Earl of Dartmouth - Encyclopedia

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EARL OF DARTMOUTH, an English title borne by the family of Legge from 1710 to the present day.

William Legge (c. 1609-1670), the eldest son of Edward Legge (d. 1616), vice-president of Munster, gained some military experience on the continent of Europe and then returning to England assisted Charles I. in his war against the Scots in 1638. He was also very useful to the king during the months which preceded the outbreak of the Civil War, although his attempt to seize Hull in January 1642 failed. During the war Legge distinguished himself at Chalgrove and at the first battle of Newbury, and in 1645 he became governor of Oxford. However, he only held this position for a few months, as he shared the disgrace of Prince Rupert, to whom he was very devoted; but he was largely instrumental in putting an end to the quarrel between the king and the prince. Legge helped Charles to escape from Hampton Court in 1647, and after attending upon him he was arrested in May 1648. He was soon released, but was again captured in the following year while proceeding to Ireland in the interests of Charles II. Regaining his freedom in 1653, he spent some years abroad, but in 1659 he was once more in England inciting the royalists to rise. Legge enjoyed the favour of Charles II., who offered to make him an earl. The old royalist died on the 13th of October 1670.

Legge's eldest son, George, Baron Dartmouth (1647-1691), served as a volunteer in the navy during the Dutch war of 1665-1667, and quickly won his way to high rank. He was also a member of the household of the duke of York, afterwards James II.; was governor of Portsmouth and master-general of the army; in 1678 he commanded as colonel the troop at Nieuport, and in 1682 he was created Baron Dartmouth. In 1683 as "admiral of a fleet" he sailed to Tangiers, dismantled the fortifications and brought back the English troops, a duty which he discharged very satisfactorily. Under James II. Dartmouth was master of the horse and governor of the Tower of London; and in 1688, when William of Orange was expected, James II. made him commander-in-chief of his fleet. Although himself loyal to James, the same cannot be said of many of his officers, and an engagement with the Dutch fleet was purposely avoided. Dartmouth, however, refused to assist in getting James Edward, prince of Wales, out of the country, and even reproved the king for attempting this proceeding. He then left the fleet and took the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, but in July 1691 he was arrested for treason, and was charged with offering to hand over Portsmouth to France and to command a French fleet. Macaulay believed that this accusation was true, but there are those who hold that Dartmouth spoke the truth when he protested his innocence. Further proceedings against him were prevented by his death, which took place in the Tower of London on the 25th of October 1691.

Lord Dartmouth's only son, William, Ist Earl Of Dartmouth (1672-1750), succeeded to his father's barony in 1691. In 1702 he was appointed a member of the board of trade and foreign plantations, and eight years later he became secretary of state for the southern department and joint keeper of the signet for Scotland. In 1711 he was created viscount Lewisham and earl of Dartmouth; in 1713 he exchanged his offices for that of keeper of the privy seal, which he held until the end of 1714. After a long period of retirement from public life he died on the 15th of December 1750. Dartmouth's eldest son George,viscount Lewisham (c. 1703-1732), predeceased his father. Other sons were: Heneage Legge (1704-1759), judge of the court of exchequer; Henry Legge, afterwards Bilson-Legge; and Edward Legge (1710-1747), who served for some time in the navy and died on the 19th of September 1747.

William, 2nd Earl Of Dartmouth (1731-1801), was a son of George, viscount Lewisham, and a grandson of the ist earl, whom he succeeded in 1750. For a few months in 1765 and 1766 he was president of the board of trade and foreign plantations; in 1772 he returned to the same office holding also that of secretary for the colonies; and in 1775 he became lord privy seal. With regard to the American colonies Dartmouth advised them in 1777 to accept the conciliatory proposals put forward by Lord North, but in 1776 he opposed similar proposals and advocated the employment of force. In March 1782 he resigned his office as lord privy seal and in 1783 he was lord steward of the household; he died on the 15th of July 1801. Dartmouth was a friend of Selina, countess of Huntingdon, and his piety and his intimacy with the early Methodists won for him the epithet of the Psalm-singer. Dartmouth College was named after him, and among his papers preserved at Patshull House, Wolverhampton, are many letters from America relating to the struggle for independence. His sixth son, Sir Arthur Kaye Legge (d. 1835), was an admiral of the blue, and his seventh son, Edward Legge (d. 1827), was bishop of Oxford.

George, 3rd Earl Of Dartmouth (1755-1810), the eldest son of the 2nd earl, was lord warden of the stannaries and president of the board of control; later he was lord steward and then lord chamberlain of the royal household. He died on the 1st of November 1810, when his eldest son, William (1784-1853), became 4th earl. William's son, William Walter (1823-1891), became 5th earl in 1853 and was succeeded in 1891 by his sort William Heneage Legge (b. 1851) as 6th earl of Dartmouth. As Lord Lewisham this nobleman was a member of parliament from 1878 to 1891, and was vice-chamberlain of the household in 1885-1886, and again from 1886 to 1892.

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