Newcastle, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st duke of

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Newcastle, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st duke of (1693–1768). Newcastle held important offices of state for over 40 years. The attention devoted to his personal idiosyncrasies, such as his incessant chattering and fear of damp beds, can lead to the more successful aspects of his career being overlooked.

Created a duke in 1715, Newcastle rose quickly to high office, becoming lord chamberlain in 1717 and secretary of state for the southern department in 1724. He was very much subordinate to fellow-secretary Townshend, but his prominence increased when Walpole edged Townshend out in 1730, though Walpole was to direct policy. As Walpole's grip on power loosened, Newcastle's loyalty loosened with it, and he successfully advocated war with Spain despite Walpole's misgivings. Walpole's fall in 1742 led to Carteret being promoted secretary for the northern department and he quickly won favour with George II. Newcastle and his brother Henry Pelham used parliamentary support to overwhelm Carteret's purely personal power and forced George II to dismiss him in 1744. In 1746 the Pelhams won control over the government, after resigning and obliging the king to invite them back.

Newcastle and Pelham, together with Newcastle's lifelong friend Hardwicke, ran the government 1746–54 upon a ‘broad-bottomed’ principle, including as many political factions as possible within it. In this they were successful, both brothers being masters of patronage and electoral strategy, but it made for a lacklustre administration. Though Henry Pelham as 1st lord of the Treasury quickly became the ‘prime’ minister, Newcastle retained very wide powers over foreign affairs and patronage, particularly in the Church of England. Newcastle showed his limitations very clearly during the War of the Austrian Succession; his grasp of military matters was poor, and his desire to conduct the war through subsidies to potentially friendly countries was expensive and unsuccessful.

The death of Henry Pelham in 1754 dealt Newcastle a heavy blow and the previously peaceful political situation immediately dissolved into bitter rivalry. Newcastle took the post of 1st lord, but could not bring himself to give a minister in the Commons real power and Pitt and Henry Fox subjected the government to heavy attack. War with France commenced to a string of military disasters which led Newcastle to resign in 1756. In an astonishingly short time, however, he returned as 1st lord in one of the most successful modern ministries, the Pitt–Newcastle coalition, 1757–61. Pitt brilliantly directed the war effort whilst Newcastle dealt with patronage and financial matters. The accession of George III in 1760 changed the political situation dramatically, and Newcastle soon followed Pitt out of office as the Seven Years War drew to a close.

The move to opposition was not easy for Newcastle. He was the link between the old Whigs of the Walpole era and the new Whigs guided by Rockingham, but although Newcastle served as lord privy seal in the Rockingham government 1765–6, he was increasingly marginalized. Throughout his career, Newcastle was most effective as deputy to a man of greater ability, be this Walpole, Pelham, or Pitt.

Andrew Iain Lewer


Kelch, R. , Newcastle (1974).

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Thomas Pelham-Holles duke of Newcastle

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