Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Legge, William (1609?-1672)

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LEGGE, WILLIAM (1609?–1672), royalist, was the eldest son of Edward Legge, sometime vice-president of Munster, by Mary, daughter of Percy Walsh of Moy valley, co. Kildare (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, iv. 107). His father, Edward Legge, eldest son of William Legge of Cassils, Ireland, by Anne, only daughter of John, son of Miles Bermingham, lord Athenry, having contested the title to the family estates with his uncle John, without success, went to the Indies in1584 with Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1601, by the influence of his kinsman, Sir Charles Blount, eighth lord Mountjoy, he was made vice-president of Munster, and in 1607 gave valuable information on abuses connected with the survey of lands in Munster (Cal. State Papers, Carew, 1601-3, p. 397, Irish, 1603-8, passim). Edward Legge died in 1616. His son William 'was brought out of Ireland by Henry Danvers, Earl of Danby, President of Munster, his godfather, who had promised (his father being infirm) to take care of his education' (Collins, Peerage, ed. out, and on 7 Aug. 1638 was commissioned to inspect the fortifications of Newcastle and Hull, and to put both in a state of defence (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1637-8, p. 590). Strafford vigorously remonstrated against the proposal to make him captain of Hull in place of Sir John Hotham (Strafford Letters, ii. 288, 307, 310). Legge, however, was appointed master of the armoury and lieutenant of the ordnance for the first Scottish war (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1639-40, pp. 134, 167). In the spring of 1641 he was implicated in the plots for making use of the army to support the king against the parliament. Though examined as a witness with reference to the first army plot (18 May), he was not seriously implicated in it. A few weeks later, however, he was entrusted by the king with a petition denouncing the parliamentary leaders, for which he was to obtain signatures in the army, and played a leading part in what is termed the second army plot (Gardiner, Hist. of England, ix. 398; Husbands, Exact Collection, 4to, 1643, pp. 224, 228). In January 1642 the king attempted to obtain possession of Hull, appointed the Earl of Newcastle governor, and despatched Legge to secure the town, but the attempt failed (Gardiner, x. 152 ; Life of the Duke of Newcastle, ed. Firth, p. 330). On the outbreak of the civil war Legge joined the king's army, and was taken prisoner in a skirmish at Southam, Warwickshire, on 23 Aug. 1642 (Old Parliamentary History, xi. 397). Committed by the House of Commons to the Gatehouse, he made his escape about 4 Oct. 1642, and rejoined Charles at Oxford (Commons' Journals, ii. 799). Henceforth he closely attached himself to Prince Rupert, and was wounded and again taken prisoner while under his command at the siege of Lichfield in April 1643 (Warburton, Prince Rupert, ii. 163). At Chalgrove field, 18 June 1643, 'Serjeant-major Legge's courage having engaged him too far amongst the rebels [he] so long became their prisoner till themselves were routed' (His Highness Prince Rupert's late beating up of the Rebels' Quarters, &c. , Oxford, 1643, 4to, p. 9). Legge distinguished himself again at the first battle of Newbury (20 Sept. 1643), and 'the night after the king presented him with a hanger he had that day worn, which was in an agate handle in gold, and would have knighted him with it had he consented' (Collins, iv. 110). On 19 May 1644 Rupert appointed Legge temporary governor of Chester, styling him 'my serjeant-major and general of my ordnance' (Warburton, ii. 425).

After the death of Sir Henry Gage (January 1645), Legge succeeded to his post as governor of Oxford. He received a commission from Rupert authorising him to command in chief all the neighbouring garrisons except Banbury (7 May), and was appointed one of the grooms of the king's bedchamber (12 April) (Dugdale, Diary, p. 78; Warburton, iii. 83). During his governorship Oxford was besieged or blockaded by Fairfax (May-June 1645), and a party from the Oxford garrison, under the command of the governor's brother, Colonel Robert Legge, surprised the regiment of Colonel Greaves at Thame on 7 Sept. (Life of A. Wood, ed. Clarke, p. 120). Legge's attachment to Prince Rupert led to his removal, when the prince was disgraced for his hasty surrender of Bristol. Charles wrote to Sir Edward Nicholas on 14 Sept. 1645, ordering Legge's arrest. 'For what concerns Will. Legge,' he added, 'what Lord Digby informed me satisfies me as to what I have done, but not to believe him guilty of trickery before I see more particular proofs (Evelyn, Diary, ed. Wheatley, iv. 174, 177; Ellis, Original Letters, 1st ser. iii. 315). When the king returned to Oxford Legge was released, and allowed again to wait on the king as groom of his bedchamber Dugdale, Diary, p. 83). He used the opportunity to endeavour to heal the breach between Rupert and his uncle, and urged the prince to submit to the king. 'Since I had the honour to be your servant,' he told Rupert, 'I never had other desire than faithfully to serve you, and when I leave to pursue that may I die forgotten. I have not hitherto lost a day without moving his Majesty to recall you ' (Warburton, iii. 211). He was the most active agent in effecting the reconciliation which followed (ib. iii. 195, 12, 223). After the fall of Oxford Legge went abroad, returning to England about July 1647 to wait on the king, then in the custody of the army (Berkeley, Memoirs, ed. Maseres, pp. 356, 373). He concerted with Berkeley and Ashburnham the king's escape from Hampton Court, and never left him during his flight to the Isle of Wight (ib., pp. 374, 377; Ashburnham, Vindication of Ashburnham, ii. 101, 106). In the mutual recriminations and accusations which this unhappy resolution produced Legge's character alone was spared. 'Legge,' says Clarendon, 'had had so general a reputation of integrity and fidelity to his master, that he never fell under the least imputation or reproach with any man; he was a very punctual and steady observer of the orders he received, but no contriver of them, and though he had in truth a better judgment and understanding than either of the other two [i. e. Berkeley and Ashburnham], his modesty and diffidence of himself never suffered him to contrive bold councils' (Rebellion, x. 130). Parliament ordered Colonel Hammond to send up Legge and his two companions as prisoners; but on Hammond's remonstrances allowed them to remain with Charles until 29 Dec. 1647 (Berkeley, p. 394; Gardiner, Great Civil War, iii. 285). For some months Legge and Ashburnham lingered in Hampshire, endeavouring to contrive the king's escape, but they were apprehended on 19 May, and Legge was confined in Arundel Castle (Ashburnham, p. 148). On 2 Sept. 1648 the House of Lords refused him leave to attend the king during the Newport treaty (Lords' Journals, x. 484).

Legge consented to give a promise not to bear arms against the parliament, and was thereupon allowed to compound, and released. Charles II at once despatched him on a mission to Ireland, but he was captured at sea in July 1649, and imprisoned in Exeter Castle on a charge of high treason (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649-50, p. 235; Commons' Journals, vi. 267; Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 9). A family tradition asserts that he accompanied Charles II to Scotland, was imprisoned by the Marquis of Argyll for opposing the match between Argyll's daughter and the king, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester (Collins, iv. 112; Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 105), but Legge was still a prisoner at Exeter as late as May 1651 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651, p. 220). In March 1653 he was granted a pass to go abroad, on giving security to do nothing prejudicial to the state (ib. 1652-3, p. 470). On 11 March 1659 he was one of five commissioners empowered by the king to treat with all rebels not actual regicides, and promise pardon in reward for assistance (Baker, Chronicle, ed. 1670, p. 658). In 1659 Legge was again in England, preparing a royalist rising, and sanguine of success (Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. pt. iv. pp. 207-10). From July to 30 Sept. 1659 he was a prisoner in the Tower (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1659-1660, pp. 35, 231).

On the Restoration Charles II offered to create Legge an earl, 'which he modestly declined, having a numerous family with a small fortune, but told the king he hoped his sons might live to deserve his majesty's favour' (Collins, iv. 113). Charles restored him to his old posts as groom of the bed-chamber and master of the armouries, and appointed him also lieutenant-general of the ordnance (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660-1, pp. 75, 213). As lieutenant he also enjoyed the post of treasurer of the ordnance, worth about 2,000l. a year, and was granted by the king the lieutenancy of Alice Holt and Woolmer forests in Hampshire, lands in the county of Louth, and a pension of 500l. a year for his wife (ib. 1661-2 p. 443, 1666-7 p. 467; Collins, iv. 114). He died on 13 Oct. 1672, at his house in the Minories, near the Tower, in the sixty-third year of his age, and was buried in the Trinity Chapel in the Minories (ib. ; his epitaph is printed in Le Neve, Monumenta Anglicana, ii. 144). A portrait of Legge by Huysman, in the possession of the Earl of Dartmouth, was No. 703 in the National Portrait Exhibition of 1868.

By his wife Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir William Washington of Packington in Leicestershire, and niece of George Villiers, first duke of Buckingham, he left three sons and two daughters. His eldest son, George Legge (1648-1691) [q. v.], was created in 1682 Baron Dartmouth. Colonel William Legge is frequently confused with Mr. William Legge, keeper of the wardrobe from 1626 to 1655 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1625-6 p. 580, 1655 p. 15, 1660-1 p. 27).

[Collins in his Peerage gives a life of Legge, under the title 'Dartmouth.' Letters by and to Legge are printed in the second report of the Commissioners on Historical Manuscripts, and in the eleventh report, pt. 5 (the manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth). Others are contained in Warburton's Life of Prince Rupert, 1849.]

C. H. F.