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date: 05 July 2022

Temple, Richard, first Viscount Cobhamfree


Temple, Richard, first Viscount Cobhamfree

  • Matthew Kilburn

Richard Temple, first Viscount Cobham (1675–1749)

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, c. 1710–13

Temple, Richard, first Viscount Cobham (1675–1749), politician and landowner, was born on 24 October 1675, the first child of Sir Richard Temple, third baronet (1634–1697), of Stowe, Buckinghamshire, and MP for Buckingham, and his wife and first cousin, Mary (b. after 1640, d. 1726), the daughter of Henry Knapp of Rawlins, Oxfordshire. He was baptized at St Paul's, Covent Garden, on 1 November 1675. His father had inherited substantial debts on his accession to the title and Buckinghamshire estates in 1653. Consequently the young Temple was directed towards a career that could help to maintain the family's status in their home county without further burdening their landed resources. On 30 June 1685, when not yet ten years old, he was commissioned as an ensign in Prince George of Denmark's regiment. Despite his youth he was court-martialled (with Lord Churchill, later the duke of Marlborough, as presiding officer) on 21 June 1686 at Hounslow for refusing to obey a superior officer. He was dismissed from the regiment, but was recommissioned on 1 May 1687, and was promoted captain in 1689. He was probably the 'Temple major' attending Eton College in 1687; 'Temple minor' was probably his younger brother Purbeck (1676–1698).

Temple entered Christ's College, Cambridge, on 31 October 1694 as a fellow-commoner. He did not take a degree and his military career seems to have taken precedence, as he was listed as a captain in Captain Ventris Columbine's regiment of foot in the Flanders army list of 1695. He served with them at the siege of Namur. Sir Richard Temple died on 10 May 1697, and his son succeeded to the baronetcy and estates. The pressures of maintaining a growing family, among other demands, had prevented the debts of the second baronet from being fully redeemed and, although income from the estates has been estimated at an average of £2200 per annum for the first ten years of Temple's ownership, average outgoings stood at 87 per cent of this sum. Temple was returned to the Commons for Buckingham in the by-election following his father's death. In the Commons he was a whig and a supporter of the court of William III, and in August 1701 was foreman of the grand jury at the Buckinghamshire assizes that petitioned the king to pursue war with France over the Spanish succession, and call a new parliament. When war came Temple returned to his military career, and on 10 February 1702 he was appointed colonel of his own regiment of foot.

While he was initially stationed in Ireland, Temple's war was fought mainly in the Netherlands. He was promoted to the rank of major-general in 1706 and played a leading role at the siege of Lille in 1708, for which he was rewarded with the task of presenting news of the capture of the town to Queen Anne.

Temple was also recognized as a loyal political ally by Marlborough and Lord Godolphin. He had been unable to stand for election at Buckingham in 1702 as he was serving with the army, and Marlborough gave him leave to campaign in person for the Buckinghamshire by-election in November 1704. Temple represented Buckinghamshire until the election of 1708, and then returned to his former seat of Buckingham, where he remained until 1713. He maintained a whig stance, voting for the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, and for the impeachment of Henry Sacheverell in 1710.

Temple continued to receive promotions in the army: his rank of major-general was confirmed on 1 January 1709, and he was promoted lieutenant-general a year later. On 24 April 1709 he received the colonelcy of the Earl of Essex's regiment of dragoons. After the formation of Robert Harley's ministry Temple's position weakened. On 7 December 1711 he voted in the Commons for 'No Peace without Spain', and in April 1712 was omitted from the list of general officers intended for service in that summer's campaign in Flanders. In 1713 he was cashiered and stripped of his regiment. He was defeated at Buckinghamshire in the 1713 election and failed to be returned on petition. He retired to his estate at Stowe, where he initiated the remodelling of the three garden terraces south of the house into a single parterre according to French taste. Charles Bridgeman was employed to design the garden, but Temple himself (or his foreman John Lee) was probably responsible for the innovation of the ha-ha, a trench that marked the boundary of the garden without the rural vista's being interrupted by a wall, and similar to the trenches which Temple employed during warfare.

The accession of George I brought Temple's rehabilitation. On 19 October 1714 he was appointed envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the imperial court at Vienna and created Baron Cobham. The title enhanced his status by emphasizing his collateral descent from the medieval English nobility, although the new Lord Cobham was not the lineal representative of any previous holder of the title. He seems not to have been expected to undertake a lengthy diplomatic posting and returned during 1715. In September that year he married Anne Halsey (d. 1760), whose father was Edmund Halsey, proprietor of the Anchor Brewery in Southwark. Anne Halsey brought her husband a £20,000 settlement and family connections with London business interests.

Cobham continued to be in favour with the ministries of George I. He was appointed constable of Windsor Castle in 1716, and on 6 July that year he was sworn of the privy council. On 23 May 1718 he was created Viscount and Baron Cobham, with a special remainder in both titles to two of his younger sisters and the heirs male of their bodies, first his second surviving sister Hester, who had married Richard Grenville of Wooton, neighbouring Stowe; and then his third surviving sister Christian, the wife of Sir Thomas Lyttleton of Hagley in Worcestershire. Similar arrangements were made for the estates, accepting that Lady Cobham would have no children and expressing Cobham's desire to found a dynasty based on the amalgamated Temple and Grenville estates in Buckinghamshire. His decision to exclude his elder sister Maria and her sons Gilbert West and Temple West from the succession to the titles and estates has been attributed to Maria's marriage to Richard West, a clergyman, which allegedly offended Cobham's anticlerical sympathies; a younger sister, Penelope, who married a merchant and was the mother of the equestrian Richard Berenger, was also excluded, perhaps suggesting that the relative wealth of his brothers-in-law also contributed to Cobham's decision.

In 1719 Cobham was appointed leader of the British expedition against Spain, co-ordinated with that of the French forces under the duke of Berwick, which sailed from Spithead on 21 September. Cobham's original plan was to attack Corunna, but rather than face the town's defences he sailed instead into Vigo Bay, taking the town of Vigo and destroying the Spanish military stores there. Although Robert Walpole's ministry presented few opportunities for military adventures Cobham remained in favour. In 1721 he was appointed colonel of the King's Own Horse and in 1722 comptroller of accounts for the army, and from 1723 he was governor of Jersey for life. The post was not entirely a sinecure as some correspondence survives relating to his duties, although he never visited the island.

Cobham was devoting an increasing amount of energy to developing the gardens and house at Stowe. In 1717 he opened the New Inn on the outskirts of the grounds to accommodate tourists. Bridgeman extended the gardens further south, adding an octagonal lake, while Sir John Vanbrugh contributed ornamental buildings. As was intended by Cobham the gardens began to attract visitors: the antiquarian Sir John Evelyn described them in 1725 as 'very noble'. A further phase of expansion in the second half of the 1720s enclosed and remodelled the land to the west of the house.

Cobham's ambitions for Stowe and his family may have contributed to his break with Walpole in 1733. Recognized by Vanbrugh as a good judge of poetry Cobham had been a friend of Alexander Pope since 1725, and so had some connections with the literary opposition to Walpole. His wife's family brought him extensive connections with mercantile interests which felt Walpole's ministry insufficiently active in protecting British trading interests. His decision to oppose Walpole's Excise Bill in 1733 remains unexplained, but, like his support that year for a report on the purposes to which the government had put the estates forfeited by the directors of the South Sea Company, probably arose from a belief that Walpole's ministry was now mired in corruption and acting contrary to whig principle. Perhaps Cobham's wish to promote his family coincided with a belief that they would better serve their country by distancing themselves from the ministry and working to renew whig politics from outside. Whatever his motivation, on 14 June, the day after parliament was prorogued, Cobham was dismissed from the colonelcy of the King's Own Horse. From then on reconciliation with Walpole was impossible.

Stowe gradually became a centre for Walpole's opponents, with an emphasis on Cobham's young relatives. At the 1734 election Cobham brought his nephew and eventual heir, Richard Grenville (later Grenville-Temple), into the Commons as member for Buckingham. In 1735 another nephew, George Lyttelton, became MP for Okehampton alongside the sitting member, Thomas Pitt (Lyttelton's brother-in-law); William Pitt (the brother of Thomas and eventual brother-in-law of Richard Grenville) came in for Old Sarum that year. Cobham and his kinsmen gradually evolved a strategy by which ‘Cobham's Cubs’ would claim the role of representatives of the patriot whig tradition, attacking Walpole as the centre of corruption in the body politic. From 1735 Cobham began courting Frederick, prince of Wales, and was rewarded in 1737 when Frederick visited Stowe and began to co-ordinate his political activity with that of Cobham's protégés.

During this period Cobham further expanded the gardens at Stowe. The Elysian Fields to the east of the house were laid out during the 1730s by William Kent, who set aside Bridgeman's formal design principles. There, Cobham added ornamental buildings which iconographically set forth his political creed. Chief among these was the Temple of Ancient Virtue, which included busts of four Greek heroes of liberty to contrast with the headless statue outside its ruined neighbour, the Temple of Modern Virtue, popularly believed to represent Walpole.

Cobham's political strategy involved alliances with whomsoever opposed Walpole. These included disaffected whigs who, like the earl of Chesterfield, disliked long-standing opposition leaders such as Lord Carteret and William Pulteney, and eventually also tory leaders such as Sir William Wyndham, who was trusted by Lyttelton, William Pitt, and the prince of Wales. Cobham's literary connections extended through Pope to Lord Bolingbroke, whose ideas were current in opposition circles and successfully articulated the idealized form of government that patriots hoped the post-Walpole age would bring. This alliance of interests helped strengthen Cobham's campaign for more assertive action against Spanish incursions on English trade, which was always a theme of his opposition in the 1730s and was redoubled in January 1739 when Cobham opposed Walpole's Spanish Convention, which accepted £95,000 in compensation for British merchants whose goods had been seized by Spanish ships without guaranteeing that the payment would actually be made. Although Cobham's negotiations with the disaffected duke of Argyll failed to create the united patriot opposition he hoped for, enough talents were ranged against Walpole to weaken the credibility of the ministry.

The fall of Walpole brought Cobham some of the rewards he sought. He was restored to his regiment and promoted in rank. For many of his supporters, however, his accepting restoration to the army conflicted with his refusal to allow them into the ministry. Cobham's continued opposition was based on his personal antipathy to Carteret, his opposition to Carteret's support for British subsidy for Hanoverian troops, and reluctance to make common cause against the man and his policy with Walpole's allies—Henry Pelham and Thomas Pelham-Holles, duke of Newcastle. Furthermore, the reconciliation between the prince of Wales and his father, George II, ended the alliance with the reversionary interest. A party that had been able to portray itself as the combination of traditional whiggery and a reinvigorated patriotism was soon unable to show itself as anything other than another family connection whose support could be bought by concessions from the ministry.

The growing respect for the debating and administrative skills of William Pitt shown by Cobham's party gradually changed the nature of Cobham's patronage. Discussions among the opposition in 1743 and 1744 showed that Pitt, Lyttelton, and others placed more emphasis upon winning office than on campaigning for the reduction of British military involvement in Europe, as Cobham wished. Cobham took part in the negotiations that led to the foundation of the broad-bottom ministry in 1744 and won a new regimental command and a Treasury place for his nephew George Grenville. However, from 1744 onwards Cobham was increasingly viewed as Pitt's representative rather than his party leader. Henry Pelham's priority was to obtain the skills and following of Pitt, and, as George II would not at this stage employ Pitt, taking Cobham's nominee into the ministry was a means to an end. Cobham's decisions over policy reflected his age and his reluctance to take great political risks. While for some years his ‘cubs’ still took their lead from him, it was Pitt's manoeuvring in and out of opposition as much as Cobham's decision to support the Pelhams in or out of office that won the Cobham connection their share in the Pelham ministry as reconstituted in 1746. Cobham's politics, since 1733 founded to some extent on nostalgia, were now overtaken by practicalities, and he effectively retired from national concerns.

Cobham devoted his remaining political energies to Buckinghamshire affairs. His palace and gardens at Stowe were further enlarged and beautified under Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, head gardener from 1741 and then clerk of works. Cobham became sponsor of the second and subsequent editions of the guide to Stowe first published by Benton Seeley in 1744, recognizing that it helped maintain the fame of the gardens. Cobham's scheme for the amalgamation of the Temple and Grenville estates was assured by managing both Stowe and his political interest in Buckinghamshire in consultation with and through his nephew Richard Grenville.

Cobham died at Stowe on 13 September 1749 and was buried there five days later. He was succeeded in the peerages created in 1718 by his sister Hester Grenville, and in the baronetcy by a distant cousin, William Temple, who had earlier agreed not to contest the breaking of the entail on Stowe in return for his debts being paid. Cobham's widow, Anne, survived him until 20 March 1760. Through his own military and political career, careful financial management, the development of the Stowe estate, and latterly the adoption of a younger generation of politicians, Cobham successfully founded a dynasty whose influence would be felt in British politics for the rest of the eighteenth century. Although much altered, the landscape gardens of Stowe remain a monument to the aspirations and ideology of Cobham and his protégés in their heyday of the 1730s.


  • L. M. Wiggin, The faction of cousins: a political account of the Grenvilles, 1733–1763 (New Haven, CT, 1958)
  • C. Gerrard, The patriot opposition to Walpole: politics, poetry, and national myth, 1725–1742 (1994)
  • J. V. Beckett, The rise and fall of the Grenvilles: dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, 1710 to 1921 (1994)
  • M. Bevington, Stowe: the garden and the park, 3rd edn (1996)
  • E. Cruickshanks and S. N. Handley, ‘Temple, Sir Richard, fourth baronet’, HoP, Commons, 1690–1715
  • G. Clarke, ‘Grecian taste and Gothic virtue: Lord Cobham's gardening programme and its iconography’, Apollo, 97 (1973), 566–71
  • L. Colley, In defiance of oligarchy: the tory party, 1714–60 (1982)
  • M. Mack, Alexander Pope: a life (1985)
  • The Marlborough–Godolphin correspondence, ed. H. L. Snyder, 3 vols. (1975)
  • P. Lawson, George Grenville: a political life (1984)
  • D. Stroud, Capability Brown, new edn (1984)
  • L. Edye, ed., The historical records of the royal marines, 1 (1893)
  • W. Sterry, ed., The Eton College register, 1441–1698 (1943)


  • BL, corresp., Add. MSS 57820, 57807, 57837
  • Hunt. L., corresp. and papers


  • G. Kneller, oils, 1710–1713, NPG [see illus.]
  • W. Kent, portrait, 1720–1729, Stowe School, Buckinghamshire; repro. in Apollo (June 1973)
  • P. Scheemakers, marble bust, 1740, V&A; repro. in Apollo (June 1973)
  • J. B. van Loo, portrait, 1740, Hagley Hall, Worcestershire; repro. in Apollo (June 1973)
  • J. B. van Loo, portrait, 1740, Stowe School, Buckinghamshire; repro. in J. M. Robinson, Temples of delight — Stowe landscape gardens (1994), 34
  • oils, 1740 (after J. B. van Loo), NPG; repro. in Apollo (June 1973)
  • G. Bickham, line engraving, 1751 (after oil painting; after J. B. van Loo, 1740), BM, NPG

Wealth at Death

estate yielded £4000 p.a.; owned £32,000 of South Sea Company stock; £500 p.a. as governor of Jersey; wife's fortune of £20,000 since 1715; total annual income est. at £7000 p.a. by end of life: Beckett, 18, 19, 28

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National Portrait Gallery, London
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D. W. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, & S. Handley, eds., , 5 vols. (2002)
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G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
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British Library, London
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British Museum, London
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Huntington Library, San Marino, California