Your RDA of Irony

The Speechwriters’ Hall of Martyrs

December 9, 1674:  Edward Hyde’s Permanent Writer’s Block

Edward Hyde (1609-1674) may have been the most miserable speechwriter in history. I don’t mean that he was the worst: a fifth century Roman orator named Sidonius Apollinarus has that distinction and could be the reason that “ad nauseum” is a Latin term. No, Edward Hyde was likely the most frustrated, unappreciated and persecuted practitioner of “executive communications.” (That is the corporate designation for speechwriters; it sounds impressive but discreetly vague, avoiding the impression that our clients require ventriloquists.)

Our poor, sorry Hyde wrote speeches for Britain’s King Charles I. If you are familiar with his Majesty’s autopsy report, you can deduce that the speeches obviously were not a success. No, Hyde was not beheaded, too; speechwriters are never worth killing. But Hyde endured humiliation, disgrace and exile–and that was by his fellow Royalists.

Charles I felt that he had the Divine Right to bully and suppress Parliament; however, he also felt that good manners required some justification for his conduct. Of course, you can not expect a busy King to spend hours scribbling on parchment, nor could you really expect a Stuart to write an intelligible paragraph. So Edward Hyde offered his literary assistance to the King. Hyde had been one of Parliament’s few moderates. He was neither an obtuse Royalist nor a fulminating Puritan. When the Civil War began, however, he preferred traditional tyranny to the unforeseen excesses of a Parliamentary mob.

Working with Hyde, the King issued a series of proclamations and pamphlets that justified the Royalist cause in a persuasive and moderate voice. Charles may even have believed those balanced and temperate words while he was with Hyde. However, when Charles was in the company of his more belligerent advisors–particularly his battle-axe of a wife, the malleable monarch did what they told him. That created a dismaying dichotomy: Charles had the voice of reason and the actions of a thug. Worse for Charles, his belligerent advisors were far better at starting wars than winning them.

But the war faction did have one success: blaming Hyde. His moderate writings allegedly sullied the the dignity of the monarchy: a king does not need reason. If you believed the Queen, Hyde was as great a danger as Cromwell. For his demeaning rationality and treacherous temperance, Hyde became a pariah at the Court. A man of Hyde’s character was obviously unfit for government, but he did seem a suitable choice as the official guardian (babysitter) for the Prince of Wales.

Unfortunately, being the moral authority to the future Charles II, Hyde had another hopeless task. At least, Hyde was not required to write speeches to justify and rationalize the young Prince’s misadventures in Britain and France, the debts and the illegitimate offspring. (If only he had, Hyde would have been the pioneer of Restoration Comedy. ) In fact, after the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II bestowed an earldom on his hapless but loyal guardian. The new Earl of Clarendon was further appointed to the Royal Council where he once again proved a political naif but a convenient scapegoat. Hyde ended up in exile again; he had plenty of free time to write his memoirs. On this day in 1674, Hyde had a permanent writer’s block.

At least Hyde died with an Earl’s title and income. Most of us will not have that comforting a retirement package. Edward Hyde may have been most miserable speechwriter in history but he was a successful failure.

  1. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    … and today, there is still an Earl of Clarendon (George Villiers, 8th Earl), although the title became extinct and had to be recreated in the 1770s.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Edward Hyde did have children. His granddaughters included Queen Mary and Queen Anne. A grandson, the Third Earl of Clarendon, is uniquely remembered for being the transvestite governor of Colonial New York. (Sad but true, he did look better in a dress than Queen Anne.) Even today a number of peers are descended from the first Earl. However, the lineage is through females. The Hyde family name had died out by the time of Robert Louis Stevenson, so he was free to use the surname without fear of a lawsuit. Ironically, one of Hyde’s descendants did destroy a writer. The Marquise of Queensbury provoked Oscar Wilde into a lawsuit–and Wilde barely lived to regret it.

      Of course, the Villiers had their own share of notoriety. http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2009/08/23/history-rumors-and-hollywood/

      Eugene

  2. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    OK, I never knew there was a transvestite governor of Colonial New York. You got me on that one!

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