Biography

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Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, third Earl Fitzwilliam in the peerage of the United Kingdom (1786-1857)

This article was written by George Barnett Smith and was published in 1889


Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, third Earl Fitzwilliam in the peerage of the United Kingdom 1786-1857, was the only son of William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, second earl, by his first wife, Lady Charlotte Ponsonby, youngest daughter of the second Earl of Bessborough. He was born in London on 4 May 1786, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1806 he married Mary, fourth daughter of Thomas, first lord Dundas, by whom he had ten children. The countess died in 1830.

In 1806 the earl, as Viscount Milton, was returned to the House of Commons for Malton, and in 1807 for Yorkshire. Through five successive parliaments he represented the latter constituency. In 1830 he was elected for Peterborough, in 1831 (with Lord Althorp) for Northamptonshire, and in 1832 for the northern division of the same county. This seat he retained until his elevation to the peerage by the death of his father, 8 February 1833.

Fitzwilliam was a man of chivalrous honour, high moral courage, and perfect independence and disinterestedness. In the outset of his political career he was opposed to parliamentary reform, but afterwards became an ardent advocate of that measure, although his family possessed several pocket boroughs and had been known for its aristocratic exclusiveness. He was also an early advocate of the repeal of the corn laws, when his own fortune depended mainly upon the land. He took a similar view of the then interesting question of the export of wool. A powerful deputation of Yorkshire manufacturers waited upon the earl (then Lord Milton) soliciting him to oppose a projected measure permitting the export. Fitzwilliam replied that he had embraced the principles of free trade without qualification.

He concurred with his father in openly condemning the conduct of the Manchester magistrates at the Peterloo riots of 1819, when for petitioning that the event might be inquired into the earl was deprived of the lord-lieutenancy of the West Riding. In 1851 Fitzwilliam was created a knight of the Garter. In 1853 he was appointed a deputy-lieutenant for Northamptonshire, and in 1856 received the royal authorisation to adopt the surname of Wentworth before that of Fitzwilliam, as it had been previously used by his father to mark his descent from Thomas, first marquis of Rockingham.

Wentworth WoodhouseWentworth Woodhouse

The earl gave a general support in the House of Lords to the liberal government, but in the debate of 1857 relative to the conduct of Sir John Bowring in the matter of the Arrow he spoke and voted with the opposition. Fitzwilliam published in 1839 his ‘First, Second, and Third Addresses to the Landowners of England on the Corn Laws,’ in which he supported the free trade policy. By thewill of the widow of Edmund Burke, who died in 1812, power was given to Fitzwilliam's father, Walker King, bishop of Rochester, and William Elliot to print and publish such parts of the works of Burke as were not published before her decease, and all the statesman's papers were bequeathed to them for this purpose. One considerable portion of the task was successfully executed, but after the death of all the three literary executors a number of Burke's papers came into the possession of Fitzwilliam. Accordingly in 1844 there appeared, in four vols., the ‘Correspondence of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke between the year 1744 and the period of his decease in 1797. Edited by Charles William, Earl Fitzwilliam, and Lieut.-General Sir Richard Bourke, K.C.B.’

In 1847 Fitzwilliam published a ‘Letter,’ addressed to a Northamptonshire rector, in which he recommended that Ireland should be extricated out of her difficulties by the application of imperial resources.

Fitzwilliam died at Wentworth House, Yorkshire, on 4 October 1857. His eldest son having predeceased him, he was succeeded as fourth earl in the peerage of the United Kingdom by his second son, William Thomas Spencer, viscount Milton, born in 1815, who sat in the lower house with only one intermission from 1837 to 1857. The fourth earl married, in 1838, Lady Frances Douglas, eldest daughter of the eighteenth Earl of Morton.


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