Shelburne, William Petty Fitzmaurice, Earl of
Shelburne, William Petty Fitzmaurice, Earl Of
SHELBURNE, WILLIAM PETTY FITZMAURICE, EARL OF. (1737–1805). British politician and prime minister. Born in Dublin, Fitzmaurice (later Petty) joined the Twentieth Regiment and served at Rochefort (1757), Minden (1759), and Kloster Kamp (1760). He was promoted colonel and appointed aide-de-camp to George III in 1760, and in 1761 he succeeded his father as earl of Shelburne. In 1763 he became president of the Board of Trade under George Grenville, fruitlessly challenging Lord Egremont's control of American policy and demanding equal access to the king. Quarreling with Lord Halifax, the other secretary of state, over the prosecution of John Wilkes, he tired of his position and resigned after only four months. Now an acolyte of William Pitt, earl of Chatham, in 1766 he supported the repeal of the Stamp Act, opposed the Declaratory Act, and became secretary of state for the Southern Department in Chatham's second ministry. In cabinet he unsuccessfully resisted Charles Townshend's duties and the persecution of Wilkes: when Chatham resigned in 1768, Shelburne went too. In opposition he spoke against the deployment of troops in Boston (1768), the Coercive Acts, and, at least at first, the war in America. However, his frequently declared opposition to American independence made him acceptable to George III as secretary of state in the second Rockingham government. He quarreled with Charles Fox, the other secretary, over the peace negotiations, and sent his own representative to Paris. When Rockingham died, Shelburne became prime minister. He concluded a separate peace with the Americans but at the price of accepting both independence and the American refusal to compensate Loyalists. These issues did not prevent ratification, but they brought his ministry down early in 1783. He did not return to office under William Pitt the younger in 1784 but was raised to marquess of Lansdowne.
revised by John Oliphant