John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey

Not to be confused with John Hervey, Lord Hervey.
The Right Honourable
The Lord Hervey
Lord Privy Seal
In office
Monarch George II
Prime Minister Robert Walpole
Preceded by The Earl of Godolphin
Succeeded by The Earl Gower
Personal details
Born (1696-10-13)13 October 1696
Died 5 August 1743(1743-08-05) (aged 46)

John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey PC (13 October 1696  5 August 1743), English courtier and political writer and memoirist, was the eldest son of John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, by his second wife, Elizabeth. He was known as Lord Hervey from 1723, upon the death of his elder half-brother, Carr, the only son of his father's first wife, Isabella, but Lord Hervey never became Earl of Bristol, as he predeceased his father.


Hervey was educated at Westminster School and at Clare College, Cambridge, where he took his M.A. degree in 1715.[1] His father then sent him to Paris in 1716, and thence to Hanover to pay court to George I.

He was a frequent visitor at the court of the Prince and Princess of Wales at Richmond, and in 1720 he married Mary Lepell, daughter of Nicholas Lepell, who was one of the Princess's ladies-in-waiting, and a great court beauty. In 1723 John's elder half-brother Carr died, whereby he became heir apparent to the Earldom of Bristol with the courtesy title of Lord Hervey. In 1725 he was elected M.P. for Bury St Edmunds.

Hervey had been at one time on very friendly terms with Frederick, Prince of Wales, but in about 1723 they quarrelled, apparently because they were rivals for the affection of Anne Vane. These differences probably account for the scathing picture he draws of the Prince's callous conduct. Hervey had been hesitating between William Pulteney (afterwards earl of Bath) and Robert Walpole, but in 1730 he definitely took sides with Walpole, of whom he was thenceforward a faithful adherent. He was assumed by Pulteney to be the author of Sedition and Defamation display'd, with a Dedication to the patrons of The Craftsman (1731). Pulteney, who, up to this time, had been a firm friend of Hervey, replied with A Proper Reply to a late Scurrilous Libel, and the quarrel resulted in a duel from which Hervey narrowly escaped with his life.

Hervey is said to have denied the authorship of both the pamphlet and its dedication, but a note on the manuscript at Ickworth, apparently in his own hand, states that he wrote the latter. He was able to render valuable service to Walpole from his influence with the Queen. Through him the minister governed Queen Caroline and indirectly George II. Hervey was vice-chamberlain in the royal household and a member of the Privy Council. In 1733 he was called to the House of Lords by writ of acceleration in his father's Barony. He was then elected a governor of the Foundling Hospital prior to its foundation in 1739.[2] In spite of repeated requests he received no further preferment until after 1740, when he became Lord Privy Seal.

After the fall of Sir Robert Walpole he was dismissed (July 1742) from his office. An excellent political pamphlet, Miscellaneous Thoughts on the present Posture of Foreign and Domestic Affairs, shows that he still retained his mental vigour, but he was liable to epilepsy, and his weak appearance and rigid diet were a constant source of ridicule to his enemies. He predeceased his father, but three of his sons became successively Earls of Bristol.

Memoirs and literary quarrels

Hervey wrote detailed and brutally frank memoirs of the court of George II from 1727 to 1737. He gave a most unflattering account of the King, and of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and their family squabbles. For the Queen and her daughter, Princess Caroline, he had a genuine respect and attachment, and the Princess's affection for him was commonly said to be the reason for the close retirement in which she lived after his death. The manuscript of Hervey's memoirs was preserved by the family, but his son, Augustus John, 3rd Earl of Bristol, left strict injunctions that they should not be published until after the death of George III. In 1848 they were published under the editorship of JW Croker, but the manuscript had been subjected to a certain amount of mutilation before it came into his hands. Croker also softened in some cases the plainspokenness of the original. Hervey's bitter account of court life and intrigues resembles in many points the memoirs of Horace Walpole, and the two books corroborate one another in many statements that might otherwise have been received with suspicion.

Until the publication of the Memoirs Hervey was chiefly known as the object of savage satire on the part of Alexander Pope, in whose works he figured as Lord Fanny, Sporus, Adonis and Narcissus. The quarrel is generally put down to Pope's jealousy of Hervey's friendship with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. In the first of the Imitations of Horace, addressed to William Fortescue, Lord Fanny and Sappho were generally identified with Hervey and Lady Mary, although Pope denied the personal intention. Hervey had already been attacked in the Dunciad and the Peribathous, and he now retaliated. There is no doubt that he had a share in the Verses to the Imitator of Horace (1732) and it is possible that he was the sole author. In the Letter from a nobleman at Hampton Court to a Doctor of Divinity (1733), he scoffed at Pope's deformity and humble birth.

Pope's reply was a Letter to a Noble Lord, dated November 1733, and the portrait of Sporus in the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1743), which forms the prologue to the satires. Many of the insinuations and insults contained in it are borrowed from Pulteney's libel.

Some literary critics, such as Martin C. Battestin,[3] suggest that Pope's friend and fellow-satirist, Henry Fielding intended the character of Beau Didapper in Joseph Andrews to be read as Hervey. Beau Didapper is described as obedient to the commands of a "Great Man" (presumably Walpole) "which he implicitly submitted to, at the Expence of his Conscience, his Honour, and of his Country." Didapper is also compared to Hylas, and is mistaken for a woman in the dark on account of his soft skin.

The malicious caricature of Sporus does Hervey great injustice, and he is not much better treated by Horace Walpole, who in reporting his death in a letter (14 August 1743) to Horace Mann, said he had outlived his last inch of character. Nevertheless, his writings prove him to have been a man of real ability, condemned by Walpole's tactics and distrust of able men to spend his life in court intrigue, the weapons of which, it must be owned, he used with the utmost adroitness. His wife Lady Hervey (1700–1768), of whom an account is to be found in Lady Louisa Stuart's Anecdotes, was a warm partisan of the Stuarts. She retained her wit and charm throughout her life, and has the distinction of being the recipient of English verses by Voltaire.


Hervey was bisexual.[4] He was married to Mary Lepell, but he had an affair with Anne Vane, and possibly ones with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Princess Caroline. He lived with Stephen Fox often during the decade after he followed him to Italy in 1728. He wrote passionate love letters to Francesco Algarotti, whom he first met in 1736. He may have had a sexual affair with Prince Frederick before their friendship dissolved. He was in fact denounced as a sexually ambiguous figure in his time most notably by William Pulteney, then leader of the Opposition and as cited above, by Alexander Pope in his "Sporus" portrait: "Let Sporus tremble/ What that thing of silk...His wit all seesaw between that and this/Now high, now low, now master up, now miss/ And he himself one vile antithesis...". He was also attracted to Henry Fox before his affair with Stephen Fox.[5][6]



See Hervey's Memoirs of the Court of George II, edited by John Wilson Croker (1848); and an article by G. F. Russell Barker in the Dictionary of National Biography.[7] Besides the Memoirs he wrote numerous political pamphlets, and some occasional verses.

Modern portrayals

Hervey appears as a character in the 1999 British television series Aristocrats where he is portrayed by Anthony Finigan. He is shown acting as a patron to the younger Henry Fox.

Hervey appears as a character in the historical novel Peter: The Untold True Story (2013) by Christopher Mechling, a tale of 18th century feral child Peter the Wild Boy, whom the author believes was the inspiration for Peter Pan.[8][9]


  1. "Hervey, John (HRVY713J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. R.H. Nichols and F A. Wray, The History of the Foundling Hospital (London: Oxford University Press, 1935)
  3. Battestin, Martin C. "General Introduction" in Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1967.
  4. Lucy Moore, Amphibious Thing: the Life of Lord Hervey (Viking, 2000)
  5. James Dubro – "The Third Sex: Lord Hervey and his Coterie", Eighteenth Century Life", Summer 1976 and see also "John Lord Hervey," Body Politic, Toronto. summer 1975.
  6. Reed Browning, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  7.  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1891). "Hervey, John (1696-1743)". Dictionary of National Biography. 26. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Further reading

For a recent account of Hervey and Caroline, see Janice Hadlow, The Strangest Family.The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians. London 2014.

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
James Reynolds
Sir Jermyn Davers
MP for Bury St Edmunds
1725–1733 with
Sir Jermyn Davers 1725–1727
Thomas Norton 1727–1733
Succeeded by
Thomas Hervey
Thomas Norton
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir William Stanhope
Vice-Chamberlain of the Household
Succeeded by
Lord Sidney Beauclerk
Preceded by
The Earl of Godolphin
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Lord Gower
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
John Hervey
Baron Hervey
(writ of acceleration)

Succeeded by
John Hervey
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