D'Arcy, Robert, fourth Earl of Holderness 1718-1778, was the only surviving son of Robert, third earl of Holderness, by his wife, Lady Frederica, the eldest surviving daughter and coheiress of Meinhardt Schomberg, third duke of Schomberg. He was born in June 1718, and while a child succeeded to the title upon the death of his father on 20 Jan. 1722. His mother afterwards married Benjamin Mildmay, earl Fitzwalter, and died 7 Aug. 1751. He was educated at Westminster School under Dr. Freind, and an epigram recited by him on the occasion of the anniversary dinner of 1728, and to which his name is attached, is still preserved (Comitia Westmonasteriensium in Collegio Sancti Petri habita, &c., 1728, p. 50). He afterwards went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, but it does not appear that he ever took his degree. In 1740 he was appointed lord-lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire, and was sworn in before the council on 27 Nov. 1740. In April of the following year he became one of the lords of the king's bedchamber, and in that capacity attended the king to Hanover in 1743, and was present with him at the battle of Dettingen. In May 1744 he was appointed ambassador to the republic of Venice, where he resided some two years, returning to England in the autumn of 1746. In May 1749 he became minister plenipotentiary at the Hague, and in May 1751 was recalled to England on political business. On 21 June 1751 he succeeded John, fourth duke of Bedford, as secretary of state for the southern department in Henry Pelham's ministry, and was on the same day sworn of the privy council. He continued in office during the Duke of Newcastle's administration, but was transferred to the northern department upon the accession of the Duke of Devonshire to power. In June 1757 he resigned the seals; but a few days afterwards, when the Duke of Newcastle returned to the treasury, Holderness resumed office, changing departments with Pitt, who had previously to his dismissal in April 1757 presided over the southern department. With the Duke of Newcastle and Pitt he was present at the first meeting of the ministers in the royal closet upon the accession of George III, and shared with them the mortification of hearing Lord Bute's speech read. On 12 March 1761 Holderness was dismissed from his office, and Bute was appointed in his place. Previously to his dismissal the king is reported to have said that he had two secretaries, one who would do nothing, and the other who could do nothing, and that he would have one who both could and would.
Holderness was consoled for his loss of office with a pension of 4,000l. a year and the reversion of the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, upon the death of Lionel, first duke of Dorset, which fell into possession in October 1765. On 12 April 1771 he was appointed the governor of the Prince of Wales and of his brother Prince Frederick, bishop of Osnaburgh. He died in the sixtieth year of his age on 16 May 1778, but a few days after his old colleague the Earl of Chatham, and was buried at Hornby, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, where there is a monument to him in the parish church on the north side of the chancel. He married, in November 1742, Mary, the daughter of Francis Doublet, member of the States of Holland, who survived him, and by whom he had two sons and one daughter. Both sons died young, and consequently the barony of D'Arcy and the earldom of Holderness became extinct upon his death. His daughter Amelia, who was born on 12 Oct. 1754, married, on 29 Nov. 1773, Francis Godolphin, then marquis of Carmarthen, afterwards fifth duke of Leeds. On the death of her father she succeeded to the barony of Conyers, and subsequently eloped with Captain John Byron, son of Admiral Byron, and father by his second wife of Lord Byron, the poet. She died on 26 Jan. 1784. On the death of Francis, seventh duke of Leeds, on 4 May 1859, the barony of Conyers devolved upon his nephew, Sackville George Lane-Fox, the present Baron Conyers. Hornby Castle, which was the principal residence of Lord Holderness, is now in the possession of the Duke of Leeds. A great portion of the Aston estate was sold in 1774 to Mason's nabob cousin, Mr. Verelst, governor of Bengal, whose descendants still reside there. Syon Hill, near Isleworth, which was built by the earl, and afterwards was occupied by George, fourth duke of Marlborough, no longer exists. Holderness owed the political position to which he attained rather to his rank and foreign connections than to any great intellectual qualities. Horace Walpole was never tired of decrying him, and alludes to him as an unthinking and unparliamentary minister, a baby politician, and that formal piece of dulness. But though his talents were not above mediocrity, he was not quite so incapable as Walpole would lead us to believe. The Duke of Newcastle, who succeeded in making him a secretary of state when only thirty-three years of age, thus describes him in a letter to his brother, Henry Pelham: He is indeed, or was, thought trifling in his manner and carriage; but, believe me, he has a solid understanding, and will come out as prudent a young man as any in the kingdom. He is good-natured, so you may tell him his faults, and he will mend them. He is universally loved and esteemed, almost by all parties, in Holland. He is very taciturn, dexterous enough, and most punctual in the execution of orders. He is got into the routine of business. He knows very well the present state of it. He is very diligent and exact in all his proceedings. He has great temper, mixed with proper resolution. He has no pride about him, though a D'Arcy (Coxe, Memoirs of the Pelham Administration, ii. 387).
In the earlier part of his life he manifested a great passion for directing operas and masquerades, and in 1743 the London opera was under the sole management of himself and Lord Middlesex. This explains the following epigram, made on his appointment as secretary of state:—That secrecy will not prevailIn politics is certain;Since Holderness, who gets the seals,Was bred behind the curtain.
He does not appear to have taken much part in the debates in the House of Lords, and but few of his speeches are reported. He was a member of the Dilettanti Society, a governor of the Charterhouse, and acted as one of the lords justices in 1752, during the king's absence from England. He was the patron of William Mason, to whom he gave the valuable rectory of Aston, where the poet resided for many years. Mason's dedicatory sonnet, beginning with D'Arcy, to thee, whate'er of happier vein, is dated 12 May 1763, and appeared in his volume of Poems which was published in 1764. The poet subsequently quarrelled with his patron, and avoided his presence, refusing even to visit Walpole at Strawberry Hill lest he should meet him by accident. The earl's portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in February 1755, and an engraving of the picture (formerly belonging to Mason, and now in the possession of Lady Alleyne of Chevin House, Belper), by R. Cooper, is given in the first volume of The Works of William Mason (1811). The portrait painted by Knapton for the Dilettanti Society was exhibited at the third Exhibition of National Portraits in 1868 (Catalogue, No. 937).
Collins's Peerage of England (1768), iv. 35-7
Burke's Extinct Peerage (1883), p. 159
Walpole's Letters (Cunningham's edition), passim
Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George II (1847), passim
Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III (1845), i. 42-3
Coxe's Memoirs of the Pelham Administration (1829), ii. 130-1, 189-90, 386-7
Memoirs from 1754 to 1758, by James Earl Waldegrave (1821), pp. 120-3
Harris's Life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke (1847), iii. 242
Alumni Westmonasterienses (1852), pp. 544-6, 575
Whitaker's History of Richmondshire (1823), ii. 44, 47
Leslie and Taylor's Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1865), i. 109-10, 130, 144, 152
Haydn's Book of Dignities (1851), pp. 93, 130, 172
Doyle's Official Baronage (1886), ii. 205-6
London Gazettes, 1740, No. 7966, 1751, No. 9068, 1771, No. 11135
Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ii. 188, 254.
Contributor: G. F. R. B. [George Fisher Russell Barker]