Wealthy noble who gained a reputation as an infamous reformer. Leveson-Gower was the son of a noted English family and was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford. He had married Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, in 1785 and gained control of her extensive, although impoverished, estates. He succeeded his father as Marquess of Stafford in 1803, and inherited several estates in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Yorkshire (England), together with industrial interests, including the Bridgewater Canal, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the country. He served as British Ambassador to France and was in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Leveson-Gower and his wife were arrested for attempting to help Marie Antoinette and her son escape.
Shocked at the conditions of their tenants and convinced that the interior of Sutherland could not support subsistence farming in the longer term, the couple initiated the most notorious of the 'Highland Clearances' around 1810. Inspired by progressive social and economic theories and having consulted widely, they set about resettling thousands of families along the coast, making way for sheep. Unfortunately, the evictions were carried out ruthlessly by the Duke's factors, who burned the houses and forced many out of the area. It is therefore he who must shoulder at least some of the blame for this event and the consequent destruction of the highland way of life.
Leveson-Gower was made 1st Duke of Sutherland in his own right just months before his death. He died at Dunrobin Castle and is buried at Dornoch. He is remembered by a massive and controversial statue on Beinn Bhragaidh, towering over Golspie. This has become the focus for nationalist hatred of a man motivated by high principles but let down by their implementation.