The Earl of Danby (Sir Thomas Osbourne) was one of the leading politicians in the reign of Charles II and William III. During his career, Danby was to acquire a number of titles: Viscount Latimer, Marquis of Carmarthen and Duke of Lords being among them. Perhaps the main claim to fame that Danby had was that he was one of the founders of the Tories. Danby also played a significant part in the 1688 Revolution.
Danby was born Thomas Osbourne on February 20th 1632. He had a comfortable childhood – his father, Sir Edward Osbourne had fought for the Royalists in the English Civil War and his father-in-law Montague Bertie, after his marriage to Bridget in 1653, was also a Royalist leader during the conflict. Therefore, Danby had been brought up to have certain values based around loyalty to the Crown mixed with the belief that hard work for those you served would be suitably rewarded.
Danby got involved in local politics in Yorkshire and was sponsored by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. In 1661, Danby became a sheriff and in 1665 he became MP for the city of York. In the politics of the day, aligning yourself with a senior politician was one of the ways of advancing yourself. Danby maintained his association with Buckingham and played his part in bringing down Clarendon. During the rule of the Cabal, Danby became Treasurer of the Navy (1668), and then in 1671, Treasurer. In 1673, Danby was appointed to the Privy Council; he became Lord Treasurer also in 1673 and he served Charles II as Chief Minister between 1673 and 1679.
Danby worked hard for the king. His upbringing and an inner sense of duty meant that Charles had an able man to help him. Danby restored royal finances and he created at court a group of men who shared similar beliefs to him. This was later to become the hub of the Tories. He used his position and his relationship with Charles to advance his own men. Danby also used his position to negotiate the marriage of the King’s niece (the future Mary II) to the Dutch Prince of Orange (the future William III). This helped to allay fears that Charles was pro-French and seemed to secure a Protestant future for the Crown.
Danby’s success brought with it jealousy and enemies. There were plenty who disliked his arrogance and inability to accept criticism. There were plenty who were angered by the patronage he used to advance his own men – often at the expense of men who were to become his enemy. The Popish Plot swept him from power. In December 1678, Danby was impeached but he received a royal pardon in March 1679. The House of Commons declared the pardon illegal and Danby resigned on March 26th 1679. The House of Lords ordered that he be sent to the Tower of London where he remained, without being put on trial, until February 1684. Danby retired into private life for the remainder of the reign of Charles II.
The pro-Catholic policies of James II meant that Danby had no chance of getting back to court. Here was a man who had seemingly secured a future Protestant monarchy – with a king who had made it plain that he saw the future of his kingdom as being Catholic. However, it was these policies of James II that effectively resurrected his political fortunes. No one doubted Danby’s Royalist credentials but many were at the least worried by the religious zeal of James – and, at worst, greatly concerned. Danby was one of the seven signatories of the famous Invitation to Prince William and during the 1688 Revolution, Danby secured the north of the country for the Prince.
The Revolution propelled Danby back into frontline politics. He became a vociferous supporter of a joint rule between William and Mary, which was incorporated into the Bill of Rights of December 1689. Danby had already been appointed Lord President of the Council in February 1689 but by early 1690 he was chief minister once again.
Between 1690 and 1694 he used his influence to ensure that Parliament forwarded the money required to finance the War of the League of Augsburg but in 1694 he fell victim to party politics when the king pushed the Tories to one side and ushered into power the Whigs. Just one year later came the opportunity that his enemies had wanted. Danby was impeached for receiving a bribe from the East India Company. The charge was never followed up but it was enough to ruin his reputation and his political career was over.
Danby died on July 26th 1712.