A Blupete Biography Page

The Duke of Newcastle:

Thomas Pelham Holles, The Duke of Newcastle, was one of the most influential ministers in Great Britain during the critical years when France and England fought over their possessions in North America.

Coming from the highest of circles, the land owning aristocracy, young Thomas was appointed the Duke of Newcastle by George the First in 1715. He was to become the Secretary of State for England and held that office for thirty years. In 1754, he succeeded as premier, but retired in 1756. In July of 1757 he was again made premier.

The political success of the Duke of Newcastle came about as a result of "his wealth, and long-practised skill in keeping majorities in the House of Commons by means that would not bear light ..." He was, in short, a "fantastic political jobber." When he again took the premiership, in 1757, he was compelled to take William Pitt into his ministry, who, fortunately for England, was to have "the supreme direction of the war and of foreign affairs ..."1

History has not treated Newcastle with any degree of respect: Parkman describes him on the basis of being a "preposterous figure" for a person "standing at the head of a nation." "He had a feverish craving for place and power, joined to a total unfitness for both. He was ... adept in personal politics, and was so busied with the arts of winning and keeping office that he had no leisure, even if he had ability, for the higher work of government. He was restless, quick in movement, rapid and confused in speech, lavish of worthless promises, always in a hurry, and [varied from being] ... timid, and rash."2 Von Ruville, Pitt's biographer, described Newcastle as having a "constant anxiety for his personal health, and the effeminacy which such anxiety produced." He could not make a decision. "He was a pessimist always grumbling and groaning; every unfavourable incident was for him the starting-point of appalling dangers." Further, there was "a treacherous, underhand, and perfidious strain in his character, strengthened by his continual efforts to shift responsibility from his own shoulders to those of others." To his credit: Newcastle "was a master of routine, and possessed great powers of application." Though far from being a genius, "his unusually long experience made him superior to more capable men in the ordinary conduct of business." "In the conduct of foreign policy he showed great insight and experience; every complication was clear to his mind, and he was able to calculate and to avail himself of every possible chance." However, as von Ruville continues to point out, "this power of insight was unable to cope with a difficult situation, as it was not supported by capacity for energetic action."3

Von Ruville poses the question: How did so ordinary a talent succeed in rising to power?

"... the answer is that we have here the results of the plutocratic system in their purest or impurest form. The duke was an unusually rich landowner, with a band of constituents at his beck and call. He had also succeeded in securing a large number of adherents among electors and numbers whose interests were strictly conjoined with his own. Thus, like a gigantic spider, he sat in the midst of a large and complicated web composed of a thousand different relations, political, economic, and ecclesiastical, and these in their totality were a very considerable power, and when circumstances were not too unfavourable, might become a decisive power in Parliament. The maintenance of this organization, by means of influence and bribery exerted upon individuals, was a specialty of the duke's. He was accurately informed of the prospects of success of any proposal. Before the voting day he arranged the members of each House in lists, labeled 'yes,' 'no,' and 'doubtful,' with the object of applying the leverage of promise or payment to the right spot. His great wealth enabled him to continue this system ..."4
Horace Walpole thought that Newcastle was one of those with "the perpetual air of a solicitor. ... He had no pride, though infinite self-love ... [he] was always doing it, never did it. He was forever plunging into difficulties, and then shuddered for the consequences." Walpole has left us with some delightful anecdotes. A General suggested to Newcastle that Annapolis really ought to be better defended. "To which he replied with his lisping, evasive hurry: `Annapolis, Annapolis! Oh, yes, Annapolis must be defended; to be sure, Annapolis should be defended, - where is Annapolis?" Another: "Captain C. treated the Duke's character without any ceremony. `This wiseacre,' said he, `is still abed; and I think the best thing he can do is to sleep on till Christmas; for when he gets up he does nothing but expose his own folly. In the beginning of the war he told me in a great fright that thirty thousand French had marched from Acadia to Cape Breton. Where did they find transports? said I. - Transports cried he, I tell you they marched by land. - By land to the island of Cape Breton! - What, is Cape Breton an island? -- Certainly -- Ha! are you sure of that? - When I pointed it out on the map, he examined it earnestly with his spectacles; then, taking me in his arms, - My dear C., cried he, you always being us good news. Egad! I'll go directly and tell the King that Cape Breton is an island.'"5


[1] Chambers.

[2] Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), p. 184. See, too, von Ruville's biography on Pitt (London: Heinemann, 1907) vol. 1, p. 247.

[3] Von Ruville, op. cit., pp. 248-9.

[4] ibid..

[5] Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), p. 184.


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Peter Landry