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The Bentincks

[Bv Howard Evans, in ‘Ocr Old Nobilitv.’]

The Duke of Portland is one of the richest noblemen in England. He owns 81,605 acres in Caithness, 35,209 in Notts, 10,822 in Northumberland, and 7,740 in Derbyshire L 139.825, exclusive of large estates in one of tho beat quarters of London. Since the return of landowners was made the late Duke made still further purchases of land in Caithness. His town mansion extends along a whole side of Cavendish square, London, and, beside two seats in Scotland, he has a splendid mansion at Welbeck Abbey, Notts. Welbeck is said to be tho finest woodland domain in England. Its park is eight miles in circumference. All this property has been acquired within the last two hundred years. No other noble house has attained to such vast possessions in so short a space of time, The founder of the house, a Dutchman, was the confidential friend of William 111, The King created him successively a baron, a viscount, and an earl, and as William lavished on his favorites large sums from the tenths and first-fruits, no doubt he obtained still more solid proofs of the royal favor. But Bentinck was inordinately greedy, and his rapacity soon provoked the anger of the House of Commons. We are told in vol, 5 of ‘ Parliamentary History ’ that the Earl of Portland begged of His Majesty the lordships of Denbigh, Bromfield, Yale, and other lands in the Prin. cipality of Wales, which His Majesty readily granted to him and his heirs for ever at an annual rental of 6s Bd, Such a monstrous alienation of the property of the Crown was more than Parliament could tolerate. The Commons had been already incensed by the gifts lavished on the King’s favorites, and when the rapacious Dutchman begged four-fifths of a whole county, the Bouse unanimously voted an address to the Crown against the grant. The King was obliged to recall his gift, but a few months after he gave to the Earl, as we are informed on the same authority: The manor of Grantham, the honor of Penrith, the manor of Dracklow and Rudneth, the manor of Terrington, the manor of Partington, the manor of Bristol Garth, the manor of Ramsey, the manor of Burnisley, the manor of Leven (all part and parcel of the ancient revenue of England, which, Sir Robert Cotton tells us, it was in olden times held impious to touch), the manor of Pevensey, the manor of East Greenwich, besides certain fee farm rents, worth at that time L 24.000, Several of these manors have been §old or exchanged since that time, The honor of Penrith, for instance, was sold in 1787 to the Duke of Devonshire and others. Two vain attempts were made in the House of Commons during the reign of Queen Anne to rescind these grants, the movers in the matter rightly maintaining that to alienate so much land from the Crown involved a corresponding increase in public taxation. The ancient Crown lands held by the Bentincks are very similar to hereditary pensions. In both cases the nation pays—land in one qqsn, bard cash in the other. The wealth of the Bentincks has been augmented by successive marriages with great heiresses. The first of these was the grand-daughter of Holies, Duke of Newcastle, who brought into the family a large part of that nobleman’s property. I presume most of the 7,740 acres in Derbyshire come from that source, for the lady in question was possessed of Bo.lsovcr Castle and other estates in that county, most of which one of her ancestors had obtained by a grant from the boy-Ring Edward YI. Welbeck Abbey, too, the chief reat of the Bentiucks-rwhioh, as its name denotes, was formerly monastic property—was given by Henry VHL to one of this lady’s ancestors, as is duly recorded in Tanner’s ‘Notitia.’ I believe the Marylebone property In London was honestly bought by the Duke of Newcastle for a small sum. By another marriage the Bentincks acquired the ancient Barony of Ogle—part of the spoil of tho Norman Conquest—which accounts for tho 1Q,&22 acres they hold in Northumberland. By another marriage, with the heiress of General Scott, of Fifeahsre, they acquired large property in Scotland. The Caithness estates are mainly modern purchases by the late Duke, who had so much money that the only use he could find for it was to build underground rooms upd pas, sages at Welbeck, acquire large deer forests in tho Highlands of Scotland, and subscribe lavishly to Turkish violators and murderers. The marriage of one of the Bentincks with Miss Scott afforded another good opportunity for a dip into the national revenue. Mias Scott was proprietor of qq island in Scotland, on which wag erected a lighthouse, which h a d existed there for 173 years, It was a very unsteady light in bad weather, and at such times, when it was most wanted, it was apt to be mistaken for a limekiln or an accidental fire, Its chief use apparently was to furnish an excuse for collecting light dues, The Commissioners of Northern Lights had legal powers to compel tho owners to make it more effective powers which they did not, however, exercise. The way in which an efficient lighthouse was obtained was as follows:—An Act of FarUament was passed, by which the heir of the House of Beqtinpk obtained a sum of L60.Q00 for hia interest in the light, and then another light was constructed in its stead, at the public expense, at a cost of LSO.OOO more. I have thus shown that the enormous landed property of the Bentincks is derived mainly from grants of Crown lands or of monastic property, or from the ancient spoil of the Norman Conquest. If the Bentincks have acquired much hy purchase, it may bo easily appointed for from the fact that the whole family have constantly endeavored to live out of public taxation. Thus., I find, from the ‘Spectator’ of 1831, that one Duke of Portland held in succession no less than fourteen public offices, At the same time a younger son of the same house was GovernorGeneral of India—salary, about L 30,000 a year and perquisites ; Clerk of the Pipe salary, LI, 131 a year; and Colonel of Dragoons salary, 1,2,511 a year —- L 33.641 a year in all. A brother-in-law of the Duke held places worth L2,05Q a year, a nephew places worth L 5,000 a year, another nephew a place worth L 250 a year, while a daughter had an annual pension of L 233. The acquisition of a large number of public offices was not the only way in which the Bentinck family used their large political influence for their own advantage. Like the Bussells and the Grosvenors, they could get one-sided Acts of Parliament passed in their own interest. For instance, the Dukes of Portland were formerly lay rectors of Marylebone. As the population was growing very rapidly, at the commencement of the present century certain Acts of Parliament y^pvy. 1 paqsed from 1806 to 1817 for thp ciey.tiop and endqwrpenl;, of four new churches, at an’ estimated ooat to Vqe ratepifyers of The ' wei;e tq fiqd the money, | bill the Duke of Portland wag to ! haye the right of presentation for the several benefices. During a portion of this period, from 1806 to 1817, the Duke of Portland was one of the chief Ministers for the Crown. His incapacity was notorious, and be is represented in one of the caricatures of the period as a block of Fortland stone, against which the people are

breaking their shins. He bad, however, sufficient capacity to look after his own interests. Soon after his death, the Act of 1817 was passed, which authorised the expenditure of L 40,000 raised by the sale of Ciown lands, in order to buy from the Duke of Portland his rights as rector and the patronage of the four district churches. By this beautiful arrangement the Duke was paid by the nation, not only for his property as lay rector, but for the valuable patronage which had been very recently created by the taxation of the parishioners. One would have thought that the Dukes of Portland were rich enough to pay a fair price for a London mansion. Yet I find that in 1773 the Duke of Portland obtained a lease of a mansion at Whitehall for a term of fifty years, the annual value of which was L2OO. For this mansion he paid LIBO cash down, and L 5 a year for the first twenty-five years, and L 25 a year for the remaining twenty-five years. The same Duke’s mother had also a mansion at Whitehall, leased about the same time for a similar term, worth L 126 a year, for which she paid no cash down, and only L 24 26s 8d a year rent. The Duke, whopaid L 5 a year rentfor his town mansion, distinguished himself by setting up ' an unfounded claim to the soil of part of Sherwood Forest, though it was shown that John Holies, Duke of Newcastle from whom he derived his Nottinghamshire property by marriage, himself recognised the right of the Crown to this very land. These profitable bargains in Crown lands are duly set forth in the report of the Commissioners of Lands, 1792-93, and the report of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, 1830-31. Such is the history of the great house of Bsntinck, so far as regards their landed possessions. Of their political history, the less said the better. One of the family was Prime Minister for a short time in the dark days of oppression and injustice at the early part of the present century ; another is known only as the bitter and unscrupulous opponent of Sir Robert Peel when that great statesman abolished the bread tax.

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Bibliographic details

The Bentincks, Evening Star, Issue 8024, 28 September 1889, Supplement

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The Bentincks Evening Star, Issue 8024, 28 September 1889, Supplement

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