1st Baron Henley of Grainge (1760-1772)
1st Earl of Northington (1764-1772)
Lord Chancellor of England
Born c.1708 Died 1772
Robert Henley was the second son of Anthony Henley, a member of a well-to-do family in Hampshire, who was a Whig member of parliament, and a well-known wit and writer. Robert was educated at Westminster school and St Johns College, Oxford; and after gaining a fellowship at All Souls he was called to the bar in 1732. In 1747 he was elected member of parliament for Bath, of which borough he became recorder in 1751. He acquired a lucrative practice at the bar, and in 1756 was appointed attorney-general.
In the following year he was promoted to the office of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, being the last person so designated. For three years Henley, though still a commoner, presided over the House of Lords in virtue of his office; but in 1760 he was created Baron Henley of Grainge in the county of Southampton. The delay in raising him to the peerage was due to the hostility of George II, who resented Henley's former support of the Prince of Wales's faction, known as the Leicester House party; and it was in order that he might preside as Lord High Steward at the trial of Earl Ferrers for murder in 1760 that he then received his patent. On the accession of George III the office of Lord Chancellor was conferred on Henley, and in 1764 he was created Viscount Henley and Earl of Northington. In 1765 he presided at the trial of Lord Byron for killing William Chaworth in a duel.
Northington, who was a member of the group known as the king's friends, was instrumental in procuring the dismissal of the Marquess of Rockingham and the recall of Pitt to office in 1766, and he himself joined the government as Lord President of the Council, Lord Camden becoming chancellor. He resigned office in 1767, and died at his residence in Hampshire on the 14th of January 1772. He married, in 1743, Jane, daughter of Sir John Huband of Ipsley, Warwickshire, by whom he had three sons and five daughters. His youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married Morton Eden, who in 1799 was created Baron Henley in the peerage of Ireland; and her grandson, the 3rd Baron Henley of this creation, was in 1885 created Earl of Northington.
Lord Chancellor Northington was in his youth a man of convivial and boisterous manners, much addicted to swearing. Horace Walpole commented on his undignified bearing at the trial of Lord Ferrers; but Lord Eldon considered him a great lawyer, and his integrity was unquestioned. His notes of cases tried by himself in the Court of Chancery were published in two volumes in 1818.
See Lord Henley, Memoir of Robert Henley, Earl of Northington (London, 1831); Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors; Foss's Judges of England; Horace Walpole's Memoirs.
Extracted from the entry for NORTHINGTON, ROBERT HENLEY, 1ST EARL OF OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.