1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Godolphin, Sidney Godolphin, Earl of

GODOLPHIN, SIDNEY GODOLPHIN, Earl of (c. 1645–1712), was a cadet of an ancient family of Cornwall. At the Restoration he was introduced into the royal household by Charles II., with whom he had previously become a favourite, and he also at the same period entered the House of Commons as member for Helston. Although he very seldom addressed the House, and, when he did so, only in the briefest manner, he gradually acquired a reputation as its chief if not its only financial authority. In March 1679 he was appointed a member of the privy council, and in the September following he was promoted, along with Viscount Hyde (afterwards earl of Rochester) and the earl of Sunderland, to the chief management of affairs. Though he voted for the Exclusion Bill in 1680, he was continued in office after the dismissal of Sunderland, and in September 1684 he was created Baron Godolphin of Rialton, and succeeded Rochester as first lord of the treasury. After the accession of James II. he was made chamberlain to the queen, and, along with Rochester and Sunderland, enjoyed the king’s special confidence. In 1687 he was named commissioner of the treasury. He was one of the council of five appointed by King James to represent him in London, when he went to join the army after the landing of William, prince of Orange, in England, and, along with Halifax and Nottingham, he was afterwards appointed a commissioner to treat with the prince. On the accession of William, though he only obtained the third seat at the treasury board, he had virtually the chief control of affairs. He retired in March 1690, but was recalled on the November following and appointed first lord. While holding this office he for several years continued, in conjunction with Marlborough, a treacherous intercourse with James II., and is said even to have anticipated Marlborough in disclosing to James intelligence regarding the intended expedition against Brest. Godolphin was not only a Tory by inheritance, but had a romantic admiration for the wife of James II. He also wished to be safe whatever happened, and his treachery in this case was mostly due to caution. After Fenwick’s confession in 1696 regarding the attempted assassination of William III., Godolphin, who was compromised, was induced to tender his resignation; but when the Tories came into power in 1700, he was again appointed lord treasurer and retained office for about a year. Though not a favourite with Queen Anne, he was, after her accession, appointed to his old office, on the strong recommendation of Marlborough. He also in 1704 received the honour of knighthood, and in December 1706 he was created Viscount Rialton and earl of Godolphin. Though a Tory he had an active share in the intrigues which gradually led to the predominance of the Whigs in alliance with Marlborough. The influence of the Marlboroughs with the queen was, however, gradually supplanted by that of Mrs Masham and Harley, earl of Oxford, and with the fortunes of the Marlboroughs those of Godolphin were indissolubly united. The services of both were so appreciated by the nation that they were able for a time to regard the loss of the queen’s favour with indifference, and even in 1708 to procure the expulsion of Harley from office; but after the Tory reaction which followed the impeachment of Dr Sacheverel, who abused Godolphin under the name of Volpone, the queen made use of the opportunity to take the initiatory step towards delivering herself from the irksome thraldom of Marlborough by abruptly dismissing Godolphin from office on the 7th of August 1710. He died on the 15th of September 1712.

Godolphin owed his rise to power and his continuance in it under four sovereigns chiefly to his exceptional mastery of financial matters; for if latterly he was in some degree indebted for his promotion to the support of Marlborough, he received that support mainly because Marlborough recognized that for the prosecution of England’s foreign wars his financial abilities were an indispensable necessity. He was cool, reserved and cautious, but his prudence was less associated with high sagacity than traceable to the weakness of his personal antipathies and prejudices, and his freedom from political predilections. Perhaps it was his unlikeness to Marlborough in that moral characteristic which so tainted Marlborough’s greatness that rendered possible between them a friendship so intimate and undisturbed: he was, it would appear, exceptionally devoid of the passion of avarice; and so little advantage did he take of his opportunities of aggrandizement that, though his style of living was unostentatious,—and in connexion with his favourite pastimes of horse-racing, card-playing and cock-fighting he gained perhaps more than he lost,—all that he left behind him did not, according to the duchess of Marlborough, amount to more than £12,000.

Godolphin married Margaret Blagge, the pious lady whose life was written by Evelyn, on the 16th of May 1675, and married again after her death in 1678. His son and successor, Francis (1678–1766), held various offices at court, and was lord privy seal from 1735 to 1740. He married Henrietta Churchill (d. 1733), daughter of the duke of Marlborough, who in 1722 became in her own right duchess of Marlborough. He died without male issue in January 1766, when the earldom became extinct, and the estates passed to Thomas Osborne, 4th duke of Leeds, the husband of the earl’s daughter Mary, whose descendant is the present representative of the Godolphins.

A life of Godolphin was published in 1888 in London by the Hon. H. Elliot.