James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, PC DL FRS (6 January 1673 in Dewsall, Herefordshire – 9 August 1744 in Cannons) was the first of fourteen children of Sir James Brydges, 3rd Baronet of Wilton Castle, Sheriff of Herefordshire, 8th Baron Chandos; and Elizabeth Barnard. Three days after his father's death on 16 October 1714, when he became 9th Baron Chandos, he was created 1st Viscount Wilton and 1st Earl of Carnarvon; the Marquessate of Carnarvon and the Dukedom of Chandos were created for him in 1719. He was a member of parliament for Hereford from 1698 to 1714.
On 2 February 1695, Brydges married Mary Lake, daughter of Sir Thomas Lake (of Cannons, Middlesex) and Rebecca Langham. She died on 15 September 1712. The couple had two children who survived childhood:
- John Brydges, Marquess of Carnarvon (15 January 1703 – 8 April 1727)
- Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos (1 February 1708 – 28 November 1771)
After Mary's death, he married Cassandra Willoughby on 4 August 1713. She was the daughter of Francis Willoughby and Emma Barnard. They had no children. She died 18 July 1735.Third marriage
On 18 April 1736, the Duke married Lydia Catherine Van Hatten, the daughter of John Van Hatten and Lydia Davall. They had no children.
Brydges was educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford. In 1694 he was elected to the Royal Society.
During the War of the Spanish Succession, Brydges was paymaster-general of the forces abroad, and in this capacity he amassed great wealth. The ethics of his financial operations were called into question at the time, but it was generally accepted that people could profit from public office. He continued to engage in speculative investments after being made Duke of Chandos in 1719, but with less success – he lost money in the South Sea Bubble and the York Buildings Company.
Brydges built a magnificent house "at vast expense" at Cannons, an estate near Edgware in Middlesex. There Brydges ran through several architects prominent in the English Baroque. He began in 1713 with William Talman, whom he dismissed in favour of John James in 1714; James had partly executed his designs before James Gibbs succeeded him in 1715. Howard Colvin (ref) concludes that the south and east elevations, as well as the chapel, were the designs of Gibbs. Brydges dismissed Gibbs in 1719, and completed the house under the supervision of John Price and, in 1723–25, Edward Shepherd. Cannons was demolished in 1747. On its site, now incorporated in Greater London, is Canons Park.
Brydges is said to have contemplated the construction of a private road across his own lands between this place and his never completed house in Cavendish Square, London, probably also designed by Gibbs.
Chandos was Lord Lieutenant of the counties of Hereford and Radnor, and Chancellor of the University of St Andrews (where he established the Chandos Chair of Medicine and Anatomy in 1721). He also became involved in the efforts to create a home for foundlings in London that would alleviate the problem of child abandonment in the capital. The charity, called the Foundling Hospital, received its royal charter in 1739, on which the Duke is listed as a governor.
He served as an early patron to his relative George Rodney, later to become famous for his victory at the Battle of the Saintes, during his early career in the navy.
The Duke is chiefly remembered on account of his connections with George Frideric Handel, for whom he acted as a major patron, and with Alexander Pope, seen as having slandered Chandos in one of his poems.
Before Chandos was made a duke, he employed the young composer George Frideric Handel over a period of two years, 1717–18. Handel lived at Cannons, where he composed his oratorio Esther and his pastoral opera Acis and Galatea. Handel also composed the Chandos Anthems for his patron; they were first performed at the parish church of St Lawrence, Little Stanmore, with the composer playing the organ of 1716 which has survived there to the present day.
In 1719 Chandos was one of main subscribers in the Royal Academy of Music, not the well-known conservatoire of that name but a corporation that produced baroque opera on stage in London.
Alexander Pope, who in his Moral Essays (Epistle to the Earl of Burlington) was alleged to have ridiculed Cannons under the guise of Timon's Villa, later referred to the Duke in the line, "Thus gracious Chandos is belov'd at sight"; but Jonathan Swift, less complimentary, called him "a great complier with every court". The poet was caricatured by Hogarth for his supposed servility to Chandos. Pope published a denial of his alleged satire of the Duke's estate, in which he said that the estate of the poem "differs in every particular from" Chandos's. According to Pope biographer Maynard Mack, Chandos thereafter assured Pope by letter that he believed him, i.e. that the Epistle to Burlington was not intended as a satire of his estate. The malice, indeed, was on the part not of Pope, but of the insinuators and slanderers, the hack writers whom Pope had ridiculed as dunces in his Dunciad; Mack calls the affair a "falsehood of considerable damage to [Pope's] character".
The 1st Duke of Chandos and several members of his family (his first two wives) are buried at the Chandos Mausoleum at the Church of St Lawrence, Whitchurch Lane, Little Stanmore, London. His third wife, who survived him, moved to Shaw House, Berkshire.
He was succeeded by his son, Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos, who found the estate so encumbered by debt that a demolition sale of Cannons was held in 1747, which dispersed furnishings and structural elements, with the result that elements of Cannons survive in several English country houses, notably Lord Foley's house, Witley Court at Great Witley, and its chapel (completed in 1735—ceiling paintings by Bellucci and stained glass by Joshua Price of York after designs by Francesco Sleter). The pulpit and other fittings from Chandos's chapel were reinstalled in the parish church at Fawley, Buckinghamshire, by John Freeman of Fawley Court.
His sister Mary married Theophilus Leigh: they were the great-grandparents of Jane Austen.