Lord John Hervey (1696–1743). Portrait by John Fayram (1713–1743 fl.). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Right Honourable The Lord Hervey

Lord Privy Seal
In office
Monarch George II of the United Kingdom
Prime Minister Robert Walpole
Preceded by Francis Godolphin, 2nd earl of Godolphin
Succeeded by John Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Gower
Personal details
Born October 13 1696(1696-Template:MONTHNUMBER-13)
Died August 5 1743(1743-Template:MONTHNUMBER-05) (aged 46)
Spouse(s) Mary Lepell
Children 8, including George Hervey, 2nd earl, Augustus Hervey, 3rd earl, & Frederick Hervey, 4th earl of Bristol

Lord John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey PC (13 October 1696 - 5 August 1743) was an English poet, courtier and political writer and memoirist.


Youth and educationEdit

Hervey, the eldest son of John, 1st earl of Bristol, by his 2nd marriage, was born on 13 October 1696.[1]

He was educated at Westminster School and then at Clare Hall, Cambridge, where he earned an M.A. degree in 1715.[1]


In 1716 his father sent him to Paris, and thence to Hanover to pay his court to George I. He was a frequent visitor at the court of the prince and princess of Wales at Richmond, and in 1720 he married Mary Lepell, who was one of the princess’s ladies-in-waiting, and a great court beauty.[1]

In 1723 he received the courtesy title of Lord Hervey on the death of his half-brother Carr, and in 1725 he was elected M.P. for Bury St Edmunds. He had been for a time on very friendly terms with Frederick, prince of Wales, but from 1731 he quarrelled with him, apparently because they were rivals for the affection of Anne Vane. These differences probably account for the scathing picture he draws of the prince’s callous conduct.[1]

Hervey had been hesitating between William Pulteney (afterwards earl of Bath) and Robert Walpole, but in 1730 he definitely took sides with Walpole, of whom he was thenceforward a faithful adherent. He was assumed by Pulteney to be the author of Sedition and Defamation display’d with a Dedication to the patrons of The Craftsman (1731). Pulteney, who, up to this time, had been a firm friend of Hervey, replied with A Proper Reply to a late Scurrilous Libel, and the quarrel resulted in a duel from which Hervey narrowly escaped with his life. Hervey is said to have denied the authorship of both the pamphlet and its dedication, but a note on the MS. at Ickworth, apparently in his own hand, states that he wrote the latter.[1]

Hervey was able to render valuable service to Walpole from his influence over the queen. Through him the minister governed Queen Caroline and indirectly George II. Hervey was vice-chamberlain in the royal household and a member of the privy council. In 1733 he was called to the House of Lords by writ in virtue of his father’s barony. In spite of repeated requests he received no further preferment until after 1740, when he became lord privy seal.[1]

After the fall of Walpole Hevey was dismissed (in July 1742) from his office. An excellent political pamphlet, Miscellaneous Thoughts on the present Posture of Foreign and Domestic Affairs, shows that he still retained his mental abilities, but he was liable to epilepsy, and his weak appearance and rigid diet were a constant source of ridicule to his enemies.[1]

Quarrel with PopeEdit

Until the publication of the Memoirs Hervey was chiefly known as the object of savage satire on the part of Pope, in whose works he figured as Lord Fanny, Sporus, Adonis and Narcissus. The quarrel is generally put down to Pope’s jealousy of Hervey’s friendship with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. In the 1st of Pope's "Imitations of Horace," addressed to William Fortescue, “Lord Fanny” and “Sappho” were generally identified with Hervey and Lady Mary, although Pope denied the personal intention.[1]

Hervey had already been attacked in the Dunciad and the Bathos, and he now retaliated. There is no doubt that he had a share in the Verses to the Imitator of Horace (1732) and it is possible that he was the sole author. In the Letter from a Nobleman at Hampton Court to a Doctor of Divinity (1733), he scoffed at Pope’s deformity and humble birth.[1]

Pope’s reply was a Letter to a Noble Lord, dated November 1733, and the portrait of Sporus in the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1735),[1] which forms the prologue to the satires. Many of the insinuations and insults contained in it are borrowed from Pulteney’s libel. The malicious caricature of Sporus does Hervey great injustice, and he is not much better treated by Horace Walpole, who in reporting his death in a letter (14th of August 1743) to Horace Mann, said he had outlived his last inch of character.[2]

Private lifeEdit

Hervey married Mary Lepell (1700–1768) on 21 April 1720. They had 8 children.

His wife Lady Hervey [Molly Lepell] (1700–1768), of whom an account is to be found in Lady Louisa Stuart’s Anecdotes, was a warm partisan of the Stuarts. She retained her wit and charm throughout her life, and has the distinction of being the recipient of English verses by Voltaire.[2]

Hervey was bisexual.[3] He had an affair with Anne Vane, and possibly with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Princess Caroline. He lived with Stephen Fox-Strangways, 1st earl of Ilchester, often during the decade after he followed him to Italy in 1728. He wrote passionate love letters to Francesco Algarotti, whom he met in 1736. He may have had a sexual affair with Prince Frederick before their friendship dissolved. He was in fact denounced as a sexually ambiguous figure in his time most notably by William Pulteney, then leader of the Opposition and by Alexander Pope in his "Sporus" portrait: "Let Sporus tremble / What that thing of silk ... His wit all seesaw between that and this / Now high, now low, now master up, now miss / And he himself one vile antithesis." He was also attracted to Henry Fox, 1st baron Holland, before his affair with Stephen Fox.[4]

Hervey died on 5 August 1743. He predeceased his father, but 3 of his sons became successively earls of Bristol.[1]


Hervey wrote detailed and brutally frank memoirs of the court of George II from 1727 to 1737. He gave a most unflattering account of the king, and of Frederick, prince of Wales, and their family squabbles. For the queen and her daughter, Princess Caroline, he had a genuine respect and attachment, and the princess’s affection for him was commonly said to be the reason for the close retirement in which she lived after his death.[1]

The MS. of Hervey’s memoirs was preserved by the family, but his son, Augustus John, 3rd earl of Bristol, left strict injunctions that they should not be published until after the death of George III. In 1848 they were published under the editorship of J.W. Croker, but the MS. had been subjected to a certain amount of mutilation before it came into his hands. Croker also softened in some cases the plainspokenness of the original. Hervey’s bitter account of court life and intrigues resembles in many points the memoirs of Horace Walpole, and the 2 books corroborate each other in many statements that might otherwise have been received with suspicion.[1]

His writings prove him to have been a man of real ability, condemned by Walpole’s tactics and distrust of able men to spend his life in court intrigue, the weapons of which, it must be owned, he used with the utmost adroitness.[2]

Besides the Memoirs he wrote numerous political pamphlets, and some occasional verses.[2]


11 of his poems were included in Dodsley's Collection of Poems in Six Volumes; by several hands.[5]

In popular cultureEdit

Hervey appears as a character in the 1999 British television series Aristocrats, where he is portrayed by Anthony Finigan. He is shown acting as a patron to the younger Henry Fox.

Hervey appears as a character in the historical novel Peter: The untold true story (2013) by Christopher Mechling, a tale of 18th-century feral child Peter the Wild Boy, whom the author believes to have been the inspiration for Peter Pan.[6][7]




  • Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Present Posture both of our Foreign and Domestic Affairs. London: J. Roberts, 1742.
  • Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second (edited by John Wilson Croker). (2 volumes), London: Murray, 1848; London: Bickers, 1884
    • Lord Hervey's Memoirs (edited by Romney Sedgwick). London: William Kimber, 1952.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[8]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  • PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Hervey of Ickworth, John Hervey, Baron". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 404-405.  Wikisource, Web, June 27, 2020.
  • Moore, Lucy, Amphibious Thing: The Life of Lord Hervey. Viking, 2000.

For a recent account of Hervey and Caroline, see Janice Hadlow, The Strangest Family: The private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians. London 2014.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Britannica 13, 404.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Britannica 13, 405.
  3. Lucy Moore, Amphibious Thing: the Life of Lord Hervey (Viking, 2000)
  4. James Dubro – "The Third Sex: Lord Hervey and his Coterie", Eighteenth Century Life", Summer 1976 and see also "John Lord Hervey," Body Politic, Toronto. summer 1975.
  5. John Hervey, Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive. Web, June 27, 2020.
  6. Template:Webarchive
  7. Template:Webarchive
  8. Search results = au:John Hervey, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, June 27, 2020.

External linksEdit


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Original article is at: Hervey of Ickworth, John Hervey, Baron

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