Harcourt, Simon (1714-1777) (DNB00)

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HARCOURT, SIMON, first Earl Harcourt (1714–1777), the only son of the Hon. Simon Harcourt [see under Harcourt, Simon, first Viscount Harcourt], by his wife Elizabeth, sister of Sir John Evelyn, bart., of Wotton, Surrey, was born in 1714. His father died in Paris in 1720, and upon the death of his grandfather, Simon, first viscount Harcourt [q. v.], in 1727, he succeeded to the family titles and estates. After receiving his education at Westminster School, he travelled abroad with a tutor for four years, returning to England in 1734. On 9 May 1735 he was appointed a lord of the bedchamber to George II, and in that capacity was present with the king at the battle of Dettingen. In 1745 he raised a regiment for the protection of the kingdom, and had the rank of colonel in the army conferred upon him. On 1 Dec. 1749 he was created Viscount Harcourt of Nuneham-Courtney, and Earl Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt. In April 1751 he was appointed governor to the young Prince of Wales, afterwards George III, in the place of Francis, lord North (afterwards first Earl of Guilford), and on the 30th of that month was admitted a member of the privy council. 'The tutorhood at Kew' was soon split into factions, and Harcourt resigned in December 1752 in consequence of his disapproval of the absolutist doctrines which were instilled into the mind of the young prince by Stone and Scott, the sub-governor and sub-preceptor. On 8 March 1755 Harcourt was promoted to the rank of major-general, and on 9 Feb. 1759 to that of lieutenant-general. On 3 July 1761 he was appointed ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Mecklenburg-Strelitz for the purpose of formally demanding the hand of Princess Charlotte in marriage for the young king; and he married her by proxy and conveyed her to England. On 10 Sept. 1761 he became master of the horse to the queen, an appointment which he resigned on being made lord chamberlain of the queen's household on 21 April 1763. On 4 Nov. 1768 he was appointed ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Paris, in the place of Lord Rochford. Harcourt was gazetted a general in the army on 25 May 1772, and, returning from Paris, was appointed on 9 Oct. 1772 lord-lieutenant of Ireland in the place of Lord Townshend. Townshend had made himself very unpopular during his viceroyalty, and Harcourt's arrival was welcomed by all parties. His chief secretary was John (afterwards Baron de) Blaquiere [q. v.], upon whom most of the real work devolved. In order to replenish the Irish exchequer, which was then at a very low ebb, Harcourt recommended the imposition of a tax of two shillings in the pound on the rents of absentee landlords. This measure, however, met with so much opposition in England that it was rejected in the Irish parliament, greatly to the satisfaction of the government. At his instance the Irish parliament agreed that four thousand of the troops then quartered in Ireland should be sent to America. During his viceroyalty Harcourt succeeded in attaching nearly all the principal members of the opposition to his government, and in 1775 induced Flood [q. v.] to accept the office of vice-treasurer. The system of corruption which he found flourishing when he arrived in Ireland was not diminished during his rule. New offices were created, the salaries attached to sinecures were increased, the pension list enlarged, and, in order to secure a majority for the government at the general election, no less than eighteen Irish peers were created, and seven barons and five viscounts raised a step in the peerage of that kingdom. He resigned on 25 Jan. 1777 in consequence of differences which had arisen between him and the commander-in-chief in Ireland, and of a misunderstanding with the home department relating to the drafting of the troops, which had formed part of the Irish military establishment, to America.

Harcourt retired to Nuneham. where, on 16 Sept. 1777, he met his death by falling into a well, from which he was trying to extricate a favourite dog. Harcourt was buried at Stanton Harcourt. He was a man of immense fortune, of agreeable manners, and of average ability. Walpole, more suo, unkindly describes him as 'civil and sheepish,' and as being unable to teach the prince; other arts than what he knew himself, hunting and drinking' (Memoirs of the Reign of George II, 2nd edit., i. 86). The Record Office possesses a collection, made by Blaquiere, of the despatches relating to Harcourt's Irish administration, and a large quantity of his correspondence during this period will be found in vols. ix. and x. of the 'Harcourt Papers.' He married on 16 Oct. 1735 Rebecca, only daughter and heiress of Charles Samborne Le Bas of Pipe well Abbey, Northamptonshire, by whom he had four children: George Simon, who succeeded him as second earl; William [q. v.], who succeeded his brother as third earl; Elizabeth, who, born on 18 Jan. 1738, was married on 30 June 1763 to Sir William Lee, bart., of Hartwell, Buckinghamshire, and died in 1811, leaving issue, now all extinct; and Anne, who died young. The Countess Harcourt died on 16 Jan. 1765. Portraits of Harcourt by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Hunter, and Doughty are in the possession of Colonel Edward William Harcourt at Nuneham Park. There is an engraving by McArdell after a portrait by Wilson.

[Harcourt Papers, i. 253-4, iii. 1-155, vols. ix. and x.; Life of Henry Grattan, by his son, vol. i. chap. xii. and xiii.; Hardy's Memoirs of the Earl of Charlemont, pp. 161-87; Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George II (2nd edit.), i. 86, 284, 289-90, 316, 323-4, 325, 332; Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III, i. 70, 74, 259, iii. 248, 271; Lecky's Hist, of England, iv. 401-42; Doyle's Official Baronage, ii. 113-14; Burke's Extinct Peerage, 1883, p. 263; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 325; Army List for 1776.]

G. F. R. B.