Last reviewed: June 2018
English statesman and historian
February 18, 1609
Dinton, Wiltshire, England
December 9, 1674
Edward Hyde, later the earl of Clarendon, was the third son of Edward Hyde and Mary Langford Hyde. He was destined for the church, but after the death of his older brothers, he entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford University, in 1622. After receiving his B.A. in 1626, he was admitted to the Middle Temple in London to study law. For nearly a decade, he enjoyed the company of learned and artistic men, chiefly Ben Jonson and his followers, and looked to Lord Falkland for his political advancement. Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon
Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon
Hyde’s first marriage, to Anne Ayliffe in 1629, ended with her death six months later. In 1634, he married Frances Aylesbury, with whom he had three sons and a daughter; their daughter, Anne, was to become the mother of Queens Mary II and Anne, and their sons served in the government and were later instrumental in getting Hyde’s work published.
In 1633, he was called to the bar, and in 1634 he became one of Charles I’s managers of the masques. From that time until the king was beheaded in 1649, Hyde worked for the Crown, first as a member of Parliament for fourteen years and thereafter as adviser and keeper of writs and rolls. In 1643, he was knighted and named Chancellor of the Exchequer. In all offices, he spoke out for the king against slander, but he openly opposed the king’s highhanded and wrongheaded acts. At Charles I’s request, Hyde went into exile with the young prince of Wales, during which time he began writing his opus, a history of the English Civil War. He returned with Charles II in 1660 as Lord Chancellor and the new king’s most trusted adviser. He was made earl of Clarendon in 1661 after his daughter, Anne, married James, Duke of York.
Clarendon’s decline from favor, largely because of his opposition to court immorality and lax interpretation of constitutional law, led to his being exiled again following the death of his beloved wife. From 1667 to his death, Clarendon continued his work in France, ironically the country most antagonistic to him. His monument is his history of those “wicked times” as well as his portraits of famous men and of his own life, in what has come to be known as the first English history that is both artistic and comprehensive. While living in France, he also completed an autobiography, which was published more than a half-century after his death and which paid for the construction of the Oxford University Press printing house. Clarendon died in Rouen, France, in December 1674 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.