With his death the family founded by the extraordinary rise to power and influence of the first duke ended. As he left no legitimate children the title became extinct, and his great estate had been completely dissipated; of the enormous mansion constructed by him at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire not a stone remains.

The ostentatious licence and the unscrupulous conduct of the Alcibiades of the 17th century have been deservedly censured. But even his critics agree that he was good-humoured, good-natured, generous, an unsurpassed mimic and the leader of fashion; and with his good looks, in spite of his moral faults and even crimes, he was irresistible to his contemporaries. Many examples of his amusing wit have survived. His portrait has been drawn by Burnet, Count Hamilton in the Mémoires de Grammont, Dryden, Pope in the Epistle to Lord Bathurst, and Sir Walter Scott in Peveril of the Peak. He is described by Reresby as "the first gentleman of person and wit I think I ever saw," and Burnet bears the same testimony. Dean Lockier, after alluding to his unrivalled skill in riding, dancing and fencing, adds, "When he came into the presence-chamber it was impossible for you not to follow him with your eye as he went along, he moved so gracefully." Racing and hunting were his favourite sports, and his name long survived in the hunting songs of Yorkshire. He was the patron of Cowley, Sprat, Matthew Clifford and Wycherley. He dabbled in chemistry, and for some years, according to Burnet, "he thought he was very near the finding of the philosopher's stone." He set up glass works at Lambeth the productions of which were praised by Evelyn; and he spent much money, according to his biographer Brian Fairfax, in building insanae substructions.

Dryden described him under the character of Zimri in the celebrated lines in Absalom and Achitophel (to which Buckingham replied in Poetical Reflections on a late Poem ... by a Person of Honour, 1682): -

"A man so various, that he seemed to be

Not one, but all mankind's epitome;

Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,

Was everything by starts and nothing long;

But in the course of one revolving moon,

Was chymist, fiddler, statesman and buffoon....

Beggar'd by fools, whom still he found too late,

He had his jest, but they had his estate."

Buckingham, however, cannot with any truth be called the "epitome of mankind." On the contrary, the distinguishing features of his life are its incompleteness, aimlessness, imperfection, insignificance, neglect of talents and waste of opportunities. "He saw and approved the best," says Brian Fairfax, "but did too often deteriora sequi." He is more severely but more justly judged by himself. In gay moments indeed he had written -

"Methinks, I see the wanton houres flee,

And as they passe, turne back and laugh at me,"[4] -

but his last recorded words on the approach of death, "O! what a prodigal have I been of that most valuable of all possessions - Time!" express with exact truth the fundamental flaw of his character and career, of which he had at last become conscious.

Buckingham wrote occasional verses and satires showing undoubted but undeveloped poetical gifts, a collection of which, containing however many pieces not from his pen, was first published by Tom Brown in 1704; while a few extracts from a commonplace book of Buckingham of some interest are given in an article in the Quarterly Review of January 1898. He was the author of The Rehearsal, an amusing and clever satire on the heroic drama and especially on Dryden (first performed on the 7th of December 1671, at the Theatre Royal, and first published in 1672), a deservedly popular play which was imitated by Fielding in Tom Thumb the Great, and by Sheridan in the Critic. Buckingham also published two adapted plays, The Chances, altered from Fletcher's play of the same name (1682) and The Restoration or Right will take place, from Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster (publ. 1714); and also The Battle of Sedgmoor and The Militant Couple (publ. 1704). The latest edition of his works is that by T. Evans (2 vols. 8vo, 1775). Another work is named by Wood A Demonstration of the Deity, of which there is now no trace.


The life of Buckingham has been well and accurately traced and the chief authorities collected in the article in the Dict, of Nat. Biography (1899) by C.H. Firth, and in George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, by Lady Burghclere (1903). Other biographies are in Wood's Athenae Oxon (Bliss), iv. 207; in Biographia Britannica; by Brian Fairfax, printed in H. Walpole's Catalogue of Pictures of George Duke of Buckingham (1758); in Arber's edition of the Rehearsal (1868); and by the author of Hudibras in The Genuine Remains of Mr Samuel Butler, by R. Thyer (1759), ii. 72. The following may also be mentioned: - Quarterly Review, Jan. 1898 (commonplace book); A Conference on the Doctrine of Transubstantiation between ... the Duke of Buckingham and Father FitzGerald (1714); A Narrative of the Cause and Manner of the Imprisonment of the Lords (1677); The Declaration of the ... Duke of Buckingham and the Earls of Holland and Peterborough ... associated for the King (1648); S.R. Gardiner's Hist. of the Commonwealth (1894-1901); Hist. of Eng. Poetry, by W.J. Courthope (1903), iii. 460; Horace Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, iii. 304; Miscellania Aulica, by T. Brown (1702); and the Fairfax Correspondence (1848-1849). For the correspondence see Charles II. and Scotland in 1650 (Scottish History Soc., vol. xvii., 1894); Calendars of St. Pap. Dom.; Hist. MSS. Comm. Series, MSS. of Duke of Buccleuch at Montagu House, of Mrs Frankland-Russell-Astley, of Marq. of Ormonde, and Various Collections; and English Hist. Rev. (April 1905), xx. 373.

(P. C. Y.)

[1] i.e. in the Villiers line; see above.

[2] Clarendon, Life and Continuation, 979.

[3] Quarterly Review, January 1898, p. 110.

[4] From his Common place Book (Quarterly Rev. vol. 187, p. 87).