William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland

William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, KG, PC, FRS (14 April 1738 – 30 October 1809) was a British Whig and then a Tory politician during the late Georgian era. He served as Chancellor of the University of Oxford (1792–1809) and twice as the Prime Minister of Great Britain (1783) and then of the United Kingdom (1807–1809). The 24 years between his two terms as Prime Minister is the longest gap between terms of office of any British Prime Minister.

The Duke of Portland
01-Bentinck William Henry Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Portland c 1774.jpg
Portrait by Matthew Pratt
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
31 March 1807 – 4 October 1809
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byThe Lord Grenville
Succeeded bySpencer Perceval
In office
2 April 1783 – 18 December 1783
Preceded byThe Earl of Shelburne
Succeeded byWilliam Pitt the Younger
Lord President of the Council
In office
30 July 1801 – 14 January 1805
Prime MinisterHenry Addington
William Pitt the Younger
Preceded byThe Earl of Chatham
Succeeded byViscount Sidmouth
Home Secretary
In office
11 July 1794 – 30 July 1801
Prime MinisterWilliam Pitt the Younger
Preceded byHenry Dundas
Succeeded byLord Pelham
Personal details
Born(1738-04-14)14 April 1738
Nottinghamshire, England
Died30 October 1809(1809-10-30) (aged 71)
Burlington House, Westminster, England
Resting placeSt Marylebone Parish Church
Political party
(m. 1766; died 1794)
Children6, including William, 4th Duke; Lord William and Lord Charles
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford
SignatureCursive signature in ink

Portland was known before 1762 by the courtesy title Marquess of Titchfield. He held a title of every degree of British nobility: duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron. He is also a great-great-great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II through her maternal grandmother, Cecilia Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

He was the leader of the Portland Whigs faction, which broke with the Whig leadership of Charles James Fox and joined with William Pitt the Younger in the wake of the French Revolution.

Early life and educationEdit

Lord Titchfield was the eldest son of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland and Margaret Cavendish-Harley and inherited many lands from his mother and his maternal grandmother,[1][2][3] who was the widow of John Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle.[4] He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated MA in 1757.[5][4]

Marriage and childrenEdit

Lady Dorothy Cavendish, wife of William Cavendish Bentinck. (George Romney)

On 8 November 1766, Portland married Lady Dorothy Cavendish, a daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire and Charlotte Boyle. They were parents of six children:

Through his son Charles, Portland is a great-great-great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II (see ancestry of Elizabeth II).

Political and public officesEdit

Portland was elected to sit in the Parliament of Great Britain for Weobley in 1761 before he entered the House of Lords after he succeeded his father as Duke of Portland the next year. He was associated with the aristocratic Whig Party of Lord Rockingham and served as Lord Chamberlain of the Household in Rockingham's first government (1765–1766).[4]

Lord Lieutenant of IrelandEdit

Portland served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Rockingham's second ministry (April–August 1782). He faced strong demands for conciliatory measures following years of coercion and taxation brought about by the British government's engagement in the American Revolutionary War.[11] Portland resolved to make concessions and, overcoming the resistance of Lord Shelburne, the Home Secretary to whom he reported, convinced Parliament to repeal the Declaratory Act and to modify Poynings' Law.[12] Following Rockingham's death, Portland resigned from Lord Shelburne's ministry along with other supporters of Charles James Fox.[13]

First governmentEdit

In April 1783, Portland was selected as the titular head of a coalition government as Prime Minister, whose real leaders were Charles James Fox and Lord North. He served as First Lord of the Treasury in the ministry until its fall in December that same year. During his tenure, the Treaty of Paris was signed, which formally ended the American Revolutionary War. The government was brought down after it had lost a vote in the House of Lords on its proposed reform of the East India Company after George III had let it be known that any peer voting for the measure would be considered his personal enemy.[14]

In 1789, Portland became one of several vice presidents of London's Foundling Hospital. The charity had become one of the most fashionable of the time, with several notables serving on its board. At its creation, 50 years earlier, Portland's father, William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland, had been one of the founding governors, as listed on the charity's royal charter granted by George II. The hospital had a mission to care for the abandoned children in London, and it achieved rapid fame through its poignant mission, its art collection donated from supporting artists and the popular benefit concerts by George Frideric Handel. In 1793, Portland took over the presidency of the charity from Lord North.

Home secretaryEdit

Along with many other conservative Whigs such as Edmund Burke, Portland was deeply uncomfortable with the French Revolution; he broke with Fox over that issue and joined Pitt's government as Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1794. In that role he oversaw the administration of patronage and financial inducements, which were often secret, to secure the passage of the Act of Union 1800.[15] He continued to serve in the cabinet until Pitt's death in 1806, from 1801 to 1805 as Lord President of the Council[4] and then as a Minister without Portfolio.

Second governmentEdit

In March 1807, after the collapse of the Ministry of all the Talents, Pitt's supporters returned to power, and Portland was once again an acceptable figurehead for a fractious group of ministers that included George Canning, Lord Castlereagh, Lord Hawkesbury and Spencer Perceval.

Portland's second government saw the United Kingdom's complete isolation on the continent but also the beginning of its recovery with the start of the Peninsular War. In late 1809, with Portland's health poor and the ministry rocked by the scandalous duel between Canning and Castlereagh, Portland resigned and died shortly thereafter.

He was Recorder of Nottingham until his death.

Death and burialEdit

Memorial to the 3rd Duke of Portland at the family vault in St Marylebone Parish Church

He died on 30 October 1809 at Burlington House, Piccadilly, after an operation for the stone, and was buried at St Marylebone Parish Church, London.[16]

He had lived expensively: with an income of £17,000 a year (worth £577,000 in 2005),[17] he had debts at his death computed at £52,000 (£1.76 million in 2005),[17] which were paid off by his succeeding son by selling off some property, including Bulstrode.[18]

Along with Sir Robert Peel, Lord Aberdeen, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone, Marquess of Salisbury, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Bonar Law and Neville Chamberlain, he was the first of nine British prime ministers to die while his direct successor was in office.


The Portland Vase of Roman glass was given its name because it was owned by Portland at his family residence at Bulstrode Park.

Portland Parish, in Jamaica, was named after him. The Titchfield School, founded in 1786, is in the parish and is also named in his honour. The school's crest is derived from the his personal crest.

Two major streets in Marylebone are named after the him: Portland Place and Great Portland Street. Both were built on land that he once owned.

North Bentinck Arm and South Bentinck Arm were named for the Bentinck family by George Vancouver in 1793, along with other names on the British Columbia Coast, such as Portland Canal and Portland Channel.

The department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham holds a number of papers relating to the him. His personal and political papers (Pw F) are part of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection, and the Portland (London) Collection (Pl) contains his correspondence and official papers, especially in series Pl C.

The Portland Estate Papers held at Nottinghamshire Archives also contain items relating to the 3rd Duke's properties.

The Portland Collection of fine and decorative art includes pieces owned and commissioned by him, including paintings by George Stubbs.


Coat of arms of William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland
The title Duke of Portland was created by George I in 1716.
A Coronet of a Duke
Out of a ducal coronet proper two arms counter-embowed vested Gules, on the hands gloves Or, each holding an ostrich feather Argent (Bentinck); A snake nowed proper (Cavendish)
Quarterly: 1st and 4th, Azure a cross moline Argent (Bentinck); 2nd and 3rd, Sable three stags' heads cabossed Argent attired Or, a crescent for difference (Cavendish)
Two lions double queued, the dexter Or and the sinister sable
Craignez Honte (Fear Dishonour)

Cabinets as Prime MinisterEdit

First Ministry, April – December 1783Edit

Second Ministry, March 1807 – October 1809Edit




  1. ^ "Line of descent of the Earls and Dukes of Portland" (PDF). University of Nottingham. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  2. ^ Settlements, mortgages, litigation, Acts of Parliament etc. relating to the 'maternal' estates of the Dukes of Portland; 1583–1790 Archived 6 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine, University of Nottingham, UK.
  3. ^ Series of manorial papers in the Newcastle (Clumber) Collection (1st Deposit); 1357–1867 Archived 6 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine, The University of Nottingham, UK.
  4. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Portland, William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 119.
  5. ^ "William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809)". www.historyhome.co.uk. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
  6. ^ The Register of Births and Baptisms in the Parish of St James within the Liberty of Westminster. 1761-1786. 30 October 1775.
  7. ^ "Harriet Catherine Greville".
  8. ^ The Register of Births and Baptisms in the Parish of St James within the Liberty of Westminster. 1761-1786. 13 April 1778.
  9. ^ The Register of Births and Baptisms in the Parish of St James within the Liberty of Westminster. 1761-1786. 17 June 1780.
  10. ^ Caledonian Mercury, 28 October 1786, p. 2
  11. ^ Wilkinson, David (2003). The Duke of Portland – Politics and Party in the Age of George III. Basingstoke, UK / New York City: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 35–38. ISBN 978-0333963852.
  12. ^ Wilkinson pp 38–41
  13. ^ Stephens, Henry Morse (1885). "Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 4. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  14. ^ Wilkinson p 56
  15. ^ Wilkinson p150-7
  16. ^ "The Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809". John Ballantyne and Company. 1811 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ a b [1] National Archives currency converter.
  18. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 5. Oxford University Press. 2004. pp. 268–269. ISBN 978-0-19-861355-8.

External linksEdit

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Weobley
With: Hon. Henry Thynne
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Lord Chamberlain
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Great Britain
2 April 1783 – 18 December 1783
Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
Preceded by Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
New office Minister without Portfolio
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
31 March 1807 – 4 October 1809
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by President of the Foundling Hospital
Succeeded by
The Prince of Wales
later became King George IV
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire
Succeeded by
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by Duke of Portland
Succeeded by