Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Weston, Richard (1577-1635)

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WESTON, RICHARD, first Earl of Portland (1577–1635), baptised at his mother's home, Chicheley, Buckinghamshire, on 1 March 1576–7, was the eldest son of Sir Jerome Weston of Skreens in Roxwell, Essex, by his first wife, Mary (d. 1593), daughter and coheir of Anthony Cave of Chicheley. According to an elaborate pedigree fabricated for Portland's benefit in 1632 by Henry Lilly [q. v.], then rouge croix, certified by Sir William Segar [q. v.], engrossed on vellum, extant in British Museum Additional MS. 18667, and printed in Erdeswick's ‘Staffordshire’ (ed. Harwood, p. 164), Portland was descended from the ancient family of Weston, represented in the sixteenth century by Robert Weston [q. v.], lord chancellor of Ireland, who is erroneously said to have been brother of Portland's grandfather, Richard Weston (d. 1572), justice of the common pleas. The judge is represented as second son of John Weston of Lichfield by Lady Cecily Neville, but there is no proof that this branch of the Weston family had any connection with Staffordshire; and Morant's statement, that he came from an Essex family, is more probably correct. His grandfather seems to have been William Weston (d. 1515), whose fourth son, John, was father of the judge (see an elaborate examination of the Weston genealogy in Chester Waters, Chesters of Chicheley, pp. 93 sqq.). He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple, where he was reader in the autumn of 1554, and on 10 Oct. 1555 was returned to parliament for Maldon, Essex; on 20 Nov. 1557 he was appointed solicitor-general, was called to the degree of the coif on 24 Jan., and made queen's serjeant on 13 Feb. 1558–9. On 16 Oct. 1559 he was raised to the bench as justice of common pleas, and retained his seat until his death on 6 July 1572. With the proceeds of his lucrative practice he purchased in 1554 Skreens in Roxwell, Essex, which he made the family seat. He was thrice married, and by his first wife, Wiburga, daughter of Thomas Catesby of Seaton, Northamptonshire, was father of Sir Jerome Weston (1550?–1603), high sheriff of Essex in 1599, who married twice, died on 31 Dec. 1603, and was buried at Skreens on 17 Jan. 1603–4.

Sir Jerome's son, Richard, was educated in the legal profession at the Middle Temple, like many of his relatives. According to Clarendon, his education was ‘very good amongst books and men. After some years' study of the law in the Middle Temple, and at an age fit to make observations and reflections … he travelled into foreign parts (Rebellion, bk. i. § 102). On 28 Sept. 1601 he was returned to parliament for his grandfather's old constituency, Maldon, Essex. He was knighted by James I on 23 July 1603, and succeeded his father on 31 Dec. Possibly he was too much occupied with his new property to secure his return for Maldon at the general election in February 1603–4, but on 29 March he was returned at a by-election for Midhurst, Sussex. On 20 Feb. he had been appointed keeper of the king's deer in Windsor Forest, and on 30 May received a further grant of his expenses in building a new lodge there. On 23 Feb. he was granted protection for three months, and on 14 Oct. for six months, possibly when going abroad on some minor diplomatic employment. According to Clarendon, Weston spent most of his father's fortune in attendance at court before being rewarded with any preferment; but it seems unlikely that he was the Sir Richard Weston who was accused of ‘dishonesty towards his majesty’ by Salisbury, and was ‘likely to die of starvation’ in prison in April 1609 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, pp. 503, 553). Probably these notes refer to Sir Richard Weston (1564–1613), the father of Sir Richard Weston (1591–1652) [q. v.] On 22 June 1612 he was recommended for the deputy-lieutenancy of Middlesex; on 1 July 1616 he was granted the collectorship of ‘little’ customs in the port of London (ib. 1611–18, pp. 135, 378); and in January 1617–18 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster (Court and Times of James I, ii. 61). On 12 Feb., however, on the reorganisation of the naval administration, he was appointed joint commissioner, comptroller, and surveyor of the navy (Oppenheim, Administration of the Navy, 1896, p. 195); in the Short parliament of April–June 1614 he was knight of the shire for Essex (Official Return, App. p. xxxviii; Court and Times of James I, i. 235).

Weston had hitherto been known only as a courtier and a competent man of business, but in June 1620 he was selected for important diplomatic employment. Almost all the branches of the Weston family had retained a secret or open attachment to the Roman catholic religion. Sir Richard was no exception, and with this religious belief went a political sympathy with Spain. He was favourably known to Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, and it was through his influence that Weston was sent on a mission to the archdukes at Brussels. Sir Edward (afterwards Viscount) Conway [q. v.] was associated with him, and the object of their embassy was to bring about an accommodation of the difficulties arising out of the question of the palatinate, which James I imagined could be done by mere words and his own statecraft. From Brussels they were to pass on to the states of the Rhine, Dresden, and Prague, whence they were to open communications with Sir Henry Wotton [q. v.] at Vienna. The Spaniards naturally did not regard their mission seriously; their protest at Brussels in July against the invasion of the palatinate was disregarded, and the German princes whom they consulted at Oppenheim paid no greater heed to their advice. They arrived at Prague only in time to witness the crushing defeat of the elector palatine by the imperialists on 29 Oct., and a few weeks later were recalled (Gardiner, iii. 361 sqq.)

Shortly after his return Weston was on 29 Jan. 1620–1 appointed chancellor and under-treasurer of the exchequer, in succession to Sir Fulke Greville, first lord Brooke [q. v.]; about the same time he was sworn of the privy council. He is confused by Doyle with the Sir Richard Weston (see below ad fin.) who was returned for Lichfield to the parliament summoned to meet on 16 Jan. 1620–1, but the chancellor of the exchequer did not enter that parliament until 22 Nov. following, when he succeeded Sir Lionel Cranfield, raised to the peerage, as member for Arundel. In February 1621–2 he was again sent to Brussels, Gondomar once more recommending him as ‘the most appropriate instrument for this affair’ (Ranke, i. 511); he was to attend a conference on the question of restoring the palatinate to James I's son-in-law. He set out on 23 April, but he had no instructions from the elector, on whose behalf he was to treat, and a courier despatched on 16 May returned from the elector without the formal powers demanded by the Infanta Isabella. These were procured on 28 June, but Weston's demands for the suspension of hostilities and his threats that England would make war on Mansfeld and Christian if they refused to submit were alike powerless to stay the advance of the imperialists or bring the protestant princes to terms. He was recalled on 15 Sept., and the report on his mission which he presented to the privy council on the 27th is preserved among the Inner Temple records (vol. xlviii.)

The failure of these negotiations and of the Spanish marriage project led Buckingham to press for war with Spain. Weston voted against the war, and was equally opposed to the calling of a parliament which war would involve. Being overruled, he acquiesced in Buckingham's policy, and sat in the parliament summoned to meet on 12 Feb. 1623–4, though his name does not appear in the official return. On the 27th he was selected to deliver to the commons the formal report of Buckingham's narrative of his mission to Spain. From 25 May to 11 Dec. 1624 he was acting treasurer to the exchequer. To the first parliament of Charles I he was returned on 25 April for Callington, Cornwall, and to the second, on 21 Jan. 1625–6, for Bodmin, boroughs under crown influence, in which Weston was probably driven by his general unpopularity to seek refuge. In both these sessions his main function was to obtain supplies from the commons, but in the latter he was also employed in evading the commons' demand for Eliot's release by pretending that his imprisonment was due to offences committed outside parliament. For the next two years Weston's position was one of great difficulty. He disliked the war, but was compelled to find money for the Ré expedition, while it was impossible to wring supplies out of parliament. Nevertheless, by various financial expedients on which Ranke (History of England, ii. 31) passes too high an encomium, Weston managed to pay his way, and on one occasion at least the sailors of the fleet were agreeably surprised by the punctual receipt of their wages (Oppenheim, Administration of the Navy, pp. 234–5).

Weston was not, apparently, returned to the parliament of 1628–9, but on 13 April 1628 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Weston of Neyland. He took his seat at once, and on 17 May he gave its final shape in the House of Lords to the Petition of Right, which by his proposal was reduced to little more than an empty form of words, and was consequently rejected by the commons. The success of the parliamentary opposition rendered necessary some steps towards peace, and on 23 July Weston, the most strenuous advocate of peace, became lord high treasurer. This slippery post had been held by five living treasurers, none of whom had retained it more than a few months, and Clarendon suggests that Weston's removal was only prevented by Buckingham's death on 23 Aug.

Charles now determined to be his own first minister, and no one succeeded to quite the same position that Buckingham had held; but of the ministers who surrounded Charles, Weston obtained the largest share in his confidence, and the greatest influence in the conduct of affairs. The result was at once apparent. Weston was an advocate of peace at any price, and of complete abstention from foreign complications; not because peace was in itself desirable, but because war and a spirited foreign policy required money, and money could only be obtained from parliaments which were apt to prove insubordinate. During peace men were more likely to become rich through commercial development, and, being rich, would be more subservient to the king (cf. Ranke, v. 446). War, moreover, would only be waged against Spain, and Weston's pro-Spanish proclivities were as marked as his devotion to peace. The same desire to avoid or postpone difficulties—‘quieta non movere’—actuated Weston's domestic policy. It was on his introduction that Wentworth was taken into favour and made a peer, and it was he who dissuaded Charles from erecting a monument to Buckingham, partly from fear of popular resentment and partly because he had no money to spare. In November he announced that the question of tunnage and poundage should be left to parliament, and for some time, under his advice, Charles acted with considerable tact and skill. Weston's own unpopularity was, however, scarcely less than Buckingham's, and ‘dread of assassination haunted him to the last’ (Gardiner, vii. 128). On 2 March 1628–9 Eliot denounced him in the commons as the prime agent of iniquity, accused him of ‘building upon the old grounds and foundations which were built upon by the Duke of Buckingham, his great master,’ and called for his impeachment. Weston naturally urged the dissolution of parliament, which was not to meet again for eleven years, and probably also the imprisonment of Eliot and the other members. His unpopularity, due partly to the fact that office and power changed his cringing subservience into overbearing rudeness, was mainly owing to a well-founded suspicion that he was at heart a Roman catholic. This did not save him from the hostility of Henrietta Maria, whose lavish demands upon the exchequer he refused to meet; and court intrigues similar to those against Richelieu threatened Weston and led to an understanding between the French and English ministers; but, like Richelieu, Weston could in the last resort rely upon the support of his king.

It was this support that enabled Weston to carry out his pacific policy in face of opposition at court and in the council. In October 1628 he urged the acceptance of Contarini's offer of mediation between France and England, and dissuaded Charles from sending aid to Denmark. In July 1629 he told the king that he would have to summon another parliament unless peace were made with Spain, and he and Cottington were selected to confer, unknown to the rest of the council, with Rubens for that object; Cottington was then sent ambassador to Spain, and Weston's old friend Coloma came as Spanish ambassador to England. As a result of these efforts peace was concluded with Spain in December 1630. This peace was highly unpopular; in Massinger's ‘Believe as you List,’ which was refused license on 11 Jan. 1630–1 as containing dangerous matter, the dramatist denounces ‘the mastery which Weston himself—seduced, as it was alleged, by the gold of the Spanish ambassador—exercised over the mind of the king,’ and similar views were expressed in Massinger's ‘Maid of Honour,’ produced in 1632 (see S. R. Gardiner in Contemporary Review, xxviii. 495 sqq.) The victories of Gustavus Adolphus inflamed popular zeal for intervention on behalf of the protestants on the continent, and for a time Weston was compelled to bow before the storm. Charles I offered aid to Gustavus, but his conditions were such as to ensure the rejection of the offer by the Swedish king, and his death at Lutzen afforded Charles and his minister a welcome pretext for abandoning all thoughts of active participation in the war.

On 17 Feb. 1632–3 Charles conferred on Weston a fresh mark of confidence by creating him Earl of Portland, but in 1634 a formidable attack was made on him. Laud and Coventry denounced his greed, and he was accused of extensive malpractices. Wentworth, too, complained from Ireland that Portland never answered his letters, and threatened to resign. But again Portland was victorious; his son-in-law, the Duke of Lennox, brought up Buckingham's widow to plead on his behalf, and Charles once more gave the lord treasurer his support. The two were in the same year engaged in a plot to hoodwink the council and assist Spain in defeating the advance of France and the Dutch on the Spanish Netherlands, which was thought to threaten Dunkirk and England's supremacy in the narrow seas. To furnish a fleet for this purpose ship-money was first revived, and on this occasion also Charles claimed the sovereignty of the seas. Portland's own interest in the matter was stimulated by his connection with the fishing company, fishing being then almost a Dutch monopoly. A secret treaty was signed with Spain in August 1634, which was known only to the king, Portland, Cottington, and Windebank. This was Portland's last achievement of importance; the attacks on him increased in bitterness, and in October 1634 he was compelled to draw up a list of his irregular receipts. Charles, however, retained his confidence in Portland, and visited him on his deathbed. He died on 13 March 1634–1635, a Roman catholic priest being called in to administer the last rites of religion. He was buried on the 24th in Winchester Cathedral.

Portland has no claim to be considered a great statesman, his chief merits being consistent adherence to a clearly defined policy, and considerable administrative ability; but all his acts were dominated by the one desire to postpone or avoid difficulties. He initiated no great reforms, and solved no political problems, and even in his efforts to shirk awkward questions he committed blunders involving still greater difficulties in the future. Nor was he a great financier; he managed to pay his way, and even a few debts, but he did nothing to place the finances of the country on a really sound basis. His parsimony did not extend to his personal expenditure; he inherited a considerable fortune and obtained lavish grants from Charles, but he left a very embarrassed estate to his successor, and the fourth tenant of his peerages died in obscure poverty. Clarendon describes him as a ‘man of big looks and of a mean and abject spirit.’ His portrait, painted by Van Dyck (Cat. First Loan Exhib. No. 598) is at Gorhambury, and is engraved in Doyle's ‘Baronage.’

Portland married, first, Elizabeth, daughter of William Pincheon of Writtle, Essex; she was buried at Roxwell on 15 Feb. 1602–1603, leaving a son Richard, and two daughters: Elizabeth, who married Sir John, second viscount Netterville [q. v.], and Mary, who married Walter, second lord Aston of Forfar (Douglas, Peerage, ed. Wood, i. 128). The son, Richard, was excluded from the succession to his father's peerages for a reason which is said to be unknown (G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peerage, vi. 269), but may be found in a letter to Strafford on 1 May 1634 (Strafford Letters, i. 243), announcing the death of Portland's eldest son, ‘who was mad and kept at Coventry.’ Portland married, secondly, Frances (d. 1645), daughter and coheir of Nicholas Waldegrave of Borley, Essex, by whom he had issue four sons and one daughter. Jerome, the eldest son, succeeded to the peerage and is separately noticed; Thomas, the second, also succeeded to the peerage; Nicholas and Benjamin both died without surviving issue; the daughter, Anne, was first of the four wives of Basil Feilding, second earl of Denbigh [q. v.]

Portland is frequently confused with his contemporary, Sir Richard Weston (1579?–1652), baron of the exchequer, who was son of Ralph Weston (d. 1605) of Rugeley, Staffordshire, matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford, on 14 Oct. 1596, was called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1607, and became a bencher in 1626; he was M.P. for Lichfield in 1621–2, was appointed a judge on the Welsh circuit in 1632, serjeant-at-law on 25 Feb. 1632–3, and baron of the exchequer on 30 April 1634, being knighted on 7 Dec. 1635. His argument in favour of ship-money is given in ‘State Trials’ (iii. 1065), and led to his impeachment by the Long parliament in 1641. He was not brought to trial, but by vote of the House of Commons was on 24 Oct. 1645 disabled from acting as a judge (Whitelocke, Mem. pp. 47, 181). He died on 18 March 1651–2 (Foss, Judges; Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Simms, Bibl. Staffordiensis). A third contemporary of the same names was Sir Richard Weston (1591–1652) [q. v.]

[Much of Portland's correspondence is preserved in the Public Record Office; details of his negotiations in Germany in 1620 are contained in Brit. Mus. Egerton MS. 2593 ff. 192–284; Sir Henry Wotton's character of him is in Tanner MS. ccxcix. 84. See also Cal. State Papers, Dom. passim; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. and 13th Rep. pt. vii. passim; Forty-sixth Rep. Dep.-Keeper of Records; Lords' and Commons' Journals; Court and Times of James I, and Court and Times of Charles I, throughout; Lodge's Portraits; Goodman's Court of James I; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion; Sanderson's Life of Charles I; Strafford Letters, ed. Knowler, passim; Cabala, ed. 1691, passim; Forster's Life of Eliot; Laud's Works, passim; Secret Hist. of the Court of James I, 1811; Ranke's Hist. of England, and Gardiner's Hist. which contains a full and complete account of Portland's political career. For genealogy see Harleian MSS. 4944 and 5816; Davy's Suffolk Collections in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 19154; Gent. Mag. 1823 i. 413, 1824 i. 600; Waters's Chesters of Chicheley, pp. 93–109; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 18667; Erdeswick's Staffordshire, ed. Harwood; Shaw's Staffordshire; Morant's Essex; Burke's Extinct, Doyle's, and G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete, Peerages.]

A. F. P.