Hobart, Robert (1760–1816), 4th earl of Buckinghamshire , politician and chief secretary for Ireland, was born 6 May 1760, the eldest surviving son of George Hobart, British MP and later 3rd earl of Buckinghamshire, and his first wife, Albinia, daughter and co-heir of Lord Vere Bertie. His uncle, John Hobart, 2nd earl of Buckinghamshire (qv), was lord lieutenant of Ireland (1776–80). Educated at Westminster School, he spent a year at Strasbourg military academy (1776–7), before going to America in August 1777 to serve as an ensign in the war with the colonies. He returned in 1784 with the rank of major and was sent to Ireland as aide-de-camp to the lord lieutenant, the duke of Rutland (qv), also serving under his successor, George Nugent Temple Grenville (qv), marquis of Buckingham. Entering parliament, he was MP for Portarlington, Queen's Co. (1784–90), voting for the commercial propositions, and for Armagh borough (1790–97); he also represented two English constituencies, Bramber (1788–90), and Lincoln (1790–96). He was inspector general of recruits in Ireland (1784–9) and became an Irish privy councillor on 21 April 1789.
On 6 April 1789 he was appointed chief secretary to Buckingham, succeeding Alleyne Fitzherbert (qv). Unusually for the period, he remained in office under Buckingham's successor, John Fane, 10th earl of Westmorland (qv). As chief secretary he was closely involved in managing the house of commons, and formed a lasting friendship with the lord chancellor, John FitzGibbon (qv), who named his son (the future 3rd earl of Clare) Robert Hobart FitzGibbon. Hobart understood perfectly how the house of commons worked and was adept at deploying patronage and promises to maintain support for the administration. He clashed with John Philpot Curran (qv) over the work of John Giffard (qv) for government, and on 31 March 1790 they fought a duel in which Hobart declined to fire.
On one issue Hobart was inflexible – catholic emancipation. He consistently opposed the concession of further catholic rights, and went to London in December 1791 to lobby the cabinet against relief; despite his official position he gave only hesitant support to the government's 1793 catholic relief bill. Richard Burke (1758–94), who had been at school with him, was unable to persuade him to moderate his opinions; his father, Edmund Burke (qv), was not surprised and thought that Hobart was controlled by the anti-catholic clique in Ireland: ‘in connexions, in habits, and in the turn and genius of his politics [he] is purely Irish’ (Hist. parl.: commons, 1790–1820, iv, 208).
Styled Lord Hobart (1793–8) after the death of his uncle and his father's accession to the title, he left Ireland in December 1793, and was appointed governor of Madras; Richard Burke accused him of deserting Ireland, a charge which, given their differences, Hobart dismissed as evidence of insanity. Hobart's stay in India was disastrous (he acted independently without consulting the governor-general, Sir John Shore) and damaged his reputation. Recalled in 1798, on 30 November he was summoned to the British house of lords as Baron Hobart of Blickling. During the passing of the Irish Act of Union he worked with William Eden, Lord Auckland (qv), as an advisor on Irish affairs, and continued to exert a malign influence on the catholic question, advising ministers that the issue was of no importance in Ireland and could be safely ignored. After the collapse of the government in 1801 he became a firm supporter of Henry Addington, serving in his ministry as secretary for war and the colonies (1801–4). After succeeding his father as 4th earl of Buckinghamshire, 14 November 1804, he twice served as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (1805 and 1812), was joint postmaster general (1806–7), and in his final years was president of the Board of Control (1812–16).
Buckinghamshire married, 4 January 1792, Margaretta, daughter of Edmund Bourke, and the widow of Thomas Adderly (1713–91), MP for Charlemont (1752–60), Bandon (1761–76), and Clonakilty (1776–91); they had one son (who died in infancy) and one daughter. His wife died 7 August 1796 and he married, 1 June 1799, Eleanor Agnes Eden, daughter of William Eden (qv); they had no children. He died 4 February 1816, following an accident when he was thrown from his horse. A suave and charming politician, he had an affected style of speaking, with an almost feminine lisp, which was blamed on his fondness for the company of ‘pretty ladies and pretty gentlemen’ (Hist. parl.: commons, 1790–1820, iv, 208).