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The Canon of John Lydgate Project


The Lives of Ss. Edmund and Fremund: Introduction

Robert Harley, Prime Minister and Book Collector
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (of the new creation, 1711); b. 5 Dec. 1661 in London; d. 21 May 1724 in London. Harley was a parliamentarian and statesman, first elected to Parliament in 1688, serving as Speaker of the House from 1701 to 1705 and as Secretary of State from 1704 to 1708. He was a great favourite of Queen Anne, and, in 1710, she installed Harley as Chancellor of the Exchequer and, in 1711, as Lord High Treasurer (at which time he also gained his earldom). Harley was now at the height of his powers, and indisputably the most powerful man in England, and he led the Tory government from 1710 to 1714. On 27 July 1714, however, he was dismissed by the Queen after a series of intrigues brought him into disfavour, and he spent the first years of the reign of George I in prison on charges of treason (from which he was finally acquitted in 1717).

A full biography of Harley can be found in Roscoe's Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford (1902).

Harley was a great collector of books and ancient manuscripts. The collection was augmented by his son, Edward, and then sold to Parliament by Edward's widow in 1753; it is now in the British Library. The published catalogue of the Harley manuscripts runs to four substantial volumes of close print (describing 7660 manuscripts). Some account of Harley's collection can be found in the Introduction (pp. xv-xxxv) of Wright's Fontes Harleiani (1972).

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© 1995 Stephen R. Reimer
English; University of Alberta; Edmonton, Canada
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Last revised: 9 Nov. 1995

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