Charles Yorke - Encyclopedia

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CHARLES YORKE (1722-1770), English lord chancellor, second son of Philip Yorke, 1st earl of Hardwicke, was born in London on the 30th of December 1722, and was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His literary abilities were shown at an early age by his collaboration with his brother Philip in the Athenian Letters. In 1745 he published an able treatise on the law of forfeiture for high treason, in defence of his father's treatment of the Scottish Jacobite peers; and in the following year he was called to the bar. His father being at this time lord chancellor, Yorke obtained a sinecure appointment in the Court of Chancery in 1747, and entered parliament as member for Reigate, a seat which he afterwards exchanged for that for the university of Cambridge. He quickly made his mark in the House of Commons, one of his earliest speeches being in favour of his father's reform of the marriage law. In 1751 he became counsel to the East India Company, and in 1756 he was appointed solicitor-general, a place which he retained in the administration of the elder Pitt, of whose foreign policy he was a powerful defender. He resigned with Pitt in 1761, but in 1762 became attorney-general under Lord Bute. He continued to hold this office when George Grenville became prime minister (April 1763), and advised the government on the question raised by Wilkes's North Briton. Yorke refused to describe the libel as treasonable, while pronouncing it a high misdemeanour. In the following November he resigned office. Resisting Pitt's attempt to draw him into alliance against the ministry he had quitted, Yorke maintained, in a speech that extorted the highest eulogy from Walpole, that parliamentary privilege did not extend to cases of libel; though he agreed with Pitt in condemning the principle of general warrants. Yorke, henceforward a member of the Rockingham party, was elected recorder of Dover in 1764, and in 1765 he again became attorney-general in the Rockingham administration, whose policy he did much to shape. He supported the repeal of the Stamp Act, while urging the simultaneous passing of the Declaratory Act. His most important measure was the constitution which he drew up for the province of Quebec, and which after his resignation of office became the Quebec Act of 1774. On the accession to power of Chatham and Grafton in 1767, Yorke resigned office, and took little part in the debates in parliament during the next four years. In 1770 he was invited by the duke of Grafton, when Camden was dismissed from the chancellorship, to take his seat on the woolsack. He had, however, explicitly pledged himself to Rockingham and his party not to take office with Grafton. The king exerted all his personal influence to overcome Yorke's scruples, warning him finally that the great seal if now refused would never again be within his grasp. Yorke yielded to the king's entreaty, went to his brother's house, where he met the leaders of the Opposition, and feeling at once overwhelmed with shame, fled to his own house, where in three days he was a dead man (January 20, 1770). The patent raising him to the peerage as Baron Morden had been made out, but his last act was to refuse his sanction to the sealing of the document.

Charles Yorke was twice married. His son by his first marriage became earl of Hardwicke; his eldest son by his second marriage, Charles Philip Yorke (1764-1834), member of parliament for Cambridgeshire and afterwards for Liskeard, was secretary of state for war in Addington's ministry in 1801, and was a strong opponent of concession to the Roman Catholics. He made himself exceedingly unpopular u1 1810 by bringing about the exclusion of strangers, including reporters for the press, from the House of Commons under the standing order, which led to the imprisonment of Sir Francis Burdett in the Tower and to riots in London. In the same year Yorke joined Spencer Perceval's government as first lord of the admiralty; he retired from public life in 1818, and died in 1834. Charles Yorke's second son by his second marriage was Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke (1768-1831), an admiral in the navy, whose son succeeded to the earldom of Hardwicke.

See under Hardwicke, Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of.

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