Watson-Wentworth, Charles (DNB00)

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WATSON-WENTWORTH, CHARLES, second Marquis of Rockingham (1730–1782), born on 13 May 1730, was fifth and only surviving son of Thomas Watson-Wentworth, marquis of Rockingham, by Mary, daughter of Daniel Finch, second earl of Nottingham and sixth earl of Winchilsea [q. v.] He descended from Sir Lewis Watson, first baron Rockingham [q. v.] His grandfather, Thomas Watson, third son of Edward Watson, second baron Rockingham, by Anne, first daughter of Thomas Wentworth, first earl of Strafford, inherited the Wentworth estates, and assumed the additional surname of Wentworth. His father—created on 28 May 1728 Baron Wentworth of Malton, Yorkshire, and on 19 Nov. 1734 Baron of Harrowden, and Viscount Higham of Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, and Baron of Wath and Earl of Malton, Yorkshire—succeeded to the barony of Rockingham on the death (26 Feb. 1745–6) of his cousin, Thomas Watson, third earl of Rockingham—the earldom and associated honours, except the barony, then becoming extinct—and was created on 19 April 1746 Marquis of Rockingham.

Charles Watson-Wentworth, styled in his father's lifetime Viscount Higham and Earl of Malton, was educated at Westminster school and St. John's College, Cambridge. He was created on 17 Sept. 1750 an Irish peer by the titles of Baron and Earl of Malton, co. Wicklow, and on the death of his father on 14 Dec. the same year succeeded to all his honours. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 21 May 1751, and in the following July was appointed lord-lieutenant of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire. He was elected F.R.S. on 7 Nov. 1751, and F.S.A. on 13 Feb. 1752. On 27 Feb. 1755 he was appointed vice-admiral of Yorkshire. He was installed K.G. on 6 May 1760, and on the accession of George III continued in the office of lord of the bedchamber, which he had held since 1751. In 1763 he was appointed (14 April) trustee of Westminster school and (11 Oct.) governor of the Charterhouse; in 1766 (7 April) high steward of Hull. Rockingham was bred in the strictest whig principles, and even in boyhood was so full of zeal for the house of Hanover that during the winter of 1745–6 he slipped away from Wentworth and joined the Duke of Cumberland's standard at Carlisle. He never coquetted with Leicester House, or showed the slightest disposition to compromise with the party of prerogative which, on the accession of George III, Lord Bute began to organise under the specious designation of ‘king's friends.’ On the eve of the signature of the preliminaries of the peace of Paris, he followed the example of Devonshire [see Cavendish, William, fourth Duke of Devonshire] in resigning his place in the bedchamber (3 Nov. 1762). He was thereupon dismissed from his lieutenancies (December) and the office of vice-admiral of Yorkshire (29 Jan. 1763). A hesitant speaker, he made no brilliant parliamentary début, and meddled little with politics until, in March 1765, he was induced by Lord John Cavendish to accompany him to Hayes to solicit Pitt's counsel and aid in organising opposition to the arbitrary measures taken by the Grenville-Bedford administration against the supporters of Wilkes. From this mission Rockingham returned very dissatisfied with Pitt. He in consequence drew closer to Newcastle [see Pelham-Holles, Thomas, Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne], by whom he was consulted during the prolonged struggle on the regency bill. During the crisis which resulted Rockingham received through Cumberland separate overtures, concurrent with those made to Pitt, for the formation of a coalition administration, and, on Pitt's definitive refusal of office, accepted the treasury, was sworn of the privy council (10 July), and reappointed lord lieutenant of the west and north ridings of Yorkshire (7 Aug.) The great seal was retained by Northington and the first lordship of the admiralty by Egmont, but Keppel was made a junior lord [see Henley, Robert, first Earl of Northington; Perceval, John, second Earl of Egmont; and Keppel, Augustus, Viscount Keppel]. Grafton and Conway were made secretaries of state for the northern and southern departments respectively [see Fitzroy, Augustus Henry, third Duke of Grafton; and Conway, Henry Seymour]. William Dowdeswell (1721–1775) [q. v.] took the seals of the exchequer and Newcastle the privy seal, Daniel Finch, seventh earl of Winchilsea, became president of the council, and William Legge, second earl of Dartmouth [q. v.], president of the board of trade. Lord John Cavendish [q. v.], Thomas Townshend (afterwards Viscount Sydney) [q. v.], and George (afterwards Lord) Onslow [q. v.] were provided with seats at the treasury board. Barrington [see Barrington, William Wildman, second Viscount Barrington] was made secretary at war, and Charles Townshend [q. v.] paymaster of the forces. Chief-justice Pratt was created Baron Camden [see Pratt, Charles, first Earl Camden]. In the lower house the government was strengthened by the return of Rockingham's private secretary, Edmund Burke [q. v.], for the borough of Wendover.

On the American question ministers (except Northington, Barrington, and Townshend) were inclined to be accommodating. Nevertheless they hesitated, and it was not until the spring of 1766, and then only under pressure from Pitt and Camden, that they proposed the repeal of the Stamp Act. The measure was carried in the teeth of the determined opposition of the Grenville-Bedford faction, reinforced in some degree by the king's friends. The king himself was known to prefer the modification of the measure to its repeal. The repeal was facilitated by a concurrent statutory declaration of the absolute supremacy of parliament over the colonies, to which practical effect was given by a new Mutiny Act, under which the provincial assemblies were required to appropriate funds for the quartering and maintenance of the troops. The colonies were granted a more favourable tariff, the evasion of the navigation laws by the Spanish bullion ships was sanctioned, and the laws themselves were slightly relaxed in regard to the West Indies. To the chagrin which the repeal of the Stamp Act caused the king, ministers added the further mortification of refusing an allowance to his brothers and carrying (22, 25 April) resolutions condemnatory of general warrants. On 14 May Grafton resigned, and, though his successor was found in Richmond [see Lennox, Charles, third Duke of Richmond], a negotiation which had long been pending between Pitt and the court ended in Rockingham's dismissal and Pitt's return to power at the close of the following July [see Henley, Robert, Earl of Northington]. Immediately after the prorogation of 2 July 1767 Rockingham was commissioned by Grafton to form an administration upon an extensive plan; but, after prolonged discussion, the irreconcilable divisions of the whigs caused the abandonment of the project. Rockingham was disheartened by the subsequent fusion of the Bedford faction with the king's friends, and except to join in the protest against the limitation of the East India Company's dividend on 8 Feb. 1768, and to move in March 1769 for detailed accounts preliminary to the discharge of the debt on the civil list, he took little part in public affairs until Chatham's return to St. Stephen's.

A call of the House of Lords moved by Rockingham in consequence of the removal of Camden was defeated by an adjournment, against which he entered his protest in the journal (15 Jan. 1770). He moved for (22 Jan.), and with Chatham's aid obtained (2 Feb.), a committee of the whole house on the state of the nation; in which he was defeated on a resolution censuring the proceedings of the House of Commons in the matter of the Middlesex election [see Wilkes, John]. The minority recorded their protest in the journal of the house, and replied by a similar protest to a vote deprecating interference by either house in matters of which the other had exclusive cognisance. Rockingham also supported Chatham's motion for an account of the expenditure on the civil list (14 March), joined in the protest against the rejection of his bill to reverse the adjudications of the House of Commons in the matter of the Middlesex election (1 May), but declined to follow him in his attempt to force an immediate dissolution (14 May). He followed Richmond's lead in censuring the directions issued by Hillsborough for the dissolution of the assembly of Massachusetts Bay and the suspension of the revenue laws in Virginia (18 May). He also supported Richmond's motion for papers relative to the Falkland Islands question (22 Nov.), and joined (10 Dec.) in the protest against the forcible clearance of the house by which debate on the state of the national defences was stifled. Rockingham paid a tribute to civic virtue by visiting Lord-mayor Brass Crosby [q. v.] and Alderman Oliver in the Tower (30 March 1771). He resented the extension of the prerogative effected by the Royal Marriage Act of 1772, and perpetuated the grounds of his opposition in an able protest (3 March). In 1773 he supported (2 April) the measure relieving protestant dissenters and schoolmasters from the partial subscription to the Thirty-nine articles of religion required by the Toleration Act, joined (10 June) in the protest against the rejection of Richmond's motion for a message to the House of Commons praying disclosure of the evidence on which the India bill was founded, and in the subsequent protest (19 June) against the measure itself. He opposed the measures of 1774–5 enabling a change of venue for trials of persons prosecuted in Massachusetts Bay for acts done in execution of the law, and laying the external and internal trade of the colonies under interdict; supported (20 Jan. 1775) Chatham's motion for the recall of the troops from Boston; and, after moving to the address on 31 Oct. 1776 an amendment deprecating the continuance of the struggle, recorded his protest against its rejection, and virtually seceded from the house. The office of vice-admiral of Yorkshire was thereupon restored to him (18 Dec.)

Emerging from his cave on the conclusion of the Franco-American alliance, Rockingham censured North's conciliatory bills [see North, Frederick, second Earl of Guilford] as inadequate, and declared for the immediate recognition of the independence of the colonies (9, 17 March 1778). The subsequent denunciation of war à outrance against the colonies by the peace commissioners drew from him an indignant remonstrance (7 Dec.) In the interval he had lent his support to Sir George Savile's measure for the partial enfranchisement of Roman catholics (25 May).

Rockingham was assiduous in attendance on Keppel during his court-martial at Portsmouth, and, on the admiral's acquittal, moved in the House of Lords a vote of thanks for his eminent services (16 Feb. 1779). He also in the course of 1779 moved an address (11 May) on the distressed state of Ireland, led the attack on Lord Sandwich's administration of the navy (25 June), and on the criminal negligence which sent Kempenfeldt to sea with an inadequate force founded a motion for the withholding of further supplies (19 Dec.). He also supported (1, 7 Dec.) Shelburne's censure upon the government's neglect of Irish affairs, and Richmond's motion for reform of the civil list establishment. Discountenancing the agitation of the following year for short parliaments and a wide suffrage, he received but rejected North's overtures for a coalition (8 July). In 1781 he censured the rupture with Holland as both unjust and impolitic (25 Jan.), and exposed the corrupt and improvident manner in which the loan was raised (21 March). On the eve of the fall of North's administration Rockingham received through Thurlow [see Thurlow, Edward, first Lord Thurlow] overtures which, after some delay, resulted in the formation of a coalition (27 March 1782). Rockingham received the treasury, Lord John Cavendish the exchequer, Shelburne was made home and colonial secretary, Charles James Fox [q. v.] foreign secretary, Camden president of the council. Thurlow retained the great seal, and Grafton received the privy seal. Richmond became master-general of the ordnance, Keppel first lord of the admiralty, Conway commander-in-chief. Portland went to Dublin as viceroy. The administration was dissolved by Rockingham's death (1 July 1782), but not before legislative independence had been conceded to Ireland, and the power of the crown considerably curtailed by the reduction of the household, the disfranchisement of revenue officers, and the exclusion of government contractors from the House of Commons [see Petty, William, first Marquis of Lansdowne, and Wilkes, John].

Rockingham was buried (20 July) in the choir of York Minster. By his wife Mary (m. 26 Feb. 1752, d. 19 Dec. 1804), daughter of Thomas Bright, formerly Liddell, of Badsworth, Yorkshire, he left no issue. His honours became extinct. His estates devolved upon his nephew, William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, second earl Fitzwilliam [q. v.]

In the National Portrait Gallery and at Buckingham Palace are three-quarter-length portraits of Rockingham copied from the original, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the collection of Lord Fitzwilliam. Another copy was exhibited by Lord Hardwicke at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884, and was part of the Mildmay collection dispersed at Christie's in 1893. For engravings see Lodge's ‘Portraits’ and ‘Rockingham's Memoirs’ by Albemarle. Other portraits of Rockingham are a whole-length by Reynolds at Windsor Castle, and a three-quarter-length by Wilson, of both of which there are engravings in the British Museum. A mausoleum at Wentworth Park contains his statue by Nollekens, the pedestal inscribed with his eulogy by Burke (cf. ‘Speech on American Taxation,’ 19 April 1774, Burke's Speeches, ed. 1816, i. 212).

Rockingham was an old whig of sterling honesty who, during a long period of adversity, contended manfully against a corrupt system of government. He was, however, by no means a great statesman. His policy towards America and Ireland was mere opportunism. At the commencement of the Wilkes affair he erred by defect, and towards its close by excess, of zeal. In his just jealousy of the influence of the crown he showed a disposition to push economy to the verge of cheeseparing, while he ignored the far weightier question of the reform of the representative system.

[Albemarle's Memoirs of Rockingham; Keppel's Life of Keppel; Grenville Papers, ed. Smith; Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III, ed. Le Marchant, revised by Russell Barker; Walpole's Journal of the Reign of George III, ed. Doran; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham; Grafton's Autobiogr. ed. Anson; Almon's Polit. Reg. 1767, p. 203; Protests of the Lords, ed. Rogers; Parl. Hist. vol. xvi–xxiii.; Cavendish's Debates of the House of Commons, i. 576, 581–7, 606–7; Addit. MSS. 9828 f. 103, 32723–33108; Wraxall's Hist. and Posth. Memoirs, ed. Wheatley; Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne; Buckingham's Memoirs of the Courts and Cabinets of George III; Chatham's Corresp.; Burke's Corresp.; Memorials and Corresp. of Charles James Fox, ed. Lord John Russell, i. 115, 154, 206; Corresp. of John, fourth Duke of Bedford, ed. Lord John Russell; Earl Russell's Life of Charles James Fox, i. 278 et seq.; Trevelyan's Early History of Charles James Fox; Gent. Mag. 1782, i. 359; Ann Reg. 1782, Chron. p. 239; Allen's Yorkshire, i. 121, iii. 172; Doyle's Official Baronage; Burke's Extinct Peerage; Adolphus's Hist. of Engl.; Bisset's Hist. of the Reign of George III; Massey's Hist. of Engl.; Lecky's Hist. of Engl.; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App. p. 222, 4th Rep. App. pp. 399, 402, 5th Rep. App. pp. 210–11, 252, 255–8, 6th Rep. App. p. 24, 8th Rep. App. ii. 121, 9th Rep. App. iii. 13, 14, 24, 25, 61, 132, 10th Rep. App. i. 390, vi. 13, 24, 31–2, 11th Rep. App. iv. 399, v. 331, 12th Rep. App. x. 53, 59, 14th Rep. App. i. 11, 18, App. x. 15th Rep. App. v. 145–8.]

J. M. R.