Hervey, Frederick Augustus (1730–1803), bishop of Derry, 4th earl of Bristol and 5th Baron Howard de Walden , was born 1 August 1730 at Ickworth House, Suffolk, third son of John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth, and Elizabeth Hervey (née Lepell). Educated at Westminster School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he departed the university without a degree in 1751, but availed of his right as a nobleman to acquire an MA degree in 1754. Meantime, and contrary to the wishes of both families, he married (1752) Elizabeth Davers, with whom he had two sons and three daughters. As a younger son with no guarantees of inheritance Hervey felt obliged to choose a career. Having considered the law, he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn (1747), but this held little appeal and he finally opted for the church. Admitted to holy orders (1755), Hervey soon perceived that preferment represented a faster route to eminence than service. Appointed clerk of the privy seal (1756), principal clerk (1761), and chaplain to George III (1763), his object was a bishopric. While he waited, he diverted himself with foreign travel, which brought him to Italy, where he indulged his enthusiasm for fine art and geology. The appointment of his eldest brother, George William (1721–75), 2nd earl of Bristol, to the lord lieutenancy of Ireland (1766) opened up the prospects of preferment in Ireland, and his brother obliged by nominating him to the bishopric of Cloyne (2 February 1767). It proved a short but eventful episcopate, as Hervey applied himself energetically to the betterment of the diocese. He appointed able and attentive clergy to minister in the diocese and set about reclaiming a bog owned by the see, though this involved him in prolonged litigation with local interests who had traditionally profited thereby. Promoted in February 1768 to the more lucrative diocese of Derry, he continued in the same vein. He visited each of the parishes in the diocese, and made large sums available for public improvements, arising out of which he was presented with the freedom of Londonderry in 1770.
More contentiously, he took up the issue of catholic relief. While on the Continent, Hervey made a point of visiting ‘the principal Irish seminaries in the kingdom of France’ to establish if one could sustain a distinction between ‘the bigoted partisan of the court of Rome and the conscientious member of its church’ (D1514/9/79). Satisfied that this was so, he concluded that the prevailing protestant perception ‘that the Irish Roman Catholics, as well in Ireland as upon the Continent, have but one common way of thinking both in point of politics and of religion’ was erroneous. He adjudged that if the state introduced ‘a test or form of oath as would discriminate the dangerous members of that communion from the harmless’, the way was clear to allow ‘conscientious’ catholics ‘a legal but decent exercise of their religion’ and the ‘liberty to purchase such lands only as were forfeited in the great rebellion of forty-one’. Convinced also that ‘in proportion as it weakens the popish interest [it] must necessarily strengthen the protestant’ (ibid.), Hervey lobbied catholic and protestant leaders to promote the introduction of an appropriate oath of allegiance, and his efforts contributed significantly to the eventual approval of such a formula by the Irish parliament in 1774.
Hervey had little direct input into the ratification of this oath, as diocesan matters and foreign travel occupied much of his time. Disappointed by the reluctance of catholics to subscribe to it, he remained persuaded that it was to Ireland's advantage to promote a policy that served to attach catholics to the state and to diminish allegiance to Rome. With this in mind, during the mid and late 1770s he proffered a range of further proposals including the appointment of catholic clergy by the state, the endowment of seminaries and monasteries, and the maintenance of priests through the provision of twenty-acre grants of land. Conscious also that the tithe system was a cause of acute resentment, he proposed that the clergy of the Church of Ireland be also assigned land for their maintenance, and he inaugurated an experiment along these lines in his own diocese. Illness and the lure of foreign travel ensured this was not put to a proper test, but his personal circumstances were greatly enhanced in December 1779 when, on the death of his brother, he succeeded to the earldom of Bristol and a rental of £20,000 a year.
This additional income, and more secured by his manipulation of leasing practices on the Derry see lands, enabled Hervey greatly to expand his architectural ambitions. He had during the 1770s devoted considerable effort to the enhancement of the physical circumstances of clergymen in the diocese, to civic improvement and to personal undertakings that earned him the nickname of the ‘edifying bishop’. A mansion, reputedly designed by Placido Columbani, located close to the sea at Downhill was his most ambitious venture, and though it was ready for occupancy by 1780, additions (including the famous Mussenden temple) and improvements continued to be made throughout the bishop's life. At this time also, Hervey embarked on another great house, possibly designed by Francis Sandys, at Ballyscullion in the south-east corner of his diocese. Constructed according to a circular design, both it and Downhill combined to give the earl-bishop, as he was increasingly known, a reputation for extravagance that his continuing promotion of civic and church building did little to deflect. Sandys was responsible for designing the oval rotunda at Ickworth, the bishop's English home.
This reputation was both reinforced and extended during the 1780s by his involvement with the Volunteers. Animated by the possibilities the Volunteers offered of reshaping the Irish political system, he overcame the reservations he articulated in 1780 that they might precipitate a ‘civil war’ (Hervey to Foster, 21 May 1780 (RIA, MS 23.G.39)) and joined the Londonderry Corps in 1782. Convinced now that ‘the happiness and the union of both countries depends on the independence of both’ (Hervey to Foster, 17 April 1782), he strongly supported the demand for legislative independence. More controversially, he endorsed the suggestion promoted enthusiastically in Ulster in 1783 that the enhancement in the kingdom's constitutional authority vis-à-vis Great Britain should be followed by a reform of the representative system. Hervey's willingness to extend the franchise to include catholics placed him securely on the radical wing of the advocates of parliamentary reform. The fact that he was both a peer and a bishop ensured that he attracted plenty of notice from interests who deemed his stance unbecoming one of his rank. The contemporary voice that has most influenced the way that Hervey is perceived is Lord Charlemont (qv), whose antipathy to catholic enfranchisement and personal dislike of the earl-bishop ran very deep. To be sure, Hervey's triumphant cavalcade into and through the streets of Dublin in November 1783 on his way to the Grand National Convention of Volunteer delegates was as ostentatious as it was ill-considered, but the truth of the matter was that Hervey was neither as radical or as eccentric as his deportment or hostile observers suggest. It was he, for example, who recommended that Henry Flood (qv) should be coopted on to the convention's sub-committee. He was more disposed to press parliament to accede to the delegates' plan than moderates like Charlemont, and his responses to addresses congratulating him on his stand in 1783–4 were sometimes more than a trifle incautious; but there is no evidence to sustain the claim emanating from within Dublin Castle that he engaged in any conspiratorial intrigues with France in 1784. Indeed, after the collapse of the reform movement in 1784–5, he had no more to do with Irish politics. He even voted by proxy for the act of union.
Hervey spent most of the last eighteen years of his life abroad with only occasional visits to Ireland. Separated since 1780 from his wife, not in the best of health and eager to equip his various residences with artwork becoming their size and scale, he spent his time mainly on the Continent. A sizeable collection of artistic objects was forfeited during the French revolutionary wars after his arrest in Italy in 1798. Hervey, meanwhile, did little to enhance his reputation by conducting a liaison with the mistress of the king of Prussia. He died 3 July 1803 at Albano in Italy, having lived a full life, which for all its colour was not without achievement. He is certainly not deserving of comprehensive condemnation. His second son, Frederick William, 5th earl and 1st marquis of Bristol, succeeded him. His personal papers do not survive in extenso but there are significant caches in the Babington and Croasdaile papers and the Hervey Bruce papers in the PRONI, the John Leslie Foster papers in the RIA, and the Hamilton papers in the NLI.