Hill, Wills (DNB00)

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HILL, WILLS, first Marquis of Downshire (1718–1793), second and only surviving son of Trevor, first viscount Hillsborough, by his wife Mary, eldest daughter and coheiress of Anthony Rowe of Muswell Hill, Middlesex, and widow of Sir Edward Denton, bart., of Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, was born at Fairford, Gloucestershire, on 30 May 1718. At the general election in May 1741 he was returned to parliament for the boroughs of Warwick and Huntingdon, and elected to sit for Warwick, which he continued to represent until he was created an English peer. In May 1742 he succeeded his father as second Viscount Hillsborough in the peerage of Ireland. On the 27th of the same month, as chairman of the committee appointed by the House of Commons on the previous day, he moved that the refusal of the lords to pass the Indemnification Bill was ‘an obstruction to justice and may prove fatal to the liberties of this nation.’ The motion was, however, rejected by 245 to 193 (Parl. Hist. xii. 715–732). In July 1742 he was appointed lord-lieutenant of county Down in the room of his father, and 10 Nov. 1743 he took his seat for the first time in the Irish House of Peers (Journals of the Irish House of Lords, iii. 542). On 25 Aug. 1746 he was sworn a member of the Irish privy council. He moved the address of condolence in the House of Commons on 22 March 1751, on the death of the Prince of Wales. Walpole describes him as ‘a young man of great honour and merit,’ scrupulous in weighing his reasons, and excellent at setting them off by solemnity of voice and manner (Memoirs of the Reign of George II, i. 80). On 3 Oct. 1751 he was created, by letters patent, Viscount Kilwarlin and Earl of Hillsborough in the peerage of Ireland, with remainder in default of male issue to his uncle, Arthur Hill, and the heirs male of his body. He took part in the debate on the subsidy to the elector of Saxony on 22 Jan. 1752, and ‘distinguished himself extremely upon this occasion. He spoke very strongly for us and upon right principles’ (letter of the Duke of Newcastle to the Duke of Dorset of 25 Jan. 1752, Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. iii. p. 43). In May 1753 he supported the Clandestine Marriage Bill (Parl. Hist. xv. 62–7), and on 21 May 1754 was appointed comptroller of the household to George II, being sworn an English privy councillor on the same day. Resigning the comptrollership he became treasurer of the chamber on 27 Dec. 1755, a post from which he retired in the following year. On 17 Nov. 1756 he was created Lord Harwich, baron of Harwich in the county of Essex, in the peerage of Great Britain, and took his seat in the House of Lords for the first time on 2 Dec. 1756 (Journals of the House of Lords, xxix. 5). On 10 Sept. 1763 he was appointed president of the board of trade and foreign plantations in the place of Lord Shelburne in Grenville's administration, but resigned office on the Marquis of Rockingham becoming prime minister in July 1765. On Pitt's accession to power in the following year Hillsborough, being resolved ‘not to support or oppose men but measures,’ consented to return to his old post at the board of trade provided it ‘should be altered from a board of representation to a board of report upon reference only … and that I should not be one of the cabinet (which was also offered to me)’ (Grenville Papers, iii. 294–6; see also Life of Lord Shelburne, ii. 1–3).

The functions of the board of trade, which had hitherto been in a quasi-independent position, having been thus curtailed by an order in council, dated 8 Aug. 1766, Hillsborough was appointed on the 16th. In October 1766 he refused the post of ambassador of Spain, and resigning his seat at the board of trade, was on 27 Dec. appointed joint postmaster-general with Lord le Despencer. On 20 Jan. 1768 he became secretary of state for the colonies, the appointment of a third secretary of state being considered necessary in consequence of the rapid increase of business with the American settlements. This office, however, was abolished in 1782. At the same time Hillsborough was appointed president of the board of trade, being succeeded in the post office a few months later by Lord Sandwich. Hillsborough took his opinions of American affairs very much from Francis Bernard [q. v.], the governor of Massachusetts Bay. As a reply to the circular letter sent by the Massachusetts Assembly in February 1768 to the colonies, inviting them to take measures against the obnoxious taxes, he injudiciously instructed Bernard on 21 April to insist upon the rescission of the resolution directing the letter, and in the event of their refusal to dissolve the assembly, and on 8 June ordered Gage to send a regiment to Boston. On 15 Dec. 1768, on Hillsborough's motion, eight resolutions condemning the proceedings in the house of representatives at Massachusetts Bay and at Boston were passed in the House of Lords (Parl. Hist. xvi. 476–9). In May 1769, however, the cabinet resolved to bring in a bill for the repeal of all the obnoxious taxes with the exception of tea, and on the 9th Hillsborough communicated this resolution in a harsh and ungracious circular letter to the governors. In the debate on the Duke of Richmond's resolutions on 18 May 1770 Hillsborough defended the American policy of the government with much warmth (ib. pp. 1014–1020).

In August 1772 he resigned both his offices because he would not ‘reconcile himself to a plan of settlement on the Ohio, which all the world approves’ (Walpole, Letters, Cunningham's edit. v. 401). He was succeeded by Lord Dartmouth, and on 28 Aug. 1772 was created Viscount Fairford and Earl of Hillsborough in the peerage of Great Britain. Though out of office he continued to act with the court party in giving the most determined opposition to any concessions to America. On 5 March 1778, in the debate on the second reading of the American Conciliatory Bills, he made a passionate declamation against them, and declared that it was the most disgraceful day which the country had ever experienced (Parl. Hist. xix. 842–3). On 25 Nov. 1779 he succeeded Lord Weymouth as secretary of state for the northern department. He continued to hold the same views on the American question, and in the debate on the address, on 27 Nov. 1781, he expressed a hope that ‘the independence of America would never be admitted in that house’ (ib. xxii. 661–2). On the downfall of North's administration in March 1782 he resigned office with the rest of his colleagues, and on 20 Aug. 1789 was created Marquis of Downshire in the peerage of Ireland. His last reported speech in the English House of Lords was delivered during the debate on the address on 24 Jan. 1786, when he recommended a union with Ireland ‘as the best method of connecting and consolidating the interests of both kingdoms’ (ib. xxv. 996). This had always been a favourite project with Downshire, and had been suggested by him some thirty years previously. He died on 7 Oct. 1793, aged 75.

Downshire was a well-bred, handsome man, with agreeable manners, more fitted to play the part of a courtier than that of a statesman. Though capable of making a tolerable set speech he was an imprudent and ineffective debater. His want of tact and judgment made him peculiarly unfitted for holding a delicate position in so critical a period. Even George III declared that he did ‘not know a man of less judgement than Lord Hillsborough,’ and that he would never approve of him for the office of lord-lieutenant of Ireland (letter of George III to John Robinson, dated 15 Oct. 1776, Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. pt. vi. p. 15). He was an intimate friend of George Grenville, but their correspondence does not possess any public interest (Grenville Papers, iii. lii). He was severely attacked by Junius in his first letter for exasperating the differences between this country and America. He took an active part in Irish politics, and is said to have set an excellent example to other Irish landlords by his improvements on the Downshire estates. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 8 March 1764, was created D.C.L. of Oxford University on 21 May 1771, and was appointed an elder brother of Trinity House in 1781. He married, first, on 3 March 1748, Lady Margaret Fitzgerald, sister of James, first duke of Leinster. She died at Naples 25 Jan. 1765, and was buried at Hillsborough. By her he had five children: viz., Arthur, who succeeded him as the second marquis; Mary Amelia, who, born on 16 Aug. 1750, was married on 2 Dec. 1773 to James, first marquis of Salisbury, and was burnt to death in the fire at Hatfield House on 27 Nov. 1835; Charlotte, who, born on 19 March 1754, was married on 7 May 1776 to John, first earl Talbot (cr. 1784), and died on 17 Jan. 1804; and a son and daughter who died in infancy. He married, secondly, on 11 Oct. 1768, Mary, baroness Stawell, only daughter and heiress of Edward, fourth baron Stawell, and widow of Henry Bilson Legge, sometime chancellor of the exchequer, by whom Downshire had no issue. His second wife died on 29 July 1780, when the barony of Stawell devolved on her only child by her first husband.

A portrait of Downshire, by J. Rising, was lent by the Marquis of Salisbury to the Loan Collection of National Portraits at South Kensington in 1867 (Catalogue, No. 497).

[Horace Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George II, 1847, and Memoirs of the Reign of George III, 1845; Grenville Papers, 1852–3; Lord E. Fitzmaurice's Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, 1876, ii. 2, 10, 77, 126–7, 193–205, 310; Hist. and Posthumous Memoirs of Sir N. W. Wraxall, 1884, i. 381–2; Lord Mahon's Hist. of England, 1858, v. 41, 185, 235–7, 240–3, 320, vi. 218, 278, vii. 19; Bancroft's Hist. of the United States of America, 1876, iii. 392, iv. 63–237, vi. 59; Collins's Peerage of England, 1812, v. 103–5; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, 1789, ii. 332–3; Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, ii. 195–196; Gent. Mag. 1793, vol. lxiii. pt. ii. p. 962; Foster's Alumni Oxon. ii. 663; London Gazettes; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 82, 92, 104, 118.]

G. F. R. B.