EDEN, William, 1st Baron Auckland [I] (1744-1814), of Eden Farm, Beckenham, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1774 - 1784
1784 - 22 May 1793

Family and Education

b. 3 Apr. 1744, 3rd s. of Sir Robert Eden, 3rd Bt., of Windlestone Hall and West Auckland, co. Dur. by Mary, da. of William Davison of Beamish, co. Dur., coh. of her bro. Morton Davison; bro. of Sir John Eden, 4th Bt. educ. Durham 1755 8; Eton 1758-62; Christ Church, Oxf. 1762; M. Temple 1765, called 1768. m. 26 Sept. 1776, Eleanor, da. of Sir Gilbert Elliot, 3rd Bt., of Minto, Roxburgh, 4s. 8da. cr. Baron Auckland [I] 18 Nov. 1789; Baron Auckland [GB] 22 May 1793.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state (northern dept.) June 1772-Oct. 1778; ld. of trade Mar. 1776 May 1782; commr. for conciliation with America 1778-9; chief sec. to ld.-lt. [I] 1780-2; PC [I] 23 Dec. 1780; PC [GB] 17 Apr. 1783; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Apr.-Dec. 1783; member, Board of Trade Dec. 1785; envoy to France 1785-8; ambassador to Spain 1787-9, to United Provinces 1789-93; jt. postmaster-gen. Mar. 1798-July 1804; pres. Board of Trade Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807.

MP [I] 1781-3.

Auditor, Greenwich Hosp. 1771-d.


Returned as usual by the 4th Duke of Marlborough in 1790, Auckland, then ambassador at The Hague, informed Lord Sheffield: ‘I am again quietly seated for another Parliament, but I mean it shall be my last. I am getting to that period of life when I shall not wish for further bustle.’ A cabinet politician by temperament, Auckland confided in the same letter: ‘If I must have sought a popular representation in order to have got into Parliament, I am very sure I never should have seen the inside of the House of Commons’. Lord Hardwicke later wrote of him that he was not ‘a man of much weight in Parliament, and his style of speaking has always struck me as more like tea table conversation than parliamentary debate’. Nevertheless, since he had given up opposition in 1785 and served Pitt’s administration in the diplomatic line, he had succeeded brilliantly: John Thomas Stanley*, one of the ‘academy’ of young gentlemen groomed by Auckland at The Hague, wrote of him in February 1790:

Lord Auckland has not his equal in knowledge of treaties and negotiations, and the state of trade of every nation. He has been sent with full powers of negotiation to Paris when there was an ambassador there; he has been sent, though only the younger brother of a baronet, to Madrid as ambassador. He is now ambassador at The Hague, and has been created an Irish peer. All this has happened within the space of very few years.1

Yet Auckland had higher ambitions: in the autumn of 1789 he had wished to be ambassador to France and was prepared to consider his being sent to The Hague as ‘degrading and dishonouring me in that line’, so he informed Pitt; and, protesting at the notion that a duke was necessary, added ‘I certainly never have felt that an English gentleman of an old family was not of rank enough to be sent anywhere’. In the event he accepted The Hague, to accommodate Pitt: his brother-in-law Sir Gilbert Elliot thought he would ‘trust to his own resources for working it up to the same rank and pay as Lord Malmesbury had’. On the eve of departure in February 1790, he indicated to Pitt what he had in mind and had thought of two years before: an English peerage, which would enable him to make himself useful in the Lords, and either a floating pension for his eldest son or a reversion to a tellership of the Exchequer. He assured Pitt at the same time:

My political creed turns on the expediency of avoiding wars abroad and innovations at home. Nothing else is wanting to confirm for a long period the elevated point on which we stand above all the nations of the world either in present times or in history.2

From The Hague he wrote to say that he had to maintain ‘nearly the expense and appearance of a viceroy’, 22 May 1790, and asked for a floating pension of £1,200 a year: instead, to avoid application to Parliament, his son was awarded the reversion to a tellership in July, Auckland being assured of his diplomatic pension until the reversion was realized.3

At The Hague Auckland secured a Dutch squadron for the British armament against Spain in June 1790 and in December concluded a treaty with the Emperor and the King of Prussia confirming the security of Holland, of which Pitt said ‘the sole merit belongs to him’. In the spring of 1791, unhappy about the armament against Russia, he wished to see the Duke of Leeds removed from the Foreign Office, and at the time of the latter’s resignation in April he was at daggers drawn with him. He was thought of by some, and urged his own claims to George Rose, as the duke’s successor in a situation ‘for which every habit and circumstance of my life during 20 years has gradually fitted me’ and as a guarantor of ‘more certain cordiality and union’. Perhaps anticipating that his prospects were dim, he was, however, prepared to reconcile himself to retirement ‘at least for two or three years’. Prepared to swallow Lord Grenville as his chief at the Foreign Office, in the summer of 1791 he obtained leave to come home. In April, marked ‘abroad’, he had been listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland, to be moved by his brother-in-law. His real aim was to quit the diplomatic service, but no alternative was then offered him and in May 1792 he reluctantly returned to The Hague, without having taken his seat in Parliament.4

On 30 Jan. 1792 he had written to Pitt hinting that a place in the cabinet would satisfy him as he was ‘tired of foreign life’ and if the treasurership of the navy with the India Board as a cabinet office, or the India Board alone, were promised him, he would return to The Hague for a few months only. What he did not wish was to return there indefinitely, without any prospect of ‘rendering material services’. On 13 Apr. he saw Pitt in an endeavour to arrive at ‘some certainty as to my position’, but realized that no reshuffle of the government would take place. Pitt was inclined to suggest that Auckland might resign at once and take his seat in Parliament, but he reminded Pitt that he intended ‘never again to enter into the litigating life of the House of Commons, unless I could appear there in an ostensible and responsible situation connected with you and forming a part of your government’. He scorned the notion that his motive for absenting himself from the Commons was ‘avoiding negligent sarcasms from any quarter’, but hoped that if he returned to Holland for a few months, he might resign and take his seat in Parliament as a member of administration ‘or in effect as of your cabinet though without office’. Otherwise, rather than be ‘entirely laid upon the shelf’, he would prefer to retire altogether with a provision.5 Subsequently, he encouraged Lord Loughborough to join government.

From The Hague in the summer of 1792 Auckland continued to grumble and in August George Rose warned him that Pitt was ‘embarrassed beyond measure’ by his claims, not being able to dispose of major offices while he was angling for the support of the Duke of Portland’s friends. Rose further warned him against retiring or returning to England until he had prospects of satisfaction. On 4 Sept. Auckland wrote to Pitt to protest that he did not wish to spend another winter at The Hague and, seeing that Pitt was bent on a coalition government, had no wish to return to the Commons, where he might have served Pitt for seven years past if the minister had given him the opportunity; he thought the solution was an English peerage. The French invasion of Belgium and the threat to Holland kept him at his post and it was not until the French advance was checked, a favourable turn of affairs which Pitt was said to think ‘entirely owing to [Auckland’s] being at The Hague’, that he could think of coming home, with every expectation of a peerage.6 In the House on 25 Apr. 1793 Sheridan made an unsuccessful attempt to censure Auckland for his part in the Anglo-Austrian note of 5 Apr. to the States General demanding the execution of captured French regicides, but Pitt sprang to Auckland’s defence and the attack failed. In May Pitt finally secured Auckland a British peerage and he obtained leave of absence to come home.7 His embassy did not cease until February 1794.

Although Auckland claimed that he now had ‘no farther view or ambition in the line of public pursuits’, he found it difficult to be a spectator and, acting as a spokesman for government in the Lords, bombarded Pitt with hints and offers to serve him at home. He delayed applying for his diplomatic pension of £2,000 p.a. in the hope of obtaining office—he had in mind the treasurership of the navy—but the requirements of the coalition with the Portland Whigs excluded him and he was kept at bay with half-promises. In January 1797, too, his hopes of becoming Pitt’s father-in-law were dashed.8

In 1798 Auckland obtained minor office. In 1801 he disapproved of Pitt’s resignation over Catholic emancipation, to which he was supposed to have been the instigator of royal opposition. Abused as ‘an ungrateful man’, he remained in office. The King, who had taken exception to a pamphlet of his on the war in 1795 and despised him as ‘an eternal intriguer’, did not oppose his dismissal on Pitt’s return to power in 1804 and was displeased with his application for compensation for the loss of income, which he nevertheless obtained by means of an additional grant to Lady Auckland.9 He was reluctant to allow Pitt to award a place to his heir. When Lord Grenville’s administration was formed in 1806, Auckland professed great unwillingness to accept cabinet office, but submitted at length to being president of the Board of Trade.10 In opposition with Grenville after 1807, he fixed all his hopes on his heir, whose early death in 1810 was a bitter blow to him. He died 28 May 1814.11 He had two sons in Parliament and four of his daughters married respectively Lord (Hon. Robert) Hobart*, Lord Francis Godolphin Osborne*, Arthur Vansittart* and Nicholas Vansittart*; but he left no heir to his talent for business, which in his view precluded charges of political tergiversation:

I think it a free and honourable exercise of the faculties belonging to any public man in such a government as ours to take a share in any administration which seeks the public advantage by means and measures which he can approve and support without inconsistency of principle.12

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 35772, f. 125; 45728, f. 119; J. H. Adeane, Early Married Life of Lady Stanley, 91.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/110, ff. 165, 167, 169, 171, 175; Auckland Jnl. ii. 360; NLS mss 11047, f. 212; Rose Diaries, i. 71, 75.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/110, ff. 179, 181; Auckland Jnl. iii. 325; Geo. III Corresp. i. 529, 593; Add. 29475, f. 31.
  • 4. Add. 34434, f. 351; 34436, ff. 351, 355, 474, 507; 34438, f. 192; 34441, f. 278; Auckland Jnl. ii. 397; SRO GD46/17/6, Johnston to Stewart [8] Mar. 1792.
  • 5. PRO 30/8/110. ff. 203, 207; Add. 34442, ff. 74-76.
  • 6. PRO 30/8/110, f. 209; Auckland Jnl. ii. 402; Add. 34444, ff. 183, 246; 34449, f. 89, 324.
  • 7. Auckland Jnl. iii. 18, 37, 61; Add. 34450, ff. 297, 372, 427.
  • 8. PRO 30/8/110, ff. 219, 237, 241, 257; Add. 34451, f. 29; 34452, f. 454; 34453, f. 47; 46491, ff. 163-73; Auckland Jnl. iii. 168, 220, 325.
  • 9. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 5, 16, 49, 51; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1320; iv. 2857; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 381; Rose Diaries, i. 293-4; ii. 157, 173, 193.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, vii. 344; Add. 34456, f. 372.
  • 11. Gent. Mag. (1814), i. 629; ii. 187; Horner mss 6, f. 55.
  • 12. Add. 45728, f. 136.