Henry Bilson-Legge

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Henry Bilson-Legge
Bilson-Legge seated wearing black silk robes and long wig (oil on canvas portrait)
Henry Bilson-Legge dressed in the robes of state for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Portrait by William Hoare
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
6 April 1754 – 25 November 1755
MonarchGeorge II
Prime MinisterThe Duke of Newcastle
Preceded bySir William Lee
Succeeded bySir George Lyttelton, Bt
In office
16 November 1756 – 13 April 1757
MonarchGeorge II
Prime MinisterThe Duke of Devonshire
Preceded bySir George Lyttelton, Bt
Succeeded byThe Lord Mansfield
In office
2 July 1757 – 19 March 1761
Prime MinisterThe Duke of Newcastle
Preceded byThe Lord Mansfield
Succeeded byThe Viscount Barrington
Personal details
Born(1708-05-29)29 May 1708
Died23 August 1764(1764-08-23) (aged 56)
Political partyWhig
Spouse(s)Mary, Lady Stawell (later Countess of Hillsborough)
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford

Henry Bilson-Legge PC FRS (29 May 1708 – 23 August 1764) was an English statesman. He notably served three times as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1750s and 1760s.

Background and education[edit]

Bilson-Legge was the fourth son of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth, by his wife Lady Anne, daughter of Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Aylesford. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford.

Political career[edit]

Legge with his patron, Robert Walpole

He became private secretary to Sir Robert Walpole. In 1739 was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant, William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire; being chosen Member of Parliament for the borough of East Looe in 1740, and for Orford, Suffolk, at the general election in the succeeding year.

Legge only shared temporarily in the downfall of Walpole, and became in quick succession Surveyor-General of Woods and Forests, a Lord of the Admiralty, and a Lord of the Treasury. In 1748 he was sent as envoy extraordinary to Frederick the Great, and although his conduct in Berlin was sharply censured by George II, he became Treasurer of the Navy soon after his return to England. In April 1754 he joined the ministry of the duke of Newcastle as chancellor of the Exchequer, the king consenting to this appointment although refusing to hold any intercourse with the minister; but Legge shared the elder Pitt's dislike of the policy of paying subsidies to the landgrave of Hesse, and was dismissed from office in November 1755.[1]

Twelve months later he returned to his post at the exchequer in the administration of Pitt and the 4th Duke of Devonshire, retaining office until April 1757 when he shared both the dismissal and the ensuing popularity of Pitt. When, in conjunction with the Duke of Newcastle, Pitt returned to power in the following July, Legge became chancellor of the exchequer for the third time. He imposed new taxes upon houses and windows, and the king refused to make him a peer.[2]

In 1754 Legge took the additional name of Bilson on secondarily succeeding to the West Mapledurham estate in Buriton near Petersfield, Hampshire of his cousin, Leonard Bilson MP (1681-1715 - son of Susanna Legge, sister of Henry Legge's grandfather, George Legge, 1st Baron Dartmouth) upon the death of the original heir, Thomas Bettesworth, without issue.[3]

In 1759 he obtained the sinecure position of surveyor of the petty customs and subsidies in the port of London, and having in consequence to resign his seat in parliament he was chosen one of the members for Hampshire, a proceeding which greatly incensed the earl of Bute, who desired this seat for one of his friends. Having thus incurred Bute's displeasure Legge was again dismissed from the exchequer in March 1761, but he continued to take part in parliamentary debates until his death at Tunbridge Wells in 1764.[citation needed]

Pitt called Legge, the child, and deservedly the favourite child, of the Whigs. Horace Walpole said he was of a creeping, underhand nature, and aspired to the lion's place by the manoeuvre of the mole, but afterwards he spoke in high terms of his talents.

He "was a person of great abilities, both as a statesman and financier, and went through most of the great offices of government with reputation and integrity, and quitted them to the great regret of the nation in general."[4]


Henry Bilson-Legge married Mary Stawell, daughter and heiress of Edward Stawell, 4th and last Baron Stawell (d. 1755). In 1760, Mary, who had been made 1st Baroness Stawell of the second creation, bore Henry Bilson-Legge's only child, Henry (1757–1820), who became the 2nd Baron Stawell on his mother's death in 1780. When the 2nd Baron Stawell died without sons the title became extinct again. His only daughter, Mary (d. 1864), married John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne.


  1. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, Vol 32.
  2. ^ Lord Hardwicke's Letter of 18 June 1757 in Harris's Life of Hardwicke, 1847, iii. 136.
  3. ^ The Mapledurham estate of Leonard Bilson was left first to a cousin from the paternal branch, Thomas Bettesworth (1690-1754), grandson of Susan Bilson (sister of Leonard Bilson (1616-1695 - the grandfather of Leonard Bilson MP), who died without issue. The estate of Leonard Bilson then passed by Leonard Bilson's will to his maternal cousin, Henry Legge. See http://www.hantsfieldclub.org.uk/publications/hampshirestudies/digital/1950s/vol19/Challen2.pdf, p. 13 {Accessed 23 January 2018} Note: Not Mapledurham near Reading
  4. ^ http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol1/pp503-526 {Accessed 9 December 2016}

Further reading[edit]

  • Barker, George Fisher Russell (1892). "Legge, Henry Bilson-" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 32. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  • John Butler, Bishop of Hereford (1765). Some Account of the Character of the late Rt. Hon. H. Bilson-Legge. London.
  • Horace Walpole (1847). G.G.R.Barker (ed.). Memoirs of the Reign of George II. London.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • G. F. R. Barker, ed. (1894). Memoirs of the ReIgn of George III. London.
  • W. E. H. Lecky (1892). History of England and the memoirs and collections of correspondence of the time. vol. ii. London.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Charles Longueville
Samuel Holden
Member of Parliament for East Looe
With: Charles Longueville
Succeeded by
James Buller
Francis Gashry
Preceded by
Richard Powys
John Cope
Member of Parliament for Orford
With: Lord Glenorchy 1741–46
The Viscount Bateman 1746–47
Hon. John Waldegrave 1747–54
John Offley 1754–59
Succeeded by
John Offley
Charles FitzRoy
Preceded by
Alexander Thistlethwayte
The Marquess of Winchester
Member of Parliament for Hampshire
With: Alexander Thistlethwayte 1759–61
Simeon Stuart 1761–65
Succeeded by
Simeon Stuart
Sir Richard Mill, Bt
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
British Envoy to Prussia
Succeeded by
Charles Hanbury Williams
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Townshend
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Succeeded by
Viscount Duncannon
Preceded by
Francis Whitworth
Surveyor General of Woods and Forests
Succeeded by
John Phillipson
Preceded by
George Dodington
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by
George Grenville
Preceded by
Sir William Lee
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Sir George Lyttelton, Bt
Preceded by
Sir George Lyttelton, Bt
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
The Lord Mansfield
Preceded by
The Lord Mansfield
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
The Viscount Barrington