Stanhope, William (c.1683–1756), 1st earl of Harrington , lord lieutenant of Ireland, was the third and youngest surviving son of John Stanhope, a landed gentleman of Elvaston, Derbyshire, and his wife, Dorothy, daughter of Charles Agard, of Foston in the same county. He was educated at Eton and the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar in 1704. He began his career as a soldier in 1703, serving in Spain under his kinsman General James Stanhope, and was a member of the British house of commons (1715–22, 1727–30). Diplomacy was the field in which he made his reputation, however, serving in a series of postings that included two terms as ambassador to Madrid, culminating in the negotiations for the treaty of Seville of 1729. He was rewarded with a peerage – first as Baron Harrington in 1730, then as earl of Harrington in 1742 – and was made secretary of state for the northern department (1730–42). Other posts included vice-chamberlain of the household (1727–30), though he was not liked by George II or Queen Caroline; privy councillor from 1727, and lord president of the council (1742–5); and lord justice of Britain in 1743 and 1745. He became a secretary of state for the second time in 1744 and, on losing the post, was in 1746 appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland in succession to Philip Dormer Stanhope (qv), earl of Chesterfield, another kinsman.
The principal political drama of his viceroyalty revolved around Charles Lucas (qv), the ‘patriot’ apothecary, who, after an assault on the privileges of the Dublin aldermen, obtained a seat in parliament in 1749. His move from the local to the national stage prompted a brief display of unity between Dublin Castle and the Irish parliament, as they mobilised in order to crush a figure regarded as a dangerous demagogue. Lucas was duly forced into exile but much of the resulting odium (for the Dublin politician had a considerable populist following) was skilfully deflected towards the lord lieutenant by his temporary allies in the house of commons, such as the Ponsonbys.
Following immediately on this affair came the almost unprecedented circumstances of a surplus in the revenue, and consequent questions of royal and parliamentary prerogatives involved in its disposal. In the aftermath of the Lucas affair, Harrington was not in a position to assert the government's preferred position against the commons. He was replaced in 1750, and the political ramifications of this somewhat technical constitutional point were deferred to the viceroyalty of his successor, Lionel Sackville (qv), duke of Dorset.
Around 1718 he married Anne, daughter and heir of Colonel Edward Griffith, a clerk comptroller of the green cloth, and his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Lawrence, MD, physician to Queen Anne. She died 18 December 1719 in childbirth; of the twin sons born on this occasion, one, William (d. 1779), survived to adulthood, being appointed in 1748 to the sinecure post of customer of the port of Dublin. A soldier, he rose to the rank of general and succeeded, on the death of his father on 8 December 1756, as 2nd earl. The National Portrait Gallery in London has a portrait of the 1st earl.