Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle

For other people named Duke of Newcastle, see Dukes of Newcastle.
His Grace
The Duke of Newcastle
Prime Minister of Great Britain
In office
2 July 1757  26 May 1762
Monarch George II
George III
Preceded by The Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded by The Earl of Bute
In office
16 March 1754  16 November 1756
Monarch George II
Preceded by Henry Pelham
Succeeded by The Duke of Devonshire
Personal details
Born (1693-07-21)21 July 1693
Died 17 November 1768(1768-11-17) (aged 75)
Lincoln's Inn Fields, Camden, London
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Lady Harriet Godolphin (m. 1717)
Children None
Alma mater Clare College, Cambridge
Religion Church of England

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne and 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, KG, PC, FRS (21 July 1693 – 17 November 1768) was a British Whig statesman, whose official life extended throughout the Whig supremacy of the 18th century. He is commonly known as the Duke of Newcastle.

A protégé of Sir Robert Walpole, he served under him for more than twenty years, until 1742. He held power with his brother, Prime Minister Henry Pelham until 1754. He had at this point served as a Secretary of State continuously for thirty years—dominating British foreign policy.

After Henry's death the Duke was prime minister six years, in two separate periods. While his first premiership was not particularly notable, Newcastle precipitated the Seven Years' War; his weak diplomacy cost him the premiership.[1] After his second term as Prime Minister, he served for a short while in Lord Rockingham's ministry, before retiring from government. He was most effective as a deputy to a leader of greater ability, such as Walpole, his brother, or Pitt. Few politicians in British history matched his skills and industry in using patronage to maintain power over long stretches of time. His genius appeared as the chief party manager for the Whigs, 1715-1761. He used his energy and his money to select candidates, distribute patronage, and win elections. He was especially influential in the counties of Sussex, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. His greatest triumph came in the 1734 election.[2]

Outside the electoral realm, his reputation has suffered. Historian Harry Dickinson says that he became:

Notorious for his fussiness and fretfulness, his petty jealousies, his reluctance to accept responsibility for his actions, and his inability to pursue any political objective to his own satisfaction or to the nations profit ... Many modern historians have depicted him as the epitome of unredeemed mediocrity and as a veritable buffoon in office.[3]

Early life

Newcastle House which he inherited from his uncle in 1711, and used as his primary London residence, often throwing lavish parties there.

Thomas Pelham was born in London on 21 July 1693[4] the eldest son of Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham, by his second wife, the former Lady Grace Holles, younger sister of the John Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He studied at Westminster School and was admitted a fellow-commoner at Clare College, Cambridge in 1710.[5] Pelham's uncle died in 1711, and his father the next year, both leaving their large estates to their nephew and son. When he came of age in 1714, Lord Pelham was one of the greatest landowners in the kingdom, enjoying enormous patronage in the county of Sussex. One stipulation of his uncle's will was that his nephew add Holles to his name, which he faithfully did, thereafter styling himself as Thomas Pelham-Holles.[6] A long-standing legal dispute over the estate with his Aunt was finally settled in 1714.

He increasingly identified with Whig politics, like his father and uncle – but whereas they had been moderate in their views, he grew increasingly more partisan and militant in his views.[7] Britain at the time was very divided between Whigs who favoured the succession of George of Hanover after Queen Anne's death and Tories who supported the return of the Jacobite James Stuart, known later as the 'old pretender'. This issue dominated British politics during the last few years of Queen Anne's reign, leading up to her death in 1714 – and had a profound impact on the future career of the young Duke of Newcastle. He joined the Hannover Club and the Kit Kat Club, both leading centres of Whig thinking and organisation. Newcastle House in London became his premier residence.

Early political career

From 1720 Newcastle allied himself with Sir Robert Walpole. They would be political partners for the next twenty years, and Newcastle would remain a loyalist until Walpole's fall in 1742.

Newcastle vigorously sustained the Whigs at Queen Anne's death, and had much influence in making the Londoners accept King George I, even organising so-called 'Newcastle mobs' to fight with rival Jacobites in the street.[8]

His services were too great to be neglected by the new Hanoverian King, and in 1714 he was created Earl of Clare, and in 1715 Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne two titles previously held by his late uncle John Holles.[9] He also became Lord-Lieutenant of the Counties of Middlesex and Nottingham and a Knight of the Garter. In his new position he was in charge of suppressing Jacobitism in the counties under his control. In Middlesex he arrested and questioned eight hundred people, and then drew up a Voluntary Defence Association to defend the county. During 1715 he became involved in a riot that ended with two men being killed, and Newcastle fleeing along rooftops.[10] The succession of George I was secured in late 1715 by the defeat of a Jacobite army at the Battle of Preston and the subsequent flight of the Old Pretender.[11]

The victory of the Hanoverians over the Jacobites marked the beginning of the Whig Ascendancy which lasted for much of the 18th century. Because the Tory opposition had been tainted, in the eyes of George I, by their support of the Jacobite pretenders, he did not trust them, and drew all his ministers and officials from the Whig faction. Following their victory, the Whigs split with one group forming the government for George I, while the other dissident Whigs became the effective opposition in Parliament. After a period of political manoeuvring, during which time he was for a while associated with a Whig faction led by James Stanhope, from 1720 Newcastle began to identify strongly with the Government Whigs, who had quickly come to be dominated by Sir Robert Walpole.[12]

Walpole gladly welcomed the young Newcastle into his coterie, firstly because he believed he could easily control him, and secondly because it would strengthen his hand against the rival Whig factions.[13] Newcastle joined with Walpole because he, correctly, believed that he was going to dominate British politics for a generation. From 1721 Walpole began to serve as Britain's first official Prime Minister, a position he would hold for the next 21 years. He was related to Walpole's leading ally Charles Townshend, strengthening his bond with the leader of the new administration.

On 2 April 1717 he increased his Whig connections by marrying Lady Henrietta Godolphin the granddaughter of the Duke of Marlborough, a national hero following his victories in the recent European war and considered a Whig icon.[14]

Lord Chamberlain

Newcastle (left) and Henry Clinton, 7th Earl of Lincoln as painted by Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1721.

In 1717, at the age of twenty three, Newcastle first attained high political office as Lord Chamberlain of the Household, and was given the responsibility of overseeing theatres.[15] Plays at the time were often extremely political, and Newcastle was tasked with suppressing any plays or playwrights believed to be too critical of the Hanoverian succession or the Whig government. During this time Newcastle clashed repeatedly with Sir Richard Steele, a leading playwright.[16] In 1719 he was one of the three main investors in George Frideric Handel's new opera company, the Royal Academy of Music. The Duke ordered Handel in May 1719 to go to the continent and contract singers for as long as possible.

He held the post for seven years, and performed well enough to be considered for further promotion. Despite his youth, he had demonstrated his strength in several general elections when he had been able to get as many as twenty MPs elected to seats he controlled through his family's wealth and political patronage. He survived in the office during the turmoil in the Whig party between 1717 and 1721 and his switch of allegiance to Walpole secured his position thereafter. Walpole had overseen a brief end to the rift between the Whig factions, following the collapse of the South Sea Company, which had left thousands ruined. Newcastle himself had lost £4,000 he had invested when the South Sea Bubble was at its height.[17] Following this, Walpole was seen as the only man to steady both the country and the Whig Party, and was granted unprecedented powers, effectively making him the first Prime Minister of Great Britain.

During his time in the office, Newcastle and his wife had become famous for throwing lavish parties, which were attended by much of London society including many of his political opponents. He was also prodigiously fond of hunting and often went down to Bishopstone, one of his Sussex properties, expressly for this purpose.[18] During his time as Lord Chamberlain he oversaw a major overhaul of public buildings, many of which had fallen into very poor repair.[19]

Secretary of State


In 1724 Newcastle was chosen by Sir Robert Walpole to be Secretary of State for the Southern Department in place of Lord Carteret, a move largely engineered by Townshend. He had been for some time considered the third most important man in the government behind Walpole and Townshend, and his new position confirmed this. Newcastle had for several years been growing increasingly interested in Foreign Affairs, and had been educating himself on the subtle ins-and-outs of diplomacy and the European State System. In spite of this, for the first few years in this office he deferred control of British foreign policy to the other Secretary of State, Townshend, and effectively served as his deputy. Walpole too was generally happy to allow Townshend to control foreign affairs, as he agreed with him on most issues.

The French Alliance

Since the Treaty of Utrecht which had ended the last major European war, Britain had been an ally of France – a strong reversal in policy, as France had previously been considered the premier enemy of Britain.[20] The reasons for the alliance were complex, and many had doubted the détente could last long, but by the time Newcastle became Secretary of State they had been allies for nearly a decade. By 1719 they had become part of a wider Quadruple Alliance, which was overwhelmingly the most powerful force in European politics. This had been demonstrated during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, a largely naval war in the Mediterranean by which the powers had defeated a Spanish attempt to reclaim lost territory in Italy.[21] The alliance was unpopular, however, with many in parliament and in the country who continued to consider France Britain's natural enemy.

Newcastle in 1735 when he was Southern Secretary in the Walpole Government

Newcastle had been joined in government by his young brother Henry Pelham. The two brothers got on well, although they were prone to have intractable disputes. One constant source of tension between them was Newcastle's poor handling of the family fortune, which was being constantly depleted through his out of control spending. Pelham was also considered by many to be the abler of the two brothers, but it was the Duke who had got initially further in politics. In spite of their differences, they remained firm political allies.

Domestic crisis

The Administration faced a crisis in 1727 when George I died unexpectedly and his son George II succeeded to the throne.[22] The new King had previously had exceptionally bad relations with Walpole and Newcastle and during one altercation between them George's poor English had made Newcastle think he had challenged him to a duel.[23] Their relationship had not improved in recent years, and many anticipated the imminent replacement of the government. Instead Walpole made himself extremely useful to George II, who soon became convinced of his competence and retained him in his post. The thawing of relations was helped by the friendship between Newcastle and George's daughter Amelia leading many to speculate, without substantive evidence, that they were having an affair.[24] By November 1727 Walpole and Newcastle's positions were both safe once more, boosted by an election victory which saw them gain 430 seats to the opposition's 128 in the House of Commons.[25]

In 1729 a rift broke out in the government over the direction of Britain's foreign policy. Townshend was convinced that Britain's principal enemy was now Austria.[26] Walpole and Newcastle saw Spain as the main threat to British power, because of their large navy and colonial interests. Eventually Walpole had his way, forcing Townshend from office, and replacing him with Lord Harrington. From then on Newcastle served as the senior Secretary of State, and largely controlled British foreign policy himself. Newcastle was saddened by the demise of his relative and former patron, although their partnership had become increasingly strained and the new situation offered enormous possibilities to him personally.[27]

Peace policy

Together Newcastle and Walpole managed to drive a wedge between Spain and Austria, making an ally of the latter, and directing their future efforts against Spain. Subsequently, however, it turned out that Britain's long-term major rival was neither of the two but France, which had been considered a close ally up to that point. The increasingly confrontational actions of the French Prime Minister Cardinal Fleury soon convinced them that they had been wrong.[28] This misjudgment was later used by the Patriot Whigs to castigate the Ministry for their lack of preparation against the French threat.

King George II who reigned from 1727 to 1760. Despite their initial violent hatred of each other, he and Newcastle grew to have a very productive relationship which lasted for over three decades.

In general, Newcastle shared Walpole's abhorrence of war, and wished to prevent Britain getting dragged into major wars on the continent. Notably Britain did not become embroiled in the War of the Polish Succession, and indeed tried to prevent it from breaking out. Newcastle attempted to throw both the French and Austrians off-guard by being cagey about Britain's response should any war break out, but this did not stop the conflict.[29] Once the war had started, George II tried to push for Britain to honour its commitment to assist Austria, but he was blocked by Walpole who insisted Britain should not join the war. Newcastle broadly supported the same position as the King, but he accepted the decision.[30]

By this stage Newcastle's brother Henry Pelham had attained the lucrative position of Paymaster General, and had effectively replaced Townshend as the third man of the government. The three men continued what had become dubbed as the Norfolk Congress by meeting regularly at Houghton Hall, Sir Robert Walpole's country house in Norfolk. The three men would hold private meetings, draw up wide-ranging policies on foreign and domestic issues, and then present them to parliament for their seal of approval, which their vast majority allowed them to do. Slowly, however, Newcastle and his brother were moving out of the shadow of Walpole, and being more assertive. Newcastle was particularly annoyed by what he saw as the abandonment of Austria, and by the suggestion that Walpole no longer trusted him.[31]

By 1735 Newcastle had largely assumed control of colonial affairs, further increasing the amount of patronage he controlled. A devout Anglican, he was also given control over ecclesiastical matters, especially the appointment of bishops and lucrative positions in the Church of England.[32][33][34]

Newcastle's growing independence from Walpole, was helped by the support of his brother and his best friend, Hardwicke, who had become Lord Chancellor.[35] During the latter half of the decade his job was increasingly dominated by managing relations with Spain, which included trade disputes and objections to the controversial founding of the American colony of Georgia in 1733. Because of this the long-standing peace policy was beginning to look extremely fragile. He also acted as a mediator in the War of the Polish Succession, helping to bring the conflict to an end in 1738.

Jenkins' Ear and Spanish America

Main article: War of Jenkins' Ear

The growing tension between Britain and Spain came to a head in 1731 during an incident known as Jenkins' Ear, when a British merchant captain was captured for illegal trading off the coast of Cuba by a Spanish privateer, and in punishment for his alleged breach of the strict laws forbidding foreign commerce with Spanish colonies, he had an ear cut off.[36] The incident shocked Britain, not so much because of its brutality, but because many saw it as an outrage that Spain should have the temerity to harm a British subject simply for trading—which many held to be a legitimate occupation.[37]

In 1738 Jenkins appeared in parliament to testify about his treatment. Other merchants sent petitions, and the powerful South Sea Company mobilised popular opinion. To many the Spanish Empire was crumbling, and its South American possessions were ripe for the picking. A vociferous group in parliament demanded war with Spain. Walpole was adamantly opposed to such a policy, and became a target for unprecedented attacks.[38] Newcastle too came under intense pressure, though he initially considered the demands that Britain declare war with Spain a dangerous step and in spite of his increasingly bellicose statements, he still considered the idea of an Anglo-Spanish alliance as late as 1739. He tried to negotiate a solution to the crisis with the Convention of Pardo, which agreed a sum of compensation to be paid to British merchants[39] but British public opinion had shifted and Walpole felt that there was no option but to declare war in December 1739.

Newcastle enjoyed a close but at times strained relationship with his brother Henry Pelham. The two men formed a formidable political partnership following the fall of Walpole, and together dominated British politics until Henry's death in 1754.

The British opened the war with a victory, capturing Porto Bello in Panama. This led to an outbreak of patriotic fervour, and further increased the pressure on Walpole and Newcastle for their perceived unwilling prosecution of the war.[40] Newcastle tried to combat this by cultivating a reputation as the leading "patriot" of the cabinet. He took on additional military responsibilities and, for the first two years of war, served as a de facto Minister of War.[41] One of his most notable suggestions during the period was the recruitment of large numbers of troops drawn from the American colonies, whose growing manpower had previously gone largely untapped.

In 1741 the main British campaign against Spain was a combined amphibious attack on the South American city of Cartagena, which had experienced considerable delays. Command was awarded to Admiral Edward Vernon, the victor of Porto Bello, who was given a force of 31,000 soldiers and sailors to take the city. The siege proved to be a total disaster for the British, who lost thousands of men before being forced to withdraw. Although Newcastle had issued the orders, and had overseen the organisation of the expedition, much of the blame for the disaster fell on the shoulders of the ailing Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole.

Fall of Walpole

In the wake of the Cartagena disaster, Britain held a general election. The result reduced Walpole's former dominance of the House to a now unworkable majority. Within months he had been forced out of office, and succeeded by Lord Wilmington. Though he stayed with Walpole to the end, Newcastle was later accused by many of Walpole's supporters of undermining him.[42] Horace Walpole, his son, continued to attack Newcastle's behaviour for years to come.

Newcastle continued in office after Walpole's fall and became more powerful on his younger brother Henry Pelham becoming Prime Minister in 1743. Together the two brothers and their supporters known as the 'Old Whigs' made a coalition with the 'New Whigs', previous opponents of the Walpole government. In spite of this there remained a strident opposition, led vocally by men like William Pitt and Lord Sandwich.[43]

War of the Austrian Succession

Newcastle was a strong supporter of Austria, and advocated aid to the country during the War of the Austrian Succession. After the war he built his system for retaining peace around the alliance with Austria, only for it to collapse spectacularly in 1756.

In 1740 a short while after the declaration of war with Spain, a separate war had broken out simultaneously in Europe, into which the War of Jenkins' Ear soon became submerged. In a dispute over the throne of the Austrian Empire, France and Prussia had invaded Austria, planning to remove Empress Maria Theresa and replace her with their own claimant. Austria's long-standing alliance with Britain required Britain to declare war. It was also considered by many that a French victory would leave the French too strong in Europe. Because of this, Britain soon found itself dragged into this wider war despite the reluctance of the government.

Initially Britain's involvement was limited to financial subsidies and diplomacy in support of Austria, By 1742 it was apparent that a more substantial commitment would be needed, if the alliance were not to end in defeat. The same year 16,000 British troops were sent to the continent. Newcastle was a staunch Austrophile[44] and strongly supported aid to the Austrians. He had long thought the only way Britain could defeat France was in alliance with Austria, a view sharply at odds with many other leading thinkers of the era, including Walpole and Pitt.

Newcastle's position had briefly been threatened by Carteret, a royal favourite, but by 1743 he and his brother were firmly in control of British policy—a position that would last until 1756. He now set about drawing up a fresh scheme to enhance British power on the continent. This included an attempt to persuade the Dutch Republic into the anti-French alliance, and mediating the dispute between Austria and Prussia that led to the Treaty of Dresden in 1745. He also approved plans for a colonial raid against Louisbourg in 1745, which was successful. Along with the defeat of a Spanish Invasion of Georgia in 1742, this strengthened the British position in North America.

Jacobite Rising

In 1745 the Jacobite Rising broke out in Scotland, and had soon spread to northern England. Newcastle feared both an attack from the north by Bonnie Prince Charlie who had gathered 5,000 men in Derby and a French invasion of southern England. In the panic a number of false rumours circulated around London, including news that Newcastle had fled to the continent fearing all was lost. He was forced to show himself to a crowd that had gathered outside Newcastle House, to prove he was still there.[45] Nonetheless his position was threatened, if the Jacobites were triumphant his estates would likely have been confiscated and he would have been forced into exile.

Newcastle awoke to the threat posed by the Jacobites, much faster than George II or many of his colleagues who dismissed the rebellion as a farce, and organised a response. By late 1745 he had rallied all the southern militias and regular forces, and the Jacobites withdrew to northern Scotland where they were defeated at Culloden in 1746.

Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle

On the Continent the British continued the war effort, but they were now under pressure from the Dutch Republic to make peace with the French. The Dutch feared that the French were about launch a devastating onslaught to overrun their country. Newcastle considered that any peace that would be made at that time would be extremely disadvantageous to Britain, and he tried to keep the anti-French coalition strong through constant diplomacy and offers of financial subsidies.

Talks for a peace settlement were convened in the city of Breda in 1746. Newcastle was instrumental in securing the appointment of Lord Sandwich as the British representative at the talks, as his views were very close to his own.[46] Sandwich's instructions were principally to delay the talks, until a significant British victory allowed them to negotiate from a position of strength. The Congress of Breda did not progress well initially, because the participants were not yet fully committed to peace. The Allies continued to do badly, suffering severe defeats at Bergen op Zoom and Lauffeld. Newcastle's brother, Henry, was now strongly advocating peace, but Newcastle firmly rejected this—still convinced a major Allied victory was imminent.

In 1747 Newcastle was involved in organising a coup to put the Prince of Orange in power in the Netherlands. Orange was more hard-line and wanted to continue the war with the French. However, he soon had to apply to the British for a massive loan,[47] and Newcastle became aware how close the Dutch were to collapsing altogether. He reluctantly turned towards seeking a peace accommodation with France. He berated himself for his "ignorance, obstinacy and credulity" and half expected his misjudgment in putting so much faith in the Dutch to result in his dismissal,[48] but both the King and the rest of the cabinet retained their faith in him.

To better oversee the peace settlement, Newcastle switched across to the position of Northern Secretary. He secured Sandwich's promotion to the Admiralty although he had wanted him to succeed him as Southern Secretary.[49] During the summer of 1748 Newcastle made his first ever trip outside Britain when he visited Hanover, and was received with a rapturous reception wherever he went.[50] When the talks got under way they went far more smoothly and in October 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was formally concluded. Britain would give back Louisbourg to France in exchange for the return of Madras and a full French withdrawal from the Low Countries. The issue of free trade for which Britain had gone to war with Spain in 1739 was not mentioned at all.[51]

Newcastle was immediately attacked by his opponents for giving up Louisbourg, but many of them failed to realise just how weak the British position on the Continent had become.[52] Austria was also deeply unhappy as they felt the British had abandoned them, and hadn't pushed hard enough for Silesia to be returned to them.[53] Nonetheless Newcastle was happy with the terms that had been gained, and observers on the continent were full of praise about the way he had overturned so apparently a disadvantageous situation.

Newcastle's System

Following the peace, Newcastle began to put in practice a policy he had been developing for a very long time. He believed that the stately quadrille, which had seen states continually shifting alliances, had been unstable and led to repeated wars. He instead wanted to use vigorous diplomacy to create a lasting peace, built around a strong and stable British alliance with Austria. Like many Whigs he saw maintaining the European Balance of Power as essential. He described this process as 'restoring the Old System', but it was popularly known as the Newcastle System.

He came under continuous attack from Pitt and the Patriot Whigs who despised his European policy, pointing to their belief that the previous war had shown that increasingly North America was the most important theatre of war. They mocked Newcastle for his perceived lack of vision, ignoring the complex nature of European politics and Britain's relationship with Hanover and the fact that as early as 1740 Newcastle had been aware of the expanding power of the American colonies.

Newcastle remained extremely attentive to the Austrian Alliance. He spent several years trying to secure the election of Maria Theresa's son, the future Emperor Joseph II, as King of the Romans, a title of the Holy Roman Empire that carried enormous prestige but little real power—only to see this scheme fail because of Austrian indifference. During these years there were a number of warning signs that all was not well with the alliance, but Newcastle ignored most of them—convinced that neither Austria or Britain had any other serious potential allies to turn to. Referring to the election, Newcastle believed that if his scheme failed "France and Prussia will dictate to all the world".[54] He managed to broker a compromise at a Congress of Hanover whereby he had secured the election of Joseph. His triumph at the Congress was soon undermined by his failure to secure Austrian backing.

During these years he managed to successfully outmanoeuvre the Duke of Bedford, engineering his resignation and the dismissal of Lord Sandwich who Newcastle had now begun to consider a dangerously ambitious rival. The ease with which he did this demonstrated his total control of British politics, as Bedford led a strong faction. He had, however, made a significant enemy who would later try to undermine Newcastle.

In 1752 he made a rare trip abroad, accompanying George II on his annual trip to Hanover. During the visit, Newcastle made an attempt to cultivate Lord North, a future Prime Minister, as an ally into his political faction.[55] He was unsuccessful although the two became good friends, and North later spoke out in defence of Newcastle.

On Henry Pelham's death on 6 March 1754, Newcastle succeeded him as Prime Minister. He had initially hoped to stay in his role as Northern Secretary as he much preferred foreign affairs, but he was persuaded there was no other serious candidate and accepted the seals of office from the King in March.[56]

Prime Minister – first term

Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, by John Giles Eccardt, after Jean Baptiste van Loo, ca. 1740

Newcastle's first task was to select someone to represent the government in the Commons. To great surprise he rejected the favourites William Pitt and Henry Fox, and chose Sir Thomas Robinson — who had barely even been considered a candidate by most.[57] Newcastle was largely instrumental in appointing men considered slightly weaker so that he could dominate them. Both Pitt and Fox bore a grudge over this perceived slight, and stepped up their attacks on the Ministry.

During April-May 1754 Newcastle oversaw a general election, largely adopting the electoral strategy drawn up by his brother, and winning a large majority. His own personal ability to have MPs elected on his slate reached new heights.[58] He now felt emboldened enough to try and push through some financial reforms. He proposed measures to reduce the amount of interest paid to the Bank of England on the National Debt. His decision to do so may partly have been to deflect criticism that he was not sufficiently qualified on financial matters to control the Treasury.[59] At the same time he was still largely directing foreign policy and that was where his main emphasis was.


Main article: French and Indian War

The rivalry between Britain and France in North America had been growing for some time. Both coveted the Ohio Country which offered enormous potential for a new wealthy colony to be founded. Both nations sent military forces to occupy the territory. While the British set up the first initial post, they were driven out by a French expedition in 1754. Many wealthy Americans agitated for military action, but the preparations of the individual colonies for conflict were poor. There was pressure in London too from Patriot Whigs who felt the time was ripe for British America to expand into the interior.

For 1755 a major expedition was planned against the French in America. A force of British regulars would be sent to seize Ohio, while another of New England provincials would take control of Nova Scotia. A new Commander in Chief Edward Braddock would be appointed to oversee this, taking over from the fractious efforts of the colonial assemblies. The architect of this scheme was the Duke of Cumberland, who held enormous political sway at the time. Braddock was a favourite of his, though Newcastle had his doubts about both Braddock and the plans. Newcastle had temporary made an alliance with Henry Fox, whom he also disliked. Fox was a strong supporter of the campaign, forcing Newcastle's hand.

A few months after arriving in America, Braddock's force was engulfed by disaster at the Battle of Monongahela. Attacked by a mixed force of French and American Natives in the wilderness, more than half were killed, including Braddock. The remainder retreated back to Philadelphia, leaving the French in full control of the interior.[60] The Nova Scotia scheme had been more successful, but the Great Expulsion that had followed in its wake had created serious headaches for Newcastle.

All these events had taken place without war being formally declared. With the decline in the American situation, Newcastle was forced to abandon his plans for financial reform, as the money would instead need to be spent on military forces.

Loss of Minorca

Main article: Seven Years' War
William Pitt was the leader of the Patriot Whigs, and a constant thorn in Newcastle's side. Many were surprised when the two formed an electoral partnership in 1757.

While Newcastle had been paying attention to the American campaign, more pressing events in Europe demanded his attention. Austria had been growing increasingly wary, feeding into a long-standing belief that the British would abandon them when it came to crucial moments.[61] Newcastle's worst fears were confirmed in 1756 when Austria concluded an alliance with France (Diplomatic Revolution) suddenly throwing the whole balance of power in Europe askew.

Newcastle had hoped to prevent the outbreak of a major war in Europe by encircling France with hostile powers. He believed this would both deter them from attacking their neighbours and from sending reinforcements to North America.[62] He thought that the only way war could happen now was if Frederick the Great unilaterally attacked Austria which, given the clear disparity in numbers, he would be a "madman" to do.[63] Newcastle hoped he had managed to avert war in Europe, but in 1756 Frederick invaded Saxony and Bohemia triggering the major European war Newcastle had feared and failed to prevent. What had begun as a limited war in the Ohio country between Britain and France now took on global proportions.

Newcastle was widely blamed for Britain's poor start to the Seven Years' War and in November 1756 he was replaced by the Duke of Devonshire. Some had even called for his execution following the loss of Minorca in 1756.[64] Instead the commander of the British fleet John Byng was shot after a court-martial, which many considered a smoke screen to protect Newcastle.

For his long services he was created Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, with remainder to the 9th Earl of Lincoln, who had married his niece Catherine Pelham.

Interlude: The Devonshire Prime Ministership

Between 16 November 1756 and 25 June 1757, The Duke of Devonshire replaced Newcastle as Prime Minister, although Pitt is widely credited as the main influence on policy.

The Second Term


In July 1757 he again became Prime Minister – as Pitt could not control enough support in parliament. It is often incorrectly stated that Pitt was Prime Minister during the war, when in fact it was Newcastle who held the office. Their relationship grew into a fruitful partnership, and provided a determined leadership that some felt had been lacking for some time.

1759 became known as the 'Annus Mirablis' after Britain enjoyed victories on several continents as well as at sea. In November a French fleet planning to invade England was defeated at Quiberon. Much of the credit went to Pitt rather than Newcastle

On paper it was an implausible alliance.[65] Pitt had been a strident critic of Newcastle for years, and they had separate, conflicting visions of strategy. Newcastle's saw Britain's best chance of victory in directing resources to the war on the continent, while Pitt wanted a wholesale shift in policy to concentrate British forces in North America, West Africa and Asia where the French were most vulnerable. In spite of this they shared some views, were both ardent Whigs, and had once before tried to create a political alliance. Newcastle had previously tried to have Pitt appointed Secretary of War in 1745, but George II had vetoed the appointment.[66]

Seven Years' War

Ultimately British policies were formed of a mixture of these two views. Newcastle insisted on British involvement on the continent to tie down French troops, while at the same time authorising a number of expeditions against French colonies. As they were successful the expeditions began to grow in number and size. Pitt largely took over control of directing them, while Newcastle rubber-stamped them and made sure that parliament was kept on side by mobilising his control of MPs. However Pitt and Newcastle would discuss strategy along with a small number of other figures such as Hardwicke, Anson and Ligonier.

Newcastle had been deeply concerned by Britain's poor start to the war, particularly by the loss of Minorca and the French occupation of key ports in the Austrian Netherlands. To try and boost Britain's position in the Mediterranean he pushed for an invasion of Corsica, then controlled by neutral Genoa, to use as a naval base or for a British attack on Ostend to drive the French out. Pitt was alarmed that either of these prospects would lead Britain into conflict with Austria or Genoa who they were not at war with. Instead, to placate Newcastle and George II, Pitt agreed to send a British contingent to fight in Germany in 1758.


From 1758 Pitt began despatching expeditions around the world to seize French colonies. In 1758 they captured Senegal and Gambia in West Africa and Louisbourg in North America. He planned to intensify this the following year by despatching large expeditions to the West Indies and Canada. To do this Pitt stripped the British Isles of troops and ships which caused Newcastle to worry that they were ill-defended. His fears increased when the British received intelligence of French plans to launch an invasion of Britain. Pitt was determined to press ahead with that year's plans, but agreed to lessen the scale of colonial expeditions for 1760, as he expected that 1759 would provide a knock-out blow to the French war effort.

Newcastle had retained his previous belief that Britain needed to create as broad a coalition as possible, and that events in Europe rather than the Americas would be decisive, and to this end he attempted to persuade a number of different states to join the anti-French alliance. He was largely unsuccessful, as the Dutch, Danes and Portuguese remained neutral while Sweden and Russia joined the French and Austrians in attacking Prussia. In the absence of this, he authorised large sums to be paid as subsidies to the Prussians, who were fighting countries whose land forces dwarfed their own.

One of Newcastle's greatest personal achievements in this period was his use of diplomacy to keep Spain out of the war until 1762, by which time it was too late to significantly alter the balance of power. In 1759 he and Pitt organised Britain's defences against a planned French invasion which failed because of British naval victories at Lagos and Quiberon.


Under this "Broad bottom government", Britain became famous abroad, but it gradually fell before the affection of the new King, George III – for Lord Bute, who, after supplanting Pitt, became Prime Minister in place of Newcastle in May 1762. George III had described Pitt as a "snake in the grass" and Newcastle as a "Knave".[67] Despite the undeniably competent prosecution of the war, the new King did not trust either man with the future of Britain and cast them both into opposition. It marked arguably the last occasion on which a British monarch was able to remove a Prime Minister purely because of personal animosity, a privilege that would in future be entirely ceded to parliament. As Bute was a Tory, it marked the end of the Whig monopoly on government which had lasted since the Hanoverian Succession in 1714.

Later years

Newcastle spent much of his last few years at Claremont. He was exceptionally proud of the house and its extensive gardens on which he had spent a fortune.


The Duke went into opposition, and lost his two Lord-Lieutenancies for opposing the peace of 1763. Along with Pitt he felt the terms of peace were overly generous to France and Spain, considering the position of strength the British held. A number of the territories captured during the war were handed back, though the French presence had been effectively destroyed for good in Canada and India.

He spent much of his time at his house at Claremont, which he considered one of his finest achievements. Newcastle had been in government for almost forty five continuous years, and he initially enjoyed the new freedom that opposition gave him.

Final return

In 1765 he became Lord Privy Seal in the government of Lord Rockingham.[68] Rockingham shared many similarities with Newcastle, and the two men were both wealthy Whig grandees. Newcastle was at one point offered the position of Southern Secretary by the King, but turned it down. He lasted in this post for a few months before the government collapsed, to be replaced by that of the Duke of Grafton.


He remained in active opposition, although he accepted he would not hold office again.[69] He continued to wield enormous patronage and influence, but his health fast gave way following a stroke in December 1767 which left him lame and impaired in speech and memory.[70] In his final few months he had counselled against the coercive acts on British America. He died in November 1768, aged 75, at his London home in Lincoln's Inn Fields. After his death Claremont was sold to Robert Clive who had made his name in the Seven Years' War.

The Duke was industrious and energetic, and to his credit be it said that the statesman who almost monopolised the patronage of office for half a century twice refused a pension, and finally left office £300,000 poorer than he entered it because of his heavy spending on political campaigns, his lavish life style, and his neglect of the family budget.[71]


Newcastle was widely caricatured, often being portrayed as a muddle-headed buffoon who struggled to understand the business of government. He was one of the most ridiculed politicians of the 18th century.[72] A common and widely circulated example of his cluelessness is his reported response to being told by Ligonier that Annapolis needed to be defended, to which Newcastle allegedly replied "Annapolis! Oh yes, Annapolis must be defended, to be sure. Annapolis must be defended—where is Annapolis?".[73][74]

Horace Walpole, no friend of him, sketched his character thus: "A borrowed importance and real insignificance gave him the perpetual air of a solicitor... He had no pride, though infinite self-love. He loved business immoderately; yet was only always doing it, never did it. When left to himself, he always plunged into difficulties, and then shuddered for the consequences."[73]

Historical opinion has generally been divided, with some historians drawing the conclusion that he was unfit for his office, while others regard him as a shrewd political operator, who subtly navigated the complex European State System of the 18th century. He is both praised and criticised as being perhaps the greatest "machine politics" operator of the 18th century, who commanded immense voting strength in parliament. He could often organise majorities in the House of Commons for seemingly perplexing, unpopular and absurd policies of the government.

Generally praise for Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War has gone to Pitt rather than Newcastle, despite the fact it was he who officially headed the government. Traditionally, accounts of the war have portrayed Pitt as a visionary who won the war by reversing Newcastle's previous unwise policy of focusing on European affairs; Francis Parkman records correspondence between Pitt and his military administrators, and none between them and Newcastle. Others have defended Newcastle by contrasting his 'continental policy' with the Lord North's failure to gather European allies during the American War of Independence which led to Britain's eventual defeat in this conflict.

He was portrayed in the novel Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett as a bungling fool, ignorant of all geography, who is convinced that Cape Breton is not an island.[75] Newcastle was played in the 1948 film Bonnie Prince Charlie by G.H. Mulcaster. He also features in the British television series City of Vice which covers the early years of the Bow Street Runners.


Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

In 1718 the Duke married Lady Harriet Godolphin, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Godolphin and granddaughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. The Duchess suffered from poor health and the couple had no children.[76]

In 1731, at Houghton Hall, Sir Robert Walpole's country house in Norfolk, the Duke, with the Duke of Lorraine (later the Holy Roman Emperor), was made a Master Mason by the Grand Master, Lord Lovell, at an Occasional Lodge. In 1739, at the creation of London's Foundling Hospital, he acted as one of the charity's founding governors.[77]


With the prospect that the dukedom of Newcastle upon Tyne would become extinct once again, King George II also created the Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne in 1756, with a special remainder for inheritance through his nephew, the 9th Earl of Lincoln.

In addition, in 1762 he was also created Baron Pelham of Stanmer, with inheritance to his cousin and male heir, Thomas Pelham.

On his death in 1768, the title Baron Pelham of Stanmer, together with the bulk of the Pelham estates in Sussex and the Duke's private papers, were left to Thomas, who was later created Earl of Chichester. Pelham and his brother were buried at All Saints' Church in Laughton, East Sussex.[78]

The Holles/Clare estates, meanwhile, together with his Newcastle dukedom, were inherited by Lord Lincoln, from whom the Duke had by then become estranged.

Styles of address



  1. Basil Williams, The Whig Supremacy 1714-1760 (2nd ed. 1962) pp 352-53.
  2. Williams, The Whig Supremacy 1714-1760 (1962) pp 28-29.
  3. Harry T. Dickinson, "Newcastle" in David Loads, editor, Readers Guide to British History (2003) 2:951-2
  4. Browning p.1
  5. "Pelham, Thomas (PLHN709T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. Browning p.2–3
  7. Browning p.6–10
  8. Browning p.10
  9. Browning. ODNB online Ed
  10. Browning p.9–10
  11. Browning p.10–11
  12. Browning p.23–25
  13. Browning p.25
  14. Browning p.12–13
  15. Browning p.14
  16. Field p.350–352
  17. Browning p.23
  18. Browning p.5
  19. Browning p.14–15
  20. Rodger Command of the Ocean p.227
  21. Simms p.138
  22. Browning p.51
  23. Simms p.126
  24. Browning p.62–63
  25. Browning p.53
  26. Browning p.49–50
  27. Simms p.219
  28. Simms p.216–17
  29. Browning p.66–67
  30. Browning p.67–68
  31. Browning p.73–76
  32. Stephen Taylor, "'The Fac Totum in Ecclesiastic Affairs'? The Duke of Newcastle and the Crown's Ecclesiastical Patronage." Albion 24#3 (1992): 409-433.
  33. Donald G. Barnes, "The Duke of Newcastle, Ecclesiastical Minister, 1724-54." Pacific Historical Review 3.2 (1934): 164-191. in JSTOR
  34. Norman Sykes, "The Duke of Newcastle as Ecclesiastical Minister." English Historical Review 57.225 (1942): 59-84. in JSTOR
  35. Browning p.78–82
  36. Rodger. Command of the Ocean. p.235
  37. Simms p.248
  38. Simms p.247–252
  39. Browning p.95
  40. Rodger Command of the Ocean p.236–37
  41. Browning p.94–97
  42. Simms p.302
  43. N.A.M Rodger Lord Sandwich p.18
  44. Browning p.102
  45. Browning p.132
  46. Rodger The Instatiable Earl p.41–42
  47. Browning p.149
  48. Browning p.150
  49. Rodger The Instatiable Earl p.58–59
  50. Browning p.152–53
  51. Browning p.154–55
  52. Simms p.351–52
  53. Browning p.
  54. Murphy p.41
  55. Whiteley p.13
  56. Browning p.194
  57. Browning p.198–99
  58. Browning p.204
  59. Browning p.207–08
  60. Anderson p.105
  61. Simms p.167–68
  62. Simms p.672–73
  63. Anderson p.129
  64. Simms p.675
  65. McLynn p.95
  66. Browning p.133
  67. Hibbert p.27
  68. Browning p.322
  69. Browning p.322–23
  70. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 27. Oxford University Press. 2004. pp. 728–729.Article by Reed Browning.
  71. Ray A. Kelch, Newcastle: A Duke without Money (1974)
  72. Whitely p.26
  73. 1 2 Parkman, p.88
  74. McLynn p.96–97
  75. McLynn p.97
  76. Sir Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme
  77. Nichols and Wray p. 345
  78. ThPelODNB.


Political offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Bolton
Lord Chamberlain
Succeeded by
The Duke of Grafton
Preceded by
The Lord Carteret
Secretary of State for the Southern Department
Succeeded by
The Duke of Bedford
Preceded by
The Earl of Chesterfield
Secretary of State for the Northern Department
Succeeded by
The Earl of Holdernesse
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Preceded by
Henry Pelham
Prime Minister of Great Britain
16 March 1754 – 16 November 1756
Preceded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Prime Minister of Great Britain
2 July 1757 – 26 May 1762
Succeeded by
The Earl of Bute
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Earl of Egremont
Preceded by
The Duke of Marlborough
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
William Pitt the Elder
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Buckingham
and Normanby
Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex
Succeeded by
The Earl of Northumberland
Custos Rotulorum of Middlesex
Title last held by
The Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire
Succeeded by
The Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull
Preceded by
The Lord Ashburnham
Vice-Admiral of Sussex
Title next held by
The Earl of Ashburnham
Preceded by
Henry Pelham
Oldest living Prime Minister of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Earl of Chatham
Preceded by
The Earl of Abergavenny
Lord Lieutenant of Sussex
Succeeded by
The Earl of Egremont
Preceded by
The Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull
Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire
Succeeded by
The Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne
Preceded by
The Duke of Dorset
Senior Privy Counsellor
Succeeded by
The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne
Succeeded by
Henry Pelham-Clinton
Baron Pelham of Stanmer
Succeeded by
Thomas Pelham
Earl of Clare
New creation
Title last held by John Holles
Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
3rd creation
Preceded by
Thomas Pelham
Baron Pelham of Laughton
Baronetage of England
Preceded by
Thomas Pelham
(of Laughton)
Succeeded by
Thomas Pelham
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