Lord Shelburne – from Dublin to No 10
Sir, – Further to Martin Mansergh’s letter (June 8th), the Duke of Wellington was neither the only nor the first person “born and raised in Ireland” to become prime minster of Great Britain. That distinction is owed to a gentleman known at various stages throughout his life as William Petty, the Earl of Shelburne and the Marquess of Lansdowne, who served as prime minister between July 1782 and March 1783.
Lord Shelburne, as he was known during his premiership, was born in Dublin in 1737 as William Fitzmaurice.
His father later changed the family name to that of his own stepmother Anne Petty, daughter of a surveyor who had come to Ireland to carry out the Down Survey, the better to allocate confiscated lands from the defeated Confederate Catholics to Cromwellian adventurers.
The change of name was probably made to facilitate the Fitzmaurice family inheriting the earldom of Shelburne, to which Anne Petty’s descendants had become heirs following the deaths of her brothers.
William Fitzmaurice/Petty had been elected to both the Irish and British Houses of Commons, representing Kerry in the former, but on succeeding his father as Earl of Shelburne, he became ineligible for either and so took up a seat in the House of Lords.
Shelburne served as home secretary in the government led by Lord Rockingham, whom he succeeded as prime minister in 1782.
His ministry was bedevilled by the great controversy of the time, the “Amerexit” of Britain’s American colonies from the mother country, also known as the American Revolution.
His appointment was vigorously opposed by the Whig faction led by Charles James Fox and another Dubliner, Edmund Burke, who both resigned their posts rather than serve under an “upstart Irishman”.
They later combined with Lord North to oust him after less than a year, following which he never again held political office, although he was compensated with elevation to the title of Marquess of Lansdowne.
He died in London in 1805. – Yours, etc,