Pelham, Thomas (1756–1826), 2nd earl of Chichester , chief secretary for Ireland, was born 28 April 1756 at Spring Gardens, London, eldest son of Thomas Pelham, later 1st earl of Chichester, and Anne Pelham (née Frankland). Educated at Westminster, he was briefly at Clare College, Cambridge, before embarking on the grand tour (1775–8). Entering the house of commons, for a safe seat controlled by his family, he was MP for Sussex (1780–1801). Great things were predicted for him in parliament, even though he was a poor speaker, and he was soon appointed surveyor general of the ordnance (1782–3). On 27 August 1783 he was appointed chief secretary for Ireland, on the recommendation of his predecessor, William Windham (qv), who had resigned because of ill health. He entered the Irish house of commons as MP for Carrick, Co. Leitrim (1783–90), and was made an Irish privy counsellor on 13 September 1783.
It marked the beginning of his long involvement in Irish affairs, and he was successful in steering through a difficult session in parliament, showing much tact and ability. He did not remain long in Ireland: with the change of ministry at the end of the year Thomas Orde (qv) replaced him after he clashed with the prime minister, William Pitt, over Irish policy. Returning to England, he sided with the opposition, and made a number of speeches on Ireland. His health was poor in the 1790s and he began to drift from opposition over the question of the French revolution; with the outbreak of war he favoured the coalition of the duke of Portland (qv) with Pitt, even though he disliked the prime minister personally. He had no intention of following Earl Fitzwilliam (qv) to Ireland in 1795, but was pressed by Portland to return as chief secretary under Fitzwilliam's successor as viceroy, Earl Camden (qv), and on 13 March 1795 he became chief secretary for Ireland a second time. Returning to the Irish house of commons, he was MP for Clogher, Co. Tyrone (1795–7), and then for Armagh borough, Co. Armagh (1797–9). His time in Ireland was not a happy one; he had little desire to be there, and he quickly sought a release from his position. After speaking against the catholic relief bill in 1795, he returned to England, citing the demands of John Foster (qv) to control patronage as the main reason for his disgust with Irish politics; he was persuaded to return to take up his duties in Dublin in February 1796. On 24 June 1796 he was appointed to the sinecure office of secretary of state for Ireland. He defended Ralph Abercromby (qv) in the commons (February 1798) after his criticism of the Irish military, and was furious with the cabinet's refusal to back the general. With Ireland on the brink of open rebellion, Pelham was struck by a serious illness and was forced to return to England. Camden insisted that his step-nephew, Viscount Castlereagh (qv) replace him as acting chief secretary, although Pelham was confirmed in the office by the new lord lieutenant, Cornwallis (qv), on 14 June 1798. Pelham was determined to return to Ireland to oversee the legislative union, but in the event decided to resign in the autumn, in part because he had received such good reports about his successor. With the fall of Pitt he became home secretary in Henry Addington's ministry (1801–3), and was called to the house of lords in his father's barony as Lord Pelham. On 8 June 1805 he succeeded his father as 2nd earl of Chichester, and continued to serve in various minor offices, almost without interruption, for the rest of his life. He died 4 July 1826 at his home at Stratton Street, Sussex.
He married (16 July 1801) Lady Maria Henrietta Juliana Osborne, daughter of the 5th duke of Leeds; they had four sons and four daughters. In an assessment of his career in Ireland Earl Wycombe (qv) wrote that ‘He did a little good and a great deal of mischief . . . [But] where he did good he acted from himself. Where he did evil he was the servant of others’ (quoted in Hist. parl, v, 753). But Wycombe was no impartial observer, and failed to recognise that Pelham's steady statesmanship and moderate principles made him one of the most effective chief secretaries of the late eighteenth century.