Lord Chancellor of England
Born c.1661 Died 1727
Simon Harcourt, only son of Sir Philip Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, by his first wife, Anne, daughter of Sir William Waller, was born about 1661 at Stanton Harcourt, and was educated at a school at Shilton, Oxfordshire, and at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1683, and soon afterwards was appointed recorder of Abingdon, which borough he represented as a Tory in parliament from 1690 to 1705.
In 1701 he was nominated by the Commons to conduct the impeachment of Lord Somers; and in 1702 he became Solicitor-General and was knighted by Queen Anne. He was elected member for Bossiney in 1705, and as commissioner for arranging the union with Scotland was largely instrumental in promoting that measure. Harcourt was appointed Attorney-General in 1707, but resigned office in the following year when his friend Robert Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, was dismissed. He defended Sacheverell at the bar of the House of Lords in 1710, being then without a seat in parliament; but in the same year was returned for Cardigan, and in September again became Attorney-General. In October he was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and in virtue of this office he presided in the House of Lords for some months without a peerage, until, on the 3rd of September 1711, he was created Baron Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt; but it was not till April 1713 that he received the appointment of Lord Chancellor. In 1710 he had purchased the Nuneham-Courtney estate in Oxfordshire, but his usual place of residence continued to be at Cokethorpe near Stanton Harcourt, where he received a visit in state from Queen Anne.
In the negotiations preceding the peace of Utrecht, Harcourt took an important part. There is no sufficient evidence for the allegations of the Whigs that Harcourt entered into treasonable relations with the Pretender. On the accession of George I he was deprived of office and retired to Cokethorpe, where he enjoyed the society of men of letters, Swift, Pope, Prior and other famous writers being among his frequent guests. With Swift, however, he had occasional quarrels, during one of which the great satirist bestowed on him the sobriquet of 'Trimming Harcourt'. He exerted himself to defeat the impeachment of Lord Oxford in 1717, and in 1723 he was active in obtaining a pardon for another old political friend, Lord Bolingbroke. In 1721 Harcourt was created a viscount and returned to the privy councils; and on several occasions during the king's absences from England he was on the council of regency. He died in London on the 23rd of July 1727.
Harcourt was not a great lawyer, but he enjoyed the reputation of being a brilliant orator; Speaker Onslow going so far as to say that Harcourt "had the greatest skill and power of speech of any man I ever knew in a public assembly". He was a member of the famous Saturday Club, frequented by the chief literati and wits of the period, with several of,whom he corresponded. Some letters to him from Pope are preserved in the Harcourt Papers. His portrait by Kneller is at Nuneham.
Harcourt married, first, Rebecca, daughter of Thomas Clark, his father's chaplain, by whom he had five children; secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Spencer; and thirdly, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Vernon. He left issue by his first wife only. His son, Simon (1684-1720), married Elizabeth, sister of Sir John Evelyn of Wotton, by whom he had one son and four daughters, one of whom married George Venables Vernon, afterwards Lord Vernon. (*)
See Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vol. v. (London, 1846); Edward Foss, The Judges of England, vol. viii. (London, 1848); Gilbert Burnet, History of his own Time (with notes by earls of Dartmouth and Hardwicke, etc., Oxford, 1833); Earl Stanhope, History of England, comprising the reign of Queen Anne until the Peace of Utrecht (London, 1870). In addition to the above-mentioned authorities many particulars concerning the 1st Viscount Harcourt, and also of his grandson, the 1st earl, will be found in the Harcourt Papers. (R. J. M.)
(* Editor; the section of the text included here relating to his grandson has been removed and included under Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt.)
Being the entry for HARCOURT, SIMON HARCOURT 1ST VISCOUNT in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.