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The Rise of the Ducal House of Portland

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Like the Russells, so the Bentincks, Earls and Dukes of Portland, owe the high position which they hold in the highest grade of our aristocracy to a mere accident, which made their founder the object of royal favor. Part of the story is well known; but the accident to which I refer is known only to members of a narrow and privileged circle.
     When William, Prince of Orange, came over to England in order to rid us of the unpopular rule of James II, he brought with him a large army of Dutch soldiers, and a goodly sprinkling of the members of the Dutch nobility, who doubtless were quite content to exchange their dwellings among the dykes of Holland for the green fields and pleasant. homesteads of this country. Among them were the Schombergs, the De Ginkels, the Auverquerques, the ZuIesteins, the Keppels, and last, not least, the Bentincks.
    Burke and the heralds tell us but little about the antecedents of the Bentincks in their own country. But they would appear to have been soldiers of fortune, and always ready to risk their lives and substance in the service of their prince.
     The particular member of the house of Bentinck who resolved to share the fortunes of William the Dutchman was William, son of Henry Bentinck, who is styled Herr Van Dipenham in Overyssel. The son, as a youth, was page of honor to the prince, and in his early manhood became his 'confidential adviser.' He had already given the prince a strong proof of his fidelity and affection; for, when the former was ill with the small-pox, he not only nursed him day and night, but voluntarily shared his bed-room, and even his bed, at the risk of his own life.
     Such heroic conduct deserved a reward, and for a wonder it received one. Bentinck was sent, whilst quite a young man, to England, on a confidential and delicate mission, namely, to negotiate the marriage of the Prince of Orange with the Princess Mary, daughter of James, Duke of York. Accompanying his royal master to our shores, he landed with him in Torbay, rode up to London by his side, and as soon as the prince had accepted the throne which was offered to him by the Houses of Parliament, he was appointed groom of the stole and first gentleman of the royal bed-chamber, and sworn a member of the Privy Council. Two days before the coronation of William and Mary, he was made a peer of his adopted country, by the 'name, style, and title of Earl of Portland, Viscount Woodstock, and Baron of Cirencester:' He subsequently held the important command of the king's own regiment of Dutch Guards, and in that capacity played a leading part at the battle of the Boyne. He was a man marked by no great brilliancy of parts, but of sterling integrity and fidelity, and his bravery was beyond question. By his first wife, who was a Villiers, the sister of the Earl of Jersey, he had a family of daughters, most of whom were married to English peers, and also a son, who became at his death second earl, and was shortly afterwards created Duke of Portland.
     Bentiuck does not seem to have taken any open part in the intrigues and negotiations of 1688-9, but there is little doubt that he acted privately as 'wire-puller' for his royal master throughout. Some ten years after William's accession, Lord Portland was dispatched into a sort of honorable exile, being sent as ambassador to Louis XIV. at Versailles after the peace of Ryswick; and it is probable that he himself sought this appointment, because he was growing jealous of a rival in the king's favor namely, Keppel, who had been made Lord Albemarle. Lord Portland's embassy was very stately and imposing, as befitted so great a man at the court of Le Grand Monarque; but it would seem to have been remarkable rather for profusion than for elegance and taste; and accordingly it was made an object of pleasantry among the gay lords and ladies of the French court, whilst some of them strove, but in vain, to vex the ambassador by most trivial squabbles about precedence on the royal staircase. It is on record that he endeavored, though in vain, to persuade Louis to send James II. from St. Germain to the sunny south, either to Avignon or to Italy. What is more certainly true is that in the so-called 'partition treaty' made with Louis with reference to the succession of the crown of Spain, that negotiation was effected by King William, not through the English ministers, but through his Dutch favourite, who consequently was regarded with great and scarcely concealed dislike by his brother peers in England.
     What Bentinck lacked in the way of friendship from his brother peers, however, seems to have been made up to him in other quarters in a more substantial manner, for William rewarded him with large grants of land on the marches of North Wales, and also gave him the royal palace of Theobalds, in Herts. The earl, however, preferred the domain of Bulstrode Park, in Buckinghamshire, where he died in 1719. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
     The subsequent fortunes of the Bentincks were largely secured by the marriages of the successive heads of the family with the noblest houses in the land-the Noels, the Harleys, and the Cavendishes; and, as at almost every step the lady was an heiress, the ducal title was amply secured by a corresponding amount of property; so that for the last two centuries the Dukes of Portland have stood almost as high for their wealth as for their rank. Thanks to the marriage of his ancestor with a Cavendish a century and a half ago, the present duke owns the freehold of nearly half of the parish of Marylebone.
   The third duke, who held the title from 1762 till the present century, was distinguished by the personal favor and friendship of King George III., who sent him as viceroy to Ireland, and made him twice premier. The second son of this duke, Lord William Bentinck, was Governor-General of India, where his name is still remembered for the exertions which he made in the cause of education and in the abolition of the horrors of 'suttee.' Another son, Lord George Bentinck, after spending big life on the turf, and winning its `blue ribbon' at Epsom, late in life became joint leader of the Conservative party along with Benjamin Disraeli, and, had it not been for his sudden death, it was quite 'upon the cards' that he might have been Premier of England.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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