Villiers, George

, duke of Buckingham, and a very distinguished personage in the reign of Charles II. was the son of the preceding, by his wife lady Catherine Manners, and was born at Wallingford-house, in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields, January 30, 1627, which being but the year before the fatal catastrophe of his father’s death, the young duke was left a perfect infant, a circumstance which is frequently prejudicial to the morals of men born to high rank and affluence. The early parts of his education he received from various domestic tutors; after which he was sent to the university of Cambridge, where having completed a course of studies, he, with his brother lord Francis, went abroad, under the care of one Mr. Aylesbury. Upon his return, which was not till after the breaking-out of the rebellion, the king being at Oxford, his grace repaired thither, was presented to his majesty, and entered of Christ-church college. Upon the decline of the king’s cause, he attended prince Charles into Scotland, and was with him at the battle of Worcester in 1651; after which, making his escape beyond sea, he again joined him, and was soon after, as a reward for his attachment, made knight of the Garter. Desirous, however, of retrieving his affairs, he came privately to England, and in 1657 married Mary, the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas lord Fairfax, through whose interest he recovered the greatest part of the estate he had lost, and the assurance of succeeding to an accumulation of wealth in the right of his wife. We do not find, however, that this step lost him the royal favour; for, after- the restoration, at which time he is said to have possessed an estate of 20,000l. per annum, he was made one of the lords of the bed-chamber, called to the privy -council, and appointed lord-lieutenant of Yorkshire, and master of the horse. All these high offices, however, he lost again in 1666; for, having been refused the post of president of the North, he became disaffected to the king, and it was discovered that he had carried on a | secret correspondence by letters and other transactions with one Dr. Heydon (a man of no kind of consequence, but a useful tool), tending to raise mutinies among his majesty’s forces, particularly in the navy, to stir up seditioa among the people, and even to engage persons in a conspiracy for the seizing the Tower of London. Nay, to sucii base lengths had he proceeded, as even to have given money to villains to put on jackets, and, personating seamen, to go about the country begging, and exclaiming for want of pay, while the people oppressed with taxes were cheated of their money by the great officers of the crown. Matters were ripe for execution, and an insurrection, at the head of which the duke was openly to have appeared, on the very eve of breaking-out, when it was discovered by means of some agents whom Heydon had employed to carry letters to the duke. The detection of this affair so exasperated the king, who knew Buckingham to be capable f the blackest designs, that he immediately ordered him to be seized; but the duke finding means, having defended his house for some time by force, to make his escape, his majesty struck him out of all. his commissions, and issued out a proclamation, requiring his surrender by a certain day. This storm, however, did not long hang over his head; for, on his making an humble submission, king Charles, who was far from being of an implacable temper, took him again into favour, and the very next year restored him both to the privy-council and bed-chamber. But the duke’s disposition for intrigue and machination was not lessened; for, having conceived a resentment against the duke of Ormond, because he had acted with some severity against him in the last-mentioned affair, he, in 1670, was supposed to be concerned in an attempt made on that nobleman’s life, by the same Blood who afterwards endeavoured to steal the crown. Their design was to have conveyed the duke to Tyburn, and there have hanged him; and so far did they proceed towards the putting it in execution, that Blood and his son had actuallyforced the duke out of his coach in St. James’s-street, and carried him away beyond Devonshire-house, Piccadilly, before he was rescued from them. That there must hare been the strongest reasons for suspecting the duke of Buckingham of having been a party in this villainous project, is apparent from a story Mr. Carte relates from the best authority, in his “Life of the duke of Ormond,” of the public | resentment and open menaces thrown out to the duke on the occasion, by the earl of Ossory, the duke of Onnond’s son, even in the presence of the king himself. But as Charies II. was more sensible of injuries done to himself than others, it does not appear that this transaction hurt the duke’s interest at court; for in 1671 he was installed chancellor of the university of Cambridge, and sent ambassador to France, where he was very nobly entertained by Lewis XIV. and presented by that monarch at his departure with a sword and belt set with jewels, to the value of forty thousand pistoles; and the next year he was employed in a second embassy to that king at Utrecht. However, in June 1674, he resigned the chancellorship of Cambridge, and about the same time became a zealous partizan and favourer of the nonconformists. On February 16, 1676, his grace, with the earls of- Salisbury and Shaftesbury, and lord Wharton, were committed to the Tower, by order of the House of Lords, for a contempt, in refusing to retract the purport of a speech which the duke had made concerning a dissolution of the parliament; but upon a petition to the king, he was discharged thence in May following. In 1680, having sold Wallingfordhouse in the Strand, he purchased a house at Dowgate, and resided there, joining with the earl of Shaftesbury in all the violences of opposition. About the time of king Charles’s death, his health became affected, and he went into the country to his own manor of Helmisley, in Yorkshire, where he generally passed his time in hunting and entertaining his friends. This he continued until a fortnight before his death, an event which happened at a tenant’s house, at Kirkby Moorside, April 16, 1688, after three days illness, of an ague and fever, arising from a cold which he caught by sitting on the ground after foxhunting. The day before his death, he sent to his old servant Mr. Brian Fairfax, to provide him a bed at his own house, at Bishophill, in Yorkshire; but the next morning the same man returned with the news that his life was despaired of. Mr. Fairfax came; the duke knew him, looked earnestly at him, but could not speak. Mr. Fairfax asked a gentleman there present, a justice of peace, and a worthy discreet man in the neighbourhood, what he had said or done before he became speechless: who told him, that some questions had been asked him about his estate, to which he gave no answer. This occasioned another | question to be proposed, if he would have a Popish priest; but he replied with great vehemence, No, no! repeating the words, he would have nothing to do with them. The same gentleman then askod him again, if he would have the minister sent for; and he calmly said, “Yes, pray seud for him.” The minister accordingly came, and did the office enjoined by the church, the duke devoutly attending it, and received the sacrament. In about an hour

after, he became speechless, and died on the same night*. His body was buried in Westminster-abbey. As to his personal character, it is impossible to say any thing in its vindication; for though his severest enemies acknowledge him to have possessed great vivacity and a quickness of parts peculiarly adapted to the purposes of ridicule, yet his warmest advocates have never attributed to him a single virtue. His generosity was profuseness, his wit malevolence, the gratification of his passions his sole aim through life, his very talents caprice, and even his gallantry the mere love of pleasure. But it is impossible to draw his character with equal beauty, or with more justice, than iti that given of him by Dryden, in his “Absalom and Achitophel,” under the name of Zimri, to which we shall refer our readers. If he appears inferior to his father as a statesman, he was certainly superior to him as a wit, and wanted only application and steadiness to have made as conspicuous a figure in the senate and the cabinet as he did in the drawing-room. But his love of pleasure was so immoderate, and his eagerness in the pursuit of it so ungovernable, that they were perpetual bars against the execution of even any plan he might have formed solid or praise-worthy. In consequence of which, with the possession of a fortune that might have enabled him to render himself an object of almost adoration, we do not find him on record for any one deservedly generous action. As he had lived a profligate, he died a beggar; and as he had raised no friend in his life, he found none to lament him at his death. As a writer, however, he has very considerable merit. His poems, indeed, are very indifferent, but his memory will owe much to his celebrated comedy of “The Rehearsal,1672, which is a master-piece of wit, and every way an original.

Besides “The Rehearsal,” the duke was the author of

*

These and other particulars respecting the wretched end of the duke of Buckingham, may be seen in a letter from lord Aryan, printed in Maty’s Review, vol. IV. p. 425.

| some other dramatic pieces; as “The Chances,” a comedy altered from Fletcher; “The Restauration, or Right will take place,” a tragi-comedy; “The Battle of Sedgmoor,”‘ a farce; “The Militant Couple, or the Husband may thank himself,” a fragment. He was the author of some prose pieces, among which were “An Essay upon Reason and Religion,” in a letter to Nevile Pain, esq.; “On Human Reason,” addressed to Martin Clifford, esq.; “An account of a Conference between the duke and father Fitzgerald, whom king James’sent to convert his grace in his sickness;” and, “A short Discourse upon the reasonableness of men’s having a religion or worship of God.” This last was printed in 1685, and passed through three editions. The duke wrote also several small poems complimentary and satirical. One is entitled “The lost mistress, a complaint against the countess ofShrewsbury, as is supposed; whose lord he killed in a duel on her account, and who is said to have held the duke’s horse, disguised like a page, during the combat. The loves of this tender pair are touched by Pope, in some well-known lines. Pope informed Spence, “that the duke’s duel with lord Shrewsbury was concerted between him and lady Shrewsbury. All that morning she was trembling for her gallant, and wishing for the death of her husband; and after his fall, ’tis said the duke lay with her in his bloody shirt.” The following account of this infamous affair, which Mr. Malone copied from a ms letter dated Whitehall, Jan. 10, 1673-4, affords but a sorry idea of the profligate reign in which such a tragedy could be acted vrith impunity.

Upon Wednesday the 7th, the two Houses met. In the Lords’ House, immediately upon his majesty’s recess, the earl of Westmoreland brought in a petition against the ttuke of Bucks, in the name of the young earl of Shrewsbury, desiring justice against him, for murthering his father, making his mother a whore, and keeping her now as an infamous strumpet. To this the duke replied, 'tis true he had the hard fortune to kill the earl of Shrewsbury, but it was upon the greatest provocations in the world that he bad fought him- twice before, and had as often given him his life that he had threatened to pistol him, wheresoever he (should) meet him, if he could not fight him that for these reasons the king had given him his pardon. To the other part of the petition concerning the lady Shrewsbury, he said, he knew not how far his conversation with that lady | was cognizable by that House; but if that had given offence, she was now gone to a retirement.” A day was appointed for considering the merits of the petition; but the parliament being prorogued on Feb. 25, nothing more appears to have been done in the business. Three clays before the duke was pardoned for killing lord Shrewsbury (Feb. 25, 1667-8), that nobleman’s second, sir John Talhot, received a pardon for killing the duke’s second, Mr. William Jenkins; for at that time the seconds in duels regularly engaged, as well as the principals. Andrew Marvell says, in one of his letters, that the duke had a son by lady Shrewsbury, who died young, and whom he erroneously calls earl of Coventry. The duke had no heirs by his duchess. What the duke meant by lady Shrewsbury’s going to a retirement, we know not. She afterwards married George Rodney Bridges, second son of sir Thomas Bridges of Keynsharn in Somersetshire, knt and died April 20, 1702. 1

1

Biog. Brit. Biog. Dram. Cibber’s Lives. Park’s edition of the Royal and Noble Authors.