Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke

The Right Honourable
The Earl of Hardwicke
Lord Chancellor
In office
Prime Minister Robert Walpole
The Earl of Wilmington
Henry Pelham
The Duke of Newcastle
Preceded by The Lord Talbot
Succeeded by in commission, next held by Sir Robert Henley (as Lord Keeper)
Personal details
Born c.(1690-12-01)1 December 1690
Dover, Kent, England
Died 6 March 1764(1764-03-06) (aged 73)
London, England
Nationality British
Profession Lawyer

Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke PC (1 December 1690  6 March 1764) was an English lawyer and politician who served as Lord Chancellor. He was a close confidant of the Duke of Newcastle, Prime Minister between 1754 and 1756 and 1757 until 1762.


A son of Philip Yorke, an attorney, he was born at Dover. Through his mother, Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of Richard Gibbon of Rolvenden, Kent, he was connected with the family of Edward Gibbon the historian. He was educated at a school in Bethnal Green run by Samuel Morland, a nonconformist.[1]

At age 16 Yorke entered the attorney's office of Charles Salkeld in Holborn, London. He was entered at the Middle Temple in November 1708, and perhaps recommended by his employer to Lord Chief Justice Parker as law tutor to his sons.

In 1715 Yorke was called to the bar, where his progress was, says Lord Campbell, more rapid than that of any other debutant in the annals of our profession, his advancement being greatly furthered by the patronage of Macclesfield, who became lord chancellor in 1718, when Yorke transferred his practice from the king's bench to the court of chancery, though he continued to go on the western circuit. In the following year he established his reputation as an equity lawyer in a case in which Robert Walpole's family was interested, by an argument displaying profound learning and research concerning the jurisdiction of the chancellor, on lines which he afterwards more fully developed in a celebrated letter to Lord Kames on the distinction between law and equity. Through Macclesfield's influence with the Duke of Newcastle Yorke entered parliament in 1719 as member for Lewes, and was appointed solicitor-general, with a knighthood, in 1720, although he was then a barrister of only four years standing.

Philip Yorke married Margaret Cocks, by whom he had five sons and two daughters.

Although in his youth he contributed to The Spectator over the signature Philip Homebred, he seems early to have abandoned all care for literature, and he has been reproached by Lord Campbell and others with his neglect of art and letters. On 16 May 1719 he married Margaret, daughter of Charles Cocks, 1st Baron Somers (by his wife Mary, sister of Lord Chancellor Somers), and widow of John Lygon, by whom he had five sons and two daughters:

In 1739, he purchased Wimpole Hall, the greatest country house in Cambridgeshire.

Hardwicke was succeeded in the earldom by his eldest son, Philip.

His cousin Sir William Yorke, 1st Baronet had a highly successful career as a judge in Ireland, becoming Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas.



The prosecution of Christopher Layer for treason as a Jacobite raised Yorke's reputation as a forensic orator; and in 1723, having already become attorney-general, he passed through the House of Commons the bill of pains and penalties against Francis Atterbury. He was excused, on the ground of his personal friendship, from acting for the crown in the impeachment of Macclesfield in 1725; he soon found a new patron in the Duke of Newcastle.

Lord Hardwicke is also remembered as one of the two authors of the Yorke–Talbot slavery opinion whilst he was a crown law officer in 1729. The opinion was sought to determinate the legality of slavery and Hardwicke (then Philip Yorke) and Charles Talbot opined that it was legal. The opinion was disseminated and relied upon widely. Lord Hardwicke would subsequently endorse the views in the opinion in a judicial capacity in Pearne v Lisle (1749) Amb 75, 27 ER 47. He rendered valuable service to Walpole's government by his support of the bill for prohibiting loans to foreign powers (1730), of the increase of the army (1732) and of the excise bill (1733).

Walpole government

In 1733 Yorke was appointed lord chief justice of the king's bench, with the title of Lord Hardwicke, and was sworn of the privy council; and in 1737 he succeeded Lord Talbot as lord chancellor, thus becoming a member of Walpole's cabinet. One of his first official acts was to deprive the poet James Thomson of a small office conferred on him by Talbot.

House of Lords

Hardwicke's political importance was greatly increased by his move to the House of Lords, where the incompetency of Newcastle threw on the chancellor the duty of defending the measures of the government. He resisted Carteret's motion to reduce the army in 1738, and the resolutions hostile to Spain over the affair of Captain Jenkins's ears. But when Walpole bent before the storm and declared war against Spain, Hardwicke advocated energetic measures for its conduct; and he tried to keep the peace between Newcastle and Walpole. There is no sufficient ground for Horace Walpole's charge that the fall of Sir Robert was brought about by Hardwicke's treachery.

Wilmington government

No one was more surprised than himself when he retained the chancellorship in the following administration, and he resisted the proposal to indemnify witnesses against Walpole in one of his finest speeches in May 1742. He exercised a leading influence in the Wilmington Cabinet; and when Wilmington died in August 1743, it was Hardwicke who put forward Henry Pelham for the vacant office against the claims of Pulteney. For many years from this time he was the controlling power in the government.

During the king's absences on the continent Hardwicke was left at the head of the council of regency; it thus fell to him to concert measures for dealing with the Jacobite rising in 1745. After Culloden he presided at the trial of the Scottish Jacobite peers, his conduct of which, though judicially impartial, was neither dignified nor generous; and he must be held partly responsible for the severity meted out to the rebels, and especially for the executions on obsolete attainders of Charles Radclyffe and (in 1753) of Archibald Cameron of Locheil. He carried out a major reform in 1746 which swept away the feudal power surviving in Scotland in the form of private heritable jurisdictions in the hands of the landed gentry. On the other hand, his legislation in 1748 for disarming the Highlanders and prohibiting the use of the tartan in their dress was vexatious without being effective. Hardwicke supported Chesterfield's reform of the calendar in 1751; in 1753 his bill for legalizing the naturalization of Jews in England had to be dropped on account of the popular clamour it excited; but he successfully carried a Marriage Act which became the basis of subsequent legislation.

Newcastle government

On the death of Pelham in 1754 Hardwicke obtained for Newcastle the post of prime minister, and for reward was created earl of Hardwicke and Viscount Royston; and when in November 1756 the weakness of the ministry and the threatening aspect of foreign affairs compelled Newcastle to resign, Hardwicke retired with him. He played a part in negotiating the coalition between Newcastle and Pitt in 1757, when he accepted a seat in Pitt's cabinet without returning to the woolsack. After the accession of George III Hardwicke opposed the ministry of Lord Bute on the peace with France in 1762, and on the cider tax in the following year. In the Wilkes case Hardwicke condemned general warrants, and also the doctrine that seditious libels published by members of parliament were protected by parliamentary privilege. He died in London on 6 March 1764.


In 1736 the King's Bench, under his presidency, delivered the seminal judgment in Middleton v. Crofts 2 Atk 650, which held that canons made in the provincial clergy convocations could not, by themselves, bind the lay faithful. He held the office of lord chancellor longer than any of his predecessors, with a single exception. His decisions fixed limits and established principles of Equity. His influence was powerful in obliterating the traditions of the judicial bench under the Stuart monarchy, and in establishing the modern conception of the duties and demeanour of English judges. While still at the bar Lord Chesterfield praised his conduct of crown prosecutions as a contrast to the former bloodhounds of the crown; and he described Sir Philip Yorke as naturally humane, moderate and decent.

Cases and legislation


See also


  1. Thomas, Peter D. G. "Yorke, Philip". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30245. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

Further reading

The contemporary authorities for the life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke are voluminous, in the memoirs of the period and in collections of correspondence. See, especially:

See also:

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Thomas Pelham
John Morley Trevor
Member of Parliament for Lewes
With: Thomas Pelham
Succeeded by
Thomas Pelham
Henry Pelham (of Stanmer)
Preceded by
George Naylor
Henry Pelham
Member of Parliament for Seaford
With: Sir William Gage, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir William Gage, Bt
William Hay
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir William Thomson
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir Clement Wearg
Preceded by
Sir Robert Raymond
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir John Willes
Preceded by
Sir Robert Raymond
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench
Succeeded by
Sir William Lee
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Talbot
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
In Commission
Peerage of Great Britain
New title Earl of Hardwicke
Succeeded by
Philip Yorke
Baron Hardwicke
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