Correspondence of Henry Bilson Legge

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 668
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      various sizes. 28 items;

Scope and Content

The volume contains mounted letters and drafts of letters to and from the Rt. Hon. Henry Bilson Legge. The correspondents include Sir Benjamin Keene (nos 1-7), Edward Walpole (nos 8-9), J. Campbell (no. 10), Sir John Mordaunt (nos 11-12), S. Martin (nos 13-16), Thomas Prowse (nos 19-20), and [Emma] Lady Edgcumbe (nos 21-24). Several of the letters concern the parliamentary election for Hampshire in 1759, in which Legge stood against Simeon Stuart, the candidate of the Prince of Wales and John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. Legge refused to give an undertaking that he would support Bute's candidate in any future election. He later refused Bute's demand that he should give up Hampshire at the general election and support the Prince of Wales's nominees.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Bilson Legge (1708-1764), politician, was born Henry Legge on 29 March 1708, son of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth (1672-1750). Legge may have attended Mr Ellis's school at Colney Hatch, Middlesex, and reportedly was attending Westminster School, London, in 1724. He was entered at Christ Church, Oxford, on 29 March 1726, and in 1728, he signed on as an ordinary seaman in the convoy for the Newfoundland fishing fleet. He was promoted to midshipman, but left his ship and presumably the Navy in September 1731.

In 1736 Walpole, as chancellor of the exchequer, appointed Legge as his secretary and in 1739 obtained for him the office of chief secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was elected to the House of Commons on 27 November 1740 for the pocket borough of East Looe, Cornwall, and on 9 May 1741, for the pocket borough of Orford, Suffolk. In 1741 he became Treasury Secretary.

On 20 April 1745 he was appointed to the Admiralty Board, and served on Commons committees on naval affairs. In 1748 he served as envoy, returning to London in February 1749 to an appointment as Treasurer of the Navy. After Pelham's death in 1754 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer and tok the additional surname of Bilson as a condition of an inheritance. After Newcastle's downfall in 1756, he resumed the office of Chancellor under William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, at the Treasury. George III dismissed Legge from office on 16 March 1761. He was, re-elected for Hampshire on 8 April and, after Newcastle resigned the following year, joined the whig opposition. He died at Tunbridge Wells on 23 August 1764 and was buried at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire.

Source: P.J. Kulisheck, 'Legge, Henry Bilson (1708-1764)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Sir Benjamin Keene (1697-1757), diplomat, was born in King's Lynn and educated at King's Lynn grammar school and at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He graduated LLB in 1718, and continued his legal studies at the University of Leiden. In 1723 he was appointed as agent for the South Sea Company, a position he held until 1739. In 1724 he was appointed consul-general at Madrid, and in 1727 he was promoted to minister-plenipotentiary, in which capacity he was involved in negotiating the treaty of Seville in 1729.

In 1734 he became envoy-extraordinary at the Spanish court. He held a seat in the Commons as MP for Maldon (1740-1) and then for West Looe (1741-7). In 1741 he was appointed a lord of trade, and in December 1744 promoted to the office of paymaster of pensions. In 1746 he took up a new position as envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary in Lisbon. He was sent to Madrid in 1749 as ambassador, where he successfully negotiated a new treaty of commerce, for which he received the Order of the Bath in 1754. He died in Madrid on 15 December 1757. His body was brought home in March 1758 and buried in St Nicholas's Church in King's Lynn.

Source: M.J. Mercer, 'Keene, Sir Benjamin (1697-1757)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Sir John Mordaunt (1696/7-1780), army officer, was the eldest son of Lieutenant-General Harry Mordaunt. He joined the army in 1721, and became a captain in the 3rd dragoons in 1726 and captain and lieutenant-colonel in the 3rd foot guards in 1731. He also began a parliamentary career, as MP for Pontefract from February 1730 to 1734. From 1735 he represented Whitchurch in Hampshire. By June 1744 he had risen to the rank of colonel of the 18th foot. He was sent to Flanders as part of the British force assembled to meet the French invasion of the Netherlands during the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1745 he was promoted brigadier-general, and sent against the Jacobite rising in Scotland.

In 1747 Mordaunt was appointed major-general and colonel of the 12th dragoons, and in 1749 he was made colonel of the 4th Irish horse, moving later that year to the 10th dragoons. Following the end of the war Mordaunt was appointed KB, and he became one of the inspecting generals. In 1752 he was appointed governor of Sheerness. With the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756 Mordaunt was personally selected by George II to command the expedition against Rochefort. The expedition failed and a critical board of enquiry led to Mordaunt's being court marshalled in 1757. The charge of disobedience was unsustainable and he was unanimously acquitted, though Mordaunt lost his post as governor of Sheerness.

Mordaunt remained in the army, but never again held a senior command in the field. He retired from the Commons in 1768. He became a full general in 1770 and was governor of Berwick from 1778 until his death. He died at Bevis Mount, near Southampton, on 23 October 1780.

Source: Clive Towse, 'Mordaunt, Sir John (1696/7-1780)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Related Material

Papers of Henry Bilson Legge are held at the following other repositories:

  • British Library, Manuscript Collections: letters to Lord Anson, 1746-50 (ref.: Add MSS 15946, 15956); correspondence with Lord Holland, 1748-56 (ref.: Add MS 51388); correspondence with 1st Duke of Newcastle and others, 1747-64 (ref.: Add MSS 32711-961);
  • Chatsworth House: 33 letters to 3rd and 4th Dukes of Devonshire, 1739-64 (ref.: /16 Index);
  • Derbyshire Record Office: correspondence relating to Ireland (ref.: T.3019/205ff);
  • Nottingham University Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections: letters to Henry Pelham and Lord Lincoln, 1748-62 (ref.: Ne C);
  • Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts: correspondence with 1st Earl of Guilford, 1756-60 (ref.: MSS North).


Several letters are printed in John Butler, Some account of the character of the late Right Honourable Henry Bilson Legge (London: printed for J. Almon, 1764).