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The Duke Of Newcastle

First Lord of the Treasury 1754 - 56 and 1757- 62

Thomas Pelham-Holles was born 21st July 1693, eldest son of the 1st Baron Pelham. After graduating from Cambridge University, Thomas inherited his father's estate. In 1715 he raised a troop of men to help defend George I against an attempt to put the deposed Stuart dynasty back on the throne. He was made Duke of Newcastle in recognition of his efforts. Entering government Newcastle quickly made a career as a political fixer, oiling the wheels of government with money, charm, persuasion, and the lure of important government appointments. These talents were put to work as secretary of state 1724 - 54, first for the Robert Walpole administration, and then for the government of his brother, Henry Pelham. For thirty years Newcastle did the donkey work of government. H.T. Dickinson in The Prime Ministers writes that Newcastle's "untiring and single-minded devotion to the tedious and even dirty electoral business made him unique among important ministers of state. Newcastle was prepared to spend his time, his nervous energy and his own fortune on the kind of work that other magnates and other ministers shirked." (The Prime Ministers Vol 1 P 177) Whether this supreme fixer would make a good prime minister was another matter. But when Henry Pelham unexpectedly died in March 1754, George II found himself in a quandary about who to call as his first minister. Even though William Pitt was the most powerful figure in Parliament, his abrasiveness did not make him a natural choice. Henry Fox was distrusted for his lack of principle, William Murray for his possible sympathy for the Stuarts who had been deposed to make way for the safely protestant Hanoverian kings. This only left the Duke of Newcastle amongst senior figures. So Newcastle became first lord, and quickly lost the confidence of Parliament. His plan for a web of alliances to keep France in check soon fell apart. Newcastle resigned in 1756, but his replacement, the Duke of Devonshire, could only rally enough support to continue government for a short time. So Newcastle returned to the premiership. Officially he was prime minister, when in fact he reprised the role he'd played with his brother. He went back to being a fixer for a better leader, in this case the formidable secretary of state William Pitt. The Newcastle Pitt administration was then to fight the Seven Years War with France, with Newcastle contributing stability, and money through his contacts in the City of London, while Pitt gave leadership.


Many histories present a fairly orderly progress, from monarchical government to parliamentary democracy. But history is not neat and tidy. H.T. Dickinson suggests that during these years there was no real prime minister, and each government department was responsible directly to the king. Or you might say that in Parliament Newcastle himself played the role of a king, a man without real power, who acted as a figurehead to give a sense of unity. This arrangement worked well. By 1760 Britain had reached a peak of power and success, with victories at Quebec and Montreal over the French securing a huge North American empire. It was only the succession of George III which disrupted the system. George as a young new king wanted to assert himself. He had spent his youth chatting about politics, and putting the world to rights, with his tutor the Earl of Bute. Predictably George III thought his tutor had all the answers. Using Parliament's natural argumentative divisiveness George quickly moved against the government he had inherited. Pitt resigned in October 1761, and Newcastle in May 1762. Then George III gave his hapless tutor the job of prime minister, and Bute was soon to find that spouting off in a classroom was very different to the reality of power.