Robert Harley


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Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier Minister

Brian W. Hill

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Robert Harley (1661-1724) dominated English politics in the late seventeenth century and throughout the reign of Queen Anne, and his long parliamentary career spanned years during which British political institutions underwent crucial changes. As predecessor of Sir Robert Walpole, he was in effect a prime minister before the office was created, and he administered the country at a time of major conflict within Europe. However, Harley's style of politics was characterized by secrecy and mistrust, and this tended to overshadow serious assessment of his influence and achievements. This book by Brian W. Hill is the first biography of this significant figure.
A pioneer of parliamentary government after the revolution of 1688, Harley became leader of the opposition and Speaker of the House of Commons, and he went on to hold the most important positions of state. Although he moved from one intrigue to another, he was able to stay in power until he was dismissed from office in 1714 by Queen Anne over the South Seas Company affair. His achievements during this period were significant: he turned the early Tories into an effective opposition to help forge a two-party parliamentary system; he persuaded William III to accept limitation of the Crown's powers by the Act of Settlement; and, through the Treaty of Utrecht, he helped to secure peace in Europe for half a century.
Hill sets Harley's career firmly within the political and social context of contemporary religion, regionalism, dynastic conflict, and factionalism. His much-needed study is an important contribution to our understanding of a major figure in a complex and exciting period of British history.

Brian Hill is Reader in History at the University of East Anglia.

"Aficionados will find much to admire in [Hill’s] book. . . . [This book] deserves to be read, and read carefully. Hill writes pleasingly, and he has always had an excellent historical judgment. . . . His final summing up of Harley’s character, and particularly his achievements, is the best I have read anywhere."—Geoffrey Holmes, Times Literary Supplement

"A thoroughly competent and reliable biography."—H.T. Dickinson, History Today

"Hill’s account of Harley’s political maneuvers is clear and lucid."—Choice

"Brian Hill’s book provides a fast-flowing, if stark, biography of Robert Harley. . . . Hill has written an important work about an important statesman."—Dennis Rubini, Albion

"This is a first-class piece of work in which professional historians and advanced students will find many valuable insights into Harley’s character and the important political and constitutional developments to which he contributed."—Ian P.H. Duffy, History

"Hill traces with clarity the political career of Robert Harley"—Choice

"A thoroughly competent and reliable biography"—H.T. Dickinson, History Today

"A detailed, complex political portrait of the man who played a significant part in the development of parliamentary government."—Virginia Quarterly Review
ISBN: 9780300042849
Publication Date: August 24, 1988
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4