Facts and Events
William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC (2 May 1737 – 7 May 1805), known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history, was an Irish-born British Whig who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister 1782–1783 during the final months of the American War of Independence. He succeeded in securing peace with America and this feat remains his legacy. He was also well known as a collector of antiquities and works of art
Lord Shelburne was born in Dublin in 1737 and spent his formative years in Ireland. After attending Oxford University he served in the British army during the Seven Years' War taking part in the Raid on Rochefort and the Battle of Minden. As a reward for his conduct at the Battle of Kloster Kampen Shelburne was appointed an aide-de-camp to George III. He became involved in politics, becoming a Member of Parliament in 1760. After his father's death in 1761 he inherited his title and was elevated to the House of Lords and took an active role in politics. He served as President of the Board of Trade in the Grenville Ministry but resigned this position after only a few months and began to associate with the opposition leader William Pitt.
When Pitt was made Prime Minister in 1766 Shelburne was appointed as Southern Secretary a position which he held for two years. He departed office during the Corsican Crisis and joined the Opposition. Along with Pitt he was an advocate of a conciliatory policy towards Britain's American Colonies and a long-term critic of the North Government's measures in America.
Following the fall of the North government Shelburne joined its replacement led by Lord Rockingham. Shelburne was made Prime Minister in 1782 following Rockingham's death with the American War still being fought. Shelburne's government was brought down largely due to the terms of the Peace of Paris which brought the conflict to an end which were considered excessively generous.
He was an early advocate of free trade.
He was born William FitzMaurice in Dublin in Ireland, the first son of John FitzMaurice, who was the second surviving son of the 1st Earl of Kerry. William's brother was The Honourable Thomas FitzMaurice (MP) (1742-1793). Lord Kerry had married Anne Petty, the daughter of Sir William Petty, Surveyor General of Ireland, whose elder son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1688 and (on the elder son's death) whose younger son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1699 and Earl of Shelburne in 1719. On the younger son's death the Petty estates passed to the aforementioned John FitzMaurice, who changed his branch of the family's surname to "Petty" in place of "FitzMaurice", and was created Viscount FitzMaurice later in 1751 and Earl of Shelburne in 1753 (after which his elder son John was styled Viscount FitzMaurice).
FitzMaurice spent his childhood "in the remotest parts of the south of Ireland," and, according to his own account, when he entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1755, he had "both everything to learn and everything to unlearn". From a tutor whom he describes as "narrow-minded" he received advantageous guidance in his studies, but he attributes his improvement in manners and in knowledge of the world chiefly to the fact that, as was his "fate through life", he fell in "with clever but unpopular connexions".
Shelburne was one of the first British statesmen to advocate free trade, his conversion to which he attributed to a journey he made to London in 1761, when he accompanied Adam Smith. In 1795 he described this to Dugald Stewart:
I owe to a journey I made with Mr Smith from Edinburgh to London, the difference between light and darkness through the best part of my life. The novelty of his principles, added to my youth and prejudices, made me unable to comprehend them at the time, but he urged them with so much benevolence, as well as eloquence, that they took a certain hold, which, though it did not develope itself so as to arrive at full conviction for some few years after, I can fairly say, has constituted, ever since, the happiness of my life, as well as any little consideration I may have enjoyed in it.