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Sir Edward Harley, 1749 engraving

Sir Edward Harley KB (21 October 1624 – 18 December 1700) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1646 and 1695. He supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War.


Harley was born in Brampton Bryan Castle, Herefordshire, the son of Sir Robert Harley, KB, and his third wife Brilliana, the daughter of Edward Conway, 1st Viscount Conway.[1] He was educated at Gloucester, Shrewsbury School and Magdalen Hall, Oxford. He was a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1641.[1]

In 1642, he took up arms in the Parliamentary cause against the King in 1642, though disapproving of military supremacy in the nation.[2] He was shot in the arm during a skirmish in Gloucestershire in August 1644.[3] In 1646 he was elected Member of Parliament for Herefordshire as a recruiter to the Long Parliament and was excluded in 1648 under Pride's Purge. In 1656 his father died and he inherited his estates, he was also elected MP for Herefordshire again in the Second Protectorate Parliament.[1]

He was elected MP for Herefordshire again in 1660 for the Convention Parliament. At the Restoration, Charles II made him Governor of Dunkirk in 1660. He was elected MP for Radnor in 1661 for the Cavalier Parliament and was re-elected in February 1679 for the First Exclusion Parliament. In the second election of 1679 he was elected MP for Herefordshire again, and was re-elected in 1681. He supported the revolution of 1688 and was re-elected for Herefordshire in 1689, in 1693 and 1695.[1]

Harley was a conscientious upholder of the rights of the people, who showed their appreciation by sending him continuously to Parliament. Though a churchman himself, he fought against any form of persecution of the dissenters, was without party prejudice, and was remembered more for his practical benefactions than for such theoretical performances as A Scriptural and Rational Account of the Christian Religion (1695). [2]


Harley was married twice. On 26 June 1654 he married, Mary, daughter and coheir of Sir William Button of Parkgate, Tawstock, Devon. They had four daughters,[1] one of whom was called Elizabeth. On 25 February 1661 he married Abigail, daughter of Nathaniel Stephens of Eastington, Gloucestershire. They had four sons (one of whom predeceased his father) and one daughter,[1] Abigail. He had two notable sons Robert (later Earl of Oxford) and Edward (1664–1735).

See also

List of deserters from James II to William of Orange


  1. ^ a b c d e f Helms & Rowlands 1983.
  2. ^ a b Gilman, Peck & Colby 1905, p. 567.
  3. ^ Noted in the Parliamentarian newsbook Mercurius Civicus, number 63, 1–8 August 1644 (British Library, Thomason Tracts E.4[28])



3 Annotations

Bill  •  Link

This gentleman, who was knight of the shire for Hereford, at the same time with sir Robert Harley his father, gave many signal proofs of his valour, at the head of a regiment raised at his own expence for the service of Charles I. Upon the Restoration of Charles II. he was appointed governor of Dunkirk, and soon after made a knight of the Bath. He sat in all the parliaments of this reign, and was a distinguished speaker in the house of commons. As he well knew the importance of Dunkirk to the nation, he made a motion for annexing it to the crown. The parliament seemed to listen to this proposal, but it was afterwards over-ruled. He was offered 10,000 l. and a peerage merely to be passive in the sale of it, but he refused the offer with disdain. He had the honesty to tell the king, that the artillery and military stores only, were worth more than Lewis XIV. had ever offered for that fortress. In. the British Museum, is a manuscript by sir Edward Harley, which contains many memorable particulars relative to the government, expences, and sale of Dunkirk. He was author of "A scriptural and rational Account of the Christian Religion," 1695, 8vo. Ob. 8 December, 1700.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Edward "Ned" Hartley F.R.S., M.P., (1624-1700) was the son of a Parliamentary Civil Wars Puritan herione. His father, Robert Harley MP., spent his war in London attending Parliament, leaving Lady Brilliana Conway Hartley (his third wife) to bring up their 7 children and organize the defence of Brampton Bryan Castle, Herefordshire.
Herefordshire was a Royalist stronghold, so she must have taken some grief from the neighbors which resulted in Brampton Bryan evenually coming under seige a couple of times.

Young Ned went to Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1638-40; then on to Lincolns Inn from 1641-2, and had a distinguished war record, but he opposed the army in 1647 and was twice imprisoned. Unlike his younger brother, Robert, Edward Harley MP took no part in royalist conspiracies.

In 1656 he succeeded to what was left of the family property, Brampton Bryant Castle and the village having been destroyed, but were still valued at £1,500 p.a.

In February 1660 he resumed his seat with the secluded Members and was elected to the Council of State. He was still insisting on the abolition of the Episcopacy and on parliamentary control of the militia, and so it required court intervention by old Cavaliers, and the support of Col. Edward Massey from the Presbyterian Royalists to secure Edward Harley M.P.'s return for Herefordshire at the general election.

Considering how stubborn his mother had been, and how she doted on Edward, it's not surprising to find out he was unable to make the transition from Presbyterian Parliamentarian to a Royalist Gov. of Dunkirk, but having a brother plotting for Charles II's return probably helped.

For more about Lady Brilliana Conway Harley's remarkable letters to her husband and son, and her defiant defense of her home and beliefs, see… [you need a subscription]

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

During the Diary years, Edward Harley F,R,S, M.P., found it necessary to explain to Chancellor Clarendon that he was sometimes incapacitated by gout (an excuse which must have gained Clarendon’s sympathy), and professed:

"As for my religion, I thank God that I can truly say I have no opinion but what is consonant to the catholic faith and the doctrines of the Church of England, but what I have learned out of the scriptures and the writings of the ancient fathers."
If Clarendon was satisfied, others were not.

In 1668 Henry Somerset, Marquess of Worcester explained to Lord Arlington that he could not make Harley the Colonel of the Herefordshire militia after Sir Edward Hopton because he was a Presbyterian.
‘Lord Arlington replied’, according to brother Robert Harley M,P, ‘the King commanded the lord marquess to offer you the command of the regiment without more ado’.

Edward Harley, who depended for spiritual guidance on the moderate Presbyterian Richard Baxter, had no scruples about conforming, although when in London he attended Baxter’s services and even proposed to lodge with him during a session of Parliament.

Edward Harley MP took little part in Clarendon;s impeachment, although he made his only recorded speech in the Cavalier Parliament condemning the sale of Dunkirk.

In 1668 he was appointed to a significant committee reviewing the militia laws.

In 1669 he was noted as one of the independent Members who usually voted for supply, but his loyalty was severe strained by the renewal of the Conventicles Act.
On 12 Mar. 1670, he wrote to his wife: ‘That day before I came, to the grief of my soul, the bill of conventicles passed the House of Commons’.
When the bill was reintroduced and amended in the next session, he was satisfied on the whole, writing: ‘Blessed be to God the conventicles bill had a better issue. Most of the severe parts are left out.’
But his tolerant views did not extend to Popish priests.

While active during the Cabal ministry in making representations to the Government on behalf of Presbyterians, as well as preferring low churchmen to benefices in his control, he took the Anglican sacrament in 1673.

He seems to have been steered a middle course through most conflicts; not uncomfortably imprisoned during the Monmouth Rebellion; hostile to James II, took up arms for William III, but Harley was defeated at the general election of 1690, and on his return to the House went into opposition as a country Whig.

He died on 8 Dec. 1700.
Edward Harley F.R.S., M.P., was never a figure of national importance, being content to guide the elections and representatives of Herefordshire, and even here he owed his influence to his character. A political opponent wrote of him ‘... you are kind and good all persons own’, and his correspondence confirms this verdict.

For more see…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.