Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fawcett, William

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FAWCETT, Sir WILLIAM (1728–1804), general, whose name is invariably spelt Faucitt in all the ‘Army Lists’ from 1756 to 1785, son of William Faucitt of Bull Close, Halifax, by Martha, daughter of James Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax, was born at Shibden Hall in 1728. He was well educated at the free school of Bury, Lancashire, under his uncle, John Lister, and from an early age evinced a desire to enter the army. His wishes were, however, discouraged by his mother, and it was not until after much opposition that he was allowed to accept an ensigncy in General Oglethorpe's regiment. He served in the rebellion of 1745. In his ardour for active service he threw up this commission, and, strongly recommended by his neighbours, Lord Rockingham and Mr. Lascelles (afterwards Lord Harewood), he joined the army besieging Maestricht in 1748 as a volunteer. His bravery secured him another commission, but he almost immediately went upon half-pay on his marriage to a wealthy lady, who disapproved of the army as a profession. She soon relented, and on 26 Jan. 1751 Fawcett purchased an ensigncy in the 3rd guards. He devoted himself ardently to his profession, studied French and German, and travelled much on the continent to observe the tactics and discipline of foreign armies. He was soon appointed adjutant to the 3rd guards, and the result of his military reading appeared in a series of translations of the ‘Reveries or Memoirs of the Art of War,’ by Marshal Saxe, dedicated to the general officers of the army; of the ‘Regulations for the Prussian Cavalry,’ dedicated to Major-general the Earl of Albemarle, and of the ‘Regulations for the Prussian Infantry’ and the ‘Prussian Tactics,’ dedicated to Lieutenant-general the Earl of Rothes. After the outbreak of the seven years' war Fawcett was promoted lieutenant and captain in the 3rd guards on 14 May 1757, and shortly afterwards joined the army in Germany as aide-de-camp to General Eliott. After the death of his chief at the battle of Minden, both Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, the commander-in-chief, and the Marquis of Granby, the commander of the English contingent, offered him a similar post on their staffs. He accepted Granby's offer, and made himself so popular that a brother aide-de-camp allowed him to take the news of the victory of Warburg to England in 1760. This event he announced in German to George II, who was so delighted with his fluency in that language, that he at once ordered the usual step in promotion to be given to the lucky bearer. As Fawcett was a guards officer, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel, passing over the rank of major, on 25 Nov. 1760. He then returned to Germany as deputy adjutant-general to the army, and military secretary to the Marquis of Granby, and he became Granby's chief adviser and intimate friend. Fawcett was promoted captain and lieutenant-colonel in the 3rd guards on 24 Feb. 1767, made lieutenant-governor of Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, in 1770, and promoted colonel on 25 May 1772. During the period which followed the conclusion of the seven years' war he was chiefly employed at the headquarters staff of the army as military secretary and deputy adjutant-general, and was sent on many military missions to the continent, during one of which it is said that Frederick offered him a commission in the Prussian army. The most important of these foreign missions were at the commencement of the American war of independence, when Fawcett was sent to engage mercenaries, among whom were the Hessians and Brunswickers. On 29 Aug. 1777 he was promoted major-general; in 1781 he became adjutant-general at headquarters; was appointed colonel of the 15th regiment, and about the same time received the lucrative post of governor of Gravesend. At this period Fawcett's military reputation was at its height; he was the practical ruler of the English army, and certainly the most influential officer on the headquarters staff. On 20 Nov. 1782 he was promoted lieutenant-general, and he was made a knight of the Bath in 1786, in which year he married his second wife, Charlotte, widow of Dr. George Stinton, chancellor of Lincoln. On 22 Oct. 1792 Fawcett was transferred to the colonelcy of the 3rd dragoon guards, on 14 May 1796 he was promoted general, and in the same year appointed governor of Chelsea Hospital. There was a general outcry against the administration of the English army after the disastrous campaigns of 1794–5 in Flanders, and especially against the Horse Guards. In order to check this natural indignation the Duke of York was appointed to succeed Lord Amherst as commander-in-chief, and Fawcett was obliged to make way for General Sir Harry Calvert [q. v.] as adjutant-general. Nevertheless he was treated with consideration, and was sworn a member of the privy council on 23 Jan. 1799, an honour rarely conferred on a staff officer at headquarters.

Sir William Fawcett died at his house in Great George Street, Westminster, on 22 March 1804, and was buried in the chapel of Chelsea Hospital. A monument was erected to him by his widow, who in 1805 was buried beside him.

Fawcett translated Field-Marshal Saxe's ‘Reveries, or Art of War,’ 1757; ‘Regulations for Prussian Cavalry,’ 1757; and ‘for Prussian Infantry and Tactics,’ 1759. He also published rules for the formations, field-exercises, and movements of the British army, 1786, 1792.

[Army Lists; Gent. Mag. April 1804; information from Mr. John Lister of Shibden Hall.]

H. M. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.121
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
262 i 3 f.e. Fawcett, Sir William: for 1778 read 1781
ii 7-8 for major-general read lieutenant-general
24 for David Dundas [q. v.] read Sir Harry Calvert [q. v.]
27-28 for never before or since conferred read rarely conferred