Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Chesterfield
Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.PNG
Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
In office
Preceded by The Earl of Derby
Succeeded by The Earl of Leicester
Lord Steward of the Household
In office
Preceded by The Duke of Dorset
Succeeded by The Duke of Devonshire
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
Preceded by The Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded by The Earl of Harrington
Secretary of State for the Northern Department
In office
29 October 1746 – 6 February 1748
Preceded by The Earl of Harrington
Succeeded by The Duke of Newcastle
Personal details
Born 22 September 1694
Died 24 March 1773
Spouse(s) Melusina von der Schulenburg
Parents Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield
Lady Elizabeth Savile
Philip Stanhope by Roubiliac, 1745, Victoria and Albert Museum

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield KG PC (22 September 1694 – 24 March 1773) was a British statesman, and man of letters, and wit. He was born in London to Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, and Lady Elizabeth Savile, and known as Lord Stanhope until the death of his father, in 1726.[1] After being educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he went on the Grand Tour of the Continent, to complete his education as a nobleman, by exposure to the cultural legacies of Classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to become acquainted with his aristocratic counterparts and the polite society of Continental Europe.[2]

In the course of his post-graduate tour of Europe, the death of Queen Anne (r. 1702–1707) and the accession of King George I (r. 1714–1727) opened a political career for Lord Stanhope, and he returned to England. In the British political spectrum, Lord Stanhope was a Whig, and entered government service, as a courtier to the King, by the mentorship of his relative, James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope, the King's favourite minister, who procured his appointment as Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales.

Political career

In 1715, Philip Dormer Stanhope entered the House of Commons as Lord Stanhope of Shelford and as member for St Germans. Later, when the impeachment of James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde came before the House, he used the occasion (5 August 1715) to put to proof his old rhetorical studies. His maiden speech was youthfully fluent and dogmatic; but on his conclusion, another member, with compliments aforehand, reminded the orator Lord Stanhope that he was six weeks short of his age of majority, and, consequently, was liable to a fine of £500 for speaking in the House; Lord Stanhope left the House of Commons with a low bow and set out for the Continent.

From Paris, he sent the government valuable information about the Jacobite plot; and in 1716 he returned to Britain, resumed his seat, and was known as a debater. In that year, King George I quarreled with his son, the Prince of Wales (George II). In that matter, Lord Stanhope's political instincts obliged him to worship the rising rather than the setting sun, and he remained politically faithful to the Prince, while being careful not to break with the King's party. Moreover, his friendly terms with the Prince's mistress, Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and their correspondence, earned Chesterfield the personal hatred of the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Ansbach. In 1723, a vote for the government got him the place of Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners. In January 1725, on the revival of the Order of the Bath, the red ribbon was offered to him, but Chesterfield declined the honour.

Upon assuming his seat in the House of Lords, Lord Chesterfield the orator met with acceptance and success. What had been ineffective in the House of Commons, was suddenly appreciated by educated men. In 1728, he was sent to the Hague as ambassador. Chesterfield's tact and temper, dexterity and discrimination, enabled him to do good diplomatic service, for which he was rewarded with Robert Walpole's friendship, the Order of the Garter in 1730, and the position of Lord Steward. In 1732, there was born to him, by Mlle Madelina Elizabeth du Bouchet, the son, Philip, for whose advice and instruction at Westminster School Chesterfield wrote the Letters to his Son. He was the British envoy in Den Haag, when the second Treaty of Vienna (1731) was signed, which then allowed the Anglo-Austrian Alliance. In 1732, ill health and a reduced personal fortune cast a shadow over Chesterfield's resignation as ambassador, so he returned to Britain. Moreover, Chesterfield's cook, Vincent la Chapelle, accepted a post at the court of William IV of Orange.

A few months' rest enabled him to resume his seat in the Lords, of which he was one of the acknowledged leaders. He supported the ministry, but his allegiance was not the blind fealty that Walpole exacted of his followers. The Excise Bill, the great premier's favourite measure, was vehemently opposed by him in the Lords and by his three brothers in the Commons. Walpole bent before the storm and abandoned the measure, but Chesterfield was summarily dismissed from his stewardship. For the next two years, he led the opposition in the Upper House, leaving no stone unturned to effect Walpole's downfall. During this time, he resided in Grosvenor Square and got involved in the creation of a new London charity called the Foundling Hospital for which he was a founding governor. In 1741, he signed the protest for Walpole's dismissal and went abroad on account of his health.

He visited Voltaire at Brussels and spent some time in Paris, where he associated with the younger Crebillon, Fontenelle and Montesquieu. In 1742 Walpole fell, and Carteret was his real but bot not his nominal successor. Although Walpole's administration had been overthrown largely by Chesterfield's efforts, the new ministry did not count Chesterfield either in its ranks or among its supporters. He remained in opposition, distinguishing himself by the courtly bitterness of his attacks on George II, who learned to hate him violently.

In 1743 a new journal, Old England; or, the Constitutional Journal appeared. Chesterfield wrote under the name of "Jeffrey Broadbottom". A number of pamphlets, in some of which Chesterfield had the help of Edmund Waller, followed. His energetic campaign against George II and his government won the gratitude of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, who left him £20,000 as a mark of her appreciation. In 1744, the king was compelled to abandon Carteret, and the coalition for "Broad Bottom" party, led by Chesterfield and Pitt, came into office in coalition with the Pelhams. In the troubled state of European politics, the Earl's conduct and experience were more useful abroad than at home, and he was sent to The Hague as ambassador a second time. The object of his mission was to persuade the Dutch to join in the War of the Austrian Succession and to arrange the details of their assistance. The success of his mission was complete, and on his return a few weeks afterwards, he received the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland, a place he had long coveted.

Chesterfield's "Phoenix Monument" (1746) in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Short as it was, January 1745 to November 1746, Chesterfield's appointment as Viceroy of Ireland was effective; he repressed the jobbery traditional to the office, and established schools and manufactures. He conciliated and kept in check the Whig and pro-Jacobite factions; as a result Irish Jacobites did not assist the Jacobite rising of 1745. Responding to a false alarm of a rebellion and being told that ‘the papists in Ireland are all up,’ he replied: ‘I am not surprised at it, why, it is ten o’clock, I should have been up too, had I not overslept myself.’ He is best remembered today for being the first official to allow Dubliners to roam in the Phoenix Park, and for installing the central "Phoenix Monument", a phoenix bird on a Corinthian column.[3] The 2.8 mi main road through the park is still known as Chesterfield Avenue.

In 1746, however, he had to exchange the lord-lieutenancy for the place of Secretary of State. With a curious respect for those theories that his familiarity with the secret social history of France had caused him to entertain, he hoped and attempted to retain a hold over the king through the influence of Lady Yarmouth, though the futility of such means had already been demonstrated to him by his relations with Queen Caroline's "ma bonne Howard." The influence of Newcastle and Sandwich, however, was too strong for him; he was thwarted and over-reached; and in 1748, he resigned the seals and returned to cards and his books with the admirable composure, one of his most striking characteristics. He denied any knowledge of the Apology for a late Resignation, in a Letter from an English Gentleman to his Friend at The Hague, which ran through four editions in 1748, but there is little doubt that he was, at least in part, the author.

Later years

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Portrait of Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

Chesterfield declined the dukedom offered him, by King George II, whose ill will Chesterfield had overcome by way of tact and finesse, and he continued attending the Upper House and participated in the political proceedings of parliament. In 1751, seconded by George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, president of the Royal Society, and the mathematician James Bradley, Chesterfield greatly distinguished himself in the debates on establishing a definitive calendar for Britain and the Commonwealth. With the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, he successfully established the Gregorian calendar and a calendar year that begins on the 1st of January for the British realm; informally, the calendar act also is known as "Chesterfield′s Act". Personally, the deafness afflicting him worsened, and Chesterfield gradually withdrew from the royal court, from society and from the practice of parliamentary politics.

In 1755, he disputed with Johnson over the dedication to A Dictionary of the English Language; eight years previously (1747), Johnson had sent to Chesterfield, then Secretary of State, a prospectus of his Dictionary, whose business offer Chesterfield acknowledged by a subscription of ₤10 pounds. Afterwards, Chesterfield showed little interest in the publishing and lexicographic enterprise that was A Dictionary of the English Language (1755); however, soon before publication of the dictionary, in the World magazine, Chesterfield published two articles praising Johnson's editorial work compiling a comprehensive dictionary of Britain's language. In any case, as a literary artist Samuel Johnson had expected more help from the Earl Chesterfield, a professed patron of literature and so wrote him a letter in defence of men of letters and dealt with the vicissitudes of the patron-artist relation; Chesterfield's "respectable Hottentot", identified with George, Lord Lyttelton, supposedly is a portrait of Samuel Johnson.

In the 1760s, Chesterfield offered a cogent critique of the Stamp Act 1765 passed by Grenville's parliament. In a letter to his friend, Lord Newcastle, Chesterfield noted the absurdity of the Stamp Act because it could not be properly enforced, but, if effective, the Act would generate a revenue no greater than eighty-thousand pounds sterling per year, whilst the annual cost of reduced trade from the American colonies would be about one million pounds sterling.[4]

Character sketch

He was a selfish, calculating and contemptuous man, not naturally generous, and he practised dissimulation ’til it became part of his nature; despite brilliant talents and admirable training, the life of Chesterfield cannot be pronounced a success.[5] His social anxiety and the pains he took to become an orator already had been noticed. Horace Walpole said that he, who had heard the great orators of the time, preferred a speech of Chesterfield to that of any other orator; yet the contemporary opinion was that the Earl of Chesterfield's eloquence did not compare with that of Prime Minister Pitt (the Elder). In that regard, James Boswell reported that the poet Samuel Johnson pointedly said about the nobleman Chesterfield, "This man I thought had been a Lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among Lords!"

As a politician and statesman, his fame rests upon his short, but brilliant, administration of Ireland as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1745-1746). As a courtier, the unrefined Robert Walpole worsted him at the King’s court. Despite being a protector of men of letters, Chesterfield’s want of heart and head in the quarrel over the dedication to A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), inspired the poet Johnson to rewrite the line “Toil, envy, Want, the Patron and the Jayl” (The Vanity of Human Wishes [1749], line 160) in a letter bemoaning the conflicts of personality inherent to the patron-artist relation; Johnson rebuked Chesterfield: "is not a Patron, My Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling in the water and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help?"[6] Moreover, on publication of the book Letters to His Son (1774), Chesterfield's advisory correspondence with his natural son, Philip Stanhope, Johnson said that "they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing-master" as means for getting on in the world as a gentleman.

Letters to His Son

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by William Hoare.

The impoverished widow of Chesterfield’s illegitimate son, Eugenia Stanhope, was the first to publish the book Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1774), which comprises a thirty-year correspondence in more than four hundred letters; begun in the 1737–38 period and continued until the death of his correspondent, Philip Stanhope, in 1768. Chesterfield wrote the greatest volume of letters in the eight-year period 1746–54; and, to refine his son’s command of languages, he wrote him letters in French, English, and Latin, mostly instructive communications about geography, history, and classical literature; Chesterfield's later letters, addressed to Philip Stanhope, diplomat, are about politics.[7]

As a handbook for worldly success in the 18th century, the Letters to His Son give perceptive and nuanced advice for how a gentleman should interpret the social codes that are manners; thus, on 9 March 1748, Chesterfield advises Philip, against coarseness of demeanour:

“I would heartily wish that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh, while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it ‘being merry’. In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh.”

Despite having been an accomplished essayist and epigrammatist in his time, his literary reputation, as a narrative writer, derives from Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1774) and Letters to His Godson (1890), books of private correspondence and paternal and avuncular advice, which were not meant for publication.[8]

Styles of address

  • 1694-1714: The Hon Philip Dormer Stanhope
  • 1714-1715: Lord Stanhope
  • 1715-1726: Lord Stanhope MP
  • 1726-1727: The Rt Hon The Fourth Earl of Chesterfield
  • 1727-1730: The Rt Hon The Fourth Earl of Chesterfield PC
  • 1730-1773: The Rt Hon The Fourth Earl of Chesterfield KG PC


Chesterfield House in 1760, (Old & New London, 1878)
Philip Stanhope

In 1768, Philip Stanhope died, leaving two sons, Charles and Philip, and a widow, Eugenia Stanhope. Despite his short life, the privileged education, provided by his father, Lord Chesterfield, allowed Philip Stanhope an honourable career in the diplomatic service of Britain, despite being handicapped as a nobleman's illegitimate son. As a father, the grieving Chesterfield was disappointed to learn that Philip's long marriage had been to Eugenia, a woman of humble social class; however, Chesterfield bequeathed an annuity of ₤100 to each of his grandsons, Charles Stanhope (1761–1845) and Philip Stanhope (1763–1801), and a further £10,000 for them both, yet bequeathed no pension for his widowed daughter-in-law, Eugenia. In the event, the notoriety of Lord Chesterfield's flouting of decorum and etiquette in British society caused the publication, in a 1773 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine, of the legal clauses, from Chesterfield's last will and testament, pertinent and attesting to that bequeathal of money to his “illegitimate” grandsons.

The social customs of the British nobility had left the Earl of Chesterfield without a legitimate heir to his title, lands, and property. Hence, childless by his wife, Melusina von der Schulenburg, Countess of Walsingham (illegitimate daughter of King George I), Chesterfield acted to protect his hereditary interests, and adopted his godson, Philip Stanhope (1755–1815), who also was his third-cousin, once removed, and named him heir to the title “Earl of Chesterfield”, which he assumed as Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl of Chesterfield (1773–1815).

Lord Chesterfield

Chesterfield's jest, “Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don’t choose to have it known." is descriptive of his personal humour and mental condition in the finale of his physical decline. Although he was deaf and blind, Chesterfield remained a man of alert memory and fine manners; his last words “Give Dayrolles a chair,” indicated that he had neither forgotten his friend nor the manner in which to receive a friend. The 4th Earl of Chesterfield (Philip Dormer Stanhope) died on 24 March 1773, at Chesterfield House, Westminster, his London townhouse, built about 1749.



The perceptiveness of the statesman and man of letters Lord Chesterfield (Philip Dormer Stanhope) is evidenced in quotations such as these:

"The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it one's self to be acquainted with it."
"An able man shows his spirit by gentle words and resolute actions."
"I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves."
"Sex: the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable"
"Firmness of purpose is one of the most necessary sinews of character, and one of the best instruments of success. Without it, genius wastes its efforts in a maze of inconsistencies."
"The scholar, without good breeding, is a pedant; the philosopher, a cynic; the soldier, a brute; and every man disagreeable."[9]
In literature

Decades after his death, Lord Chesterfield appears as a character in the novel The Virginians (1857), by William Makepeace Thackeray, and is over-praised as writer, in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty (1841), by Charles Dickens, wherein the Chesterfield caricature, the foppish Sir John Chester says that Lord Chesterfield is the finest English writer:[10]

“Shakespeare was undoubtedly very fine in his way; Milton good, though prosy; Lord Bacon deep, and decidedly knowing; but the writer who should be his country's pride, is my Lord Chesterfield.”


In the U.K., the 4th Earl of Chesterfield gave his name to Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, London, which runs from Curzon Street, site of the former Chesterfield House; in the U.S., his name has been given to Chesterfield County, Virginia and Chesterfield County, South Carolina.


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  3. See: The Irish Aesthete website, November 2012.
  4. Barbara Tuchman, "The March of Folly", pg 158. 1984.
  5. Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.).
  6. Benét's Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition, 1996. p. 194.
  7. Mayo, Christopher. "Letters To His Son". The Literary Encyclopedia, 25 February 2007 accessed 30 November 2011.
  8. The Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Edition, volume 3, p. 181.
  9., Columbia World of Quotations. Columbia University Press, 1996. (retrieved 11/5/11)
  10. Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Edition, volume 3, p. 181.
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Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for St Germans
With: John Knight
Succeeded by
Lord Binning
Philip Cavendish
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Lostwithiel
With: Marquess of Hartington
Succeeded by
Sir Orlando Bridgeman
Henry Parsons
Political offices
Preceded by Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
Succeeded by
The Earl of Leicester
Preceded by Lord Steward
Succeeded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
The Earl of Harrington
Preceded by Northern Secretary
Succeeded by
The Duke of Newcastle
Peerage of England
Preceded by Earl of Chesterfield
Succeeded by
Philip Stanhope