Charles Watson-Wentworth 2d marquess of Rockingham

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Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd marquis of (1730–82). An often underrated politician, Rockingham contributed significantly to the emergence of a distinct Whig ideology. Although his two periods as prime minister (1765–6 and 1782) were brief and unhappy, Rockingham achieved a great deal as a party leader, despite a profound aversion to public speaking and recurrent bouts of ill-health. Having held a court appointment from 1751, Rockingham resigned in November 1762 and joined the opposition to Lord Bute. He was appointed 1st lord of the Treasury in 1765 and successfully orchestrated the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. Rockingham, nevertheless, believed in the necessary subservience of the colonies and repeal was accompanied by a Declaratory Act, asserting British legislative supremacy. Dismissed in March 1766 because of his continuing suspicions of Bute's influence, he remained in opposition for the next sixteen years. The Bute myth was integral to Rockinghamite ideology in the 1760s, but was gradually transcended by a more sophisticated interpretation which abandoned Bute as the target, but remained focused on secret influence. Rockingham and his followers constantly reiterated that they were the only true Whigs and, by force of repetition, a diffuse term was reclaimed: the Rockinghamites gradually developed a near monopoly of the title ‘Whig Party’. This ideology was unashamedly élitist: one central belief was that the country's natural leaders, the Whig aristocracy, had been excluded from power by George III. Much was made of the supposedly increased power of the crown and it was suggested that the political advantages derived from granting places and contracts ought to be reduced. economical reform, as this was called, was favoured rather than parliamentary reform. Rockingham was at best ambivalent towards the latter and, upon his regaining office in 1782, economical reform was adjudged sufficient for immediate circumstances. Rockingham's return to power, in the wake of Lord North's fall, was irresistible, since his party was the largest in opposition. Rockingham insisted on becoming 1st lord of the Treasury, but his premiership was undermined by the king's insistence on cabinet office for Shelburne, whom Rockingham rightly mistrusted. Ministers were soon at loggerheads and Rockingham's unexpectd death in July 1782 may have simply hastened a looming political crisis. Rockingham's party survived his death, led jointly by Charles Fox and Portland, confirming that this had become more than just a personal faction.

David Wilkinson


Hoffman, R. , The Marquis (New York, 1973).

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Charles Watson-Wentworth Rockingham, 2d marquess of (rŏk´Ĭng-əm), 1730–82, British statesman. In the early years of the reign of George III he became a leading opponent of the "king's friends," held several offices, and formed a coalition government in 1765. During his ministry the Stamp Act was repealed and conciliation with the American colonies attempted, but the administration fell in 1766. Rockingham continued to oppose the coercive colonial policy of the government. In 1782, at the fall of Lord North, he again formed a ministry. The war in America was already lost, and Rockingham died before the peace settlement could be reached. Rockingham's second ministry was marked by the repeal of Poynings's Law (see under Poynings, Sir Edward) and by measures to reduce corrupt practices in parliamentary elections.

See study by R. J. S. Hoffman (1973).