Lord William Bentinck : biography
Lieutenant-General Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, GCB, GCH, PC (14 September 1774 – 17 June 1839), known as Lord William Bentinck, was a British soldier and statesman. He served as Governor-General of India from 1828 to 1835.
Bentinck was the second son of Prime Minister William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, and Lady Dorothy, daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire.
Bentinck married Lady Mary, daughter of Arthur Acheson, 1st Earl of Gosford, in 1803. The marriage was childless. He died in Paris on 17 June 1839, aged 64. Mary died in May 1843. The department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham holds the personal papers and correspondence of Lord William Bentinck (Pw J), as part of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection.
Career until 1827
After service in the Peninsular War, Bentinck was appointed commander of British troops in Sicily. A Whig, Bentinck used this position to meddle in internal Sicilian affairs, effecting the King's withdrawal from government in favour of his son, the Crown Prince, the reactionary Queen's disgrace, and an attempt to devise a constitutional government for the troubled island, all of which ultimately ended in failure. In 1814, Bentinck landed with British and Sicilian troops at Genoa, and commenced to make liberal proclamations of a new order in Italy which embarrassed the British government (which intended to give much of Italy to Austria), and led, once again, to his recall in 1815.
Bentinck in Sicily
As conditions in Sicily began to deteriorate at the beginning of the 19th century, England began worrying about its interests in the Mediterranean. Internal dissensions in the Sicilian government and an ever increasing suspicion that Queen Maria Carolina was in correspondence with the French Occupation of Sicily as its object led to the appointment of Lord William Bentinck as British representative to the Court of Palermo in July 1811.Lackland, H.M.. “Lord William Bentinck in Sicily, 1811 – 12.” The English Historical Review 42.167 (1927): 371 – 396. JSTOR. 4 March 2009. . At the beginning of his time at the head of Sicilian affairs, politicians in London opposed the Bourbon rule and appealed for Sicilian annexation. Bentinck was sympathetic to the cause and plight of the Sicilians and "was quickly convinced of the need for Britain to intervene in Sicilian affairs, not so much for Britain’s sake as for the well-being of the Sicilians.” Hearder, Harry. Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento 1790–1870. New York: Longman Inc., 1983. He was also one of the first of the dreamers to see a vision of a unified Italy. The English, however, were content to support the Bourbons if they were willing to give the Sicilians more governmental control and a greater respect of their rights. Bentinck saw this as the perfect opportunity to insert his ideas of a Sicilian constitution. Opposition to the establishment of a constitution continued to surface, Maria Carolina proving to be one of the toughest. Her relationship with Bentinck can be summed up in the nickname that she gave him: "La bestia feroce" or the ferocious beast. Bentinck, however, was determined to see the establishment of a Sicilian Constitution and shortly thereafter exiled Maria Carolina from Palermo. On 18 June 1812 the Parliament assembled in Palermo and, about a month later, on 20 July 1812 the constitution was accepted and written on the basis of 15 articles. With the establishment of the constitution the Sicilians had now gained an autonomy they had never experienced before. The constitution set up the separation of the legislative and executive powers and abolished the feudalistic practices that had been established and recognized for the past 700 years.
Bentinck's success in establishing a Sicilian constitution lasted only a few years. On 8 December 1816, a year after Ferdinand IV returned to the throne of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the constitution was abolished and Sicily was reunited with Naples. The constitutional experiment was deemed a failure although it cannot be said to be his alone. The Sicilian nobles were inexperienced and in the face of the difficulties of 1814 and 1815 could not sustain a constitution without British support, which was withdrawn in the wake of the end of the Napoleonic wars. The British no longer had an invested interest in the internal affairs of Sicily now that the threat of French invasion had been removed. The establishment of a Sicilian constitution that was facilitated by Bentinck was not to be soon forgotten. The ideas found therein and the small taste of freedom lingered in the memories of the Sicilians and had an influence on the desire for autonomy that was at the base of the Sicilian revolutions of 1820 and 1848.
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