Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis

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Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (December 31, 1738-October 5, 1805) was a British general and colonial governor. In America, he is most remembered for his role in the American Revolutionary War, and in India, for promulgating the Permanent Settlement. He was the eldest son of Charles Cornwallis, 5th Baron Cornwallis (later 1st Earl Cornwallis) and was born in London even though his family's estates were in Kent.

Cornwallis had all the advantages that money and family connections could bring. His family had been Barons Cornwallis since the reign of King Charles II, and his uncle, Frederick, was Archbishop of Canterbury. His mother was a daughter of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend and a niece of the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.

To this background he added a strong sense of duty, inflexible integrity, and an independent character. He was educated at Eton College and Clare College, Cambridge. Charles decided on a military career, so in 1756 he purchased a commission in the 1st Grenadier Guards, then enrolled in the academy at Turin, which was one of the few places to learn military theory. His studies were cut short by the start of the European phase of the Seven Years' War.

Throughout the course of the Seven Year's War, Cornwallis served for terms in different posts in Germany, interspersed with trips home. He served as a staff officer to John Manners, Marquess of Granby in 1758. In 1759 he was assigned to the 85th Regiment of Foot, and after action at the Battle of Minden he was promoted to Captain before returning to England. He also became a Member of Parliament in January 1760, entering the House of Commons for the village of Wye in Kent. In 1761 he was again sent to Germany, this time for duty with the 12th foot, and was promoted to brevet Lieutenant Colonel. He led his unit in the Battle of Vellinghusen on July 15th-16th, and was noted for his gallantry.

American Revolution

In 1776 Cornwallis moved to North America after volunteering his services to help maintain order in the rebellious thirteen colonies.

Between January 2 and January 4, 1777 Cornwallis fought the American Continental Army at Princeton, New Jersey, led by General George Washington. The Americans surprised a detachment of Cornwallis' troops and pressed the attack until encountering the main body of Cornwallis' force. After this first engagement, the American army slipped away in the night before Cornwallis could counter-attack. The Battle of Princeton was seen as an American victory, although it was actually a confused series of skirmishes without a decisive defeat for either force.

In 1780, Cornwallis led British forces in the Carolinas against Nathanael Greene.

After a textbook siege by American and French forces, Cornwallis surrendered to the allied forces, bringing to a close the Battle of Yorktown, on October 19, 1781, and thus ending the war. He was ultimately blamed for losing the war to the colonists.


Cornwallis, a close political ally of the younger Pitt then moved to India, where the colonial administration was judged by the Prime Minister to be urgently in need of reform following Warren Hastings' tenure. His appointment as Governor-General began in 1786. The primary objective of his first term was the settling of issues related to revenue extraction and local administration, and his administration came to the significant agreement with native landlords known as the Permanent Settlement of Bengal.

A few years after his term ended in 1793 he once again re-located, and became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After that he moved back to India where he was made Governor General a second time in 1805. He died at Ghazipur near Varanasi shortly after arriving, and is buried overlooking the Ganges River, where his memorial continues to be maintained by the Government of India.

Preceded by:
John Macpherson
Governor-General of India
Succeeded by:
Sir John Shore, Bt
Preceded by:
Sir Robert Sloper
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by:
Sir Robert Abercromby of Aithrey
Preceded by:
The Duke of Richmond
Master-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Chatham
Preceded by:
The Earl Camden
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Hardwicke
Preceded by:
Sir Ralph Abercromby
Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
Succeeded by:
Sir William Medows
Preceded by:
The Marquess Wellesley
Governor-General of India
Succeeded by:
Sir George Hilario Barlow
Preceded by:
Gerald Lake
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by:
The Lord Lake

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