Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Annesley, Arthur

ANNESLEY, ARTHUR, first Earl of Anglesey (1614–1686), was born at Dublin on 10 July 1614. His father, Sir Francis Annesley [q .v.], better known as the Lord Mountnorris of Strafford's rule in Ireland, had held high office under James I and Charles I for forty years. His mother's name was Dorothy Phillips. In 1624 he was sent to England, and in 1630 to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1634 (Wood's Ath. Oxon. iv. 18), and Happy Future State of England, p. 3). In the same year he joined Lincoln's Inn. Having made the grand tour, he returned to Ireland in 1640. It is stated (Collins's Peerage; Biographia Britannica) that he was then elected for Radnor county, but that he at once lost his seat upon petition, and that Charles Price, Esq., was elected in his place. This is a mistake. No such vote occurs in the Commons' Journals. Moreover it appears (Parl. Hist. ii. 629) that Charles Price was the first member elected, but that he was disabled, and that Annesley succeeded him, though it is uncertain when; and his admirer, Sir W. Pett, says nothing about his being a member until 1647 (Happy Future State of England, p. 5). It is affirmed also that Annesley sat in the king's parliament at Oxford in 1643, Not only, however, does his name not occur in the list, but that of Charles Price does (Parl. Hist. iii. 219). These mistakes have doubtless arisen from a careless misreading of the passage in Wood's ‘Athenæ,’ (iv. 182, ed. Bliss), from which the former notices have evidently been copied. Annesley's first public employment was in 1645. It seemed probable that Ormond would succeed in establishing a cordial union with the Scotch forces under Monroe in Ulster. To defeat this, Annesley (selected no doubt for his knowledge of Irish affairs) and two others were sent over with a commission under the great seal. Their duty was fulfilled ably and with entire success (Reid, History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, ii. 79, 100). In February 1647 Ormond, who was with difficulty holding Dublin against the Irish, reluctantly applied to the parliament for help, and Annesley was placed at the head of a second commission to conclude the matter (Carte's Ormond, iii. 168, 305). By the 19th all was settled, and Dublin handed over to the parliament. Annesley appears to have identified himself with the parliamentary as opposed to the republican party, and, according to Heath's ‘Chronicle’ (p. 420), was one of the members secluded in 1648. This appears confirmed by his letter to Lenthall printed in ‘England's Confusion’ (note to p. 182 of vol. iv. of Wood's Athenæ). His name, however, does not appear on the list in the parliamentary history taken from the well-known ‘Vindication.’ In Richard Cromwell's parliament of 1658 he sat for the city of Dublin, and endeavoured, with some others of the secluded members, to gain admittance into the Rump parliament when restored by the officers in 1659 (Heath, p. 420). For the statement (Biog. Brit.) that he was concerned in Booth's abortive rising there seems no authority; but he was certainly in the confidence of the royalist party, though a professed friend to the presbyterians (Reid, ii. 335), for he held a blank commission from Charles II, with Grenville, Peyton, Mordaunt, and Legge, to treat, on the basis of a free pardon, with any of his majesty's subjects who had borne arms against his father except the regicides (Collins's Peerage). In February 1660 he was chosen president of the council of state. In the Convention parliament he sat for Carmarthen town (Parl. Hist. iv. 8). On 1 May he reported from the council to parliament an unopened letter from the king to Monk, and he was on the committee for preparing an answer to that sent direct to the house. On the same day he took part in the conference with the lords on ‘the settlement of the government of these nations.’ On 1 June he was sworn of the privy council, and on 4 June was placed on the commission for tendering the oaths of supremacy and allegiance (Carte's Ormond, iv. l). It was now that Annesley and men of his moderate and practical views played a useful part. To them it was chiefly due that the lords were checked in their desires for revenge, and that the restoration was wellnigh bloodless. In the trials of the regicides and in the debates on the Act of Indemnity, Annesley was throughout on the side of lenity; and he advised the carrying out of the king's declaration in its integrity. It was largely owing to him that Hazelrig's life was spared. At the same time he made himself useful to the court by securing on 10 Aug. the passing of a money bill before the act of grace, and again on 12 Sept. by helping successfully to oppose the motion that the king should be requested to marry, and to marry a protestant. In November, probably in the court interest, he moved that the question of passing the king's declaration concerning ecclesiastical affairs into a law should be referred to a committee of the whole house. At the abolition of the court of wards he strenuously but vainly resisted, on the ground of its injustice, the proposal made in the interests of the landed gentry to lay the burden on the excise. In the settlement of Ireland his services were often called for and liberally rewarded. In August 1660 he received his father's office of vice-treasurer and receiver-general for Ireland, which he held until July 1667, when he exchanged it with Sir G. Carteret for the treasurership of the navy (Carte's Ormond, iv. 340; Pepys, 26 June 1667), and on 6 Feb. 1660–1 he received a captaincy of horse. On 9 March 1660–1 he was placed on the commission for executing the king's declaration for the settlement of Ireland, and in June on the permanent committee of council for Irish affairs. By the death of his father in November 1660, he became Viscount Valentia, and on 20 April 1661 he was made an English peer by the title of Lord Annesley of Newport-Pagnell in Bucks, and Earl of Anglesey. On 21 July 1663, Anglesey appeared as the sole signer of a protest against the bill for the encouragement of trade on grounds which show how little such questions were then understood, while in 1666, on the other hand, he strongly opposed the bill for prohibiting the importation of Irish cattle (Parl. Hist. iv. 284; and Carte's Ormond, iv. 234). In 1667 he was threatened with an examination of his accounts if he refused to assist in Buckingham's attack on Ormond; and such an examination actually took place in 1668, but no charge could be sustained. He was, however, temporarily suspended from his office of treasurer to the navy (Carte, iv. 330, 340; Pepys, 8 Dec. 1667, and 29 and 31 Oct., and 5, 11, and 14 Nov. 1668). During 1671 and 1672 Anglesey was employed continuously upon commissions appointed to inquire into the working of the acts of settlement; and in 1671 he also took the leading part in the conference between the houses regarding the lords' right to alter money bills, and wrote an acute and learned comment thereupon. On 22 April 1672 his services were rewarded with the office of lord privy seal, and in 1679 he was placed on the newly modelled privy council, which was framed at Temple's instance. When the popish terror began, Anglesey showed independence of character; he is recorded as the only peer who dissented from the vote declaring the existence of an Irish plot; and, according to his own testimony, he interceded for Langhorne, Plunket, and Strafford, though convinced of the guilt of the last (Happy Future State, p. 205; Sir W. Pett, Memoirs of Anglesea, pp. 8, 9). This line of action brought upon him, on 20 Oct. 1680, an accusation by Dangerfield, and he was attacked by Sir William Jones, attorney-general, in the House of Commons (Happy Future State, p. 267; Dangerfield, Narration). In 1681 Anglesea published ‘A Letter from a Person of Honour in the Country,’ containing his ‘Animadversions’ upon some memoirs regarding Irish affairs written by the Earl of Castlehaven. There were in this letter passages which seemed to reflect on Charles I; Ormond was called upon to answer it, and on 9 Aug. 1682 Anglesey was dismissed from his lucrative post of privy seal. His loss of office was doubtless hastened by another paper addressed to the king, entitled ‘The Account of Arthur, Earl of Anglesea, to your most excellent Majesty, of the true State of your Majesty's Government and Kingdom.’ This was dated 27 April 1682, immediately after the dissolution of Charles's last parliament. The boldness of the tone of remonstrance, and the vehemence with which the attack on James was supported at such a time, are remarkable. Upon his dismissal he retired to his seat of Blechingdon in Oxfordshire, and took no further part in public affairs, except by voting in a minority of two, in 1685, against the reversal of Lord Strafford’s attainder, for whose condemnation he had voted, though pleading afterwards for his pardon (Sir W. Pett, Memoirs, p. 10). He died of quinsy on 26 April 1686.

Anglesey was undoubtedly a most useful official during his unbroken service of twenty years (Pepys, passim), laborious, skilful, cautious, moderate, and apparently, on the whole, honest and independent in action, a sound lawyer, with a high reputation for scholarship, research, and the use of a ‘smooth, sharp, and keen pen’ (Athenæ Oxon. ii. 784). But there is no reason whatever for regarding him as a great man. His care for his own interests was contant and successful. Besides the profits of his various offices he secured large sums and grants from Ireland. Thus, in 1661, he had a grant of the forfeited estates of the regicides Ludlow and Jones, as well as other spoil; on 10 March 1665–6 he received a pension of 600l. a year; on 24 March in the following year 500l.; on 10 Oct. 5,000l. out of forfeited lands, as well as many grants, both of lands and money, under the acts of settlement, at various times.

Anglesey is noted as perhaps the first peer who devoted time and money to the formation of a great library. The sale of this library at his death is remembered because among the books was a copy of the ‘Eikon Basilike,’ which contained a memorandum, presumably by himself, though this is warmly disputed (Biog. Britan.), to the effect that the writer had been told both by Charles II and James II that the ‘Eikon Basilike’ had been composed not by Charles I but by Bishop Gauden.

In addition to the works mentioned, Anglesey wrote: 1. ‘The History of the late Commotions and Troubles in Ireland,’ from the Rebellion of 1641 to the Restoration, the manuscript of which was unfortunately lost. 2. ‘True Account of the whole Proceedings betwixt his Grace the Duke of Ormond and the Earl of Anglesea.’ 3. ‘The King's Right of Indulgence in Spiritual Matters asserted.’ 4. ‘Truth Unveiled.’ 5. ‘Reflections on a Discourse concerning Transubstantiation.’

[Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iv. 18; Biographia Britannica; and other authorities quoted above.]

O. A.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.7
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
3 i 10 Annesley, Arthur, 1st Earl of Anglesey: for 1672 read 1673
10 f.e.
for Strafford read Stafford