SPEKE, HUGH (1656–1724?), political agitator, born in 1656, was the second son of George Speke of White Lackington, near Ilminster, a descendant of the ancient Yorkshire family of Le Espek or Espec [see Espec, Walter], a branch of which migrated from the north to Somerset during the fifteenth century. His mother was Mary, daughter of Sir Robert Pye, knt. [q. v.]
The father, George Speke (d. 1690), gave some pecuniary aid to Prince Rupert at Bridgwater, upon the surrender of which town to Fairfax in July 1645 he was seized as a hostage and his goods sequestrated. Before the end of 1645 he was transferred from the Tower to the Gatehouse, where he pleaded compulsion as his motive for joining the king's party, and poverty as a reason for the reduction of his fine. His income, he alleged, was but 540l. a year, and that was heavily encumbered. He eventually compounded for 2,390l., and was released upon payment of that sum in May 1646. He lived in retirement until, in August 1679, he was chosen M.P. for the county of Somerset, at the same time that his third son John was returned for Ilchester. Parting company with his old allies—the Courtenays, the Seymours, and the Portmans—he now threw himself into the politics of the country party, joined the Green Ribbon Club with a son (‘Mr. Speake junior’), and voted for the Exclusion Bill of 1680. He rendered himself still further obnoxious to the court by extending a brilliant reception to Monmouth at White Lackington, during his progress in November 1681, and he was alleged to have said that he would have forty thousand men to assist the cause of Monmouth should the need arise. A heavy fine was imposed upon him for having, it was alleged, created a riot in rescuing his son-in-law, (Sir) John Trenchard [q. v.], from the custody of a messenger in June 1685. In May 1689 he petitioned in vain for the remission of the fine. He died soon after the revolution. From his younger brother, William, was descended the explorer, John Hanning Speke [q. v.]
Hugh Speke matriculated at Oxford from St. John's College on 1 July 1672, but took no degree: eight years later he was entered at Lincoln's Inn. Soon afterwards he and his brother Charles joined the Green Ribbon Club. Hugh first became prominent in 1683, when he inspired and partly wrote ‘An Enquiry into and Detection of the Barbarous Murder of the Late Earl of Essex, or a Vindication of that noble Person from the Guile and Infamy of having destroy'd Himself’ [see Braddon, Laurence]. The substance of this diffuse pamphlet, which was printed at a private press controlled, if not actually owned, by Speke, he summarised in a letter to his friend, Sir Robert Atkyns [q. v.], in which it was not obscurely hinted that the Earl of Essex had been assassinated by the partisans of the Duke of York. With a view to disparaging the government and earning credit for themselves as the revealers of yet another plot, Speke and his ally, Laurence Braddon, intrigued to disperse as many copies as possible of this ‘Letter,’ and at the same time, if possible, to acquire fresh materials with which to discredit James and his adherents. In the autumn of 1683 Braddon was arrested at Bradford in Wiltshire, ‘for spreading false news,’ and a copy of Speke's ‘Letter’ was found on his person.
For his complicity in this affair Speke was placed in the custody of a messenger, Thomas Saywell, and detained eighteen weeks before he was admitted to bail. A few days after his release he was re-arrested in his barrister's gown at the gate of Westminster Hall, in an action of scandalum magnatum at the suit of the Duke of York, and imprisoned in the Gatehouse. The charge was altered to one of sedition, which was preferred by the attorney-general before Jeffreys in the king's bench on 7 Feb. 1683. Jeffreys admonished the prisoner with gentleness, in the hope that he would still be reclaimed from the ‘presbyterian party.’ He was sentenced to pay 1,000l., and to find security for his good behaviour. Declining to pay the fine, he spent upwards of three years in the king's bench prison. His imprisonment probably saved his life. His father and brother-in-law, (Sir) John Trenchard, had to take to flight in order to escape arrest upon Monmouth's landing at Lyme Regis, and his younger brother, Charles, who had joined Monmouth, was tried before Jeffreys at Wells, and executed at Ilminster, where he was hanged from a large tree in the market-place in July 1685 (cf. Western Martyrology, ed. 1873, p. 228).
During his confinement, Speke acquired a printing-press which he kept working within the rules of the king's bench. He made the acquaintance of Samuel Johnson [q. v.], the divine, and other disaffected persons; and from his press was issued Johnson's notable ‘Address to all the English Protestants in the present Army’ (1686). Ultimately, upon the payment of 5,000l. to the exchequer as a pledge of his own and his family's good behaviour, Speke was set at liberty in 1687. The sum was devoted to strengthening the fortifications of Portsmouth Harbour. Upon his release, Speke left London for Exeter, where he was chosen counsel to the municipality. When, however, towards the end