Earls of Great Britain


John Stuart; Earl of Bute,

British statesman, descended from an ancient Scotch family, was born early in the 18th century. In 1738 he was appointed one of the lords of the bed-chamber to Frederick, prince of Wales, the father of George III. Soon after the young king's accession, over whom Bute possessed unbounded influence, he was made secretary of state, and, quickly after, May, 1762, First Lord of the Treasury. Under his ministry, a peace, which disappointed the hopes of the people, was concluded with France and Spain; and what added greatly to his unpopularity was the marked favouritism he showed for his countrymen, filling the most lucrative offices in the state with Scotchmen. It was against the government of Lord Bute that Wilkes directed his violent attacks in the famous 'North Briton'; newspaper. He resigned his office in April, 1763, and retired into private life, which he adorned by his benevolent disposition and his love of science. Botany was his favourite study, and he expended vast sums in its pursuit. Died, 1792.

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William Pitt, Earl of Chatham;

one of the most illustrious British statesmen, was the son of Robert Pitt, Esq., of Boconnock, in Cornwall, where be was born in 1708. After studying at Eton and Oxford, he entered the army, but was returned to parliament in 1734 as member for Old Sarum. His talents as an orator were soon displayed in opposition to Sir Robert Walpole, and had so great an effect that the Duchess of Marlborough, who had a deadly hatred to that minister, bequeathed to Mr. Pitt a legacy of £10,000. On the change of administration in 1746, he was made joint vice-treasurer of Ireland, and soon afterwards paymaster-general of the army, which place he resigned in 1755 ; but the year following he was appointed secretary of state. In a few months he was again dismissed from office; but an efficient administration being essential, and the nation being enthusiastically attached to him, he returned, in June, 1757, to his former situation as secretary of state and virtual prime minister.

His great mind now revealed its full force, and his ascendancy was complete over parliament no less than in the ministry. He amused the English nation to new activity, and, in the space of a few years, we recovered our superiority over France, annihilating her navy, and stripping her of her colonies. France was beaten in the four quarters of the world. In 1760, he advised the declaration of war against Spain, while she was unprepared for resistance, as he foresaw that she would assist France. The elevation of England on the ruins of the house of Bourbon was the great object of his policy. But his plans were suddenly interrupted by the death of George II., whose successor was prejudiced against Pitt by his adversary, the Earl of Bute. Pitt, therefore, resigned his post in 1761, only retaining his seat in the House of Commons. Foreseeing the separation of the American colonies from the mother country, if the arbitrary measures then adopted should be continued, he advocated, especially in 1766, a conciliatory policy, and the repeal of the stamp act.

In the same year he was invited to assist in forming a new ministry, in which he took the office of privy seal, and was created Viscount Burton, Baron Pynsent, and Earl of Chatham; but in 1768 he resigned, partly because of a serious illness, and partly because he found himself inadequately seconded by his colleagues. In the House of Lords be continued to recommend the abandonment of the coercive measures employed against America, particularly in 1774; but his warning was rejected, and, in 1776, the colonies declared themselves independent. He still, however, laboured in the cause, and used all his efforts to induce the government to effect a reconciliation with the American states; and, as he was speaking with his accustomed energy on the subject in the House of Lords, April 7, 1778, he fell down in a convulsive fit. He died on the 11th of the following month, and his body, after lying in state, was solemnly interred in Westminster Abbey, where a superb monument was erected to his memory at the national expense. The fine picture of the 'Death of Chatham,' painted by Copley in 1779-80, was presented to the National Gallery in 1828.

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John Pitt, Earl of Chatham; &c.,

eldest son of the above, and brother of William Pitt. He was born in 1756, and succeeded to the peerage on the death of his father, in 1778. In the following year he was appointed captain of the 86th regiment of foot, and served in the American war. He was afterwards appointed by his brother (then prime minister) first lord of the admiralty; was sworn a privy-councillor, and elected a knight of the Garter. His promotions, both civil and military, were rapid and numerous under his brother's administration, and he continued to hold office for many years after, under his successors. As lieutenant-general, he commanded the expedition to Walcheren, in 1809, the disastrous failure of which was owing to his indolence, incapacity, and disregard of his instructions. His conduct on this occasion gave rise to the famous epigram:-

  Great Chatham, with his sabre drawn,
 Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
 Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,
 Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham!'

Chatham was, nevertheless, raised, three years afterwards, to the full rank of general. On the death of the Duke of Kent he was appointed governor of Gibraltar, which post he held, with others, to the time of his death, in 1835. He was the last peer of the Pitt family, whose title with him became extinct, and with it the annual pension of £4000, besides another pension of £3000 per annum, granted to his father for three lives, in 1761. The last earl was married, in 1783, to a daughter of Viscount Sydney, but left no children.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall,

and titular Emperor of the Romans, was second son of John, King of England, and his queen, Isabella, and was born at Winchester in 1209. After serving with distinction in France, he went, about 1240, to Palestine, where his presence, as nephew of the formidable Richard Coeur de Lion, gave courage to the Christians and filled the Saracens with terror. On his return he had an interview with the Emperor Frederick II. in Sicily, and by his desire attempted to mediate between him and the Pope, Gregory IX.; but unsuccessfully. He arrived in England in 1242; again served in France; mediated more than once between Henry III. and the barons, against whom he ultimately fought; was charged by the king, in 1255, to torture and extort money from the Jews, by which means he got much of his wealth; and in 1256 he accepted the title of King of the Romans, offered him after the death of William, Count of Holland. He had a rival, however, in Alfonso of Castile, who was chosen by some of the electors.

Richard was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen -1996), with his wife, Sanchia, in May, 1257, and won golden opinions by his prodigal gifts and expenditure. He returned to England after two years, but several times revisited Germany and exercised authority in some respects as Emperor. He took part on the king's side at the battle of Lewes, and was captured, and kept prisoner more than a year. The assassination of his eldest son, Henry, a prince of great promise, by the sons of Simon de Montfort, at Viterbo, in 1271, deeply affected him, and he died at Berkhampstead in April, 1272. His body was interred in the abbey of Hayles, which he had founded.

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Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall

favourite of Edward II., was a Gascon by birth, and on account of his father's services to Edward I., was chosen companion to the Prince of Wales. He acquired a complete and very mischievous ascendancy over the Prince, corrupting his morals, wasting his resources, and breeding dissension between him and his father. Edward I. banished him in 1307, but dying the same year, Edward II. at once recalled him, made him Earl of Cornwall, and gave him in marriage his niece, Margaret de Clare. Intoxicated with his elevation and honours, he became intolerably insolent, and the nobles were exasperated. He was again banished, again recalled, and in 1312, the barons having declared war, Gaveston was besieged in Scarborough castle, captured, and executed near Warwick, June 19.

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Henry Stuart, Earl of Darnley,

husband of Mary, queen of Scots, was the son of Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox, and grandson of Margaret, queen of James IV. of Scotland, by her second husband, Archibald, earl of Angus. He was born in England in 1546, and was married to Mary, at Holyrood House, on July 29, 1565. The alliance was offensive both to Queen Elizabeth and to the Scottish reformers. Darnley was soon after induced to side with the reformers, and sharing their dislike and jealousy of Rizzio, the queen's secretary, he did not scruple to take part in the murder of the favourite, March 9, 1566. Between the queen and Darnley thenceforth there was nothing but, irreconcilable aversion and disgust. A divorce was proposed, but Mary would not agree to it. Darnley fell seriously ill, an apparent reconciliation took place, and he returned with the queen to Edinburgh. Meanwhile the Earl of Bothwell had won the favour or the queen, and had undertaken to murder Darnley. This was effected by blowing up the lonely house, called the Kirk of Field, in which he lodged, February 10, 1567. Darnley was the father of James VI. (I. of England).

Godwin, Earl of Kent,

a powerful Anglo-Saxon chief. During the reign of Edward the Confessor he was head of the English party in opposition to the party which favoured the Normans. He was long the real ruler of the greater part of England. In 1019 he accompanied Canute in an expedition against Sweden, where he behaved with such valour as to receive a relative of that monarch in marriage, and large grants of land. On the death of Canute, the Earl sided with Hardicanute against Harold, but afterwards he espoused the cause of the latter. He was charged with murdering Alfred, one of the sons of Ethelred II from which he vindicated himself by oath. On the death of Hardicanute he joined Edward the Confessor, who married his daughter but afterwards he rebelled against Edward and, being unsuccessful fled to Flanders. Having gathered fresh forces he sailed up the Thames and appeared before London, which threw the country into such confusion, that the King was obliged to negotiate peace with Godwin, and to restore him to his estates. He died suddenly while dining with the King at Winchester in 1053. -His son, Sweyn, ravaged Wales in 1046, and carried off an abbess forfeited his possessions by fleeing to Bruges; served in the English fleet against the Count of Flanders, murdered his kinsman Biorn, was restored to his estates (1050); and soon after went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He died at Constantinople on his way home.

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Simon de Montfort,

the fourth Count, took part in the crusade with Theobald, Count of Champagne, in 1199. He subsequently became possessed of large estates in England, and was made Earl of Leicester by King John. On the proclamation by Innocent III. of the crusade against the Albigenses, De Montfort was chosen leader of the crusaders, and took several towns. In 1211 he turned his arms against Raymond, Count of Toulouse, and after a long series of successes, obtained a great victory over the forces of Raymond, at Muret, in 1213. Two years later he was invested by the Council of the Lateran with the county of Toulouse and the conquests of the crusaders. In 1217 Raymond recovered Toulouse, and was there besieged by De Montfort, who was killed before the walls, in June, 1218.

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Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester,

son of the preceding, was born in France, and retired to England in 1231, on account of some dispute with Queen Blanche. Henry III. received him very kindly, bestowed upon him the earldom of Leicester, which had formerly been held by his father, and gave him his sister, Eleanor, the countess dowager of Pembroke, in marriage, Jan. 1238. In 1248 Henry appointed him seneschal of Gascony; but his vigorous rule made him so many enemies, that in 1252 he was recalled, and a violent altercation took place between him and the king. A reconciliation was, however, effected, and De Montfort was employed on several occasions, in a diplomatic and military capacity. In June 1258 he appeared at the parliament of Oxford, at the head of the armed barons, and obtained the passing of the ordinances known as the Provisions of Oxford. De Montfort then became head of a new council of state and virtual sovereign.

The king refusing to abide by the Provisions, a civil war broke out, which ended in the triumph of the barons at the battle of Lewes, in May, 1264. In January of the following year De Montfort carried out the first of the Provisions by summoning knights of shires and burgesses to the parliament. He thus became the founder of the English House of Commons. In the same year a powerful party was raised up against him among the barons, and soon afterwards the battle of Evesham was fought, in which the royal forces were led by Prince Edward, and there, in attempting to rally his troops, by rushing into the midst of the enemy, De Montfort was surrounded and slain, Aug. 4, 1265. A monograph on the life of this great man, by Dr. Pauli, appeared early in 1867.

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Roger Mortimer, Earl of March,

an English baron of the 14th century, was born about 1287, and on the death of his father, in the Welsh wars in 1303, was made the ward of Piers Gaveston. He served under Edward I. in the Scottish war in 1306-7, during the first fourteen years of the reign of Edward II. was employed in Scotland, Ireland, and France, and was appointed lieutenant in Ireland in 1317. Three years later he joined the barons in revolt to banish the king's favourites, the Despensers, but was taken and imprisoned in the Tower. Having escaped to France, he allied himself with Isabella, Queen of Edward II., and the barons who shared her discontent. The Queen accepted him as her paramour, and having obtained aid from the Count of Hainault, they came to England in 1326, deposed and imprisoned the king, and governed the kingdom at their will. The young prince was proclaimed (Edward III.); Mortimer was created Earl of March, and took a large share of the estates of the Despensers; the deposed king was shamefully murdered by his orders; and at last Edward, weary of subjection to this insolent usurper, and backed by the public hatred of him, assumed the government. Mortimer was seized at the castle of Nottingham, and hung at Tyburn, November 29, 1330. The attainder was reversed by the parliament in 1354, on the ground of its illegality; Mortimer being condemned without a legal trial.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson ©1996.

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