Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harley, Edward (1624-1700)
HARLEY, Sir EDWARD (1624–1700), governor of Dunkirk,born at Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire, 21 Oct. 1624, was the eldest son of Sir Robert Harley, K.B. (1579–1656) [q. v.], by his third wife, Brilliana (1600?–1643) [q. v.], second daughter of Edward, first viscount Conway. He inherited his mother's delicacy of constitution. After some schooling in Shrewsbury and at Gloucester, he was sent in October 1638 to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, at that time a famous puritanical seminary. He left it in the October term 1640, on account of its unhealthy state, and joined his father in London. He became interested in the exciting politics of the time, and his mother endeavoured unsuccessfully to secure his election for Hereford in 1642. He had a lodging in Lincoln's Inn, of which he was probably a member, but in 1642 he became a captain of a troop of horse in the parliamentary army under Sir William Waller, and in a few weeks had himself the command of a regiment of foot. He had some narrow escapes and distinguished himself particularly in the conflict at Red Marley, near Ledbury, 27 July 1644, where, according to John Corbet, he routed the enemy's cavalry and captured nearly all the foot (An Historical Relation of the Military Government of Gloucester, 1645, p. 103). A wound received here forced him to go to London for surgical help, but he soon returned, and in the conflict between Prince Rupert and Colonel Massie near Ledbury, 22 April 1645, was again wounded. He was ordered with his men to Plymouth in November 1643 (Commons' Journals, iii. 312), made governor of Monmouth in 1644 (Lords' Journals, vii. 24, 27), and of Canon Frome, a garrison near Hereford, in August 1645 (Commons' Journals, iv. 225, 228). In January 1646 he was recommended to the committee of both kingdoms to have some command or employment worthy of him in the county of Hereford (ib. iv. 396). He was made general of horse for the counties of Hereford and Radnor a week later (ib. iv. 401; Lords' Journals, viii. 93). In May 1646 he was quartered with Fairfax at Marston; near Oxford. On the disabling of Humphrey Conmgsby, member for Herefordshire, Harley was elected in his room, 11 Sept. 1646. He was at this time zealously devoted to the presbyterian cause. He strongly opposed Fairfax and Cromwell, and along with Denzil Holies and others was impeached by the army of high treason for his share in passing the ordinance for disbanding the army. He was now disabled by an order of the house, 29 Jan. 1647-8, an order revoked on the following 8 June. In December he joined with his father in favour of the king, for which they were both made prisoners by the army. Henceforth he was an object of suspicion to Cromwell, and in August 1650 was summoned, by letter from Major S. Winthrop at Leominster, to appear at Hereford before the commissioners of the militia. His papers were searched, and he promised to appear in London. He was not permitted to reside in Herefordshire for ten years. He records 'that he was preserved from the cruelty of that power which put to death holy Mr. Love,' At the election of 1656 Harley was again returned for Herefordshire, and being again secluded with other members, he was one who signed and published the 'Remonstrance' against the 'Protector's lawless intentions,' The restored parliament nominated him one of the council of state, 23 Feb. 1659 (Commons' Journals, vii. 849). Harley met the king at Dover, and was appointed governor of Dunkirk, 14 July 1660. During the short time he held that charge he much improved and strengthened the town. Schomberg owned to Harley in 1688 'that the French had often during his time attempted to take it by surprise.' In his vindication of General Monck, Lord Lansdowne says that Harley was appointed by Monck in view of probable designs upon the place as a man whose fidelity was above suspicion (cited in Collins, Collections of Noble Families, 1752, p. 203). Harley strenuously opposed the sale of the port to the French and proposed an act of parliament to declare it inalienable. It being known that he would refuse to deliver it up to the French, he was honourably discharged from his post, by an order dated 22 May 1661. He told the king that the stores left in the place were worth 500,000l. more than the French were to give, and that he had left 10,000l. in an iron chest. The king told the Earl of Montague that he would not have parted with Dunkirk had he not been obliged to remove Harley, who could have kept it 'without extraordinary charge' on account of his presbyterianism. Harley had refused a viscountcy at the Rest oration lest his motives should be suspected, and was made a knight of the Bath, 19 Nov. 1660 (Townsend, Cat. of Knights, pt. i. p. 34), without his own knowledge.
Harley sat in all the parliaments of Charles II, either for the town of Radnor or for the county of Hereford. He vigorously opposed all the acts for persecuting the nonconformists, and the act which made the Sacrament a civil test. He endeavoured unsuccessfully to persuade Herbert Croft, bishop of Hereford [q.v.], not to read James II's declaration, and neither he nor any of his family ever took any oath to James. Though he was a favourer of dissenters, and a hearer of Baxter, he attended the church and was free from bigotry. At the commencement of the revolution he exerted himself with his sons on behalf of the Prince of Orange, and was at once made governor of Worcester by the gentry there assembled. He was unanimously elected in the first parliament of King William for the county of Hereford. He avoided party connections and obtained the act for abolishing the arbitrary court of the marches of Wales. To the second parliament he was opposed as an enemy to the church, but on the death of the successful candidate, Sir John Morgan, he was again unanimously elected, 8 Feb. 1692-3, and continued in that and the succeeding parliaments to act as an honest member of the country party. He was respected as a speaker, frequently closing the debates, and his long experience made his conversation interesting.
For the two or three last years of his life he retired from public, dying at Brampton Bryan 8 Dec. 1700. He was twice married, first, on 26 June 1654, to Mary, daughter of Sir William Button of Parkgate, Devonshire, by whom he had issue Brilliana, wife of Alexander Popham of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire; Martha, wife of Samuel Hutchins, merchant of London, and two Marys, who died young. His second wife was Abigail, daughter of Nathaniel Stephens of Essington, Gloucestershire, and by her he had four sons and one daughter: Robert, earl of Oxford (1661-1724) [q. v.]; Edward (1664-1735) [q. v.]; Nathaniel (1665-1720), a merchant; Brian, who died young; and Abigail (1664-1726), a spinster. His son Edward speaks highly of his command of a naturally passionate temper, his humanity and generosity. Sir Henry Lingen having been engaged in the siege of Brampton Castle, his estate was laid under sequestration, and Harley was to receive payment from it. He made over the whole to Lady Lingen. He gave up an estate left to him by a cousin to the next of kin. He rebuilt the church at Brampton Bryan in his father's lifetime, augmented the livings of Brampton Bryan, Leintwardine, Wigmore, Lingen, Kington, and Stow; and gave up a lease of the impropriate tithes of Folden in Norfolk, the property of Caius College, Cambridge, on condition of its perpetual annexation to the vicarage, by which the living was augmented by 100l. a year.
Harley was the author of : 1. 'An Humble Essay toward the Settlement of Peace and Truth in the Church, as a certain Foundation of Lasting Union' [anon.], 4to, London, 1681. 2. 'A Scriptural and Rational Account of the Christian Religion; particularly, concerning Justification only by the Propitiation and Redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ,' 12mo, London, 1695. To him most of his mother's letters are addressed, and to his filial care their preservation is doubtless due. Many of his own letters and religious musings, which he called 'Retrospects' of his life, are at Brampton Bryan; a selection was printed in the Appendix to the 'Letters of the Lady Brilliana Harley' (Camd. Soc., 1854); but none written to his mother or during her lifetime have been found, they having probably perished in the ruin of the castle. He was elected F.R.S. 22 July 1663, but had withdrawn by 1685. His portrait by Samuel Cooper, which hangs at Brampton, has been engraved by Vertue.