Eden, William, first Baron Auckland 1744-1814, statesman and diplomatist, third son of Sir Robert Eden, third baronet, of Windlestone Hall, Durham, by Mary, sister and coheiress of Morton Davison of Beamish, Durham, was born on 3 April 1744. He was educated at Eton, where he became an intimate friend of the Earl of Carlisle, and proceeded to Oxford in 1763 as a student of Christ Church. His university career was full of brilliant promise, and he proceeded Bachelor of Arts in 1765, and M.A. in 1768. He then read law in London and was eventually called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1769. He studied his profession diligently, and soon became known as one of the most promising young men in London; and in 1772, in which year he published his Principles of Penal Law, he was selected to fill the office of under secretary of state. After his acceptance of this appointment he gave up his legal for a political career, and in 1774 he entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Woodstock. He devoted himself from the first to legal and economical questions, and soon became an acknowledged authority on these subjects, on which he spoke frequently, and he was therefore appointed in 1776 to fill a vacancy in the board of trade and plantations. He was re-elected for Woodstock on taking office. In the same year he strengthened his political position by marrying Eleanor Elliot, the only sister of Sir Gilbert Elliot, afterwards Earl of Minto, and by his famous speech on punishments in the House of Commons, in which he proposed the substitution of hard labour for transportation to America. In 1778 he was appointed one of the five commissioners sent to America to try and settle the disturbances there, and on his return he published Four Letters to the Earl of Carlisle, who had been chief of the commission, on the spirit of party, the circumstances of the war, raising supplies, and free trade with Ireland, which had a very great success. In 1780, during which year he was re-elected for Woodstock, he accompanied his old school friend, the Earl of Carlisle, when he went to Ireland as viceroy, in the capacity of chief secretary; and he was sworn of the privy council in that country and elected to its House of Commons as M.P. for Dungannon. While in Ireland he devoted himself chiefly to the economical questions, which he thoroughly understood, and not only carried out the limited measure of free trade which was then passed, but established the National Bank of Ireland, on the lines of the Bank of England. He resigned his office with Lord Carlisle in April 1782, but again entered the ministry in April 1783—when the Duke of Portland became prime minister in the coalition ministry—as vice-treasurer of Ireland, when he was sworn of the English privy council. He went out of office on the dismissal of the coalition ministry of Fox and Lord North in December 1783. In the following year he lost his seat for Woodstock, but was elected for Heytesbury. In December 1785 he accepted office under Pitt, and thus began the most important period of his career, though the opposition ridiculed his tergiversation. He was now made a member of the newly-established committee of council on trade and plantations (in place of the old board), but his work was for the future rather as a diplomatist than a statesman. Pitt was determined to inaugurate great financial reforms, and one of his grandest conceptions for the benefit of English trade was the commercial treaty with France. To negotiate this treaty Pitt selected Eden, and sent him as special envoy to Versailles for the purpose in 1785. The affair was difficult and intricate; French thinkers were all in favour of the treaty, from the influence in favour of free trade which had been excited by the school of political economists, known as the physiocrats, but French statesmen were not so ready, and though Eden and Dupont de Nemours, the French delegate, quickly agreed as to the terms of the treaty, the French ministry made many difficulties and long hesitated to confirm the arrangements proposed. At last, in September 1786, the great treaty was signed, followed in January 1787 by a commercial convention, in August 1787 by an agreement settling the disputes of the French and English East India Companies, and in November 1787 by a treaty settling the attitude of France and England towards Holland, by which the authority of the stadtholder was confirmed and the legion of the volunteers of Maillebois was withdrawn. In all these difficult negotiations Eden gave the greatest satisfaction to Pitt, and showed that he possessed the most essential qualities of a diplomatist, tact and patience. On his return to England he published one of his most curious and interesting works, his History of New Holland, and in Aug. 1787 he was sent as special ambassador extraordinary to Madrid. The attitude of Spain was by no means friendly, though there was no open rupture, and Eden, after doing his best to improve matters, returned to Paris, where he had to defend his commercial treaty with the new ministry brought into power by the early events of the French revolution, and finally to England, when he was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Auckland on 18 Sept. 1789. He was next sent on a commercial mission to the United States of America, and in 1790 to Holland, where he obtained the despatch of a Dutch squadron to join the fleet known in English naval history as the Spanish armament, which was got ready by Pitt at the time of the dispute with Spain on the question of Nootka Sound. In December 1790 he concluded a treaty on the settlement of Holland with the emperor Leopold and the king of Prussia confirming the arrangements made by Lord Malmesbury in 1788, and he remained at the Hague as ambassador extraordinary throughout the troublous years 1791, 1792, 1793, when the events of the French revolution were agitating Europe. The political position was extremely critical in Holland and Belgium, and the latter country was overrun by the army of Dumouriez in the later months of 1792, when that general even threatened Holland. The successes of the Prince of Coburg and the Duke of York in 1793 were believed to have removed all danger, and in that year Auckland returned to England and retired from diplomatic life. He received a pension of 2,300l. a year, and was created a peer of Great Britain as Lord Auckland of West Auckland, Durham, on 22 May 1793. Though retired from diplomacy, Auckland yet exercised a very great influence on political affairs from his known intimacy with Pitt, whose Kentish seat at Hayes was close to his own at Eden Farm, and the great statesman was commonly believed to entertain sentiments of affection for Auckland's eldest daughter, the Hon. Eleanor Eden, who afterwards married the Earl of Buckinghamshire. This intimacy drew great attention to a pamphlet published by Auckland, Remarks on the Apparent Circumstances of the War, which was supposed to embody the opinions of Pitt himself. In 1796 he was elected chancellor of the Marischal College, Aberdeen, in succession to Lord Mansfield, and in 1798 he again entered the ministry as joint postmaster-general. He continued to support Pitt, especially in his measure of bringing about the union with Ireland and the abolition of the Irish parliament. When Pitt resigned in 1801 on the king's refusal to consent to the emancipation of the Irish catholics, Auckland retained his office of joint postmaster-general throughout Addington's administration, but resigned with Addington in 1804. Pitt excluded him from his second administration in 1804, and his relations with the great statesman at this time were very strained. He joined Grenville's ministry of All the Talents as president of the board of trade (Feb. 1806 to March 1807). Thenceforth he lived quietly at Eden Farm, Beckenham, Kent, and experienced a great sorrow in 1810 by the death of his eldest son, William Frederick Eden, who was found drowned in the Thames on 10 Jan. 1810. Auckland never recovered from the shock, and died suddenly of heart disease on 28 May 1814, leaving, with eight daughters, two sons, George [qv.] his successor, who after being governor-general of India was created Earl of Auckland in 1839, and Robert John [qv.], third baron Auckland, and bishop of Bath and Wells from 1854 to 1869, who edited his father's journals and correspondence.
Journals and Corresp. of William, Lord Auckland, ed. his son, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 4 vols. 1860-2
Gent. Mag. June & Aug. 1814.
Contributor: H. M. S. [Henry Morse Stephens]