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WILMOT, HENRY, first Earl of Rochester (1612?–1658), third but only surviving son of Charles, first viscount Wilmot [q. v.], by his first wife, was born on 2 Nov., probably in 1612 (G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peerage, vi. 480; Doyle, Official Baronage, iii. 151). In 1635 Wilmot was captain of a troop of horse in the Dutch service (Strafford Letters, i. 423, ii. 115; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1635, p. 54). In the second Scottish war he was commissary-general of horse in the king's army, and distinguished himself by his good conduct at Newburn, where he was taken prisoner by the Scots (ib. 1640, pp. 43, 645; Terry, Life of Alexander Leslie, pp. 118–138). He represented Tamworth in the Long parliament, and took part in the plot for bringing up the army to overawe the parliament, for which he was committed to the Tower on 14 June 1641, and expelled from the house on 9 Dec. following (Commons' Journals, ii. 175, 337; Report on the Duke of Portland's MSS. i. 18; Husband, Ordinances, 1643, pp. 216–20).

Wilmot joined the king in Yorkshire when the civil war began, commanded a troop of horse, and held the posts of muster-master and commissary-general (Peacock, Army Lists, p. 16; Old Parliamentary History, xi. 260). Clarendon blames him for not preventing the relief of Coventry in August 1642 (ib. xi. 397; Clarendon, Rebellion, v. 446 n.) He was wounded in the skirmish at Worcester on 23 Sept. 1642, and commanded the cavalry of the king's left wing at the battle of Edgehill (ib. vi. 44, 85). Wilmot captured the town of Marlborough in December 1642, but his greatest exploit during the war was the crushing defeat he inflicted on Sir William Waller (1597?–1668) [q. v.] at Roundway Down, near Devizes, on 13 July 1643 (ib. vi. 156, vii. 115; Waylen, History of Marlborough, p. 160). In April 1643 Wilmot was appointed lieutenant-general of the horse in the king's army, and on 29 June 1643 he was created Baron Wilmot of Adderbury in Oxfordshire (Black, Oxford Docquets, pp. 26, 53). Clarendon describes Wilmot ‘as an orderly officer in marches and governing his troops,’ while also very popular with his officers on account of his good fellowship and companionable wit. The comparison, after the manner of Plutarch, between Wilmot and Goring is the most amusing passage in the ‘History of the Rebellion’ (viii. 169). Extremely ambitious and perpetually at feud with the king's civil counsellors, Wilmot was specially hostile to Lords Digby and Colepeper. Prince Rupert, on the other hand, cherished a personal animosity to Wilmot, and Charles I had no great liking for him (ib. vi. 126, vii. 121, viii. 30, 94). In 1644 these different causes led to Wilmot's fall. During the earlier part of the campaign the absence of Rupert and the infirmities of the Earl of Brentford made him practically commander-in-chief of that part of the army which was with the king. According to Clarendon he neglected military opportunities and spent his energy in cabals. At Cropredy Bridge, however, on 29 June Wilmot again defeated Sir William Waller. In the battle he was wounded and taken prisoner, but was rescued again almost immediately (ib. viii. 65; Walker, Historical Discourses, p. 33; Diary of Richard Symonds, p. 23). After this success the king marched into Cornwall in pursuit of the Earl of Essex, where Wilmot recommenced his intrigues. The king, he was reported to have said, was afraid of peace, and the only way to end the war was to set up the Prince of Wales, who had no share in the causes of these troubles. A private message which he sent to Essex by the bearer of an official letter from the king to the parliamentary commander roused suspicion that he was endeavouring by the concerted action of the two generals to impose terms on the king and parliament, and on 8 Aug. he was arrested and deprived of his command. He also lost his joint presidency of Connaught, to which he had been appointed in April 1644, succeeding his father in that office, and as second Viscount Wilmot of Athlone (Lascelles, Liber Mun. Hibernicorum, ii. 189, 190; Gilbert, Cont. Hist. vol. i.). His popularity, however, with the officers of the royal army, who petitioned the king on his behalf, prevented any further proceedings against him, and he was released and allowed to retire to France (ib. pp. 106–10; Walker, p. 57; Clarendon, Rebellion, viii. 96). At Paris in October 1647 Wilmot fought a duel with his old enemy, Lord Digby, and was slightly wounded (Carte, Original Letters, i. 63, 146, 159).

When Charles II succeeded his father Wilmot became one of the new king's chief advisers. He was appointed a gentleman of the bedchamber on 3 April 1649, and consulted on questions of policy, though not a member of the privy council (Baillie Letters, iii. 88; Carte, Original Letters, i. 339). He accompanied Charles to Scotland, attached himself to the Marquis of Argyll's faction, and was allowed to stay in the country when other English royalists were expelled. Rumour credited him with betraying the king's design to join Middleton and the Scottish royalists in October 1650 (Walker, Historical Discourses, pp. 158, 161, 197; Nicholas Papers, i. 201–8). Wilmot fought at Worcester, accompanied the king in the greater part of his wanderings after that battle, and helped to procure the ship in which both escaped to France in October 1651 (Clarendon, Rebellion, xiii. 87–106; Fea, The Flight of the King, 1897, passim). The common perils they had endured strengthened his political position, and Wilmot, ‘who had cultivated the king's affection during the time of their peregrination and drawn many promises from him,’ was one of the committee of four whom Charles thenceforward consulted with in all his affairs (Clarendon, Rebellion, xiii. 123; Clarendon State Papers, iii. 46). On 13 Dec. 1652 he was created Earl of Rochester (Doyle, iii. 152; Clarendon, Rebellion, xiii. 147). Charles also employed him on many diplomatic missions. In May 1652 he was sent to negotiate with the Duke of Lorraine (Nicholas Papers, i. 301), and in December of the same year he was despatched to negotiate with the diet of the empire at Ratisbon, from whom he succeeded in obtaining a subsidy of about 10,000l. for the king's service (Clarendon, Rebellion, xiv. 55, 103). In 1654 he was sent on a mission to the elector of Brandenburg, from whom the king hoped for assistance to further the rising attempted by the Scottish royalists (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 204, 220, 230, 251). In February 1655 Rochester went to England to direct the movements of the royalist conspirators against the Protector, with power to postpone or to authorise an insurrection, as it seemed advisable. He sanctioned the attempt, but at the rendezvous of the Yorkshire cavaliers on 8 March at Marston Moor found himself with only about a hundred followers, and abandoned the hopeless enterprise. Clarendon unfairly blames him for desisting, but royalists in general did not (Rebellion, xiv. 135). Thanks to his skill in disguises, Rochester contrived to effect his escape, and, though arrested on suspicion at Aylesbury, got back to the continent early in June (English Historical Review, 1888 p. 337, 1889 pp. 315, 319, 331). In 1656, when Charles II raised a little army in Flanders, Rochester was colonel of one of its four regiments (Clarendon, Rebellion, xv. 68). He died at Sluys on 19 Feb. 1657–8, and was buried at Bruges by Lord Hopton (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1658, pp. 297, 300). After the Restoration his body is said to have been reinterred at Spelsbury, Oxfordshire.

Rochester married twice: first, on 21 Aug. 1633, at Chelsea, Frances, daughter of Sir George Morton of Clenston, Dorset, by Catherine, daughter of Sir Arthur Hopton of Witham, Somerset; secondly, about 1644, Anne, widow of Sir Francis Henry Lee, bart. (d. 13 July 1639), and daughter of Sir John St. John, bart., by Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Leighton. Portraits of her and her first husband are reproduced in ‘Memoirs of the Verney Family’ (i. 241, iii. 464). She was the friend of Sir Ralph Verney and of Colonel Hutchinson, and helped to save the life of the latter at the Restoration (Verney, Memoirs, i. 247, iii. 464; Life of Colonel Hutchinson, 1885, ii. 258, 268, 396). She was also the mother of John, second earl of Rochester [q. v.], survived her son, and was buried at Spelsbury, Oxfordshire, on 18 March 1696 (G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peerage, vi. 481).

[Doyle's Official Baronage, iii. 151; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, vi. 480; Clarendon's History of the Rebellion; Clarendon State Papers; Nicholas Papers. Many of Wilmot's letters are among the correspondence of Prince Rupert in the British Museum, some of which are printed in Warburton's Prince Rupert.]

C. H. F.