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He was the son of Henry Stanhope, Lord Stanhope and his wife, Katherine Wotton. He inherited the title of Earl of Chesterfield on the death of his grandfather in 1656. He was educated by Poliander, Professor of Divinity at Leyden (1640) and at the Prince of Orange's College at Breda. In 1669 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws by the University of Oxford.
His first marriage was to Lady Anne Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland. Following her death, a marriage had been arranged between him and Mary, daughter of Anne and 3rd Lord Fairfax. Despite the fact the banns had been read twice, Mary jilted Chesterfield for the 2nd Duke of Buckingham with whom she had fallen in love. Chesterfield subsequently married Elizabeth Butler, daughter of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and his wife, Elizabeth Preston. They had one daughter, Lady Elizabeth (from whom descends Queen Elizabeth II), but it is not certain that Chesterfield was the father. Elizabeth died in 1665, and he married a third time to the second daughter of Charles Dormer, 2nd Earl of Carnarvon, Lady Elizabeth Dormer, who finally provided him with two sons.
According to Samuel Pepys, Chesterfield was a ladies' lord, and had been one of the many lovers of Barbara Villiers, the most notorious mistress of King Charles II. His second wife, tired of his neglect, began flirting with the king's brother, the Duke of York, and also with James Hamilton.
He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for wounding Captain John Whalley in a duel (1658) and on suspicion of involvement in Sir George Booth's rising (1659). He also killed Francis Wolley in a duel on 17 January 1660, and fled to Holland. After having obtained pardon from Charles II, he returned to England.
He was Lord Chamberlain to Catherine of Braganza (1662–1665) and a member of her Council (1670). He was Colonel of a regiment of foot (1667, 1682), a Privy Councillor (1681) and the Warden of the royal forests south of Trent (1679). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1708. He died at his home in Middlesex, and was buried in Shelford, Nottinghamshire.
- G. E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume III, page 181-182; volume II, page 184.
- Bruce Yardley, ‘Villiers, George, second duke of Buckingham (1628–1687)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 accessed 10 April 2017
- Samuel Pepys Diary -- Latham & Matthews, editors, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1971 See the entry & footnote for 17 January 1660
- "Library and Archive Catalog". Royal Society. Retrieved 20 October 2010.