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An Enlightenment Statesman in Whig Britain

An Enlightenment Statesman in Whig Britain: Lord Shelburne in Context, 1737-1805

Nigel Aston
Clarissa Campbell Orr
Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81xgh
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  • Book Info
    An Enlightenment Statesman in Whig Britain
    Book Description:

    Lord Shelburne, Prime Minister in 1782-83, was a profoundly important politician, whose achievements included the negotiation of the peace with the newly-independent United States. This book constitutes a major and long overdue reappraisal of the politician considered by Disraeli to be the "most neglected Prime Minister". The book indicates, caters for, and leads the revival of interest in high politics, including its gendered aspects. It covers Shelburne's friends, his finances, and his politics, and places him carefully within both an international and a national context. For the first time his complicated but compelling family life, his satisfying relations with women, and his Irish ancestry are presented as essential factors for understanding his public impact overall. Shelburne was a politician, patron, and cultural leader whose relationship to many of the ideas, influences, and individuals of the European Enlightenment are also emphasised. The book is thoroughly up to date, written by leading authorities in the field, and predominantly based on unpublished primary research. Shelburne and his circle constituted one of the most important [and progressive] elements in British and European politics during the second half of the eighteenth century, and the book will appeal to all readers interested in the Enlightenment. NIGEL ASTON is Reader in Early Modern History in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester; CLARISSA CAMPBELL ORR is Reader in Enlightenment, Gender and Court Studies at Anglia Ruskin University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-853-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  7. TABLE 1 The Fitzmaurice family
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  8. TABLE 2 The Carteret and Fermor families
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  9. TABLE 3 The Fox and Leveson-Gower families
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  10. TABLE 4 The Fox Strangways, Digby, and Fox families
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  11. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)
    Nigel Aston and Clarissa Campbell Orr

    William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, created 1st Marquess of Lansdowne in 1784, is the least studied statesman of the reign of George III. The only modern monograph on him was written in 1963 by John Norris, and concentrated on Economical (i.e. administrative) Reform.¹ This dearth is in part a tribute to the longevity of the three-volume biography written by Shelburne’s descendant, the minor Liberal politician Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice (later created 1st Baron Fitzmaurice), based securely on the family archives.² That there is such an abundance of archival sources makes the omission the more glaring. The William L. Clements Library...

  12. Part One: Family, Piety, and Finance

    • 1 Petty and Fitzmaurice: Lord Shelburne and his Brother
      (pp. 29-50)
      Nigel Aston

      The focus in this chapter is primarily on the turbulent and unsatisfying relationship that persisted between Lord Shelburne and his younger brother, the Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice (1742–93). They illustrate parallel paths in integrating themselves as an ancient Anglo-Irish family, more Irish than English and primarily resident in Ireland, into the British political and cultural establishment, with seats respectively in both British Houses of Parliament. Their dealings towards each other were characterized by a caution and often a distance that had its origins in early life and is symbolized by their different surnames: respectively, Petty and Fitzmaurice. For Thomas was...

    • 2 Aunts, Wives, Courtiers: The Ladies of Bowood
      (pp. 51-78)
      Clarissa Campbell Orr

      This chapter will look not only at Shelburne’s female relations by birth and marriage but also relate these aristocratic networks to the royal court. This brings out a third element: the continuing Irish dimension in Shelburne’s personal life, despite his drive to repudiate a backwoods Irish destiny.

      As I have argued elsewhere, there are various reasons why we need to work harder at integrating our knowledge of the aristocracy and their political leadership with the role of the court.¹ Looking at courtier families leads naturally into looking at both women and men equally, as service in royal households was one...

    • 3 A Christian Whig: Lord Shelburne and the Latitudinarian Tradition
      (pp. 79-96)
      G.M. Ditchfield

      How important was religion to Lord Shelburne? For much of his life, his best-known religious connections were to be found among the leading figures of heterodox Dissent, notably Joseph Priestley, who served as his librarian and literary companion from 1773 to 1780, Richard Price, who became one of his closest confidants, and Thomas Jervis, a tutor to Shelburne’s son between 1772 and 1783. All three were Dissenting ministers with highly unorthodox opinions, particularly over the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, Shelburne allowed himself to become identified publicly with support for Dissenting causes in Parliament. However, we would also remember that...

    • 4 Lord Shelburne, Finance, and Sir Francis Baring
      (pp. 97-114)
      John Orbell

      The personal associations of politicians and bankers, while pregnant with potential for historians, have been remarkably little explored. This is not altogether surprising as their essence was informality and discretion, so consequently they are poorly documented and hard to pin down. They were probably at their most intense in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when banking was in the hands of private bankers acting in small partnerships and controlling their own capital. In charge of his destiny and possessing flexibility and discretion, the private banker was well placed to form associations with men of influence. Such relationships were not...

  13. Part Two: Politics

    • 5 Shelburne: A Chathamite in Opposition and in Government 1760–82?
      (pp. 117-140)
      Frank O’Gorman

      The political career of William, Earl of Shelburne has for two centuries been as much of an enigma to historians as it was to contemporaries. Indeed, Shelburne remains a controversial character and he is remarkably difficult to place. No agreed and coherent interpretation of his political career exists, perhaps because it is by no means easy to integrate the different elements in Shelburne’s background into a consistent interpretation of his political life: his Irish origins, his early military career, his fascination with the law, his Christianity, his free trade principles, his Whiggish elitism, and not least, his ambition.¹ Furthermore, it...

    • 6 Shelburne and Ireland: Politician, Patriot, Absentee
      (pp. 141-160)
      Martyn J. Powell

      In April 1784 the Hibernian Journal announced to its patriotic readership:

      we are now unequivocally convinced, that whether the arch-corrupter, North; the insinuating insidious Pitt; the profligate gambling Fox, or the apostate Renegade Shelburne, rules the Helm, the systematic Government of Ireland is Tyranny, Oppression, and an Iron Rod!¹

      Such hyperbole was unwarranted, but the core of the newspaper’s comment was correct. Few British politicians – including those of the longstanding opposition to Lord North during the American War – would put Irish interests before those of the empire. That said, there were subtle – and some not-so subtle – differences between the Irish...

    • 7 Lord Shelburne’s Ministry, 1782–3: ‘A Very Good List’
      (pp. 161-176)
      John Cannon

      Among the rather select band of Lord Shelburne’s admirers, the young Benjamin Disraeli, author of Coningsby and Sybil, stands out for his enthusiasm, verging on hyperbole. Shelburne, he declared, was one of the suppressed characters of English history, his administration had been brief but not inglorious, and Shelburne himself had been ‘the ablest and most accomplished minister of the eighteenth century’. It was, wrote Disraeli, a mystery that his ministry had failed, and a matter for sad speculation what great things it might have achieved. Shelburne’s administrative ability had been conspicuous and his performance in Parliament second only to that...

    • 8 Shelburne, the European Powers, and the Peace of 1783
      (pp. 177-194)
      Andrew Stockley

      Writing to Charles Jenkinson on 13 November 1782, Lord Shelburne noted that:

      Parliament and the Peace make Government a perfect Pandora’s box.… It is impossible for me to say whether I can conduct our Barque without losing some masts and endangering others.… But I will do my best.¹

      For making peace was complicated. At the start of 1782 Britain was still caught up in attempting to suppress the revolt of her American colonies. She was also at war with France, Spain, and the Netherlands. The War of American Independence involved armed conflict in the Channel, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic,...

  14. Part Three: The Bowood Circle Revisited

    • 9 ‘Opening the Door to Truth and Liberty’: Bowood’s French Connection
      (pp. 197-214)
      Robin Eagles

      When Lord Shelburne¹ underwent his ‘conversion’ to France, he did so with unfettered enthusiasm. As Derek Jarrett suggested, Englishmen encountering Paris and Parisians in the eighteenth century tended either to be excited or irritated by their experience. After his character-reforming visit of 1771, ‘Shelburne was one of the excited ones; and the importance of his excitement lay in the fact that most of those upon whom the traditional patriot movement had been built were among the irritated ones.’² Throughout the eighteenth century Paris and London vied with each other to be acknowledged the first cities of Europe, much as France...

    • 10 Lord Shelburne’s Constitutional Views in 1782–3
      (pp. 215-232)
      Edmond Dziembowski

      As suggested by the title of John Norris’s study, the name of Shelburne conjures up the idea of reform.¹ But what reform is it all about exactly? During his ministry from July 1782 to February 1783, Shelburne implemented a programme which combined the liberalization of trade with the reform of the tax system and the modernization of the administration. In Norris’s opinion, parliamentary reform and, to a larger degree, reform of the executive and legislative bodies, did not represent a priority in Shelburne’s ministerial agenda. Yet, a memoir written in 1783 by one of Shelburne’s best friends, the French abbé...

    • 11 Jeremy Bentham at Bowood
      (pp. 233-248)
      Emmanuelle de Champs

      Lord Shelburne (after 1785, Lord Lansdowne) has often been presented as Bentham’s ‘mentor’,¹ or ‘patron’, while Derek Jarrett, with a note of irony, called the utilitarian philosopher ‘another of [Lord Shelburne’s] tame intellectuals’.² In the later part of his life, Bentham was keen to repeat a flattering comparison Shelburne had made between their relationship and that of Bacon and Buckingham.³ These comparisons and simplifications do not do justice, however, to the relationship between Jeremy Bentham and Lord Shelburne.

      By focusing on the links between Bentham and Shelburne, this chapter will clarify the meaning of the phrase ‘the Bowood Circle’, when...

    • 12 Shelburne and Perpetual Peace: Small States, Commerce, and International Relations within the Bowood Circle
      (pp. 249-274)
      Richard Whatmore

      Providing an intellectual identity for William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and his Bowood Circle, has become something of a parlour game for interested historians.¹ The first problem is Shelburne’s character.² How could someone with such an antagonizing personality sustain a coherent group of any kind? Edmund Burke’s comments about Shelburne’s character in public and in private were vitriolic, but widely seconded by many who came into contact with him.³ Shelburne was likened to Gabriel Malagrida, the plotting Portuguese Jesuit who was found guilty of involvement in a plot to assassinate King Jose I at Lisbon in 1758. It is...

  15. Index
    (pp. 275-288)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-291)