Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon

Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon

Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon (28 November 1661 – 31 March 1723), styled Viscount Cornbury between 1674 and 1709, was Governor of New York and New Jersey between 1701 and 1708, and is perhaps best known for the claims of his cross-dressing while in office.



Born The Hon. Edward Hyde, the only child of Henry, Viscount Cornbury (1638–1709), eldest son of the 1st Earl of Clarendon, and the former Theodosia Capell (1640–1662), daughter of Arthur Capell, 1st Baron Capell and sister of the 1st Earl of Essex, he was the nephew of Lady Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, wife of the future King James II. From the age of nine, since his father has just remarried to the heiress Flower Backhouse, he lived at Swallowfield in Berkshire and he matriculated at Oxford on 23 January 1675, a month after his father had succeeded as 2nd Earl of Clarendon, making him Viscount Cornbury. He entered the Royal Regiment of Dragoons, and became a Tory Member of Parliament for Wiltshire from 1685–1696 and for Christchurch 1695–1701. He was Master of the Horse to Prince George of Denmark, and a Page of Honour to King James II at his Coronation. He was one of the first commanders to desert the King in 1688, taking with him as many troops as he could.

Also in 1688, Lord Cornbury married, in a clandestine ceremony, Katherine O'Brien, daughter of Henry, Lord Ibrackan, eldest son of the 7th Earl of Thomond, who succeeded her mother in 1702 as 8th Baroness Clifton. Lady Cornbury died in New York on 11 August 1706 and is buried at Trinity Church, New York.

He became Governor of New York and New Jersey from 1701 to 1708, in which position he earned a very foul repute. It is said that his character and conduct were equally abhorred in both hemispheres. He was imprisoned for debt at the time of his father's death, when he succeeded as 3rd Earl of Clarendon. He was Envoy Extraordinary to Hanover in 1714.

Lord Clarendon died at Chelsea, in obscurity and debt, and was buried on 5 April 1723 in Westminster Abbey. Although his eldest son, Edward, Viscount Cornbury, predeceased him without children (the Earldom passing on his death to his cousin, the 2nd Earl of Rochester), by his daughter Theodosia, who married John Bligh (later the 1st Earl of Darnley), he is ancestor of many alive today, including actor Cary Elwes, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.


The purported portrait of Lord Cornbury from the New York Historical Society

Cornbury came to be regarded in the historical literature as a moral profligate, sunk in corruption: possibly the worst governor Britain ever imposed on an American colony. The early accounts claim he took bribes and plundered the public treasury. Nineteenth century historian George Bancroft said that Cornbury illustrated the worst form of the English aristocracy's "arrogance, joined to intellectual imbecility". Later historians characterise him as a "degenerate and pervert who is said to have spent half of his time dressed in women's clothes", a "fop and a wastrel". He is said to have delivered a "flowery panegyric on his wife's ears" after which he invited every gentleman present to feel precisely how shell-like they were; to have misappropriated £1500 meant for the defence of New York Harbor, and, scandalously, to have dressed in women's clothing and lurked "behind trees to pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims".[1]

Cornbury is reported to have opened the 1702 New York Assembly clad in a hooped gown and an elaborate headdress and carrying a fan, imitative of the style of Queen Anne. When his choice of clothing was questioned, he replied, "You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (the Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can." It is also said that in August 1707, when his wife Lady Cornbury died, His High Mightiness (as he preferred to be called) attended the funeral again dressed as a woman. It was shortly after this that mounting complaints from colonists prompted the Queen to remove Cornbury from office.[2]

In 2000 Patricia U. Bonomi re-examined these assertions, and found them to be questionable and based on very little evidence. Three colonials, all members of a faction opposed to Cornbury, wrote four letters between 1707 and 1709 discussing a rumour that Lord Cornbury wore women's clothes. There are also some early documents that might be cited to support charges of having taken bribes or misappropriated government funds, but there the contemporary evidence ends.[3]

Another frequently cited piece of evidence is that portrait claimed to be of Lord Cornbury dressed in women's clothes hangs today in the New York Historical Society. Almost nothing is known about the origins or subject of the picture.

New York Governor

In the interim after Cornbury's time as Governor of New York, there were several acting governors:

In 1710, General Robert Hunter arrived to fill the post.

See also

List of deserters from James II to William of Orange


  1. ^ Ross, Shelley, Fall From Grace, Random House, 1988. P.4. ISBN 0517198304.
  2. ^ Fall From Grace, P.4-7
  3. ^ Bonomi, Patricia U. Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America, The University of North Carolina Press, 2000. ISBN 0807848697.

External links

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Thomas Thynne
Sir Walter St John, Bt
Member of Parliament for Wiltshire
With: Viscount Bruce 1685–1689
Sir Thomas Mompesson 1689–1690
Sir Walter St John, Bt 1690–1695
Succeeded by
Sir George Hungerford
Henry St John
Preceded by
Francis Gwyn
William Ettrick
Member of Parliament for Christchurch
With: William Ettrick
Succeeded by
William Ettrick
Francis Gwyn
Military offices
Preceded by
The Lord Churchill
Colonel of The King's Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons
Succeeded by
Robert Clifford
Preceded by
Robert Clifford
Colonel of The King's Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons
Succeeded by
Anthony Heyford
Government offices
Preceded by
Earl of Bellomont
Colonial Governor of New York
Succeeded by
General Robert Hunter
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Isaac d'Alais
British Envoy to Hanover
The Elector succeeded as
King of Great Britain
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry Hyde
Earl of Clarendon
Succeeded by
Henry Hyde

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