Zuylestein, William Henry (1717-1781) (DNB00)

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ZUYLESTEIN or ZULESTEIN, WILLIAM HENRY [Nassau de], fourth Earl of Rochford (1717–1781), eldest son of Frederick Nassau de Zuylestein, third earl, by Bessy Savage, was born at St. Osyth Priory, Essex, on 17 Sept. 1717. His mother, who was the illegitimate daughter and heiress of Richard Savage, fourth earl Rivers [q. v.], by Elizabeth Colleton or Culleton, died on 23 June 1746, being then the widow of the Rev. Philip Carter (Gent. Mag. 1746, pp. 328; Noble, Continuation of Granger, iii. 442). After education at Westminster school he was appointed a lord of the bedchamber in 1738 with a salary of 1,000l. a year. In 1741 he inherited property from his uncle, Henry de Zuylestein, who died, unmarried, at Easton in the April of this year. Inheriting also strong whig views, he moved in the most influential society in London, and was in 1749 elected a member of White's. In 1748 he was nominated vice-admiral of Essex, and in the following year was sent as envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the king of Sardinia. While at Turin he made the Italian tour, ‘observed the disposition of the several Italian courts,’ and spent some time at Rome in the spring of 1753. Next year he obtained permission to return to England and landed at Dover on 26 April. On 5 Sept. 1754 he embarked again at Harwich on his return, but a few months later, upon the Earl of Albemarle dying suddenly in Paris, Rochford was recalled, and accomplished the journey from Turin to Berkeley Square in what was thought the quick time of fifteen days (February 1755). On 2 March, upon his presenting himself at court, he was appointed groom of the stole and first lord of the bedchamber. As groom of the stole at the time of George II's death, he was entitled to the furniture of the room in which the king died, and a bed-quilt of which he became possessed in this manner long did duty as an altar-cloth in St. Osyth's church.

On 11 March 1755 he was sworn of the privy council, and on 26 April he was one of the lords justices upon the occasion of the king's visit to Hanover. On 15 Aug. in this year Walpole mentions that he dined with Grafton and Rochford at Garrick's. He was constituted lord lieutenant of Essex on 6 April 1756, and on George III's accession was continued in that post and on the list of privy councillors, and granted, upon his resignation of his bedchamber appointment, an Irish pension of 2,000l. a year (December 1760). On 8 June 1763 he was named ambassador-extraordinary to the court of Spain, and held that appointment for three years. At Madrid he witnessed the changes that ensued upon the fall of Richard Wall [q. v.], and he soon arrived at a thorough understanding of Spanish politics. The removal of a man so difficult to replace was strongly deprecated by Grenville and others. His personal extravagance was very great, and it was said that in order to get away from Madrid he had to pawn his plate and jewels for 6,000l. (Morning Herald, 6 Oct. 1781). One of his extravagances was a superb china dinner service, with his coat of arms in the centre. His motto was ‘Spes durat avorum,’ but the painter wrote ‘Spes durat amorum,’ and the substitution was held to be more than justified by the earl's peculiarities. On 1 July 1766 he was appointed British ambassador at Paris. It was rumoured that he had received instructions of a secret character from Shelburne as to the line he was to take in regard to the French designs upon Corsica, and that he suffered a good deal owing to the vacillation of the English cabinet on this subject. Another account attributed the failure of his remonstrance against French aggression in Corsica to the indiscretion of Lord Mansfield, who at the table of a minister in Paris was said to have declared that the English cabinet was too weak and the nation too wise to enter upon a war for the sake of Corsica (Stanhope, v. 199; cf. Walpole, Mems. of George III, ed. Barker, iii. 154). In retribution Rochford plied the ministers with alarming tales of deep-laid designs for a French coup de main upon Gibraltar. On 21 Oct. 1768 Rochford was appointed secretary of state for the northern department in place of Lord Weymouth, who replaced Shelburne in the southern; Shelburne withdrew from the administration upon the retirement of Chatham. Rochford owed his nomination to the new prime minister, the Duke of Grafton. The new secretary vindicated his independence, if not his judgment, upon a momentous occasion. On 1 May 1769 at a cabinet meeting Grafton proposed to his colleagues that they should altogether repeal the obnoxious American duties. To avoid an appearance of timidity, North urged that the tea-duties should be excepted from the repeal. On a division the proposal of Grafton was rejected by the casting vote of one—Lord Rochford. But for this unhappy event, wrote Grafton afterwards, ‘I still think that the separation from America might have been avoided.’ In December 1770 Rochford, though still nominally under Weymouth's direction, showed his accustomed skill in dealing with the politicians of Madrid, Spain conceding everything that England asked, though not until the English minister had left the Spanish capital and had proceeded twenty leagues on his homeward journey. The committal of Spanish interests to the care of Rochford, who still retained the northern department, was apparently a concession to the criticism of Junius, who had written (Letter i. 21 Jan. 1769; cf. Letter xlix.): ‘Lord Rochford was acquainted with the affairs and temper of the southern courts—Lord Weymouth was equally qualified for either department. By what unaccountable caprice has it happened that the latter, who pretends to no experience whatsoever, is removed to the most important of the two departments, and the former by preference placed in an office where his experience can be of no use to him?’ [see Thynne, Thomas, third Viscount Weymouth and first Marquis of Bath]. Fear of giving offence to Choiseul was openly stated in the commons to have been the ministerial motive in excluding Rochford from any share in our diplomatic relations with the Bourbons (Cavendish, Debates, 1843, ii. 184). He was, however, moved to the southern department on 19 Dec. 1770, the promotion being effected by means of an exchange with Weymouth, who did not ‘choose to be dipped in the Spanish business’ (ib. iv. 171). Numerous references to his activity as secretary, especially in reference to Irish affairs, are contained in the second volume of the ‘Dartmouth Papers.’ In connection with the ‘Convention with Spain’ of 1771, the ‘London Museum’ presented its readers with a portrait of Rochford, engraved by J. Lodge, with the legend from Gay, ‘Man may escape from Rope and Gun, but Infamy he ne'er can shun’ (April 1771).

In October 1775, in view of the American difficulties, Grafton and Rochford resigned. The latter was spoken of next year as lord-lieutenant of Ireland, but eventually received, as a consolation for the loss of his secretaryship, a pension of 2,500l. a year (Letters of George III to Lord North, i. 286–92); this was almost immediately increased, and on 11 Jan. 1776 a grant passed the great seal for an annuity of 3,320l. payable quarterly (Gent. Mag. 1776, p. 44). A good deal of annoyance was caused to the government at the time of his retirement by his maladroitness in drawing up a warrant for the arrest of Stephen Sayer or Sayre, a banker in the Oxford Road, London, who published a pamphlet in remonstrance and in vindication of the liberty of the subject. Sayre eventually brought an action against the secretary before the court of common pleas on 27 June 1776, and Rochford was cast in damages to the amount of 1,000l. (Report of Trial, 1776, fol.). The incident, however, was soon forgotten; Rochford was made master of the Trinity House, and in 1776 paid a visit to his estates in Holland. In April 1778 he made some overtures to Chatham, which came to nothing (Stanhope). He was elected a K.G. on 3 June 1778. He died at St. Osyth priory on 28 Sept. 1781, aged 64, and was buried at St. Osyth, the property which had come to him from his mother's family (see Wright, Essex, ii. 775).

Rochford married, in May 1740, Lucy, daughter of Edward Young of Durnford, Wiltshire, sometime Bath king-of-arms. She had been maid of honour to Queen Caroline when Princess of Wales, and she died without issue on 9 Jan. 1773, aged 50, and was buried at St. Osyth (Lloyd's Evening Post, 1 Oct. 1781). Rochford at his death had to dispose of a landed property of 2,000l. a year, which by his will he gave as follows: ‘To Mrs. Johnstone, a woman who lived with him and by whom he had two children, 800l. a year, and his house at St. Osyth with his furniture, plate, and horses. To those two children and to another natural child 300l. a year each, and 300l. a year to his nephew (his successor in the earldom); but his lordship has entered a caveat to the will and thrown it into chancery’ (Gent. Mag. 1781, p. 493; Delany, Corresp. vi. 56). The priory and the bulk of the estates appear to have passed nevertheless to the bastard son, Frederic Nassau, who died ‘aged 75’ on 2 July 1845. He married Catherine Rose, baronne de Brackell, who had a room at the priory fitted up in her native Swiss style with panels in oil-colours representing Swiss scenery; she died on 4 Nov. 1857. By her granddaughters a few years later the estate at St. Osyth was sold (Gent. Mag. 1858, i. 114; Essex Archæol. Soc. Trans. 1873, v. 45 sq.). The peerage passed to William Henry [Nassau de] Zulestein, fifth earl of Rochford, born at Rendlesham on 28 June 1754, being the eldest son and heir of Richard Savage Nassau de Zulestein (d. 1780), M.P. for Colchester June 1747–April 1754, for Maldon October 1774–1780, and clerk of the board of green cloth. He died, unmarried, at the White House, Easton, Suffolk, on 3 Sept. 1830, when the peerage became extinct (cf. Gent. Mag. 1823, ii. 178–80, 1830, ii. 273; Essex Archæological Society's Transactions, v. 48).

Rochford was one of the few men of note mentioned by Junius with commendation. If we may believe the statements of an anonymous writer in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (cf. ib. v. 47), Rochford was privy to the authorship of the Junius letters. The writer states that an intimate friend of his was kept waiting by him one evening, and that when Rochford came in he apologised for his lateness, saying that it had been occasioned by an affair of the utmost importance; and he added that henceforth no further communication need be expected from Junius. The writer gives no date, but states that after that day no more letters appeared.

The fourth earl of Rochford is referred to in terms of undue disparagement in Walpole's ‘Memoirs of the Reign of George III’—nor does the character there given of the secretary seem to agree particularly well with the facts of his career. Walpole speaks in his ‘Letters’ of Rochford's foppery in 1746, when he appeared in a set of birthday clothes with the Duke of Cumberland's head upon every large plate button; later he admits ‘his person is good and he will figure well enough as an ambassador.’ In connection with his embassy at Turin he credits him, upon insufficient authority, with having been the first to introduce Lombardy poplars on any scale into this country. It is true, however, that several of these poplars planted about 1768 are still standing in the park at St. Osyth's.

There are two fine mezzotint portraits of Rochford, one engraved by R. Houston after Domenico Dupra, the other by Val Green after Jean Baptiste Perronneau (both described in Chaloner Smith, Catalogue, pp. 582, 684; cf. Evans, Cat. of Engraved Portraits, Nos. 8959–60), and there is a woodcut after Dupra in Doyle's ‘Official Baronage’ (iii. 164). The print-room (Brit. Mus.) has an attractive mezzotint likeness of ‘Bessey Countess of Rochford,’ engraved by J. Smith after Char. D'Agar (1723). George III twice visited St. Osyth, on his way to inspect the camp at Colchester, as the guest of the fourth Earl of Rochford. On one occasion the king presented the earl with two very fine portraits of himself and Queen Charlotte by Allan Ramsay; these are still preserved at the priory.

[Collins's Peerage, iii. 375; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Burke's Extinct Peerage, s.v. ‘Nassau;’ Walpole's Corresp. ed. Cunningham, ii. 63, 152, 380, 418, 421, 428, 457, iii. 278, 356, 368, iv. 345, 494, 500, v. 62–3, 131, 269, 272, 350, 411, vi. 275, 277, vii. 87; Stanhope's Hist. of England, 1854, v. 198, 203, 242, 282, 318, vi. 71, 224; Lecky's Hist. of England, iv. 402, 404, 457; Political Memoirs of Francis, fifth Duke of Leeds (Camd. Soc.), 1884, pp. 25, 34, 48; Grenville Papers, iii. 236, 240; Woodfall's Junius, 1812, iii. 177; Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, 1876, ii. 3, 130, 316; Coxe's Memoirs of the House of Bourbon, iii. 298; Armstrong's Elisabeth Farnese, p. 395; Memoirs of Augustus Henry, third Duke of Grafton, ed. Anson, 1898, pp. 204, 226, 263 sq.; London Museum, Nov. 1770, pp. 371–2; Malmesbury Corresp. i. 76; Essex Archæological Society Transactions, 1st ser. v.; Davy's Suffolk Collections, xx. 287, apud Addit. MS. 19096 (for the Nassau family at Easton); Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. pp. 232, 254, 8th Rep. App. p. 286, 10th Rep. pt. vi., 11th Rep. pts. v. and vii., 14th Rep. App. x. passim, 15th Rep. App. i. 229; Addit. MSS. 32828–35 (correspondence with Holdernesse), 32724–33071 (correspondence with the Duke of Newcastle, 1751–68), 33056, f. 243; Egerton MS. 2638, ff. 20–21 (correspondence with Sir William Hamilton); Egerton MSS. 2697–2700 (corresp. with R. Gunning at Copenhagen, 1768–1771).]

T. S.