When the fourth earl's biological son, also named Philip Stanhope, died prematurely in 1768 the earl adopted him as his heir. He had already publicly declared he would treat his godson as a grandchild (when he was four years old) and always took an active interest in his upbringing, although he was not an orphan.
After succeeding to the title, the 5th earl was made ambassador to Madrid in 1784, but never took up the post, resigning in 1787; he was also appointed to the Privy Council in 1784, and held the positions of Master of the Mint and Master of the Horse.
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