The Age of George III

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The Massacre of the Pelhamite Innocents

In 1760 George III became king and was anxious to appoint a ministry of his own choosing. In the general election following his accession, the Duke of Newcastle emerged victorious and continued in power although without the support of the king. At this time Britain was fighting in the Seven Years' War and the Secretary of State responsible for the conduct of the war was Pitt (the Elder). Pitt wanted to declare war on Spain but found himself isolated and was forced to resign. His place was taken by the king's friend the Earl of Bute. The king then made life so difficult for the Duke of Newcastle that he, too, resigned. The king promptly appointed Bute as the new Prime Minister.

Bute was not a popular man so in order to strengthen his political position he decided to give those who opposed the king's government while holding places "at pleasure" the choice either of giving loyal service in future or losing their profitable jobs. The men who voted against Bute's peace preliminaries were dismissed. Most of those who suffered at Bute's hands were supporters of the Duke of Newcastle, who had held the disposal of royal patronage for many years. For example, one of Newcastle's election managers, John Roberts, was deprived of his sinecure, as was Thomas Robinson. Gradually, Bute's dismissals began to reach down the social scale to include lowly employees who worked for the customs service, the excise, land-tax office, surveyor's office, the royal audit, the stamp commission and the alienation office.

Bute's work did not stop with lesser individuals. In November 1762 the Marquis of Rockingham took exception to Newcastle's enforced resignation. Rockingham was a Lord of the Bedchamber to George III and, having taken the opportunity to make the king aware of his feelings about Newcastle's treatment, the marquis resigned his duties. On 23 December the king's retribution arrived in a letter from Lord Halifax to Rockingham, who was at home on his Wentworth Woodhouse estates:

The King has commanded me to acquaint Your Lordship that His Majesty has no further Occasion for Your Service as Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of the County of York, - of the City of York, and the County of the same City; - as Custos Rotulorum for the North and West Ridings in the County of York; for the City of York and County of the same City and Ainsty ... of York; - and, as Vice-Admiral of the County of York, City of York and County of the same City. - I am sorry that it falls to my share to write to Your Lordship upon such an Occasion, being with Great Truth and Respect ... Your Lordship's Most Obedient, Humble Servant


Deprived of the use of patronage, out of office and with little likelihood of returning to power, the supporters of the ageing Duke of Newcastle turned to the younger men of his group, forming what became known as the Rockinghamites, a Whig 'party' that went from strength to strength in the coming years.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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