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Stanhope, James, first Earl Stanhopelocked

(1673–1721)
  • A. A. Hanham

James Stanhope, first Earl Stanhope (1673–1721)

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, c. 1705–10

Stanhope, James, first Earl Stanhope (1673–1721), army officer, diplomat, and politician, was born in Paris, the eldest of the seven children of the Hon. Alexander Stanhope (1638–1707), himself the youngest son of Philip Stanhope, first earl of Chesterfield, and his wife, Katherine (d. 1718), the daughter of Arnold Burghill, of Thinghall Parva, Herefordshire. During his education at Eton College and at Trinity College, Oxford, where he matriculated in May 1688, he acquired a bookish trait which never left him, and later in life, both as an army officer and politician-diplomat, his familiarity with classical and modern authorities invariably impressed those who encountered him.

Early career, 1690–1704

Stanhope was not allowed to languish in academe, however. In 1690 he was taken to Madrid by his father, who had been posted there as envoy, and in 1691 he was sent to Italy to begin military schooling as a volunteer aide-de-camp to his father's friend the duke of Schomberg, commander of the allied army in Savoy. The duke ensured that Stanhope received thorough training as an officer, putting him though all the soldierly grades before appointing him ensign in 1692, and as a captain in 1693 he saw action at the battle of Marsaglia. He returned to London in 1694, was commissioned captain in a new regiment of foot, and in August joined William III's army in Flanders. His winning charm and precocity made him popular with members of the high command, and he was a regular dining companion of the king himself. Such vital patronage, his bravery, and a wound at Namur in 1695 secured him a prestigious guards captaincy and the army rank of lieutenant-colonel, thus virtually guaranteeing his future prospects of promotion. In the summer of 1697 the earl of Portland provided him with his first taste of diplomacy when he included the young colonel on his staff at the opening of peace negotiations outside Brussels. The following year the earl appointed him second secretary in his glittering entourage as ambassador at Paris, but within only a few months this promising career possibility was in tatters owing to a 'misunderstanding' with Portland, which forced his return to England. Besides his prodigious hard drinking, he got into frequent gambling scrapes, and on at least one occasion his fiery temper resulted in a duel in which both he and his opponent were wounded. Many, however, were prepared to forgive his as yet untamed excesses, admiring his intellectual flair, his wit, his ambition, and a promise of future distinction.

During the next few years of peace Stanhope focused his attention on politics. In 1701 he published a translation of Demosthenes' third Philippic, which, though a thinly veiled attack on Louis XIV, was not well taken by the ministry. He established valuable friendships among the leading whig politicians and grandees, and was a founder member of the Kit-Cat Club, one of whom, the duke of Somerset, became his chief political patron. In February 1702 he was made full colonel of a foot regiment, and with government assistance entered parliament at a by-election early in March for Newport, Isle of Wight. He delivered his maiden speech on 19 March in favour of the proposed union with Scotland. With the renewal of war Stanhope's aspirations were directed once more on procuring an army command, though only as a route to the diplomatic career he so much coveted. Hopes of an envoyship at Stockholm came to nothing. Instead, he requested and obtained a place as Spanish secretary on the duke of Ormond's staff in the abortive expedition to capture Cadiz in August, and in October at the storming of Vigo Bay was commended by the duke for his gallantry. He spent the winter in London attending the House of Commons, the duke of Somerset having in the summer general election provided him with a borough seat at Cockermouth, Cumberland, and in future years indulged his developing passion for whig politics whenever intermissions between campaigns allowed. A glaring allegation of homosexuality was made against him in an anti-whig verse published in January 1703, though on this particular question of Stanhope's personality no substantiating evidence has been produced. His military duties in 1703 took him and his regiment to Flanders, where he saw service under Marlborough, but in 1704 illness barred him from taking command in an assignment to garrison a key fortress on the Portuguese frontier with Spain. He nevertheless pressed hard for promotion to brigadier-general. In most respects he was loyal to the MarlboroughGodolphin ministry, though at times he caused ministerial irritation through his forceful whiggery and support for country measures against government corruption.

Spanish campaigns, 1705–1710

Promotion to brigadier-general came in April 1705 and was back-dated to August the previous year. Stanhope intended that the 1705 campaign would be his last, hoping thereafter to obtain a government post. In May he returned to Spain on the staff of the earl of Peterborough. The allied campaign in the Peninsula to place the Archduke Charles on the Spanish throne had made little headway. A more ambitious plan was now conceived to overrun Spain by means of a combined land and sea operation to take Catalonia, and from there to march on Madrid, while a simultaneous offensive would approach from Portugal. In September, after the landing in Catalonia, Stanhope helped to capture the key fortress at Montjuich, outside Barcelona, and on the fall of that city negotiated terms of capitulation and assisted Peterborough in quelling the savage uprising that followed. Stanhope was sent back to London with the dispatches, and in the archduke's letter to the queen he was praised 'for his great zeal, vigilence and very wise conduct, of which he has given proofs on all occasions' (Williams, 45). He briefed the cabinet council on the state of affairs in Spain and threw himself once more into the parliamentary fray. During proceedings on the Regency Bill early in 1706 he helped head a major whig revolt against the government, promoting the demand for a ‘place clause’ to curb government influence in the Commons, but in mid-February he was abruptly removed from the scene by orders to embark for Spain. The defeat of the clause prompted him to comment bitterly: 'I have learnt from Demosthenes that the … sure preservative which a free people can have against the encroachments of tyrants is an eternal mistrust and jealousy' (HoP, Commons, 1690–1715).

Stanhope arrived at Barcelona with reinforcements early in May and he was appointed envoy to the archduke jointly with Lord Peterborough. Most of his time was spent smoothing endless quarrels over military and strategic objectives between the archduke, Peterborough, and the other commanders, duties which sorely tested his patience. The allied armies managed to link in August at Guadalajara, to the north-east of Madrid, but subsequent campaigning was inconclusive and badly directed, 'a sure game thrown away', as Stanhope himself regretted (HoP, Commons, 1690–1715). He quickly lost all sympathy with Peterborough's cautious holding operations, remarking in a dispatch to the secretary of state that 'her Majesty did not spend such vast sums, and send such number of forces to garrison towns in Catalonia and Valencia, but to make King Charles master of the Spanish monarchy' (Williams, 53). So futile did he regard his own presence in Spain that he made several appeals to be discharged, but in vain. Peterborough was relieved of his command at the end of February 1707 and replaced by Lord Galway, but the adoption of Stanhope's pleading for an offensive policy had repercussions little short of disastrous. Disagreements among the allied commanders resulted in part of the army being sent to Catalonia, while Galway, seriously in need of new recruits, marched south-eastwards to Murcia, only to be bloodily defeated by Berwick's army at Almanza in April. At home Peterborough laid the blame squarely on Stanhope, informing Marlborough that 'Mr Stanhope's politics have proved very fatal, having produced our misfortunes and prevented the greatest successes' (ibid., 55). The allies were subsequently pursued back into Catalonia by the French, losing almost all of their previous gains.

Having been promoted major-general in January 1708, Stanhope returned briefly to England, and in parliament, besides justifying his own conduct, helped defend the ministry against censure over the recent failures in Spain. The ministry, pressurized by public dissatisfaction, stepped up its efforts to win the war in Spain and chose Stanhope, not only to resume his role as envoy to the archduke, but to be commander-in-chief of the entire British force in Spain. Stanhope, still only thirty-five, had neither the seniority nor, arguably, the experience for such responsibility, but, in selecting him, Marlborough was clearly taken by his extensive knowledge of conditions in Spain, his fresh ideas, and the enthusiasm 'to get out of Catalonia and enlarge our bounds'.

In May, after several weeks in conference with Marlborough at The Hague, Stanhope rejoined the army in Catalonia. An important, basic priority for success in Spain was possession of a Mediterranean base for the British fleet and from which operations could be launched. Stanhope had long advocated Port Mahon on Minorca, with its excellent harbourage, as ideally situated, and in July he received an instruction from Marlborough to capture the island. On 14 September Stanhope began landing 2600 marines there, and on the 28th, with cannon in place, began his assault on the heavily garrisoned Fort St Philip, which overlooked the harbour. Stanhope himself led the attack on the right wing of the fort, and on the 30th took the garrison commander's surrender. English losses were fewer than fifty, though Stanhope's younger brother Philip was among the dead. Stanhope was determined that the island should be ceded to Britain, but his undiplomatic bullying of the archduke on this point procured only a provisional British occupation, and possession was not finally confirmed by a Spanish government until 1713. No further gains under Stanhope's command were made that year. In an unfortunate reversal of fortune, he and the archduke's commander Starhemberg were forced to abandon their attempt to recover Tortosa in December as the French began to sweep back into Valencia and Catalonia.

Stanhope stayed in Spain throughout the winter of 1708–9 and was promoted lieutenant-general in January 1709. In the new year his progress was again seriously hampered by the numerical inferiority of his army against the Franco-Spanish forces. Since his army had already been hard-pressed and under-sized in Catalonia, the ministry diverted him to Gibraltar to launch an attack on Cadiz. He tried to impress on Godolphin in September that 'a lingering war in Spain will do not good, and cost three times as much as one vigorous effort the first year' (Newman, 39). The operation had eventually to be abandoned in October on account of the late arrival of reinforcements from England. After returning to England in January 1710 Stanhope immersed himself in the fervid party atmosphere stirred by the whig government's impeachment of the high-church preacher Henry Sacheverell and was appointed one of the chief managers of the trial. In Westminster Hall, on 28 February, Stanhope eruditely expounded the notion of ‘compact’ as the true foundation of any government, and demonstrated that Sacheverell's pulpit declamation on the tory doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance was tantamount to a denial of the validity of the post-revolution constitution and government. Stanhope's daunting performance, assisted with few notes, was impressively arrayed with references to the classics, Fortescue, Hooker, Grotius, and Locke, and even cleverly deployed tory authorities to sustain his case. Tory propagandists singled him out for a particular savaging in the ensuing months, calling him a sodomite and a profaner of his religion.

Having persuaded Marlborough and Prince Eugene of the need for an all-out strike against the Bourbons in Spain, Stanhope secured substantial reinforcements, and by midsummer the allied army outnumbered their now mainly Spanish opponents—Stanhope's English battalions exceeding 4200 and Starhemberg's imperial forces almost 20,000. Stanhope once more had to overcome Starhemberg and the archduke's preferences for defensive action and to drive westwards from Catalonia into Aragon. On 27 July, while leading the vanguard, he successfully routed the Spanish cavalry at Almenara, himself killing the Spanish commander in hand-to-hand combat. He then pursued the Spanish in their retreat to Saragossa, where under the city walls on 20 August a pitched battle was fought between the two armies. The Bourbon army was beaten off with a loss of some 12,000, and it was acknowledged by the archduke and Starhemberg that 'the Queen's troops got the day by the resolution of Mr Stanhope' (Williams, 97).

Stanhope then persuaded the council of war that they should continue their south-westwards advance and take Madrid, while Galway's army approached from Portugal. However, by the time the allies entered Madrid on 28 September the city had emptied of its Bourbon monarch, the government, and some 30,000 inhabitants, who had all retired north to Valladolid. The allied position rapidly deteriorated over the next month or so. Galway's army was still in Portugal, and the Spanish, under the new French commander Vendôme, began manoeuvring vigorously towards the allied army, giving them little option but to begin retreating towards Aragon. The 4500-strong English division under Stanhope took the road to Brihuega and, having arrived there on the evening of 6 December, began preparing fresh supplies. Stanhope, however, had failed to take the essential precaution of scouting the surrounding countryside, and he also failed to realize that Vendôme's force of 10,000 had taken a parallel route from Madrid and was now drawing near. Belatedly perceiving his endangered situation on the 8th, as the Spaniards took up position in the surrounding hills, he put the town into a state of defence. The attack began on the 9th, and by late afternoon several breaches in the town walls enabled the Spanish to pour through, though for several hours they were held back by the sheer intensity of British fire. By 7 p.m., however with 600 men dead and wounded, ammunition running low, the town overrun with 2000 enemy troops, and still no sign of Starhemberg marching from nearby Cifuentes, Stanhope had no option but to surrender. He did so, as he later reported in his official dispatch to the secretary of state, Lord Dartmouth, as:

I felt myself in conscience obliged to try and save so many brave men who had done good service to the Queen and will, I hope, live to do so again … I cannot express to your Lordship how much this blow has broken my spirits which I shall never recover.

Williams, 112

He secured capitulation terms as favourable as possible to his men, and for the next eighteen months was kept a prisoner of war in Spain. The humiliation at Brihuega was a huge personal disaster for Stanhope, whose great misfortune was to have been consigned to a theatre of war in which the British ministry showed only intermittent interest.

Politics and high office, 1712–1716

Stanhope returned to England in August 1712. With peace in the offing and the tories secure in office there was now no prospect of resuming his military career. Inevitably, he gravitated towards full-time politics, where his energies were needed by the whig opposition. Parliament did not reassemble until April 1713, and in the meantime, on 24 February 1713, he married Lucy Pitt (1692–1723), a younger daughter of the wealthy Indian nabob Thomas ‘Diamond’ Pitt. Although in future years Stanhope found little time for domesticity, it was a happy union, and the couple had seven children, including two sets of twins.

In the Commons, after several years' absence, Stanhope now occupied a leading position among whig politicians, and was prominent in the attack on the peace settlement and the new commercial concessions with France. He also published his forebodings about the dire effects on the English economy in a new journal, the British Merchant. He briskly upstaged tory efforts to tar him with irregularity in his military expenses while in Spain. After losing his parliamentary seat at Cockermouth at the general election in August 1713, another was found for him at Wendover in March 1714. During the session he upheld the principles of toleration against the Schism Bill, the tory blueprint for eradicating religious dissent. Behind the scenes Stanhope was deeply involved in perfecting secret plans with other whig leaders to take control of London militarily should the tories renege on the Hanoverian succession and bring in the Stuarts. However, the peaceful aftermath of the queen's death on 1 August 1714 rendered these precautions unnecessary, and the construction of a ministry on whig lines proceeded quietly. Stanhope was already held in high regard by Elector George of Hanover, and even before the queen died he was promised high office. It was initially expected that he would return to the military sphere as commander-in-chief in Ireland until Horatio Walpole, who had served on Stanhope's diplomatic staff in Spain, proposed him to Lord Townshend early in September to be Townshend's fellow secretary of state, with responsibility for the southern department, and occupy the leading ministerial position in the Commons. He was appointed on 14 September 1714 and sworn of the privy council on the 24th.

With no previous ministerial experience, Stanhope now found himself the incumbent of one of the highest offices of state. Almost from the start he was a vital new force in ministerial politics, and it was largely owing to his untiring energies that Britain acquired a prominent interventionist role in the maintenance of European peace following the treaty of Utrecht. At first he shared responsibility for foreign affairs and worked within the purview of his senior colleague Lord Townshend, who, with other leading whigs, harboured an ingrained distrust of the French and was anxious to re-establish the old London–Hague relationship. Stanhope's thinking on post-war Europe, however, was in many respects ahead of that of other British politicians. His feeling that little was to be obtained from the self-obsessed Dutch inclined him naturally towards his old acquaintance the emperor, the former Archduke Charles, while Britain's trading advantages, he felt, were best guaranteed through mutual accords with Spain. The ministerial priority of restoring the old rapport with the Dutch was to be obtained by Britain's mediation in their complex dispute with the imperialists over the question of the barrier fortresses protecting them from France, and in October Stanhope took the initiative of visiting The Hague and Vienna in an effort to bring the two parties to the negotiating table. Stanhope thereby set an early precedent for his dynamic style of diplomatic engagement. His impatience and desire to see quick results strengthened his willingness to travel to foreign courts and deal in person with foreign ministers and monarchs. Lacking the suave urbanity of the career diplomatist, he forced his views through charm, bullying, and outbursts of temper as occasion demanded, but his bluntness and honesty of purpose won him a high reputation among European statesmen. He himself ascribed his success to the fact that 'he always imposed on foreign ministers by telling them the naked truth' (Williams, 168).

In 1715, alongside his monitoring of the barrier negotiations, Stanhope was involved in the task of consolidating the dynasty at home. Electioneering, in which the whigs obtained a strong majority, was followed by the secret committee preparations, Stanhope presiding, for the impeachments of Lord Oxford and other leading members of the late tory ministry. On receipt of intelligence in July of the Pretender's planned descent on the English coast, Stanhope took direction of the mainly military measures for its suppression. At the diplomatic level he took care to keep the French passive and to dissuade them from assisting the Pretender and his forces. In Scotland, where the Pretender raised his standard in September, he co-ordinated troop movements with the commander-in-chief, the duke of Argyll, and was in constant touch with field commanders in the pursuit of the rebels. The suppression of the rising by January 1716 owed much to Stanhope's organizing prowess, and it was this demonstration of Britain's ability to sustain her new ruling dynasty which encouraged other powers to regard her more positively. The finalization of a new barrier treaty between the Dutch republic and the emperor towards the end of 1715 through British mediation marked a successful outcome to Stanhope's first initiatives. Stanhope was in full agreement with Townshend's project for an alliance with Austria, and as deadlock threatened the completion of the treaty of Westminster in May 1716, he intervened with an incisive clause promising British defence of Italy from Spain but which carefully avoided a commitment to furthering Charles VI's Mediterranean ambitions—particularly his claim to Sicily, which in 1713 had been ceded to Victor Amadeus of Savoy. In the same month Stanhope concluded an agreement with Spain which expanded the commercial concessions Britain had secured at Utrecht.

Triple alliance, 1716–1717

The French desire for an improved understanding with the British gathered momentum after the death of Louis XIV. But although approaches to Stanhope were made by his acquaintances from former days—the duc d'Orléans, now regent for the sickly infant Louis XV, and his chief minister the Abbé Dubois—French ambiguity over the Pretender's claims to the British throne filled Stanhope with misgiving. Negotiations between Stanhope and Dubois went ahead in Hanover in the summer of 1716. At first each trod warily, but a genuine friendship soon developed, and from the lengthy summer dialogues between the two men there emerged a draft treaty. It was from this point that Stanhope began to assume the role of chief executor of Britain's foreign policy. Working closely with George I in Hanover, he was awakened to the implications of the king's involvement as ruler of a north German state in the ongoing Baltic struggle against the hegemonic ambitions of Charles XII of Sweden, and was obliged to plan policy in accordance with the king's dictates. Dubois had already intimated his master's willingness to break the French alliance with Sweden and support the king-elector's longstanding claims to the Swedish-held duchies of Bremen and Verden. However, critical developments in the Baltic situation in late summer heightened the importance of Stanhope's negotiations with Dubois. The former accord which Hanover enjoyed with Tsar Peter of Russia broke down over the latter's increasingly evident wish to establish himself in neighbouring Mecklenburg, which, together with the discovery that the Swedes were in league with the Jacobites, plus the fact that the Russians, too, were wooing the French, demanded that Stanhope conclude the alliance with the French as a matter of supreme urgency once preliminaries had been signed in August.

Although Stanhope's efforts brought him the king's gratitude, news was filtering through to him that the chief ministers at home, Townshend and Robert Walpole, resented the sacrifice of British interests to Hanover. Their anxiety to remain within an exclusively Austro-Dutch alliance system led them into conflict with Stanhope's purposes as they tried to assuage Dutch misgivings and secure the republic's inclusion in the intended triple alliance. Townshend was also irritated that the king's policy of containing Sweden in the Baltic had shifted, obviously with Stanhope's assistance, to the distinctly Hanoverian one of containing Russia, but in confiding to Stanhope his scathing disapproval of the king's entire northern policy he committed the cardinal error that quickly sealed his fate. Stanhope, his standing with the king now immeasurably strengthened, tried at first to conciliate Townshend, but, finding himself thwarted and still criticized, brought the issue to a head by tendering his own resignation in November. The king refused, and in December Townshend was removed from the centre of power and appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland. The French alliance was formally completed at the end of December 1716. Stanhope had avoided Dubois's demand that the Utrecht settlement be guaranteed in its entirety, since this would have stifled Stanhope's plans to settle the differences between the Spanish king and the emperor over their claims in Italy which had begun to threaten a reopening of war. Most importantly, however, the British and French guaranteed each other's successions, and a tacit acknowledgement was given to George's claims to Bremen and Verden.

It required Stanhope's constant efforts to keep the alliance intact, but the combined diplomatic and military power it represented was vitally important to him in his ambitions to establish a wider system of collective security in Europe. In parliament he had to bear the brunt of criticism of the king's pro-Hanoverian policy in the Baltic, but he vigorously demonstrated that the king's interests in the area were also Britain's, and that trade could not be secured until Charles XII of Sweden had been vanquished and Russian encroachment arrested. The ministry finally split in April 1717, when Townshend and Walpole left office and took their adherents with them into opposition. Stanhope had undoubtedly seen his chances rise as Townshend's disagreement with royal policy took shape, but his hand was also forced by exasperation at Townshend's counter-productive activities and failure to grasp the current realities of Britain's situation in northern Europe. Stanhope was now the king's chief minister, becoming first lord of the Treasury and chancellor of the exchequer in Walpole's place on 15 April. He professed little capacity for Treasury business, and faced many difficulties in leading the government during his remaining months in the Commons. On 3 July, shortly before the session closed, he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Stanhope of Mahon. In the previous month he had purchased a country seat and estate at Chevening in Kent comprising 3466 acres, the outlay of £28,000 coming mainly from his wife's dowry.

Quadruple Alliance, 1717–1718

While at Hanover in 1716 Stanhope had also begun to consider how the Anglo-French alliance might be employed to reconcile Spain and Austria, and he lost no time in opening negotiations with other interested parties. The two powers had never formally made peace during the Utrecht negotiations: the emperor maintained his claim to Philip V's throne, and their simmering antagonism centring on Italy threatened Europe with a new war. Stanhope's initial plan involved satisfying the emperor in his claim to Sicily, which Victor Amadeus of Savoy was to hand him in return for Sardinia. The emperor would also gain Spain's formal renunciation of her Italian dominions as decreed in the 1713 settlement, while the emperor, in turn, would give up his claim to Spain. Though no longer technically responsible for foreign policy, Stanhope retained full control of the complex negotiations he had begun even before leaving Hanover in January 1717. A conference eventually opened at Hampton Court in November 1717 attended by representatives of all the powers concerned except Spain. The Spanish, meanwhile, had grown increasingly warlike as Stanhope's old acquaintance Cardinal Alberoni and Philip V's new queen, Elizabeth Farnese, determined on recovery of Spain's former Mediterranean empire.

In March 1718, while deep in these negotiations, Stanhope was relieved of the additional burdens of the Treasury, which he handed over to the earl of Sunderland, and became senior secretary of state in the northern department, his gifted protégé James Craggs succeeding as junior secretary. The following month he was advanced to an earldom. Imperial foot-dragging tested Stanhope's notorious impatience to the limit, but he and Dubois finalized a peace plan embodying Stanhope's original aims, plus, in a desperate effort to placate Spain, a guarantee that Philip V's younger son should succeed to the Farnese dominions of Parma, Piacenza, and Tuscany. In July, after Stanhope had rushed to Paris to stiffen the regent's vacillating resolve against the strong pro-Spanish faction at the French court, a convention was signed between Britain and France requiring Vienna and Madrid to accept the Quadruple Alliance (Britain, France, Austria, and the Dutch republic) within three months or to have it forced upon them. As the Spanish prepared to attack the Italian mainland, having already landed troops in Sardinia and Sicily, Stanhope stationed an English fleet under Admiral George Byng in the Mediterranean as an assurance to the emperor that Spanish aggression would be suffered to go no further. In August, armed with the emperor's formal acceptance, Stanhope visited Madrid himself in a personal bid to persuade the Spanish to accept the treaty, but his proposals for an avoidance of war, including the return of Gibraltar, made no impression on the cardinal. On his return to Paris news greeted him that Byng had already encountered and decimated the Spanish fleet off Cape Passaro on 11 August.

Alberoni's intransigence gave Stanhope little option but to commit Britain to a limited war with Spain by the end of the year. It was all the more necessary in view of Spanish attacks on British shipping and evidence that the cardinal was scheming with the Jacobite court. At home renewed prospects of war confronted Stanhope's ministry with strong opposition in the Commons led by Walpole, who disparaged Stanhope's policy as 'contrary to the interests and rights of the nation' and Stanhope himself as the 'knight errant of English diplomacy' (Williams, 322). In an artful move Stanhope substantially defused the threat posed by the WalpoleTownshend faction by choosing at this juncture to fulfil a personal ambition to appease whig notions on the subject of religious dissent. As Stanhope predicted, Walpole stuck by his tory allies and lost much credibility in attacking a bill which moderately lightened the legal impediments against nonconformists in public life, and the government regained many of its old supporters. He was also anxious to procure passage of the Peerage Bill, introduced in February 1719, an insidious measure whereby Stanhope sought to preserve his ministry's majority in the House of Lords, should George I suddenly die, by fixing the number of peers and restricting the monarch's right of creation. The bill was much despised, however, as a most undesirable piece of constitutional tampering, and its critics, led by Walpole, forced its defeat in April and again in December.

Northern policy, 1718–1721

The death of Charles XII of Sweden in December 1718 had enabled Stanhope to redouble his efforts to bring peace to the Baltic and secure Britain's all-important access to naval stores while leaving his colleague Craggs to supervise the details of the war with Spain. He was keen to exploit Sweden's new vulnerability and use her conquered acquisitions in north Germany as bargaining pieces in a series of treaties between Sweden and her former enemies. To Swedish diplomatists he professed a desire to drive the Russian tsar from his encroaching hegemony in the Baltic, but realized that in the long term Russian aspirations in the eastern Baltic would have to be accommodated. He firstly secured French backing, and, through his able emissary at Stockholm, Lord Carteret, plied the new Swedish Queen Ulrica with assurances of British naval and financial support, which, with the Russian fleet already ravaging the Swedish coast, were readily accepted. At the same time Stanhope instigated negotiations at Berlin for a rapprochement between George I and Frederick William I of Prussia, his chief aim being to concert their respective territorial claims on Sweden, and, most importantly, to wean the Prussian king from his alliance with the tsar and encourage his co-operation with the other north German and Scandinavian powers.

For a while Stanhope had to compete with the conflicting policies of George I's chief Hanoverian minister, Bernstorff, who resented Stanhope's sweeping intervention in northern policy and continued to pursue anti-Prussian and anti-Russian objectives, which Stanhope's purposes now superseded. Eventually, in July 1719, the king gave in to gentle pressure from Stanhope and removed Bernstorff from the negotiations. Preliminaries were then quickly completed in August between Britain, Prussia, and Sweden, confirming Sweden's cession of southern Pomerania and Stettin to Prussia and of Bremen and Verden to Hanover—though not before in the final stages Stanhope had characteristically threatened to deny the Swedes promised naval assistance against the tsar until they signed. The agreements were finalized in the treaties of Stockholm of November 1719 and February 1720.

As Stanhope had hoped, the Anglo-French war with Spain precipitated the downfall of Alberoni, and in January 1720 his diplomacy finally induced Philip V to accede to the Italian settlement embodied in the Quadruple Alliance and make peace with the emperor, while at the same time ensuring commercial advantage for Britain. He had substantially achieved the main objects of his plans to consolidate the peacemaking of 1713–14, but the completeness of his achievement was beset by further problems. The Spanish now clamoured for the return of Gibraltar, while in the north he was still preoccupied with Russia. Reluctant to authorize a direct attack on the tsar's positions in the Baltic, Stanhope hoped that the presence of the British fleet would alone be a sufficient deterrent. At home a reconciliation between government whigs and the supporters of Walpole and Townshend was effected in April 1720. Stanhope's discovery that Bernstorff and the German fraternity at court were intriguing with the opposition whigs to topple his administration enabled him to seize the initiative, make terms with Walpole and Townshend, and restructure the ministry in ways more favourable to himself and Sunderland than to his erstwhile opponents. As he prepared to accompany the king to Hanover in the summer, the ministry enjoyed greater unity and political security than at any time previously.

While in Hanover Stanhope continued to strengthen the British–Hanoverian connection with Prussia and himself visited Berlin in July. But the appearance of this power bloc irritated the Austrians, and disagreements with Vienna rapidly multiplied. Stanhope was exasperated by Austria's lack of co-operation in bringing pressure on Russia in the Baltic; and when in October the tsar refused George I's offer of mediation, he could only advise the Swedes to make what peace they could with Russia. His return to London was hastened in November by the deepening crisis unleashed by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble [see Promoters of the South Sea Bubble]. Although like other members of the government he had been a subscriber to South Sea stock, there was no suggestion, then or later, that Stanhope had been party to any underhand dealings. Even so, his authority was weakened under heavy parliamentary attack in December and his confidence was shaken by the disclosures concerning Sunderland, Aislabie, Craggs, and others. Early in the new year there was talk that he was to leave the ministry and replace the dying duke of Marlborough as captain-general of the army. He continued none the less to defend his government with customary vigour and panache. It was while doing so in the House of Lords on 4 February 1721 that he was taken ill with a violent headache. After some apparent recovery the following day, he died of a stroke at eight o'clock that evening. The king was shocked and distraught at the sudden 'loss of so able and faithful a minister, of whose service his Majesty had so great need at this critical juncture' (Newman, 99). On the king's orders Stanhope was given a full military funeral through London on 17 February to Southwark, and he was afterwards privately buried at Chevening.

Legacy

Stanhope's uniqueness among the senior politicians of early Hanoverian Britain is too often obscured in the pages of drily written diplomatic history. Yet to the huge problems of securing Britain's new ruling dynasty and the consolidation of European peace after 1714 he brought boundless energy and determination precisely when such qualities were urgently required. His military career, played out in the badly resourced Spanish theatre of war, gave him practical insight into the futility of international conflict, while from thinkers such as Pufendorf, whose major works graced his library shelves, he imbibed a rationale for peace based on reason in which negotiation played the key part in the balancing of interests. His southern and northern settlements were the fruits of far-sighted diplomacy, and the new relationship established with Britain's old enemy France became the vital precondition for the long period of peace under Walpole. Tough, persistent, and sometimes high-handed, Stanhope was not always statesmanlike, while his impatience with foot-dragging and minutiae was almost legendary; however, his resolute pursuit of ambitious schemes ensured for Britain a lead at this time in setting a European-wide agenda for the maintenance of peace.

In the political arena at home Stanhope pitched himself against those who saw Britain in insular terms, and even among his whig brethren cautious elements regarded him as 'too hot and projecting' (Buckinghamshire MSS, 511). The strong domineering streak in his personality and his closeness to the king brought out arbitrary instincts in him as chief minister, the extremes of which were apparent in the underlying purposes of the Peerage Bill and a number of other measures projected to strengthen the arm of the new whig establishment. And although he was prepared to pay lip-service to whiggish notions of religious tolerance which had been dear to him in his days as a fledgeling MP, his willingness to assuage the dissenters was marked with ulterior political motives. His sudden death left unresolved many immediate problems at home and abroad, and in this sense his legacy was an incomplete one.

Sources

  • B. Williams, Stanhope: a study in eighteenth-century war and diplomacy (1932)
  • A. Newman, The Stanhopes of Chevening (1969)
  • R. Hatton, George I: elector and king (1978)
  • R. Hatton, Diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Dutch, 1714–1721 (1950)
  • D. McKay, Allies of convenience: diplomatic relations between Great Britain and Austria, 1714–1719 (1986)
  • The manuscripts of the earl of Buckinghamshire, the earl of Lindsey … and James Round, HMC, 38 (1895), 511

Archives

  • CKS, corresp. and papers
  • BL, letters to George Bobb, Egerton MSS 2170–2175
  • BL, corresp. with Lord Townshend, Add. MS 22510
  • BL, corresp. with Charles Whitworth, etc., Add. MSS 37361–37383
  • BL, letters to H. Worsley, Add. MS 15936
  • CAC Cam., corresp. with Thomas Erle
  • NA Scot., corresp. with Lord Polwarth
  • NRA, priv. coll., corresp. with Lord Godolphin
  • NYPL, corresp. with James Craggs, Sir Luke Schaub, etc.
  • NYPL, corresp. with Guillaume Dubois

Likenesses

  • G. Kneller, oils, 1705–1710, NPG [see illus.]
  • attrib. J. van Diest, oils, 1718, NPG
  • attrib. J. van Diest, oils, 1718, Gov. Art Coll.
  • J. M. Rysbrack, statue on monument, 1731, Westminster Abbey
  • attrib. J. van Diest, oils, 1734, Gov. Art Coll.
  • Denner, portrait, Chevening, Kent
  • J. Faber junior, mezzotint (after G. Kneller), BM, NPG

Wealth at Death

£44,000, incl. £13,000 owed to him: Newman, Stanhopes, 100

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
D. W. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, & S. Handley, eds., , 5 vols. (2002)
Historical Manuscripts Commission