Stephen Fox-Strangways, 1st Earl of Ilchester

Stephen Fox-Strangways, 1st Earl of Ilchester PC (12 September 1704 – 26 September 1776) was a British peer and Member of Parliament.[2]


He was the eldest surviving son of Sir Stephen Fox (1627-1716), the first Paymaster of the Forces, deemed the "richest commoner in the three kingdoms", by his second wife Christiana Hope. Ilchester's younger brother was Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, of Holland House in Kensington, the father of the Whig statesman Charles James Fox.


He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford then took a Grand Tour. On his father's death in 1716 he inherited (among other estates) Redlynch Park in Somerset, where he improved both the house and gardens. He purchased further land in Wiltshire and Somerset. He was appointed to the lucrative post of Paymaster of the Forces under Charles II, from which post his father had made his huge fortune.

In 1726 he was elected a Member of Parliament for Shaftesbury in Dorset, a seat he held until 1741, when he was raised to the peerage of Great Britain as Baron Ilchester of Ilchester in the County of Somerset and Baron Strangways of Woodford in the County of Dorset; In 1747 he was created Baron Ilchester and Stavordale of Redlynch, in the County of Somerset, with special remainder in default of male issue of his own to his younger brother Henry Fox, and in 1756 he was even further honoured when he was made Earl of Ilchester, with the same special remainder.[3] In 1763 he was admitted to the Privy Council.


Stephen Fox was the lover of the diarist and courtier Lord Hervey for a period of ten years, from 1726 to 1736. There survive many passionate letters between the two.[4] Hervey initially favoured Stephen's brother, Henry Fox, but when "charmingly rebuffed" paid infatuated court to Stephen. His relationship with Lord Hervey ended in 1735 when Stephen entered into an arranged marriage.

Marriage & progeny

In 1735, at the age of 31, an arranged marriage was made for him with thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Horner, daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Horner (1688-1741), MP, of Mells Manor in Somerset, Sheriff of Somerset in 1711/12,[5] by his wife Susanna Strangways, eventual sole heiress of her brother Thomas Strangways (d.1726) and a daughter of Thomas Strangways (1643–1713), MP, of Melbury House. In accordance with the terms of his wife's inheritance from her childless brother in 1726, Thomas Horner had adopted for himself and his descendants the surname and arms of Strangways. The marriage was arranged secretly by the bride's mother Susanna Strangways, whose "paramour" was Henry Fox, Stephen's younger brother. Thomas Horner objected strongly to the marriage (which his wife denied to him any involvement in arranging), not only because he considered his daughter too young, but also because he opposed the Whig politics of the Fox family. His manor of Mells passed by tail male to his younger brother.[6] In 1758 Stephen Fox also assumed the additional surname and arms of Strangways, in accordance with the terms of his wife's inheritance. By his wife he had the following progeny:

  • Henry Thomas Fox-Strangways, 2nd Earl of Ilchester (9 August 1747 – 5 September 1802)
  • Lt.-Col. Hon. Stephen Strangways Digby Fox-Strangways (3 December 1751 – 12 March 1836)
  • Rev. Hon. Charles Redlynch Fox-Strangways (27 April 1761 – 4 November 1836), who married Jane Haines
  • Lady Susannah Sarah Louisa Fox-Strangways (1743 – 1827), known as "Susan". She was the childhood object of affection of her first cousin the future Whig statesman Charles James Fox (1749-1806), who in 1760 when a schoolboy at Eton, composed a prize-winning Latin verse describing a pigeon he found to deliver his love-letters to her "to please both Venus its mistress and him".[7] The scenario was captured in a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The young Charles was however very disappointed when in 1764 she eloped with the "unsuccessful" Irish actor William O'Brien. The match caused a scandal in high society, with Horace Walpole commenting: "Even a footman were preferable - the publicity of the hero's profession perpetuates the mortification".[8]
  • Lady Lucy Fox-Strangways (1748 – 16 August 1787), married Colonel Hon. Stephen Digby

Death & burial

He died in September 1776, aged 72, and was succeeded by his son Henry Thomas Fox-Strangways, 2nd Earl of Ilchester.

Fictitious depictions

Stephen Fox appears as "Stephen Reynard", later Lord Ivell and Earl of Wessex, in the short story "The First Countess of Wessex" by Thomas Hardy, collected in A Group of Noble Dames.


  1. Montague-Smith, P.W. (ed.), Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage, Kelly's Directories Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames, 1968, p.607, Earl of Ilchester
  2. "FOX, Stephen (1704-76), of Redlynch, Som". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  3. Montague-Smith, P.W. (ed.), Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage, Kelly's Directories Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames, 1968, p.608
  4. "The Gay Love Letters of John, Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox"; excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), edited by Rictor Norton, accessed 26 May 2010
  7. Lascelles, Edward, The Life of Charles James Fox, London, 1936, p.11
  8. Lascelles, Edward, The Life of Charles James Fox, London, 1936, p.19
  9. Acland, Anne. A Devon Family: The Story of the Aclands. London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1981, p.29
  10. Acland, pp.34-6


  • Kidd, Charles, Williamson, David (editors). Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage (1990 edition). New York: St Martin's Press, 1990,
  • Tillyard, Stella. "Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832"
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
new creation
Earl of Ilchester
Succeeded by
Henry Thomas Fox-Strangways
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