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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 a Britishmarker Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister 1782 – 1783.

Early life

He was born William FitzMaurice in Dublinmarker in Irelandmarker, the first son of John FitzMaurice, who was the second surviving son of the 1st Earl of Kerry. 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 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, Oxfordmarker, 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".

Military and political career

Shortly after leaving the university he served in Wolfe's regiment (20th Foot) during the Seven Years' War, and so distinguished himself at Mindenmarker and Kloster-Kampen that he was raised to the rank of Colonel and appointed Aide-de-Camp to the King (1760). Being thus brought into near communication with Lord Bute, he was in 1761 employed by that nobleman to negotiate for the support of Lord Holland.

Between 1761 and 1762, he represented Kerry in the Irish House of Commons. In 1760, he was also returned to the British House of Commonsmarker as member for Wycombe, but in 1761 he succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Shelburne in the Peerage of Ireland and 2nd Baron Wycombe in the Peerage of Great Britain. Though he declined to take office under Bute he undertook negotiations to induce Henry Fox to gain the consent of the Commons to the peace of 1763. Fox affirmed that he had been duped, and, although Shelburne always asserted that he had acted in thorough good faith, Bute spoke of the affair as a "pious fraud".

Shelburne joined the Grenville ministry in 1763 as First Lord of Trade, but, failing in his efforts to include Pitt in the Cabinet, he in a few months resigned office. Having moreover on account of his support of Pitt on the question of Wilkes's expulsion from the House of Commons incurred the displeasure of the King, he retired for a time to his estate. After Pitt's return to power in 1766 he became Southern Secretary, but during Pitt's illness his conciliatory policy towards America was completely thwarted by his colleagues and the King, and in 1768 he was dismissed from office.

In June 1768 the General Court incorporated the district of Shelburne, Massachusettsmarker from the area formerly known as "Deerfield Northeast" and in 1786 the district became a town. The town was named in honour of Lord Shelburne, who, in return sent a church bell, which never reached the town.

In 1782 he consented to take office under Lord Rockingham on condition that the King would recognise the United Statesmarker. On the death of Lord Rockingham in the same year he became Prime Minister; but the secession of Fox and his supporters led to the famous coalition of Fox with Lord North, which caused his resignation in the following April, his fall being perhaps hastened by his plans for the reform of the public service. He had also in contemplation a Bill to promote free commercial intercourse between England and the United States. When Pitt acceded to office in 1784, Shelburne, instead of receiving a place in the Cabinet, was created Marquess of Lansdowne. Though giving a general support to the policy of Pitt, he from this time ceased to take an active part in public affairs.

During his lifetime Lord Lansdowne was blamed for insincerity and duplicity, and he incurred the deepest unpopularity, but the accusations came chiefly from those who were dissatisfied with his preference of principles to party, and if he had had a more unscrupulous regard to his personal ambition, his career as a statesman would have had more outward success. He was cynical in his estimates of character, but no statesman of his time possessed more enlightened political views, while his friendship with those of his contemporaries eminent in science and literature must be allowed considerable weight in qualifying our estimate of the moral defects with which he has been credited.


Lord Lansdowne was twice married:

First to Lady Sophia Carteret (26 August 1745-5 January 1771), daughter of the 1st Earl Granville, through whom he obtained the Lansdowne estates near Bathmarker. They had at least one child:
  • John Henry Petty, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne (6 December 1765–15 November 1809), who sat in the House of Commons for twenty years as member for Chipping Wycombe before inheriting his father's marquessate. He married Mary Arabella Maddox (died 24 April 1833), the daughter of Rev. Hinton Maddox and the widow of Duke Gifford, on 27 May 1805; they had no sons.

Secondly to Lady Louisa FitzPatrick (1755–7 August 1789), daughter of the 1st Earl of Upper Ossory. They had at least two children:

Lord Shelburne's Government, July 1782 – April 1783


  • January 1783 - Lord Howe succeeds Lord Keppel at the Admiralty.

Titles from birth to death

  • Mr. William FitzMaurice (1737-1751)
  • Mr. William Petty (1751)
  • The Hon. William Petty (1751-1753)
  • Viscount FitzMaurice (1753-1760)
  • Viscount FitzMaurice, MP (1760-1761)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Shelburne (1761-1763)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Shelburne, PC (1763-1782)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Shelburne, KG, PC (1782-1784)
  • The Most Hon. The Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC (1784-1805)

See also


  1. Childhood in the remotest parts of the south of Ireland probably refers to the family estates in County Kerry. The Pettys owned the Lansdowne Estates in the Kenmare area in South Kerry and the Fitzmaurice estates were in the Lixnaw area in North Kerry.

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