- Richest of the Rich position: 17
- Birth/Death: 1758-1833
- Origin of wealth: Land
- Wealth: £7m
- Net National Income: £362m
- Net National Income Percent: 1.93%
- In Today’s Money: £21.421 billion
At the age of 32, the Duke of Sutherland was appointed British ambassador to France. It was 1790, and the young English aristocrat would have had a close view of the revolution until his departure in 1792. Indeed his wife, on returning to Britain, was brought before the revolutionary tribunal at Abbeville, and detained for a short time.
The experience must have been terrifying for an obviously aristocratic family. And few were more aristocratic or wealthy than Sutherland and his wife (they were married in 1785). She was the Countess of Sutherland in her own right and owned most of the far northern Scottish county. In 1803, he inherited from his maternal uncle, the last Duke of Bridgewater, the Bridgewater Canal and estates, and from his father, the Marquess of Stafford, estates in Yorkshire, Staffordshire Wolverhampton and Shropshire. With these land holdings, he was described by a contemporary chronicler as a ‘leviathan of wealth’.
After 1807, Sutherland took little part in active politics and devoted himself to the patronage of art and his estates. His wealth came in useful, allowing him to build up a large art collection. He spent over £72,000 buying Stafford House in London and gave it to his son along with an additional £30,000 with which to complete the building work. Sutherand had previously given his son an estate worth £25,000 a year in rent.
Sutherland spent the early 1800s improving his Midland estates and it was not until 1812 that he turned his attention to Sutherland. A government-supported scheme to improve communications to the far North was backed by Sutherland and he matched the government spending pound for pound. In twenty years, he built 450 miles of roads and 134 bridges, but his name is forever linked to the Highland clearances. He did clear thousands of peasants from the interior of his estates, breaking up the clan system in the process. Tales of ruthless evictions abounded but contemporary chroniclers reckoned these were exaggerated. Certainly, he reduced rents, improved conditions locally and brought many thousands of acres under cultivation.
A liberal in politics (despite having witnessed the French Revolution), Sutherland supported the 1832 Reform Bill, and invested heavily in railways and canals. He was actually raised to the dukedom early in 1833, just months before his death in Sutherland.
His personal wealth was valued at over £1m at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, with smaller amounts being assessed at York and Scotland. In all, with the family estates, he was easily worth £7m and possibly as much as £10m. At the lower figure, his wealth would have been around 1.9% of national income, or £21.4bn in today’s money