Stanhope, Philip Dormer (1694–1773), 4th earl of Chesterfield and lord lieutenant of Ireland, was born 22 September 1694 in England, eldest son of Philip Stanhope, later 3rd earl of Chesterfield, and Elizabeth Stanhope (née Savile). Educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he entered the British house of commons as MP for St Germans (1715–22) and then Lostwithiel (1722–3). On the death of his father (9 February 1726) he succeeded as 4th earl of Chesterfield, and was later made KG (1730). On 14 May 1733 he married Petronille Melusine von der Schulenberg, the illegitimate daughter of King George I. George II detested him, and their mutual antipathy prevented his becoming a secretary of state in the duke of Newcastle's administration in 1745. Instead it was decided that he should go to Ireland, where he could continue to advise the administration on foreign affairs, and on 8 January 1745 he was appointed lord lieutenant. Briefly at the Hague on a special diplomatic mission, he arrived in Dublin on 31 August and was sworn in the same day.
Chesterfield made an immediate impression as lord lieutenant. He enjoyed the responsibility and insisted on overseeing many of the administrative details himself; indeed, he appointed Richard Liddell (d. 22 June 1746) as his chief secretary in the expectation that Liddell would be just a cipher. Applying his maxim ‘The king's government must be carried out’ to the difficult task, he adopted a shrewd approach in his dealings with the Roman catholics, determined to ensure that there would be no rebellion in Ireland if and when the Jacobites rose in arms in Britain. He made it clear that he would be lenient if the catholics remained loyal, but otherwise ‘would be worse to them than Cromwell’ (Craig, 219). His exquisite manners, renowned wit, and ready aphorisms made him an extremely popular viceroy and he delighted in walking unaccompanied around Dublin. Once when he was informed that the Jacobites were rising in the west of Ireland he responded: ‘I fancy they are, my lord, for it is nine o'clock’ (Hodgart, 5). Chesterfield wanted to be remembered as an ‘Irish lord lieutenant’ rather than as a ‘lord lieutenant for Ireland’ and believed that the way to achieve this was by ‘doing all the good that he could’ (Craig, 228). Famous for his amorous adventures, he had a relationship with Eleanor (Ambrose) Palmer (qv), a beautiful Roman catholic; he declared her to be the only dangerous papist he had met in Ireland. On 23 April 1746 he returned to England; his health was poor and in any case Newcastle wanted his influential presence back in London.
Secretary of state for the northern department and responsible for foreign affairs in government (1746–8), he died of a slow decay 24 March 1773 at his home at Chesterfield House, Mayfair, Middlesex. He left no legitimate children. Chesterfield was a career politician, who viewed his time in Ireland as a tactical manoeuvre to keep him in cabinet, but away from Whitehall. Nevertheless he continued to give advice on Ireland after his recall and warned that ‘poverty’ was a far greater threat than ‘popery’ in the country. Samuel Johnson believed that Chesterfield ‘inculcated the morals of a strumpet and the manners of a dancing master’ but added that he was ‘a wit among lords and a lord among wits’ (G.E.C., Peerage, 181). Chesterfield made many improvements to the Phoenix Park in Dublin, and was responsible for erecting the Phoenix monument, which for many years was known as ‘Chesterfield's column’. The main road through the park was named Chesterfield Avenue in recognition of his improvements.