William Henry Cavendish Bentinck 3d duke of Portland

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Portland, William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd duke of (1738–1809). Portland began his career as a follower of Newcastle and rose to the status of second in command to Rockingham, succeeding the latter as official head of the Whig opposition in 1782. He shared the leadership with the party's principal Commons spokesman, Charles Fox, whose charismatic personality has obscured Portland's underrated role. As nominal premier during the short-lived Fox–North coalition ministry, Portland conducted a series of difficult negotiations with the king, which belie his reputation for weakness and indecision. The India Bill crisis, which precipitated the fall of the coalition, set the pattern of politics for a decade, with Portland and Fox the twin leaders of an increasingly organized Whig opposition. Although Portland was a hard-working party organizer, the limitations of his leadership were revealed both during the Regency crisis and, more seriously, by the repercussions of the French Revolution, heralded by Burke's jeremiads. The duke long resisted the pressure to break with Fox, but in 1794 led the conservative Whigs into coalition with Pitt. As home secretary (1794–1801) Portland favoured the use of surveillance and repression to counter the threat of radicalism. He was also a prime mover in the recall of Fitzwilliam from Ireland in 1795 over the question of catholic emancipation—though the assertion that this amounted to a betrayal is not borne out by the surviving evidence. The Fitzwilliam episode contributed to the decline of the Portland Whigs as a distinct group within the ministry and by the early 19th cent. Portland had ceased to be a party leader, but had become an elder statesman, respected by the king. For this reason the aged and infirm duke became the figurehead prime minister (1807–9) in a ministry containing the germs of the Toryism that was later to flourish under Liverpool. Portland's career ended on a sour note with the unseemly duel between two of his cabinet colleagues, Canning and Castlereagh, an event for which the duke's misguided prevarication must be held partly responsible.

David Wilkinson

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Portland, William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of (1738–1809) British statesman, prime minister (1783, 1807–09). He was briefly made prime minister at the end of the American Revolution. As home secretary (1794–1801), Portland helped William Pitt (the Younger) draft the Act of Union (1801). His second ministry ended in a feud between Canning and Castlereagh.