Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Finch, Daniel

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899934Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19 — Finch, Daniel1889Thomas Edward Kebbel

FINCH, DANIEL, second Earl of Nottingham and sixth Earl of Winchilsea (1647–1730), born in 1647, was the eldest son of Heneage Finch, first earl of Nottingham [q. v.], by Elizabeth, daughter of Daniel Harvey, a London merchant. Like his father he was educated at Westminster School, and proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman-commoner in 1662. He left without a degree, entered the Inner Temple, and was chosen F.R.S. 26 Nov. 1668. He seems to have been first elected to parliament for Great Bedwin, Wiltshire, 10 Feb. 1672-3, but does not appear to have sat till he was returned by the borough of Lichfield 7 Aug. 1679. He had been made a lord at the admiralty 14 May. He adhered to the tory politics of his family, became a privy councillor 4 Feb. 1679-80, and was first lord of the admiralty from 19 Feb. following to 22 May 1684. He was elected M.P. by both Lichfield and Newtown in March 1681, but was called to the House of Lords by his father's death, 18 Dec. 1682. As a privy councillor he signed the order for the proclamation of James II, and up to the time of Monmouth's insurrection was one of that king's steadiest supporters. But the ecclesiastical policy afterwards adopted by the government damped the loyalty of the cavaliers and laid the foundation of that new tory party which held itself aloof from the Jacobites. Nottingham came in time to be recognised as their head. Their distinguishing tenet was devotion to the established church in preference even to hereditary right. In the reign of Anne they were called the Hanoverian tories, and sometimes known by the nickname of the 'Whimsicals.' Nottingham's career was consistent throughout. He was one of the last men in England to accept the revolution settlement; but having once accepted it, he was one of the very few eminent statesmen of his time who never seem to have intrigued against it. Though Swift accuses him of having corresponded with the Stuarts, the charge, made in a moment of great exasperation, is not countenanced by any of his contemporaries. His private character is universally represented as stainless. Howe tells us that he had an intrigue with an opera singer, Signora Margaretta, afterwards Mrs. Tofts. But this was empty gossip. Both his principles and his virtues marked him out to be a leader of the clergy, with whom his influence was unbounded. This influence was the secret of Nottingham's importance for nearly a generation after the death of Charles II.

In the spring of 1688 the whigs resolved to take Nottingham into their confidence, and invite his co-operation in the intended revolution. He was for a time inclined to join in the appeal to the Prince of Orange ; but on second thoughts he declared that he could take no active part against his rightful sovereign. He admitted that his share in their confidence had given the whigs the right to assassinate him on breaking with them, and some of them were rather inclined to take him at his word. But they ended by relying on his honour, and had no reason to regret it.

Nottingham was a prominent figure in the parliamentary debates which followed James's flight from England. The tories were in favour of Bancroft's plan - a regency, that is, during the minority of the Prince of Wales; and this was the policy proposed by Lord Nottingham in the House of Lords. The motion was only lost by 51 votes to 49 ; and then the lords proceeded to consider the resolution which had been adopted by the commons declaring the throne vacant. This was opposed by Nottingham, and the resolution was rejected by 55 votes to 41. But the House of Commons refused to give way, and the House of Lords found it necessary to yield. Nottingham proposed a modification of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy for the sake of tender consciences, which was accepted by both houses, and he then fairly threw in his lot with the new regime, though he still maintained in theory his allegiance to the Stuarts. Nottingham, according to Bishop Burnet, was the author of the distinction between the king de jure and the king de facto, in which the old cavalier party found so welcome a refuge.

In December 1688 he was made one of the secretaries of state with charge of the war department, an office which he retained till December 1693. One of his first duties was the introduction of the Toleration Act. He seems to have sincerely believed it to be conducive to the stability of the church. It left the Act of Uniformity, the Test and Corporation Acts, the Conventicle Act, the Five Mile Act, and the act making attendance at church compulsory, in full force, only enacting that on certain conditions dissenters might be exempted from the penalties attaching to the violation of the law. These conditions were intended to serve as a test by which dangerous dissenters could be distinguished from harmless ones. Those, it was thought, who would subscribe five of the Thirty-nine Articles, take the oath of allegiance, and sign the declaration against popery might be safely trusted. Ten years before, Nottingham, as a member of the House of Commons, had framed a bill on much the same lines, which only failed to become law by an artifice. At the same time he now brought in a less popular measure, a comprehension bill, for enabling dissenters to conform to the church of England. The Bishop of London supported the bill in the House of Lords, where, oddly enough, it was violently opposed by Bishop Burnet. But Nottingham would probably have succeeded in his efforts had it not been for the dissenters themselves. Those who were unwilling to accept the compromise were naturally interested in preventing others from accepting it, and between the active hostility of its enemies and the lukewarm support of its friends, the measure fell to the ground. An attempt made at the same time by some members of the whig party to repeal the Test Act was dropped with it.

When William III set out for Ireland in the summer of 1690 he left behind him a council of nine, of whom Nottingham was one, to act as the advisers of Mary, and it fell to his lot to bring her the tidings of the battle of the Boyne. Nottingham, who was admitted to a greater share of the queen's confidence than any other English statesman, always said that if she survived her husband William she would bring about the restoration of her father James. He had, however, bitter enemies in parliament. He was hated by the extreme men of both sides, and was perhaps not much loved even by those who respected him. Much discontent was caused by the failure to follow up the victory of La Hogue in May 1692. The public threw the blame on Admiral Russell, the commander of the allied fleet, and Russell in turn threw the blame on Nottingham, from whom he received his orders. A parliamentary inquiry ended in nothing ; but Russell was acquitted of all blame by the House of Commons, though Nottingham was defended by the lords. The king found it necessary to do something ; he was very unwilling to part with Nottingham, and accordingly persuaded Russell to accept a post in the household, Admirals Killigrew and Delaval, both tories, being entrusted with the command of the Channel fleet. They thus became responsible for the disaster which happened to the convoy under the command of Sir George Rooke [q.v.] in the Bay of Lagos in June 1693, and when parliament met in November they were forced to retire. Russell was appointed first lord of the admiralty and commander of the Channel fleet, and Nottingham's resignation was inevitable. The king parted from him with great reluctance. He thanked him for his past services, and declared that he had no fault to find with him.

Nottingham remained out of office till the accession of Anne. Six weeks after William's death (8 March 1702) he was appointed secretary of state, with Sir Charles Hedges for his colleague. Though a consistent anti-Jacobite, Nottingham was a staunch tory. He upheld during the war of the Spanish succession the doctrine, thenceforward identified with the tory policy, that in a continental war we should act rather as auxiliaries than as principals, and that our operations should be exclusively maritime. This opinion, whenever the opportunity offered, Nottingham upheld in his place in parliament. But his heart was in the church question, to which he was ready to sacrifice even his party allegiance.

As soon as the new parliament assembled a bill for the prevention of occasional conformity was introduced in the House of Commons by St. John, no doubt after due consultation with the leader of the church party. Both the Corporation Act and the Test Act were designed to keep all places of public trust or authority in the hands of members of the church of England. And the question that arose during the last years of the seventeenth century was simply this, whether the evasion of the law by dissenters should be connived at or prevented. It was supposed that no honest dissenters would communicate according to the rites of the church of England merely to obtain a qualification for office, but it was found in practice that the large majority of them did so, and indeed had been in the habit of so communicating before the passing of the Test Act. Nottingham had shown both in 1679 and 1689 that he was no bigot, and it is possible that circumstances of which we know nothing may have contributed to make him prefer an attempt to enforce the test to the alternative policy of connivance at conduct which could hardly raise the reputation of the occasional conformists themselves. Three sessions running, 1702, 1703, and 1704, the bill was passed through the commons, and Nottingham exerted himself to the utmost to get it carried through the upper house. But it was all in vain, and the question was allowed to rest again for seven years.

Nottingham resigned in 1704, when he found it impossible to agree with his whig colleagues. He told the queen that she must either get rid of the whig members of the cabinet or accept his own resignation. Greatly to the minister's mortification she decided on the latter, and from this time Nottingham's zeal as a political tory began to cool, and the very next year he took his revenge on the court by persuading some of his tory friends to join with him in an address to the crown, begging that the Electress Sophia might be invited to reside in England. Anne, who was exceedingly sensitive on this point, never forgave Nottingham, and he in his turn continued to drift further and further away from his old associates. Against Harley he was supposed to nurture a special grudge. He had committed the grave offence of accepting the seals which Nottingham had thrown up, and the ex-secretary was quite willing to retaliate whenever an opportunity should occur.

In 1710 the trial of Sacheverell took place. Nottingham throughout took Sacheverell's side, and signed all the protests recorded by the opposition peers against the proceedings of his accusers.

His rupture with the court may be said to have been complete when, on the death of Lord Rochester, lord president of the council, in April 1711, the post was conferred on the Duke of Buckingham. The privy seal, which became vacant about the same time, was given to Bishop Robinson, and from that moment it is no want of charity to conclude that Nottingham felt his cup was full. When it was known that the new government were bent on putting an end to the war, the whig opposition became furious. But in the House of Commons the tones had a large majority, and in the House of Lords the whigs required some help from the other side. Nottingham was in a similar predicament with regard to the Occasional Conformity Bill. He was sure of the commons, but in the upper house he had hitherto been unsuccessful, and was likely to be so unless the opposition could be disarmed. The bargain was soon struck. The whigs agreed to withdraw their resistance to the Church Bill on condition that Nottingham in turn would support them in an attack upon the government. He readily accepted an offer which enabled him to gratify his love of the church and his hatred of the ministry at the same moment. On 7 Dec. 1711 he moved an amendment to the address, declaring that no peace would be acceptable to this country which left Spain and the Indies in the possession of the house of Bourbon. It was carried by a majority of twelve, and Harley and St. John replied by the creation of twelve new peers.

Nottingham, however, claimed his reward. A week after the division the Occasional Conformity Bill was reintroduced into the House of Lords, and on 22 Dec. received the royal assent. It provided that 'if any officer, civil or military, or any magistrate of a corporation obliged by the acts of Charles the Second to receive the sacrament, should during his continuance in office attend any conventicle or religious meeting of dissenters such person should forfeit 40l., be disabled from holding his office, and incapable of being appointed to another till he could prove that he had not been to chapel for twelve months.' In this unprincipled transaction Nottingham, though sincere enough in his zeal for the church, was actuated quite as much by jealousy of the Earl of Oxford as by disapproval of the policy of Bolingbroke. Nottingham can have had no concern in a tract published in 1713 bearing his name. The tract, entitled 'Observations on the State of the Nation,' maintains the ultra low-church view of church government and doctrine. It was reissued in the 'Somers Tracts' in 1751 as 'The Memorial of the State of England in Vindication of the Church, the Queen, and the Administration.'

Nottingham, who probably expected that the vote of the House of Lords would bring the ministry to the ground and pave the way for his own return to office, was mistaken. It is to his credit that having gained all that he thought necessary for the church in 1711 he opposed the Schism Bill, which was carried in June 1714 to please the still more ultra section of the high church tories. Yet by so doing he again served his own interests for it helped to cement his good understanding with the whigs and to insure his being recommended for high office on the accession of George I. The new king landed at Greenwich on 18 Sept. 1714, and in the first Hanoverian ministry Nottingham was made president of the council, with a seat in the cabinet, then consisting of nine peers. But he only held office for about a year and a half. In February 1716 it was moved in the House of Lords that an address should be presented to the king in favour of showing mercy to the Jacobite peers, then lying under sentence of death for their share in the rebellion of 1715. The government opposed the motion, but Nottingham supported the address, which was carried by a majority of five. It produced no effect, except on the unlucky intercessor, who was immediately deprived of his appointment, and never again employed in the service of the crown. His only parliamentary appearances of any importance after this date were in opposition to the Septennial Bill in 1716, and the repeal of the Occasional Conformity Bill in 1719. His name appears in the protest against the first; but the second passed with less difficulty, and no protest appears on the minutes.

After his retirement from office Nottingham lived principally at Burley-on-the-Hill, near Oakham, Rutlandshire, a very fine country seat which had been purchased by his father from the second Duke of Buckingham, and which is still in possession of a branch of the Finch family. It was here that he wrote 'The Answer of the Earl of Nottingham to Mr. Whiston's Letter to him concerning the eternity of the Son of God,' 1721, which restored all his popularity with the clergy, rather damaged by his acceptance of office with the whigs. The pamphlet rapidly reached an eighth edition. Nottingham died 1 Jan. 1729-30, shortly after he had succeeded to the earldom of Winchilsea on the decease of John, fifth earl, 9 Sept. 1729, the last heir in the elder branch of Sir Moyle Finch, whose heir Thomas was first earl of Winchllsea [see under Finch, Sir Thomas ] Nottingham married, first Lady Essex Rich, second daughter and coheiress of Robert, earl of Warwick, and secondly Anne, daughter of Christopher, viscount Hatton. By his first wife he had a daughter, Mary; by his second five sons and seven daughters. Edward Finch-Hatton, the youngest son, is separately noticed.

In person Nottingham was tall, thin, and dark-complexioned. His manner was so solemn and the expression of his countenance was, generally speaking, so lugubrious, that he acquired the nicknames of Don Diego and Don Dismal, he and his brother, Heneage, first earl of Aylesford [q. v.], being known as the Dismals. He figures as Don Diego in the 'History of John Bull' and in the 'Tatler' (1709), and Swift in his correspondence is always making fun of him. He is the subject of a famous ballad, 'An Orator Dismal of Nottinghamshire,' by the same eminent hand. When he joined the whigs in 1711 the 'Post Boy' (6 Dec.) offered a reward of ten shillings to any one who should restore him to his friends, promising that all should be forgiven. Reference is there made to his 'long pockets.'

[Macaulay's Hist. of England; Stanhope's Hist. of England and Queen Anne; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time; Somerville's Hist. of Queen Anne and Political Transactions; Somers Tracts; Swift's Diary and Correspondence; Coxe's Life of Marlborough; Walpole's Letters; Cunningham's Hist. of the Revolution; Wyon's Reign of Queen Anne; Stoughton's Religion in England; Doyle's Baronage; Welch's Alumni Westmonast. p. 570; Wood's Athenæ Oxon (Bliss), iv. 651.]

T. E. K.