Burgh, Ulick John de, first Marquess of Clanricarde 1802-1874, politician, was born 20 December 1802 in Belmont, Hampshire, the only son and second child in the family of one son and two daughters of John Thomas de Burgh, thirteenth Earl of Clanricarde, army officer, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Burke, baronet, of Marble Hill, county Galway. The family had been settled in the west of Ireland from the early thirteenth century and on the death of his father in 1808 Ulick John de Burgh inherited, in addition to the earldom, 56,000 acres in county Galway. In 1825 he married Harriet, the gifted daughter of George Canning, foreign secretary and later prime minister. They had two sons and five daughters. After his marriage it was rumoured he had been involved in a gambling scandal, but his father-in-law stood by him and it was largely through him that de Burgh was created a marquess in the peerage of Ireland in 1825 and Baron Somerhill in the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1826.
Clanricarde was appointed under-secretary of state for foreign affairs in 1826, a post he resigned after Cannings death in 1827. A few years later he was accused of having speculated on the Paris Bourse, using official information. This he vehemently denied. A Canningite, he became a Whig. In 1830 he was appointed captain of the Yeomen of the Guard and in 1831 knight of St Patrick. In 1834 he resigned his office because he felt slighted by the ministry (another Irish peer, the second Marquess Conyngham, having been appointed postmaster-general). In 1838 he was appointed ambassador to St Petersburg. He served there until 1841, and, moving easily in Russian society, was a shrewd commentator on Russian social conditions, personalities, and policy.
From 1846 until 1852 he was in Lord John Russells cabinet as postmaster-general. He was an administrative reformer, working cordially with (Sir) Rowland Hill [qv.], who was much pleased with his businesslike, straight-forward manner and his courageous willingness to follow a novel and decided course of action. As a member of the cabinet which had to cope with the Irish famine, Clanricarde pressed hard for remedial measures, pointing out that from time to time an adherence to sound principle will cause an immediate sacrifice.
He was not included in the coalition cabinet of George Hamilton, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, in 1852. In 1855 his name was opprobriously mentioned in the Irish case of Hancock v. Delacour, which attracted much attention. It was alleged that John Delacour, a minor, was Clanricardes illegitimate son by Josephine Hancock, the wife of William Henry Hancock, an Irish landowner, and that Clanricarde had schemed that Hancocks property should pass to Delacour. The case ended in a compromise. Clanricarde published long statements in which he denied the allegations and explained that he had become involved with the Hancock familys legal arrangements purely out of a good-natured wish to be of assistance. Nevertheless when Henry Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, at the close of 1857 invited Clanricarde (the Lord Brittleback of Anthony Trollope, qv.) to join his cabinet, a large section of public opinion professed to be shocked. Punch published two harsh cartoons and, when at the end of February 1858 the government was defeated, The Times, with possibly a touch of exaggeration, declared that Clanricarde had been able by his mere presence in the cabinet to destroy an exceptionally strong administration.
For about forty years Clanricarde spoke frequently in the House of Lords on a wide range of subjects. Although it was said that his main contribution to debate was his sonorous hear, hear, his speeches, reflecting the outlook of a liberal-minded Whig, were usually sensible and to the point. He seems to have possessed an ingenuous self-assurance which could get him into difficulties and arouse antagonism. He died at Stratton Street, Piccadilly, London, 10 April 1874 and was succeeded in the marquessate by his second son, Hubert George Canning de Burgh [qv.]. His first son died in 1867.
F. Leveson-Gower (ed.), Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville, 2 vols., 1894, vol. i, pp. 341-2
F. Bamford and the Duke of Wellington (eds.), The Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot, 2 vols., 1950
A. D. Kriegel (ed.), The Holland House Diaries, 1977, p. 254
G. B. Hill, The Life of Sir Rowland Hill, vol. ii, 1880, pp. 40, 55.
Contributor: R. B. McDowell