Simon Harcourt, the son of barrister Hon. Simon Harcourt and his wife, Elizabeth, was born in 1714. Harcourt the younger received his early education from the Westminster School but like most young men from well-to-do families, embarked on a continental tour accompanied by a tutor in 1730. Prior to this journey, Harcourt’s grandfather, Viscount Harcourt passed away in 1727, allowing Harcourt to take on the family title and estates. After four years abroad, Harcourt returned to England and a year later married Rebecca, heir of Charles Sambourne Le Bas of Pipewell Abbey, Northamptonshire, on 16 October 1735. Rebecca was the only daughter of Charles Sambourne Le Bas, which provided her with a hefty dowry of £60,000. The couple would have four children.
Harcourt began his career in the royal court and the military when he was appointed lord of the bedchamber to George II on 9 May 1935. Harcourt was by the king’s side during the battle of Dettingen on 27 June 1943 and commanded a regiment during the 1945 Jacobite uprising. Afterwards, Harcourt was promoted to colonel and would eventually be promoted to general in 1772. His loyalty to the monarch was rewarded on 1 December 1749 when he was bestowed the titles Viscount Nuneham of Nuneham Courtenay and Earl Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt.
After the death of Frederick Prince of Wales in 1951, Prince George became the heir apparent. Due to the tenuous relationship George II had with Frederick, the monarch was disinclined to allow the new, young Prince of Wales to be educated by anyone but those who had “the full confidence of the government” (Brooke, 28). Therefore, Lord Harcourt, who was considered an orthodox Whig, replaced Lord North as governor of the Prince of Wales and Thomas Hayter, Bishop of Norwich, was appointed preceptor. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear Harcourt was not well fitted for the appointment. According to Horace Walpole, Harcourt was “minute and strict in trifles” and Harcourt’s lack of strong personality made him incapable of teaching the shy prince “other arts than what he knew himself—hunting and drinking” (Walpole, 86). Although Harcourt and Hayter were technically the heads of the prince’s household, most of the responsibility fell to their immediate subordinates, such as Andrew Stone and George Lewis Scott. Lord Harcourt is the same Harcourt who collaborated with Bishop Hayter to accuse Stone and Scott of teaching Prince George Jacobite doctrines. Harcourt claimed that Stone, Scott, and Cresset had “arrogated to themselves the entire management of the two boys and that ‘the tenor of it was such as led to the favouring of persons and principles’ for which Harcourt had ‘a just abhorrence’” (Brooke, 35). Harcourt and Hayter lacked any substantial evidence for such a treasonous claim besides the character and possible connections of the accused (Stone was allegedly in contact with Jacobites, Scott’s relationship with Viscount Bolingbroke put him under suspicion, and Cresset wouldn’t maintain such close relations with Stone and Scott unless he were a Jacobite as well). Lack of evidence and a denunciation of the accusations by George II led to the end of the scandal and the resignation of both Harcourt and Bishop Hayter. Fortunately for Harcourt, the scandal did not irreparably damage his reputation. After George III ascended the throne, Harcourt was appointed ambassador Mecklenburg to extend the new king’s offer of marriage to princess Charlotte. On 10 September 1761, Harcourt was appointed Charlotte’s master of the horse and in 1773, he was appointed lord chamberlain of the Queen’s household.
During the Stamp Act crisis, Harcourt sided with Bute and Grenville and attempted to persuade the king against repealing the act that had caused uproar in the British colonies. The act was eventually repealed. Harcourt served as ambassador to Paris from 1768 to 1772, but did so halfheartedly. His time spent away from his post accumulated to over a year. Although Harcourt had been actively involved in politics for most of his life, he did not show real political ability until 1772 when he replaced Lord Townshend as Irish viceroy. Harcourt made an effort to create a working relationship between the Irish parliament and the British government and managed to pacify Ireland by “making judicious concessions” (Powell). In the 1775 session of Irish parliament, Harcourt and his administration were “able to secure [parliament’s] support for the government’s American policy” (McDowell, 216). He was also able to secure permission from the Irish parliament to spare 4,000 troops in a show of support of the American War of Independence. Throughout his time in Ireland, Harcourt “reunited the revenue boards, reduced the corn bounty, and gained trade concessions… but at the same time he mortgaged a sizeable portion of Irish patronage through the distribution of peerages, offices, and pensions” (Powell). After Harcourt left this position in 1777 due to difficulties with the commander-in-chief, he retired to Nuneham.
Walpole had described Harcourt as “civil and sheepish” (Walpole, 86). Although Harcourt had a tendency to be a “trifle pompous,” his years in Ireland prove that Harcourt did have political potential. Harcourt died tragically on 16 September 1777 after falling into a well and drowning in an attempt to rescue his dog. He was buried a week later on 24 September at Stanton Harcourt.
Brooke, John. King George III. New York: McGraw Hill, 1972.
Moody, T.W. and W.E. Vaughan, ed. A New History of Ireland, 4: Eighteenth Century Ireland, 1691-1800. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
Powell, Martyn J.. “Harcourt, Simon, first Earl Harcourt (1714–1777).” Martyn J. Powell In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, May 2006. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12245 (accessed July 6, 2015).
Walpole, Horace. Memoirs of the Reign of King George II, vol. 1. London: Colburn, 1846. https://books.google.com/books?id=tAM-AAAAcAAJ&q=Stone#v=onepage&q=cold%20mysterious&f=false.