Liz Truss made history by resigning as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on October 19, 2022, after only 44 days in office. It was 240 years ago, on July 1, 1782, when the second term of Prime Minister Charles Watson-Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham, ended after only 96 days. The flu epidemic of 1782 took the life of 52-year-old Lord Rockingham. He had been successfully controlling his dropsy through diet and exercise but, like many of the early fatalities of the novel corona virus pandemic in 2020, a comorbidity inhibited his ability to fight the illness.
One of the wealthiest men in England, Lord Rockingham lived near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, England, in Wentworth Woodhouse, a 300-room estate that sprawled over 225 acres. Although he was an influential politician and served in the House of Lords, his passion was raising and racing horses. He kept 200 of them in his stables at his estate.
Lord Rockingham’s friend, Colonel Anthony St. Leger, lived at the nearby Park Hill Estate in Firbeck. They shared a passion for horses. In 1776, Colonel St. Leger moved an annual two-mile race from Firbeck to a better track at Doncaster. One of his fillies finished second behind the winner, a three-year-old filly owned by Lord Rockingham. Two years later, Lord Rockingham suggested that the annual race be named after its founder. To this day, the St. Leger Stakes is still run every September at Doncaster.
Horse racing in York, England, dates back to the Roman occupation, and the York Racecourse has been on its current site at Knavesmire since 1730. The first grandstand was built there in 1754, financed by 250 people under a subscription scheme devised by Lord Rockingham. The elegant two-story building with a rooftop viewing platform, designed by architect John Carr, was not only the first grandstand at the York Racecourse, it was the first one anywhere.
The painting of Lord Rockingham’s Arabian thoroughbred Whistlejacket by George Stubbs was acquired in 1997 by the National Gallery in London for £11 million. It caused a sensation when it was first commissioned about 1762. The rearing horse is depicted nearly life-size against a tan background. At the time, it was a departure from the expectation that the muscular animal would be depicted under the control of a rider against a scenic setting. It has been suggested that Lord Rockingham wanted the viewer to focus on the raw power and beauty of the horse, without any distraction. A plain colorfield was the best way to achieve this effect. Whistlejacket is now considered to be George Stubbs’ masterpiece.