Bingham, George Charles (1800–88), 3rd earl of Lucan , soldier, landlord, and MP, was born 16 April 1800 in London, eldest son of Richard Bingham (1764–1839), 2nd earl of Lucan (1799–1839), and his wife Elizabeth (1770–1819), daughter of Henry Belasyse, 3rd earl of Fauconberg, and former wife of Bernard Howard, heir to the duke of Norfolk. His parents separated in 1804, and George was reared by his father and aunts. Styled Lord Bingham till 1839, he was educated at Westminster School (1812–16), and commissioned ensign in the 6th Foot in 1816; by 1826 he had become lieutenant-colonel of the 17th Lancers, securing his promotions through purchase. A martinet and a perfectionist, he drilled his men incessantly and spent so lavishly on their horses and uniforms that the 17th became known as ‘Bingham's Dandies’. Though an intelligent man, he lacked all common sense, and his severity and pettiness made him deeply unpopular with his officers and men. Desperate to gain experience of war, in 1828 he secured secondment to the Russian staff to observe the Russo–Turkish campaign in Bulgaria. Taking every opportunity to join the fighting, he distinguished himself and received the Order of St Anne, 2nd class. He became tory MP for Co. Mayo (1826–30), taking a seat from the powerful Browne family of Westport. He supported catholic emancipation (1829), and his general performance in parliament was praised by Peel (qv). A darkly handsome man, he married (1829) the beautiful Anne Brudenell (d. 1877), seventh daughter of Robert, 6th earl of Cardigan; she detested living in Co. Mayo and they separated in 1854, having had two sons and four daughters.
Finding peace-time army life dull, he retired on half pay (14 April 1837), and went that autumn to Castlebar, Co. Mayo, to take charge of the large but unremunerative family estate of about 60,000 acres. He succeeded to the earldom (1839), and became a representative peer for Ireland (1840) and governor of Co. Mayo (1845–88). Announcing that he ‘would not breed paupers to pay priests’ (Smith, 113), he dismissed his agent, St Clair O'Malley, a popular local figure, and began a systematic campaign of land clearance. In 1842 he summoned O'Malley, a fellow magistrate, for poaching and had a violent argument with him in court, for which he was dismissed from the magistracy for contempt. Furious at the decision, he carried his grievance to the house of lords, and was eventually reinstated (1843). He also quarrelled with the commander of the local English garrison, forcing him to block up his barracks windows because he claimed they overlooked Lucan's demesne and allowed soldiers to observe his wife as she took her walks. Known in Mayo as ‘the exterminator’, he was greatly feared by his tenantry: on one occasion, believing him to be away in London, they burned him in effigy in Castlebar, but scattered in terror as Lucan galloped into their midst on his great black horse shouting ‘I'll evict the lot of you’ (Smith, 114).
Although the famine was at its most severe in Co. Mayo, he engaged in wholesale evictions and showed a complete disregard for public opinion. He cleared entire townlands of their occupiers: in the parish of Ballinrobe he demolished over 300 cabins and evicted 2,000 people (1846–9). He then consolidated the holdings, stocking the land with cattle and sheep and leasing large tracts to wealthy ranchers, many of Scottish or English origin. Chairman of the board of guardians of the Castlebar poor law union, he refused to pay his full poor rate, and insisted that the Castlebar workhouse should be closed at the height of the famine. His heartless conduct was strongly criticised in parliament but Lucan defended himself stridently, pointing out that he had invested heavily in machinery, barns, and drainage, and that the famine was proof that consolidation was in his tenants' long-term interest. The execration he received in these years only aggravated his harshness, irascibility, and self-righteousness.
Promoted major-general (1851), on 1 April 1854 he was given command of a cavalry division destined for the Crimea. A. W. Kinglake, historian of the Crimean war, believed he owed this to his ruthlessness in Co. Mayo, as he had performed no military duties in seventeen years, and his rustiness was later evident when he drilled his troops. The division's light brigade was led by his brother-in-law, Lord Cardigan, but they disliked each other intensely and were bitterly at odds during the campaign. At the battle of the Alma (20 September 1854), the cavalry were not allowed to engage the enemy; several of Lucan's officers chaffed at their inaction and dubbed their commanding officer ‘Lord Look-on’. After Lucan's heavy brigade had stalled the Russian advance at Balaclava (25 October 1854), his commander, Lord Raglan, ordered him to advance to prevent the Russians seizing captured artillery from some nearby redoubts. However, the redoubts were not visible from Lucan's position and the written order and subsequent explanation delivered by Raglan's aide, Capt. Lewis Edward Nolan (1818–54), were unclear. Lucan interpreted Raglan's order as a command for an immediate attack on the Russian guns at the end of the valley and, although he considered it madness, gave the order for the famous charge of the light brigade. Raked by fire from the far end and both sides of the valley, the brigade overran the guns but lost 478 of its 673 men. Following behind with the heavy brigade, Lucan, who was wounded in the leg, ordered his men to withdraw to preserve some of his force. Fierce recriminations followed in the army, in parliament, and in the press, and Lucan believed that Raglan was shifting the entire blame on to him. He defended himself in a letter to the war office, but, to his fury, he was recalled (13 February 1855).
On his arrival in England his demand for a court-martial to clear his name was refused. He then attempted to vindicate himself in the house of lords, where he received little support, and by publishing letters to the press and A vindication of the earl of Lucan from Lord Raglan's reflections (1855). Although many believed he had been made a scapegoat, his constant complaints tested public patience. He returned to Castlebar, which was illuminated in his honour, and received an address of welcome from a body describing itself as his loyal and devoted tenantry. In the 1870s he embarked on a large scheme to supply beef to the British market from his Mayo estates, but it coincided with the introduction of frozen Argentine beef into Britain and was unsuccessful. He continued to attend the lords, where his most notable act was to propose a sensible amendment to the bill permitting Jews to sit in parliament (1858) which greatly faciliated its passing; he was officially thanked by the Jewish community. Although he held no active military commands after 1855, he was promoted lieutenant-general (1858) and field-marshal (1887); among his awards were KCB (1855) and GCB (1869). He died 10 November 1888 in London, and was buried at the family seat of Laleham, Middlesex.
He was succeeded by his eldest son George Bingham (1830–1914), 4th earl of Lucan , who was born 8 May 1830. Educated at Rugby, he was commissioned second lieutentant in the Rifle Brigade (1848) and captain (1854). He acted as his father's ADC in the Crimea, and received British, French, and Turkish decorations. He retired from the army as lieutenant-colonel in the Coldstream Guards (20 December 1859). Unlike his father he was held in great affection by his Mayo tenants. He allowed them to buy their holdings under the government land-purchase schemes, thus restoring much of the land that his father had consolidated, and presented the mall in the centre of Castlebar to the town. He married (1859) Cecilia Gordon Lennox (1838–1910), daughter of the duke of Richmond, and she set up a tweed industry in Castlebar. On good terms with his catholic neighbours, as conservative MP (1865–74) for Mayo, he added a clause to the poor law amendment bill (1866) to enable catholic children in workhouse schools to be educated in their own faith. He was governor of Mayo 1901–14, and died at Laleham 6 June 1914.