PETTY, John Henry, Earl Wycombe (1765-1809).
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Family and Education
b. 6 Dec. 1765, 1st s. of William, Visct. Fitzmaurice, 2nd Earl of Shelburne [I], subsequently Mq. of Lansdowne, by his 1st w.; styled Lord Fitzmaurice 1765-84, Earl Wycombe 1784-1805. educ. privately; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1783. m. 27 May 1805, Maria Arabella, wid. of Duke Gifford of Castle Jordan, co. Meath, and da. of Rev. Hinton Maddock of Darland, Denb., s.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Mq. of Lansdowne 7 May 1805.
Shelburne took great care over the education of his son, whom he first placed under private tutors—Thomas Jervis, a Unitarian minister, and Joseph Priestley, the scientist. His father watched over his progress at Oxford and bombarded him with advice, concerned that his son should avoid the mistakes he himself had made and should profit from his experience. Fitzmaurice’s letters to Shelburne1 testify to his desire to please, but also to his increasing impatience of control and resentment at lack of confidence.
In the summer of 1784 Fitzmaurice set off on his first continental tour. On 2 Aug. 1784 he wrote from Luxembourg: ‘What else indeed than disgust and ennui could be expected by any one of the natural growth of England from a place where there is no resource but gaming, no language but French, and no amusement but dancing.’ Shelburne had listened to rumours of the company he kept in Paris, and Fitzmaurice wrote on 12 Aug.: ‘It has puzzled me very much to find out why you should suppose that a three weeks residence in Paris should have converted me at once into a macaroni, an epicure, and a coxcomb.’ And on 1 Oct.: ‘With regard to your charge respecting dress, I have only to say that I am not sensible during my stay at Paris, of any neglect of it which you yourself could term a material impropriety.’ On 29 Nov. he congratulated his father on his promotion to Marquess, and added: ‘I cannot help confessing that I should have heard the intelligence with more pleasure if the vote of the House of Commons which censured the peace had been repealed.’
Lansdowne continued to stress the importance of keeping his accounts, and to treat seriously rumours about his son’s conduct. There was fussing about his health and repeated complaints about his dress.
I had hoped [wrote Wycombe on 27 Jan. 1785] you would not, at least immediately, have mentioned to me so disagreeable a subject as that which occupies the first part of your letter. In the only sense in which I can take it, it gives me to understand that you have no reliance on my word, and leaves me to suspect that something more will be necessary to restore me to your good opinion than the bare performance of the promises you required of me ... There is a mistrust in your letter, which distresses me more, and leaves more disagreeable effects than the paltry illness I am just getting the better of.
‘Lord Wycombe is very inquisitive’, wrote his tutor, Charles Hall, on 30 Jan., ‘to find out from whom your Lordship could hear that he was very ill, and careless in his dress. He suspects that it came to your ears through Blenheim by means of Lord Blandford.’
Let me entreat you [wrote Wycombe on 30 Jan.] to inquire from myself of things which relate to myself. I am rather above extricating myself even from a scrape by lying, and at all events anybody here will tell you that my word is to the full as good as Lord Blandford’s.
From 1785 to 1787 he travelled in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Poland. His descriptions of places and courts are vivid and amusing, his comments sensible. He wrote from Coblenz on 17 Oct. 1785:
I cannot help being of opinion that princes ought to proportion their luxuries to the size and opulence of their dominions, and it seems unreasonable to me that a sovereign who governs two hundred thousand people should have as grand a residence as one who reigns over many millions.
And from Warsaw on 21 July 1786:
In all the several conversations I have latterly had on political subjects my system has naturally been to prolong them so as to learn all I could, and to avoid at the same time if possible ever giving an opinion of my own; in the first place lest it should turn out an absurd one, in the next place lest it should be mistaken for one of yours.
He confessed that he did not think he had ‘the talents and turn of mind for public life’. He received the news of his election at Vienna: ‘What you mention about Wycombe’, he wrote on 22 Mar. 1786, ‘surprised me not a little; however I will forgive you for making me a Member of the House of Commons, upon condition you do not go on to make me a speaker in it.’ He returned to England in February 1788, and it is uncertain whether or not he took his seat in Parliament; later in the year he set off again for an extended tour through western Europe, Russia, Canada and the United States, and did not return until 1792.
He died 15 Nov. 1809.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Lansdowne mss.