Henry Dundas: Harry the Ninth

A manager of men and a master of contemporary politics, writes Esmond Wright, Dundas was Pitt's energetic colleague “during the most critical years in British history except for 1940”—not a hero, but a vigorous man of affairs who “rendered some service to both his countries.”

Boswell was not alone in his tribute to Dundas, if tribute it was. “The whole country was managed by the indisputed and sagacious energy of a single native, who knew the circumstances, and the wants, and the proper bait, of every countryman worth being attended to,” wrote Cockbum. “Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville, was the Pharos of Scotland. Who steered upon him was safe; who disregarded the light was wrecked.”1

Yet the phenomenal career of Harry the Ninth has been little appreciated by historians. Born three years before the ’45 and before the curbing of the Highlands, and eighteen years before Scotchmen were butts for political ridicule in London, he was yet, before he was fifty, to run the affairs of Scotland and India, and simultaneously to direct the War with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and the war against the forces of revolution at home. Not the least striking feature in Henry Dundas’s career is that he built it avowedly on being a Scot and an “English Scot,” who yet refused to cultivate an English accent.

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