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Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville PC and Baron Dunira (28 April 1742 – 28 May 1811) was a Scottish lawyer and politician. He was the first Secretary of State for War and the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom.
Dundas was the fourth son of Robert Dundas, of Arniston, the elder (1685–1753), Lord President of the Court of Session, and was born at Dalkeith in 1742. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and the University of Edinburgh.
Becoming a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1763, he soon acquired a leading position in the Scottish legal system; and he had the advantage of the success of his half-brother Robert (1713–1787), who had become Lord President of the Court of Session in 1760. He became Solicitor General for Scotland in 1766; but after his appointment as Lord Advocate in 1775, he gradually relinquished his legal practice to devote his attention more exclusively to public affairs.
In 1774 he was returned to the Parliament of Great Britain for Midlothian, and joined the party of Frederick North, Lord North; he was a proud Scots speaker and he soon distinguished himself by his clear and argumentative speeches. His name appears in the 1776 minute book of the Poker Club. After holding subordinate offices under William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and William Pitt the Younger, he entered the cabinet in 1791 as Secretary of State for the Home Department. It was during this period that Dundas, without whose "skillful obstructions the slave trade would have been abolished in 1796, if not 1792", was influential in obstructing the abolition of the Slave Trade.
Appointed Minister for War on the outbreak of the Wars of the French Revolution, he was Pitt's closest advisor and planner for Britain's military participation in the First Coalition. He's largely held responsible for the lack of organization and confused planning in the Flanders Campaign, especially the aborted siege of Dunkirk in September 1793. It was said that he was " so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance".
From 1794 to 1801 he was War Secretary under Pitt, his great friend. From about 1798 on he pleaded frequently to be allowed to resign on health grounds, but Pitt, who relied on him greatly, refused even to consider it. In 1802 he was elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira. Under Pitt in 1804 he again entered office as First Lord of the Admiralty, when he introduced numerous improvements in the details of the department. Suspicion had arisen, however, as to the financial management of the Admiralty, of which Dundas had been treasurer between 1782 and 1800; in 1802 a commission of inquiry was appointed, which reported in 1805. The result was the impeachment of Dundas in 1806, on the initiative of Samuel Whitbread, for the misappropriation of public money; and though it ended in an acquittal, and nothing more than formal negligence lay against him, he never again held office. This was the last impeachment trial ever held in the House of Lords. Another reason for his retreat could have been Pitt's death in 1806. An earldom was offered in 1809 but declined.
Lord Melville's first marriage was to Elizabeth, daughter of David Rannie, of Melville Castle, in 1765. Almost all of his wealth (£10,000), as well as the castle, came to him through this marriage but, after leaving Elizabeth in the country residence while he remained in Edinburgh, she committed adultery with a Captain Faukener in 1778. Within days she had confessed by letter to her husband, and approximately a month later they were divorced. She never saw her children again, dying in 1847, aged 97. Henry Dundas, as was the law of the time, kept all of the money and property.
After this divorce he married again, to Lady Jane Hope, daughter of John Hope, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, in 1793. He died in May 1811, aged 69, and was succeeded in his titles by his son from his first marriage.
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