Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British American

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British American

Article excerpt

The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America. By Patricia U. Bonomi. (Chapel Hill and London: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 290. $29.95, cloth.)

Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, is probably the most notorious American colonial governor. Governor of New York from 1702 to 1708 and after 1703 governor of New Jersey as well, Cornbury is widely known from a portrait in the New York Historical Society reputedly depicting him in women's clothes. Contemporary political opponents claimed that he was guilty of both financial malfeasance and of being a transvestite. Cornbury was the grandson of Edward Hyde, First Earl of Clarendon, one of the original Carolina proprietors. In 1710 he inherited that earldom himself and went on to other trusted foreign service for his first cousin Queen Anne, but among American historians, where a Whig interpretation of history has prevailed, a strongly negative reputation has clung to Cornbury's name since the mid eighteenth century. Gotham, a current best-selling history of New York City, notes that he was "a casual chiseler on top of everything else." (p. 115). In Patricia Bonomi's superb new book, she convincingly argues that Cornbury was the victim of the common political rhetoric of his time. The Lord Cornbury Scandal is not only a remarkably interesting story but also has important implications for the history of other colonies, including South Carolina.

Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, was born in 1661 when his grandfather was still at the height of his power as Lord High Chancellor of England. His father's older sister, Anne Hyde, was then the wife of James, Duke of York, brother to the recently restored King Charles 11. It was Combury's fate to live in tumultuous political times. By 1685 he was a member of the House of Commons and master of the horse to Prince George of Denmark, husband of his cousin Princess Anne. In 1688 as a young military officer, Cornbury was among the first to desert the forces of his uncle-by-marriage, King James 11, to join William of Orange in effecting the Glorious Revolution. But Cornbury apparently had doubts about William's place in the succession in the event of the death of his cousin Queen Mary. His qualms meant that he did not fare well politically during most of the reigns of, first, William and Mary and then the widower William. The family had been on hard times financially since his grandfather's fall from power in 1667. Despite an advantageous marriage, Cornbury had grave difficulties keeping up appearances as the heir to an earldom. His situation improved dramatically in 1701 when King William, in the last year of his reign, appointed Combury governor general of the strategically important colony of New York. …

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