1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bath, William Pulteney, Marquess of
BATH, WILLIAM PULTENEY, 1st Earl of (1684-1764), generally known by the surname of Pulteney, English politician, descended from an ancient family of Leicestershire, was the son of William Pulteney by his first wife, Mary Floyd, and was born in April 1684. The boy was sent to Westminster school, and from it proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating the 31st of October 1700. At these institutions he acquired his deep classical knowledge. On leaving Oxford he made the usual tour on the continent. In 1705 he was brought into parliament by Henry Guy (secretary of the treasury, 1679-1688, and June 1691 to February 1695) for the Yorkshire borough of Hedon, and at his death on the 23rd of February 1710 inherited an estate of £500 a year and £40,000 in cash. This seat was held by him without a break until 1734. Throughout the reign of Queen Anne William Pulteney played a prominent part in the struggles of the Whigs, and on the prosecution of Sacheverell he exerted himself with great zeal against that violent divine. When the victorious Tories sent his friend Robert Walpole to the Tower in 1712, Pulteney championed his cause in the House of Commons and with the leading Whigs visited him in his prison-chamber. He held the post of secretary of war from 1714 to 1717 in the first ministry of George I., and when the committee of secrecy on the Utrecht treaty was formed in April 1715 the list included the flame of William Pulteney. Two years later (6th of July 1716), he became one of the privy council. When Townshend was dismissed, in April 1717, from his post of lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and Walpole resigned his places, they were followed in their retirement by Pulteney. The crash of the South Sea Company restored Walpole to the highest position, but all that he offered to Pulteney was a peerage. The offer was rejected, but in May 1723 Pulteney stooped to accept the lucrative but insignificant post of cofferer of the household. In this obscure position he was content for some time to await the future; but when he found himself neglected he opposed the proposition of Walpole to discharge the debts of the civil list, and in April 1725 was dismissed from his sinecure. From the day of his dismissal to that of his ultimate triumph Pulteney remained in opposition, and, although Sir Robert Walpole attempted in 1730 to conciliate him by the offer of Townshend’s place and of a peerage, all his overtures were spurned. Pulteney’s resentment was not confined to his speeches in parliament. With Bolingbroke he set on foot in December 1726 the well-known periodical called the Craftsman, and in its pages the minister was incessantly denounced for many years. Lord Hervey published an attack on the Craftsman, and Pulteney, either openly or behind the person of Amhurst, its editor, replied to the attack. Whether the question at issue was the civil list, the excise, the income of the prince of Wales, or the state of domestic affairs Pulteney was ready with a pamphlet, and the minister or one of his friends came out with a reply. For his “Proper reply to a late scurrilous libel” (Craftsman, 1731), an answer to “Sedition and defamation displayed,” he was challenged to a duel by Lord Hervey; for another, “An answer to one part of an infamous libel entitled remarks on the Craftsman’s indication of his two honourable patrons,” he was in July 1731 struck off the roll of privy councillors and dismissed from the commission of the peace in several counties. In print Pulteney was inferior to Bolingbroke alone among the antagonists of Walpole, but in parliament, from which St John was excluded, he excelled all his comrades. When the sinking fund was appropriated in 1733 his voice was the foremost in denunciation; when the excise scheme in the same year was stirring popular feeling to its lowest depths the passion of the multitude broke out in his oratory. Through Walpole’s prudent withdrawal of the latter measure the fall, of his ministry was averted. Bolingbroke withdrew to France on the suggestion, it is said, of Pulteney, and the opposition was weakened by the dissensions of the leaders.
From the general election of 1734 until his elevation to the peerage Pulteney sat for Middlesex. For some years after this election the minister’s assailants made little progress in their attack, but in 1738 the troubles with Spain supplied them with the opportunity which they desired. Walpole long argued for peace, but he was feebly supported in his own cabinet, and the frenzy of the people for war knew no bounds. In an evil moment for his own reputation he consented to remain in office and to gratify popular passion with a war against Spain. His downfall was not long deferred. War was declared in 1739; a new parliament was summoned in the summer of 1741, and over the divisions on the election petitions the ministry of Walpole fell to pieces. The task of forming the new administration was after some delay entrusted to Pulteney, who weakly offered the post of first lord of the treasury to that harmless politician the earl of Wilmington, and contented himself with a seat in the cabinet and a peerage thinking that by this action he would preserve his reputation for consistency in disdaining office and yet retain his supremacy in the ministry. At this act popular feeling broke out into open indignation, and from the moment of his elevation to the Upper House Pulteney’s influence dwindled to nothing. Horace Walpole asserts that when Pulteney wished to recall his desire for a peerage it was forced upon him through the ex-minister’s advice by the king, and another chronicler of the times records that when victor and vanquished met in the House of Lords, the one as Lord Orford, the other as the earl of Bath, the remark was made by the exulting Orford: “Here we are, my lord, the two most insignificant fellows in England.” On the 14th of July 1742 Pulteney was created Baron Pulteney of Hedon, Co. York, Viscount Pulteney of Wrington, Co. Somerset, and earl of Bath. On the 20th of February he had been restored to his rank in the privy council. At Wilmington’s death in 1743 he made application to the king for the post of first lord of the treasury, only to find that it had been conferred on Henry Pelham. For two days, 10th-12th February 1746, he was at the head of a ministry, but in “48 hours, three quarters, seven minutes, and eleven seconds” it collapsed. An occasional pamphlet and an infrequent speech were afterwards the sole fruits of Lord Bath’s talents. His praises whilst in retirement have been sung by two bishops, Zachary Pearce and Thomas Newton. He died on the 7th of July 1764, and was buried on the 17th of July in his own vault in Islip chapel, Westminster Abbey. He married on the 27th of December 1714 Anna Maria, daughter and co-heiress of John Gumley of Isleworth, commissary-general to the army who was often satirized by the wits of the day (Notes and Queries, 3rd S. ii. 402-403, iii. 490). She died on the 14th of September 1758, and their only son William died unmarried at Madrid on the 12th of February 1763. Pulteney’s vast fortune came in 1767 to William Johnstone of Dumfries (third son of Sir James Johnstone), who had married Frances, daughter and co-heiress of his cousin, Daniel Pulteney, a bitter antagonist of Walpole in parliament, and had taken the name of Pulteney.
Pulteney’s eloquence was keen and incisive, sparkling with vivacity and with allusions drawn from the literature of his own country and of Rome. Of business he was never fond, and the loss in 1734 of his trusted friend John Merrill, who had supplied the qualities which he lacked, was feelingly lamented by him in a letter to Swift. His chief weakness was a passion for money. Lord Bath has left no trace of the possession of practical statesmanship.
(W. P. C.)