Hardinge, Sir Henry (1785–1856), 1st Viscount Hardinge of Lahore , chief secretary for Ireland, was born 30 March 1785 in Kent, third son of Henry Hardinge, rector of Stanhope, Durham, and his wife Frances, daughter of James Best of Kent. He began his army career at the age of 14 as an ensign before purchasing a lieutenancy (1802) and a captaincy (1804). He joined the Royal Military College at High Wycombe in February 1806 and remained nineteen months, after which he was appointed deputy assistant quartermaster-general in a force that joined Sir Arthur Wellesley (qv), the future duke of Wellington, in Portugal. Hardinge played a prominent role in actions including Douro, Albuera, and the Pyrenees, and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel (1811) and made KCB (January 1815). More importantly he attracted the attention of Wellesley, to whose good offices he owed his later political career. On Wellesley's orders he was made British military commissioner to the Prussian army (April 1814) and remained in this post through the Waterloo campaign and then until allied troops withdrew from France (November 1818). For this he was invested with the Prussian order of military merit and received a sword of honour from Wellington; however, it also cost him his left hand, shattered by a cannon-ball at the battle of Quatre Bras.
Returning to England, Hardinge was elected conservative MP for Durham (1820–30) and served in government during Wellington's administration (1828–30), first as secretary at war (July 1828–July 1830) and then chief secretary for Ireland (30 July–26 November 1830). His tenure was brief but incendiary. In October 1830 Daniel O'Connell (qv) formed his repeal association and ran advertisements in the newspapers summoning a public meeting. In the absence of the lord lieutenant Hardinge issued in response a proclamation for the suppression of secret societies on 18 October 1830. O'Connell met this with a scathing speech at a public dinner in Dublin four days later in which he referred to Hardinge as a ‘paltry, contemptible little English soldier a chance child of fortune and of war’ (MacDonagh, 331) – though he did not call him a ‘one-handed miscreant’, as reported in the DNB. Refusing Hardinge's challenge to a duel, O'Connell claimed in a letter published in the Dublin newspapers (24 October 1830) to have spoken of him in his public capacity only. After this incident Hardinge considered buying the Weekly Register to counteract the O'Connellite press, but this came to nothing. Successively MP for St Germans (1830–31), and Newport, Cornwall (1831–2), he was MP for Launceston (1832–44) when he was again appointed chief secretary for Ireland (17 December 1834–22 April 1835) during the 120-day administration of Sir Robert Peel (qv). He had a frustrating time in office, as his attempts to govern and legislate came up against the determination of the whigs and O'Connell to join forces to wreck the government. He narrowly succeeded in getting a committee appointed to debate the Irish tithe bill (23 March) but after a marathon four-day debate Lord John Russell succeeded in bringing in a motion to amend the Irish church bill (3 April) and this was taken as a crucial vote of no confidence in the government. Peel tendered his resignation five days later. Hardinge had distinguished himself in the debate by his uncharacteristic eloquence and impressive marshalling of statistics to support his claim that disturbances in Ireland were due not to religious differences but to poverty, distress, and unemployment.
Hardinge's subsequent career was largely successful; he was secretary at war (1841–4) and on Wellington's suggestion was appointed governor-general of India (1844–8), where he personally served as second-in-command of British forces in the first Sikh war (December 1845). This led to his being created Viscount Hardinge of Lahore and Durham (2 May 1846). He retired from India at his own request in January 1848, and seven months later was one of two extra general officers selected for special service to help put down insurrection in Ireland. However, as this was short-lived, he was not requisitioned. On the death of Wellington (1852) Hardinge was made general commander-in-chief (1852–6). His tenure was not entirely successful and he was blamed by public opinion for the disasters of the Crimean war. Raised to the rank of field-marshal in October 1855, he died at his seat, South Park, near Tunbridge Wells, on 24 September 1856 and was survived by two sons and two daughters and by his wife (m. 10 December 1821), the former Lady Emily Jane James (née Stewart), half-sister of the 2nd marquess of Londonderry (qv) and widow of John James. A collection of his papers is held at McGill University Library, Montreal. His elder son Charles Stewart Hardinge was conservative MP for Downpatrick (1851–6).