Henry Pelham

For other people named Henry Pelham, see Henry Pelham (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Henry Pelham
Prime Minister of Great Britain
In office
27 August 1743  6 March 1754
Monarch George II
Preceded by The Earl of Wilmington
Succeeded by The Duke of Newcastle
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
12 December 1743  6 March 1754
Monarch George II
Preceded by Samuel Sandys
Succeeded by William Lee
Personal details
Born (1694-09-25)25 September 1694
Laughton, Sussex, England
Died 6 March 1754(1754-03-06) (aged 59)
St James's, Middlesex, England
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Catherine Manners (m. 1726)
Children 4
Alma mater Hart Hall, Oxford[1]
Religion Church of England

Henry Pelham, PC, FRS (25 September 1694 6 March 1754) was a British Whig statesman, who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 27 August 1743 until his death. He was the younger brother of Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, who served in Pelham's government and succeeded him as Prime Minister. Pelham is generally considered to have been Britain's third Prime Minister after Sir Robert Walpole and the Earl of Wilmington.

Pelham's premiership was relatively uneventful in terms of domestic affairs. In foreign affairs, Great Britain fought in several wars. Upon Pelham's death, his brother Newcastle took full control of the ministry.

Early life

Pelham, Newcastle's younger brother, was a younger son of the Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham and his wife, the former Lady Grace Holles, daughter of Gilbert Holles, 3rd Earl of Clare and Grace Pierrepont. He was educated at Westminster School and Hart Hall, Oxford. Hertford College Oxford, the present-day incarnation of Hart Hall, still honours him in the title of its most prestigious drinking club, the Sir Henry Pelham Gentlemen's Sporting Society. As a volunteer he served in Dormer's regiment at the Battle of Preston in 1715, spent some time on the Continent, and in 1717 entered Parliament for Seaford in Sussex which he represented until 1722.

Pelham, c. 1720



Through strong family influence, and the recommendation of Robert Walpole, he was chosen in 1721 as Lord of the Treasury. The following year he was returned for Sussex county. In 1724 he entered the ministry as Secretary at War, but this office he exchanged in 1730 for the more lucrative one of Paymaster of the Forces. He made himself conspicuous by his support of Walpole on the question of the excise. He, Newcastle, and the Prime Minister would often meet at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, where they would draw up much of the country's policy. These meetings became known as the Norfolk Congress. With Walpole, he served as a founding governor of the popular charity the Foundling Hospital when it opened its doors in 1739.

In 1742 a union of parties resulted in the formation of an administration in which Pelham became Prime Minister the following year, succeeding the Earl of Wilmington after his death.

Prime minister

The first year of Pelham's premiership is regarded as a continuation of the Carteret Ministry, with Lord Carteret continuing as Secretary of State for the Northern Department with responsibility for foreign affairs; Carteret was close to King George II. Pelham served as First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.

In November 1744, the Pelhams forced Lord Carteret out of the ministry: Pelham bluntly told the king that either Carteret step down, or the Pelhamites would, leaving His Majesty without a government. Thereafter Pelham shared power with his brother, the Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pelham was regarded as the leading figure, but rank and influence made his brother very powerful in the Cabinet. In spite of a genuine attachment, there were occasional disputes between them, which sometimes led to further difficulties.

The Broad Bottomed Administration

Being strongly in favour of peace, Pelham carried on the War of the Austrian Succession with languor and indifferent success, but the country, wearied of the interminable struggle, was disposed to acquiesce in his foreign policy almost without a murmur. King George II, thwarted in his own favourite schemes, made overtures in February 1746 to Lord Bath, but his purpose was upset by the resignation of the two Pelhams (Henry and Newcastle), who, after a two-day hiatus in which Bath and Carteret (now earl Granville) proved unable to form a ministry, resumed office at the king's request. One of their terms was to insist that the king should have 'total confidence' in a ministry; rather than partial grudging acceptance of the Whigs.

Pelham's brother the Duke of Newcastle with whom he enjoyed a prodigious political partnership, despite their occasional personal disagreements. Newcastle ultimately succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1754.

The Augustan era was essential to the development of prime ministerial power as being entirely dependant on a Commons majority, rather than royal prerogative interventions. While the king struggled with his headstrong son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, his son's uncertain constitutional position was high in the Leicester House party set. In 1748 Frederick, a Tory, planned to bring down the Pelhamites at a general election due the following year. Prime Minister called an early poll in 1748 by asking the king to dissolve parliament in 1747. The prince and his father, the king grew to hate one another with unspeakable animosity. But one consequence was a closer relationship between Henry Pelham and the Sovereign. When he finally died in 1754, the King remarked "Now I shall have no more peace." Peace had been signed in 1748 leading inexorably to a number of cost-cutting budgetary measures.

The Army and Navy spending shrunk from £12 m to £7 million per annum. Pelham promised to reduce interest rates through introduction of a balancing act measure from 4% to 3% by 1757. He also assisted a fund to reduce the National Debt. In 1749, the Consolidation Act was passed, reorganising the Royal Navy. On 20 March 1751, the British calendar was reorganised as well (New Year's Day became 1 January); Britain would adopt the Gregorian calendar one year later. In 1752 he was able to reduce the land tax from 4 s. to 2 s in the pound (an effective reduction from 20% to 10%).

One social consequence of the press gangs going to sea in an expansive navy fleet was to the growth of industrial processes necessary for warfare. In the ports the fermentation of gin demonstrated clearly by engravers such as Hogarth in "Gin Lane" the deparavity issuing forth from the demon drink. Preachers "fire and brimsone" in favour of temperance, and drunken soldiers and sailors persuaded the administration to introduce the Gin Acts. The 1751 act was the last of four that had largely failed to prevent serious social unrest, including riots in London, reduced the number licensed dealers and sellers of liquor. By restricting supply the consumption dropped and price fell helping to manage the problem.[2]

Two of Pelham's final acts were the Jew Bill of 1753, which allowed Jews to become naturalized by application to Parliament, and the Marriage Act of 1753, which enumerated the minimum age of consent for marriage. Upon his death, his brother (the aforementioned Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) took over government.


His very defects were among the chief elements of Pelham's success, for one with a strong personality, moderate amount self-respect, or haughty conceptions of statesmanship could not have restrained the discordant elements of the cabinet for any length of time the way he did. Moreover, he possessed tact and a thorough acquaintance with the forms of the House of Commons. Whatever quarrels or insubordination might have existed within the cabinet, they never broke out into open revolt. His financial policy was worthy of praise, especially his plans for the reduction of the national debt and the simplification and consolidation of different government branches related to this debt.

Personal life

Pelham had married Lady Catherine Manners, daughter of the John Manners, 2nd Duke of Rutland, in 1726. They had four daughters:

When Pelham was elevated to Prime Minister, he began construction of a house located at 22 Arlington Street in St. James's, a district of the City of Westminster in central London. He hired the architect William Kent to build the structure in two phases.[3] Kent died in 1748[4] and the work was completed by completed by Stephen Wright[5] in 1754.[3]

Pelham was buried in All Saints' Church, Laughton, East Sussex.[6]

Pelham's personal papers were inherited by his son-in-law and now form part of the Newcastle (Clumber) Collection held at the department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham. Pelham was the first British Prime Minister who never acceded to the peerage in his lifetime.

Titles from birth to death

Pelham was portrayed by actor Roger Allam in the 2011 film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.


  1. Famous Oxonians: British Prime Ministers
  2. Brumwell, p.159
  3. 1 2 "About this project". Architecture. London, England: The Royal Institute of British Architects. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  4. "William Kent". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. England: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  5. "Location Wimbourne House, 22, Arlington Street SW1". Historic England. London. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  6. PelODNB.
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Radnor
Treasurer of the Chamber
Succeeded by
Charles Stanhope
Preceded by
Thomas Trevor
Secretary at War
Succeeded by
Sir William Strickland
Preceded by
The Lord Wilmington
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
Thomas Winnington
Preceded by
The Earl of Wilmington
Prime Minister of Great Britain
27 August 1743 – 6 March 1754
Succeeded by
The Duke of Newcastle
First Lord of the Treasury
Preceded by
Samuel Sandys
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
William Lee
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Thomas Robinson
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
George Naylor
William Ashburnham
Member of Parliament for Seaford
Served alongside: George Naylor
Succeeded by
Sir William Gage, Bt
Sir Philip Yorke
Preceded by
Spencer Compton
James Butler
Member of Parliament for Sussex
With: Spencer Compton 1722–1728
James Butler 1728–1741
Earl of Middlesex 1742–1747
John Butler 1747–1754
Succeeded by
John Butler
Thomas Pelham
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Robert Walpole
Oldest living Prime Minister of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Duke of Newcastle
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