Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Chesterfield
Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.PNG
Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
In office
Preceded by The Earl of Derby
Succeeded by The Earl of Leicester
Lord Steward of the Household
In office
Preceded by The Duke of Dorset
Succeeded by The Duke of Devonshire
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
Preceded by The Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded by The Earl of Harrington
Secretary of State for the Northern Department
In office
29 October 1746 – 6 February 1748
Preceded by The Earl of Harrington
Succeeded by The Duke of Newcastle
Personal details
Born 22 September 1694
Died 24 March 1773
Spouse(s) Melusina von der Schulenburg
Philip Stanhope by Roubiliac, 1745, Victoria and Albert Museum

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield PC KG (22 September 1694 – 24 March 1773) was a British statesman and man of letters.[1]

He was born in London and was known as Lord Stanhope until his father's death in 1726. After being educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge,[2] he went on the Grand Tour of the continent. The death of Queen Anne and the accession of King George I opened up a career for him and brought him back to England. His relative James Stanhope, the king's favourite minister, procured for him the place of gentleman of the bedchamber to the Prince of Wales. He was a Whig.

Political career[edit]

Portrait of Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

In 1715 he entered the House of Commons as Lord Stanhope of Shelford and member for St Germans, and when the impeachment of the Duke of Ormonde came before the House, he used the occasion (5 August 1715) to put to proof his old rhetorical studies.

His maiden speech was youthfully fluent and dogmatic; but on its conclusion the orator was reminded by an honourable member, with many compliments, that he was six weeks short of his majority, and consequently that he was liable to a fine of £500 for speaking in the House. Chesterfield left the Commons with a low bow and set out for the continent. From Paris he sent the government valuable information about the Jacobite plot; and in 1716 he returned to Britain, resumed his seat, and took frequent part in the debates. In that year came the quarrel between the king and his son George, the Prince of Wales (the future George II). Stanhope, whose political instincts obliged him to worship the rising rather than the setting sun, remained faithful to the prince, though he was too cautious to break entirely with the king's party. He was on friendly terms with the prince's mistress, Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and maintained a correspondence with her, which earned him the hatred of the Princess of Wales. In 1723 a vote for the government got him the place of captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners. In January 1725, on the revival of the Order of the Bath, the red ribbon was offered to him, but was declined.

He took his seat in the House of Lords, and his oratory, which had been ineffective in the Commons, was suddenly appreciated. In 1728 he was sent to the Hague as ambassador. His tact and temper, his dexterity and discrimination, enabled him to do good service, and he was rewarded with Robert Walpole's friendship, the Order of the Garter in 1730, and the position of Lord Steward. In 1732 there was born to him, by a certain Mlle Madelina Elizabeth du Bouchet, the son, Philip, for whose advice and instruction at Westminster School were afterwards written the famous Letters to his Son. He was the British envoy in Den Haag, when the second Treaty of Vienna was negotiated in Vienna in 1731 opening the way to an Anglo-Austrian Alliance. In the next year, his health and fortune damaged, he resigned as ambassador and returned to Britain. Vincent la Chapelle, his cook, accepted a post at the court of William IV of Orange.

A few months' rest enabled him to resume his seat in the Lords, of which he was one of the acknowledged leaders. He supported the ministry, but his allegiance was not the blind fealty Walpole exacted of his followers. The Excise Bill, the great premier's favourite measure, was vehemently opposed by him in the Lords, and by his three brothers in the Commons. Walpole bent before the storm and abandoned the measure; but Chesterfield was summarily dismissed from his stewardship. For the next two years he led the opposition in the Upper House, leaving no stone unturned to effect Walpole's downfall. During this time, he resided in Grosvenor Square and got involved in the creation of a new London charity called the Foundling Hospital for which he was a founding governor. In 1741 he signed the protest for Walpole's dismissal and went abroad on account of his health.

He visited Voltaire at Brussels and spent some time in Paris, where he associated with the younger Crebillon, Fontenelle and Montesquieu. In 1742 Walpole fell, and Carteret was his real, though not his nominal successor. Although Walpole's administration had been overthrown largely by Chesterfield's efforts the new ministry did not count Chesterfield either in its ranks or among its supporters. He remained in opposition, distinguishing himself by the courtly bitterness of his attacks on George II, who learned to hate him violently.

In 1743 a new journal, Old England; or, the Constitutional Journal appeared. For this paper Chesterfield wrote under the name of "Jeffrey Broadbottom." A number of pamphlets, in some of which Chesterfield had the help of Edmund Waller, followed. His energetic campaign against George II and his government won the gratitude of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, who left him £20,000 as a mark of her appreciation. In 1744 the king was compelled to abandon Carteret, and the coalition or "Broad Bottom" party, led by Chesterfield and Pitt, came into office in coalition with the Pelhams. In the troubled state of European politics the Earl's conduct and experience were more useful abroad than at home, and he was sent to the Hague as ambassador a second time. The object of his mission was to persuade the Dutch to join in the War of the Austrian Succession and to arrange the details of their assistance. The success of his mission was complete; and on his return a few weeks afterwards he received the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland, a place he had long coveted.

Chesterfield's "Phoenix Monument" (1746) in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Short as it was, January 1745 to November 1746, Chesterfield's appointment as Viceroy of Ireland was effective; he repressed the jobbery traditional to the office, and established schools and manufactures. He conciliated and kept in check the Whig and pro-Jacobite factions; as a result Irish Jacobites did not assist the Jacobite rising of 1745. Responding to a false alarm of a rebellion, and being told that ‘the papists in Ireland are all up,’ he replied: ‘I am not surprised at it, why, it is ten o’clock, I should have been up too, had I not overslept myself.’ He is best remembered today for being the first official to allow Dubliners to roam in the Phoenix Park, and for installing the central "Phoenix Monument", a phoenix bird on a Corinthian column.[3] The 2.8 mile main road through the park is still known as Chesterfield Avenue.

In 1746, however, he had to exchange the lord-lieutenancy for the place of Secretary of State. With a curious respect for those theories his familiarity with the secret social history of France had caused him to entertain, he hoped and attempted to retain a hold over the king through the influence of Lady Yarmouth, though the futility of such means had already been demonstrated to him by his relations with Queen Caroline's "ma bonne Howard." The influence of Newcastle and Sandwich, however, was too strong for him; he was thwarted and over-reached; and in 1748 he resigned the seals, and returned to cards and his books with the admirable composure which was one of his most striking characteristics. He denied any knowledge of the Apology for a late Resignation, in a Letter from an English Gentleman to his Friend at The Hague, which ran through four editions in 1748, but there is little doubt that he was, at least in part, the author.

Later Years in the House of Lords[edit]

The dukedom offered him by George II, whose ill-will his fine tact had overcome, was refused. He continued for some years to attend the Upper House, and to take part in its proceedings. In 1751, seconded by Lord Macclesfield, president of the Royal Society, and James Bradley, the eminent mathematician, he distinguished himself greatly in the debates on the calendar, and succeeded in making the new style a fact: the Act of Parliament is sometimes known as Chesterfield's Act. Deafness, however, was gradually affecting him, and he withdrew little by little from society and the practice of politics.

In 1755 occurred the famous dispute with Johnson over the dedication to the English Dictionary. Some eight years previously (1747) Johnson sent Chesterfield, who was then Secretary of State, a prospectus of his Dictionary, which was acknowledged by a subscription of 10 pounds. Chesterfield apparently took no further interest in the enterprise, and the book was about to appear, when he wrote two papers in the World in praise of it. It was said that Johnson was kept waiting in the anteroom when he called while the actor Colley Cibber was admitted. In any case Johnson had expected more help from a professed patron of literature, and wrote the earl the famous letter in defence of men of letters. Chesterfield's "respectable Hottentot," now identified with George, Lord Lyttelton, was long supposed, though on slender grounds, to be a portrait of Johnson.

In the 1760s Chesterfield offered a cogent critique of the Stamp Act passed by Grenville's parliament. He wrote (in a letter to his friend Lord Newcastle) about the "absurdity" of the act. It could not be properly enforced, and even if it was effective, the tax would bring in no more than 80,000 pounds per year while the cost in reduced trade from the American colonies would be at least a million pounds a year (as it happened the loss was nearly two million a year).[4]

He lived for some years at the Ranger's House, Chesterfield Walk, Greenwich, London.

Death of his son[edit]

In 1768 Philip Stanhope, the child of so many hopes, died. The constant care bestowed by his father on his education resulted in an honourable but not particularly distinguished career for young Stanhope. His death was an overwhelming grief to Chesterfield, and the discovery that he had long been married to a lady of humble origin must have been galling in the extreme to his father after his careful instruction in worldly wisdom. Chesterfield, who had no children by his wife, Melusina von der Schulenburg, Countess of Walsingham, an illegitimate daughter of George I by Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal and Munster, whom he married in Isleworth, Middlesex, on 5 September 1733, adopted his godson, a third cousin once removed, also named Philip Stanhope (1755–1815), as heir to the title and estates. He did however, bequeath to his grandsons Charles (1761–1845) and Philip (1763–1801), the children of his illegitimate son Philip, £100 annuity each and a further £10,000 between them. Extracts of his will were published in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1773.

His famous jest (which even Johnson allowed to have merit), "Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don't choose to have it known," is the best description possible of his humour and condition during the latter part of this period of decline. To the deafness was added blindness, but his memory and his fine manners only left him with life; his last words ("Give Dayrolles a chair") prove that he had neither forgotten his friend nor the way to receive him. He died on 24 March 1773 at Chesterfield House, Westminster, the grand London townhouse he had built in about 1749.

Character and works[edit]

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by William Hoare of Bath

According to some authorities, Chesterfield was selfish, calculating and contemptuous; he was not naturally generous, and he practised dissimulation until it became part of his nature.[5] In spite of his brilliant talents and of the admirable training he received, his life, on the whole, cannot be pronounced a success.[5] His anxiety and the pains he took to become an orator have been already noticed, and Horace Walpole, who had heard all the great orators, preferred a speech of Chesterfield's to any other; yet the earl's eloquence is not to be compared with that of Pitt. Samuel Johnson, according to his extraordinary biographer, James Boswell, expressed himself pointedly about the nobleman, in the following manner, ‘“This man (said he) I thought had been a Lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among Lords!” And when his Letters to his natural son were published, he observed, that “they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing-master.”’ As a courtier he was utterly worsted by Robert Walpole, whose manners were anything but refined, and even by Newcastle. He desired to be known as a protector of letters and literary men; and his want of heart or head over the Dictionary dedication, though explained and excused by Croker, nonetheless inspired the famous change in a famous line "Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail." His published writings have had with posterity a very indifferent success; his literary reputation rests on a volume of letters never designed to appear in print. The son for whom he worked so hard and thought so deeply failed especially where his father had most desired he should succeed.

As a politician and statesman, Chesterfield's fame rests on his short but brilliant administration of Ireland. As an author he was a clever essayist and epigrammatist.

Letters to his Son[edit]

This collection, also called Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, comprises over 400 letters written beginning in 1737 or 1738 and continuing until his son's death in 1768. The majority of the letters were written between 1746 and 1754. The letters are written in French, English, and some in Latin. They are mostly instructive letters on such subjects as geography, history, and classical literature. Later letters, written when the author had become an established minor diplomat, deal largely with political matters.[6]

The letters were first published by his son's widow Eugenia Stanhope in 1774, and the Letters to his Godson in 1890. The Letters are brilliantly written, full of elegant wisdom, of keen wit, of admirable portrait-painting, of exquisite observation and deduction.

In the Letters to his Son Chesterfield epitomises the restraint of polite 18th-century society, writing from Bath on 9 March 1748:

"I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh."


Lord Chesterfield gave his name to Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, which runs from Curzon Street, site of the former Chesterfield House.

Chesterfield County, Virginia and Chesterfield County, South Carolina in the United States were named in his honour. Chesterfield appears in the 1757/1758 novel The Virginians by William Makepeace Thackeray.

In the novel Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, the foppish and superficial John Chester considers Chesterfield the finest English writer: "Shakespeare was undoubtedly very fine in his way; Milton good, though prosy; Lord Bacon deep, and decidedly knowing; but the writer who should be his country's pride, is my Lord Chesterfield."

Among the quotations attributed to him are:

"The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it one's self to be acquainted with it."
"An able man shows his spirit by gentle words and resolute actions."
"I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves."
"The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable" [on sexual intercourse]
"Firmness of purpose is one of the most necessary sinews of character, and one of the best instruments of success. Without it, genius wastes its efforts in a maze of inconsistencies."
"The scholar, without good breeding, is a pedant; the philosopher, a cynic; the soldier, a brute; and every man disagreeable."[7]

Philip Stanhope is also widely credited as the commissioner of the first Chesterfield sofa or couch, a lasting legacy which still holds today.

American regional brewer Yuengling names their "Lord Chesterfield Ale" after him. It is their only true ale, a type of beer historically popular in Britain.


  1. ^  "Stanhope, Philip Dormer". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ "Stanhope, Philip Dormer (STNP712PD)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ See: The Irish Aesthete website, November 2012.
  4. ^ Barbara Tuchman, "The March of Folly", pg 158. 1984.
  5. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.).
  6. ^ Mayo, Christopher. "Letters To His Son". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 25 February 2007 accessed 30 November 2011.
  7. ^, Columbia World of Quotations. Columbia University Press, 1996. (retrieved 11/5/11)

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
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Waller Bacon
Member of Parliament for St Germans
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Political offices
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Peerage of England
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Earl of Chesterfield
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