Lord George Bentinck

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George Canning's nephew Lord George Bentinck showed little interest in politics for most of his life, but in the few years before his death he proved himself a gifted politician. His obsession was for hunting and racing until he discovered a cause in Protectionism in the 1830s. Protectionism was the opposition to the repeal of the Corn Laws, which protected farmers by imposing a tariff on imported grain. Bentinck's instinctive feel for numbers and his harsh, violent outbursts in Parliament were effective and influential, and had no parallel in British history.


Bentinck had previously been loyal to Robert Peel, the joint Tory Party leader and future Prime Minister, but he was 'transparently sincere in believing that protectionism was right both in principle and policy', and so he ferociously attacked Peel over his decision to attempt to repeal the laws, and unjustly accused him of hunting the short-lived but celebrated Prime Minister George Canning to his death. The historian Duncan Watts said that Bentinck was 'given to extravagant and even violent language'. Like Benjamin Disraeli, Bentinck believed in political consistency. He believed that Peel's proposal to repeal the Corn Law was yet another betrayal of the Tory party.


His views were not influenced by any selfish motives. He often worked eighteen hours a day in pursuit of his goal for little tangible benefit. He famously stated: 'I keep horses in three counties and they tell me that I shall save 1500 pounds a year by free trade. I don't care for that. What I cannot bear is "being sold"'1. To keep himself focused on politics he practically gave his prized racing horse collection away for ten thousand pounds, far less than it was worth.

His friend and colleague Benjamin Disraeli wrote Bentinck's biography, and the editor of the 1905 publication of the book, Charles Whibley, wrote that Bentinck 'was, in truth, a statesman of exceedingly wise and moderate views', 'unfailingly a friend of religious liberty', who 'always had the welfare of the Irish at heart'. While Disraeli could arguably have opposed Peel's proposal on the basis of his prejudices and ambition, Bentinck almost certainly truly believed that the repeal of the Corn Laws would have a detrimental effect on the lives of the farmers who depended on the protection the laws offered.

Early Death

Bentinck dedicated the last several years of his life to maintaining an institution he believed was essential to protect the rights of British farmers. He died of a heart attack in 1848 at only 46 years of age.

Further Reading

MacIntyre, Angus, 'Bentinck, Lord William George Frederic Cavendish-Scott- (Lord George Bentinck)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 5, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

1Bentinck believed that repeal of the Corn Laws would adversely affect farmers, and felt that allowing the Laws to be repealed for his own financial benefit would be hypocritical and wrong.

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