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Bentinck was born in the Eastern Netherlands, as the fifth child in an old noble family, and in 1664 was chosen to be a page to Prince William III of Orange. He fast became a close confidant of the prince, and the two forged a friendship which was to last for the rest of their lives.
Bentinck's early reputation was forged as a diplomat. He was the prince's special envoy to London in 1677, seeking the support of Charles II in the Dutch Republic's struggle against France. Whilst there, he also managed to lay the foundations of the agreement for William's marriage to Mary, elder daughter of the future James II. When Mary travelled to The Hague following the marriage, she brought with her Elizabeth and Anne Villiers. Within months, Bentinck had married Anne, thus further cementing the relationship with the future king and queen.
Following his initial visit in 1677, Bentinck was sent on a number of other diplomatic missions to England, meaning that he forged a strong and influential network of contacts within English political circles. As a result, he was to play a key role in the planning and execution of the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, when William seized the English throne. He and Mary were offered the crown as joint sovereigns in February 1689.
Having supported William III throughout his efforts to secure the throne, and after accompanying him to England, Bentinck was generously rewarded by his new king. An act of naturalisation was passed in favour of him and his children, and he was created Earl of Portland, Viscount Woodstock and Baron Cirencester. With his title came significant landed estates, including Theobalds in Hertfordshire.
Portland was made secretary to William III and remained his closest advisor. He embarked with William to Ireland, organising his campaign there and commanding a regiment at the Battle of the Boyne. He was also responsible for overseeing affairs in Scotland and began to play an increasingly influential role within English politics. Still, his main achievements were diplomatic. He played a central role in securing the Treaty of Ryswick in September 1697, was active in addressing the crisis of the Spanish succession through the First and Second Partition Treaties, and became William III's ambassador to France.
In 1700 Portland retired from active public and political life and spent his closing years consolidating his estates and adding to his numerous family. He died at Bulstrode, Buckinghamshire, in 1709, having amassed an English fortune estimated at some £850,000.
Portland married twice:
1. Anne Villiers (d 1688) in 1678 by whom he had 7 children:
- William (1681-1688)
- Henry (1682-1726), later 1st Duke of Portland
- Mary (d 1726) m 1stly Algernon Capell, 2nd Earl of Essex in 1692 and 2ndly Conyers Darcy M.P., in 1714
- Anne-Margaretta (1683-1763) m Arent, Baron Wassenaer in 1701
- Frances Wilhelmina (d 1712) m William, 4th Baron Byron
- Eleanora Sophia
- Isabella (1688-1728) m Evelyn Pierrepont, Duke of Kingston upon Hull in 1714
2. Jane Martha Temple (1672-1751), Dowager Baroness Berkeley in 1700, by whom he had 6 children:
- William (1704-1774), 1st Count Bentinck of the Holy Roman Empire
- Charles John (1708-1779), Count Bentinck
- Sophia (d 1748) m Henry Grey, Duke of Kent in 1728
- Elizabeth Adriana (d 1765) m Henry Egerton, Bishop of Hereford in 1720
- Barbara (1709-1736) m Francis, 2nd Baron Godolphin
- The 1st Earl's papers are part of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection held in Manuscripts and Special Collections and include extensive personal, political and diplomatic correspondence
- The Portland (London) Collection, also held in Manuscripts and Special Collections, contains some papers relating to the family and estate business of the 1st Earl
- The Portland Estate Papers held at Nottinghamshire Archives also contain items relating to the 1st Earl's properties
- Details of collections held elsewhere are available through the National Register of Archives.
- Grew, Marion E., William Bentinck and William III, Prince of Orange: the life of Bentinck, Earl of Portland from the Welbeck correspondence (London, 1924)
- Japikse, M. (ed.) Correspondentie van Willem III en van Hans Willem Bentinck, 5 vols. (The Hague, 1927-1937)
- Schazmann, Paul-Emile, The Bentincks: The History of a European Family (London,1976)
- Schotel, Rev. Dr G.D.J. (ed.), Journal of the Extraordinary Embassy of his Excellence the Earl of Portland in France (The Hague, 1851)
- Onnekink, David, The Ango-Dutch Favourite: the career of Hans Willem Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland 1649-1709 (UCL and University of Utrecht PhD Thesis, 2004)