Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Percy, Hugh (1785-1847)

PERCY, HUGH, third Duke of Northumberland of the third creation (1785–1847), eldest son of Hugh Percy, second duke [q. v.], by his second wife, was born on 20 April 1785. He was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, and was created M.A. in 1805, and LL.D. in 1809. On 1 Aug. 1806 he was elected member of parliament for Buckingham in the tory interest, and on 7 Oct. was returned for Westminster. In May 1807 he successfully contested the county of Northumberland, and was also returned for Launceston. On 17 March he brought forward a bill for the abolition of slavery in the colonies, but the house was counted out. On 12 March 1812 he was summoned to the House of Lords as Baron Percy, and on 10 July 1817 succeeded his father as Duke of Northumberland. On 25 Nov. 1819 he received the Garter, and at the coronation of George IV, in July 1821, he was the bearer of the second sword.

Northumberland went to Paris on 8 Feb. 1825 as ambassador-extraordinary to represent the British crown at the coronation of Charles X. He himself bore the whole cost of the mission, which was conducted with exceptional magnificence, and on his return was presented with a diamond-hilted sword as a national recognition of his services. On 23 March 1825 he was sworn of the privy council.

Unlike his father, Northumberland was a very moderate tory. He offended the king in 1825 by withholding his proxy from the opponents of the Catholic Relief Bill (Colchester, Diary, iii. 383). In January 1829 he accepted Wellington's offer of the viceroyalty of Ireland, on the understanding that he would be relieved of it in twelve or eighteen months. He explained at the same time that although he had opposed catholic relief when proposed by irresponsible men, he would rejoice to see a settlement of the question originating with Wellington as prime minister. He proposed that his salary should be reduced by 10,000l. The appointment gave general satisfaction. Greville expressed surprise that he consented to go, and attributed his acceptance of the office to an ambition to display his wealth. The premier urged him (16 July) to take strong measures to insure the tranquillity of the country, and thus facilitate the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill.

Much correspondence followed respecting the measures taken for preserving the peace of the country, and Northumberland was always anxious that enactments of parliament should be ‘moderate, permanent, and applicable to all parts of Ireland.’ George IV, early in 1830, personally appealed to Northumberland to reprieve a gentleman of Clare named Peter Comyn, who was sentenced to death for setting fire to his own house. Northumberland reluctantly yielded, but pointed out to Peel, the home secretary, the impolicy of making distinctions between classes in the administration of the criminal law.

On 25 April 1830 he issued a proclamation for suppressing the Catholic Association. He refused to grant public money in relief of distress, which should, in his opinion, rather be relieved by the local authorities. The Catholic Relief Act gained over many catholics, but the country was not pacified, and he advised the ministry that, should O'Connell move the repeal of the union, he should be ‘heard with patience, and even encouragement, in order that he may be clearly and fully refuted by the undeniable evidence of facts.’ In November 1830 the tory ministry fell, and Northumberland was recalled. Peel, in a letter to Wellington, which is among the Alnwick MSS., declared him to have been ‘the best chief-governor that ever presided over the affairs of Ireland.’ Northumberland was strongly opposed to parliamentary reform, but, living chiefly at Alnwick, took only an intermittent part in public affairs. He does not appear to have been popular in Northumberland. He obtained an improvement act for the town of Alnwick, and partially endowed St. Paul's Church, but made continued encroachments on common rights, and by his influence procured the exclusion of Alnwick from the Corporation Act. He showed an interest in literary and educational institutions. In 1831 he became a governor of King's College, London, and in 1834 a trustee of the British Museum. He was appointed high steward of Cambridge University in 1834, and was elected chancellor on 21 Oct. 1840. In 1843 he became constable and high steward of Launceston. He was also vice-president of the Society of Arts. On 12 Feb. 1847 he was found dead in his bed at Alnwick.

Greville calls Northumberland ‘a very good sort of man, with a very narrow understanding, an eternal talker, and a prodigious bore.’ The further statement that ‘he had no political opinions’ seems scarcely tenable in view of his early attitude on the slavery question and his later conduct of affairs in Ireland.

He married, on 29 April 1817, Lady Charlotte Florentina Clive, second daughter of Edward, earl of Powis, and granddaughter of Clive. She was for some time governess of Princess (afterwards Queen) Victoria, and was, according to Greville, ‘sensible, amiable, and good-humoured, ruling her husband in all things.’ She died on 27 July 1866. There being no issue of the marriage, the dukedom of Northumberland passed to the duke's brother Algernon, lord Prudhoe [q. v.]

Portraits of Northumberland as Lord Percy and as duke were painted by Phillips and engraved by Reynolds. Another was executed by Ward and engraved by Holl; and there is also a private plate, with arms, engraved by Graves after a painting by Mrs. Robertson.

[Doyle's Baronage (with engraving by Dean, after Robertson); Annals of the House of Percy, ii. 569–70; Tate's Hist. of Alnwick, i. 363–4; Wellington Corresp. 1873, vols. v–viii., passim; Lord Colchester's Diary, ii. 301, iii. 383, 592; Greville Memoirs, i. 162–4, iii. 408; Grad. Cant.; Ret. Memb. Parl.; Ann. Reg. 1847, Append. Chron. pp. 207–8; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits.]

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