Manuscripts and Special Collections

Biography of Henry Pelham (c.1695-1754; Prime Minister)

Henry was the 2nd son of Sir Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham of Laughton, and younger brother of the statesman Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle under Lyne. Like his brother, he was educated at Westminster School before attending Oxford. Henry soon entered politics, becoming M.P. for Seaford, Sussex in 1717 (a seat arranged for him by his brother) and later for the county of Sussex from 1722-1754.

Pelham's rise to power was steady and sure, no doubt helped significantly by his brother's power and influence. In 1724 he became Secretary at War and in 1730, Paymaster General. During the 1730s Pelham's political influnce developed, though largely outside the public eye. By 1742 he had become Leader of the House of Commons, and in 1743 he was made First Lord of the Treasury (Prime Minister) and Chancellor of the Exchequer. With his brother in the House of Lords, the two brothers controlled a vast web of political influence and patronage and were the dominant forces in British politics during much of the reign of George II.

During his time in power, Pelham was faced with major national and international events, including the Jacobite Rising in 1745 and the War of the Austrian Succession and subsequent Treat of Aix la Chapelle. His main political legacy, however, is considered to be the work he carried out in restructuring the National Debt, which assisted British victory in the Seven Years' War and which enabled a period of stable government after the upheaval of the 1740s.


Portrait of Henry Pelham

Henry Pelham


He married Lady Catherine Manners (d 1780), eldest daughter of John Manners, 2nd Duke of Rutland in 1726. They had two sons who both died in 1739, and six daughters, four of whom survived into adulthood:

  • Catherine, Countess of Lincoln (1727-1260) who married her cousin, Henry Fiennes Pelham-Clinton, 9th Earl of Lincoln (later 2nd Duke of Newcastle under Lyne) in 1744
  • Frances (1728-1824) who died unmarried
  • Grace, Baroness Sondes (1735-1777) who married Lewis Watson, Baron Sondes of Lees Court (1728-1795) in 1752
  • Mary (b 1739) who also died unmarried

Archive Collections

  • The Henry Pelham papers, part of the Newcastle (Clumber) Collection, held in Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham, were inherited by his son-in-law, Henry Pelham-Clinton, 2nd Duke of Newcastle under Lyne (1720-1794).
  • Details of collections held elsewhere are available through the National Register of Archives.

Published Sources

  • Coxe, William, Memoirs of the Administration of the Right Honourable Henry Pelham, 2 vols (London, 1829, photographic reprint 1971)
  • Kulisheck, P.J, The Duke of Newcastle and Henry Pelham, 1694-1754: a bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1997) [King’s Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Not 508.V2 KUL]
  • Owen, John B., The Rise of the Pelhams (London, 1971)
  • Wilkes, J.W., A Whig in Power: the political career of Henry Pelham, Northwestern University Studies in History No. 3 (Evanston, Ill., 1964)

Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

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