Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Newton, Henry (1651-1715)

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NEWTON, Sir HENRY (1651–1715), British envoy in Tuscany, born 18 Aug. (N.S.) 1651, was the eldest son of Henry Newton, of Highley, Essex, and Mary, daughter of R. Hunt of the same county. His family came originally from Staffordshire. He matriculated from St. Mary Hall, Oxford, on 17 March 1665, and graduated B.A. in 1668, M.A. in 1671, B.C.L. in 1674, and D.C.L. on migrating to Merton on 17 June 1678. At the university he formed a lifelong friendship with the future Lord Somers. After some travel on the continent he became in 1678 an advocate at Doctors' Commons, and practised at the bar ‘with great judgment, integrity, and applause.’ In 1685 he was appointed chancellor of the diocese of London, and in 1694 judge-advocate to the admiralty. The former office he held till his death.

In 1704 Newton was sent as envoy-extraordinary to Florence, where his urbanity and eloquence won the favour of the grand duke. He obtained for the English merchants at Leghorn permission to practise the protestant religion, a privilege which had been denied them since the days of Queen Elizabeth. Towards the close of 1706 he was sent on a special mission to Genoa. He made his public entry there on 18 March 1707. The council assured Newton that the republic would carefully cultivate their friendship with Great Britain, and ‘inviolably observe a perfect neutrality’ in the Spanish Succession war. He left the city about the middle of June, and returned to Florence. In 1708 he visited Rome, but did not see the pope. Clement XI, however, kept up a constant correspondence with him. He was admitted a member of the Accademia della Crusca and of several other learned societies, and many odes addressed to him in Latin or Italian are printed with his works. He was recalled from Tuscany at the close of 1709. During his absence from England he had been appointed master of St. Catherine's Hospital.

On 5 Nov. 1714 Newton was made a judge of the high court of admiralty, and was knighted 4 March 1715, a ceremony which, according to his daughter, ‘he wou'd gladly have dispens'd with.’ He had once before refused the judgeship, according to the same authority, ‘for he cou'd not bear to pronounce sentence of Death upon his Fellow creatures, tho' Pyrates.’ Coote, however, attributes Newton's reluctance to the ‘zeal of Toryism,’ which rendered him unwilling to sanction the proceedings against the maritime partisans of James II. Newton died suddenly of apoplexy on 29 July 1715, and was buried in Mercer's Chapel, London. He had married, soon after coming to London, ‘a lady of merit, by whom he had children; but the lady and children died a few years after.’ By his second wife, Mary, daughter of Thomas Manning, esq., he had two daughters, besides a son who died young. The elder daughter, Mary, married Henry Rodney, esq., of Rodneystoke, Somerset. Their son was the admiral, George Bridges Rodney. The younger daughter, Catherine, married, first, Colonel Francis Alexander (who died in 1722), and, secondly, Lord Aubrey Beauclerk, youngest son of the Duke of St. Albans, who was killed at Carthagena in 1740.

Newton published: 1. ‘Epistolæ, Orationes et Carmina,’ Lucca, 1710, 4to, with a dedication to Lord Somers. 2. ‘Orationes, quarum altera Florentiæ anno 1705, altera vero Genuæ anno 1707, habita est. Anapæsti, cum ab illustrissimo Comite Magalotti odis donaretur, Florentiæ VII Kal. Junii 1706. Vaticinium,’ Amsterdam, 1710. Among the letters, twenty-five are addressed to P. H. Barcellini, six to Gisbert Cuper, four to Magliabecchi, and two each to Count Magalotti and Lord Somers. The latter is said never to have known a happy moment after Newton's death.

Newton, it appears, left ready for the press his memoirs in four large octavo volumes. These, however, were then ‘unfortunately removed to a new house of a Relation, and by the damp (as 'tis said) were entirely defaced.’ An engraving by Benedict Fariat, from a medallion portrait executed at Florence by Soldano in 1709, bearing a eulogistic Latin inscription, is prefixed to Newton's ‘Epistolæ,’ 1710.

[The Latin life of Newton bound up with Christian Gebauer's Narratio de Henrico Brenkmanno, Göttingen, 1764, and probably by that writer, is founded on communications from Newton's daughters (particularly from the younger), on his own writings, and on other contemporary sources, all in Latin, except the first. See also Hist. Reg. vol. i. Chron. Diary, pp. 18, 48, 65; Boyer's Annals of Anne, 1707, pp. 202–7; Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Wood's Fasti, ii. 368; Catalogue of English Civilians, 1804, p. 100; and Noble's Contin. of Granger's Biog. Hist. ii. 175–6. Cf. a letter from Gisbert Cuper to Le Clerc, 16 Nov. 1706, in Cuper's Lettres de Critique (French version), pp. 361–2; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vi. 384.]

G. Le G. N.