Rockingham, Charles Watsonwentworth, Second Marquess of

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Rockingham, Charles Watsonwentworth, Second Marquess of

ROCKINGHAM, CHARLES WATSONWENTWORTH, SECOND MARQUESS OF. (1730–1782). British prime minister. Born in Yorkshire on 13 May 1730, Wentworth entered Eton in 1738 and from 1746 to 1750 (when he succeeded his father as marquess of Rockingham) studied under tutors in Geneva and in Italy. He served as prime minister from 1765 to 1766. His profound belief in parliamentary supremacy and instinct for compromise led him to drive through the Declaratory Act alongside the repeal of the Stamp Act. As the leader of a faction in Parliament who opposed Lord North's American policy, he condemned the Boston Tea Party and supported the Coercive (or Intolerable) Acts and the Quebec Act of 1774; nevertheless he demanded the repeal of Charles Townshend's tea duty. An indolent politician prone to blame failure on court conspiracies, his leadership of the Rockingham Whigs was due primarily to his immense wealth and charm. During the war he defended Vice-Admiral Augustus Keppel in his court-martial (1778), attacked the earl of Sandwich's management of the navy, and organized the defense of Hull against American naval officer John Paul Jones. Not until 1780 did he reluctantly conclude that American independence was inevitable. When Lord North fell in 1782, Rockingham became prime minister again; but his cabinet was split between the views of Charles Fox and William Shelburne over the timing of a grant of independence. Rockingham died on 1 July before the dispute could be resolved.

SEE ALSO Declaratory Act; Fox, Charles James; Intolerable (or Coercive) Acts; North, Sir Frederick; Quebec Act; Shelburne, William Petty Fitzmaurice, earl of; Stamp Act; Townshend Acts.


O'Gorman, Frank. The Rise of Party in England: The Rockingham Whigs, 1760–82. London: Allen and Unwin, 1975.

                            revised by John Oliphant

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Rockingham, Charles Watsonwentworth, Second Marquess of

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