Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Godolphin, Sidney (1645-1712)

GODOLPHIN, SIDNEY, first Earl of Godolphin (1645–1712), baptised 15 June 1645, was third son of Sir Francis Godolphin (1605–1667), by his wife Dorothy, daughter of Sir Henry Berkeley of Yarlington, Somersetshire. The Godolphins were an ancient family, long settled at Godolphin or Godolghan (a name of doubtful origin, see Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iii. 448, iv. 56) in Breage, Cornwall. A Sir Francis, known in the time of Elizabeth for his enterprise in tin mines and a defence of Penzance against a Spanish landing in 1595, had three sons. John, the second son, was father of John Godolphin [q. v.] and grandfather of Sir William Godolphin (d. 1696) [q. v.] Sir William (d. 1613), elder son of Sir Francis, was father of a second Sir Francis (1605–1667), who was governor of Scilly during the civil war, surrendered to the parliament on honourable conditions 16 Sept. 1646, compounded for his estates on 5 Jan. 1646–7 (Whitelocke, Memorials, p. 233), and was created knight of the Bath at the coronation of Charles II; of Sidney Godolphin (1610–1643) [q. v.], and of a William Godolphin, who died in 1636 and is buried at Bruton, Somersetshire. The second Sir Francis had six sons, of whom William, the eldest, was made a baronet 29 April 1661; Henry, the fourth, became provost of Eton [see Godolphin, Henry]; and Charles, the fifth, who died in 1720, was buried in Westminster Abbey. The two last married descendants of John, the younger brother of Sir William (d. 1613). Sidney, the third son, was at an early age placed in the household of Charles II. The statement (Collins, Peerage, vii. 301) that Charles, when visiting Cornwall as Prince of Wales (i.e. in 1646), took ‘particular notice’ of Godolphin is hardly probable, as Godolphin was then under two years of age. He became page of honour to the king 29 Sept. 1662, was groom of the bedchamber 1672–8, and master of the robes 1678. He held a commission in the army for a short time in 1667. He represented Helston in the House of Commons from 1668 to 1679, and St. Mawes from 1679 to 1681. He was sent to Holland in 1678 (Danby's ‘Letters’ (1710), pp. 346–364, gives his instructions and some letters; see also Temple, Works, i. 352) to take part in some of the negotiations preceding the peace of Nimeguen. On 26 March 1679 he was appointed a lord of the treasury. Laurence Hyde, afterwards Lord Rochester, became first lord in the following November. Hyde, Sunderland, and Godolphin were thought to be deepest in the king's confidence (ib. p. 440), and were known as ‘the Chits’ (see Christie, Shaftesbury, ii. 353). In the obscure intrigues of the following period Godolphin allied himself with Sunderland, deserting James and favouring concession to Shaftesbury and the exclusion party. The Duchess of Portsmouth was in alliance with them. James regarded Godolphin as one of his worst opponents (see Clarendon Correspondence, i. 68); and Barillon reported him to be in the interest of the Prince of Orange, with whom he corresponded at this time (Dalrymple, Memoirs, i. 362, and App. to pt. i. bk. i. p. 70). He succeeded, however, in retaining favour after the fall of Shaftesbury. On 14 April 1684 he succeeded Sir Leoline Jenkins as secretary of state. When Rochester was ‘kicked up stairs,’ in the language of his rival, Halifax, into the office of lord president, Godolphin succeeded him at the head of the treasury. Immediately afterwards (28 Sept.) he was created Baron Godolphin of Rialton. Charles II praised Godolphin as a man who was ‘never in the way and never out of the way,’ and probably found him a useful servant with no troublesome opinions of his own. On the death of Charles, Rochester became lord high treasurer, and Godolphin was appointed chamberlain to the queen (Mary of Modena). He was among the most trusted of James's ministers at the beginning of the reign. He took part in the disgraceful secret negotiations with Louis XIV, and did not scruple to attend mass with the king. He had, it was commonly said, a romantic attachment to the queen (see Swift, Four Last Years; Dartmouth's note to Burnet, Own Time, i. 621; Addit. MS. 4222, f. 62), who was guided by the jesuits. On the fall of Rochester in January 1687, which marked the triumph of the extreme catholic party, the treasury was again put in commission, and Godolphin became one of the commissioners under Lord Bellasyse. On 14 July 1688 he was made keeper of Cranborne Chase in Windsor Forest. His house there is described by Evelyn. About the end of William's reign he sold it to Anne and settled in Godolphin House, on the site of Stafford House, St. James's Park. He adhered to James till the last; he was one of the council of five appointed to remain in London when James advanced to Salisbury, and he was sent with Halifax and Nottingham to treat with the Prince of Orange at Hungerford in December.

Godolphin, like the other tories, voted for a regency in the debates which followed the revolution. In William's first ministry he was again named (8 April 1689) one of the commissioners of the treasury. Two strong whigs, Mordaunt and Delamere, were placed above him; but Godolphin's experience in business made him the most important member of the board. He retired for some unexplained reason in March 1690, but was placed at the head of the commission 15 Nov. 1690, and continued in that position for the next six years. In 1691 he was one of the first statesmen to whom the Jacobite agents applied, and after some coyness he began a correspondence with the court of St. Germain (Clarke, James II, ii. 444). In 1693 he was one of the chief persons whom Charles Middleton, earl of Middleton [q. v.], consulted on behalf of James. In May 1694 he sent intelligence to James of the intended expedition to Brest, and his message was received a day before the similar message from Marlborough (Macpherson, Original Papers, i. 457, 483. Mr. Elliot disputes the truth of Godolphin's Jacobite dealings at this time because he could not have given ‘good advice’ to both William and James. Godolphin probably wished to be on both sides). Godolphin continued to maintain a correspondence with the exiled family to the end of his career, and was supposed to be more sincere than Marlborough. Although the ministry was now composed chiefly of whigs, Godolphin's official knowledge caused him to be retained at the treasury. He was the only tory of the seven lords justices appointed when William left England in 1695. He held the same office in 1696. In that year he was implicated, along with Marlborough, Shrewsbury, and Russell, in the confession of Sir John Fenwick [q. v.] Fenwick's accusation was awkwardly near the truth; and it was found convenient to hang him and discredit his story. Godolphin, however, was obnoxious to the majority as the last tory in office. It was resolved to take the occasion for getting rid of him; and perhaps, as Macaulay suggests, it was felt that when he was thrown over there would be less motive for accepting the truth of Fenwick's narrative. By some manœuvre of Sunderland he was induced to resign in October before the debates on Fenwick's case. He afterwards complained that he had been tricked (Shrewsbury Papers, pp. 414, 420, 429). Apparently he had been frightened by an erroneous impression as to the mode in which Fenwick's statement was to be received. In the House of Lords he absolutely denied (1 Dec. 1696) that he had had the dealings with James described by Fenwick; but, unlike Marlborough, he voted against the bill of attainder.

Godolphin's only son, Francis, was married in the spring of 1698 to Henrietta Churchill, daughter of Marlborough, and the close alliance between the parents was thus cemented. When the tories returned to power at the end of William's reign, Godolphin again became head of the treasury (9 Dec. 1700). When William once more returned to the whigs, Godolphin wrote a letter to Marlborough, to be laid before the king, in which he professed the readiness of the tories to prosecute a war with France. He was, however, compelled to resign 30 Dec. 1701. On the accession of Anne, he shared Marlborough's fortune and became lord treasurer 6 May 1702. Godolphin was the head of the home government during the next eight years. He was on the most intimate terms with Marlborough, and corresponded confidentially upon every detail of policy [see under Anne (1665–1714), and Churchill, John, first Duke of Marlborough]. Few statesmen in so conspicuous a position have left so feeble a personal impression upon politics. Godolphin's talents fitted him to be an admirable head clerk, while circumstances compelled him to act as a first minister. He played, however, a considerable part in the field of action in which Marlborough was less conspicuous, especially in the Portuguese and Spanish affairs (see Addit. MSS. 28056, 28057, for Methuen correspondence). He was anxious for the invasion of France with the help of the Camisards, and supported the expedition against Toulon. At home he was the centre of the constant party struggles. He was timid, cold, and easily disheartened. In Marlborough's absence he was the immediate recipient of the dictatorial interference of Marlborough's wife, who seems to have had more power over him than over her husband. He was forced to join in the series of intrigues by which the ministry, originally composed of tories, gradually came to rest upon the support of the whig junto. The initiative, however, was generally taken by stronger natures. Godolphin was engaged in negotiating, trying to pacify allies or opponents, and holding together the distracting forces as long as he could. He was frequently driven to propose retirement, and was often irritable though seldom resolute.

The quarrel with the tories began in the first parliament. In June 1703 Godolphin with Marlborough contrived to get rid of Rochester, by procuring an order from the queen for his return to his duties as lord-lieutenant in Ireland. In May 1704 he persuaded the queen to accept the resignation of Nottingham, and induced Harley to take the secretaryship of state in his place. These changes implied the alienation of the high-church and tory party. In 1702 Godolphin with Marlborough had supported the Occasional Conformity Bill, the favourite measure of that party; they both voted for it again in 1703, and signed the protest against its rejection; but they were suspected of indirectly opposing it, and in 1704 they both silently voted against it. He was persuaded in 1705 by the Duchess of Marlborough to beg an appointment for her son-in-law, Sunderland, to the vexation of the queen, though with the reluctant consent of Marlborough. In the same year his financial scruples caused him to make many difficulties in the way of a loan to the emperor. He wrote an irritating despatch which hindered the negotiation; but Marlborough finally succeeded in extorting his acquiescence (Coxe, i. 479). In the parliament of 1705–8, Godolphin was driven to closer alliance with the whigs. He again offended the queen by urging the removal of Sir Nathan Wright, the lord-keeper, who was finally succeeded by Cowper on 11 Oct. 1705. In the following session he parried an insidious proposal of the tories for inviting the Electress Sophia to England by carrying a bill for securing the protestant succession by appointing a commission of regency. He and Marlborough were now attacked by the tory writers as traitors to the church. A dinner was arranged at the house of Harley at the beginning of 1706, when the great whig leaders met Godolphin and Marlborough, and drank to ‘everlasting union’ (ib. i. 523; Cowper, Diary). Godolphin had taken an active share in promoting the union with Scotland (see correspondence in Addit. MS. 28055). By his advice Anne refused her assent in 1703 to the Act of Security, providing for a separation of the crowns at her death unless England would concede certain Scottish claims. He yielded, however, in 1704, when it was ‘tacked’ to the bill for supplies, thinking possibly that it would render the treaty for union more imperative. On 10 April 1706 he was appointed a commissioner for settling the terms of this treaty. In the next year he was summoned from the country to resist an attempt of Harley's to make a difficulty about some commercial regulations consequent on the union; a circumstance which precipitated the quarrel between the two (Cunningham, Great Britain, ii. 70). In the autumn of 1706 he was brought to threats of retirement by his difficulty in persuading the queen to make Sunderland secretary of state in room of Sir Charles Hedges [q. v.] He declares (Coxe, i. 138) that he has worn out his health and almost his life in the service of the crown. After many remonstrances the queen yielded in November 1706, and other changes in favour of the whigs followed. Godolphin at this period still trusted in Harley in spite of insinuations from the duchess. Harley's defection became manifest in the following year, and he was forced to resign on 11 Feb. 1708, Godolphin and Marlborough having absented themselves from a council meeting (9 Feb.). The whigs were now triumphant; Godolphin obtained credit in the spring for his efforts to meet the danger of the threatened Jacobite invasion, and to support the credit of the Bank of England. He had now to overcome the queen's reluctance to the appointment of Somers, which was not finally granted till November 1708.

The demands of the whigs and the growing alienation of the queen combined to make Godolphin's life miserable. He declares (10 Jan. 1709) that the ‘life of a slave in the galleys is a paradise in comparison of mine.’ Another of the whig junto, Halifax, was beginning to insist upon a recognition of his claims to office. The negotiations for peace were perplexing, and Godolphin, according to Coxe, insisted more strongly than Marlborough upon the demands ultimately rejected by Louis. Although disgusted with the Dutch, Godolphin, in obedience to the whig leaders, insisted upon the barrier treaty, and finally, when Marlborough declined to sign, ordered Townshend to sign it alone.

Godolphin was next bullied by the whigs and the Duchess of Marlborough to extort the appointment of Lord Orford to the admiralty. The sermon of Sacheverell which led to the famous impeachment attacked Godolphin under the name of Volpone. Godolphin was greatly irritated, and insisted on the impeachment, in spite of the advice of Somers that the question should be left to the ordinary courts (December 1709). The general reaction against the war, combined with the church feeling, now gathered strength, and Harley took advantage of it to detach some of the whigs, and to encourage the queen to subject Godolphin and Marlborough to successive slights. Godolphin appears to have shown little spirit. He persuaded Marlborough to withdraw his threat of resignation upon the appointment of Colonel Hill. He remonstrated with the queen on the appointment of the Duke of Somerset as chamberlain, but had not resolution enough to carry out his threat of resignation. In June 1710 he joined with his colleagues in appealing to Marlborough to submit to the dismissal of Sunderland. He submitted to a neglect of his wishes in the case of other appointments, and long refused to believe that the queen would venture on a dissolution of parliament. On hearing in July that this measure was decided upon, he remonstrated with her, but still did not resign. A violent dispute took place in a cabinet council between Godolphin and Shrewsbury, who in April had been appointed chamberlain without his advice and was allied with Harley. On 7 Aug. 1710 he had two audiences from the queen, who ended by telling him that she wished him to remain in office. Next morning she sent him a note, ordering him to break his staff of office, but promising a pension of 4,000l. a year. Godolphin's fall was followed by the dismissal of his son from the office of cofferer of the household (June 1711). He had the credit of retiring in poverty, as it was said that he would require Marlborough's assistance to support himself. Godolphin was devoted to gambling, and especially interested in horse-racing, which may partly account for his poverty. By the death of his elder brother, Sir William Godolphin, on 17 Aug. 1710, his son inherited an estate of 4,000l. a year. After his fall there were rumours of dishonesty, but they seem to have been sufficiently answered by Walpole in a pamphlet called ‘The thirty-five millions accounted for’ (Coxe, iii. 465). His health was already broken, and he died aged 67, according to his monument, on 15 Sept. 1712, at Marlborough House at St. Albans, after long sufferings from the stone.

Godolphin married Margaret Blagge [see Godolphin, Margaret] on 16 May 1675. After her death, in 1678, he never married again. A reference in a letter from Lord Sydney to William (3 Feb. 1691) seems to imply a second marriage, of which there are no other traces (Dalrymple, App. pt. ii. bk. vii. p. 249). Their only child, Francis [q. v.], succeeded to his father's earldom. Francis's wife became Duchess of Marlborough in her own right, but by the death of their son William the title passed to Charles Spencer, fifth earl of Sunderland. Their daughter Henrietta married Thomas Pelham, duke of Newcastle, in 1715, and died in 1776 without issue; the other, Mary, married the fourth Duke of Leeds in 1740, and was ancestress of the present duke, who owns the Godolphin estates. Three fables in verse by Godolphin were printed by Archdeacon Coxe in 1817–18 from the Blenheim MSS.

[Collins's Peerage; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub.; Maclean's Trigg Minor, ii. 522 (for genealogy); Evelyn's Diary, 1879, ii. 322, 467, iii. 119, 132, and elsewhere; Clarke's Life of James II; Macpherson's Hist. of Great Britain, i. 311, ii. 5, 63, 303, 337, 377, and elsewhere; Swift's Works, 1814, iii. 227, 233, iv. 425, v. 174, 194, 260, 264, and elsewhere; Treasury Papers, 1701–8; Sidney's Diary, 1843, i. 92, 209, 271, ii. 209; Clarendon Correspondence; Burnet's Own Time; Coxe's Life of Marlborough (letters from the Blenheim collection give full details of Godolphin's career); North's Lives of the Norths, 1826, ii. 58, &c.; J. P. Hore's Hist. of Newmarket, 1886, gives frequent notices of Godolphin as a patron of horse-racing. Some family letters are in Addit. MS. 28052, and in Mr. Morrison's collection, and political correspondence in Addit. MSS. 28055–7. Some letters from William III are in Addit. MS. 24905, and from Anne in Addit. MS. 28070; see also Nottingham MSS. &c. 29598–9. A life by the Hon. H. Elliot (1888) takes a more favourable view of Godolphin's conduct in some matters than is given above.]

L. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.137
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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44 i 9 Godolphin, Sidney, 1st Earl of Godolphin: for to hang him read to behead him