In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section George Montagu Dunk, Second Earl of Halifax

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Atlantic History George Montagu Dunk, Second Earl of Halifax
Andrew D. M. Beaumont
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0220


George Montagu Dunk (b. 1716–d. 1771) was a British career politician from 1739 until his death in 1771. During his professional life, he successively held the titles of Lord of the Bedchamber (1742–1744), Master of the Buckhounds (1744–1746), Chief Justice in eyre south of the Trent (1746–1748), First Lord of the Board of Trade & Plantations (1748–1761), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1761–1763), First Lord of the Admiralty (1762–1763), Secretary of State for the Northern Department (1762–1763), Secretary of State for the Southern Department (1763–1765), and Lord Privy Seal (1770–1771). George Montagu, Viscount Sunbury was born on 5 or 6 October 1716, the only son of George Montagu, first earl of Halifax (c. 1684–1739), politician, and his second wife, Lady Mary Lumley (b. 1690–d. 1726), the eldest daughter of Richard Lumley, first earl of Scarbrough (b. 1650–d. 1721). The family owed their title to the political achievements of Montagu’s great-uncle, Charles Montagu (b. 1661–d. 1715), a career bureaucrat and former First Lord of the Treasury. Montagu was formally educated at Eton College from 1725 to 1732, and subsequently at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1734; he later studied at the Academie D’Angers while undertaking a European Grand Tour from 1736 to 1738. Initially intending to enter the Commons as member for Banbury, Montagu instead succeeded his father as second earl of Halifax in May 1739, assuming also the roles of Ranger of Bushey Park and Keeper and Lieutenant of Hampton Court. Establishing himself in opposition to the administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Halifax courted the favor of likeminded political allies and members of his extended family, receiving his early career posts through the patronage of John Russell, Duke of Bedford (b. 1710–d. 1771). Halifax’s political career is chiefly remembered for his dynamic role in shaping colonial policy while serving as President of the Board of Trade from 1748 to 1761, which included the founding of the British settlement at Halifax, Nova Scotia, established as a model royal colony in 1749. He is also noted for his involvement in the Wilkes affair of 1763, during which, as Secretary of State, he issued an illegal general search warrant against the radical member of Parliament John Wilkes. In 1741 Halifax married Anne Richards (b. 1726–d. 1753), agreeing to a stipulation of her late father’s will to adopt the familial name of Dunk: virtually all of his correspondence was thereafter signed “Dunk Halifax.” One daughter of this union, Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Montagu (d. 1768) survived into adulthood, and married John Montagu, Fifth Earl of Sandwich (1744–1814). In 1760 Halifax was engaged to wed Mary Ann Drury, a wealthy heiress, but broke off the engagement to pursue Anna Maria Donaldson (née Mary Anne Faulkner), a married actress with whom he lived during his final years. They appear to have had two children, neither of whom survived into adulthood, and Halifax’s hereditary titles were discontinued upon his death in 1771.


Several biographies exist for Lord Halifax, and while they vary in scope, all focus primarily upon his involvement in colonial policy between 1748 and 1761. Beaumont 2015 is currently the only published monograph; Greiert 1976 (which covers a shorter chronological period) is equally valuable for its focus on the first part. The broader focus in Blackey 1968 is unique and worthy of examination for the later aspects of Halifax’s career after the Board of Trade.

  • Beaumont, Andrew D. M. Colonial America and the Earl of Halifax, 1748–61. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    A biography exploring Halifax’s early life and political career to 1761. Focuses upon Halifax’s role in American administration, his political and administrative interest, and his broader ambitions for systemic imperial reform.

  • Blackey, Robert A. “The Political Career of George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, 1748–1771: A Study of an Eighteenth Century English Minister.” PhD diss., New York University, 1968.

    An ambitious full-career biography in which Lord Halifax is presented as a case study of an 18th-century career politician.

  • Greiert, Steven G. “The Earl of Halifax and British Colonial Policy: 1748–1756.” PhD diss., Duke University, 1976.

    A partial career study exploring Halifax’s involvement in colonial administration during his first period of leadership at the Board of Trade.

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