Percy, Hugh (1785–1847), 3rd duke of Northumberland , lord lieutenant of Ireland, was born 20 April 1785 in England, eldest son of Hugh Percy (1742–1817), 2nd duke of Northumberland, and his second wife, Frances Julia (née Burrell). Educated at Eton and St John's College, Cambridge, he entered the house of commons as MP for Buckingham in 1806. Switching constituencies soon after, he represented Westminster (1806), Launceston (1806–7), and Northumberland (1807–12), and consistently opposed catholic relief. He was summoned to the house of lords in March 1812 as Baron Percy during his father's lifetime, representing his father's barony, and succeeded him as 3rd duke on 10 July 1817. He was made KG 25 November 1819.
Having been dominated by his father, he came into his own in the 1820s. Abstaining largely from political activity, he was occasionally given responsibility for special diplomatic missions. In 1825 he represented the court at the coronation of Charles X at Paris and created an impression with his style and magnificence; he insisted on paying his own expenses and delighted in giving evidence of his vast fortune. In January 1829 he was offered the position of lord lieutenant of Ireland by the prime minister, the duke of Wellington (qv). He was the compromise candidate and was reluctant to accept, but after some careful flattery he agreed and was appointed 2 February. Wellington saw his wealth as an advantage and wanted someone who could give ostentatious displays while maintaining a regal aloofness, in marked contrast to his predecessors. Northumberland was assured that his opinions would be consulted, but in private Wellington commented that it did not particularly matter what his thoughts were. There was some criticism of his appointment, and his personality attracted some comment. Mrs Arbuthnot thought that he was ‘a stupid, posing man’ while Charles Greville described him as ‘a very good sort of man, with a very narrow understanding, an eternal talker, and prodigious bore’ (Hist. parl.: commons, v, 779).
Northumberland may have been vain but he was not stupid, and he quickly impressed officials in Dublin Castle. He was too much in awe of Wellington ever to disagree with any official policies, and in his acceptance letter revealed that although he had previously opposed catholic emancipation he would support a final settlement by the government on the question. He arrived in Dublin in the first week of March, just as legislation was passed suppressing the Catholic Association, and was sworn in on 6 March 1829. Unconcerned with drawing his annual salary of £30,000, he asked for it to be reduced by a third. While restoring the viceregal court to new levels of pomp and ceremony he worked tirelessly in private and was a conscientious and able lord lieutenant. Wellington was impressed by his determination and measured advice. After the granting of catholic emancipation in 1829 Northumberland attempted to use Richard Lalor Sheil (qv) and other moderates as a bulwark against Daniel O'Connell (qv) and reduce support for repeal of the union. In spring 1830 he refused the request of the dying king George IV to commute the death sentence of Peter Comyn, a Co. Clare man who had been found guilty of perjury, arson, and forgery. He was supported in this stand by the home secretary, Robert Peel (qv), and Wellington. With the collapse of the ministry in November 1830 Northumberland tendered his resignation; in any case he had grown tired of his responsibilities and was glad to leave. Peel facilitated his immediate return and paid a generous but deserved tribute in a letter to Wellington: ‘I deeply regret for the sake of Ireland that any circumstances should have occurred to deprive that country of the services of the best chief governor who ever presided over her affairs’ (Gash, 654). However, his failure to obtain any further public appointment rather mitigated the compliment. He died 11 February 1847 at Alnwick Castle and was buried at Westminster abbey.
He married (29 April 1817) Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive; they had no children. His obituary in The Times declared that as lord lieutenant of Ireland he had ‘possessed neither the talent nor the energy to make himself thoroughly hated’.