Legge, William (1672-1750) (DNB00)

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LEGGE, WILLIAM, first Earl of Dartmouth (1672–1750), the only son of George Legge, first baron Dartmouth [q, v.], by his wife Barbara, daughter and coheiress of Sir Henry Archbold of Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire, was born on 14 Oct. 1672. He was educated as a town-boy at Westminster School, and while there heard Sprat read the declaration of liberty of conscience in the abbey on 20 April 1688 (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, id. 329n.) He subsequently went to King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated M.A. in 1689. He succeeded his father as second Baron Dartmouth on 25 Oct. 1691 (Luttrell, ii. 298), and took his seat in the House of Lords for the first time on 22 Nov. 1695 (Journals of the House of Lords, xv. 598). When William III granted the reversion of the lieutenancy of Alice Holt and Woolmer forests to Emanuel Scrope Howe [q. v.], Dartmouth surrendered the remainder of the term, which had been granted by Charles II to his grandfather, Colonel William On 28 Dec. 1696 Dartmouth signed the protest against Fenwick's Attainder Bill (Rogers, Protests of the Lords, i. 128-80). 'The violent, unrelenting ill-usage' which he met with after Fenwick's trial justified Dartmouth, as he thought, in his opposition to 'anything that was for his majesty's adantage or personal satisfaction.' He was, however, one of the first to sign the voluntary association, and told the queen 'the day she came to the crown that Twas all joy, without the least alloy ; which she said she did most sincerely believe' (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, v. 11 n.) On 14 June 1702 Dartmouth was appointed a commissioner of the board of trade and foreign plantations, and was admitted a member of the privy council on the 18th of the same month (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. v. p. 293). He declined being sent to Hanover on a mission to the elect ress of Hanover, on the ground that 'he was very sensible that whoever was employed between her majesty and her successor would soon burn his fingers' (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, v. 18 n.), and in 1704 refused the appointment of ambassador to Venice (ib. v. 142 n.) On 15 June 1710 he was sworn in at Kensington as secretary of state for the southern department in the place of Sunderland (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. v. p. 296}, and in the following month was succeeded at the board of trade by Matthew Prior (Luttrell, vi. 604). On 2 Nov. 1710 he was also made joint keeper of the signet for Scotland with James, second duke of Queensberry, and on 5 Sept. 1711 was created Viscount Lewisham and Earl of Dartmouth. In the previous August he had been appointed one of the commissioners to treat with Ménager, and on 27 Sept., as secretary of state, he signed the preliminary articles of peace. In December 1711 he expressed his disapproval to the queen of the intended creation of the twelve peers, fearing 'it would have a very ill effect in the House of Lords, and no good one in the kingdom' (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, vi. 94-5 n.) In August 1713 he resigned the seals of secretary of state and the keepership of the signet, and was appointed lord keeper of the privy seal. In this capacity he acted as one of the lords justices on the death of Queen Anne until the arrival of George I in England, when he retired altogether from official life. He died at Blackheath on 15 Dec. 1750, aged 78, and was buried in Trinity Church in the Minories on the 21st of the same month.

Dartmouth was a moderate tory of high character and good ability. He was a firm supporter of the Hanoverian succession, and ‘never in his whole life held any sort of correspondence with the Pretender or his followers’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. v. p. 329). There is no record in the ‘Parliamentary History’ of any of his speeches, but between 1696 and 1723 he appears to have signed no fewer than thirty-five protests in the House of Lords. Macky, in his description of Dartmouth, written about 1707, says: ‘He sets up for a critick in conversation, makes jests, and loves to laugh at them; takes a great deal of pains in his office, and is in a fair way of rising at court; is a short, thick man of fair complexion;’ while Swift, in the ‘Examiner’ for 1 Feb. 1711, writes: ‘My Lord Dartmouth is a man of letters full of good sense, good nature, and honour; of strict virtue and regularity in his life, but labours under one great defect—that he treats his clerks with more civility and good manners than others in his station have done the queen’ (Swift, Works, iii. 436). An engraved portrait of Dartmouth as lord privy seal is in Burnet's ‘History of my own Time’ (ed. 1823, i. opp. p. 9). He married, in July 1700, Lady Anne Finch, third daughter of Heneage, first earl of Aylesford, by whom he had six sons—viz. (1) George, viscount Lewisham, who represented Great Bedwin, Wiltshire, in the House of Commons from 1727 to 1729, and died on 29 Aug. 1732, having married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Arthur Kaye, bart., of Woodsome, Yorkshire, by whom he left an only surviving son, William Legge [q. v.], who succeeded his grandfather as the second earl of Dartmouth; (2) Heneage Legge [q. v.]; (3) William Legge, who died an infant; (4) Henry Bilson-Legge [q. v.]; (5) Edward Legge [q. v.]; (6) Robert Legge, who died an infant—and two daughters: (1) Barbara Legge, who married, on 27 July 1724, Sir Walter Bagot, bart., and (2) Anne, who married, in October 1739, Sir Lister Holt, bart., of Aston, Warwickshire, and died in 1740. Lady Dartmouth died on 30 Nov. 1751, and was buried in the Dartmouth vault of Trinity Church in the Minories on 7 Dec. following.

Among the manuscripts at Patshull House, Wolverhampton, are a number of letters written by Dartmouth to Queen Anne, with replies written in the queen's hand, several letters from Harley, written by him while in the Tower to Dartmouth, and the extracts taken by Dartmouth from the minutes of the privy council relating to the duel between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. pt. v. pp. v, viii, 292–330). The original copy of Burnet, in the margin of which Dartmouth made his caustic annotations, is also preserved at Patshull House. The notes were printed for the first time in the Oxford edition of the ‘History of his own Time’ (1823, 8vo, 6 vols.). Some of Dartmouth's letters are preserved at the British Museum (see Index to the Addit. MSS. 1854–75). Dartmouth's town house was situated in Queen Square (now known as Queen Anne's Gate), Westminster. The adjoining Dartmouth and Lewisham Streets were named after him. Dartmouth House, Blackheath, is still in existence, though modernised.

[Burnet's Hist. of his own Time, 1833; Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857, vols. iv. v. vi.; Swift's Works, 1814; Lord Stanhope's Reign of Queen Anne, 1872; Rogers's Protests of the Lords, 1875, vol. i.; Gent. Mag. 1750, p. 570; Hasted's Hist. of Kent, ‘Hundred of Blackheath,’ 1886, pp. 244–245; Collins's Peerage, 1812, iv. 120–2; Burke's Peerage, 1890, p. 376; Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, i. 516; Grad. Cantabr. 1823, p. 289; Alumni Westmon. 1852, pp. 27–8, 166, 216, 351, 555, 556, 571, 573; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1851.]

G. F. R. B.