Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Skelton, Bevil

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SKELTON, BEVIL (fl. 1661–1692), diplomatist, born in Holland, was the second son of Sir John Skelton, lieutenant-governor of Plymouth in 1660, by his wife Bridget, daughter of Sir Peter Prideaux. On the Restoration Bevil was appointed a page of honour, with an annual pension of 120l., which, however, he sold within the year (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1661–2 pp. 137, 154, 535, 1668–9 p. 127). On 27 July 1666 he received a commission to serve as cornet to the Earl of Rochester, and on 20 Nov. 1668 was promoted to the rank of captain in the 1st foot-guards (ib. 1665–6 p. 582, 1667 p. 181, 1668–9 p. 70). In 1669 he obtained the post of registrar to the Charterhouse (ib. 1668–9, p. 562), and in 1671 he was quartered with the foot-guards in York, and received a grant of a portion of the fines levied on the conventicles in Yorkshire (ib. 1671, pp. 108, 397). On 8 Jan. 1671–2 he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the ‘new English regiment raised for service in France,’ and shortly after was made a groom of the bedchamber.

Two years later he was despatched as an envoy to Vienna, and from this time he embraced the diplomatic career, for which his character was hardly suited. He is described by Burnet as ‘the haughtiest, but withal the weakest, of men’ (Burnet, Own Times, ed. 1823, iii. 12; cf. also Bonrepaux to Seignelay, 4 Feb. 1686). For several years he was employed as English envoy at Vienna, at Venice, and at several of the lesser German courts. At Vienna he found little favour on account of Charles's French policy and his own friendship with Vitry, the French envoy (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 15750, ff. 72, 74; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. pp. 239, 246; Sidney, Diary, ed. Blencowe, ii. 19, 21, 147).

In March 1685 Skelton was sent as English envoy to Holland, as successor to Henry Sidney (afterwards Earl of Romney) [q. v.] (ib. ii. 200, 201, 252). He soon became convinced that the Prince of Orange was intriguing against James, and sent repeated warnings to England. In consequence William endeavoured to procure his recall, adducing as a pretext an intercepted letter of Dr. Covell, the Princess Mary's chaplain, in which he had complained to Skelton of the prince's relations with Elizabeth Villiers (Hyde Corresp. ed. Singer, i. 163, 166, 167).

On the eve of Argyll's expedition Skelton requested the admiralty of Amsterdam to prevent its sailing. As they secretly favoured the enterprise, they declared that they had no jurisdiction, and referred him to the States-General. He then obtained an order from that body to detain the vessels; but as their position was incorrectly described, the Amsterdam authorities made this a pretext for taking no action in the matter, and the fleet sailed in safety. He was more successful in obtaining the recall of the three Scottish regiments in the Netherlands for service against Monmouth, but when the Helderengberg was about to sail with Monmouth on board he repeated his blunder of applying to the Amsterdam authorities instead of the States-General. When, in despair, he resorted to the federal government, the Amsterdam admiralty was able to delay action on the pretext that they had no force to arrest so large a vessel, and Monmouth departed without hindrance. It was felt that Skelton was unequal to his position, and in consequence James, who was unwilling to wound a devoted servant, removed him in the following year to Versailles. All negotiations with France were in reality transacted through Barillon, the French minister at London (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 197; Burnet, Own Times, iii. 162; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 28896, f. 282). In 1688 Skelton supported the attempt of Louis XIV to hinder the invasion of England by advancing a body of troops towards the Dutch frontier. James highly resented Louis's interference, and, recalling Skelton, committed him to the Tower on 17 Sept. (Hyde Corresp. ii. 187; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 462). He was liberated when the tidings of William's intentions were confirmed, and on 9 Oct. received a commission to raise a regiment of foot to repel the threatened invasion (Luttrell, i. 467; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. vii. 215, 218). On 6 Nov. he was appointed to succeed his late gaoler, Sir Edward Hales, as lieutenant of the Tower, a tardy concession to protestant sentiment (London Gazette, 9 Nov. and 3 Dec. 1688; Hyde Corresp. ii. 208). He was removed from this post on 11 Dec., and accompanied James on his second flight (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. v. 230). After a short visit to England in January 1689 he was sent by James to solicit aid at Vienna and Venice, but was successful in neither instance, the Venetians replying that ‘they had more need of receiving succour than of giving any’ (ib. 12th Rep. vii. 233, 237; Luttrell, i. 520, 543). In February 1690 Skelton succeeded Lord Waldegrave as James's envoy at Versailles (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1689–90, p. 457). In the following year he became a Roman catholic, and it is probable that he died soon after (Luttrell, ii. 175).

Skelton was twice married. His first wife was Frances, daughter and heiress of Sir Robert Sewster of Raveley, Huntingdonshire, and widow of Sir Algernon Peyton, bart., rector of Doddington in the Isle of Ely. His second wife was Mary, daughter of Daniel O'Brien, third viscount Clare [see under O'Brien, Daniel, first Viscount], by whom he had several children. She survived him, and in 1701 petitioned for the recovery of her jointure. Major-general Bevil Skelton, who accompanied James to France, and died at Paris on 24 May 1736, may have been his son (Rawl. MSS. A. 253, ff. 131–3, 309; Gent. Mag. 1736, p. 293).

His portrait exists, engraved from the life by M. van Sommeren in 1678 (Noble's Continuation of Granger's Biogr. Hist. i. 159).

[Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. pp. 653, 1336; Boase's Collectanea Cornub. p. 902; Macaulay's History of England, ed. 1858; Strickland's Queens of England, 1852, vii. 100–3; Gilbert's Hist. Survey of Cornwall, ii. 264; Thomas's Hist. Notes, ii. 753; Dalton's Army Lists, vols. i. and ii.; Journal du Marquis de Dangeau, 1859, index, s.v. ‘Scheldon;’ Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 413; Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 22910 f. 253, 23242 f. 101, 25119 ff. 148–67; Harleian MSS. 1515 ff. 143, 144, 209–17, 1516 ff. 39, 354, 355, 384.]{{DNB EIC}