CAVENDISH BENTINCK, Lord William Henry (1774-1839).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



19 Mar. 1796 - 1796
1796 - Apr. 1803
1812 - Mar. 1814
8 July 1816 - 1826
1826 - Jan. 1828
17 Feb. 1836 - June 1839

Family and Education

b. 14 Sept. 1774, 2nd s. of William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, and bro. of Lords Frederick Cavendish Bentinck*, William Charles Augustus Cavendish Bentinck*, and William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, Mq. of Titchfield*. educ. by Dr Goodenough, Ealing. m. 19 Feb. 1803, Lady Mary Acheson, da. of Arthur, 1st Earl of Gosford [I], s.p. KB 1 Feb. 1813, GCB 2 Jan. 1815, GCH 1817.

Offices Held

Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1791; capt.-lt. and capt. 2 Drag. 1792; capt. 11 Drag. and a.d.c. to Maj.-Gen. Dundas 1793; lt.-col. 29 Drag, 1794; a.d.c. to the King 1795; maj.-gen. 1805, lt.-gen. 1811; c.-in-c. British forces in Mediterranean 1811-15; col. 11 Drag. 1813; gen. 1825; c.-in-c. India 1833-5.

Clerk of the pipe for life, clerk of crown leases and keeper of records, accompts and evidences 1783.

Gov. and c.-in-c. Madras 1803-7; envoy to Sicily June 1811-July 1814; PC 17 Aug. 1827; gov.-gen. Bengal July 1827-33, India 1833-Mar. 1835.


Lord William inherited his father’s ‘energy’.1 On his return from service in Flanders in 1794 he was reported as saying that he had ‘more confidence in any one of the King’s allies abroad, than he has in those of his father at home’, it being his ‘earnest wish’ that Portland should be reconciled with Fox. He had joined the Whig Club on 6 Mar. 1792, but subsequently seceded, and by 1805 had lost his admiration for Fox.2

He entered Parliament soon after coming of age, first on the Phillipps interest for Camelford and at the ensuing election for Nottinghamshire on the family interest, but was prevented from regular attendance by service in Ireland, in Italy with the Austrian army and in Egypt. He at least took his seat as county Member, 1 May 1797. On 18 Jan. 1802 he was presented to the King on his return from Egypt. He was reported to be a critic of the armistice with France. In April 1802 his father nevertheless applied to Addington to make Bentinck governor of Madras, ‘with a view to his succeeding at a proper time to the government general of India’. Lord Hobart feared that the East India directorate would not swallow it and that he must be satisfied with Ceylon; nor could Lord Melville advise in favour of the appointment, as it was not based on Bentinck’s own public merits; but with Pitt, the King and Addington favourable, the directors could not resist him. He then vacated his seat, despite his Nottinghamshire friends’ suggestion that he need not do so.3

Bentinck was an ‘indefatigable’ governor who took a keen interest in social policy in the provinces newly ceded to the Madras presidency. His ambition remained the governor-generalship, of which his father reminded Pitt and Grenville in turn. The Marquess Wellesley, on whose recall he was not appointed, did not think him ripe for it. His career in India was in any case blighted by the disgruntled sepoys’ massacre of British officers at Vellore, 24 July 1806. He was summarily recalled at the moment when his father, become prime minister, hoped to foist him on the company directors as governor-general. He had hoped to stay in that country until 1812 and make £100,000. On his return in 1808 he protested in vain in a memorial to the court of directors, which readily credited him with good intentions but would not rescind its decision. He next proceeded to the Peninsula on a special mission to the Spanish junta, and on 25 Jan. 1809 received the thanks of the House for his services at Corunna. In June he was given a mission to the Austrian army.4

After his father’s resignation and death, Bentinck did not quarrel with Canning’s critique of his government, but there was no question of his going into opposition. In fact Perceval offered him, if he could find a seat in the House, the post of secretary at war in October 1809. He declined: his brother gave him no encouragement to contest the current vacancy for Buckinghamshire. He was marked for ‘foreign employment’.5 He would have preferred a command in the Peninsula, but in June 1811 was sent as envoy to the court of Sicily and c.-in-c. of the British forces on the island.6 Apart from an emergency return in September 1811 he remained abroad for several years. His political attachment at that time was to the Marquess Wellesley, although when he was again returned for Nottinghamshire in absentia in 1812, he was listed as a Treasury supporter. It was promised on his behalf that, if unable to attend Parliament, he would resign his seat. He did so in March 1814. By then he had foisted on Sicily a constitution on the British model and, after an ineffectual diversion in Spain, returned to the island for fear of its invasion by Murat. He wished Sicily to be a British protectorate, and to be relieved of his diplomatic role. He preferred military glory and, denied it in the Peninsula, wanted to liberate Italy. He took Genoa on 19 Apr. 1814 and proclaimed a republic. ‘How intolerably prone he is to Whig revolutions’, wrote the exasperated Castlereagh to Lord Liverpool, ‘he seems bent upon throwing all Italy loose’. When he arrived home that summer Castlereagh tried to prevent his return to the continent: ‘the dread of his Whiggish and revolutionary politics would add to the alarms of Austria ... I have had an express from Metternich on this subject’. But he retained his command until April 1815 when a further bout of constitutionalism in Piedmont led to his summary recall. He arrived in England on 8 June.7

Bentinck resumed his county seat on a vacancy in July 1816. In the following session, a silent Member, he missed the opening, then voted against ministers on the composition of the finance committee and the Admiralty commissioners’ salaries, 7 and 25 Feb., but with them on the Admiralty secretary’s salary, 17 Feb. He opposed the salt duties, 25 Apr., supported Catholic relief, 9 May, but favoured the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June. His only known votes in 1818 were against the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr., and for resumption of cash payments by the Bank, 1 May. He voted for a committee on this on 2 Feb. 1819, as well as for one to review the criminal law, 2 Mar. He also supported burgh reform, 1 Apr. 1819. He was a member of the Poor Law committee that session, as in the two previous ones. He was a defaulter on 6 May, granted a week’s leave on the 10th. He opposed public lotteries, 9 June, and the foreign enlistment bill, 10 and 21 June. He supported Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the abuse of charitable foundations, 23 June. He was in none of the minorities next session. His refusal of Canning’s offer to send him back to Madras that year was attributed to his wife’s veto;8 in 1827 Canning made him governor-general. He ‘infused into Oriental despotism the spirit of British freedom’. His cousin Grenville the diarist wrote of him (in 1836):

He is a man whose success in life has been greater than his talents warrant, for he is not right-headed, and has committed some great blunder or other in every public situation in which he has been placed; but he is simple in his habits, popular in his manners, liberal in his opinions, and magnificently hospitable in his mode of life.9

He died at Paris, 17 June 1839.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: P. A. Symonds / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Farington, ii. 212.
  • 2. Add. 28067, f. 146; Windham Diary, 447.
  • 3. Windham Diary, 359; NLS mss 11054, f. 14; Sidmouth mss, Portland to Addington, 15 Apr. 1802; Portland mss PwF62, PwJa346, 347; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 4/66; Bucks. RO, Hobart mss C466; SRO GD51/1/557/7; HMC Fortescue, vii. 178.
  • 4. DNB ; Alnwick mss 64, f. 32; PRO 30/8/168, f. 164; Castlereagh Corresp. v. 330; vi. 460, 472; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3015, 3186; v. 3871; HMC Fortescue, vii. 347; Portland mss PwF249, 1204, 1211-12; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 27 Feb. 1807; NLS mss 11087, f. 25.
  • 5. Perceval (Holland) mss 5, f. 3; Hants RO, Tierney mss 30c; NLW mss 10804, William Wynn to Temple, 18 Nov. 1809; Horner mss 4, f. 147; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 10 Nov. 1809; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3992, 3996, 3998; Add. 37309, f. 325.
  • 6. Colchester, ii. 326; Add. 37293, f. 52.
  • 7. Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3184, 3193, 3198; Leveson Gower, ii. 402; Add. 37293, f. 238; Nottingham Jnl. 17 Oct. 1812; Wellington Supp. Despatches, ix. 65; Castlereagh Corresp. viii. 298, 333; ix. 44, 238, 490, 509; xi. 51; xii. 409; HMC Bathurst, passim.; Colchester, iii. 114; J. Rosselli, Bentinck and the British Occupation of Sicily; Morning Chron. 10 June 1815.
  • 8. Add. 39949, f. 79.
  • 9. Grenville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, iii. 282.