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A History of the Four Georges, Volume I

In 1709 10 Harcourt was the leading counsel for Sacheverell


career not only a very devoted

Tory, but in later years a positive Jacobite. He was a highly accomplished speaker, a man of great culture, and a lawyer of considerable, if not pre-eminent, attainments. He was still comparatively young for a public man of such position. Born in 1660, he entered Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1675, was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1676, and called to the Bar in 1683. He became member of Parliament for Abingdon in 1690, and soon rose to great distinction in the {50} House of Commons as well as at the Bar. He conducted the impeachment of the great Lord Somers, and was knighted and made Solicitor-General by Anne in 1702. He became Attorney-General shortly after. He conducted, in 1703, the prosecution of Defoe for his famous satirical tract, "The Shortest Way with the Dissenters." Harcourt threw himself into the prosecution with the fervor and the bitterness of a sectary and a partisan. He made a most vehement and envenomed speech against Defoe; he endeavored to stir up every religious prejudice and passion in favor of the prosecution. Coke had scarcely shown more of the animosity of a partisan in prosecuting Raleigh than Simon Harcourt did in prosecuting Defoe. In 1709-10 Harcourt was the leading counsel for Sacheverell, and received the Great Seal in 1710, becoming, as the phrase then was, "Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Great Britain." A whole year, wanting only a few days, passed before he was raised to the peerage as Lord Harcourt. He acted as Speaker of the
House of Lords before he became a peer and a member of the House, and even had on one occasion to express on behalf of the Peers their thanks to Lord Peterborough for his services in Spain. In 1713 he became Lord Chancellor of England. During all this time he had been a most devoted adherent of the Stuarts, and during the later period he was an open and avowed Jacobite. He had opposed strongly the oaths of abjuration which now, as Lord Chief Justice, he had both taken and administered. Almost his first conspicuous act as a member of Parliament was to protest against the Bill which required the oath Of abjuration of James and his descendants, and he maintained consistently the same principles and the same policy till the death of Queen Anne. There can be no doubt that if just then any movement had been made on behalf of the Stuarts, with the slightest chance of success, Lord Chancellor Harcourt would have thrown himself into it heart and soul. Nevertheless, he took the oath of allegiance and the oath of abjuration; he professed to be a loyal subject of the King, {51} whose person and principles he despised and detested, and he swore to abjure forever all adhesion to that dynasty which with all his heart he would have striven, if he could, to restore to the throne of England. Lord Campbell, in his "Lives of the Lord Chancellors," says of Harcourt, "I do not consider his efforts to restore the exiled Stuarts morally inconsistent with the engagements into which he had entered to the existing Government; and although there were loud complaints against him for at last sending in his adhesion to the House of Hanover, it should be recollected that the cause of the Stuarts had then become desperate, and that instead of betraying he did everything in his power to screen his old associates." The cause of the Stuarts had not become, even then, so utterly desperate as to prevent many brave men from laying down their lives for it. Thirty years had to pass away before the last blow was struck for that cause of the Stuarts which Harcourt by solemn oath abjured forever. Such credit as he is entitled to have, because he protected rather than betrayed his old associates, we are free to give him, and it stands a significant illustration of the political morality of the time that such comparative credit is all that his enthusiastic biographer ventures to claim for him.


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