Beresford, William Carr (1768–1854), soldier and MP, was born 2 October 1768 in Co. Waterford, illegitimate son of George de la Poer Beresford (1734/5–1800), 2nd earl of Tyrone (1763–89), 1st marquess of Waterford (cr. 1789), MP for Co. Waterford (1757–60) and Coleraine (1761–3), and governor of Co. Waterford from 1766. Another illegitimate son was Adm. Sir John Poo Beresford (d. 2 October 1844); the identity of their mother is uncertain, but it may have been Elizabeth Monck of Charleville, whom Tyrone married 18 April 1769.
After education at York and military school in Strasbourg, William was commissioned ensign in the 6th Foot (27 August 1785). While serving in Nova Scotia, he lost an eye in a shooting accident. In August 1793, as a major with the 69th Foot, he participated in Adm. Samuel Hood's expedition to Toulon. Hood was forced to retreat to Corsica, where Beresford distinguished himself during the storming of the tower at Cape Mortella in February 1794. Returning to England in August 1794, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 124th or Waterford Foot (a regiment raised by his father) 11 August 1794. He then became lieutenant-colonel of the 88th Foot (Connaught Rangers) (1 September 1795–9 February 1807), which he commanded in the West Indies in 1795, where he helped take Grenada and St Lucia. He returned to England in 1796, was promoted colonel (1800), and was sent to India with the 88th, arriving in Bombay 10 June 1800. Ordered to Egypt to reinforce Abercromby (qv), he won renown by leading a brigade on a gruelling fourteen-day march across the desert from Kosseir to the Nile, and then commanded the brigade in Egypt (1801–3). He led a brigade in a diversionary action at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope in January 1806, and subsequently commanded the land forces sent to invade Buenos Aires. On 27 June 1806 his 1,200 men managed to seize the city, but on 12 August 1806 the inhabitants rose and defeated and imprisoned them. After six months in captivity (during which he was made an honorary freeman of Dublin corporation) Beresford and his fellow officer Col. (later Maj.-gen. Sir) Denis Pack (qv) of Co. Kilkenny escaped; Pack later served with distinction under Beresford during the Peninsular campaign. Beresford returned to England in 1807, and was promoted colonel of the 88th (9 February 1807–11 March 1819).
In December 1807 he commanded at the seizure of Madeira and remained there as the king of Portugal's governor (24 December 1807–July 1808) until ordered to Spain to assist Wellesley (qv). Promoted major-general in 1808, he served under Sir John Moore (qv) and was at Corunna (16 January 1809). He was appointed ‘marshal commanding’ the Portuguese army (1809–19), which was then in an extremely disorganised state, but he successfully forged it into a disciplined fighting force. For these efforts and his victory at Sierra Busaco (27 August 1810) he was knighted in October 1810, and made captain general of Spain (1811). He won a bloody victory against Marshal Soult at Albuera (16 May 1811) which prevented the French advancing on Lisbon, and received the thanks of parliament on 7 June 1811. The heavy losses he incurred at Albuera were the subject of much controversy, and he later wrote a pamphlet defending himself, Refutation of Colonel Napier's justification of his third volume (1834). He fought in most of the remaining battles on the Peninsula, was seriously wounded at Salamanca, and led British troops into Bordeaux 12 March 1814. On 17 May 1814 he was created Baron Beresford of Albuera and Dungarvan and given a pension of £2,000 a year; he also received Spanish, Portuguese, and Sicilian peerages. Among Peninsular war generals, only Wellington surpassed his list of honours.
Opinions on his generalship varied, but in major engagements he was clearly a better adjutant than commanding general. A large, strongly-built, and courageous man, he was often found in the thick of the fighting: at Albuera he famously unhorsed a Polish lancer with his bare hands. Wellington considered him his best officer, but valued his logistical skills more than his tactical ability. Beresford's biographer admitted his limitations, but claimed that ‘in the art of making soldiers . . . he stands without a rival’ (Cole, 188).
Elected MP for Co. Waterford (1811–14), he was too preoccupied with military duties to take his seat. In 1815 he returned to Lisbon to continue reorganising the army but was dismissed in 1819 as the spirit of Portuguese independence grew. He returned to England and bought Beresford Hall, Staffs., which he believed was the Beresfords' original seat, and on 28 March 1823 he was created Viscount Beresford of Beresford, Co. Stafford; in the lords he strongly supported the tories. Appointed governor of Cork (1811–20) and of Jersey (1820–54), he became a privy councillor (6 February 1821), full general (1825), and master-general of the ordnance (1828–30). After the whig victory of 1830 he retired from public life. He was described as ‘such a low looking-ruffian in his air, with damned bad manners or rather none at all [that] I defy any human being to find out that he is either a marshal or a lord’ (Thorne, 191). He died at his home at Bedgebury Park, Goudhurst, Kent, 8 January 1854.
He married (29 November 1832) Louisa Hope (d. 21 July 1851), his first cousin, widow of Thomas Hope and daughter of William Beresford (qv), archbishop of Tuam; he was then 64 years old and she 50, and they had no children, though she had three from her previous marriage. On his death his titles became extinct and his Irish estates were inherited by his nephew and godson Capt. Denis William Pack (1810–81) of Fenagh Lodge, Co. Carlow, on condition that he assume the name and arms of Beresford. The second son of Beresford's old comrade Denis Pack, who in 1816 had married Beresford's sister, Elizabeth Louisa (d. 1856), Pack-Beresford was high sheriff (1856) and conservative MP for Co. Carlow (1862–8).