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Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds

Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds (1631-1712), English statesman, commonly known also by his earlier title of Earl of Danby, son of Sir Edward Osborne, Bart., of Kiveton, Yorkshire, was born in 1631. He was great-grandson of Sir Edward Osborne (d. 1591), Lord Mayor of London, who, according to the accepted account, while apprentice to Sir William Hewett, clothworker and lord mayor in 1559, made the fortunes of the family by leaping from London Bridge into the river and rescuing Anne (d. 1585), the daughter of his employer, whom he afterwards married. Thomas Osborne, the future Lord Treasurer, succeeded to the baronetcy and estates in Yorkshire on his fatherís death in 1647, and after unsuccessfully courting his cousin Dorothy Osborne, married Lady Bridget Bertie, daughter of the Earl of Lindsey. He was introduced to public life and to court by his neighbour in Yorkshire, George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, was elected M.P. for York in 1665, and gained the "first step in his future rise" by joining Buckingham in his attack on Clarendon in 1667. In 1668 he was appointed joint treasurer of the navy with Sir Thomas Lyttelton, and subsequently sole treasurer. He succeeded Sir William Coventry as commissioner for the state treasury in 1669, and in 1673 was appointed a commissioner for the admiralty. He was created Viscount Osborne in the Scottish peerage on 2 February 1673, and a privy councillor on 3 May. On 19 June, on the resignation of Lord Clifford, he was appointed lord treasurer and made Baron Osborne of Kiveton and Viscount Latimer in the peerage of England, while on 27 June 1674 he was created Earl of Danby, when he surrendered his Scottish peerage of Osborne to his second son Peregrine Osborne. He was appointed the same year lord-lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in 1677 received the Garter.

Danby was a statesman of very different calibre from the leaders of the Cabal ministry, Buckingham and Arlington. His principal aim was no doubt the maintenance and increase of his own influence and party, but his ambition corresponded with definite political views. A member of the old cavalier party, a confidential friend and correspondent of the despotic Lauderdale, he desired to strengthen the executive and the royal authority. At the same time he was a keen partisan of the established church, an enemy of both Roman Catholics and diisenters, and an opponent of all toleration. In 1673 he opposed the Indulgence, supported the Test Act, and spoke against the proposal for giving relief to the dissenters. In June 1675 he signed the paper of advice drawn up by the bishops for the king, urging the rigid enforeement of the laws against the Roman Catholics, their complete banishment from the court, and the suppression of conventicles, and a bill introduced by him imposing special taxes on recusants and subjecting Roman Catholic priests to imprisonment for life was only thrown out as too lenient because it secured offenders from the charge of treason. The same year he introduced a Test Oath by which all holding office or seats in either House of Parliament were to declare resistance to the royal power a crime, and promise to abstain from all attempts to alter the government of either church or state; but this extreme measure of retrograde toryism was successfully opposed by wiser statesmen. The king himself as a Roman Catholic secretly opposed and also doubted the wisdom and practicability of this "thorough" policy of repression. Danby therefore ordered a return from every diocese of the numbers of dissenters, both Romanist and Protestant, in order by a proof of their insignificance to remove the royal scruples. In December 1676 he issued a proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses because of the "defamation of His Majestyís Government" which took place in them, but this was soon withdrawn. In 1677, to secure Protestantism in case of a Roman Catholic succession, he introduced a bill by which ecclesiastical patronage and the care of the royal children were entrusted to the bishops; but this measure, like the other, was thrown out.

In foreign affairs Danby showed a stronger grasp of essentials. He desired to increase English trade, credit and power abroad. He was a determined enemy both to Roman influence and to French ascendancy. He terminated the war with Holland in 1674, and from that time maintained a friendly correspondence with William; while in 1677, after two years of tedious negotiations, he overcame all obstacles, and in spite of Jamesís opposition, and without the knowledge of Louis XIV, effected the marriage between William and Mary that was the germ of the Revolution and the Act of Settlement. This national policy, however, could only he pursued, and the minister could only maintain himself in power, by acquiescence in the kingís personal relations with the king of France settled by the disgraceful Treaty of Dover in 1670, which included Charlesís acceptance of a pension, and bound him to a policy exactly opposite to Danbyís, one furthering French and Roman ascendancy. Though not a member of the Cabal ministry, and in spite of his own denial, Danby must, it would seem, have known of these relations after becoming Lord Treasurer. In any case, in 1676, together with Lauderdale alone, he consented to a treaty between Charles and Louis according to which the foreign policy of both kings was to be conducted in union, and Charles received an annual subsidy of £100,000. In 1678 Charles, taking advantage of the growing hostility to France in the nation and parliament, raised his price, and Danby by his directions demanded through Ralph Montagu (afterwards Duke of Montagu) six million livres a year (L300,000) for three years. Simultaneously Danby guided through parliament a bill for raising money for a war against France; a league was concluded with Holland, and troops were actually sent there. That Danby, in spite of these compromising transactions, remained in intention faithful to the national interests, appears clearly from the hostility with which he was still regarded by France. In 1676 he is described by Ruvigny to Louis XIV. as intensely antagonistic to France and French interests, and as doing his utmost to prevent the treaty of that year. In 1678, on the rupture of relations between Charles and Louis, a splendid opportunity was afforded Louis of paying off old scores by disclosing Danby's participation in the king's demands for French gold.

Every circumstance now conspired to effect his fall. Although both abroad and at home his policy had generally embodied the wishes of the ascendant party in the state, Danby had never obtained the confidence of the nation. His character inspired no respect, and he could not reckon during the whole of his long career on the support of a single individual. Charles is said to have told him when he made him treasurer that he had only two friends in the world, himself and his own merit. He was described to Pepys on his acquiring office as "one of a broken sort of people that have not much to lose and therefore will venture all," and as "a beggar having £1100 or £1200 a year, but owes above £10,000." His office brought him in £20,000 a year, and he was known to be making large profits by the sale of offices; he maintained his power by corruption and by jealously excluding from office men of high standing and ability. Burnet described him as "the most hated minister that had ever been about the king." Worse men had been less detested, but Danby had none of the amiable virtues which often counteract the odium incurred by serious faults. Evelyn, who knew him intimately from his youth, describes him as "a man of excellent natural parts but nothing of generous or grateful." Shaftesbury, doubtless no friendly witness, speaks of him as an inveterate liar, "proud, ambitious, revengeful, false, prodigal and covetous to the highest degree," and Burnet supports his unfavourable judgment to a great extent. His corruption, his mean submission to a tyrant wife, his greed, his pale face and lean person, which had succeeded to the handsome features and comeliness of earlier days,6 were the subject of ridicule, from the witty sneers of Halifax to the coarse jests of the anonymous writers of innumerable lampoons. By his championship of the national policy he had raised up formidable foes abroad without securing a single friend or supporter at home,6 and his fidelity to the national interests was now, through a very mean and ignoble act of personal spite, to be the occasion of his downfall.

Danby in appointing a new secretary of state had preferred Sir William Temple, a strong adherent of the anti-French policy, to Montagu. The latter, after a quarrel with the Duchess of Cleveland, was dismissed from the king's employment. He immediately went over to the opposition, and in concert with Louis XIV and Barillon, the French ambassador, by whom he was supplied with a large sum of money, arranged a plan for effecting Danby's ruin. He obtained a seat in parliament; and in spite of Danby's endeavour to seize his papers by an order in council, on the 2oth of December 1678 caused two of the incriminating letters written by Danby to him to be read aloud to the House of Commons by the Speaker. The House immediately resolved on Danby's impeachment. At the foot of each of the letters appeared the king's postscripts, " I approve of this letter. C.R.," in his own handwriting; but they were not read by the Speaker, and were entirely neglected in the proceedings against the minister, thus emphasizing the constitutional principle that obedience to the orders of the sovereign can be no bar to an impeachment. He was charged with having encroached to himself royal powers by treating matters of peace and war without the knowledge of the council, with having promoted the raising of a standing army on pretence of a war with France, with having obstructed the assembling of parliament, with corruption and embezzlement in the treasury. Danby, while communicating the "Popish Plot" to the parliament, had from the first expressed his disbelief in the so-called revelations of Titus Oates, and his backwardness in the matter now furnished an additional charge of having "traitorously concealed the plot." He was voted guilty by the Commons; but while the Lords were disputing whether the accused peer should have bail, and whether the charges amounted to more than a misdemeanour, parliament was prorogued on 30 December and dissolved three weeks later. In March 1679 a new parliament hostile to Danby was returned, and he was forced to resign the treasurership; but he received a pardon from the king under the Great Seal, and a warrant for a marquessate. His proposed advancement in rank was severely reflected upon in the Lords, Halifax declaring it in the king's presence the recompense of treason, "not to be borne;" and in the Commons his retirement from office by no means appeased his antagonists. The proceedings against him were revived, a committee of privileges deciding on 23 March 1679 that the dissolution of parliament was no abatement of an impeachment. A motion was passed for his committal by the Lords, who, as in Clarendon's case, voted his banishment. This was, however, rejected by the Commons, who now passed an act of attainder. Danby had removed to the country, but returned on 21 April to avoid the threatened passing by the Lords of the attainder, and was sent to the Tower. In his written defence he now pleaded the king's pardon, but on the 5 May 1679 it was pronounced illegal by the Commons. This declaration was again repeated by the Commons in 1689 on the occasion of another attack made upon Danby in that year, and was finally embodied in the Act of Settlement in 1701.

The Commons now demanded judgment against the prisoner from the Lords. Further proceedings, however, were stopped by the dissolution of parliament again in July; but for nearly five years Danby remained a prisoner in the Tower. A number of pamphlets asserting the complicity of the fallen minister in the Popish Plot, and even accusing him of the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, were published in 1679 and 1680; they were answered by Danby's secretary, Edward Christian, in Reflections; and in May 1681 Danby was actually indicted by the Grand Jury of Middlesex for Godfrey's murder on the accusation of Edward FitzHarris. His petition to the king for a trial by his peers on this indictment was refused, and an attempt to prosecute the publishers of the false evidence in the king's bench was unsuccessful. For some time all appeals to the king, to parliament, and to the courts of justice were unavailing; but on 12 February 1684 his application to Chief Justice Jeffreys was at last successful, and he was set at liberty on finding bail to the amount of £40,000, tc appear in the House of Lords in the following session. He visited the king at court the same day; but took no part in public affairs for the rest of the reign.

After James's accession Danby was discharged from his bail by the Lords in May 1685, and the order declaring a dissolution of parliament to be no abatement of an impeachment was reversed. He again took his seat in the Lords as a leader of the moderate Tory party. Though a strong Tory and supporter of the hereditary principle, James's attacks on Protestantism soon drove him into opposition. He was visited by Dykvelt, William of Orange's agent; and in June 1687 he wrote to William assuring him of his support. On 30 June 1688 he was one of the seven leaders of the Revolution who signed the invitation to William. In November he occupied York in the prince's interest, returning to London to meet William on 26 December. He appears to have thought that William would not claim the crown, and at first supported the theory that the throne having been vacated by James's flight the succession fell as of right to Mary; but as this met with little support, and was rejected both by William and by Mary herself, he voted against the regency and joined with Halifax and the Commons in declaring the prince and princess joint sovereigns.

Danby had rendered extremely important services to Williamís cause. On 20 April 1689 he was created Marquess of Carmarthen and was made lord-lieutenant of the three ridings of Yorkshire. He was, however, still greatly disliked by the Whigs, and William, instead of reinstating him in the lord treasurership, only appointed him Lord President of the Council in February 1689. He could not conceal his vexation and disappointment, which were increased by the appointment of Halifax to the office of Lord Privy Seal. The antagonism between the "black" and the "white" marquess (the latter being the nickname given to Carmarthen in allusion to his sickly appearance), which had been forgotten in their common hatred to the French policy and to Rome, revived in all its bitterness. He retired to the country and was seldom present at the council. In June and July new motions were made in parliament for his removal; but notwithstanding his great unpopularity, on the retirement of Halifax in 1690 he again acquired the chief power in the state, which he retained till 1695 by bribery in parliament and by the support of the king and queen. In 1690, during Williamís absence in Ireland, he was appointed Maryís chief adviser. In 1691, desiring to compromise Halifax, he discredited himself by the patronage of an informer named Fuller, soon proved an impostor. He was absent in 1692 when the Place Bill was thrown out. In 1693 he presided in great state as Lord High Steward at the trial of Lord Mohun; and on 4 May 1694 he was created Duke of Leeds. The same year he supported the Triennial Bill, but opposed the new treason bill as weakening the hands of the executive. Meanwhile fresh attacks had been made upon him. He was accused unjustly of Jacobitism. In April 1695 lie was impeached once more by the Commons for having received a bribe of 5000 guineas to procure the new charter for the East India Company. In his defence, whilst denying that he had received the money and appealing to his past services, he did not attempt to conceal the fact that according to his experience bribery was an acknowledged and universal custom in public business, and that he himself had been instrumental in obtaining money for others. Meanwhile his servant, who was said to have been the intermediary between the Duke and the Company in the transaction, fled the country; and no evidence being obtainable to convict, the proceedings fell to the ground. In May 1695 he had been ordered to discontinue his attendance at the council. He returned in October, but was not included among the Lords Justices appointed regents during Williamís absence in this year. In November he was created DC.L. by the university of Oxford; in December he became a commissioner of trade, and in December 1696 governor of the Royal Fishery Company. He opposed the prosecution of Sir John Fenwick, hut supported the action taken by members of both Houses in defence of Williamís rights in the same year. On 23 April 1698 he entertained the tsar, Peter the Great, at Wimbledon, He had for some time lost the real direction of affairs, and in May 1699 he was compelled to retire from office and from the lord-lieutenancy of Yorkshire.

In Queen Anneís reign, in his old age, he is described as "a gentleman of admirable natural parts, great knowledge and experience in the affairs of his own country, but of no reputation with any party. He hath not been regarded, although he took his place at the council board." The veteran statesman, however, by no means acquiesced in his enforced retirement, and continued to take an active part in politics. As a zealous churchman and Protestant he still possessed a following. In 1705 he supported a motion that the church was in danger, and in 1710 in Sacheverellís case spoke in defence of hereditary right. In November of this year he obtained a renewal of his pension of 35OO a year from the post office which he was holding in 1694, and in 1711 at the age of eighty was a competitor for the office of Lord Privy Seal. His long and eventful career, however, terminated soon afterwards by his death on 26 July 1712.