George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, [1] (1592-1628), English statesman, born in August 1592,[2] was a younger son of Sir George Villiers of Brooksby. His mother, Mary, daughter of Anthony Beaumont of Glenfield, Leicestershire, who was left a widow early, educated him for a courtier's life, sending him to France with Sir John Eliot; and the lad, being "by nature contemplative," took kindly to the training. He could dance well, fence well, and talk a little French, when in August 1614 he was brought before the king's notice, in the hope that he would take a fancy to him.

The moment was favourable. Since Salisbury's death James had taken the business of government upon himself. But he wanted some one who would chat with him, and amuse him, and would also fill the office of private secretary, and save him from the trouble of saying no to importunate suitors. It would be an additional satisfaction if he could train the youth whom he might select in those arts of statesmanship of which he believed himself to be a perfect master. His first choice had not proved a happy one. Robert Carr, who had lately become earl of Somerset, had had his head turned by his elevation. He had grown peevish toward his master, and had placed himself at the head of the party which was working for a close alliance with Spain.

The appearance of Villiers, beaming with animal spirits and good humour, was therefore welcomed by all who had an interest in opposing the designs of Spain, and he was appointed cupbearer the same year. For some little time still Somerset's pre-eminence was maintained. But on the 23rd of April 1615, Villiers, in spite of Somerset, was promoted to be gentleman of the bedchamber, and was knighted on the 24th; the charge of murdering Overbury, brought against Somerset in September, completed his downfall, and Villiers at once stepped into the place which he had vacated. On the 3rd of January 1616 he became master of the horse, on the 24th of April he received the order of the Garter, and on the 27th of August 1616 was created Viscount Villiers and Baron Waddon, receiving a grant of land valued at £80,000, while on the 5th of January 1617 he was made earl, and on the 1st of January 1618 marquess of Buckingham. With the exception of the earl of Pembroke he was the richest nobleman in England.

Those who expected him to give his support to the anti-Spanish party were at first doomed to disappointment. As yet he was no politician, and he contented himself with carrying out his master's orders, whatever they were. In his personal relations he was kindly and jovial towards all who did not thwart his wishes. But James had taught him to consider that the patronage of England was in his hands, and he took good care that no man should receive promotion of any kind who did not in one way or another pay court to him. As far as can be ascertained, he cared less for money than for the gratification of his vanity. But he had not merely himself to consider. His numerous kinsfolk were to be enriched by marriage, if in no other way, and Bacon, the great philosopher and statesman, was all but thrust from office because he had opposed a marriage suggested for one of Buckingham's brothers, while Cranfield, the first financier of the day, was kept from the treasury till he would forsake the woman whom he loved, to marry a penniless cousin of the favourite.

On the 19th of January 1619 James made him lord high admiral of England, hoping that the ardent, energetic youth would impart something of his own fire to those who were entrusted with the oversight of that fleet which had been almost ruined by the peculation and carelessness of the officials. Something of this, no doubt, was realized under Buckingham's eye. But he himself never pretended to the virtues of an administrator, and he was too ready to fill up appointments with men who flattered him, and too reluctant to dismiss them, if they served their country ill, to effect any permanent change for the better.

It was about this time that he first took an independent part in politics. All England was talking of the revolution in Bohemia in the year before, and men's sympathy with the continental Protestants was increased when it was known that James's son-in-law had accepted the crown of Bohemia, and that in the summer of 1620 a Spanish force was preparing to invade the Palatinate. Buckingham at first had thrown himself into the popular movement. Before the summer of 1620 was at end, incensed by injuries inflicted on English sailors by the Dutch in the East Indies, he had swung round, and was in close agreement with Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador. He had now married Lady Katherine Manners, the daughter of the earl of Rutland, who was at heart a Roman Catholic, though she outwardly conformed to the English Church, and this alliance may have had something to do with the change.

Buckingham's mistakes were owing mainly to his levity. If he passed briskly from one camp to the other, an impartial observer might usually detect some personal motive at the bottom. But it is hardly probable that he was himself conscious of anything of the sort. When he was in reality acting under the influence of vanity or passion it was easy for him to persuade himself that he was doing his duty to his country.

The parliament which met in 1621, angry at discovering that no help was to be sent to the Palatinate, broke out into a loud outcry against the system of monopolies, from which Buckingham's brothers and dependants had drawn a profit, which was believed to be greater than it really was. At first he pleaded for a dissolution. But he was persuaded by Bishop Williams that it would be a wiser course to put himself at the head of the movement, and at a conference of the Commons with the Lords acknowledged that his two brothers had been implicated, but declared that his father had begotten a third who would aid in punishing them. In the impeachment of Bacon which soon followed, Buckingham, who owed much to his wise counsels, gave him that assistance which was possible without imperilling his own position and influence. He at first demanded the immediate dissolution of parliament, but afterwards, when the cry rose louder against the chancellor, joined in the attack, making however some attempt to mitigate the severity of the charges against him during the hearing of his case before the House of Lords. Notwithstanding, he took advantage of Bacon's need of assistance to wring from him the possession of York House.