Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Villiers, Thomas (1709-1786)

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VILLIERS, THOMAS, first Earl of Clarendon of the Villiers family (1709–1786), born in 1709, was the second son of William Villiers, second earl of Jersey [see under Villiers, Edward, first Earl of Jersey], by his wife Judith, daughter and heir of Frederick Herne of London. He was for a time at St. John's College, Cambridge, but left the university without a degree, and entered the diplomatic service. On 14 Oct. 1737 he was sent as envoy extraordinary to the court of Augustus III, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, at Warsaw, and in 1740 he was accredited minister-plenipotentiary to Augustus in his capacity as elector of Saxony. From December 1742 to March 1743 he was envoy at Vienna (see his instructions in Addit. MS. 23813, f. 67), whence he was in the same year sent to the electors of Cologne and Mayence. In July he was reporting from Hanau on the progress of the war of the Austrian succession (Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. pt. ix. pp. 89, 90, 111). In the following year he was sent to Poland, where Augustus III had taken refuge on being driven out of Saxony by Frederick the Great (instructions in Addit. MS. 23817, f. 291). In November 1745 Frederick instructed his minister to make proposals for peace with Saxony through the medium of Villiers. The latter's correspondence with Frederick began on 28 Nov. and ended on 18 Dec., and is printed in ‘Œuvres de Frédéric’ (iii. 183–216). Villiers showed himself ‘really diligent, reasonable, loyal; doing his very best now and afterwards; but has no success at all’ (Carlyle, Frederick the Great, vi. 109). He followed Augustus in his flight to Prague, and continued his efforts there without success until Frederick's victory at Kesselsdorf (12 Dec.) rendered Augustus more amenable. Villiers made several journeys between Prague and Berlin during the negotiations, and peace was eventually signed on Christmas day (ib. vi. 119). These efforts gained for Villiers Frederick's favourable regard, and on 3 Jan. 1745–6 he was appointed resident minister at Berlin. Horace Walpole, however, attributed Frederick's liking for Villiers to his dislike of men of ability; ‘he has, you know, been very much gazetted, and had his letters to the king of Prussia printed, but he is a very silly fellow’ (Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham, ii. 140).

In February 1748 Villiers retired from diplomatic employment, and devoted himself to home politics. He had been returned to parliament for Tamworth on 3 July 1747, in spite of his confession to Walpole that he did not understand elections, and on 24 Dec. 1748 he was made a lord of the admiralty in Pelham's administration (ib. ii. 138–9). He was re-elected for Tamworth on 18 April 1754, but vacated the seat on his creation, 3 June 1756, as Baron Hyde of Hindon. He had married, on 30 March 1752, Charlotte, eldest surviving daughter of William Capel, third earl of Essex, by his wife Jane, daughter of Henry Hyde, fourth and last earl of Clarendon; his wife had previously assumed the name Hyde.

On 2 Sept. 1763 Hyde was sworn of the privy council, and on the 10th he was appointed joint postmaster-general. He was chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster from 14 June 1771 until 1782, during Lord North's administration. On 14 June 1776 he was created Earl of Clarendon, and on 16 July 1782 obtained license to add to his arms the royal eagle of Prussia, Frederick III having created him a count of that kingdom.

Clarendon died on 11 Dec. 1786, and was buried at Watford on the 20th. An engraving, after a portrait by T. Hudson, is given in Doyle. By his wife (1721–1790), Clarendon had issue Thomas (1753–1824) and John Charles (1757–1838) [q. v.] , who succeeded respectively as second and third earls and died without male issue, and George (1759–1827), who became father of George William Frederick Villiers, fourth earl of Clarendon [q. v.], of Thomas Hyde Villiers [q. v.], of Charles Pelham Villiers [q. v.], of Henry Montagu Villiers [q. v.], and of Maria Theresa Villiers [see Lewis, Lady Maria Theresa].

[Clarendon's diplomatic correspondence is extant in Brit. Mus. Egerton MSS. 2685–2693, and Addit. MSS. 22530, 23801–24. See also Peerages by Burke, Doyle, and G. E. C[okayne]; Official Ret. Memb. Parl.; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, passim, Mem. Reign of George II, ed. Holland, i. 450, ii. 202, iii. 111, and Mem. Reign of George III, ed. Barker, i. 235, iv. 217; Coxe's House of Austria, iii. 311, and Pelham Administration, 1829.]

A. F. P.