A bracing brace of Bentincks

3rd Duke of Portland / alaintruong.com

3rd Duke of Portland / alaintruong.com

Hans Willem, Baron Bentinck was born in the middle of the seventeenth century. An aristocrat by birth, he served as a page to the Stadholder (q.v.) William. Surviving his master’s customary bad humour, he became a confidant, friend and agent to the future King William III of England. We have already described how a Dutchman became king of England in another volume of General History, so suffice it to say that William was married to Mary, who descended from Mary Queen of Scots. Thanks to the treachery of Marlborough and others, the rightful monarch of England, James II, was requested to leave, which he did, and William and Mary became joint rulers of England. The good Baron Bentinck came with them.

In fact it was thanks to Bentinck that the marriage between the Stadholder and Princess Mary ( a daughter of James VII and II of Scotland and England ) came about, as he negotiated the terms. Not only that, but the plans for a minor invasion of England by William of Holland in 1688 were supervised by Bentinck. Minor became major, James II ran off to Catholic France, and surly William the Stadholder mounted the English throne accompanied by his wife, who was not blessed with good looks. Once William was installed he rewarded his faithful confidant by making him the Ist Duke of Portland (1689). The ‘Glorious Revolution’ had been achieved with little bloodshed, and the name Bentinck began to ring through British political history. Hans Willem died in 1709.

William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland was born in 1738, and became an MP at the age of twenty-three. He succeeded to the extremely valuable dukedom in 1762. He was Lord Chamberlain of the Household under Rockingham, though his politics were whiggish. In 1782 he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, graveyard of so many otherwise great Englishmen’s aspirations. But William was a Bentinck and did not fail, but returned with his reputation still unblemished to become virtual head of a ministry in the ‘Fox-North Coalition. Here there was a blip because King George III loathed the Fox-North Coalition and threw it out!

The Duke led the Whigs in opposition to the government of William Pitt the Younger, until 1794 when he agreed to join him in a coalition in order to make things stable while Britain fought in the terrible French Revolutionary Wars. Some historians insist that this Pitt-Portland coalition was the model on which the modern Conservative Party was founded. The Duke was successively Home Secretary, Lord President of the Council, and in Pitt’s last ministry he was Lord President and Minister without Portfolio (a uniquely English post that hardly exists in any other country). Finally he was summoned by George III himself to lead the (Pittite) Administration in 1807. He was, at sixty-nine, too old and weak, & near-crippled with gout to be much more than a titular head. He was dead within two years.

Lord William Henry Cavendish Bentinck was born in 1774, the second son of the third Duke of Portland. The family, firmly established in England by now, and rich, decided young William should become an officer in the army (1791) when he was seventeen. His rank was Ensign, the army’s equivalent of a naval midshipman. But he did not stay ensign for long, because he was appointed Governor of Madras in 1803, not bad going for a young man of twenty-nine. For a Bentinck, he did not shine in India, and was recalled to command soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars in Sicily and Spain – in which country he was noticed by the beady eye of Wellington, who did not think badly of him, though his political leanings were towards Liberalism.

In Sicily he was responsible for the re-organisation & re-structuring of that sad island by forcing an unwanted constitution on the naturally reactionary Bourbon king, Ferdinand I. To stay with his Italian saga, it was Lord William who championed the cause of Italian independence amd a constitutional government, but for once a Bentinck failed to impress the British Government with his views. He then returned to Britain and became a member of Parliament. Not satisfied with this he arranged to be appointed Governor-General of India, where he stayed from 1828 to 1835, and managed to introduce several important administrative reforms. He died in 1839, a true Bentinck, unfazed by failure, and always aiming upward.

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