|The Right Honourable
|Prime Minister of Great Britain|
27 August 1743 – 6 March 1754
|Preceded by||The Earl of Wilmington|
|Succeeded by||The Duke of Newcastle|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer|
12 December 1743 – 6 March 1754
|Preceded by||Samuel Sandys|
|Succeeded by||William Lee|
25 September 1694|
Laughton, Sussex, England
|Died||6 March 1754
St James's, Middlesex, England
|Spouse(s)||Catherine Manners (m. 1726)|
|Alma mater||Hart Hall, Oxford|
|Religion||Church of England|
Henry Pelham, PC, FRS (25 September 1694 – 6 March 1754) was a British Whig statesman, who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 27 August 1743 until his death. He was the younger brother of Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, who served in Pelham's government and succeeded him as Prime Minister. Pelham is generally considered to have been Britain's third Prime Minister after Sir Robert Walpole and the Earl of Wilmington.
Pelham's premiership was relatively uneventful in terms of domestic affairs. In foreign affairs, Great Britain fought in several wars. Upon Pelham's death, his brother Newcastle took full control of the ministry.
Pelham, Newcastle's younger brother, was a younger son of the Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham and his wife, the former Lady Grace Holles, daughter of Gilbert Holles, 3rd Earl of Clare and Grace Pierrepont. He was educated at Westminster School and Hart Hall, Oxford. Hertford College, Oxford, the present-day incarnation of Hart Hall, still honours him in the title of its drinking club, the Sir Henry Pelham Gentlemen's Sporting Society. As a volunteer he served in Dormer's regiment at the Battle of Preston in 1715, spent some time on the Continent, and in 1717 entered Parliament for Seaford in Sussex which he represented until 1722.
Through strong family influence, and the recommendation of Robert Walpole, he was chosen in 1721 as Lord of the Treasury. The following year he was returned for Sussex county. In 1724 he entered the ministry as Secretary at War, but this office he exchanged in 1730 for the more lucrative one of Paymaster of the Forces. He made himself conspicuous by his support of Walpole on the question of the excise. He, Newcastle, and the Prime Minister would often meet at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, where they would draw up much of the country's policy. These meetings became known as the Norfolk Congress. With Walpole, he served as a founding governor of the popular charity the Foundling Hospital when it opened its doors in 1739.
In 1742 a union of parties resulted in the formation of an administration in which Pelham became Prime Minister the following year, succeeding the Earl of Wilmington after his death.
The first year of Pelham's premiership is regarded as a continuation of the Carteret ministry, with Lord Carteret continuing as Secretary of State for the Northern Department with responsibility for foreign affairs; Carteret was close to King George II. Pelham served as First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.
In November 1744, the Pelhams forced Lord Carteret out of the ministry: Pelham bluntly told the king that either Carteret step down, or the Pelhamites would, leaving His Majesty without a government. Thereafter Pelham shared power with his brother, the Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne. Pelham was regarded as the leading figure, but rank and influence made his brother very powerful in the Cabinet. In spite of a genuine attachment, there were occasional disputes between them, which sometimes led to further difficulties.
The Broad Bottomed Administration
Being strongly in favour of peace, Pelham carried on the War of the Austrian Succession with languor and indifferent success, but the country, wearied of the interminable struggle, was disposed to acquiesce in his foreign policy almost without a murmur. King George II, thwarted in his own favourite schemes, made overtures in February 1746 to Lord Bath, but his purpose was upset by the resignation of the two Pelhams (Henry and Newcastle), who, after a two-day hiatus in which Bath and Carteret (now earl Granville) proved unable to form a ministry, resumed office at the king's request. One of their terms was to insist that the king should have 'total confidence' in a ministry; rather than partial grudging acceptance of the Whigs.
The Augustan era was essential to the development of prime ministerial power as being entirely dependant on a Commons majority, rather than royal prerogative interventions. While the king struggled with his headstrong son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, his son's uncertain constitutional position was high in the Leicester House party set. In 1748 Frederick, a Tory, planned to bring down the Pelhamites at a general election due the following year. Prime Minister called an early poll in 1748 by asking the king to dissolve parliament in 1747. The prince and his father, the king grew to hate one another with unspeakable animosity. But one consequence was a closer relationship between Henry Pelham and the Sovereign. When he finally died in 1754, the King remarked "Now I shall have no more peace." Peace had been signed in 1748 leading inexorably to a number of cost-cutting budgetary measures.
The Army and Navy spending shrunk from £12 m to £7 million per annum. Pelham promised to reduce interest rates through introduction of a balancing act measure from 4% to 3% by 1757. He also assisted a fund to reduce the National Debt. In 1749, the Consolidation Act was passed, reorganising the Royal Navy. On 20 March 1751, the British calendar was reorganised as well (New Year's Day became 1 January); Britain would adopt the Gregorian calendar one year later. In 1752 he was able to reduce the land tax from 4 s. to 2 s in the pound (an effective reduction from 20% to 10%).
One social consequence of the press gangs going to sea in an expansive navy fleet was to the growth of industrial processes necessary for warfare. In the ports the distillation of gin demonstrated clearly by engravers such as Hogarth in "Gin Lane" the depravity issuing forth from the demon drink. Preachers "fire and brimsone" in favour of temperance, and drunken soldiers and sailors persuaded the administration to introduce the Gin Acts. The 1751 act was the last of four that had largely failed to prevent serious social unrest, including riots in London, reduced the number licensed dealers and sellers of liquor. By restricting supply the consumption dropped and price fell helping to manage the problem.
Two of Pelham's final acts were the Jew Bill of 1753, which allowed Jews to become naturalized by application to Parliament, and the Marriage Act of 1753, which enumerated the minimum age of consent for marriage. Upon his death, his brother (the aforementioned Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne) took over government.
His very defects were among the chief elements of Pelham's success, for one with a strong personality, moderate amount self-respect, or haughty conceptions of statesmanship could not have restrained the discordant elements of the cabinet for any length of time the way he did. Moreover, he possessed tact and a thorough acquaintance with the forms of the House of Commons. Whatever quarrels or insubordination might have existed within the cabinet, they never broke out into open revolt. His financial policy was worthy of praise, especially his plans for the reduction of the national debt and the simplification and consolidation of different government branches related to this debt.
- Catherine (1727–1760), married 1744 Henry Clinton, 9th Earl of Lincoln, who by this marriage subsequently became the 2nd Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne
- Frances (1728–1824), died unmarried
- Grace (1735–1777), married 1752 the Hon. Lewis Watson, who in 1760 was created Baron Sondes
- Mary (1739–1???), died unmarried
When Pelham was elevated to Prime Minister, he began construction of a house located at 22 Arlington Street in St. James's, a district of the City of Westminster in central London. He hired the architect William Kent to build the structure in two phases. Kent died in 1748 and the work was completed by Stephen Wright in 1754.
Pelham's personal papers were inherited by his son-in-law and now form part of the Newcastle (Clumber) Collection held at the department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham. Pelham was the first British Prime Minister who never acceded to the peerage in his lifetime.
Titles from birth to death
- Mr. Henry Pelham (1694–1706)
- The Hon. Henry Pelham (1706–1717)
- The Hon. Henry Pelham, MP (1717–1725)
- The Rt. Hon. Henry Pelham, MP (1725–1746)
- The Rt. Hon. Henry Pelham, FRS, MP (1746–1754)
In popular culture
- Famous Oxonians: British Prime Ministers
- Brumwell, p.159
- "About this project". Architecture. London, England: The Royal Institute of British Architects. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "William Kent". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. England: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- "Location Wimbourne House, 22, Arlington Street SW1". Historic England. London. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
- Wilkes, John (1964). A Whig in Power: The Political Career of Henry Pelham. London.
- Some material has been adapted from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Kulisheck, A. J. "Pelham, Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21789. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.); cited as PelODNB.
- More about Henry Pelham on the Downing Street website.
- Biography of Henry Pelham, with links to online catalogues, on the website of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham
- "Pelham, Henry (1695?-1754)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.