Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leighton, Elisha

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LEIGHTON, Sir ELISHA (d. 1685), courtier, was the younger son of Alexander Leighton (1568–1649) [q. v.] During the civil war he rose to be a colonel in the royalist army, was arrested in August 1647 at Kingston-on-Thames, and imprisoned in Windsor Castle, and after the king's execution he joined the royalist party abroad. The Duke of Buckingham took him into his employ (Nicholas Papers, Camd. Soc., i. 289, 301). In the autumn of 1649 the Duke of Lorraine sent him to England to enlist soldiers for the royal cause. On his proceedings becoming known to the council of state, he was closely examined in November of that year, and warned that he was likely to be proceeded against as a spy (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 399). In December 1650 Charles appointed him secretary for English affairs in Scotland (Nicholas Papers, i. 206, 208, 212). After the battle of Worcester he escaped to Rotterdam with Buckingham in October 1651 (ib. i. 277). After fighting a duel with Major Nicholas Armorer in Brabant (ib. i. 303), he was sent in June 1652 by Buckingham to London with a sealed letter directed to Cromwell. The council of state refused to listen to him, gave him back the letter, and ordered him to leave the country within a certain time (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651–2, pp. 299, 302, 315, 317, 324). Elsewhere he is reported to have had a two hours' interview with Cromwell, who ‘used him with more than ordinary courtesy’ (Nicholas Papers, i. 304). After his return to Antwerp he had a bad illness, became temporarily insane, and on his recovery turned Roman catholic (ib. i. 321; Clarendon State Papers, ii. 162). In June 1656 he deserted Buckingham on the pretext that the duke did not ‘rightly submit to the king’ (ib. iii. 137). He subsequently became secretary to the Duke of York, and was knighted at Brussels in April 1659 (Le Neve, Pedigrees of Knights, Harl. Soc., p. 41). At the Restoration he made his peace with Buckingham, and was indebted to him for much preferment. He persuaded Lord Aubigny to recommend his elder brother, Robert [q. v.], for a bishopric in 1661. On 28 April 1664 he was made one of the secretaries of the prize office (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663–4, p. 571). Charles also recommended him to the university of Cambridge for the degree of LL.D. on 19 May 1665 (ib. Dom. 1664–5, p. 371). He was appointed one of the king's counsel in the admiralty court on 15 June of that year (ib. Dom. 1664–1665, p. 427), and was admitted a civilian on 3 April 1666 (Coote, English Civilians, p. 91). He made a very indifferent advocate (Pepys, Diary, ed. 1848–9, iii. 436–437). When John, lord Berkeley of Stratton [q. v.], went to Ireland in 1670 as lord-lieutenant, he chose Leighton for his secretary. Leighton contrived to turn out of the Dublin corporation the recorder and several of the principal aldermen who were known to be opposed to the Romish party. His ‘Speech at the Tholsell of Dublin’ was printed in 1672; a copy is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. He then contrived his own appointment as recorder, and received a present of money from the citizens (Harris, Life of William III, pp. 98–9). In 1675 he accompanied Berkeley on his embassy to France, and, while arranging for the restitution of vessels captured by French privateers, took bribes from every quarter. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but he managed to evade it. He died in the parish of St. Andrew, Holborn, on 9 Jan. 1684–5 (Probate Act Book, P. C. C., 1685, f. 30 b), and was buried in the church of Horsted Keynes, Sussex, leaving a daughter Mary (will, P. C. C., 23 Cann; Pearson, Life of R. Leighton, p. 46).

North (Examen, p. 480) and Burnet (Own Time, Oxf. edit. i. 232) give Leighton a most unfavourable character. Pepys speaks of him, at second hand, as having been ‘a mad freaking fellow,’ though he found him ‘one of the best companions at a meal in the world’ (Diary, ii. 389, 426, iii. 137). He had a turn for mechanics, and became F.R.S. on 9 Dec. 1663, but was expelled in 1677 (Thomson, Hist. of Roy. Soc., Append. iv; Lists of Roy. Soc. in Brit. Mus.). Evelyn went to see his ‘project of a cart with iron axle-trees’ in September 1668 (Diary, ed. 1850–2, ii. 35). He apparently euphonised Elisha into ‘Ellis.’

[Law's Memorialls, p. 107; Essex Papers (Camd. Soc.), i. 51, 103; Rushworth's Historical Collections, ii. 779, 792; Burnet's Own Time (Oxf. ed.), i. 522; Murray's Life of R. Leighton, p. 201 n.; Coxe's Cat. Cod. MSS. Bibl. Bodl. pt. v. fasc. ii. p. 786.]

G. G.