STANHOPE, Philip (1732-68).

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



1754 - 1761
1761 - May 1765

Family and Education

b. in Holland, Mar. 1732, illegit. s. of Philip Dormer, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, by Elizabeth du Bouchet.1  educ. Westminster 1743-6; Grand Tour 1746-51.2  m. secretly c.1759, Eugenia Peeters, illegit. da. of one Domville of Ireland, 2s.

Offices Held

Resident at Hamburg 1757-63; envoy to Imperial Diet Mar.-Oct. 1763, to Saxony May 1764- d.


Stanhope is known through his father’s famous letters which he had to endure. ‘His success in the world is now the only object I have in it’, wrote Chesterfield to a friend in 1751.3 And to Stanhope in 1748: ‘I would have you be ... perfect. As this is impossible, I would have you as near perfection as possible.’ The letters start when the boy was five, and each is a lesson; later on follow lectures on ‘the art of pleasing’, and on the missing layers in Stanhope’s beau vernis—‘I shall always be correcting and never think my work perfect enough’ (23 Mar. 1746). No relief even at a distance: ‘I shall know everything you say or do in Paris, as exactly as if ... I could follow you ... invisible’ (8 Nov. 1750). And before his return to England in 1751: ‘You must ... expect the most critical examen that ever anybody underwent; I shall discover your least, as well as your greatest defects.’ The boy grew up shy, loud, and awkward, ‘slatternly and negligent’.

The years 1746-9 were spent mainly at Lausanne and Leipzig, 1749-50 in Berlin, Vienna, Italy, and Southern France. From December 1750 till May 1752, except for a visit to London in the autumn of 1751, Stanhope was in Paris, working at the embassy—‘it will teach you’, wrote Chesterfield, ‘at least the mechanical part of that business such as filing, entering, and docketing letters’. Next he resumed his German travels. At Hanover he kissed the King’s hand—

It was all I expected or desired [wrote Chesterfield to a friend]. Visage de bois, you take for granted ... but the Duke of Newcastle has been most excessively kind and friendly to him.

Chesterfield now set his heart on Stanhope being appointed resident at Venice, and followed up tentative approaches by a formal request.

I am sensible [he wrote to Newcastle, 30 June 1753] that his birth is a disadvantage to him ... As I shall bring him into the next Parliament at my own (and probably no small) expense I flatter myself that his seat there will be so far like the cloak of charity as to cover one sin at least, and upon my word I know of no other.

But the King did not think proper to comply with the application. ‘His Majesty’s reasons’, wrote Newcastle, 8 Aug. ‘seemed confined to one circumstance ...’4 This looked like permanent exclusion. The more necessary was therefore the ‘parliamentary cloak’. In Stanhope’s absence abroad a seat was secured for him from Edward Eliot, with Henry Pelham’s blessing,5 and without the need even of putting in a personal appearance.

It was impossible to act with more zeal and friendship than Mr. Eliot has acted [wrote Chesterfield, 12 Feb. 1754]... The House of Commons is the theatre where you must make your fortune and figure in the world ... Your success in Parliament will effectually remove all other objections; either a foreign or a domestic destination will no longer be refused you.

Chesterfield again recommended him to Newcastle’s protection, as belonging entirely to the Duke.

‘I had two views in your education ... parliamentary and foreign affairs.’ But he had warned Stanhope that ‘merit and knowledge without the art of pleasing would, at most, raise you to the important post of resident at Hamburg or Ratisbon’ (6 June 1751). By now Chesterfield knew that ‘the graces’ were lacking.

I flatter myself [he wrote to Dayrolles, 2 Apr. 1754] he will do in the House of Commons, where les manières, les attentions & les graces, are by no means the most necessary qualifications.

But there ‘your fate depends upon your success ... as a speaker’—‘you must resolve to be an actor, and not a persona muta’. On 13 Nov. 1755, Stanhope rose to speak on the Address. His speech was ‘very bad’;6 he got stuck; and was much mortified. Chesterfield tried to reassure and encourage him. ‘I am not surprised, nor indeed concerned at your accident ... Persevere ... it will do well at last.’ Stanhope never spoke again.

In the autumn of 1756 Chesterfield procured for him, indeed, ‘the residency of Hamburg’. In July 1759 Stanhope went home on leave, never to go back to Hamburg, though nominally he retained the post till April 1763.7

In 1760 Newcastle sent word to Chesterfield that he had fixed Stanhope’s election for the new Parliament. Chesterfield thinking that it was again for Eliot’s borough of Liskeard made Stanhope

by way of civility write to Mr. Eliot to tell him that if he should be recommended by your Grace to serve again for the same borough, he hoped that he (Mr. Eliot) would have no objection to it. To this civility he received a flat negative from Mr. Eliot.

Perhaps the implication that Newcastle could freely dispose of his boroughs did not strike Eliot as particularly civil. In the end he returned Stanhope for St. Germans; according to Chesterfield, ‘compelled’ to do so, which seems unlikely.8

In June 1763, Stanhope was sent to Ratisbon (the second part of Chesterfield’s forecast). But in October, in anticipation of a critical parliamentary session, he was summoned home. On 8 May 1764 he was appointed minister to Dresden, arriving there early in July. Then on 18 Oct., Lovell Stanhope came to Chesterfield from Lord Halifax to ask if he would approve of Philip vacating his seat. Chesterfield replied that he would leave the decision to Philip; the seat had cost him £2,000, half the term of the Parliament was still to run; he had incurred heavy expenses when summoned from Ratisbon: £1,000 would be ‘an equitable equivalent’. But he advised his son to agree, and ‘de bonne grâce’. The same day Sandwich wrote to Philip Stanhope:9 ‘As I should think you will not like to be troubled with a request to make another journey to England’, here was a suggestion ‘which if you agree to will ... be taken particularly well by all your friends in England’. Sandwich knew ‘a very good friend to the Government’ who would pay him £500 if he vacated his seat. Stanhope’s reply is not extant. But in a letter of 20 Nov. Sandwich asked him to reconsider the matter.

I take for granted you wish to stay some years in your present commission, therefore your seat in the House of Commons is of no use to yourself or to the public, and it would therefore seem to me not an unnatural request to you either to come home to attend your duty in Parliament, or to resign it without any farther terms.

His successor will, moreover, have to ‘give the usual consideration’ of £1,000 to the borough.

I am very sorry your journey to England was so expensive last year, but as you enjoyed your full pay as envoy extraordinary all the time, I hope you was not a material sufferer on that occasion.

Stanhope gave in, and on 12 Dec. 1764 applied for the stewardship of Old Shoreham. But Eliot ‘not having been in town since the meeting of the Parliament’ wrote Sandwich on 5 Feb. 1765, ‘nothing has yet been done with regard to the resignation of your seat’. The matter was finally settled in May 1765.

But Chesterfield would not give up the idea of a parliamentary career for Stanhope, and toward the end of 1766 asked Chatham to secure a seat for him in the Parliament of 1768—‘he assured me he would; and I am convinced, very sincerely’. Next, Chesterfield went in search of ‘some venal borough’. He failed, and felt ‘extremely sorry’: ‘I am of a very different opinion from you about being in Parliament ... though one may not speak like a Lord Mansfield or a Lord Chatham, one may make a very good figure in the second rank’ (12 Mar. 1768).

Stanhope, because of ill-health, spent the winter of 1766-7 in the south of France; and in March 1768 was granted a year’s leave. He died at Avignon, 16 Nov. 1768. Chesterfield then learnt of his secret marriage, and treated his widow and sons with the utmost kindness.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Born abroad, out of wedlock and of a foreign mother, he was presumably foreign-born, and a formal act of naturalization would have merely established his incapacity to sit in Parliament. But apparently his British nationality was tacitly assumed.
  • 2. Till 1748 with Edward Eliot (q.v.).
  • 3. All quotations without specific references are taken from Letters of Chesterfield, ed. Bonamy Dobrée.
  • 4. Add. 32732, f. 427.
  • 5. Add. 32995, f. 63.
  • 6. Walpole to H. S. Conway, 15 Nov. 1755.
  • 7. D. B. Horn, British Diplomatic Reps. 1689-1789, p. 71.
  • 8. Chesterfield to Stanhope, 26 Feb. 1761.
  • 9. Sandwich mss at Hinchingbrooke.