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Biographical Dictionary of British Prime Ministers by R. Eccleshall

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By R. Eccleshall

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Duke of Newcastle 33 George II rejected Pitt’s terms, but Newcastle, unsuccessful in his attempt to find a Commons leader other than Fox or Pitt, told the King on 26 October that he could not engage to conduct business in the Commons and resigned the next day. The following year Newcastle returned to office, and the process by which he did so throws light on his problems in 1756. It proved necessary for both Newcastle and Pitt to compromise. His apparent indispensability in the Commons had allowed Pitt to set Newcastle and Fox at defiance in October 1756, and, despite Pitt’s unpopularity with George II, neither Newcastle nor Fox seemed to have a good chance of forming a government that could survive in the Commons without Pitt; in large measure because it would be vulnerable to devastating oratory from Pitt if anything went wrong with the handling of the war.

The collective desertion of the monarch instigated by the Old Corps in 1746 was an exceptional display of what ministerial unity might achieve. That such unity was achieved at this particular juncture, however, testified to Pelham’s stature within the administration, even though Granville’s ‘secret influence’ with George II had impeded Pelham’s emergence after 1744 as ‘prime minister’. Contemporaries were well aware that important constitutional implications lurked behind the Pelhamite initiative of 1746.

Newcastle was very much an establishment politician, whose political career took place during long years of unbroken (although not unchallenged) Whig hegemony. He was never an MP. He had little knowledge or understanding of populist, let alone radical, dimensions to Whiggery. That cannot be presented as a measure of failure: such dimensions were neither expected of him nor were they crucial to his falls in 1756 and 1762. Yet, if most of his limitations derived from his personality, it can also be suggested that his problems reflected in part the narrowing of the Whig tradition during a period of growing change in British society and political culture.

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