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Villiers, Edward (1656-1711) (DNB00)

VILLIERS, EDWARD, first Earl of Jersey (1656–1711), born in 1656, was eldest son of Sir Edward Villiers, knight marshal, by his first wife, Frances, youngest daughter of Theophilus Howard, second earl of Suffolk [q. v.] Elizabeth Villiers, countess of Orkney [q. v.], was his sister. The father, Sir Edward (1620–1689), who was fourth son of Sir Edward Villiers (1585?–1626) [q. v.], received knighthood on 7 April 1680, and a grant of the manor and royal house of Richmond in recognition of his services in the civil war. The mother acted as governess to the Princesses Mary and Anne (afterwards queens of England), and her son Edward attended Princess Mary to Holland after her marriage with the Prince of Orange.

On the proclamation of William and Mary as king and queen, Edward Villiers was appointed master of the horse to the queen (February 1688–9), and in June succeeded his father as knight marshal. On 20 March 1690–1 he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Villiers of Dartford and Baron Villiers of Hoo. After the queen's death (1694) he was in 1695 sent as envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the States-General; in 1697 he became one of the lords justices of Ireland, a plenipotentiary for the treaty of Ryswick, and ambassador-extraordinary at The Hague. On 13 Oct. of the same year he was created Earl of Jersey, and in 1698 he went to Paris as ambassador-extraordinary. Returning to England in 1699, he became secretary of state for the southern department on 14 May, and was one of the lords justices of England successively in 1699, 1700, and 1701. He acted as a plenipotentiary in the second treaty of partition, and was appointed lord chamberlain in June 1700, holding the same office after the accession of Queen Anne in 1702, in which year he received the honorary degree of D.C.L., Oxford. Next year, having joined the party of Lord Nottingham in the cabinet in resisting Godolphin's foreign policy, he shared the discomfiture of his leader. Nottingham resigned his office of secretary of state in 1704, and the queen, acting under Godolphin's advice, sent messages to Jersey and Sir Edward Seymour [q. v.] dismissing them from office. Jersey never held office again. His wife Barbara, whom he married in 1681, was a roman catholic, the daughter of William Chiffinch [q. v.], closet-keeper to Charles II, which perhaps was the immediate cause of his being actively implicated in Jacobite plots, as the secret correspondence of M. de Torcy with the priest Gaultier at the close of 1710 undoubtedly proves him to have been. Nevertheless he had been nominated one of the plenipotentiaries at the congress of Utrecht, and was to have received the appointment of lord privy seal on the very day, 26 Aug. 1711, when a fit of apoplexy caused his death. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on 4 Sept.

In Macky's curious ‘Memoirs’ the Earl of Jersey is mentioned as having ‘gone through all the great Offices of the Kingdom, with a very ordinary Understanding; was employed by one of the greatest Kings that ever was, in Affairs of the greatest consequence, and yet a Man of weak Capacity. He makes a very good Figure in his Person, being tall, well-shaped, handsome, and dresses clean.’

Portraits of the earl and his countess, by Kneller (three-quarter figures), are at Middleton Park, Lord Jersey's seat in Oxfordshire.

Villiers was succeeded as second earl by his eldest son, William Villiers (1682?–1721), who graduated M.A. from Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1700, was M.P. for Kent 1705–8, and on account of his Jacobite sympathies received a titular earldom from the ‘old’ Pretender. His son William, third earl (d. 1769), was father of George Bussy Villiers, fourth earl of Jersey [q. v.] Thomas Villiers, first earl of Clarendon [q. v.], was second son of the second earl of Jersey.

[Peerages by Collins, Burke, Doyle, and G. E. C[okayne]; Stanhope's Reign of Queen Anne.]

H. E. M.