Bertie, Willoughby, fourth Earl of Abingdon 1740-1799, politician, the son of Willoughby Bertie, the third earl, by his wife Anna Maria, daughter of Sir John Collins, was born on 16 Jan. 1740, and succeeded to the earldom on his father's death in 1760. He was educated at Westminster School under Dr. William Markham, afterwards archbishop of York: in 1767 he was one of the stewards of the school anniversary. He proceeded to Magdalen College, Oxford, and was created M.A. on 20 Jan. 1761. He afterwards spent a few years in Geneva, where he adopted democratic principles. He seems to have made the acquaintance of Wilkes at an early date, and to have loyally supported him in his early struggles with the government (see Bertie's letter to Wilkes at Paris, 28 June, 1767; Addit. MSS. 30869, f. 133; 30875, ff. 1, 2). In The Speeches of John Wilkes, published in 1777, the anonymous editor of the volumes, who is easily identified with Wilkes himself, describes Abingdon as one of the most steady and intrepid assertors of liberty in this age, and the most delightful companion in private life. Abingdon was a very frequent speaker in the House of Lords from 1775 until his death. He was an intimate friend of the Marquis of Rockingham, and usually voted with the Rockingham whigs, but he advanced far beyond the principles of his party in his support of popular rights. In his first speech (1775) he denounced the bill for restraining the trade of America as a most diabolic measure, and he seized every opportunity between 1775 and 1783 of attacking the policy that produced the war with America. In 1777 he published, through Almon, Thoughts on Mr. Burke's Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the Affairs of America, in which he attacked Burke for not following up with sufficient energy or persistency his first great speeches against the war. The pamphlet attracted great attention from all political parties. Horace Walpole, writing to the Rev. William Mason (21 Sept. 1777), says: Are you not content with Lord Abingdon's pamphlet? are you not more? are you not glad he has so well puffed away Burke's sophistries? Burke felt the attack keenly. Before its publication he had met Abingdon at the Marquis of Rockingham's, and had treated the earl with scant respect; but when he saw Abingdon's Thoughts announced for publication, he wrote to the author begging him to suppress the book, and Abingdon in a polite reply regretted his inability to accede to the request. After its publication Burke discussed with Rockingham the desirability of replying to it. An anonymous reply to Abingdon's Thoughts was issued by Cadell in 1778, but the popularity of the pamphlet remained unchecked, and after passing through five editions it was republished in 1780 under the new title of A Dedication to the collective body of the people of England, in which the source of our present political distractions are pointed out, and a plan proposed for their remedy and redress. Abingdon's speech (2 Dec. 1783) in favour of peace with America was issued as a broadside in 1783, with a caricature of the coalition mministry of Fox and North. From 1782 onwards Abingdon mainly devoted his attention to Irish affairs, bringing into the House of Lords a series of bills for the conciliation of the Irish people, but he found few supporters. A speech of his on the affairs of Ireland, with the copy of a bill for reorganising the Irish parliament, was published as a pamphlet in 1782.
Abingdon sympathised strongly with the French revolution. He opposed the war with France, and in 1798 published a rhapsodical eulogy on the revolution under the title of A Letter to Lady Loughborough from the Earl of Abingdon in consequence of her presentation of the colours to the Bloomsbury and Inns of Court Association. This pamphlet passed through nine editions. Abingdon, who was also author of some songs (cf. Brit. Mus. Music Cat.), died on 26 Sept. 1799. He married on 7 July 1768 Charlotte, daughter of Admiral Sir Peter Warren (at one time M.P. for Westminster). She died on 28 Jan. 1794. By her he had three sons and a daughter. The eldest son, Montagu (1780-1854), succeeded his father as fifth earl. Willoughby, the second son (b. 1787) became a captain in the navy, and was wrecked in the Satellite off the Goodwin Sands in 1810.
Abingdon was in the habit of sending copies of his speeches in parliament to the newspapers, with (it is said) a handsome fee to insure their insertion in a prominent position. In a speech delivered in the House of Lords on 17 June 1794 Abingdon called attention to the immoral practices of attorneys, and instanced the conduct of one, Thomas Sermon, an attorney once employed by himself. Abingdon forwarded the speech to the newspapers, and it was published. Sermon thereupon brought a criminal information for libel against the earl in the court of king's bench. The case was heard on 6 Dec. 1794 before Lord Kenyon. Erskine was the prosecuting counsel; the defendant pleaded his own case. The jury found Abingdon guilty, and he was sentenced, 12 Jan. 1795, to three months' imprisonment, was fined 100l., and was required to find sureties for future good behaviour (Isaac Espinasse's Cases at Nisi Prius, King's Bench, i. 35; Parliamentary Hist. xxxi. 931-5).
Gent. Mag. lxix. ii. 905
Chalmers's Biog. Dict.
Parl. Hist. 1775-99
Macknight's Life of Burke, ii. 183-5
Burke's Correspondence, 1852
Walpole's Letters (ed. Cunningham), vi. 484, 486, vii. 26
Welch's Westminster Scholars.
Contributor: S. L. [Sidney Lee]