Thomas, 1st Duke of Newcastle

1754 - 1756, 1757 - 1762

Thomas, 1st Duke of Newcastle

Newcastle (1693-1768) was the great survivor of British politics, entering the government in 1717, becoming one of the two Secretaries of State in 1724, and retiring only when forced out by the anti-Whig George III in 1762. His secret was his extensive estates stretching over 11 counties, allowing him to return between 14 and 17 MPs to Parliament and become a master of parliamentary management. The cost was stupendous, however; from being one of the country’s richest magnates he died heavily in debt.

As Secretary of State for nearly 40 years Newcastle bore a considerable though not total responsibility for Britain’s confused but relatively successful foreign affairs over the period (the King and the other Secretary were also involved). However, considering only his shorter periods as prime minister: the first involved Britain in the Seven Years War and during the second he was secondary to William Pitt, to whom the successes of that period should be mostly credited. It is important to note however that Newcastle continued to manage Britain’s finances, with the help of his brother’s new Consols, and kept much of the burden of domestic administration.

Newcastle was corrupt like Walpole (though less so on his own behalf) but not as intelligent and very indecisive – he relied on stronger colleagues like Walpole, his brother or Pitt to get things done. Despite his financial and administrative skills, a fairly low ranking is thus justified; his brother Henry was the brains of the family.

© 2024 Martin Hutchinson