Hyde, Henry (1638–1709), 2nd earl of Clarendon, lord lieutenant of Ireland , was born 2 June 1638, eldest son of Edward Hyde, 1st earl of Clarendon and lord chancellor of England, and his second wife Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury. He was born in London, but spent much of his youth abroad with his parents, who went into continental exile following the Cromwellian defeat of the royalists. His father, a prominent royalist, used him as a secretary and decipherer in correspondence with other royalists. After the restoration, Henry was MP for Lyme Regis (1660) and Wiltshire (1661–74), at which stage he was known by his courtesy title Viscount Cornbury. He received an MA degree from Oxford in 1661. He held various posts in the household of Charles II's queen consort between 1662 and 1684, strongly defended his father at the time of his impeachment in 1667, and succeeded to the earldom on his death in 1674. Clarendon was appointed to the English privy council in May 1680 through the influence of his brother-in-law, James, duke of York (qv), whose first wife was his sister Anne Hyde. This link with York led to his being denounced as ‘inclined to popery’ in a house of commons address (January 1681), following his support of York during the exclusion crisis. Clarendon particularly resented the accusation of catholicism, and remained a staunch anglican for the rest of his life.
On York's accession as James II in 1685, Clarendon was appointed lord privy seal. He retained this post (which was then put into commission) on his appointment as lord lieutenant of Ireland in September 1685. Clarendon was eager to come to Ireland, especially as he saw it as a way to improve his shaky personal finances. His brief stay (he arrived in January 1686) was to be dominated by his turbulent relationship with the Irish catholic leader Richard Talbot (qv), earl of Tyrconnell, whose influence with James was steadily growing at this stage, and whom Clarendon accused from the start of undermining his administration. Tyrconnell had already overseen a significant ‘catholicisation’ of the army in Ireland during 1685. Clarendon nonetheless attempted to assert his position as chief governor in terms of patronage and also by taking an active interest in the management of the revenue. His brother Laurence (qv), earl of Rochester, who had recently been appointed lord treasurer of England, encouraged this latter interest. However, Clarendon ran into an immediate controversy over the previous lords justices’ disarming of the militia, which was seen as removing protestants’ ability to defend themselves. Clarendon was fully aware that Irish catholics were organising to increase their political power, but he also believed he could exploit divisions among them by building up relationships with figures such as the earl of Clanricarde (qv) who had a vested interest in the existing land settlement, and Col. Justin MacCarthy (qv), whom he saw as a possible military counterweight to Tyrconnell. However, Clarendon consistently overestimated (or overstated) the power of such catholic ‘moderates’, and it may be significant that he rarely named them in his correspondence.
From the time of his arrival Clarendon felt undermined through being kept in the dark about civil and military appointments, and by direct Irish catholic lobbying at court in London. Within weeks of his appointment, the lord chancellor of Ireland, Primate Michael Boyle (qv), was removed without reference to Clarendon. The Tyrconnell party then attacked Clarendon's appointments as sheriffs, which he defended energetically. When Clarendon complained at his treatment to the lord president, Sunderland, in March 1686, the latter's response was that Clarendon was too new to his post to advise on appointments. He then fatally undermined the lord lieutenant by instructing that three protestant judges were to be replaced by catholics; that catholics were to be admitted to the privy council, to corporations, and as sheriffs and JPs on the same terms as protestants; and that vacant Church of Ireland bishoprics were to be left vacant. Clarendon's response was on the one hand to claim that the Irish economy would be ruined by these changes (a claim contradicted by the continuing healthy state of the revenue) and on the other – rather pathetically – to ‘beseech’ Sunderland to consult him. He also made an extraordinarily direct complaint to Queen Mary at how ‘contemptible’ his treatment made him.
Clarendon's abiding concern was the retention of the restoration land settlement, though he was politic enough to suggest alternative means of compensating the dispossessed catholic proprietors, such as a commission of grace, which, he claimed, would raise £100,000. There is little evidence this was taken seriously. Tyrconnell's return to Ireland (July 1686), to complete the catholicisation of his army and begin remodelling the corporations, removed any delusions Clarendon may have had about the security of his position. He claimed in his correspondence that the king had ‘retrenched’ the power vested in him as chief governor. For the rest of his time in Ireland he saw himself as the last bulwark against catholic control. He tried to bolster his position and reassure protestants by touring the south and south-east, only to return to Dublin in October to find himself accused of delaying the remodelling of corporations. At this stage he knew his removal was imminent, though he did not hear formally of it – and his replacement by Tyrconnell – until 8 January 1687; he handed over the government to Tyrconnell on 12 February. He was also replaced as lord privy seal by the catholic Lord Arundell of Wardour. Clarendon's time as lord lieutenant was not a success, mostly because of his power struggle with Tyrconnell. It is, however, hard to disagree with Simms's assessment that he was ‘a well-meaning man in a situation that was too much for him.’
Clarendon essentially held the view that the political loyalty of Irish catholics would always be suspect, as they saw their supreme authority as the pope rather than the English king. His own concept of loyalty seems to have been ambiguous in relation to James: he wrote that he could only serve him ‘upon the English principle of the excellent Church of England’, and otherwise could only ‘pray for him’. He apparently had no hand in the invitation to William of Orange (qv) to invade England, though his son Lord Cornbury was one of the first to defect to William (November 1688), to the disappointment of his father. Clarendon was involved in discussions with William over the next few months about the fate of Irish protestants under Tyrconnell, among other issues. However, he spoke vehemently in the house of lords against the settlement of the crown on William and Mary (his niece), and ended his political career by refusing to take the oaths to the new monarchs. In 1690 he was in correspondence with the Jacobite conspirator Lord Preston, who later named Clarendon as an accomplice, resulting in his detention in the Tower (June–August 1690, January–July 1691). He spent the rest of his life in quiet retirement, at the family seat at Cornbury, which he was forced to sell secretly to his brother because of his debts. During his retirement he was extensively consulted by Bishop Gilbert Burnet, while the latter was writing his History of his own time. He died of asthma on 31 October 1709 and was buried at Westminster abbey on 4 November.
Clarendon married first (1661) Theodosia Capel (d. March 1662), daughter of Arthur, 1st Baron Capel of Hadham, and sister of two future lords lieutenant of Ireland, Arthur Capel (qv), earl of Essex, and Henry Capel (qv). He married secondly (1674) Flower Backhouse (d. July 1700), who had previously been twice widowed. His son by his first marriage, Edward, Lord Cornbury (1661–1724), succeeded to the earldom. Clarendon's correspondence with his brother and other English ministers, published by Singer in 1828, is one of the major sources for the events of King James's reign.