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The King’s Cousins

May 2024
1min read

There were originally three Howe brothers, all Whigs, all distinguished in arms, all in turn holders of a viscountcy in the Irish peerage. Like the Scottish peerage today, the Irish one merely elected a few of their number to sit in the Lords at Westminster; the remainder were free to run for the British House of Commons. Of this convenience all three Howes availed themselves. Brigadier General George Augustus Howe, Third Viscount, the democratic and wellbeloved eldest brother who fell at Ticonderoga in 1758, had been Member for Nottingham. That borough at once elected his youngest brother, William, in his place. The middle brother, Richard, inherited the title as Fourth Viscount Howe (and was hence addressed as “Lord Howe”); he was also elected to the Commons for Dartmouth, and both surviving brothers remained M.P.’s through the Revolution. (For a parallel, imagine both Admiral Halsey and, say, General Eisenhower also serving as congressmen during the last war.) There was also a sister, Lady Howe, who had known and played chess with Benjamin Franklin, as the romanticized old engraving below shows; she was briefly involved in the peace-making efforts of the family.

It did the Howes no harm socially, to put it mildly, that their father, a former governor of Barbados, had married the daughter of the plump Baroness Kilmansegge, one of the German mistresses of George I; they were thus cousins by the left hand to King George III himself. Yet the Howes had genuine ability of their own. William won his own knighthood. Richard, “Black Dick” to an admiring fleet, led the bold relief of Gibraltar in 1782 and smashed the navy of Revolutionary France at the battle called “The Glorious First of June” in 1794. He died an earl, full of honors, in 1799; the Irish viscountcy passed to Sir William, who also had no sons, expiring with that enigmatic soldier in 1814.

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