Lord William Bentinck
|The Right Honourable
Lord William Bentinck
GCB, GCH, PC
|Governor-General of India|
1833 – 20 March 1835
|Succeeded by||Sir Charles Metcalfe, Bt
As Acting Governor-General
|Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William|
4 July 1828 – 1833
|Prime Minister||The Duke of Wellington
The Earl Grey
|Preceded by||William Butterworth Bayley
As Acting Governor-General
|Born||14 September 1774
|Died||17 June 1839
|Spouse(s)||Lady Mary Acheson (d. 1843)|
|Years of service||1791-1839|
|Commands||11th Regiment of Light Dragoons
|Awards||Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Royal Guelphic Order
Lieutenant-General Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, GCB, GCH, PC (14 September 1774 – 17 June 1839), known as Lord William Bentinck, was a British soldier and statesman. He served as Governor-General of India from 1828 to 1835.
Career until 1827
After service in the Peninsular War, Bentinck was appointed commander of British troops in Sicily. A Whig, Bentinck used this position to meddle in internal Sicilian affairs, effecting the withdrawal from government of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies in favour of his son, Francis I of the Two Sicilies, the reactionary Queen's disgrace, and an attempt to devise a constitutional government for the troubled island, all of which ultimately ended in failure. In 1814, Bentinck landed with British and Sicilian troops at Genoa, and commenced to make liberal proclamations of a new order in Italy which embarrassed the British government (which intended to give much of Italy to Austria), and led, once again, to his recall in 1815.
Bentinck in Sicily
As conditions in Sicily began to deteriorate at the beginning of the 19th century, England began worrying about its interests in the Mediterranean. Internal dissensions in the Sicilian government and an ever increasing suspicion that Queen Maria Carolina was in correspondence with the French Occupation of Sicily as its object led to the appointment of Bentinck as British representative to the Court of Palermo in July 1811. At the beginning of his time at the head of Sicilian affairs, politicians in London opposed the Bourbon rule and appealed for Sicilian annexation. Bentinck was sympathetic to the cause and plight of the Sicilians and "was quickly convinced of the need for Britain to intervene in Sicilian affairs, not so much for Britain’s sake as for the well-being of the Sicilians.”  He was also one of the first of the dreamers to see a vision of a unified Italy. The English, however, were content to support the Bourbons if they were willing to give the Sicilians more governmental control and a greater respect of their rights. Bentinck saw this as the perfect opportunity to insert his ideas of a Sicilian constitution. Opposition to the establishment of a constitution continued to surface, Maria Carolina proving to be one of the toughest. Her relationship with Bentinck can be summed up in the nickname that she gave him: "La bestia feroce" or the ferocious beast. Bentinck, however, was determined to see the establishment of a Sicilian Constitution and shortly thereafter exiled Maria Carolina from Palermo. On 18 June 1812 the Parliament assembled in Palermo and, about a month later, on 20 July 1812 the constitution was accepted and written on the basis of 15 articles. With the establishment of the constitution the Sicilians had now gained an autonomy they had never experienced before. The constitution set up the separation of the legislative and executive powers and abolished the feudalistic practices that had been established and recognized for the past 700 years.
Bentinck's success in establishing a Sicilian constitution lasted only a few years. On 8 December 1816, a year after Ferdinand IV returned to the throne of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the constitution was abolished and Sicily was reunited with Naples. The constitutional experiment was deemed a failure although it cannot be said to be his alone. The Sicilian nobles were inexperienced and in the face of the difficulties of 1814 and 1815 could not sustain a constitution without British support, which was withdrawn in the wake of the end of the Napoleonic wars. The British no longer had an invested interest in the internal affairs of Sicily now that the threat of French invasion had been removed. The establishment of a Sicilian constitution that was facilitated by Bentinck was not to be soon forgotten. The ideas found therein and the small taste of freedom lingered in the memories of the Sicilians and had an influence on the desire for autonomy that was at the base of the Sicilian revolutions of 1820 and 1848.
Governor-General of India
On his return to England, Bentinck served in the House of Commons for some years before being appointed Governor-General of Bengal in 1828. His principal concern was to turn around the loss-making Honourable East India Company, in order to ensure that its charter would be renewed by the British government.
Bentinck engaged in an extensive range of cost-cutting measures, earning the lasting enmity of many military men whose wages were cut. Although his financial management of India was quite impressive,[according to whom?] his modernizing projects also included a policy of westernization, influenced by the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, which was more controversial. Reforming the court system, he made English, rather than Persian, the language of the higher courts and encouraged western-style education for Indians in order to provide more educated Indians for service in the British bureaucracy.
Bentinck also took steps to suppress suttee, the death of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre, and other cruel social customs prevalent in the society during that time, with the help of Raja Ram Mohan Roy who was not only a social reformer but also known as "Maker of Modern India" or "Father of Modern India". The "superstitious practices" Rammohan Roy objected included suttee' caste rigidity, polygamy and child marriages and Lord Bentinck helped him to enforce the law. Although his reforms met little resistance among native Indians at the time, it has been argued that they brought on dissatisfaction which ultimately led to the great mutiny of 1857. His reputation for ruthless financial efficiency and disregard for Indian culture led to the much-repeated story that he had once planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and sell off the marble. According to Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli, the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort and of the metal from the Great Agra Gun, the largest cannon ever cast, a historical artifact which dated to the reign of Akbar the Great.
Bentinck returned to the UK in 1835, refusing a peerage, and again entered the House of Commons as a Member for Glasgow.
Bentinck married Lady Mary, daughter of Arthur Acheson, 1st Earl of Gosford, in 1803. The marriage was childless. He died in Paris on 17 June 1839, aged 64. Mary died in May 1843. The department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham holds the personal papers and correspondence of Lord William Bentinck (Pw J), as part of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection.
The Charter Act of 1833
The Charter Act of 1833 was passed during the time of Lord William Bentinck. Accordingly monopoly of the company was abolished. Governor-General in Bengal became the governor-general of India. This Act added a law member to the executive council of the governor-general.The Bishops of Bombay.Madras and Calcutta were to be appointed for the benefit of the Christians in India.
- Lackland, H.M.. “Lord William Bentinck in Sicily, 1811 – 12.” The English Historical Review 42.167 (1927): 371 – 396. JSTOR. 4 March 2009.
- Hearder, Harry. Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento 1790–1870. New York: Longmans, 1983.
- Beck,, Rodger B.; et al. Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction.
- Bandyopadyay, Brahendra N; Rommohan Roy,. (London: University Press, 1933) 351.
- Randolf Cooper, The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India. Cambridge, England. Cambridge University Press, 2003. p. 198.
- Rosselli, J., Lord William Bentinck: the making of a Liberal Imperialist, 1774-1839, London Chatto and Windus for Sussex University Press 1974, p. 283
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lord William Bentinck.|
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Lord William Bentinck
- Biography of Lord William Bentinck, with links to online catalogues, from Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham