George Digby Bristol, 2nd Earl of (1612-1677), eldest son of the 1st earl (see below), was born in October 1612. At the age of twelve he appeared at the bar of the House of Commons and pleaded for his father, then in the Tower, when his youth, graceful person and well-delivered speech made a great impression. He was admitted to Magdalen College, Oxford, on the 15th of August 1626, where he was a favourite pupil of Peter Heylin, and became M.A. in 1636. He spent the following years in study and in travel, from which he returned, according to Clarendon, "the most accomplished person of our nation or perhaps any other nation," and distinguished by a remarkably handsome person. In 1638 and 1639 were written the Letters between Lord George Digby and Sir Kenelm Digby, Knt. concerning Religion (publ. 1651), in which Digby attacked Roman Catholicism. In June 1634 Digby was committed to the Fleet till July for striking Crofts, a gentleman of the court, in Spring Gardens; and possibly his severe treatment and the disfavour shown to his father were the causes of his hostility to the court.
He was elected member for Dorsetshire in both the Short and Long parliaments in 1640, and in conjunction with Pym and Hampden he took an active part in the opposition to Charles. He moved on the 9th of November for a committee to consider the "deplorable state" of the kingdom, and on the 11th was included in the committee for the impeachment of Strafford, against whom he at first showed great zeal. He, however, opposed the attainder, made an eloquent speech on the 21st of April 1641, accentuating the weakness of Vane's evidence against the prisoner, and showing the injustice of ex post facto legislation. He was regarded in consequence with great hostility by the parliamentary party, and was accused of having stolen from Pym's table Vane's notes on which the prosecution mainly depended. On the 15th of July his speech was burnt by the hangman by the order of the House of Commons. Meanwhile on the 8th of February he had made an important speech in the Commons advocating the reformation and opposing the abolition of episcopacy.
On the 8th of June, during the angry discussion on the army plot, he narrowly escaped assault in the House; and the following day, in order to save him from further attacks, the king called him up to the Lords in his father's barony of Digby.
He now became the evil genius of Charles, who had the incredible folly to follow his advice in preference to such men as Hyde and Falkland. In November he is recorded as performing "singular good service," and "doing beyond admiration," in speaking in the Lords against the instruction concerning evil counsellors. He suggested to Charles the impeachment of the five members, and urged upon him the fatal attempt to arrest them on the 4th of January 1642; but he failed to play his part in the Lords in securing the arrest of Lord Mandeville, to whom on the contrary he declared that "the king was very mischievously advised"; and according to Clarendon his imprudence was responsible for the betrayal of the king's plan. Next day he advised the attempt to seize them in the city by force. The same month he was ordered to appear in the Lords to answer a charge of high treason for a supposed armed attempt at Kingston, but fled to Holland, where he joined the queen, and on the 26th of February was impeached. Subsequently he visited Charles at York disguised as a Frenchman, but on the return voyage to Holland he was captured and taken to Hull, where he for some time escaped detection; and at last he cajoled Sir John Hotham, after discovering himself, into permitting his escape.
Later he ventured on a second visit to Hull to persuade Hotham to surrender the place to Charles, but this project failed. He was present at Edgehill, and greatly distinguished himself at Lichfield, where he was wounded while leading the assault. He soon, however, threw down his commission in consequence of a quarrel with Prince Rupert, and returned to the king at Oxford, over whom he obtained more influence as the prospect became more gloomy. On the 28th of September 1643 he was appointed secretary of state and a privy councillor, and on the 31st of October high steward of Oxford University. He now supported the queen's disastrous policy of foreign alliances and help from Ireland, and engaged in a series of imprudent and ill-conducted negotiations which greatly injured the king's affairs, while his fierce disputes with Rupert and his party further embarrassed them. On the 14th of October 1645 he was made lieutenant general of the royal forces north of the Trent, with the object of pushing through to join Montrose, but he was defeated on the 15th at Sherburn, where his correspondence was captured, disclosing the king's expectations from abroad and from Ireland and his intrigues with the Scots; and after reaching Dumfries, he found his way barred.
He escaped on the 24th to the Isle of Man, thence crossing to Ireland, where he caused Glamorgan to be arrested. Here, on this new stage, he believed he was going to achieve wonders. "Have I not carried my body swimmingly," he wrote to Hyde in irrepressible good spirits, "who being before so irreconcilably hated by the Puritan party, have thus seasonably made myself as odious to the Papists?" His project now was to bring over Prince Charles to head a royalist movement in the island; and having joined Charles at Jersey in April 1646, he intended to entrap him on board, but was dissuaded by Hyde. He then travelled to Paris to gain the queen's consent to his scheme, but returned to persuade Charles to go to Paris, and accompanied him thither, revisiting Ireland on the 29th of June once more, and finally escaping to France on the surrender of the island to the parliament. At Paris amongst the royalists he found himself in a nest of enemies eager to pay off old scores. Prince Rupert challenged him, and he fought a duel with Lord Wilmot. He continued his adventures by serving in Louis XIV.'s troops in the war of the Fronde, in which he greatly distinguished himself.