oxonienses 1715–1886.’ Indulging recklessly in gambling and other extravagances, he soon squandered the greater part of his private fortune, and went abroad to extricate himself from his pecuniary embarrassments. Upon his return to England Fox was elected to parliament for the borough of Hindon in Wiltshire in February 1735. Being by profession a whig he attached himself to Sir Robert Walpole, whom he served with unswerving fidelity, and was quickly rewarded for his services with the post of surveyor-general of works, to which he was appointed on 17 June 1737. At the general election in 1741 Fox was returned for the borough of Windsor, for which he continued to sit until the dissolution in March 1761. Upon the fall of Walpole in 1742 Fox resigned office, but was appointed a lord of the treasury in the Pelham administration on 25 Aug. 1743. After holding this post nearly three years he was appointed secretary at war in May 1746, and was admitted a member of the privy council on 23 July following. During the debate on the Regency Bill in 1751, Fox repelled with great warmth an attack made on his patron, the Duke of Cumberland, by Pitt. So incensed was Fox with his colleague's speech that he left the house without voting. When Pelham, remonstrating with him afterwards, told him that he had not spoken like himself, Fox spiritedly replied, ‘Had I indeed spoken like myself I should have said ten times more against the bill.’ In 1753 he attacked Lord Hardwicke, whom he had never forgiven for deserting Sir Robert Walpole. When the lord chancellor's Marriage Bill appeared in the commons, Fox vehemently opposed it, and neither spared the bill nor the author of it (Parl. Hist. xv. 67–74). Upon the death of Pelham in March 1754, the Duke of Newcastle opened negotiations with Fox, through the Marquis of Hartington. It was proposed that Fox should be secretary of state with the lead of the House of Commons, but that the disposal of the secret service money should be left in the hands of the first lord of the treasury, who should keep Fox informed of the way in which the fund was employed. In his interview with Fox, however, the duke declared that he should not disclose to any one how he employed the secret service money. Fox refused to accept these altered terms, but promised to remain in the administration as secretary at war. But though Fox continued in office it can hardly be said that he continued to support the ministry. Reconciled by a common enmity, Fox and Pitt combined in seizing every opportunity which arose during the debate for the purpose of making Sir Thomas Robinson, the newly appointed secretary of state, ridiculous. The covert sarcasms of Fox and the open denunciations of Pitt quickly rendered Newcastle's position intolerable, and in January 1755 fresh negotiations were opened with Fox, which this time proved successful, though the terms offered him were not so favourable as on the last occasion. Fox, having consented in future to act under Robinson, and to give the king's measures his active support in the House of Commons, was admitted to the cabinet, and his temporary alliance with Pitt was thereupon dissolved. Though Fox suffered in reputation by his desertion of Pitt and his subservience to Newcastle, he speedily gained his object, and before the year was out was leader of the House of Commons. Robinson, receiving a pension, was reappointed master of the great wardrobe, and Fox was appointed in his place secretary of state on 25 Nov. 1755. Thinking himself ill-used both by the king and Newcastle, and suspecting that the latter was intriguing to cast the loss of Minorca upon his shoulders, Fox obtained the king's permission to resign in October 1756. Newcastle's resignation soon followed. The king then sent for Fox and directed him to form an administration with Pitt, but the latter refused to act with him; and the Duke of Devonshire thereupon formed an administration with Pitt's help and without Fox. During the ministerial interregnum in 1757 Fox, at the request of the king, who was incensed at Newcastle's refusal to act with Pitt, consented to become chancellor of the exchequer, with Lord Waldegrave as first lord of the treasury. At the last moment, however, the king yielded to Newcastle, and Fox accepted the subordinate post of paymaster-general without a seat in the cabinet. In this office, which during the continuance of the war was probably the most lucrative one in the government, Fox contented himself with amassing a large fortune, and took but little part in the debates. Upon Grenville's resignation of the seals of secretary of state in October 1762, Fox, with considerable reluctance, once more accepted the leadership of the House of Commons. Refusing to become secretary of state on the ground of bad health, he was admitted to Bute's cabinet, and while retaining the post of paymaster-general accepted the sinecure office of writer of the tallies and clerk of the pells in Ireland. Fox had assured the king that parliament should approve of the peace by large majorities, and by the employment of the grossest bribery and intimidation he kept his word. Having broken with all his old political friends, he turned upon them with relentless fury. ‘Strip the Duke of Newcastle of his three lieutenancies immediately,’ wrote Fox to Bute, in November 1762; ‘I'll answer for the good effect of it, and then go on to the general rout, but let this beginning be made immediately.’ In the following month he wrote again to Bute in the same strain: ‘The impertinence of our conquered enemies last night was great, but will not continue so if his majesty shows no lenity. But, my lord, with regard to their numerous dependents in crown employments, it behoves your lordship in particular to leave none of them. … And I don't care how much I am hated if I can say to myself, I did his majesty such honest and essential service’ (Life of the Earl of Shelburne, i. 179–80). The peace of Paris was signed in 1763, and Fox having accomplished his task took but little further trouble about the business of the ministry in the House of Commons. Ill supported by his colleagues and hated on all sides, Fox became anxious to retire from the house, and, claiming his reward for his apostasy, was created Baron Holland of Foxley, Wiltshire, on 16 April 1763. After a long altercation with Bute and Shelburne, which is fully recorded in the ‘Life’ of the latter (i. 199–229), Fox managed to retain the post of paymaster. Shelburne, who had acted as Bute's agent in the negotiations with Fox in the previous year, was denounced by him as ‘a perfidious and infamous liar.’ But the familiar tradition that Bute attempted to justify Shelburne's conduct by telling Fox that the whole affair was a ‘pious fraud,’ and that Fox replied, ‘I can see the fraud plainly enough, but where is the piety?’ is stated by Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice to be ‘valueless for the purposes of history’ (ib. p. 228). On leaving the House of Commons Fox practically retired from public life, and it does not appear that he took any part in the debates of the upper house. In May 1765 he was forced to resign the post of paymaster-general, which was conferred upon Charles Townshend (Cal. of Home Office Papers, 1760–5, p. 553). On Grenville's fall he made some advances towards a reconciliation with his old friends, which were scornfully rejected by Rockingham. In 1769 the lord mayor presented the king with a petition from the livery of the city of London against his ministers, in which Fox was referred to as ‘the public defaulter of unaccounted millions’ (Annual Reg. 1769, p. 202). Proceedings against Fox had been actually commenced in the court of exchequer, but had been stayed by a warrant from the crown. After some correspondence with Beckford, Fox published a statement clearly proving that the delay which had occurred in making up the accounts of his office was neither illegal nor unusual in those days. It has, however, been asserted that the interest on the balances which were outstanding when he left the office brought him no less than a quarter of a million pounds. He tried several times to obtain an earldom, but isolated from all parties in the state, and out of favour at court, he asked for it in vain. Disappointed in ambition and broken down in health, he divided most of his time in travelling on the continent, and in constructing at Kingsgate, near the North Foreland, a fantastic habitation purporting ‘to represent Tully's Formian Villa.’ He died at Holland House, near Kensington, on 1 July 1774, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, and was buried at Farley in Wiltshire. During Fox's last illness George Selwyn called at Holland House and left his card. Glancing at it, and remembering his old friend's peculiar taste, Fox humorously said: ‘If Mr. Selwyn calls again show him up: if I am alive I shall be delighted to see him; and if I am dead he would like to see me.’ Fox married, on 2 May 1744, Lady Georgiana Caroline Lennox, eldest daughter of Charles, second duke of Richmond. The marriage was secretly solemnised at the house of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, the lady's parents having refused their consent. The stir which this wedding made in the town is amusingly recorded in ‘Walpole's Letters’ (i. 303), and it was not until after some years that the duke and duchess became reconciled to their daughter. The match was a peculiarly happy one, and the correspondence between Fox and his wife is a remarkable record of conjugal felicity. Lady Caroline was created Baroness Holland of Holland, Lincolnshire, in the peerage of Great Britain, on 6 May 1762. She survived her husband only a few weeks, and died on 24 July 1774. They had four sons, viz. Stephen, Henry, Charles James [q. v.], and Henry Edward [q. v.] Stephen succeeded to the two baronies of Holland, and died 16 Dec. 1774. Henry died an infant. The last Lady Holland was the widow of Henry Fox's great grandson, Henry Edward, fourth baron Holland, upon whose death in 1859 the titles became extinct. Fox was a man of many talents, of indomitable courage and extraordinary activity. Gifted with great sagacity and shrewdness, he was confident in manner and decisive in action. Though not a great orator, he was a formidable debater. ‘His best speeches,’ says Lord Waldegrave, ‘are neither long nor premeditated, quick and concise replication is his peculiar excellence’ (Memoirs, p. 25). Devoid of principle, and regardless of the good opinion of his fellow-men, he cared more for money than for power. Chesterfield declares that ‘he had not the least notion of, or regard for, the public good or the constitution, but despised those cares as the objects of narrow minds, or the pretences of interested ones’ (Letters, ii. 467). Though at one time the rival of Pitt, Fox never rose above the rank of a political adventurer. His jovial manners and many social qualities gave him much influence in society, but his unscrupulous conduct during the five months which he spent in Bute's cabinet made him the best hated minister in the country. Churchill in his ‘Epistle to William Hogarth,’ Gray in his ‘Stanzas suggested by a View of the Seat and Ruins at Kingsgate in Kent, 1766,’ Mason in his ‘Heroic Epistle,’ as well as the political writers of the day, all bear witness to his great unpopularity. In appearance he was unprepossessing, his figure was heavy, and his countenance dark and lowering. Portraits of him by Hogarth and Reynolds are preserved at Holland House, where there are also several portraits of his wife, and a small collection of his poems. The authorship of a short-lived periodical entitled ‘The Spendthrift,’ which commenced on 29 March 1766, and lasted through twenty weekly numbers, has been attributed to him. On the first page of the copy of ‘The Spendthrift’ in the British Museum is the following manuscript note: ‘These papers are supposed to have been written by Lord Holland. Mr. Nichols, who printed them, informs me that the copy always came from that nobleman's house.—Ic. Reed.’ Holland House was bought by Fox in 1767, having previously rented it since 1749.

[Coxe's Memoirs of Horatio, Lord Walpole (1802); Coxe's Memoirs of the Pelham Administration (1829); The Grenville Papers (1852); Diary of the late George Bubb Dodington (1784); Chatham's Correspondence (1838–40); Correspondence of John, fourth Duke of Bedford (1842–6); Memoirs from 1754 to 1758, by James, Earl Waldegrave (1821); Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George II (1847); Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III (1845); Walpole's Letters (ed. Cunningham); Fitzmaurice's Life of the Earl of Shelburne (1875), vol. i.; Lecky's Hist. of England, vols. i. ii. iii.; Lord Mahon's Hist. of England (1858), vols. iii. iv. v.; Trevelyan's Early Life of Charles James Fox (1881); Macaulay's Essays (1885), pp. 301–6, 309, 762–4, 767; Jesse's George Selwyn and his Contemporaries (1844); Sir Edward Creasy's Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1876), 308–11; The Fox Unkennelled, or the Paymaster's Accounts Laid Open (1769); Princess Mary Liechtenstein's Holland House (1874); Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers (1876), pp. 262, 473; Collins's Peerage (1812), iv. 538, vii. 308–10; Foster's Peerage (1883), p. 383; Gent. Mag. 1774, xliv. 333–4, 335, 543; Annual Register 1777, pp. 16–18; Haydn's Book of Dignities (1851); Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 80, 85, 98, 109, 131; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.