November 10, 2005

THE ORIGINAL THIRD WAY (via Robert Schwartz)

Warriors, statesmen, prelates. Can young David live up to his ancestors? (William Rees-Mogg, 10/24/05, Times of London)

IT ALL turns on Ferdinand Mount, the political columnist who once ran Baroness Thatcher’s policy unit and became a distinguished editor of The Times Literary Supplement. He is the 3rd baronet in the Mount line but does not use the title.

If one wants to discover David Cameron’s genealogy, one has to look up the entry under Mount in Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; at the foot of the entry appears David Cameron’s name. His mother was the daughter of the 2nd Baronet Mount, who had no male heirs, so she is Ferdy’s first cousin. David Cameron is, therefore, Ferdy’s first cousin once removed. The Mount family, the forebears both of Ferdy and David, married an heiress of the Talbot family in the mid-19th century, before they received their baronetcy. There is a cross-reference to the Talbot entry, which comes under the Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford. [...]

David Cameron aims to become Prime Minister; no one was called Prime Minister before Robert Walpole, but Cameron does have a family forebear who was First Minister. Charles Talbot, the 12th earl and the first and only Duke of Shrewsbury, was born in 1660. [...]

Shrewsbury had the knack of holding power at crucial moments in a revolutionary situation. He was the only Secretary of State, and therefore was First Minister, in the first administration appointed by William III in 1689, immediately after the Glorious Revolution. He had been a leading figure in inviting William to invade England, went to Holland to join him, helped to finance the invasion with a loan of £12,000, and even went to console James II and persuade him to abdicate.

Shrewsbury was First Minister again in the later 1690s, when William spent a long time outside England. Early in the reign of Queen Anne he became disgusted with politics and spent some years on the Continent, but he came back and was appointed First Minister by Queen Anne on her death bed. He was therefore First Minister immediately after the accession of William III, again when Queen Anne died and on the arrival of King George I.

How did he do it? Exactly as David Cameron proposes to do it. By charm and moderation. Of his charm and handsome appearance, there are many contemporary accounts. William III himself called Shrewsbury “the king of hearts”, the curmudgeonly Dean Swift said that he was “the finest gentleman we have” and at another time “the favourite of the nation”. Bishop Burnet, whom I always like to quote, wrote that he had “a sweetness of temper that charmed all who knew him”.

Women loved him. He was a political moderate. He was decisive when the revolutionary situation required it, but was one of those politicians who stand above parties, and are seen as relatively non-partisan. According to one of his early biographers: “King William used to say that the Duke of Shrewsbury was the only man of whom the Whigs and Tories both spoke well.”

In his career Shrewsbury helped to make a Whig settlement of our constitution, but for Tory reasons. David Cameron is a Tory with a liberal streak; it is the same combination — it seems to run in the family. The duke, of course, was even younger; he became First Minister at the age of 28.

Whiggish Toryism has been working for an awfully long time, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 10, 2005 6:54 PM

Very nice piece. Swift and Burnet quoted. Gotta love it. Whiggish-Toryism -- there's a word for that, and it was used at the time for folks like Shewsbury -- Trimmer.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 11, 2005 1:46 AM