Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheffield, John (1648-1721)
SHEFFIELD, JOHN, third Earl of Mulgrave, afterwards first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby (1648–1721), born on 7 April 1648 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 487), and baptised on 12 April at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, was the only son of Edmund Sheffield, second earl of Mulgrave [q. v.], by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Lionel Cranfield, first earl of Middlesex [q. v.] In 1658 he succeeded his father as third earl of Mulgrave. In 1666 he served as a volunteer against the Dutch in the fleet commanded by Prince Rupert and the Duke of Albemarle; on 13 June 1667 he was appointed captain of a troop of horse, and in February 1673 he became gentleman of the bedchamber to the king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667, p. 183). In the second Dutch war he was present as a volunteer at the sea-fight in Southwold Bay, and in 1673 received the command of the Captain, the best second-rate ship in the navy. On 23 Dec. 1673 he was appointed colonel of the ‘Old Holland’ regiment of foot, and on 23 April following was elected a knight of the order of the Garter. After serving a campaign with the French army under Turenne, he was appointed in 1680 to command an expedition for the relief of Tangier, at that time besieged by the Moors (Luttrell, Brief Relation, 1857 i. 46, 47, 51; Egerton MS. 5752, f. 407). Having been opposed by Monmouth in his pretensions to the first troop of horse-guards, he skilfully fomented the jealousy between him and the Duke of York, and succeeded in producing an open rupture. On the disgrace of Monmouth in 1679, he obtained through James's friendship several of the preferments of which Monmouth was deprived (Luttrell, i. 27). In 1682 he incurred Charles II's displeasure by courting the Princess Anne, and was banished from court and deprived of all his places (ib. i. 236). He succeeded in making his peace within two years, and on 26 Jan. 1683–4 was reappointed colonel of the Holland regiment.
On the accession of James he came into high favour. He was appointed a privy councillor on 24 July 1685, and was created lord-chamberlain on 20 Oct. On 22 Nov. 1686 he succeeded Rochester on the reconstituted court of high commission. About the same time he wrote an answer to Halifax's ‘Character of a Trimmer,’ which obtained more approbation than it deserved. After the revolution he excused himself for accepting the appointment by pleading that he was unaware of the illegality of the court. In 1687 James removed a large number of the lord-lieutenants because they refused to carry out his policy by advancing Roman catholics and nonconformists in their respective counties, and Mulgrave succeeded the Duke of Somerset in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Although Mulgrave did not hesitate to associate himself with James's most unpopular measures, he did not carry his compliance in religion further than attending the king at mass and insinuating that he had a strong inclination towards Romanism.
Upon William's landing in England Mulgrave remained with James in London until the time of his flight. When the news of his capture in Kent reached London, Halifax wished to adjourn the council of lords, who carried on a provisional government, in order to avoid the responsibility of action. But Mulgrave, begging them to keep their seats, introduced the king's messenger, and prevailed on them to send Lord Feversham to the assistance of James (Mulgrave, Account of the Revolution). He came to the aid also of the Spanish ambassador when the mob demolished his house, inviting him to Whitehall and paying him marked honour. For this conduct, which avoided friction with the Spanish court, he received the thanks of both James and William.
On the establishment of the revolutionary government Mulgrave quietly submitted and voted for associating William with Mary on the throne. But he became a leader of the tory party, and distinguished himself for several years by his opposition to the court. In January 1692–3 he supported the claim of the lords to assess their own estates or the land tax, in a speech which Burnet describes as in argument and eloquence ‘beyond anything I ever heard in that house’ (Burnet, Own Time, 1823, iv. 182). In the same year, however, he opposed the Triennial Bill, which he had formerly supported, and joined with Halifax and Shrewsbury in protesting against the renewal of the censorship of the press (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. pp. 217, 218). Early in 1694 he showed a still more decided disposition to support the government. On 3 May he was made a privy councillor with a pension of 3,000l. a year, a welcome accession of income, as his affairs were much embarrassed, and a week later he was created Marquis of Normanby. On 23 June he was admitted to the cabinet council, and in November he was temporarily constituted speaker of the House of Lords during the indisposition of the lord-keeper, Sir John Somers (Luttrell, iii. 332, 404; Journals of the House of Lords, xv. 435). In 1696, after the detection of Robert Charnock's plot, an association was formed which bound its members to sign a document pledging them to support the holders of the throne against Jacobite attempts. It was introduced into parliament, but in the upper house many tory peers declined signing it because they were required to declare William ‘rightful and lawful king.’ The phrase was modified to suit their scruples, but Normanby was among those who still stood out. In consequence he was dismissed from the privy council, and resumed his former attitude of opposition (Luttrell, iv. 26). He strenuously opposed the attainder of Sir John Fenwicke, and was no less bitter against the Act of Settlement in 1701 (Burnet, Own Time, iv. 488).
Anne on her accession showed him marked favour, and he was immediately sworn a member of the privy council (Luttrell, v. 165, 182, 209). On 21 April 1702 she appointed him lord privy seal, and in March 1702–3 created him duke of the county of Buckingham and of Normanby. But even the royal favour was unable to sustain him against the growing ascendency of the whigs, and early in 1705 he was compelled to resign his appointments (ib. v. 533, 535, 538; Coxe, Life of Marlborough, ed. Bohn, i. 261). On 10 April 1706 he was named one of the commissioners to arrange the treaty of union with Scotland. In the same year Buckingham was largely instrumental in inducing the tories to bring forward their disastrous proposal to invite the Electress Sophia to England, which had the effect of throwing Anne completely into the hands of the whig party. At that time he was in correspondence with the electress, and made the most fervent protestations of devotion to her cause, beseeching her to send over a secret agent to treat with his party. But neither she nor her son George, with whom he communicated after his return to power, showed themselves very enthusiastic at the prospect of the alliance (Stowe MSS. No. 222 ff. 416, 433, No. 223 ff. 391, 393, 400, No. 224 ff. 186, 188, 218).
On the overthrow of the whig ministry Buckingham was one of the first reinstated. In September 1710 he was made lord steward of the household and a privy councillor, and on 12 June following he was appointed lord president of the council (Boyer, Reign of Anne, 1735, pp. 476, 514; Coxe, Life of Marlborough, iii. 134, 211). On the death of Anne he was one of the lords justices of Great Britain appointed to carry on the administration, but on the arrival of George he was removed from all his posts. He died on 24 Feb. 1720–1 at Buckingham House, St. James's Park, which he had built in 1703 on land granted by the crown. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the vault at the east end of King Henry's chapel (Chester, Register of St. Peter's, Westminster, p. 302; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. i. 316, 447). His will, dated 9 Aug. 1716, was proved on 28 March 1721. It was printed in 1729, and is contained in the later editions of his works. He married, first, on 18 March 1686, Ursula, daughter and coheiress of George Stawel of Cotherstone, Somerset, and widow of Edward Conway, first earl of Conway; she died on 13 Aug. 1697. He married, secondly, on 12 March 1699, Katherine, daughter of Fulke Greville, fifth lord Brooke, and widow of Wriothesley Baptist Noel, second earl of Gainsborough. On her death, on 7 Feb. 1703–4, he married his third wife, Catharine, illegitimate daughter of James II by Catharine Sedley [q.v.], formerly wife of James Annesley, third earl of Anglesey, from whom she obtained a divorce. By her he had three sons, of whom Edmund survived, and succeeded him as second duke of Buckingham; he died unmarried on 30 Oct. 1735, when all his titles became extinct.
Sheffield was the author of several poems and prose pieces. The best known of the former are his ‘Essay on Poetry,’ which received praise from Dryden and Pope, and his ‘Essay on Satire.’ There is some doubt as to the authorship of the latter poem, and Rochester, who attributed it to Dryden, caused the latter to be chastised on account of it. But there seems no sufficient ground for disputing Sheffield's authorship, though Dryden may afterwards have revised the poem (Notes and Queries, I. ii. 422, 462, iii. 146, 162; Dryden, Works, ed. Scott, 1821, xv. 201). Sheffield was a munificent patron of Dryden, who dedicated to him his tragedy of ‘Aurengzebe’ and his translation of the ‘Æneis’ (ib. v. 174, ix. 304, xiv. 127). He was also the friend of Pope; but Swift, notwithstanding his politics, had an aversion for him. Sheffield's most extraordinary feat was his revision of Shakespeare's ‘Julius Cæsar,’ which he broke up into two plays, ‘Julius Cæsar’ and ‘Marcus Brutus,’ and rewrote in accordance with his own theories of dramatic propriety, introducing several love scenes and omitting most of the citizen's parts (Genest, History of the Drama and Stage, iii. 89; ‘Duke of Buckingham's Zweitheilung and Bearbeitung des Shakespeareschen Julius Cæsar’ in Jahrbuch d.deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, 1889, xxiv. 27–71).
Several of Sheffield's prose works are valuable historically, particularly his ‘Account of the Revolution;’ but his statements have to be received with caution when he is personally concerned. Immediately after his death Edmund Curll [q.v.] endeavoured to publish his life with a pirated edition of his works, but he was restrained by the order of the upper house. In 1722 Pope edited a collected edition of his works at the request of his widow (Works of John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, &c., London, 1723, 4to). A license was granted Pope by government, but afterwards, having heard that some of Sheffield's works were Jacobite in tendency, the authorities sent for the impression, and cut out the ‘Account of the Revolution’ and the ‘Feast of the Gods,’ returning the mutilated copies. Another edition ‘without castrations’ was issued in 1726, 8vo; but in the so-called second edition of 1729, 8vo, the objectionable papers were again omitted. They were restored in the enlarged edition of 1740, 8vo, and retained in the fourth, issued in 1753, 8vo. The two suspected essays were published separately at The Hague in 1726, under the title of ‘Buckingham Restored.’
Sheffield was also the author of a manuscript pamphlet, not included in his works, entitled ‘Humanum est Errare, or False Steps on both Sides,’ a criticism on the conduct of James and William at the time of the revolution. A copy is in the British Museum (Add. MS. 27382, f. 77).
The first duke's portrait, painted by Kneller and engraved by G. Vertue, is prefixed to the collected edition of his works. The same portrait was also engraved by Isaac Beckett and by John Smith (Smith, Mezzotinto Portraits, pp. 44, 1202, 1203).[Buckingham's Works, ed. 1753; A Character of John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, 1729; Johnson's Lives of the Poets, ed. Cunningham, ii. 191; Swift's Works, 1824, index, s.v. ‘Buckingham;’ Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, index, s.v. ‘Buckingham;’ Dunton's Life and Errors, p. 422; Macky's Characters of the Court of Great Britain, 1733, p. 20; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park, iv. 90; G. E. C.'s Peerage, ii. 69; Doyle's Official Baronage, i. 268; Jesse's Memoirs of the English Court, ii. 1; Dalton's Army Lists, vols. i. and ii., indexes; Macaulay's Hist. of England; Saintsbury's Dryden (English Men of Letters), p. 69.]