Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Stephen
FOX, Sir STEPHEN (1627–1716), statesman, born on 27 March 1627, was the youngest son of William Fox of Farley, Wiltshire, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Pavey of Plaitford, in the same county. As a boy he is said to have been in the choir of Salisbury Cathedral. He also received a thorough and early drilling in the art of bookkeeping. At the age of fifteen his 'beauty of person and towardliness of disposition,' aided, it is probable, by a letter from an early patron, Brian Duppa [q. v.], recommended him to the notice of the Earl of Northumberland, high admiral of England. Some five years later he passed into the household of the earl's brother, Lord Percy, under whom he had the supervision of the ordnance board during the campaign which ended with the battle of Worcester, 3 Sept. 1651. He then took an active part in assisting the escape of Charles to Normandy. When the prince was obliged to leave France in 1654, Clarendon persuaded him to entrust the management of his household affairs unreservedly to Fox, ‘a young man bred under the severe discipline of the Lord Peircy, … very well qualified with languages, and all other parts of clerkship, honesty, and discretion, that were necessary for the discharge of such a trust’ (Hist. of the Rebellion, Oxf. edit. bk. xiv. par. 89). Under Fox's discreet stewardship the prince, wherever he might choose to fix his court, was never without the means of living in comfort. ‘Mr. Fox,’ writes Ormonde to Charles from Breda, 9 Aug. 1658, ‘knows to a stiver what money you can depend upon’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1658–9, p. 104). At Spa he won the favour of the king's sister, the widowed Princess of Orange, and was employed subsequently in several important missions to her, as well as to other great persons in Holland. He was able to procure frequent and regular supplies of money for the royal household. Charles intended rewarding him by a grant of the place of cofferer of the household, but finding William Ashburnham held already the reversion, he granted Fox, by a special instrument dated at Brussels 23 Nov. 1658, an honourable augmentation to his arms out of the royal ensigns and devices, to wit, ‘in a canton Azure, a Fleur de Lis, Or’ (Addit. MS. 15856, f. 89 b). Fox was the first to bring his master the news of Cromwell's death, and to salute him as the real king of Great Britain. The king afterwards employed Fox on various secret missions to England, as one the royalists could thoroughly rely on. With Sir Edward Walker, Garter king at arms, he was sent to the Hague in May 1660 to adjust the ceremonies for the king's public reception there. After the Restoration Fox's fortunes rose rapidly. Ormonde, then lord high steward, nominated him first clerk of the board of green cloth. In October 1660 he received a grant of the remainder of the lease of part of the manor of East Meon, Hampshire, to the value of 400l. a year, which had been forfeited by the treason of Francis Allen, goldsmith and alderman of London (ib. 1660–1661, p. 337, 1661–2, p. 131). In March 1661 he became receiver and paymaster of two regiments of guards appointed for the king's safety upon the outbreak of Venner's plot in the preceding January (ib. 1660–1, p. 556). During the same year he was constituted paymaster-general, an enormously lucrative office. He deigned, however, to accept the receivership of the garrison at Portsmouth, 20 Feb. 1662, with the nominal fee of 100l. a year (ib. 1661–2, p. 279). The people of Salisbury, ‘for the love they bore to a gentleman who did them the honour of owing his birth to their neighbourhood,’ chose him as their member, 30 Nov. 1661, in succession to Francis Swanton, deceased. He was knighted 1 July 1665. Despite his position at court he contrived to maintain his independence. He strenuously asserted the integrity of Clarendon, and voted against his impeachment, 12 Nov. 1667, ‘although he was in a manner commanded by the king to act in a contrary part.’ On 27 Feb. 1678–9 he was elected for Westminster. In November 1679 he became one of the lords commissioners of the treasury, and his name appeared in every subsequent commission except that of July 1684, when Laurence, earl of Rochester, was lord treasurer. He was, however, reinstated in the following September. In December 1680, having been gazetted first commissioner of horse, he resigned his office of paymaster-general, but contrived that his eldest son, Charles Fox, should share it along with Nicholas Johnson. On Johnson's death in April 1682 Fox made interest to have it solely conferred on his son, who three years afterwards was independent enough to vote with the opposition against granting money to James II until grievances had been redressed. On 18 Feb. 1684 Fox was made sole commissioner of horse.
Fox's places brought him enormous profits. In 1680 his friend Evelyn computed him to be worth at least 200,000l., ‘honestly got and unenvied, which is next to a miracle.’ Evelyn himself tells how Fox contrived to escape the jealousy of his colleagues. At the height of his prosperity he continued ‘as humble and ready to do a courtesy as ever he was’ (Diary, ed. 1850–2, ii. 147–8). He made an intelligible use of his riches. He showed his regard to his birthplace, Farley, by building a church, and in 1678 a set of almshouses and a charity school, there. ‘In the North Part of Wilts he built a Chancel intirely new.’ He built almshouses at Broome, Suffolk, and at Ashby, Northamptonshire. He also erected the church of Culford in Suffolk. At Redlinch in Somersetshire he founded a charity school, in addition to repairing the church. Canon Richard Eyre, who preached his funeral sermon, tells us that ‘he pew'd the body of the cathedral church of Sarum in a very neat manner, suitable to the neatness of that church, to which he was many other ways a great benefactor’ (p. 18 n.). After twenty years at the pay office he thought of a magnificent device for restoring to the army some part of the fortune which he had got by it. He inspired Charles in 1681 with that idea of founding an asylum at Chelsea for disabled soldiers, the credit of which is generally ascribed to Nell Gwyn. In furthering the enterprise through all its stages he derived assistance from Evelyn (Diary, ii. 159, 163). His contribution to the building and maintenance fund was above 13,000l. (Eyre, Funeral Sermon, p. 8 n.)
On James coming to the throne a peerage was offered to Fox on the condition of his turning Roman catholic. He adhered, however, manfully to his religion. The priests then intrigued to have him removed from the commission of the treasury, but the king had sense enough to insist on keeping Fox and Godolphin as members of an otherwise inexperienced board. He was also suffered to retain his clerkship of the green cloth. On 26 March 1685 he was returned once more for Salisbury. Greatly to James's anger he opposed the bill for a standing army, though he otherwise endeavoured to serve him faithfully. When the Prince of Orange landed, Compton, bishop of London, attempted to tamper with the fidelity of Fox. Fox refused to take an active part against his old master. His anonymous biographer, however, can only say that ‘he never appeared at his highness's court to make his compliments there till the king had left the country.’ William, who had dined with him when on a visit to England, 23 July 1681, soon won him over to his side. In February 1689–1690 Luttrell heard that Fox ‘hath lately kist his majesties hand, and is received into favour’ (Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857, ii. 16). The next month he took his seat once more at his accustomed boards. Thenceforward whatever changes might occur at the treasury Fox's name was always on the new commission. On 9 Nov. 1691 he succeeded, on the death of Sir William Pulteney, in being returned a second time for Westminster, and he was re-elected by the same constituency on 29 Oct. 1695. In May 1692, James, having arrived at La Hogue, excepted Fox by name in his declaration promising pardon to all who returned to their allegiance. In 1696–7 Fox was a rival with Montague for the place of first commissioner, but at length withdrew from the competition, though not with a very good grace. He wished it to be notified in the ‘London Gazette’ that the place had been offered to him and declined by him. This would have been an affront to Montague. But from tenderness to Fox the promotion of his rival was not announced in the ‘London Gazette’ (Macaulay, Hist. of Engl. ch. xxi.). By a commission, which bears the date 1 Feb. 1696–7, Fox succeeded Henry Frederick Thynne in the office of treasurer and receiver-general to the queen dowager, ‘Sir Christopher Musgrave haveing refused it;’ it is certain that Charles Fox was acting as such by 1700 (Chamberlayne, Angliæ Notitia, ed. 1700, pt. iii. p. 515). On 26 Jan. 1698–9 Fox was chosen member for Cricklade, Wiltshire, in place of Charles Fox, who elected to serve for Salisbury, and was returned again 7 Jan. 1700–1. Upon Anne's accession he wished to retire into private life, but by the queen's express desire he led the commons in procession at her coronation, 23 April 1702, and also acted for a time as first commissioner of horse. He consented to be chosen for Salisbury, 15 March 1713–14, in succession to his son, who had died in the preceding September. In 1685 he had purchased a copyhold estate at Chiswick, Middlesex, on which he built a villa, which excited the admiration of William III, but not that of Evelyn (Lysons, Environs, ii. 209; Evelyn, ii. 169, 175). There he died, 28 Oct. 1716, and was buried at Farley (the date, ‘23 Sept.,’ is wrongly given on his monument). Ninety years later his grandson, Charles James Fox [q. v.], died in the same place. About 1654 he married Elizabeth, daughter of William Whittle of Lancashire, and sister of Sackvill Whittle, chief surgeon to Charles II, by whom he had seven sons and three daughters. Charles, the eldest son, who was named after his godfather, Charles II, died childless in September 1713, and was buried at Farley (Richard Eyre, Funeral Sermon on C. Fox, Esq.) Five other sons, who died young, were buried in Westminster Abbey (Chester, Westminster Abbey Registers). Of the two surviving daughters, Elizabeth, the elder, married, 27 Dec. 1673, Charles, third lord Cornwallis, a disreputable gambler. Evelyn (ii. 156–7) gives an amusing sketch of the ‘grave and dexterous courtesy’ with which Fox foiled Lady Sunderland's attempt to secure his younger daughter Jane for her son, Lord Spencer. Jane Fox was married in 1686 to George, fourth earl of Northampton. Lady Fox died 11 Aug. 1696, ‘much lamented by the poor for her charity’ (Luttrell, iv. 96), and was buried at Farley. In his seventy-seventh year, Fox, ‘unwilling that so plentiful an estate should go out of the name, and being of a vegete and hale constitution,’ married as his second wife, 11 July 1703, Christian, daughter and coheiress of Francis Hopes, rector, first of Haceby and afterwards of Aswarby, both in Lincolnshire (Chester, p. 262, n. 3). By this lady, who was then in her twenty-sixth year, Fox became the father of four more children: Stephen (b. 1704), afterwards Earl of Ilchester; Henry (b. 1705), first Lord Holland [q. v.]; a daughter, Christian, twin with Henry (d. 1708); and another daughter, Charlotte, married in July 1729 to Edward, third son of William, fifth lord Digby. The second Lady Fox dying at Bath, 17 Feb. 1718–1719, was buried at Farley. In the picture at Holland House Sir Godfrey Kneller endows her ‘with small and pretty features, and hair and complexion as dark as her grandson's.’
Fox's reputation for courtesy, kindliness of disposition, and generosity has been amply confirmed by Evelyn. Pepys, too, has much to say in commendation of the paymaster, who confided to him the secrets whereby he was enabled to make such large profits (Diary, ed. Bright, iv. 206). He does not forget to celebrate the ‘very genteel’ dinners of his host, while Lady Fox and her seven children noted for their comeliness received unstinted praise, ‘a family governed so nobly and neatly as do me good to see it’ (ib. v. 335). Fox's portrait by Lely has been engraved by Scriven; of that by J. Baker there are engravings by Simon, Earlom, and Harding (Evans, Cat. of Engraved Portraits, ii. 158). A large mass of his official papers and correspondence is preserved in the Additional Manuscripts in the British Museum.[Memoirs of the Life of Sir Stephen Fox, kt. 8vo, London, 1717 (reprinted fol. London, 1807, and 8vo, London, 1811); Richard Eyre's Sermon preach'd at the Funeral of Sir Stephen Fox, kt. 8vo, London, 1716; Richard Eyre's Sermon preach'd at the Funeral of Charles Fox, esq., 4to, Oxford, 1713; Historical Register, 1716, i. 546–7; Trevelyan's Early Hist. of C. J. Fox, ch. i.; Collins's Peerage (Brydges), iii. 260, iv. 529, v. 382; Le Neve's Pedigrees of the Knights (Harl. Soc.), p. 197; Cal. State Papers (Dom. Ser.); Evelyn's Diary (1850–2); Pepys's Diary (Bright); Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs (1857); Noble's Continuation of Granger's Biog. Hist. i. 150–1; Chester's London Marriage Licences (Foster), col. 508; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers; Lysons's Environs, ii. 155, 208–10; Hoare's Wiltshire, Hundred of Alderbury, sub ‘Farley;’ Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 271, xi. 325, 395, 2nd ser. i. 301, 410, ix. 419, 5th ser. iii. 416, iv. 114; Memorials and Correspondence of C. J. Fox (Russell), vol. i. bk. i.; Earl Russell's Life and Times of C. J. Fox, vol. i. ch. i.; Will of Sir Stephen Fox (P. C. C. 133, Fox); Will of Sackvill Whittle (P. C. C. 52, North); Cal. Clarendon State Papers; Cal. State Papers, Treas., 1692–1719.]