Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Henley, Robert (1747-1786)

HENLEY, ROBERT, second Earl of Northington (1747–1786), the second and only surviving son of Robert Henley, first earl of Northington [q. v.], was born on 3 Jan. 1747. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 24 Oct. 1763, and was created M.A. on 30 April 1766. In April 1763 he was appointed a teller of the exchequer, and at the general election in March 1768 was returned to parliament for Hampshire. Henley was created LL.D. of Cambridge on 3 July 1769, and became master of the hanaper office in chancery on 28 Nov. 1771. He succeeded his father as second earl of Northington on 14 Jan. 1772, and took his seat in the House of Lords on 17 Feb. following (Journals of the House of Lords, xxxiii. 249). On 18 Aug. 1773 he was elected and invested a knight of the Thistle, and on 6 March 1777 was elected F.S.A. Upon the formation of the coalition ministry, and after the refusal of the post by the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Fitzwilliam, and Lord Althorp, Northington, who was an intimate friend of Fox, was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland in the place of Lord Temple (30 April 1783), and was admitted to the privy council on the same day (London Gazette, 1783, No. 12436). He was sworn in at Dublin on 3 June 1783 (ib. No. 12447), and on 14 Oct. 1783 opened the first session of the new Irish parliament. The chief event of Northington's administration was the volunteer convention at Dublin in November 1783. In a long letter to Northington, dated 1 Nov. 1783, Fox explained at length his views of the Irish question and begged him to show firmness, deprecating Northington's opinion that at the outset of his government it was absolutely necessary ‘to do something that may appear to be obtaining boons, however trifling, for Ireland’ (Fox's Correspondence, ii. 163–71). In his reply of 17 Nov. 1783 Northington skilfully defended his proposed policy, and argued that it was a great mistake to select as lords-lieutenant ‘gentlemen taken wild from Brookes's to make their dénouement in public life’ (ib. p. 183). In spite of his want of training Northington made a very fair lord-lieutenant. He did his best to promote Irish manufactures and to encourage the growth of flax and tobacco. He advocated the system of annual instead of biennial sessions of parliament in the face of Lord North's remonstrances, and he urged that the office of chancellor of the exchequer should be granted to a resident instead of an absentee politician. When the salary of the lord-lieutenant was increased from 16,000l. to 20,000l. Northington honourably declared himself ‘perfectly satisfied’ and anxious not to be the occasion of any additional charge on the Irish revenue (Grattan's Life, iii. 174).

Northington resigned with the coalition ministry, and, after awaiting the arrival of his successor, left Dublin on 26 Feb. 1784 (London Gazette, 1784, No. 12523). He died at Paris, on his return from Italy, on 5 July 1786, and was buried in Northington Church, Hampshire. As Northington never married, his titles became extinct upon his death. The Grange, his residence near Alresford in Hampshire, which was originally built by Inigo Jones for Sir Robert Henley, was sold to Henry Drummond (Cornwallis Correspondence, 1859, i. 288). It is now in the possession of Lord Ashburton. Wraxall says that he was unwieldy in person, wanting in grace, and not brilliant, but that he made himself beloved in Ireland in spite of his infirmities (Historical and Posthumous Memoirs, 1884, iii. 59). There is no record in the ‘Parliamentary History’ of any speech made by him in either house. A portrait of Northington, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, was lent by Lord Henley to the Loan Collection of National Portraits in 1867 (Catalogue, No. 776). An engraving of this picture, by W. C. Edwards, is given in the ‘Memoir of Lord Chancellor Northington,’ opp. p. 62. Another portrait of Northington, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, was purchased by the National Gallery of Ireland in 1884.

[Lord Henley's Memoir of Lord Chancellor Northington, 1831, pp. 62–3; Lord John Russell's Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox, 1853, ii. 78, 94–5, 114–21, 162–97, 223–6; Plowden's Historical Review of the State of Ireland, 1803, vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 27–77; Lecky's Hist. of England, vi. 326–51; Life of Henry Grattan, by his Son, 1841, vol. iii. chaps. iii–vi.; Hardy's Memoirs of the Earl of Charlemont, 1812, ii. 80–143; Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, ii. 639; Burke's Extinct Peerage, 1883, p. 270; Alumni Westmon. 1852, p. 546; Alumni Oxon. 1888, ii. 645; Grad. Cantabr. 1823, p. 229; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. p. 142.]

G. F. R. B.