HAY, Lord CHARLES, army officer, member of parliament; b. c. 1705, possibly at Linplum, East Lothian, Scotland, to Charles Hay, 3rd Marquess of Tweeddale, and Susannah Cochrane, Countess of Dundonald, née Hamilton; d. unmarried, 1 May 1760, in London, England.
Charles Hay was gazetted ensign in the Coldstream Guards on 18 May 1722 and made captain in the 33rd Foot on 14 Sept. 1727 during the siege of Gibraltar. In 1741 he entered parliament for Haddingtonshire as an opponent of Sir Robert Walpole. He adhered first to the administration of John, Lord Carteret, and, after 1744, to that of the Pelhams.
On 7 April 1743 Hay had become captain of King’s company in the Grenadier Guards, with rank of lieutenant-colonel in the army. He commanded this company at the battles of Dettingen (Federal Republic of Germany) in 1743 and Fontenoy (Belgium) in 1745. At Fontenoy he was involved in an incident made famous by Voltaire. When leading his men over the crest of a hill through murderous artillery fire Hay suddenly found himself confronted by the massed French and Swiss Guards. He later reported that taking his flask he drank the health of the enemy and called to them, “I hope, gentlemen, that you are going to wait for us today, and not now swim the Scheldt as you swam the Main at Dettingen.” According to Voltaire, the French commander replied to Hay’s challenge to fire with “Gentlemen, we never fire first; fire yourselves.” Shortly afterwards Hay was severely wounded and at first reported dead. In 1746 he was said to be in an asylum, and he did not stand in the general election of 1747. In 1749, however, he was named aide-de-camp to George II.
Hay became colonel of the 33rd Foot on 20 Nov. 1753 and major-general on 22 Feb. 1757, when he was sent to Nova Scotia as second in command of the troops under Major-General Peregrine Thomas Hopson who were dispatched to join the Earl of Loudoun [John Campbell] at Halifax for the projected attack on Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Because of large-scale French naval reinforcements there, no attempt was made and the British expeditionary force spent the summer at Halifax. Hay, who after a lengthy passage had reached the town on 9 July, found the inaction galling. He was not part of Loudoun’s council of war, which he suspected of not being seriously committed to the enterprise. Irritated by the lack of vigorous leadership, he was overheard by Colonel John Forbes to exclaim while the troops were engaged in a simulated attack on a mock fortification: “by God, difficult as it may be, I shall find a method of letting the mother country know what is doing here, that we are taken up in building sham forts and making approaches to them, when we should be employed in real attacks. The fleet should sail up the bason, and have a sham fight there; and then we might write home that we had a sea fight and taken a fort.” Loudoun had him arrested but did not charge him, merely suggesting to the government that “the voyage, climate and season of the year have been prejudicial to his Lordship’s health.” Hay’s fellow officers thought him mad, and he was closely confined for seven months. Though he had been ordered home, no ship was offered him. In desperation he entered as a volunteer on the Dublin (Capt. George Brydges Rodney), which put into Halifax late in May 1758, having carried Major-General Jeffery Amherst* from England to command at Louisbourg. From the Dublin Hay witnessed the siege of the fortress before returning to England in the Shannon.
In England he demanded a court martial to clear his name. His wish was granted in 1759; he was charged with endeavouring “to bring into contempt the conduct and authority of the commanders of the fleet and land forces in America,” and with behaving “in a manner evidently tending to excite mutiny and sedition amongst the troops.” The trial, at which all the principal Louisbourg officers then in England appeared, lasted for more than a month in February and March 1760. The matter was then referred to the king, who had taken no decision when Hay died suddenly on 1 May 1760. He had had a distinguished army career, and it seems doubtful that the first charge would have stuck; the second, from evidence advanced by the crown, was absurd.
PRO, CO 5/212, f.43. National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh), Hay papers, Hay to 4th Marquis of Tweeddale, 20 May 1745, ms 7087. Gentleman’s Magazine, 1745, 247, 251, 276. W. H. H. Scott, Report on the manuscripts of Lord Polwarth preserved at Mertoun House, Berwickshire (Historical Manuscripts Commission, no.67, 5v., London, 1911–61), V, 187. Cokayne, Complete peerage. DNB. Sedgwick, History of parliament, II, 117–18. Dalton, George the first’s army, II, 269, 271. Voltaire [François-Marie Arouet], Précis du siècle de Louis XV (Œuvres, 70v., [Kehl, Germany], 1785), XXII.