Clifford, Thomas, first Lord Clifford of Chudleigh 1630-1673, was born at Ugbrooke, near Exeter, on 1 Aug. 1630. He was the son of Hugh Clifford, who commanded a regiment of foot in Charles I's campaign of 1639 against the Scotch, and of Mary, daughter of Sir George Chudleigh of Ashton, Devonshire. On 25 May 1647 he was entered at Exeter College, Oxford, where he remained until 1650, when he did supplicate for the degree of batchelor of arts. He appears to have had great natural parts, and to have been accomplished, but was accounted by his contemporaries as a young man of a very unsettled head, or of a roving, shattered brain (Athenæ Oxon.). Upon leaving college he became a student at the Middle Temple, and afterwards travelled (Prince, Worthies of Devon, p. 222). In the Convention parliament he was elected for Totnes, and subsequently for the same place in the Pensionary parliament, which met on 8 May 1661. There is no record in the Parliamentary History of his speeches in the house for some years, though apparently Clarendon includes him in the number of those young men who spake confidently and often (Life, i. 615, Clar. Press edit.), and Prince speaks of him as a frequent and celebrated speaker, at first against the royal prerogative. If Burnet, who is inaccurate in several points regarding Clifford, is correct in this, he applied to Clarendon for his patronage on entering parliament. Clarendon, however, it is stated, aware that he was a catholic, and had indeed been one previous to the Restoration, rejected his advances (Burnet, i. 225), and he thereupon joined the party of Bennet, afterwards Lord Arlington, who was intriguing against Clarendon, and endeavouring to secure influence at court by forming a party in the commons of king's friends. Clifford was among the first. His fortune was very small—Pepys speaks of him as of about seven score pounds a year—and he evidently regarded this as the most promising manner of making his way. This was in 1663. Clarendon, it should be observed, nowhere mentions a previous application to himself, nor does Evelyn, in his final notice of Clifford, on 18 Aug. 1673 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663). On 16 Feb. 1663 Clifford received the gift of the first reversion of a tellership of the exchequer, and upon the breaking out of the Dutch war in 1664 was, with Evelyn and two others, appointed commissioner for the care of the sick and wounded and prisoners of war, a salary of 1,200l. a year being attached to the commission (Evelyn, 27 Oct. 1664). On 18 Jan. 1665 he was made one of the commissioners for managing the estates of the Duke of Monmouth during his minority (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1664-5). In March, however, he joined the fleet, and having been previously knighted, took part under the Duke of York in the great battle of 3 June 1665. On 28 June the prize-ship Patriarch Isaac was bestowed upon him in reward for his constant service in the disposal of ships, preventing embezzlements, &c. In the beginning of August he was prominently engaged (Burnet, i. 223) under the Earl of Sandwich, apparently as captain of the Revenge (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. 230), in the abortive attempt to capture the Dutch East India fleet in the harbour of Bergen, a heady expedition, in which he appears to have acted against Sandwich's instructions (Evelyn, 31 May 1672), and of which, on 17 Aug., he sends a long account to Arlington (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1664-5). These reports from Clifford to Arlington are frequent, and it is evident that he joined the fleet as Arlington's confidential agent. His advancement, which was effected by that minister to the great astonishment of the court, was now rapid; and immediately after the affair at Bergen (29 Aug.) he was appointed to join Henry Coventry as ambassador extraordinary to the king of Denmark, to settle disputed questions of commerce and navigation (ib. 2 Sept.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. 233, 6th Rep. 333 b). During the spring of 1666 Clifford was at Ugbrooke, but shortly after was again with the fleet. He was on a visit to Arlington at Euston when the guns were heard off Harwich. Along with Ossory he rode thither with all haste, and on 2 June went off with him in a small armed shallop to join Albemarle. On the 6th he sent a long account from the fleet to Arlington of the great four days' battle, ending it by saying that he would not have missed seeing the fight for half I was worth (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1665). He stayed with the fleet until the action of 25 July, in which he took part, and of which he again sends an account. He had previously (1 July) been recommended by Rupert to the king for early promotion. He left the fleet and came to London, but immediately returned (5 Aug.) with instructions to the admirals, whom he reached on the 13th. On the 20th he was again ashore, and very active in the king's affairs, was at Southwold on the 21st looking after the sick and wounded, and had again joined the fleet on 11 Sept. (ib.). It is at this time that Pepys mentions him as a very fine gentleman, and much set by at court for his activity in going to sea, and stoutness everywhere, and stirring up and down (17 Sept. 1666). On 8 Nov. he was appointed comptroller of the household, on the death of Sir Hugh Pollard, and on 5 Dec. was placed on the privy council for his singular zeal, wherein he had on all occasions merited in his majesty's service, and more eminently in the honourable dangers in the then late war against the Dutch and French, where he had been all along a constant actor, and, as it was observed, had made it his choice to take his share in the warmest part of these services. Upon the death of Southampton, in 1667, Clifford was placed on the commission of the treasury, though he had, according to Pepys (28 April 1667), little learning, more than the law of a justice of peace, which he knows well, and on 14 June 1668, on the death of Lord Fitzhardinge, was made treasurer of the household, a post he obtained through the influence of Arlington, to whom he wrote with such submissions and professions of his patronage as I had never seen any more acknowledging (Evelyn, Diary, 18 Aug. 1673). On 25 Oct. 1667 he had been one of those who were requested by the commons to prepare, for the committee of investigation, all papers concerning the operations of the fleet in the war. He appears now to have been active in parliament, though his recorded speeches are few. He of course spoke always in the interest of the court; on 18 Feb. 1668 against the bill for frequent parliaments; on 16 Feb. 1670 against doubly assessing members of parliament for non-attendance; and on 13 Jan. 1670 against the malicious maiming and wounding bill which followed the outrage on Sir John Coventry.
In 1669 the Dutch war was brought to an end by the triple alliance. This treaty was regarded by Clifford with the greatest dislike. He was an ardent catholic, in sympathy if not in name, and looked to the help of France for the securing of toleration for that creed. He was, moreover, a vehement royalist, and hated the Dutch republic. Scarcely was the treaty concluded when Charles, who deeply regretted having been forced into it, began an intrigue with France to break through it, and Clifford, who was entirely in his confidence, and who had already openly expressed his own and his master's hopes, eagerly joined (Dalrymple, Memoirs, i. 37). His position as one of the members of the famous cabal is clearly defined. It was a toleration cabinet, but with very different views. Buckingham and Ashley were protestant, Lauderdale was merely the king's personal adherent, Arlington was, or was supposed to be, a catholic [see Bennet, Henry, Earl of Arlington], but, through his marriage, with Dutch sympathies. Clifford, in turn, was zealous for religious freedom joined with royal despotism. His contempt of constitutional trammels is shown by his advice to Charles, rather to be in slavery to one man, meaning Louis, than to five hundred. It was now that he began to show his enthusiasm for popery, and it was now too that Pepys noted his folly, ambition, and desire of popularity, rudeness of tongue and passions when angry; though it must be remembered that this description was given shortly after Clifford had expressed himself in no measured terms as to the want of method in the admiralty office (Diary, 12 Feb. and 1 March 1669).
Meanwhile the Duke of York, with whom Clifford was intimate, had declared his conversion; and on 25 Jan. 1669 Charles held a secret conference with the duke, Arundel, Clifford, and Arlington; declared himself a catholic, and asked for advice as to how best to avow his conversion publicly and establish Roman catholicism in England. In the intrigues which were subsequently begun with France, and which led up to the famous treaty of Dover in June 1670, Clifford was closely engaged, being named as one of the commissioners to conclude the affair with Colbert, the French ambassador, in which capacity he placed his signature to the treaty when finally arranged. And, in pursuance of his hatred against the Dutch, he urgently advised Charles to fulfil the condition compelling him to go to war with the United Provinces before he attempted the avowal of his catholicism.
It had been found, however, impossible to show this treaty to the protestant members of the cabal, inasmuch as one of the conditions was that Louis should pay Charles a certain sum upon his declaring himself a catholic. A second treaty was therefore prepared, in which this sum was represented as an addition merely to the subsidy promised by France for the war; and nothing was said in it, as in the first, of bringing French troops to help Charles in England. To this trick, which imposed upon the other members of the cabal, Clifford was a party, and with them signed it on 31 Dec. 1670. Even so it was not considered safe to show it to the king's ministers generally until February 1672, when a similar treaty was signed by the cabal, as being the first and only one in existence.
It appears that in 1671, as afterwards in 1672, Ashley was offered the lord treasurership, and that, had he accepted it, Clifford was to have become chancellor of the exchequer; but the authority for this is not of weight (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. 369 a).
In 1672, during the absence of Henry Coventry and Arlington in Sweden and Holland, Clifford filled, on the death of Sir John Trevor, the office of principal secretary of state. In January of this year he advised Charles, who needed further immediate supplies for the Dutch war, to have recourse to the stop of the exchequer. This step, whereby all payments out of the exchequer on all warrants, orders, or securities whatsoever were prohibited for twelve months, and which temporarily ruined commercial credit, while it gave the king a present supply, has been by Burnet and Macaulay wrongly ascribed to Shaftesbury. Clifford appears to have been the sole author of the plan, and to have proposed it in the previous year, and Shaftesbury undoubtedly opposed it [see Cooper, Anthony Ashley] (Martyn, Life, i. 415). Sir W. Temple (Works, ii. 184), Shaftesbury himself (Christie, Life of the First Earl of Shaftesbury, ii. 62), Ormonde (Martyn, Life, i. 422), and Evelyn, who was greatly attached to Clifford (Diary, 12 March 1672), unanimously ascribe the suggestion to Clifford. The evidence on the point will be found collected and analysed in Christie's Life of Shaftesbury, pp. 53-70. In all probability the attack on the Dutch Smyrna fleet before hostilities had been declared was also at his advice (ib.).
On 22 April 1672, probably in reward for this service, he was made a baron by the title of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and on 28 Nov. lord high treasurer, and by letters patent, treasurer of the exchequer (Collins, Peerage). The high treasurership he appears to have gained by the goodwill of James, and against the influence of his early patron, Arlington, who had hoped for the post himself. Clifford's conduct in securing this post while constantly persuading Arlington, according to his account, that he was pressing his claims, is quoted by Evelyn as the only ‘real ingratitude’ of which he was guilty (Diary, 18 Aug. 1673). Meanwhile, in March of the same year Charles had issued his declaration of indulgence, whereby all the penal laws on account of religion were suspended, a measure warmly supported by Clifford. This roused the greatest irritation among the Anglican party in the house, and when parliament met in February 1673 the most violent opposition was expressed. Against this opposition Clifford urged the king to stand firm, and he further strongly pressed the necessity of dissolving parliament. The necessities of the king, however, and the advice of Louis, restrained him from doing this, and he found himself compelled in March 1673 to withdraw the declaration. The commons immediately followed up this success by introducing the Test Act, the terms of which made it impossible for any conscientious catholic to hold office under the crown. It is very probable that Arlington devised this act, which he knew must ruin Clifford, from anger at having been supplanted by him in the treasurership. It was warmly supported by Shaftesbury, who perhaps had become aware of his having been duped in the matter of the secret treaty of Dover, in which Clifford had had so prominent a share. When the bill came before the lords, Clifford opposed it with the utmost vehemence, and it was clearly now, not in the debate on the declaration of indulgence, as stated by Burnet, that not having intended to speak, but being suddenly inspired, he delivered the speech in which he applied the phrase ‘monstrum horrendum ingens’ to the bill (Christie, Shaftesbury, ii. 137). Colbert in his despatches declares that but for this speech a compromise would have been possible, but that ‘it kindled such a flame that nothing since has been heard but fury and reproach against the government’ (ib. p. 138). By the Test Act the cabal was scattered. The Duke of York resigned his posts, and Clifford gave up the treasurership in the beginning of June, and left the privy council. The question of whether Clifford was really a catholic or not cannot be settled. As late as 1671 he had erected a protestant chapel at Ugbrooke. Evelyn, who knew him well (Diary, 19 June 1673), is confident that he did it ‘more from some promise he had enter'd into to gratify the duke than for any prejudice to the protestant religion, tho' I found him wavering awhile.’ Colbert also, who, if any one, would know about Clifford's religion, appears in the following words to regard him as a protestant: ‘Nothing is more surprising than to have the lord treasurer, who has the greatest part in all the king's secrets, take the part of the catholics with inimitable eloquence and courage’ (Christie, ii. 139). It is true, he adds, ‘his head is so turned with the glory of martyrdom, that he has reproached Father Patrick for his lukewarmness about religion,’ and, according to James (Life, i. 484), he was a new and zealous convert. However this may be, he felt bound to resign his offices, which it is difficult to believe he would have done merely out of friendship to James. He immediately retired to Tunbridge Wells, where in July he was visited by Evelyn, who found that though he had with him ‘music and people to divert him,’ his ‘rough and ambitious nature’ would not allow him to support the blow. The want of success in the Dutch war, and the failure of the stop of the exchequer, both of which had been brought about by his influence, affected him deeply. Clifford returned to London in August, but only for a final leave-taking. On the 18th Evelyn found him at Wallingford House, preparing to leave at once for Devonshire, packing up his pictures, ‘most of which were of hunting wild beasts and vast pieces of bull, beare baiting,’ &c. This is almost the sole illustration that we have of his known love of the chase (Ranke, Hist. of England, iii. 515). On parting, Clifford wrung Evelyn's hand, declaring he should never see him or the court again. In less than a month he was dead; and although there is now no absolute proof, the evidence of suicide is strong (Evelyn, Diary, 18 Aug. 1673). Prince, in his ‘Worthies of Devon,’ states that he died of stone, but his information about Clifford is in many respects very scanty. His death was in September, and he was buried in the chapel he had himself built at Ugbrooke.
Clifford was a believer in the calculation of nativities, and had declared before he was made a peer that he was assured by his horoscope that he would reach the summit of his ambition early, but should enjoy it for a short while only, and would die by a bloody death. This was affirmed by Shaftesbury, and is strongly supported by Evelyn's testimony (ib.). ‘For the rest, my Lord Clifford was a valiant, uncorrupt gentleman;’ ‘ambitious, not covetous; generous, passionate, a most sincere friend’ (ib.). There is, it should be added, no record of Clifford paying court to the royal mistresses. Literary societies met at his house, and he appears to have had the taste for scholarship characteristic of the time (Ranke, Hist. iii. 515). In spite of the smallness of his fortune he, as far as is known, kept his hands clean; for Colbert's statement that he accepted a present from France (Dalrymple, i. 124) must be received with hesitation, though he probably gave him much information (ib. 127), and that is the only statement of the kind. From the king he received, in 1671, a lease for sixty years of Chestow pastures, near Aylesbury, as well as the manors of Cannington and Rodway Fitzpain, Somersetshire, for himself and his heirs male. The livings of Ugbrooke and Chudleigh were also in the same year entailed by act of parliament upon his family.
Clifford married Elizabeth, daughter of William Martin of Lindridge, Devonshire, by whom he had seven sons and eight daughters, of whom four sons and seven daughters survived him (Collins, Peerage). His eldest son, Robert, died at Florence on 29 Feb. 1670-1 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. 514), while another, Thomas, is mentioned in the ‘Athenæ Oxonienses’ as being entered as a gentleman commoner at Queen's College, Oxford, in 1668, aged fifteen. He was succeeded in his titles by his fourth son, Hugh, who died in 1690.
The materials for Clifford's life have been all mentioned in the text;
see also Kippis's Biog. Brit.
Contributor: O. A. [Osmund Airy]