His Most Detestable High Mightiness

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But the queen had already concluded that Cornbury’s “near relation to her … should not Protect him in Oppressing her Subjects” and ordered his removal. In December, 1708, his replacement, Lord Lovelace, arrived in New York; Cornbury tried to slip away and board a ship, but his creditors seized him and turned him over to the sheriff, who clapped him in debtors’ prison. He remained a prisoner for about a year, when the news of his father’s death changed everything; as Earl of Clarendon he was able to pay off the most pressing of his debts and embark for that beloved land where his fondness for wearing women’s clothes was not decried as a public disgrace but indulged as a nobleman’s harmless caprice. Nor did his political disasters in America count against him; in 1711 his cousin the queen raised him to the Privy Council; in 1714 he served as Envoy Extraordinary (!) in Hanover; and in 1723 he died, covered with honors.

Posterity, however, has not dealt so kindly with Lord Cornbury. Thus the nineteenth-century historian John Romeyn Brodhead called him “a mean liar, a vulgar profligate, a frivolous spendthrift, an impudent cheat, a fraudulent bankrupt, and a detestable bigot”—and went on to show that he was a forger as well. And a Tory historian of New York wrote that “we never had a governor so universally detested.” A fine sweeping statement, which in some mythical world of perfect justice and honesty would make a fitting epitaph for Lord Cornbury’s grave.