Simon Harcourt was of a gentry family whose seat was at Stanton Harcourt. He was educated at a dissenting academy at Shilton, near Burford. He went on to Pembroke College at Oxford, which was closely connected with Abingdon.
Harcourt was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1683, became Recorder of Abingdon in 1689, and in 1690 was elected unopposed to Parliament for the Abingdon seat as a high Tory and Anglican. He soon developed a reputation as an orator and administrator, and gradually gained recognition and promotion. This was especially the case in the time of Queen Anne (reigned 1702-14), whose chief minister was Robert Harley. Harcourt and Harley had been contemporaries at the Shilton academy, and they now worked closely together. For many years, he maintained a legal career in addition to his political one, the two feeding off each other, and he became very rich. By 1711, he had become Lord Keeper and was soon made a baron. In 1713, he was promoted to Lord Chancellor.
In the later part of Anne’s reign, Harcourt was among her principal ministers. When she was succeeded by George I, a Whig, it seemed to be the end of his political career, as it was for his colleagues. But unlike them, he was able to make his peace with the new regime. Against expectation, he had government office again in 1720, was made a viscount in 1721, and by 1722 was back in the Privy Council. When the king was out of the country, Harcourt was one of the Lords Justices, holding vice-regal power.
Harcourt made his home at Cokethorpe and bought the estate of Nuneham Courtenay. At Cokethorpe he entertained widely, including literary men of congenial political views such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. He died in 1727, and is buried at the old family seat at Stanton Harcourt.
Harcourt was three times married, but his first wife, Rebecca, was the only one with whom he had children: two daughters and three sons. The first and third sons died young. The second, Simon, in spite of the influence his father exerted on his behalf, had a short and only mediocre career. He was MP for Abingdon 1713-15, but was not re-elected. He died in 1720. A grandson, also Simon, became in 1749 Viscount Nuneham of Nuneham Courtenay and Earl Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt’.
See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.
© AAAHS and contributors 2016