Born 1708 Died 1764
Henry Legge, afterwards Bilson-Legge, fourth son of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth (1672-1750), was born on the 2gth of May 1708. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, he became private secretary to Sir Robert Walpole, and in 1739 was appointed secretary of Ireland by the lord-lieutenant, the 3rd Duke of Devonshire; being chosen member of parliament for the borough of East Looe in 1740, and for Orford, Suffolk, at the general election in the succeeding year.
Legge only shared temporarily in the downfall of Walpole, and became in quick succession surveyor-general of woods and forests, a lord of the admiralty, and a lord of the treasury. In 1748 he was sent as envoy extraordinary to Frederick the Great, and although his conduct in Berlin was sharply censured by George II, he became treasurer of the navy soon after his return to England. In April 1754 he joined the ministry of the Duke of Newcastle as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the king consenting to this appointment although refusing to hold any intercourse with the minister; but Legge shared the elder Pitt's dislike of the policy of paying subsidies to the landgrave of Hesse, and was dismissed from office in November 1755. Twelve months later he returned to his post at the exchequer in the administration of Pitt and the 4th Duke of Devonshire, retaining office until April 1757 when he shared both the dismissal and the ensuing popularity of Pitt.
When in conjunction with the Duke of Newcastle, Pitt returned to power in the following July, Legge became Chancellor of the Exchequer for the third time. He imposed new taxes upon houses and windows, and he appears to have lost to some extent the friendship of Pitt, while the king refused to make him a peer. In 1759 he obtained the sinecure position of surveyor of the petty customs and subsidies in the port of London, and having in consequence to resign his seat in parliament he was chosen one of the members for Hampshire, a proceeding which greatly incensed the Earl of Bute, who desired this seat for one of his friends. Having thus incurred Bute's displeasure Legge was again dismissed from the exchequer in March 1761, but he continued to take part in parliamentary debates until his death at Tunbridge Wells on the 23rd of August 1764.
Legge appears to have been a capable financier, but the position of chancellor of the exchequer was not at that time a cabinet office. He took the additional name of Bilson on succeeding to the estates of a relative, Thomas Bettersworth Bilson, in 1754. Pitt called Legge, the child, and deservedly the favourite child, of the Whigs. Horace Walpole said he was of "a creeping, underhand nature, and aspired to the lions place by the manoeuvre of the mole", but afterwards he spoke in high terms of his talents. Legge married Mary, daughter and heiress of Edward, 4th and last Baron Stawel (d. 1755). This lady, who in 1760 was created Baroness Stawel of Somerton, bore him an only child, Henry Stawel Bilson-Legge (17571820), who became Baron Stawel on his mother's death in 1780. When Stawel died without sons his title became extinct. His only daughter, Mary (d. 1864), married John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne.
See John Butler, bishop of Hereford, Some Account of the Character of the late Rt. Hon. H. Bilson-Legge (1765); Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George II. (London, 1847); and Memoirs of the Reign of George IIIHistory of England, vol. ii. (London, 1892); and the memoirs and collections of correspondence of the time.
Being the entry for BILSON-LEGGE, HENRY in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.