George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney

George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney

:"George Macartney should not be confused with Sir George McCartney, a later British statesman."

George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, KB (14 May, 1737 - 31 May, 1806) was a British statesman, colonial administrator and diplomat.


George Macartney was an Irishman descended from an old Scottish family, the Macartneys of Auchinleck, who had settled in 1649 at Lissanoure, near Loughguile, Ballymoney, County Antrim, Ireland, where he was born. After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1759, he became a student of the Temple, London. Through Stephen Fox, elder brother of Charles James Fox, he was taken up by Lord Holland.

Appointed envoy extraordinary to Russia in 1764, he succeeded in negotiating with Catherine II an alliance between England and that country. After occupying a seat in the British parliament, he was returned in 1769 to the Irish House of Commons as MP for Armagh Borough, in order to discharge the duties of Chief Secretary for Ireland. On resigning this office he was knighted.

In 1775 he became governor of the British West Indies was created Baron Macartney in the Peerage of Ireland in 1776, and became governor of Madras (now known as Chennai) in 1780. He declined the governor-generalship of India (then the British territories administered by the British East India Company) , and returned to Great Britain in 1786.

Embassy to China

After being created Earl Macartney in the Irish peerage (1792), he was appointed the first envoy of Britain to China (his visit followed by more than a hundred years the first visit to England by a Chinese man, Michael Shen Fu-Tsung in 1685). He led the Macartney Embassy to Beijing in 1793 with a large British delegation on board of a 64-gun man-of-war, the HMS "Lion." The embassy was ultimately not successful. This was not due to Macartney's refusal to kowtow in the presence of the Qianlong Emperor, as is commonly believed. It was also not a result of the Chinese reliance on tradition in dictating foreign policy but rather a result of competing world views which were uncomprehending and incompatible. After the conclusion of the embassy, Qianlong sent a letter to King George III, explaining in greater depth the reasons for his refusal to grant the requests of the embassy. []

The Macartney Embassy is historically significant because it marked a missed opportunity by the Chinese to move toward some kind of accommodation with the West. This failure would continue to plague the Qing Dynasty as it encountered increasing foreign pressures and internal unrest during the 19th century.

The policies of the Thirteen Factories remained. The embassy returned to Britain in 1794 without obtaining any concession from China. However, the mission could be construed as as a success because it brought back detailed observations. Sir George Staunton was charged with producing the official account of the expedition after their return. This multi-volume work was taken chiefly from the papers of Lord Maccauley and from the papers of Sir Erasmus Gower, who was Commander of the expedition. Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, was responsible for selecting and arranging engraving of the illustrations in this official record. [Banks, Joseph. Papers of Sir Joseph Banks; Section 12: Lord Macartney’s embassy to China; [ Series 62: Papers concerning publication of the account of Lord Macartney's Embassy to China, ca 1797.] [State Library of New South Wales.] ]

On his return from a confidential mission to Italy (1795) he was raised to the British peerage as Baron Macartney, and in the end of 1796 was appointed governor of the newly acquired territory of the Cape Colony, where he remained until ill health compelled him to resign in November 1798. He died at Chiswick, Middlesex, on May 31, 1806, the title becoming extinct, and his property, after the death of his widow (Lady Jane Stuart, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute; they were married in 1768), going to his niece, whose son took the name.

ee also

* William Pitt Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst
* Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest



* Barrow, John. (1807). ['s+embassy+to+China&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 "Some Account of the Public Life, and a Selection from the Unpublished Writings, of the Earl of Macartney,"] 2 vols. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies.
* Cranmer-Byng, J. L. "Lord Macartney’s Embassy to Peking in 1793." "Journal of Oriental Studies." Vol. 4, Nos. 1,2 (1957-58): 117-187.
* Esherick, Joseph W. "Cherishing Sources from Afar." "Modern China" Vol. 24, No. 2 (1998): 135-61.
* Hevia, James Louis. (1995). ['s+embassy+to+China&lr=&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 "Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793."] Durham: Duke University Press. 10-ISBN 0-822-31637-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-822-31637-4
* Peyrefitte, Alain. (1992). [ "The Immobile Empire"] (Jon Rotschild, translator). New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House. 10-ISBN 0-394-58654-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-394-58654-0
** Peyrefitte, Allain. (1990). "Images de l'Empire immobile ou le choc des mondes. Récit historique." Paris: Fayard. 10-ISBN 0-221-302383-2; 13-ISBN 978-221-302383-0 (paper)
* Robbins, Helen Henrietta Macartney (1908). [ "Our First Ambassador to China: An Account of the Life of George, Earl of Macartney with Extracts from His Letters, and the Narrative of His Experiences in China, as Told by Himself, 1737-1806, from Hitherto Unpublished Correspondence and Documents."] London : John Murray. [digitized by University of Hong Kong Libraries, [ Digital Initiatives,] [ "China Through Western Eyes."] ]
* Rockhill, William Woodville. [ "Diplomatic Missions to the Court of China: The Kotow Question I,"] "The American Historical Review," Vol. 2, No. 3 (Apr., 1897), pp. 427-442.
* Rockhill, William Woodville. [ "Diplomatic Missions to the Court of China: The Kotow Question II,"] "The American Historical Review," Vol. 2, No. 4 (Jul., 1897), pp. 627-643.
* Staunton, George Leonard. (1797). ['s+embassy+to+China&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 "An Authentic Account of and Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China,"] 3 vols. London: G. Nichol.


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