Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harcourt, William (1743-1830)

HARCOURT, WILLIAM, third Earl Harcourt (1743–1830), field-marshal, born 20 March 1743, was younger son of Simon, earl Harcourt [q. v.] by his wife Rebecca, daughter and heiress of Charles Le Bas of Pipewell Abbey, Northamptonshire. He obtained an ensigncy in the 1st foot guards in August, and a troop in the 16th light dragoons in October 1759, the latter raised entirely at his father's expense, and called 'Harcourt's Black Horse.' In 1760 he was in his father's suite when sent to Mecklenburg-Strelitz to conduct home the consort-elect of George III, and was appointed to a post in the royal household. He was aide-de-camp to Lord Albemarle at the taking of Havana in 1762, and after passing through the 4th and 18th dragoons and 31st foot became lieutenant-colonel of the 16th light dragoons in 1768. For a short time the newly raised light dragoon regiments were numbered separately from the other dragoons, and in the 'Army List' for that year the 16th appears as the 2nd or queen's light dragoons. Harcourt sat in parliament for the city of Oxford in 1768-74. He accompanied his regiment to America, and in 1776, when scouting near the Delaware with thirty dragoons, he surprised and carried off prisoner out of his own camp the American general, Charles Lee. Lee had once distinguished himself in the British service, and was accounted Washington's ablest officer. Exaggerated ideas were entertained of the results of the capture. Harcourt was thanked by parliament, was made a king's aide-de-camp, and on the resignation of Lieutenant-general John Burgoyne [q. v.] was advanced to the colonelcy of the 16th light dragoons (subsequently lancers), which he held for over half a century. Harcourt became a major-general in 1782. About the same time he purchased St. Leonard's Hall from the Duke of Gloucester. He was made deputy-ranger of Windsor Great Park. He became lieutenant-general in 1793, commanded the cavalry under the Duke of York during the campaigns in Flanders in 1793-4, and on the duke's return home succeeded to the command of the army, which he held during the winter retreat through Holland, and until the embarkation of the British infantry at Bremen in the spring of 1795. He became a general in 1796, and on the establishment of the Royal Military College, Great Marlow, was appointed to the governorship, which he held for nine years. In 1809 he succeeded to the title on the death of his brother, the second earl (see Gent. Mag. lxxix. 480). He bore the union standard at the coronation of George IV, and as one of the two senior generals (the Marquis of Drogheda being the other) was made a field-marshal and G.C.B. He was governor in succession of Hull, Portsmouth, and Plymouth, a member of the consolidated board of general officers, a commissioner of Chelsea Hospital and Asylum, and for very many years one of the grooms of the bedchamber, and deputy-lieutenant of Windsor Castle. Harcourt married, 3 Sept. 1778, Mary, widow of Thomas Lockhart of Craig House in Scotland, and daughter of the Rev. W. Danby, D.D., of Farnley, Yorkshire, by whom he had no issue. She died 14 Jan. 1833. Harcourt and his wife were on terms of close intimacy with the royal family. His court duties during the king's first illness in 1787 were of a very close and confidential character, and Mrs. Harcourt was selected to attend the Princess Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV, on her wedding journey to England (Malmesbury Corresp. iii. 211-16, iv. 41, 310). Harcourt died at his seat, St. Leonard's Hall, Berkshire, 18 June 1830, aged 87, when the title became extinct and the estates passed to his first cousin, Dr. Edward Harcourt, archbishop of York [q. v.]

[Philippart's Roy. Mil. Calendar, 1820, i. 280; Cannon's Hist. Rec. 16th Lancers; Flanders, &c. Despatches in London Gazettes, 1793-5; Gent. Mag. 1830 pt. ii. 177-8, 1832 pt. ii. 658, 1833 pt. i. 91. A brief memoir of Harcourt, with a detailed account of Lee's capture and a number of interesting letters of Harcourt and his wife at various periods, is given in the Harcourt Papers (printed

for private circulation), xi. 145 et seq. Some notices of General Harcourt when governor of the Royal Military College occur in Fullom's Life of Sir Howard Douglas.]

H. M. C.