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John William Ward, first Earl of Dudley of Castle Dudley, Staffordshire, and fourth Viscount Dudley and Ward (1781-1833)

This article was written by John Andrew Hamilton and was published in 1899

John William Ward, first Earl of Dudley of Castle Dudley, Staffordshire, and fourth Viscount Dudley and Ward, only child of William, third viscount Dudley and Ward, by his wife Julia, second daughter of Godfrey Bosvile of Thorpe and Gunthwaite in Yorkshire, was born on 9 August 1781. His ancestor, Humble Ward, son of William Ward, jeweller to Henrietta Maria, married Frances, granddaughter of Edward Sutton, baron Dudley, and baroness Dudley in her own right, and was on 23 March 1644 created Baron Ward. His son Edward succeeded to the baronies of Ward and Dudley, and Edward's grandnephew John (d. 1774) was created on 23 April 1763 Viscount Dudley and Ward, and was succeeded in turn as second and third viscounts by his two sons — John, who died without issue in 1778; and William, the father of the subject of this article.

John William was educated by various private tutors, who were changed by his father with injudicious frequency. He was allowed neither playmates nor sports, and his precocious talents were taxed by unremitting study. Eventually a separate establishment was maintained for him at Paddington, where he was placed in the care of a fellow of New College, Oxford, named Edward James, until he went to Oxford. He matriculated from Oriel College on 17 October 1799, graduated B.A. from Corpus Christi College on 16 June 1802, and proceeded M.A. on 14 January 1813. Subsequently he was sent to Edinburgh, and became a resident pupil of Dugald Stewart's, with Lord Lansdowne, Lord Palmerston, and Lord Ashburton.

On 7 July 1802 he was returned member of parliament for Downton in Wiltshire. He acted in general with the tory party. He was a follower of Pitt, and Canning was his intimate friend; but he adhered with Lord Grenville to the side of Fox in 1804, and subsequently became an adherent of Canning. On 1 August 1803 he accepted the Chiltern Hundreds in order to stand for Worcestershire at a by-election, and was returned without opposition. On 31 October 1806 he was returned for Petersfield in Hampshire, and on 7 May 1807 for Wareham in Dorset. On 6 October 1812 he was returned for Ilchester in Somerset, and on 8 April 1819, after being out of parliament for about half a year, for Bossiney in Cornwall. This seat he retained until 25 April 1823, when he succeeded his father in the peerage.

Though the House of Commons could not overlook his great talents, he never gained much influence, speaking seldom there, and with little effect. He was chairman of the committee on sinecures in 1810. As early as 1814 he was offered office, but declined it. He was in Paris and Italy from May 1814 to the end of 1815, in Vienna for some three months in 1817, and nearly nine months on the continent between September 1821 and June 1822. In 1822 Canning pressed him to accept the under-secretaryship of foreign affairs. This, after considerable hesitation, he declined, partly because he thought an under-secretaryship beneath his dignity.

In 1827 he was appointed foreign minister in Canning's administration, being sworn of the privy council on 30 April, and created Earl of Dudley of Dudley Castle on 24 September. As foreign secretary he was in many respects little more than Canning's mouthpiece, and his independent conduct of affairs — for example, in his dealings with Portugal — was not brilliant. He continued in office under the Duke of Wellington at the beginning of 1828, but resigned with the other Canningites — Huskisson, Palmerston, and Grant — in May, and was succeeded by Lord Aberdeen. He held no further office, though the court desired him to accept the post of lord privy seal. While at the foreign office he was chiefly occupied with the affairs of Greece, and it was he who signed the treaty of 6 July 1827 between Great Britain, France, and Russia for the pacification of Greece. It is said that shortly before Navarino, in absence of mind, he put a despatch for the French ambassador into an envelope addressed to the Russian ambassador. Prince Lieven returned it, saying that of course he had not read it, but firmly believed the step to have been a diplomatic trap laid for him by Lord Dudley, whom he admired accordingly. His only further public activity was a very vehement resistance to the first Reform Bill in 1831.

Eccentricity Lord Dudley had inherited from his father, and perhaps from his mother, who in her later days was intemperate. He was always shy, but as he grew older his manner became noticeably strange. He was given to soliloquies — a habit said to have been caught from Dugald Stewart — and as he rehearsed to himself what he was going to say to others in two voices, a gruff and a shrill one, it was said, ‘It is only Dudley talking to Ward.’ His absence of mind, even when entertaining friends, as he constantly did, gave rise to numberless stories. On 3 March 1832 his behaviour to his guests at dinner at his house in Park Lane was so strange that one of them, Sir Henry Halford, intervened, and eventually ordered him to be placed under restraint at Norwood in Surrey, where, after a stroke of paralysis, he died unmarried on 6 March 1833. On his death the earldom and viscountcy became extinct; the barony passed to his second cousin, William Humble Ward, tenth baron (1781-1835), on whom he had settled £4,000 per annum, and the greater part of his vast fortune of £80,000 a year he left to his heir's eldest son, William (1817-1885), who was created a viscount and earl on 17 February 1860.

Lord Dudley's natural talents were great, and he was a highly educated, industrious, and well-read man. He was a good scholar, knew Virgil almost by heart, and capped quotations from the ‘Æneid’ with Louis XVIII till the king owned himself vanquished. His retort about Napoleon in 1817 to Metternich, whom he personally disliked, ‘Il a rendu la gloire passée douteuse et la renommée future impossible,’ is well known; and the mot that ‘even worse than the cant of patriotism is its recant,’ often attributed to Russell, is also ascribed to him.

He had considerable talents as a writer, and contributed several articles to the ‘Quarterly Review,’ notably an estimate of Horne Tooke, whom he had known when he was young, a review of Rogers's ‘Columbus,’ which he attacked, and an article on Fox. Rogers avenged Dudley's critical censures in the epigram:

Ward has no heart, they say, but I deny it;
He has a heart, and gets his speeches by it

Dudley's letters to Copleston, bishop of Llandaff, were edited by the bishop and published in 1840 by John Murray, whom Dudley had long known. The portrait prefixed to this book is said to be a bad one.

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