William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the British Prime Minister. For the English scientist, see William Petty.
For other people named William Petty, see William Petty (disambiguation).
The Most Honourable
The Marquess of Lansdowne
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne by Jean Laurent Mosnier.jpg
Prime Minister of Great Britain
In office
4 July 1782 – 2 April 1783
Monarch George III
Preceded by The Marquess of Rockingham
Succeeded by The Duke of Portland
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
4 July 1782 – 2 April 1783
Monarch George III
Preceded by The Marquess of Rockingham
Succeeded by The Duke of Portland
Secretary of State for the Home Department
In office
27 March 1782 – 10 July 1782
Monarch George III
Prime Minister The Marquess of Rockingham
Preceded by Office established
The Viscount Stormont as Northern Secretary
The Earl of Hillsborough as Southern Secretary
Succeeded by Thomas Townshend
Secretary of State for the Southern Department
In office
30 July 1766 – 20 October 1768
Monarch George III
Prime Minister The Duke of Grafton
The Earl of Chatham
Preceded by The Duke of Richmond
Succeeded by The Viscount Weymouth
Personal details
Born (1737-05-02)2 May 1737
Dublin, County Dublin,
Kingdom of Ireland
Died 7 May 1805(1805-05-07) (aged 68)
Berkeley Square,
Westminster, Middlesex
United Kingdom
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Sophia
Children 3
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Religion Dissenter

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC (2 May 1737 – 7 May 1805), known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history, was an Irish-born British Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister 1782–1783 during the final months of the American War of Independence. He succeeded in securing peace with America and this feat remains his legacy.[1] He was also well known as a collector of antiquities and works of art[2]

Lord Shelburne was born in Dublin in 1737 and spent his formative years in Ireland. After attending Oxford University he served in the British army during the Seven Years' War taking part in the Raid on Rochefort and the Battle of Minden. As a reward for his conduct at the Battle of Kloster Kampen Shelburne was appointed an aide-de-camp to George III. He became involved in politics, becoming a member of parliament in 1760. After his father's death in 1761 he inherited his title and was elevated to the House of Lords and took an active role in politics. He served as President of the Board of Trade in the Grenville Ministry but resigned this position after only a few months and began to associate with the opposition leader William Pitt.

When Pitt was made Prime Minister in 1766 Shelburne was appointed as Southern Secretary, a position which he held for two years. He departed office during the Corsican Crisis and joined the Opposition. Along with Pitt he was an advocate of a conciliatory policy towards Britain's American Colonies and a long-term critic of the North Government's measures in America. Following the fall of the North government Shelburne joined its replacement led by Lord Rockingham. Shelburne was made Prime Minister in 1782 following Rockingham's death with the American War still being fought. Shelburne's government was brought down largely due to the terms of the Peace of Paris which brought the conflict to an end which were considered excessively generous.

Shelburne was one of the first British statesmen to advocate free trade,[3] his conversion to which he attributed to a journey he made to London in 1761, when he accompanied Adam Smith. In 1795 he described this to Dugald Stewart:

I owe to a journey I made with Mr Smith from Edinburgh to London, the difference between light and darkness through the best part of my life. The novelty of his principles, added to my youth and prejudices, made me unable to comprehend them at the time, but he urged them with so much benevolence, as well as eloquence, that they took a certain hold, which, though it did not develope itself so as to arrive at full conviction for some few years after, I can fairly say, has constituted, ever since, the happiness of my life, as well as any little consideration I may have enjoyed in it.[4]

Early life[edit]

He was born William Fitzmaurice in Dublin in Ireland, the first son of John Fitzmaurice, who was the second surviving son of the 1st Earl of Kerry; himself a descendant of King Edward I. William's brother was The Honourable Thomas Fitzmaurice (1742–1793).[5] Lord Kerry had married Anne Petty, the daughter of Sir William Petty, Surveyor General of Ireland, whose elder son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1688 and (on the elder son's death) whose younger son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1699 and Earl of Shelburne in 1719. On the younger son's death the Petty estates passed to the aforementioned John Fitzmaurice, who changed his branch of the family's surname to "Petty" in place of "Fitzmaurice", and was created Viscount Fitzmaurice later in 1751 and Earl of Shelburne in 1753 (after which his elder son John was styled Viscount Fitzmaurice). His grandfather Lord Kerry died when he was four, but Fitzmaurice grew up with other people's grim memories of a "Tyrant" whose family and sevants lived in permanent fear of him.

Fitzmaurice spent his childhood "in the remotest parts of the south of Ireland,"[6] and, according to his own account, when he entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1755, he had "both everything to learn and everything to unlearn". From a tutor whom he describes as "narrow-minded" he received advantageous guidance in his studies, but he attributes his improvement in manners and in knowledge of the world chiefly to the fact that, as was his "fate through life", he fell in "with clever but unpopular connexions".

Military career and election to Parliament[edit]

Shelburne served with distinction during the Seven Years' War participating in engagements such as the Battle of Minden in 1759.

Shortly after leaving the university he served in 20th Foot regiment commanded by James Wolfe during the Seven Years' War. He became friends with one of his fellow officers Charles Grey whose career he later assisted.[7] In 1757 he took part in the amphibious Raid on Rochefort which withdrew without making any serious attempt on the town. The following year he was sent to serve in Germany and distinguished himself at Minden and Kloster-Kampen. For his services he was appointed aide-de-camp to the new King, George III, with the rank of Colonel.[8] This brought protests from several members of the cabinet as it meant he was promoted ahead of much more senior officers.[9] In response to the appointment Duke of Richmond resigned a post in the royal household.[10] Though he had no active military career after this,[11] his early promotion as colonel meant that he would be further promoted through seniority to major-general in 1765,[12] lieutenant-general in 1772[13] and general in 1783.[14]

On 2 June 1760, while still abroad, Fitzmaurice had been returned to the British House of Commons as member for Wycombe. He was re-elected unopposed at the general election of 1761,[15] and was also elected to the Irish House of Commons for County Kerry.[16] However, on 14 May 1761, before either Parliament met, he succeeded on his father's death as 2nd Earl of Shelburne in the Peerage of Ireland and 2nd Baron Wycombe in the Peerage of Great Britain.[15] As a result he lost his seat in both Houses of Commons and moved up to the House of Lords, though he would not take his seat in the Irish House of Lords until April 1764.[11] He was succeeded in Wycombe by one of his supporters Colonel Isaac Barré who had a distinguished war record after serving with James Wolfe in Canada.

Early political career[edit]

Shelburne's new military role close to the King brought him into communication with Lord Bute, who was the King's closest advisor and a senior minister in the government. In 1761 Shelburne was employed by Bute to negotiate for the support of Henry Fox. Fox held the lucrative but unimportant post of Paymaster of the Forces, but commanded large support in the House of Commons and could boost Bute's powerbase. Shelburne was opposed to Pitt, who had resigned from the government in 1761. Under instructions from Shelburne, Barré made a violent attack on Pitt in the House of Commons.

During 1762 negotiations for a peace agreement went on in London and Paris. Eventually a deal was agreed but it was heavily criticised for the perceived leniency of its terms as it handed back a number of captured territories to France and Spain. Defending it in the House of Lords, Shelburne observed "the security of the British colonies in North America was the first cause of the war" asserting that security "has been wisely attended to in the negotiations for peace".[17] Led by Fox, the government was able to push the peace treaty through parliament despite opposition led by Pitt. Shortly afterwards, Bute chose to resign as Prime Minister and retire from politics and was replaced by George Grenville.

Shelburne joined the Grenville ministry in 1763 as First Lord of Trade. By this stage Shelburne had changed his opinion of Pitt and become an admirer of him. After failing to secure Pitt's inclusion in the Cabinet he resigned office after only a few months. Having moreover on account of his support of Pitt on the question of Wilkes's expulsion from the House of Commons incurred the displeasure of the King, he retired for a time to his estate.

Southern Secretary[edit]

After Pitt's return to power in 1766 he became Southern Secretary, but during Pitt's illness his conciliatory policy towards America was completely thwarted by his colleagues and the King, and in 1768 he was dismissed from office. During the Corsican Crisis, sparked by the French invasion of Corsica, Shelburne was the major voice in the cabinet who favoured assisting the Corsican Republic. Although secret aid was given to the Corsicans it was decided not to intervene military and provoke a war with France, a decision made easier by the departure of the hard-line Shelburne from the cabinet.

In June 1768 the General Court incorporated the district of Shelburne, Massachusetts from the area formerly known as "Deerfield Northeast" and in 1786 the district became a town. The town was named in honour of Lord Shelburne, who, in return sent a church bell, which never reached the town.


Shelburne went into Opposition where he continued to associate with William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. They were both critical of the policies of the North government in the years leading up to the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1775. As the war progressed Shelburne co-operated with the Rockingham Whigs to attack the government of Lord North. After a British army was compelled to surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, Shelburne joined other leaders of the Opposition to call for a total withdrawal of British troops.

Prime Minister[edit]

Main article: Shelburne Ministry
Lord Shelburne by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

In March 1782 following the down fall of the North Government Shelburne agreed to take office under Lord Rockingham on condition that the King would recognise the United States. Following the sudden and unexpected death of Lord Rockingham on 1 July 1782 Shelburne succeeded him as Prime Minister. Shelburne's appointment by the King provoked Charles James Fox and his supporters, including Edmund Burke, to resign their posts on 4 July 1782.[18] Burke scathingly compared Shelburne to his predecessor Rockingham. One of the figures brought in as a replacement was the 23-year-old William Pitt, son of Shelburne's former political ally, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Peace negotiations[edit]

Further information: Peace of Paris

Shelburne's government continued to negotiate for peace in Paris using Richard Oswald as the chief negotiator. Shelburne entertained a French peace envoy Joseph Matthias Gérard de Rayneval at his country estate in Wiltshire, and they discreetly agreed on a number of points which formed a basis for peace. Shelburne's own envoys negotiated a separate peace with American commissioners which eventually led to an agreement on American independence and the borders of the newly created United States. Shelburne agreed to generous borders in the Illinois Country, but rejected demands by Benjamin Franklin for the cession of Canada and other territories.


Fox's departure led to the unexpected creation of a coalition involving Fox and Lord North which dominated the Opposition. In April 1783 the Opposition forced Shelburne's resignation. The major achievement of Shelburne's time in office was the agreement of peace terms which formed the basis of the Peace of Paris bringing the American War of Independence to an end.

His fall was perhaps hastened by his plans for the reform of the public service. He had also in contemplation a Bill to promote free trade between Britain and the United States.

Later life[edit]

When Pitt became Prime Minister in 1784, Shelburne, instead of receiving a place in the Cabinet, was created Marquess of Lansdowne. Though giving a general support to the policy of Pitt, he from this time ceased to take an active part in public affairs. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1803.[19]


Lord Lansdowne was twice married:

First to Lady Sophia Carteret (26 August 1745 – 5 January 1771), daughter of the 1st Earl Granville, through whom he obtained the Lansdowne estates near Bath. They had at least one child:

  • John Henry Petty, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne (6 December 1765 – 15 November 1809), who sat in the House of Commons for twenty years as member for Chipping Wycombe before inheriting his father's marquessate. He married Mary Arabella Maddox (died 24 April 1833), the daughter of Rev. Hinton Maddox and the widow of Duke Gifford, on 27 May 1805; they had no sons.

Secondly to Lady Louisa FitzPatrick (1755 – 7 August 1789), daughter of the 1st Earl of Upper Ossory. They had at least two children:

Lord Shelburne's Government, July 1782 – April 1783[edit]

Main article: Shelburne Ministry


  • January 1783 – Lord Howe succeeds Lord Keppel at the Admiralty.

Titles from birth to death[edit]

  • Mr. William Fitzmaurice (1737–1751)
  • Mr. William Petty (1751)
  • The Hon. William Petty (1751–1753)
  • Viscount Fitzmaurice (1753–1760)
  • Viscount Fitzmaurice, MP (1760–1761)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Shelburne (1761–1763)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Shelburne, PC (1763–1782)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Shelburne, KG, PC (1782–1784)
  • The Most Hon. The Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC (1784–1805)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ www.number10.gov.uk, www.number10.gov.uk. "Past British Prime Ministers". British Government. 
  2. ^ I. Bignamini, C. Hornsby, Digging And Dealing in Eighteenth-Century Rome (2010), p.321-322
  3. ^ Bowood House web page
  4. ^ Ian S. Ross (ed.), On The Wealth of Nations. Contemporary Responses to Adam Smith (Bristol: Theommes Press, 1998), p. 147.
  5. ^ "Family tree of Lady Maria Louisa FitzMaurice". www.geni.com. 
  6. ^ Childhood in the remotest parts of the south of Ireland probably refers to the family estates in County Kerry. The Pettys owned the Lansdowne Estates in the Kenmare area in South Kerry and the Fitzmaurice estates were in the Lixnaw area in North Kerry.
  7. ^ Nelson p.20
  8. ^ Fitzmaurice p.96
  9. ^ Middleton p.175
  10. ^ Fitzmaurice p.97
  11. ^ a b John Cannon, 'Petty , William, second earl of Shelburne and first marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013 accessed 23 Feb 2014
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10507. p. 1. 23–26 March 1765.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: no. 11251. p. 2. 23–26 May 1772.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: no. 12416. p. 1. 18–22 February 1783.
  15. ^ a b Sir Lewis Namier, PETTY, William, Visct. Fitzmaurice (1737–1805), of Bowood, Wilts. in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754–1790 (1964).
  16. ^ "Biographies of Members of the Irish Parliament 1692–1800". Ulster Historical Foundation. Retrieved 23 June 2014. 
  17. ^ Schweizer p.17
  18. ^ Fleming p.179-180
  19. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter L". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 


  • Fitzmaurice, Edmond George Petty. Life of William, Earl of Shelburne. MacMillan & Co, 1875 (reprinted by Elibron Classics, 2006).
  • Fleming, Thomas. The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown. First Smithsonian books, 2008.
  • Middleton, Charles. The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-North Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War, 1757–1762. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Nelson, Paul David. Sir Charles Grey, First Earl Grey: Royal Soldier, Family Patriarch. Associated University Presses, 1996.
  • Norris, John. Shelburne and Reform. MacMillan, 1963.
  • Schweizer, Karl W. (ed.) Lord Bute: Essays in Reinterpritation. Leicester University Press, 1998.

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
The Earl of Shelburne
Edmund Waller
Member of Parliament for Wycombe
1760 – 1761
With: Edmund Waller 1760–1761
Robert Waller 1761
Succeeded by
Robert Waller
Isaac Barré
Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
John Blennerhassett
Lancelot Crosbie
Member of Parliament for Kerry
With: John Blennerhassett
Succeeded by
John Blennerhassett
John Blennerhassett
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Townshend
First Lord of Trade
Succeeded by
The Earl of Hillsborough
Preceded by
The Duke of Richmond
Secretary of State for the
Southern Department

Succeeded by
The Viscount Weymouth
Preceded by
The Earl of Hillsborough
as Secretary of State
for the Southern Department
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Thomas Townshend
Preceded by
The Marquess of Rockingham
Prime Minister of Great Britain
4 July 1782 – 2 April 1783
Succeeded by
The Duke of Portland
Leader of the House of Lords
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Marquess of Lansdowne
Succeeded by
John Petty
Preceded by
John Petty
Earl of Shelburne