The English statesman and historian Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), was the first minister of Charles II in exile and then in England until 1666.
The son of Henry Hyde of Dinton, Wiltshire, Edward Hyde was born on Feb. 18, 1609. He attended Oxford University and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1626, the year after he had begun legal studies at the Middle Temple. Noted for his intellectual abilities, he associated with prominent scholars and writers, and among his friends were the playwright Ben Jonson and the statesman, poet, and literary patron Lord Falkland.
Hyde's first wife died 6 months after their marriage in 1629, and in 1634 he married Frances Aylesbury. Having been called to the bar in 1633, he soon built up a profitable legal practice and was also awarded government posts, owing in part to the influence of his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Aylesbury.
Hyde's political ideals were formed in the period before the English civil war as a member of the Falkland circle. He believed in a balanced sovereignty between Parliament and the monarchy, such as he felt had existed in the time of Queen Elizabeth. It was his tragedy that such a balance was never obtained during his career; he was driven from position to position, never truly leading policy but largely fighting rearguard actions.
In the late 1630s Hyde felt the main violation of this balanced concept of government proceeded from the king. Elected to Parliament in 1640, he was extremely active in the original movements to check royal power and was a leading formulator of the impeachment proceedings against Lord Strafford. But by late 1641 he began to oppose the revolutionary tendencies, particularly in religious matters, among the controlling parliamentary leaders. He successfully obstructed the Root and Branch Bill to destroy the Church and became an adherent of the royal minority in the Lower House.
By 1643 Hyde had become a leading councilor of King Charles I and was among those who proposed the calling of the Parliament at Oxford that opened the civil war. Appointed chief adviser to the heir apparent, Prince Charles, he followed the prince into exile in 1646. During the years of exile, although his advice was not always heeded, he was the principal figure at the prince's court.
With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Hyde continued as the first minister of the returned prince, who was then styled King Charles II. In 1660 Hyde was created Baron Hyde and in 1661 Earl of Clarendon. For the first year of his ministry he, like the King, favored programs of moderation, amelioration, and toleration, but with the election of the Cavalier Parliament in 1661, Clarendon's position had to change. Since his principal responsibility was to lead Parliament into cooperation with the King, his policy had to be based on accommodation. The new Parliament being rigidly Cavalier royalist and stridently Anglican, Clarendon was forced into a similar posture. Thus the religious laws of the early 1660s, which established persecutive measures against Dissenters, are known as the Clarendon code but were framed largely by those whom Clarendon needed for support in other matters.
Clarendon's position was further complicated by the fact that a number of very ambitious courtiers constantly attacked him on nearly every issue. There were impeachment attempts made upon him as early as 1663. Clarendon was the subject of considerable envy over the marriage in 1660 of his daughter Anne to the heir apparent, James, Duke of York. When the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza of Portugual proved to be barren, it was rumored that Clarendon had purposely married the King to a barren princess to secure the throne for his own grandchildren. Clarendon was also wrongly blamed for the sale of Dunkirk to the French and for the failure of the English project at Tangier. Finally his obvious disapproval of the manners at court and his increasing high-handedness in council irritated the King.
Clarendon's fall, however, proceeded mainly from the loss of the Dutch War in 1666. Although he had been less than enthusiastic in the pursuit of this war, the defeat did not stem principally from his mishandling of the situation. But the blow to his prestige because of the English loss destroyed his already-weakened influence at court and shattered his party in Parliament. Thus, despite support of Clarendon by the Duke of York's faction and the Anglican bishops, in 1667 Parliament began impeachment proceedings against him. The court party and the King, along with almost every dissident interest in England, including many of the Cavaliers, advocated impeachment. Clarendon was persuaded to flee into exile, and the impeachment was turned into a bill for perpetual banishment.
Clarendon spent the rest of his life in France. He had the satisfaction of seeing many of his enemies shatter themselves in the scramble for office which followed his own fall. During his years in exile he wrote his memoirs and completed his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars. His writings supply historians with some of the best available source material for the period. Clarendon died at Rouen on Dec. 9, 1674.
Further Reading on 1st Earl of Clarendon
The best biographies of Clarendon are T. H. Lister, Life and Administration of Edward, First Earl of Clarendon (3 vols., 1837-1838), and B. H. G. Wormald, Clarendon (1951), which covers only the civil war period. The serious student of Clarendon or his times should also turn to Clarendon's own writings. The general works on the period, David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II (2 vols., 1934; 2d ed. 1962), and G. N. Clark, The Later Stuarts, 1660-1714 (1934; 2d ed. 1955), may be supplemented by such special works as Keith Feiling, A History of the Tory Party, 1640-1714 (1924), which deals extensively with Clarendon's political career.
Additional Biography Sources
Brownley, Martine Watson, Clarendon and the rhetoric of historical form, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.
Clarendon, Edward Hyde, Earl of, Selections from the History of the rebellion and the Life by himself, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Harris, R. W. (Ronald Walter), Clarendon and the English Revolution, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1983.
Harris, R. W. (Ronald Walter), Clarendon and the English Revolution, London: Hogarth Press, 1983.
Ollard, Richard Lawrence, Clarendon and his friends, New York: Atheneum, 1988, 1987.
Wormald, B. H. G., Clarendon—politics, history, and religion, 1640-1660, Cambridge England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989, 1951.