The character and personality of past politicians are difficult to discover. In the absence of a dairy or intimate letters the best source is often a description by a third party, but in early modern British history these can be rare. Such evidence, however, is often difficult to use because of the (often unknown) bias of the author. Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, who was lord treasurer from 1711 to 1714, is a particularly difficult man to analyse and had the reputation with his contemporaries of being a ‘trickster’. The historian is fortunate that several descriptions of his personality have survived and a recently discovered letter in the correspondence of the Rev. Robert Wodrow, probably written by Thomas Smith, MP for Glasgow 1710-16, gives the historian a fresh, Scottish and whig opposition view of Harley, which reinforces the general view of him as a tricky, untrustworthy man.
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