Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Right Honourable Henry Pelham, Prime Minister

by Lauren Gilbert

 Henry Pelham was the second son of Sir Thomas Pelham, baronet, a prominent mover of the Revolution that placed William & Mary on the throne. Sir Thomas was a Whig, and was raised to peerage as Baron Pelham. Henry’s mother was Grace Holles, the daughter of Gilbert, Earl of Clare. He was born in 1696, admitted to Hart-hall in the University of Oxford Sept 6 1710, at age 15.

On July 22, 1715, Henry was appointed Captain in General Dormer’s regiment. This appears to be his first and only commission. He served during the rebellion of 1715, and was known to have participated in the battle of Preston in Lancashire, where the Jacobites were defeated. It seems probable that he did not continue in the army.

On October 29, 1726, Henry Pelham married Lady Catherine Manners, daughter of John Manners, second Duke of Rutland. Rutland also had Whig connections: his father was a Whig, and Catherine’s sister Elizabeth married John Monckton, Viscount Galway, who was also a Whig. They had eight children, including two sons who both died in 1739. They also had six daughters, four of whom lived to adulthood: Catherine, Countess of Lincoln (married Henry Fiennes Pelham-Clinton, a first cousin) 1727-1760; Frances Pelham (never married) 1728-1824; Grace, Baroness Sondes 1735-1777 (married Lewis Watson, Baron Stokes of Lees Court); and Mary Pelham 1739-?, who also never married.

Henry Pelham was, of course, a Whig (this would appear inevitable with his own family tradition subsequently reinforced by his wife’s connections as well as his personal convictions). As so many other second sons did, he turned to politics to make his way. In February 1719, he went into Parliament for the borough of Seaford in Sussex (thanks to family influence). In 1720, he was appointed treasurer of the chamber, thanks to recommendation by Lord Townshend, (the president of the council and his brother-in-law) and Robert Walpole (paymaster of the forces). On May 6, 1720, he made his first speech in the House of Commons.

Henry’s alliance with Robert Walpole, later Lord Orford, continued. When Lord Townshend was returned to his post and secretary of state and Mr Walpole to his post as minister of finance in 1721, Henry was called to the Treasury Board. Mr. Walpole took note of Henry’s diligence and hard work. He was returned as one of the members for Sussex, and continued to represent that county for the rest of his life.

He served as Secretary at War from 1724 until 1730, when he was awarded the advantageous position of paymaster of the forces. In his various positions, he became known for his civility and candour, as well as his hard work and dependability, and was widely respected. He also developed a friendship with Henry Fox, another of Walpole’s supporters.

Henry Pelham’s older brother Thomas, Duke of Newcastle was in the cabinet. They formed an effective political partnership. His brother appears to have been more emotional, sensitive and jealous (the Duke expected deference to his opinion, worried that others had greater influence), while Henry was calmer and more rational. In their working partnership, the Duke was more flamboyant, while Henry was quieter, more “behind the scenes” in the House of Commons. Their combined influence in both houses of Parliament strengthened the stability of the government. Although they did disagree sometimes which caused some stress and difficulty, they managed to maintain a good working relationship and affectionate personal relationship.

The Duke was also a political ally of Robert Walpole. In 1724 he became Secretary of State after Lord Carteret was dismissed, thanks to the influence of Mr Walpole and Lord Townsend.

Lord Carteret was a favourite of George II and actively lobbied the King against the Whigs who were hostile to the King’s foreign policy, which was heavily weighted for the support of Hanover, at the perceived cost for England. Pelham was not a proponent of the wars, and was particularly disturbed by the amount of money required to maintain them. Robert Walpole and Pelham had managed to allay some of the king’s distrust, but Pelham resigned when King George II refused to approve offices for Pitt and Fox. Carteret’s choice Lord Granville was recalled but unable to form a government. Pelham et al returned very quickly.

Pelham served as prime minister 10 years, and was noted for his ability to work with and unite multiple political factions. Although the financial scandals that affected Walpole and Fox seem to have touched him, there appears to have been no significant effect on his career.

Although Henry Pelham’s administration was not particularly flamboyant, and I found several references implying that the successes of his administration were more due to his brother the Duke’s influence, there were significant accomplishments:

He is credited with the reduction of the national debt 1747-48 (improved credit, interest reduced to 3%).

He worked to end of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748, which resulted in peace with France and trade with Spain.

He supported the Consolidation Act 1749 which was passed and resulted in the reorganization of the Royal Navy.

The calendar was reorganized (in 1751, New Year’s Day changed from March 25 to January first; in 1752, the adoption of Gregorian Calendar was passed).

Pelham attempted several social reforms and, although he did not achieve all he attempted, his administration succeeded in the passage of the “Jew Act” of 1753 which allowed Jews to become naturalized by applying to Parliament, and the Marriage Act of 1753 (aka the Hardwicke Act) which established the minimum age of consent for marriage.

His was a relatively stable administration, with several years of peace.

Henry Pelham died unexpectedly in March 6, 1754. He had had a succession of illnesses during his life, and his sudden death was said to be the result of having eaten too much and exercised too little. He was succeeded by his brother the Duke of Newcastle. At his death, George II, who had not particularly liked Pelham, said, “Now I shall have no peace.”

Sources of information about Henry Pelham include:

Chancellor, E. Beresford. Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s. 1922: Brentano’s, New York.

Tillyard, Stella. ARISTOCRATS Caroline, Emily, Louisa & Sarah Lennox 1740-1832. 1994: Chatto & Windus, London.

Williams, E. N. Life in Georgian England. 1962, 1967: B. T. Batsford LTD, London.

GoogleBooks. Coxe, William. Memoirs of the Administration of the Right Honourable Henry Pelham, Collected from the Family Papers, and Other Authentic Documents. Vol. I. 1829: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, London.

Gov.UK. Past Prime Ministers. “Henry Pelham Whig 1743 to 1754.”

The Peerage online. “Rt. Hon. Henry Pelham.” Person Page 1595.

The University of Notthingham-Manuscripts and Special Collections. “Biography of Henry Pelham (c. 1696-1754; Prime Minister).;primeminister).aspx

The World of Heyerwood blog. “An Almack’s Mystery: Who was Miss Pelham?” by Lauren Gilbert, posted 1/12/2014.


Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel. A long-time member of JASNA and life-long reader of historical novels, she lives in Florida with her husband and is working on her second novel.

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