Shelburne, William Petty, 2nd earl of

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Shelburne, William Petty, 2nd earl of (1737–1805). Shelburne was intelligent and able, but deemed untrustworthy by most of his social and political equals. He entered the army in 1757, became an MP in 1760, and went to the Lords in 1761, succeeding his father as earl of Shelburne and Baron Wycombe. Initially a follower of Bute, he shifted his allegiance to the elder Pitt (later earl of Chatham) and served under him, from 1766, as southern secretary. Chatham's illness left his ministry rudderless and prone to squabbling. Shelburne was frequently at odds with his colleagues and after a disagreement over foreign policy with the de facto premier, Grafton, was marked for dismissal. Grafton only withheld sentence for fear of precipitating Chatham's resignation. From his sick-bed, Chatham misread the situation and, believing Shelburne to have been removed, resigned. This comedy of errors was straightened out, but the net result was the departure of Shelburne and Chatham. After Chatham's death in 1778, Shelburne was the leader of the Chathamites and consequently mistrusted by the Rockinghamites, who referred to him as Malagrida, an infamous Jesuit schemer. The fall of North in 1782 presented George III with an uncongenial recourse to opposition, which he mitigated by playing off Shelburne against the Rockinghamites. Shelburne was a willing accomplice and cultivated the king's personal favour. As home secretary (March–July 1782), he created difficulties over patronage and was at variance with the foreign secretary, Charles Fox, over the peace negotiations, which involved both their departments. Shelburne employed his own representatives in Paris and tried to undermine the Rockinghamite policy of conceding, from the outset, American independence. Rockingham's death in July 1782 precipitated a cabinet crisis, with the king insisting on Shelburne's succession to the premiership. Fox and the firmer Rockinghamites resigned and then coalesced with the Northites to force Shelburne's resignation in February 1783. Although created marquis of Lansdowne in 1784, Shelburne never regained high office. His failings as a politician stemmed from his restless imagination, his attachment to intrigue, and his personal manner, which was alternately obsequious and stubborn. As an intellectual patron Shelburne was more successful, gathering around him such luminaries as Joseph Priestley, Jeremy Bentham, and Richard Price, sometimes referred to as the Bowood circle, taking their name from Shelburne's country residence.

David Wilkinson

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William Petty Fitzmaurice 2d earl of Shelburne

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