Lees, Sir Harcourt (1776–1852), clergyman and political pamphleteer, was born 29 November 1776, eldest son among six sons and four daughters of Sir John Lees (qv), 1st baronet, soldier and head of the Irish post office, and Mary Lees (née Cathcart). Educated first at TCD, he transferred to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA (1799) and MA (1802). Entering the church, he became a prebendary of Fennor in the diocese of Cashel (1800–06), and also at Tullycorbet in the diocese of Clogher (1801–6). An eccentric character, he resigned both positions in July 1806 and for the remainder of his life involved himself in political and religious controversies, with the independence his wealth allowed him. Rector and vicar of Killaney, Co. Down, he succeeded his father as 2nd baronet in 1811.
A patron of Ogle R. Gowan (qv), in 1819 he made his first major political contribution, the publication of The antidote, or Nouvelles à la main, which controversially argued against full religious toleration. He later financed The Antidote, or Protestant Guardian, a weekly publication that championed his most important belief: the defence of the protestant ascendancy against the encroaching catholic masses. In 1824 he was arrested and prosecuted for a speech he had made urging Ulster protestants to rise up against their catholic neighbours; the case was weak and failed. The following year he helped finance Gowan's own non-political institution, the Benevolent and Religious Orange Institute of Ireland, which was formed in December. Although Lees promised the government he would keep the Orangemen in the north quiet during the upheaval over emancipation (1828–9), he was a figure of fading importance and influence and becoming increasingly irrelevant. His warning to the government about a plot to murder the queen in 1840, provoked much humour at his expense. He died 7 March 1852 at Blackrock House, Dublin.
He married (October 1812) Sophia, daughter of Col. Lyster of Grange, Co. Roscommon; they had four sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Sir John Lees (1816–92), succeeded as 3rd baronet. Although undoubtedly eccentric, Sir Harcourt was praised in unionist and Orange circles for giving ‘to the world a variety of pieces, written with much spirit, but chiefly of a political character’ and especially for being ‘an ardent defender of the British constitution in church and state’ (Cotton, Fasti, i, 64).
His youngest son, William Nassau Lees (1825–89), was a distinguished oriental scholar in India. Born 26 February 1825 at Kilanny, Co. Louth, he was educated privately and then at TCD, which he left without taking a degree. Deciding upon a career in the military, he was appointed an ensign in the British army in 1846 and served in the 42nd Bengal native infantry in India. While a soldier he developed a deep and lasting interest in orientalism and became a leading expert on the subject. In 1853 he published an account of the Muslim conquest of Syria, Fatúh'sh-Shám, and afterwards the Commentary of Az-Zamakhshari, an edition of the famous Persian account of the Koran, which was highly regarded by contemporary scholars. Promoted to lieutenant in June 1853, he was appointed secretary to the college of Fort William. His superiority when it came to languages and oriental subjects resulted in his being named the principal of the Madrásá, or Mahommedan College in Calcutta (1856–72), where he was also a professor of law, logic, literature, and mathematics. In recognition of his services he was awarded an honorary LLD by TCD in 1857. One of his greatest contributions to oriental studies was his joint editorship of Muntakhab al-Tawáríkh, which was considered the premier historical source in the period. Among his other notable writings were A biographical sketch of the mystic philosopher and poet, Jámí (1859), a book on the drain of silver and the currency of India (1864), essays on the educational policy of India (1867), and an analytical study, The land and labour of India (1867). His work was always cheerful but rarely interesting, and was influenced by a conservative perspective on British policy in India. In 1858 he was made a captain and other promotions later followed; he became a major (1865), full colonel (1876), and major-general (1885). On two occasions he stood for election in Gloucester (1868, 1874) as a conservative, but each time was defeated. He served as the government examiner in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu for the entire civil service in India for many years, and also purchased an interest in the Times of India newspaper. Returning to England after his retirement, he died 9 March 1889 at his home at Grosvenor St., London.