Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon Analysis

Edward Hyde

Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon

(17th- and 18th-Century Biographies)
0111206581-Clarendon.jpg Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Early Life

Edward Hyde was born February 18, 1609, the son of Henry Hyde of Dinton, Wiltshire, and his wife, Mary, daughter of Edward Langford of Trowbridge. His was a prosperous gentry family long established in Wiltshire and Cheshire. He was born a younger son but by young manhood had become his father’s heir through the deaths of his elder brothers.

Hyde attended Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and received his A.B. in 1626; the previous year he had become a member of Middle Temple and prepared for a career at the bar. He married twice, both times most advantageously. His first wife was Anne Ayliffe, a relative of the influential Villiers family, by which Hyde first attracted the notice of the late Duke of Buckingham’s friend Charles I. On his first wife’s early death, Hyde married the daughter of Sir Francis Aylesbury, a Master of Requests, and thus strengthened his links to the court and to the legal profession. Besides these connections, Hyde’s uncle was Sir Nicholas Hyde, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, so the stage was set for his rapid advance. During his early years in London, however, Hyde was more interested in polite society and letters than in law or politics, and he was more intimate with figures such as Ben Jonson, John Selden, and especially Lord Falkland than with his colleagues at the bar. Years later, Hyde singled out Lord Falkland as one of the decisive influences in his life, and the effect of that early association can be seen in Hyde’s History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1702-1704) and his Autobiography (1759). Starting about 1633-1634, though, Hyde began to apply himself with increasing seriousness to the law, and, aided by family, connections, the favor of Archbishop Laud, and his outstanding natural abilities, he advanced rapidly. By 1640, Hyde was a leading lawyer in the capital.

Life’s Work

Hyde was elected to the Short Parliament in May, 1640, and, according to his own account, attempted to pursue a moderate and conciliatory course during that tumultuous session. He sat also in the Long Parliament in November, 1640, when his displeasure at the Crown’s manipulation of the courts and legal system during Charles I’s period of personal rule led him at first to align himself with the antigovernment elements in the House of Commons. In the Commons, Hyde specialized in the investigation of abuses in the legal system and was responsible for the virtual extinction of the Earl Marshal’s court; he also investigated the councils of Wales and the north, key targets in Parliament’s attack on the Crown’s prerogative powers, and reviewed charges of judicial misconduct. He also joined the anti-Royalist cause during the trial and impeachment of the Earl of Strafford and actually helped draft the articles of impeachment by which Strafford was convicted and executed. Hyde appears to have voted for Strafford’s execution in May, 1641. By mid-1641, Hyde was one of the most influential members of the Commons and appeared to be firmly allied with the radical wing.

Like many others, however, Hyde parted company with parliamentary radicalism over the so-called Root and Branch Bill, which called for the extinction of the episcopal system and the radical reconstruction of the Church of England. Hyde’s disaffection from the Royalist cause, it soon became clear, was specific, not general: He disapproved of the Crown’s policy toward the courts and the common law in the 1620’s and 1630’s, but he had no desire whatsoever to alter the established order in church or state. Through skillful parliamentary and political maneuvering, Hyde managed to block the Root and Branch Bill, and by so doing he attracted the favorable notice of Charles I, who desperately needed trustworthy advice on parliamentary and legal issues. The alienation from the parliamentary cause which began with the Root and Branch Bill was increased and then completed by John Pym’s Irish policy, which would have severely curtailed the king’s military authority, and by the Grand Remonstrance, which was, in effect, a full-dress indictment of Stuart rule. By the fall of 1641, Hyde was firmly Royalist, though the full extent of his commitment to the king was necessarily and skillfully concealed from his colleagues in the Commons for the greater part of a year. Beginning by the fall of 1641, Hyde wrote most of Charles I’s public pronouncements on parliamentary and other public issues, and on at least one occasion the king went so far as to copy a draft proclamation by Hyde in his own hand in order to conceal the true author’s identity. Hyde consistently recommended a cautious and circumspect policy to the king and never supported, or even knew in advance, of the king’s ill-starred plan to arrest five members of the House of Commons on January 4, 1642. Hyde was appalled by this blunder, which effectively lost for the king the City of London, but he rallied after the event and prepared the king’s official responses to the public outcry that followed. The royal family fled London on January 10, 1642; Hyde eventually left the capital and joined the king at York in June, 1642. Thereafter, he was regarded as a deadly enemy by Parliament and excluded from all proposals for amnesty.

Between 1642 and 1645, Hyde was one of Charles I’s most intimate and trusted advisers. In the Royalist councils, Hyde advocated a cautious and conservative policy, urging the king to represent himself as the defender of the common law, traditional usages, and ancient and approved practices and to embody “the old foundations in church and state.” Hyde argued, in effect, that in the rapidly worsening situation the king should stand firm, make no concessions, and wait for Parliament to discredit itself by radicalism and by innovation. With the king as the symbol of tradition and stability, Hyde said, the Royalist cause would ultimately triumph—as, indeed, it did, under Hyde’s supervision, though not until 1660. There were others in the king’s councils who thought Hyde’s policy passive, legalistic, and unrealistic and argued for vigorous military and political initiatives. Most prominent among the latter was the queen herself, Henrietta Maria, whose dislike of Hyde and resentment of his influence over Charles I, and later over Charles II as well, were fierce and unremitting.

Hyde entered the Privy Council in February, 1643, and the following month became Chancellor of the Exchequer; he was soon a member of the inner group of five which reviewed and discussed all matters before referral to the full Privy Council. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hyde was primarily responsible for financing the Royalist effort, for which he was obliged to maintain complex negotiations with institutions, such as Oxford University, and individuals in order to maintain even an...

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Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brownley, Martine Watson. Clarendon and the Rhetoric of Historical Form. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

Brownley, Martine Watson. “Clarendon, Gibbon, and the Art of Historical Portraiture.” English Language Notes 24 (1986).

Brownley, Martine Watson. “Some Notes on Clarendon, Other Edward Hydes, and Various Literary Pursuits.” Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700 10 (1986).

Craik, Sir Henry. The Life of Edward, Earl of Clarendon, Lord High Chancellor of England. New York: Macmillan, 1911.

Harris, Ronald W. Clarendon and the English Revolution. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1983. This is an attempt to study Clarendon’s public life through his own writings, especially his history. The author views Clarendon as the greatest Royalist statesman of the seventeenth century, but the sections dealing with Clarendon’s literary and intellectual contributions are the strongest.

Hicks, Philip. “Bolingbroke, Clarendon, and the Role of Classical Historian.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 20 (1987).

Hyde, Edward, Earl of Clarendon. The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England Begun in the Year 1641. Edited by W. Dunn Macray. 6 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1888. This is the standard edition of Hyde’s masterpiece.

Knights, L. C. “Reflections on Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion.” Scrutiny 15 (1948).

Miller, George. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983. This is a prominent attempt to reevaluate the traditional picture of Clarendon as a politician and to emphasize his contribution to revolutionary politics.

Ollard, Richard. Clarendon and His Friends. New York: Atheneum, 1988.

Ollard, Richard. “Clarendon and the Art of Prose Portraiture in the Age of Charles II.” In Art and Patronage in the Caroline Courts: Essays in Honour of Sir Oliver Millar, edited by David Howarth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. “Clarendon and the Practice of History.” In Milton and Clarendon: Two Papers in Seventeenth-Century English Historiography, by F. R. Fogle and H. R. Trevor-Roper. Los Angeles: Clark Memorial Library, 1965. A warm defense of Clarendon’s contribution to English historical literature, praising the high quality and accuracy of his historiography.

Wormald, B. H. G. Clarendon: Politics, History, and Religion, 1640-1660. 1951. Reprint. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.