English Lord Treasurer
Born 1630 Died 1673
Thomas Clifford, a member of the ancient family of Clifford, descended from Walter de Clifford of Clifford Castle in Herefordshire, was the son of Hugh Clifford of Ugbrook near Exeter, and of Mary, daughter of Sir George Chudleigh of Ashton, Devonshire. He was born on the ist of August 1630, matriculated in 1647 at Exeter College, Oxford, where he showed distinguished ability, supplicated for the B.A. degree in 1650, and entered the Middle Temple in 1648. He represented Totnes in the convention parliament and in that of 1661; and he joined the faction of young men who spoke "confidently and often," and who sought to rise to power by attacking Clarendon. The chancellor, according to Burnet, had repulsed his advances on account of his Romanism, and Clifford accordingly offered his services to Arlington, whose steady supporter he now became.
On the 16th of February 1663 Clifford obtained the reversion of a tellership in the exchequer, and in 1664, on the outbreak of the Dutch war, was appointed commissioner for the care of the sick, wounded and prisoners, with a salary of £1,200. He was knighted, and was present with James at the victory off Lowestoft over the Dutch on the 3rd of June 1665, was rewarded with the prize-ship Patriarch Isaac, and in August, under the Earl of Sandwich, took a prominent part in the unsuccessful attempt to capture the Dutch East India fleet in Bergen harbour. In August he was appointed by Arlington's influence ambassador with Henry Coventry to the north of Europe. Subsequently he served again with the fleet, was present with Albemarle at the indecisive fight on the 1st to the 4th of June 1666, and at the victory on the 25th of July. In October 1667 he was one of those selected by the Commons to prepare papers concerning the naval operations. He showed great zeal and energy in naval affairs, and he is described by Pepys as "a very fine gentleman, and much set by at court for his activity in going to sea and stoutness everywhere and stirring up and down." He became the same year controller of the household and a privy councillor, in 1667 a commissioner for the treasury, and in 1668 treasurer of the household. In the Commons he supported the court, opposing the bill for frequent parliaments in 1668 and the Coventry Act (see Sir John Coventry) in 1670.
Clifford was an ardent Roman Catholic, a supporter of the royal prerogative and of the French alliance. He regarded with favour the plan of seeking French assistance in order to force Romanism and absolute government upon the country, and his complete failure to understand the real political position and the interests of the nation is reflected in the advice he was said to have given to Charles, to accept the pension from Louis, and "be the slave of one man rather than of 500." As one of the Cabal ministry, therefore, he co-operated very zealously with the king in breaking through the Triple Alliance and in effecting the understanding with France. He was the only minister besides Arlington entrusted with the secret treaty of Dover of 1670, signing both this agreement and also the ostensible treaty imparted to all the members of the Cabal, and did his utmost to urge Charles to join France in the attack upon the Dutch, whom he detested as republicans and Protestants.
In 1672, during the absence of Arlington and Coventry abroad, Clifford acted as principal secretary of state, and was chiefly responsible for the 'stop of the exchequer', and probably also for the attack upon the Dutch Smyrna fleet. He was appointed this year a commissioner to inquire into the settlement of Ireland. On the 22nd of April he was raised to the peerage as Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, and on the 28th of November, by the Duke of York's interest, he was made Lord Treasurer; his conduct to Arlington, whose claims to the office he had pretended to press, was, according to Evelyn, the only act of "real ingratitude" in his career. Arlington, however, quickly discovered a means of securing Clifford's fall. The latter was strongly in favour of Charles's policy of indulgence, and supported the declaration of this year, urging the king to overcome the resistance of parliament by a dissolution. Arlington advocated the contrary policy of concession, and after Charles's withdrawal of the declaration gave his support to the Test Act of 1673. Clifford spoke with great vehemence against the measure, describing it as "monstrum horrendum ingens," but his speech only increased the anti Roman Catholic feeling in parliament and ensured the passing of the bill. In consequence Clifford, as a Roman Catholic, followed the Duke of York into retirement.
His resignation caused considerable astonishment, since he had never publicly professed his religion, and in 1671 had even built a new Protestant chapel at his home at Ugbrook. According to Evelyn, however, his conduct was governed by a promise previously given to James. He gave up the treasuryship and his seat in the privy council in June. On the 3rd of July 1673 he received a general pardon from the king. In August he said a last farewell to Evelyn, and in less than a month he died at Ugbrook. In Evelyn's opinion the cause of death was suicide, but his suspicions do not appear to have received any contemporary support. Clifford was one of the worst advisers of Charles II, but a sincere and consistent one. Evelyn declares him "a valiant, uncorrupt gentleman, ambitious, not covetous, generous, passionate, a most constant, sincere friend." He married Elizabeth, daughter of William Martin of Lindridge, Devonshire, by whom he had fifteen children, four sons and seven daughters surviving him. He was succeeded as 2nd baron by Hugh, his fifth, but eldest surviving son, the ancestor of the present Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. (P.C.Y.)
Being the entry for CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH, THOMAS CLIFFORD 1ST BARON, in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.