Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hay, James

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HAY, JAMES, first Earl of Carlisle (d. 1636), son of Sir James Hay of Kingask (d. 1610), by Margaret Murray, and grandson of Sir Peter Hay of Megginch, was born at Pitscorthy in Fifeshire (Douglas, Peerage, ed. Wood, ii. 44). James I taking a fancy to him, as ‘a person well qualified by his breeding in France and by study in human learning’ (Clarendon, i. 133), knighted him and brought him with him to England. (According to Weldon, Secret Hist. of the Court of King James, i. 330, he came from France to meet James on his arrival in England, and was introduced by him to the French ambassador. As, however, his name does not appear in the list of knights made in England, it would seem that, if the story is true, he must have met James to the north of the border.) He soon became a gentleman of the bedchamber. James not only overwhelmed him with a succession of grants, but provided for him a marriage with Honora Denny, the heiress of Sir Edward Denny. So far as can be conjectured from documents which have reached us, there seems to have been some difficulty in gaining the assent either of the lady or of her father. On 17 Sept. 1604 the king granted Strixton Manor and other lands to Sir James Hay and Honora Denny and their lawful issue (Pat. 2 Jac. I, part 29; Mrs. Everett Green, in her description of the docquet 15 Sept. in the ‘Calendar of Domestic State Papers,’ erroneously describes the lady as Sir James's wife), and on 27 Oct. Denny was created a baron. As, however, the farmer of the manor of Strixton under the crown retained his hold on it till 1606 (Ministers' Accounts, P. R. O., Northampton Roll, 2 and 3 Jac. I, No. 24, 3 and 4 Jac. I, No. 22), it looks as if James kept back the patent, taking this curious way of holding out a temptation to the new peer to part with his daughter. On 21 June 1606 Hay himself was created a baron for life, though without a seat in the House of Lords (Pat. 4 Jac. I, part 1), and the marriage took place on 6 Jan. 1607 (Camden, Annals of James I). Both in the sermon, ‘The Royal Merchant,’ preached by Robert Wilkinson, and in Campion's ‘Masque’ (Nichols, Progresses, ii. 105; Campion, Works, ed. Bullen, pp. 145 sq.), James is lauded as the founder of a marriage in which not only two persons, but two kingdoms, were united. James gave the couple a further start in life by paying off the debts of the bridegroom (State Papers, Dom. xxvi. 45). On 4 June 1610 Hay was made a knight of the Bath at the creation of the king's eldest son Henry as prince of Wales, and in 1613 he became master of the wardrobe (Grant Book, State Papers, Dom. p. 93). On 29 June 1615 (Pat. 13 Jac. I, part 16) he was created Lord Hay of Sawley, this time without any unusual restrictions.

Hay's character as a spendthrift was already established. Satirists, perhaps with some exaggeration, delighted to tell of his unbounded extravagance. One particular freak, that of the double suppers, was remembered against him. The invited guests would, it is said, find themselves in the presence of a cold supper composed of the greatest rarities. Before they had time to help themselves it was snatched away and replaced by a hot supper of equal costliness (Osborne, ‘Traditional Memoirs’ in the Secret Hist. of the Court of James I, i. 270). Hay in fact took life easily. With a master ready to supply his requirements there was no need to stint himself. This facility of temper carried him through the slippery career of a courtier without making a single enemy. He never presumed on his position, never lost his temper, and was no man's rival, because he was never jealous of any one. Hay's good nature was based upon a wide foundation of common sense. He did not indeed rise to the rank of a statesman, and he was apt to think in political affairs much as people with whom he was in daily converse were thinking. But within these limitations he had usually good advice to give. The evidence of the better side of his character is to be found in the very numerous despatches which he wrote in the course of his career, most of which are still in manuscript in the Record Office. In these he shows himself shrewd, observant and sensible. Hay's first diplomatic mission was to France in 1616. He was sent to demand on certain conditions the hand of the Princess Christina for Prince Charles. He acquitted himself, as might have been expected, with great magnificence. He was quite aware beforehand that the conditions which he was instructed to make would lead to the rejection of the proposed marriage, and there was therefore nothing to discredit him in the failure which ensued.

Hay was now a widower, and in 1617 he courted Lucy Percy [see Hay, Lucy, Countess of Carlisle], a daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, who was a prisoner in the Tower. The earl objected strongly to the marriage, saying that he was not fond of Scotch jigs (Chamberlain to Carleton, 22 Feb., 8 March 1617; State Papers, Dom. xc. 79, 105). Hay celebrated his courtship by extravagant festivities, and on 6 Nov. he was married to the bright beauty who enchanted two generations of statesmen and courtiers.

In 1618 James, anxious to retrench, and finding that Hay was not likely to help him in that direction, persuaded him to resign the mastership of the wardrobe upon a compensation of 20,000l., in addition, it is said, to a sum of 10,000l. given him by his successor (‘List of Payments,’ State Papers, Dom. cxvi. 122; Salvetti's News-Letter, 27 Aug.–6 Sept. 1618). On 5 July of the same year he was created Viscount Doncaster (Pat. 16 Jac. I, part 11).

In February 1619 Doncaster was selected for the important mission to Germany by which James hoped to avert the spread of the Bohemian troubles. He started on 12 May, and visited Brussels on his way to Heidelberg. He was there high in favour with the Elector Frederick, and still more with the Electress Elizabeth, who used jestingly to speak of him as ‘camel-face.’ His instincts as a Scotchman would have led him to a French alliance, and as no such alliance was to be had they continued to exist in the form of opposition to Spain and Austria. In writing home he supported the elector's proposal that James should back him in opposition to the house of Austria in Bohemia. If Doncaster had no broad views of policy, he was at least shrewd enough to discover that the antagonism of the German states to one another would only end in war, and that his master's idea of smoothing them away by means of honest diplomacy was doomed to failure. When he met Ferdinand at Salzburg on his way to the imperial election at Frankfort, he could draw no satisfactory answer from him, and, after his own return to Frankfort, was equally unsuccessful with Oñate, the Spanish ambassador. An attempt to induce the Bohemians to accept James's mediation also failed. Doncaster was obliged to retire to Spa to await fresh orders. Before they were sent it was known in England that Ferdinand had been chosen emperor and Frederick king of Bohemia, and Doncaster was ordered to congratulate Ferdinand on his election, and to assure him that James had no part in the ambitious schemes of his son-in-law. In January 1620, on his return to England, he urged his master to embark in war on behalf of the new king of Bohemia.

With these opinions Doncaster was not likely to be again employed in Germany by James. In 1621 he was sent to France to urge Louis XIII to make peace with his Huguenot subjects, and in 1622 he was sent back on a similar mission. On both occasions his pleadings were rejected, courteously but decidedly. After his return on 30 Sept. 1622 he was created Earl of Carlisle (Pat. 20 Jac. I, part 14).

In February 1623 the new earl was sent to Paris to avert any ill consequences to Charles from his journey through France on his way to Madrid. In January 1624 he was one of the three commissioners for Spanish affairs who voted for war with Spain. On 17 May he was sent as an ambassador to France to join Henry Rich (Lord Kensington, who is better known as Earl of Holland, the title which he received in the course of the year) in negotiating a marriage between Charles and Henrietta Maria. As long as he carried on negotiations with La Vieuville he had reason to believe that the marriage might be concluded on satisfactory terms. When La Vieuville was succeeded by Richelieu, and the new minister gave it plainly to be understood that there could be no marriage without an engagement that the English penal laws against the catholics should be set aside, Carlisle strongly though vainly advised James and Charles, both of whom had promised parliament that he would do nothing of the kind, to show a bold front to Richelieu. In April 1625, after Charles's accession, he again showed his wisdom in warning the young king not to expect too much from the French alliance. The rejection of Carlisle's advice had much to do with the disastrous failure of the foreign policy of the new reign.

In April 1628, after the failure of Buckingham's expedition to Rhé, Carlisle was despatched to Lorraine and Piedmont to stir up antagonism against Richelieu, and in November he wrote urging Charles to come to terms with Spain, and to continue the war with France as long as France continued hostile to the Huguenots. On his return to England he found the tide at court in favour of peace with France too strong to be resisted. From this time Carlisle took no open part in politics. He was not the man to be well pleased with the situation created by the dissolution of 1629, and during the remainder of his life he distinguished himself only by the splendour of his hospitality. He made himself as welcome to Charles as he had been to his father. In July 1635 he told the papal agent, Panzani, probably ironically, that he was ready to accept all the teaching of Rome except the pope's claim to depose kings. He died in March 1636. ‘His debts,’ wrote one of Strafford's correspondents, ‘are great, above 80,000l. He hath left his lady wellnigh 5,000l. a year, the impost of wines in Ireland, for which, they say, she may have 20,000l. ready money … little or nothing comes to the son’ (Strafford Letters, i. 525). ‘He left behind him,’ wrote Clarendon, ‘the reputation of a very fine gentleman and a most accomplished courtier, and after having spent, in a very jovial life, above 400,000l., which, upon a strict computation, he received from the crown, he left not a house or acre of land to be remembered by’ (Clarendon, i. 136). His only surviving son, James (d. 1660), succeeded him as second Earl of Carlisle, and on his death without issue the title became extinct.

[See, in addition to the references given above, Gardiner's Hist. of England, vols. ii–viii. passim. Carlisle's mental characteristics are only to be learnt by a study of his despatches, now in the Record Office. See also a character of him in Lloyd's State Worthies, p. 774, where he is connected with James's escape from the Gowrie plot through a confusion with Sir James Ramsay.]

S. R. G.