William, 2nd Earl of Shelburne

1782 - 1783

Shelburne (1737-1805) was the first Irish prime minister. He was highly intelligent, a good administrator, had a distinguished military career and followed most of the policies of his successor William Pitt the younger (1759-1806) while being a statesman of ordinary age (45) and experience. He negotiated the peace treaties with France and the fledgling United States, a difficult undertaking given Britain’s less-than-stellar performance in the war. Yet he was in office for less than nine months, having driven North into the political embrace of his former nemesis Fox, never held office again, and was rarely if ever consulted as elder statesman by the successor (Pitt) he had brought to prominence.

The reason was a temperament difficult even by the standards of 18th Century politicians – he was known as “Malagrida” after the Italian/Portuguese Jesuit Gabriel Malagrida (1689-1761), not a compliment to his integrity and straightforwardness. Despite his ability, he thus deserves to be ranked around the bottom quartile of the list.

© 2020 Martin Hutchinson