MACARTNEY, Sir George (1737-1806), of Lissanoure Castle, co. Antrim.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1768 - Mar. 1769
1774 - Jan. 1776
1780 - Feb. 1781

Family and Education

b. 3 May 1737, o. surv. s. of George Macartney of Lissanoure by Elizabeth, da. of Rev. John Winder, prebendary of Kilroot, co. Antrim.  educ. Trinity, Dublin 1750; Grand Tour; L. Inn 1753.  m. 1 Feb. 1768, Lady Jane Stuart, da. of John, 3rd Earl of Bute [S], s.p.  Kntd. 19 Oct. 1764; K.B. 29 May 1772. cr. Baron Macartney [I] 19 July 1776; Visct. [I] 19 July 1792; Earl [I] 1 Mar. 1794; Baron [GB] 8 June 1796.

Offices Held

M.P. [I] 1768-76.

Envoy to St. Petersburg 1764-7; apptd. ambassador to Russia 20 Nov. 1767, but did not go; P.C. [I] 30 Mar. 1769; sec. to ld. lt. [I] 1769-72; gov. of Grenada 1775-9, of Madras 1781-5; P.C. 2 May 1792; on an embassy to China 1792-4; on a mission to Louis XVIII at Verona 1795-6; gov. of Cape of Good Hope 1796-8.

Biography

As a young man in his early twenties, Macartney formed an intimate connexion with the Fox family, having, according to Horace Walpole, travelled the continent ‘as some sort of governor’ to Stephen Fox.1 ‘You can’t imagine what a racket the Holland House people make with this new Mr. Macartney. He rivals Lord Shelburne,’ wrote Lady Kildare to her husband on 22 Aug. 1761.2 Walpole, who found Macartney ‘extremely good-humoured, equal, conversable on all subjects, unaffected, and perfectly agreeable in great or small companies’,3 and conceded his ‘various knowledge and singular memory’, nevertheless thought he had ‘no extraordinary talents’.4 Macartney ‘has much art and no capacity’ was the opinion of his friend Charles O’Hara, who shrewdly summed up Macartney’s ambition while chief secretary in Ireland: ‘’Tis really the plan to commit him in advice as seldom as possible, to obey orders, and to get for himself and his old friends the best things he can.’5

In 1764 Macartney attempted to enter Parliament. Lord Holland, endeavouring to secure a vacancy for him at Midhurst, wrote to Grenville on 26 Mar.: ‘Mr. Macartney ... will be a constant attender and a zealous and steady supporter of his Majesty’s measures under your conduct. This, I, who hardly ever answered for anybody but myself, will, and do, answer for.’6 When this arrangement proved impossible, Holland obtained for Macartney the appointment as envoy to Russia. After eighteen months abroad, Macartney wrote to Holland in June 1766:7

A seat in Parliament has long been the great object of my ambition. I am, however, by no means dissatisfied at my situation; on the contrary I like the profession extremely ... But at this court it is impossible ever to go higher ... Had I a seat in Parliament, might I not with more reason pretend to something better in this course of life ... May I venture to ask your Lordship whether ... you could secure for me a seat in the next Parliament for the sum of £2,000.

After Macartney returned to England the following June, Holland seems almost immediately to have begun to negotiate a seat for him. In August he was mentioned as a prospective candidate at Stockbridge,8 but by November appears to have been accepted as the Jolliffe candidate at Petersfield. On 20 Nov., however, he wrote to John Jolliffe that he had just kissed hands as ambassador to Russia ‘which employment, if I set out very soon, will render almost unnecessary for me to come into Parliament this session’.9 But in the end he did not take up the appointment, and instead was returned for Cockermouth on the interest of his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir James Lowther. In Parliament he naturally supported Administration. Walpole reported that on the petition against Sir James Lowther in November 1768, Macartney ‘spoke for the first time, and with very bad success, though his parts had been much cried up’.10 Following his appointment as chief secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, Macarmey resigned his seat in the British House of Commons. He was now bent on obtaining an Irish peerage, but in December 1769 his request, forwarded by the lord lieutenant, was rejected by the King. In October 1772, having lost his post in Ireland on Townshend’s recall, he was given a pension of £1,500 on the Irish establishment.11 He seems, nevertheless, to have felt neglected, and on 21 Jan. 1773 wrote to John Hely Hutchinson:12

Sure I am that no secretary ever served Government with greater fidelity and trust than I did, and no secretary ever received so little thanks for it. I have seen his Lordship [North] but twice since my arrival here. He is without doubt a very able minister ... but he appears to me totally void of feeling, and rather to underrate than justly value political services, which is a very discouraging thing to those who do them.

He was now anxious to re-enter Parliament, and on 25 June North wrote to the King: