William Grenville (Lord Grenville)

William Grenville (Lord Grenville)

William Wyndham Grenville, the fifth of seven children and the youngest son of George Grenville (1712-1770), the politician who was later to become Prime Minister (1763-65) and Elizabeth Wyndham (1720–1769), was born on 24th October 1759. According to his biographer, Peter Jupp: "Grenville was born into a family that had risen from comparative obscurity in the seventeenth century to become, partly through marriage and partly through a combination of ambition, ability, and influence, one of the richest and most powerful in Britain."

Grenville was initially educated at East Hill School in Wandsworth. Both his parents died within a year of each at the point when he started at Eton College. He also studied at Christ Church, Oxford University (1776–80) but soon after graduating his guardian, Richard Grenville-Temple, died. Grenville went to Lincoln's Inn (1780–82) but was never called to the bar and instead decided to concentrate on politics. In February 1782 he entered the House of Commons as the representative of Buckinghamshire.

Grenville supported the Whigs but in 1784 he was appointed postmaster-general by William Pitt, the new prime minister. The author of Lord Grenville 1759-1834 (1985) has pointed out: "During the next seven years Grenville... became, with Henry Dundas, Pitt's principal adviser. This was accomplished partly by his conduct in the posts that he occupied: joint paymaster-general (March 1784 to September 1789); member, and from August 1786 vice-president, of the Board of Trade (March 1784 to August 1789) ... Grenville was as fully committed as Pitt to the task of financial and commercial reconstruction following the loss of the American colonies and the removal of statutory control over Irish legislation."

In 1790 Grenville he was granted the title Lord Grenville. Now in the House of Lords, Grenville received further promotion under William Pitt and served in his government as Home Secretary (1790-91) and Foreign Secretary (1791-1801). Grenville was a strong supporter of Catholic Emancipation and in 1801 he resigned with Pitt when George III blocked proposed legislation on the subject.

In February, 1806 Lord Grenville was invited by the king to form a new Whig administration. Peter Jupp has argued: "Despite all his misgivings Grenville proved to be a very hard-working prime minister with a distinctive style of management. In keeping with the professionalism he had encouraged in the home and foreign departments, he conducted business in a methodical and businesslike manner and developed a system in which he worked closely with Fox and the other party chiefs but in about equal measure with the other departmental heads. This was supplemented with regular cabinet meetings, at least once and sometimes twice a week. The result was a form of departmental government in which Grenville tried to supervise the whole without his colleagues feeling that they were being treated like ciphers."

Grenville, was a strong opponent of the slave trade. Grenville was determined to bring an end to British involvement in the trade. Thomas Clarkson sent a circular to all supporters of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade claiming that "we have rather more friends in the Cabinet than formerly" and suggested "spontaneous" lobbying of MPs.

Grenville's Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox, led the campaign in the House of Commons to ban the slave trade in captured colonies. Clarkson commented that Fox was "determined upon the abolition of it (the slave trade) as the highest glory of his administration, and as the greatest earthly blessing which it was the power of the Government to bestow." This time there was little opposition and it was passed by an overwhelming 114 to 15.

In the House of Lords Lord Grenville made a passionate speech where he argued that the trade was "contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy" and criticised fellow members for "not having abolished the trade long ago". When the vote was taken the bill was passed in the House of Lords by 41 votes to 20.

In January 1807 Lord Grenville introduced a bill that would stop the trade to British colonies on grounds of "justice, humanity and sound policy". Ellen Gibson Wilson has pointed out: "Lord Grenville masterminded the victory which had eluded the abolitionist for so long... He opposed a delaying inquiry but several last-ditch petitions came from West Indian, London and Liverpool shipping and planting spokesmen.... He was determined to succeed and his canvassing of support had been meticulous." Grenville addressed the Lords for three hours on 4th February and when the vote was taken it was passed by 100 to 34.

William Wilberforce commented: "How popular Abolition is, just now! God can turn the hearts of men". During the debate in the House of Commons the solicitor-general, Samuel Romilly, paid a fulsome tribute to Wilberforce's unremitting advocacy in Parliament. The trade was abolished by a resounding 283 to 16. According to Clarkson, it was the largest majority recorded on any issue where the House divided. Romilly felt it to be "the most glorious event, and the happiest for mankind, that has ever taken place since human affairs have been recorded."

Under the terms of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act (1807) British captains who were caught continuing the trade were fined £100 for every slave found on board. However, this law did not stop the British slave trade. If slave-ships were in danger of being captured by the British navy, captains often reduced the fines they had to pay by ordering the slaves to be thrown into the sea.

Grenville now turned his attention to Catholic Emancipation. However, with the death of Charles Fox in September, 1806, Grenville government was severely weakened. When George III rejected Grenville's attempt to bring an end to Catholic disabilities in March 1807, he resigned from office. The author of Lord Grenville 1759-1834 (1985) has pointed out: "Grenville was tired and distracted by other problems besetting the government. He hoped that he could persuade the king that the bill simply replicated an Irish Act of 1793, to which the monarch had then given his assent, even though it actually went further. The king smelt a rat and refused his assent, demanding that his ministers pledge themselves not to raise the Catholic question with him again. Although Grenville and his Foxite colleagues agreed to drop the bill, they declined to take the pledge and, in the former's case, left office on 25 March 1807 with a huge sigh of relief."

Several attempts were made to persuade Grenville to return to government but he preferred to work from the backbenches. He continued to campaign against slavery and in 1815 argued against the Corn Laws. Grenville did support the introduction of the Six Acts and this led to Lord Liverpool offering his a place in his government. He refused and in 1823 a paralytic attack brought an end to his political career.

Lord Grenville died on 12th January, 1834. Peter Jupp has argued: "Grenville had a considerable and sometimes critical influence on British political history for some thirty-five years, longer in fact than each of the more famous politicians with whom he was associated - Pitt, Fox, and Grey. Part of that influence arose from measures for which he was wholly or chiefly responsible... Grenville's strengths lay in a brilliant intellect, an ability to spot the connections between different spheres of policy, and reasoned arguments in favour of specific policies."

Past Foreign Secretaries

Lived 1759 to 1834 Dates in office April 1791 to February 1801 Political party Conservative (until 1801) Interesting facts Spent almost a decade as Foreign Secretary during the struggle against Revolutionary France.

Lord Grenville spent almost a decade as Foreign Secretary during a turbulent period dominated by diplomacy and war against Revolutionary France. Grenville had a long political pedigree. His father, George Grenville, had been Prime Minister in 1763 to 1765 and he was the cousin of Pitt the Younger.

Before this period the roles of the Offices of State were not clearly delineated indeed the Foreign Office was established only in 1782. Grenville’s early years were taken up with establishing the office itself, which he did by increasing efficiency rather than size. By 1795 he had arranged for pay increases for all staff – including a £6,000 salary for himself. The king commented, “I find your new arrangement a great improvement … nothing can exceed the manner in which your business is done.”

The French wars

Grenville’s ‘business’ throughout his time at the Foreign Office was characterised by caution, unsuccessful diplomacy and the interference of Pitt. His first year in office was inauspicious. The British government had been planning to supplement their fleet in the Black Sea as leverage against Russia’s demand for the port of Ochakov. By the time it was equipped, however, it was too late and Britain had to concede.

The Prussians believed that the Triple Alliance of 1788 was rendered meaningless by the threat from Russia so they signed an accord with the Austrians and Britain was effectively forced out of European diplomacy until France declared war in 1793. Pitt’s uncomplimentary assessment of the result was that it was done “not very creditably, but better so than worse.”

It was during the French wars that Grenville acquitted himself best although his achievements were modest in comparison to the energy expended. He proposed alliances first with Russia, then Spain and finally Sardinia. All these attempts at diplomacy foundered as the European powers prioritised the territorial gains they could make by war over peace. His only early success was with a country that was officially neutral: the United States. Grenville’s good personal relationship with Chief Justice John Jay secured a treaty that ensured Britain was fighting only on the European front.

A true test of his position came in late 1794 when the Prussians withdrew from the war. Lord Malmesbury proposed a subsidy to encourage greater Prussian involvement but Grenville hated the idea so much that he offered Pitt his resignation if it went ahead. In the end he was saved by dithering in Cabinet. By the time the offer was sent, Prussia had signed the Peace of Basel with France. Grenville’s distrust of the Prussians was vindicated and he withdrew his resignation.

Grenville and Pitt

This was the first in a series of diplomatic adventures that followed a similar pattern: Grenville would reject alliances he saw as detrimental to British interests, Pitt would persuade or overrule him, but eventually Grenville’s pessimism would prove justified.

By 1795, attempts to establish a European axis had failed so completely that Pitt changed direction and sought peace with France. To Grenville this was a betrayal of Britain's counter-revolutionary allies and he lobbied for a tough negotiating stance. He insisted that France and its allies cede overseas territories to Britain in exchange for Britain allowing them to keep their territorial gains in Europe.

As a result, although the talks at Lille fell through in 1797, Grenville was in a stronger position in cabinet during his final phase as Foreign Secretary and was able to reinstate Britain’s counter–revolutionary policy. It was as unsuccessful then as it had been before. When Grenville resigned with the rest of Pitt’s government in 1801, Europe was in much the same position it had been in at the start of the war except that France had a new Consul - Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1802 Grenville broke with Pitt, following the Treaty of Amiens with France, and formed his own opposition group. Grenville allied himself with Charles James Fox and briefly led the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’ in 1806 to 1807 which secured the abolition of the slave trade.

Grenville, William Wyndham, 1st Lord

Grenville, William Wyndham, 1st Lord (1759�). Prime minister. The third son of George Grenville, prime minister 1763𠄵, he was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he became a distinguished classical scholar. He entered Parliament in 1782 and cast in his lot with his cousin the young William Pitt. Shelburne appointed him chief secretary in Ireland in 1782 and under Pitt he was paymaster of the forces 1783𠄹, an office he held together with membership of the India Board of Control and of the Board of Trade after 1784. A diligent administrator, he contributed to the major financial and economic achievements of Pitt's peacetime ministry. In 1787 he was sent on diplomatic missions to The Hague and Versailles and sounded out the possibilities of an agreement with the French to end the African slave trade, a cause which remained close to his heart until he was able as prime minister in 1807 to accomplish it.

In January 1789 Grenville agreed to become Speaker of the House of Commons in order to help Pitt in the midst of the Regency crisis, but he craved a cabinet post and when the crisis was over was appointed home secretary. By this time he was recognized as Pitt's ‘second in command’ and in 1790 was elevated to the Lords to oversee the government's business there. He was translated to the foreign secretaryship in 1791 and for ten years was responsible for British policy in the French Revolutionary War. Grenville found the post uncongenial and his successes were few. In 1801 he resigned with Pitt over the king's refusal to grant catholic relief, but unlike Pitt he determined not to take office again unless the king withdrew his veto. Accordingly he did not return with Pitt in 1804 but formed an alliance with the Foxite Whigs, with whom he served in the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’ in 1806𠄷.

As prime minister, Grenville achieved little beyond the abolition of the slave trade. The government collapsed when George III thwarted their attempt to smuggle concessions to the Irish catholics past his protestant conscience. For the next ten years Grenville and Grey, Fox's successor, led the opposition to Portland, Perceval, and Liverpool but neither found the position agreeable. The alliance ended in 1817 when they disagreed over the government's suspension of habeas corpus to deal with radical agitation. Grenville then retired from political life, devoting his remaining years to classical scholarship.

Grenville was a diligent administrator and a conscientious politician but the glittering prizes eluded him. He lacked warmth, imagination, and leadership qualities. His forbidding manner earned him the nickname of 𠆋ogey’ and he seemed remote and insensitive except to his circle of family and friends.

William Grenville was born on 24 October 1759, the third son and sixth of nine children born to George Grenville and Elizabeth Wyndham. In 1792, he married Anne Pitt. She was the daughter of Thomas Pitt, first Baron Camelford. The Grenville and Pitt families were intertwined, since Pitt the Elder (the Earl of Chatham) had married Hester Grenville, sister of George Grenville. Consequently, Lord Grenville and Pitt the Younger were cousins.

Lord Grenville was educated at Eton and Christ Church College Oxford. He graduated in 1780 having won the Chancellor's prize for Latin verse in 1779. Grenville was academically very gifted and had a keen interest in and extensive knowledge of classical literature. He spent a lot of time editing the correspondence of his uncle, Lord Chatham. He trained for the Bar but was never called since he entered parliament in 1782 as MP for the family's borough of Buckingham. He continued to represent the constituency until he was elevated to the peerage in 1790.

Grenville held continual ministerial office during his parliamentary career. He was Chief Secretary for Ireland between August 1782 and May 1783 whilst his brother, Earl Temple, was Lord Lieutenant Grenville was offered ministerial positions by his cousin Pitt the Younger throughout his premiership. Grenville was Paymaster General between December 1783 and March 1784. For a short time in 1789 he was Speaker of the House of Commons and then he became Home Secretary in 1791 took over as Foreign Secretary. His ministry lasted from February 1806 to March 1807.

When the French Revolution broke out, Grenville advocated British neutrality as the best means of avoiding conflict but when France declared war of Britain, Grenville supported the first coalition of European powers. He also supported repressive domestic legislation to maintain law and order in Britain. In 1790 he was created Baron Grenville and took over the post of leader of the House of Lords. He resigned along with Pittover the king's attitude towards Catholic Emancipation in March 1801, following the passing of the Act of Union with Ireland. However, he did not have confidence in Addington's abilities to conduct the war and spoke forcefully in opposition to the new government. He also abandoned Pitt, who did not respond to Grenville's proposal for a pact between the political "outs" Grenville and Fox worked together in a combined Opposition. In 1804 when Pitt returned to power, Grenville refused to accept office without Fox. This completed the separation of the cousins.

When Pitt died, Grenville formed a ministry to continue the government and the fight against France. Charles James Fox became his Foreign Secretary - the first time that Fox had held office since 1783. However, Fox died in September 1806, which meant that the ministry had to be reconstructed. Grenville supported Catholic Emancipation and when the king refused to consider it as a measure, Grenville resigned. He spent the rest of his political career in opposition. However, it was his ministry that steered the Abolition of the Slave Trade legislation through parliament.

After the end of the French Wars, Grenville opposed the passing of the Corn Laws and supported the principles of free trade. He continued to support Catholic Emancipation but by 1822 he virtually had retired from politics. He suffered several strokes and died on 12 January 1834 at the age of 74.

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Past Prime Ministers

25 October 1759 , Buckinghamshire

12 January 1834, Buckinghamshire

Dates in office

Political party

Major acts

Slave Trade Act 1807: abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.

On his resignation: “The deed is done and I am again a free man, and to you I may express what it would seem like affection to say to others, the infinite pleasure I derive from emancipation.”

William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville was the son of George Grenville, an earlier Prime Minister.

Despite the brevity of his time as Prime Minister, William Grenville’s extended political career highlights the shifting patterns of British political alignments in the later Hanoverian period. As premier, he was responsible for one of the most important legislative measures of the early nineteenth century, the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

William Grenville (Lord Grenville) - History

Lord Grenville


This is a classical Al Stewart historical folk-rock song, though more folk than rock. Sir Richard Grenville was born in 1542, and after a distinguished career as a soldier and explorer, he was appointed Vice Admiral of the British Royal Navy. He sailed to Roanoke Island (in what is now North Carolina) in 1586 to fortify a colony established by Sir Walter Raleigh, leaving behind 15 men who disappeared Roanoke became known as the "Lost Colony."

The song is written from the perspective of the 15 men who were left behind and know their end is imminent:

Go and tell Lord Grenville that our dreams have run aground
There's nothing here to keep us in this shanty town

In 1591, Grenville sailed for the Azores in pursuit of Spanish treasure but found himself outnumbered when his ship the Revenge became separated from the rest of the fleet. After fighting 15 Spanish ships all evening and night, the Revenge was surrendered by his crew against his wishes. Mortally wounded, Grenville was taken prisoner and died aboard one of the enemy ships aged only 49.

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GRENVILLE William Wyndham 17591834 Published in The History of Parliament the House of Commons 17541790 ed

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Baron Grenville 17591834 The Baron Statesman William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville was Prime Minister at the time the 1807 Act to Abolish the Slave Trade was passed His father had also been Prime Minister and Grenville was educated at Eton and Christchurch Oxford He was respected and reliable but aloof and cold

William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville 17591834

William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville was born 25 October 1759 in Wotton House Buckinghamshire England United Kingdom to George Grenville 17121770 and Elizabeth Wyndham bef17311769 and died 12 January 1834 in Dropmore Park Burnham Buckinghamshire England United Kingdom of unspecified causes

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The author of Lord Grenville 17591834 1985 has pointed out Grenville was tired and distracted by other problems besetting the government He hoped that he could persuade the king that the bill simply replicated an Irish Act of 1793 to which the monarch had then given his assent even though it actually went further

William Grenville 1st Baron Grenville Wikipedia

William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville PC PC Ire FRS 25 October 1759 – 12 January 1834 was a British Pittite Tory and politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1806 to 1807 though he was a supporter of the British Whig Party for the duration of the Napoleonic Wars

GRENVILLE, William Wyndham (1759-1834).

b. 25 Oct. 1759, 3rd s. of George Grenville, and bro. of George and Thomas Grenville. educ. Eton 1770-6 Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1776-80 L. Inn. 1780. m. 18 July 1792, Anne, da. of Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford, s.p. cr. Baron Grenville 25 Nov. 1790.

Offices Held

P.C. [I] 15 Sept 1782 chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] Sept. 1782-June 1783 P.C. 31 Dec. 1783 paymaster gen. Jan.-Mar. 1784, jt. paymaster gen. Mar. 1784-Sept. 1789 member of Board of Trade Mar. 1784-Aug. 1789, vice-pres. 1786-9 member of Board of Control Sept. 1784-Mar. 1790, pres. Mar. 1790-June 1793 Speaker of the House of Commons Jan.-June 1789 Home sec. June 1789-June 1791, foreign sec. June 1791-Feb. 1801 auditor of the Exchequer 1794- d. first ld. of Treasury Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807.


Returned for Buckingham on his brother’s interest, Grenville voted with the Opposition in the crucial divisions before the fall of North. Like his brother George, 3rd Earl Temple, he supported Rockingham’s Administration, and on the formation of Shelburne’s in July 1782 became chief secretary to Temple as lord lieutenant of Ireland. Edward Cooke, private secretary to Grenville’s predecessor, commenting unfavourably on the appointment of so young and inexperienced a man to lead the Irish House of Commons, nevertheless conceded that he seemed ‘sensible and perfectly well-disposed, and . laborious’.1 In November 1782 he was sent to London to discuss Irish policy with the ministers, and during the next few months laboured to obtain a renunciating bill to allay Irish fears of English interference in their judicature. Cabinet divisions and procrastinations exasperated him: on 20 Dec. he wrote to Temple asking permission to remain in London till the bill was presented

And on the 24th about Shelburne: ‘Is it not inconceivable that a man will hazard so much . without its being possible for one to discover any one object under heaven which he is to gain by the delay?’ During this period his only two reported speeches in the House were on Irish affairs. On 21 Jan. 1783 he at length felt able to report to Temple that ‘considering all the circumstances . the whole has not gone off ill’.

After the publication of the peace preliminaries Grenville wrote to Temple on 6 Feb.:

Instead, in reply to a request from Pitt to move an address of approbation, he hedged: while he preferred ‘such a peace to such a war’ and felt ‘obliged to that Government, who have, at any rate, put a stop to the progression of evil’, it was ‘still too humiliating to Great Britain to admit of very sanguine expressions of exultation’, and he was very hesitant about moving such an address.3 In the end he avoided doing so, though he voted with Administration on the preliminaries, 18 Feb.

At the beginning of March, when Temple announced his intention to resign, Grenville followed, but with characteristic prudence restrained his brother from leaving the country ‘with an appearance of fretfulness and intemperance’ before the appointment of his successor. During the next few weeks, acting on Temple’s behalf, he saw the King several times and acted as a restraining influence on his brother’s impetuosity. On the 28th he reported that the King having referred to the possibility of Temple’s forming an Administration, he had pointed out the difficulty of finding a manager for the House of Commons. Various names were discussed but rejected, and, he wrote, as far as he himself was concerned,

On 1 Apr., informing Temple of the King’s acceptance of the Coalition, he obviously considered it a very temporary measure: the King, he wrote, was anxious

On 20 Nov. 1783 Grenville attacked Fox’s East India bill. ‘In a speech of great length and greater ability’, wrote Wraxall,4 he ‘gave promise of those vigorous powers of mind which he has since unfolded.’

But though Grenville obtained office on the formation of Pitt’s Administration, he does not at first seem to have been active in the House: his only reported speech during the following critical months was on 22 Dec. 1783 to announce and defend his brother’s resignation. On 16 June 1784 he attacked the principle of parliamentary reform, though paying tribute to Pitt who, he declared, did not expect ‘a servile compliance with his particular sentiments on every great and important question’.5 He now spoke more frequently in the House on 5 Apr. 1785 he moved for leave to bring in a bill to amend his father’s Act for trying controverted elections and more than once defended Pitt’s Irish propositions. Wraxall, writing of 1785, declared that Grenville had

Grenville now seems to have thought of applying for a peerage, but hesitated about leaving the Commons:

When in July 1787 war with Holland appeared imminent, Grenville was sent to the Hague to investigate, and shortly after his return in September, to Paris, to advise William Eden about the dispute. On 23 Sept. 1787 Pitt wrote to him: ‘Let me know what you think of all this. Even in these two days I felt no small difference in not being able to have your opinion on things as they arise.’7 On 1 Apr. the following year, on Lord Howe’s resigning the Admiralty, Grenville told his brother that Pitt had appeared much disposed to give him the office—

He hoped eventually to obtain the Home Office, and had mentioned it to Pitt, who had replied he was unwilling to move Lord Sydney abruptly without being able to compensate him, ‘but that, whenever any such opportunity offered, he should willingly and eagerly embrace it . I am by no means desirous that the interval should be so much shortened as to make the appointment immediate. I am in the train of making myself fitter for it.’ In the meanwhile Grenville hoped to obtain a reasonable sinecure post, and finding difficulties in securing a life grant of the master of the rolls in Ireland, finally settled for the reversion of the office of chief remembrancer. On 23 June 1788, reporting changes in Administration to his brother, he wrote: ‘For my own part . the circumstances of my present situation in almost every point of view, particularly the confidence with which I am treated, leave me very little to look to, or to hope for, from any change that can arise.’ But in January 1789, on the death of the Speaker at the height of the Regency crisis, Grenville agreed to take his place.

He was elected on 5 Jan. on a party vote. On the 16th he made a long speech in committee supporting Pitt’s Regency proposals. Less than six months later he resigned from the Speakership, having at last obtained the office of Home secretary the following year he went to the Lords, and as Lord Grenville achieved the highest office.

‘He loved business as his father did’, wrote the Gentleman’s Magazine (1834, i. 237) after his death on 12 Jan. 1834,

GRENVILLE, Thomas (1755-1846).

b. 31 Dec. 1755, 2nd s. of George Grenville † of Wotton, Bucks. by Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt. † , of Orchard Wyndham, Som. bro. of William Wyndham Grenville*. educ. Eton 1764-71 Christ Church, Oxf. 1771 L. Inn 1774. unm.

Offices Held

Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1778 lt. 86 Ft. 1779, ret. 1780.

Minister to Paris May-July 1782 minister extraordinary (with Ld. Spencer) to Vienna July-Oct. 1794 PC 5 Dec. 1798 envoy extraordinary and minister plenip. to Berlin Dec. 1798-Aug. 1799 c.j. in eyre South of Trent 1800-d. pres. Board of Control July-Sept. 1806 first ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1806-Apr. 1807.

Capt. Bucks. yeomanry 1795, maj. 1798, lt.-col. Mid Bucks. 1803.


Grenville’s association with the opposition to his cousin Pitt cost him his seat in 1784 and estranged him politically from the rest of his family, but he remained loyal to the opposition, joined the Whig Club in 1785 and had strong claims for consideration when the Whigs prepared for the general election of 1790. Earl Fitzwilliam who, like Fox, was a personal friend, offered to negotiate his return, but the Duke of Portland, believing that Grenville would demur when he discovered that the gesture would cost Fitzwilliam at least £3,000, persuaded him to take his chance at Bath. Grenville remained nominally in contention until the eve of the election, but his chances of success were never good, and in the end he fell back on Fitzwilliam, who arranged his return for Aldeburgh on the Crespigny interest.1

For most of the period of internal crisis brought on the party by the French revolution Grenville, like other leading conservative Whigs, was concerned less with taking sides in the ideological debate than with trying to avert the threat posed to the unity of a party which derived its network of personal relationships and raison d'être from the events of 1782-4. Ultimately, his alarm at the direction which the Foxite section wished the party to take convinced him that traditional Whig principles were no longer relevant and that a new political alignment, inevitably entailing the destruction of the party, was called for. He so far misjudged Burke as to express to Fitzwilliam on 19 Apr. 1791 his belief that no rejoinder would be made to Fox’s eulogy of French principles four days earlier. When proved wrong, he accompanied Fox in his attempt to dissuade Burke from raising basic issues in the debate on the Quebec bill, 21 Apr., and the following day begged Fitzwilliam to persuade Burke to desist from fomenting discord within the party on the floor of the House. At that time, Grenville was taking Fox’s line in favouring repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. Yet, writing to Fitzwilliam on 28 Apr., he revealed that his fears of the effects of a public debate did not merely derive from ‘motives of expediency with respect to party connections and political union’, but were rooted in a fundamental political conservatism:

If there is any ground of serious apprehension in the course of opinions with respect to the government and constitution of this country, the true solid and manly defence of it is best made in adhering to the principles and practice of it, in resisting all dangerous innovations and in supporting against all change that which we acknowledge to be the established form of the government we live under but surely it is no part of this duty to agitate mere abstract questions of political rights, it is rather the duty of every thinking man to compose and temper those questions, than to subject them to those dangerous discussions from the contentions of which no man knows or sees all that may be to arise.2

He voted for Grey’s resolutions of 12 Apr. 1791 on the Oczakov crisis and on 25 May moved an address to the King, defeated by 208 votes to 114, which deplored the armament and asserted the principle that the crown’s prerogative of making war and peace should be exercised in consultation with the Commons. He voted for Whitbread’s motion on the same subject, 1 Mar. 1792.

The spread of political societies and the formation of the Association of the Friends of the People in the spring of 1792 prompted Grenville to side with the conservative wing of the Whig party against parliamentary reform in the debate of 30 Apr. He supported the royal proclamation, 25 May, but, in accordance with the prior resolution of the Whig leaders to soften asperities, his language was moderate. Although he was increasingly disturbed by events in France and their repercussions at home in the later months of 1792, Grenville, who was mentioned by Pitt to Portland as a possible choice as governor-general of Bengal in July, resented the attempts of Burke, Windham and Lord Loughborough to bring the conservative Whigs into closer alignment with the ministry and to encourage the adoption of a more aggressive military policy. To Fitzwilliam he observed that ‘a declaration of offensive war against France’, by provoking distress, inflaming the people and diminishing their resistance to contamination from French principles, ‘might probably at once produce here all the dangers and calamities which you and I equally fear’ and to Windham he rehearsed the arguments ‘against opposition making itself, by advising the executive government of this country, a blind and helpless instrument in the hands of administration’. He remained anxious to keep the best possible terms with Fox, and accordingly, though he declared himself ready to support a war provoked by French aggression, voted for his amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, as an indictment of the government’s internal policy. Supporting the aliens bill, 4 Jan. 1793, he expressed a hope that his connexion with Fox ‘by the present difference would be strengthened, not impaired’.3

The ambivalence of his position became even more pronounced with the outbreak of war. He rebuffed Windham’s efforts to draw him into the ‘third party’, allowed the Duke of Portland to consult him in the concoction of an acceptable resolution on Fox’s conduct for the Whig Club meeting of 19 Feb. and supported Fox’s motion of 21 Mar. 1793 to delay consideration of the traitorous intercourse prevention bill. Yet the war, as a specific issue, received his support. He ‘expressed himself very decidedly’, according to Pitt, against Fox’s amendment concerning the outbreak of hostilities, 12 Feb., and six days later voted against Fox’s resolutions laying the blame for the war on the British government. By the autumn of 1793 Grenville, whose name was still being mentioned for an Indian appointment, fully shared in the Portland Whigs’ awareness of the illogicality of their current political position, but, his distrust of Pitt dying hard, remained averse to a formal junction with ministers. In early December he pinned his faith on vigorous support of the war by a party entirely and demonstrably independent of both government and Friends of the People. The news of the fall of Toulon merely reinforced his conviction that the logic of events, at home and abroad, had made it impossible any longer to keep political terms with Fox, and on 29 Dec. he wrote sadly to sever their connexion.4

As a member, with Windham and Thomas Pelham, of the self-styled ‘virtuous triumvirate’, Grenville participated in the deliberations of the Portland Whigs before the new session. He voted for the address, 21 Jan., defended government on the issue of the foreign troops, 14 Mar. 1794, and in May sat on the committee of secrecy to consider measures to curb seditious activities. On 13 June he was a party to the deliberations of Portland, Spencer, Mansfield and Windham on the question of coalition with the ministry and advocated an immediate junction. When Windham threatened to disrupt the arrangements at the eleventh hour, Grenville travelled through the night to Norfolk and managed to break his resolution to decline office.5

He did not greatly profit from the coalition, for his immediate share in the spoils consisted of a joint mission with Lord Spencer to Vienna, with the object of encouraging the Emperor to greater exertions against France. When Fitzwilliam asked him to accompany him to Ireland as chief secretary when his own appointment as lord lieutenant was effected, he sought the advice of his younger brother Lord Grenville, who recommended him to seek instead long-term foreign employment. His aversion to this line of business, the poor progress of the current negotiations and an awareness that the Irish secretaryship, though disagreeable in itself, afforded perhaps the only immediate hope of forwarding his political ambitions, induced him to signify his willingness to accept if pressed. At the same time, he staked his claim to employment ‘at home’ thereafter. Lord Grenville kept him informed of the crisis of October caused by the dispute over the terms on which Fitzwilliam was to take over in Ireland and warned him not to commit himself before his return from Vienna. It was presumably the prospect of a rift in the new coalition, and the additional awkwardness caused by his brother Lord Buckingham’s determination to interpret Fitzwilliam’s appointment as a personal slight, which lay behind the ‘private and personal difficulties’ on which Grenville based his decision to decline the office when he returned home in November. He also turned down a three-year foreign mission pressed on him by Pitt and Lord Grenville. When Fitzwilliam was recalled from Ireland in February 1795, Grenville pleaded with him to remain in the cabinet, but did not hesitate to defend Portland and his colleagues against Fitzwilliam’s complaints and to offer to resign his seat if the Earl felt unable any longer to support government. Fitzwilliam absolved him from any such obligation.6 In April 1795 he introduced, but was forced to abandon, a bill to amend the Grenville Act governing the process of balloting for election committees.

His political reconciliation with the rest of his family was cemented by his return for his elder brother’s pocket borough of Buckingham at the general election of 1796. He was evidently inactive in debate, but he continued to support government, served on the secret committee of inquiry into the Bank stoppage in 1797 and voted for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. When Cornwallis replaced Camden as lord lieutenant of Ireland in June 1798, Pitt pressed Grenville to accept the office of chief secretary in the event of Thomas Pelham’s retirement, but Pelham’s decision to stay on saved him from the difficulty of deciding between his ‘utter aversion’ to the job and his ‘reluctance to decline any personal risk or inconvenience in these critical times’. When Pelham finally retired in November, Pitt favoured Grenville’s claims, but bowed to Cornwallis’s preference for Castlereagh. Lord Grenville thought his brother had been slighted, but rejoiced that ‘Tom is not to be embarked dans cette maudite galère’ and urged him to undertake a mission to Berlin and Vienna, with full power to treat with the Allies. Grenville swallowed his disappointment and reluctantly accepted the undertaking on his brother’s ‘assurances that his colleagues felt as strongly as himself the importance of my giving way to their wishes’, although according to Lord Minto, who was himself covetous of the job, neither Pitt nor Dundas would have chosen him but for Lord Grenville’s pressure, having doubts about ‘his zeal and animation in the cause’. The venture was dogged by misfortune. Repeated delays in starting because of bad weather, and a shipwreck in appalling conditions off Cuxhaven which almost cost him his life, so retarded Grenville’s arrival in Berlin that the French were able to frustrate his designs. He left Berlin in September 1799, did not proceed to Vienna and reached England in October. A proposal that he should stand for Oxford University, made during his absence, was declined.7

When Dundas retired as treasurer of the navy in May 1800 Grenville, though aware that the post was to go to Dudley Ryder, reminded his brother that, on the junction with Pitt, Portland had been authorized to promise himself and Pelham the first claim to Privy Council offices after Lord Mornington. Lord Grenville consulted Pitt, but told him (on the strength of Tom’s avowal that ‘I can have no intention of looking for a claim of six years to the leavings of Ryder, Steele and Canning’ and that ‘it is not in my temper to intrude any pretensions of mine where they are in any degree reluctantly admitted’) that his brother ‘would much rather release you from an engagement if taken, than urge its execution against your wishes and convenience’. Pitt was able to offer in July a life grant of the sinecure of chief justice in eyre south of Trent, worth £2,300 a year, which Grenville accepted, ‘thinking that this arrangement offers the possibility of more active parliamentary business than what has hitherto appeared to be within my reach’. In August 1800 he was designated British representative at the projected Lunéville peace conference, but Napoleon’s refusal to grant passports and the subsequent turn of events on the Continent kept him at home. His brother suggested in November that his going to Berlin might serve a useful purpose, but Grenville, who saw more advantage in the immediate conclusion by both Britain and Austria of separate treaties with France, and was in any case reluctant to embarrass his brother-in-law Carysfort, the envoy at Berlin, was unenthusiastic.8

During the six years which followed the fall of Pitt’s first ministry, Grenville’s political activities reached their peak of involvement and importance. Speaking more frequently in the House, he achieved a reputation for solid ability, and in the political realignment of these years he emerged briefly as a front-rank politician. Privately, he greeted Addington’s accession to power with ridicule, but he remained relatively inactive until the autumn of 1801, rejecting in the interim Lord Hawkesbury’s offer of the embassy to St Petersburg. Convinced that the military establishment must be maintained at its wartime level, he was alarmed by press reports of the peace terms, and on 3 Nov. 1801, in his first major speech for over seven years, he condemned the peace preliminaries as a feeble surrender of all the substantial gains of the war, a threat to the future security of the country and a shameful desertion of allies. His performance was widely praised. Quickening in his hostility to Addington’s government, he became involved early in 1802 with Windham in the support of Cobbett’s Political Register, but he differed from Windham in preferring ‘incidental discussion’ of ministerial incompetence to a general parliamentary attack. In February he discussed the political situation with Pitt and persuaded Lord Grenville to resume communications with him. He spoke briefly in favour of several minor motions concerning the Treaty of Amiens early in May, and on 13 May spoke and voted in support of Windham’s major attack.9

In September 1802, Grenville could not see ‘any credit or advantage to be got by active opposition’, but when Parliament opened he shared the buoyant mood of the Grenvillites, fresh from their conference at Stowe and fortified in their convictions by growing evidence of French militance. There was no truth in newspaper reports that Grenville was to stand for the Speaker’s chair against Charles Abbot. He supported the address, 23 Nov. 1802, because it acknowledged the necessity of taking military precautions, but he used the debate on the grant of an extraordinary supply of seamen, 2 Dec., to impugn the intelligence and competence of the government. His desire to see ‘vigorous minds in government’ also informed his attack on the army estimates, 9 Dec., when he denied that the Grenvilles and their associates ‘recommended provocation to hostility’, or sought a return to power with Pitt. Grenville approved his younger brother’s attempts to restore Pitt’s energies and correct his views early in 1803, but the confidence of the ‘new opposition’ had ebbed and his confession that he was unable ‘to look for any real good to be now done by pressing forward on our part’ reflected their increasing despondency and frustration. On 9 Mar. he deplored in the House the limited information given by ministers about French military preparations, but otherwise confined himself to private forecasts of their likely failure of nerve, taking comfort in his belief in the sagacity of ‘the line which we have taken in neither triumphing nor enlarging upon this early and complete proof of all our predictions’. Arguing that the renewal of hostilities was both just and expedient, he opposed Grey’s amendment to the address of 24 May and his emphatic support of Patten’s motion of censure, 3 June, was described by the Speaker as ‘very able’, by Whitbread as ‘as good a speech as could be made’ and by Fox, a year later, as ‘of the highest order’. Grenville himself clearly perceived the futility of opposition on its present footing, and although his private pronouncements on the incapacity of ministers lost none of their vehemence, he closed his own parliamentary session early and told Lord Grenville in August that, much as he deplored the government’s yeomanry and volunteer arrangements,

for us, who have taken the course of executing their measures instead of debating against them, the best and most consistent and most useful course will be to continue to try and make sense of their nonsense by doing whatever seems practicable and that, in so doing, we do what, for a hundred reasons, is better than the most eloquent protest which can be put upon the journals of Parliament.

He renewed the parliamentary assault in December 1803, having been alarmed by Fox’s apparent desire to prop up Addington in return for a dishonourable peace, in order to prevent Pitt’s return to power. Though aware of the danger that ‘the language one holds will be represented as opposing the prosecution of vigorous measures in Ireland’, he attacked the proposal to continue martial law there, 9 Dec., on the ground of his general lack of confidence in the government. Two days later he condemned their military arrangements as inadequate, and in passing criticized Pitt’s ‘contracted view’ of them.10

Grenville welcomed the plan to form a combined opposition early in 1804 and his old ties with Fox made him the obvious choice as emissary to St. Anne’s. He attacked the volunteer consolidation bill, 27 Feb., maintained constant communication with Fox, whose occasional exasperation with Pitt’s hesitancy he shared, and was prominent in the general parliamentary attack on Addington in March and April. Disgusted by Pitt’s decision to resume office without his erstwhile allies, he sided with Fox against Pitt in a discussion of the volunteer consolidation bill, 23 May. He apparently voted against the additional force bill for the first time on 15 June and, when speaking against its third reading, 19 June, he protested at the accusations of factious conduct which Pitt had levelled at the Grenvillites. In June he was put up by Lord Buckingham for the recently extended constituency of Aylesbury, to meet the challenge of William Cavendish. He was defeated, but re-elected for Buckingham, and, being eager to cement the alliance with the ‘old’ opposition, was less disposed than his brother to make an issue of the Cavendishes’ interference.11

From the vantage point of his London house, Grenville kept his younger brother closely informed of the negotiations between Pitt, George III and the Prince of Wales late in 1804, was present at a meeting of opposition leaders at Lord Moira’s on 14 Jan. 1805 and was included by the Prince in his discussions of March with ‘a few confidential friends’, on the framing of a memorandum to the King concerning the education of Princess Charlotte. Considering Pitt’s ‘allusion to his sense of the King’s objections’ to Catholic relief to be ‘inconsistent with his former conduct’ and unconstitutional, as ‘a direct use of the influence of the King’s name from the mouth of the minister to Parliament’, he stressed the necessity of marking opposition’s disapproval. He did not undertake the task himself and seems to have been relatively inactive in the House in 1805, apart from his full participation in the attack on Melville for alleged misappropriation of public funds, on which he took a stronger line than Lord Grenville.12

Although he did not anticipate any useful result from the feelers put out by Pitt to his brother in September 1805, Grenville was willing to assist in promoting ‘a real good understanding’, but he was also careful to communicate frankly with Fox, to preclude the danger of misunderstanding between the two wings of opposition. By 4 Oct. he had abandoned his hopes of seeing the formation of a genuine ‘broad-bottom’ administration but, while he understood Lord Grenville’s ‘reluctance to engage in the course of opposition’, he reminded him of ‘considerations affecting the possibility of future advantage from keeping our own friends together which are important enough to demand very serious reflection’. Like his brother, he was not disposed to criticize the war effort publicly, whatever his view of the ‘means, motives and persons employed in it’, as long as there remained a hope of its success but when, on the collapse of the third coalition, he received a letter from Fox arguing that there could now be no restraint on attacking ministers’ conduct of the war, he conceded the point. Aware that his brother viewed that conduct ‘in a less blameable light’, and perceiving that Pitt’s failing health raised the possibility of Fox and Lord Grenville being required to co-operate in office, he argued that ‘this is the moment for a full and unreserved explanation to take place between them’, and persuaded Lords Grenville, Spencer and Buckingham to meet Fox for discussions later in the month. In the interim, he wrote frankly to Fox of his brother’s reservations, and followed up his efforts to promote harmony by visiting Fox on 11 Jan. 1806, when he was delighted to find that his views on the question of making peace were ‘in no respect of the description which had been suspected’. He did not attend the debate of 27 Jan. 1806 on Pitt’s funeral honours.13

Grenville did not immediately receive office in his brother’s ministry. When difficulties arose over Lord Grenville’s holding both the Treasury and his sinecure auditorship of the Exchequer, he contemplated reverting to his original scheme of recommending Spencer as first lord, with Tom as chancellor of the Exchequer, but once the problem was settled his claims to the office do not seem to have been strongly pressed against those of Lord Henry Petty. In the negotiations attending the formation of the ministry and the allocation of offices and distribution of patronage, Grenville’s associations with Fox made him the ideal intermediary between the two major constituents of the coalition, but the role exposed him to Fox’s complaints of Lord Grenville’s lack of co-operation and he was further ruffled by the admission of Lord Sidmouth and his followers into the government.

During February and March Grenville passed on to his brother requests for patronage and electoral information and advised on the arrangement of minor offices. On 28 Feb. Fox sought his aid, ‘to enable me to humour as much as I can some of your brother’s extreme delicacies’ while on 18 Mar. Lord Grenville requested him to ‘get at Fox and talk to him about India’. In May he had to intervene in a potentially embarrassing squabble between Lord Buckingham and his son. He is not known to have spoken in the House during the 1806 session and he did not vote for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. As early as 27 Feb. he had pressed Lord Grenville to make at least temporary use of his seat to facilitate his arrangements, because ‘I am, as you know, so bad an attender that it is no sacrifice for me to make’. Accounts from friends and adversaries confirm that two months later he was in low spirits and imply that his discomfiture derived in some way from the rift between Grenvillites and Foxites in the Commons. Disappointment at the outcome of his labours since 1804 towards the creation of a genuine union of talents in government, rather than any serious physical deterioration, seems to have been behind the constant lamentations that his health could not sustain an active political career, which make their first appearance in his correspondence at this time.14

When Lord Minto was appointed governor-general of Bengal in June 1806, Lord Grenville insisted to Fox, who acquiesced, that Tom should succeed him at the Board of Control, with a seat in the cabinet. At the same time, the prime minister told the Speaker that his brother’s ‘health made it very doubtful whether he would be able to stand the wear and tear of the House of Commons’. Grenville had no time to make any impression at the India Office before the prospect of Fox’s death made inevitable a reorganization of the front bench in the Commons. Though ready to accept the larger role which he saw would be asked of him, he repeatedly warned that ‘my health and strength will never bear the trial’, and encouraged his brother’s negotiations with Canning, to whom he was willing to surrender his office, while remaining in the cabinet if Lord Grenville wished. When the negotiations foundered and it became necessary to repair the loss of Fox from existing material, Lord Grenville inclined towards placing Tom at the Home Office, while Buckingham yearned to see him with the foreign seals but the limitation of two secretaries of state in the Commons, and Windham’s refusal to take a peerage, forced Grenville to transfer Tom to the Admiralty, with a view to his exchanging places with Spencer and assuming the lead in the Commons in the event of Lord Howick’s removal to the Upper House. Grenville had made no secret of his aversion to the position, based partly on an awareness that Spencer had a more fitting claim, and more particularly on a fear that it ‘will engross all my time, and annihilate me for the House of Commons’ by early October he was complaining that he was ‘overpowered by the business, which leaves me not an instant of quiet, and breaks in upon my only fund of strength, my sleep’. The possibility of his contesting Oxford University recurred at the general election of 1806, but progressed no further than hesitant discussion, and his elder brother ‘put Tom to bed to his old wife Buckingham, instead of alma mater’.15

Grenville was no more at ease in the new year. Richard Ryder* told Lord Harrowby, 7 Jan. 1807, that ‘T. Grenville’s face of discomfort upon the Treasury bench is a chose à voir’. In his only known speech of any substance during the life of the ‘Talents’, 23 Jan., he moved for an additional supply of seamen, and provoked criticism by declaring his intention of arranging the future presentation of estimates ‘in a more detailed and intelligent shape’, which was construed by opposition as a slur on the efficiency and honesty of his predecessors. When Lord Grenville renewed his overtures to Canning in February, he asked Tom to try to mollify Howick’s irritation at the disregard of Whitbread’s claims. Grenville offered ‘to furnish every facility by giving Admiralty, or anything else that can best assist’, and his brother, resigned at last to the truth ‘that in the way in which I most looked to his aid, and in which it was most wanted, he can give me none, I mean in House of Commons debate’, specifically mentioned to Canning on 5 Mar. the possibility of his replacing Tom. In the cabinet deliberations on the King’s objections to the Roman Catholic army and navy service bill in March, Grenville advocated total concession of the measure, which he considered to be of doubtful value, but had no hesitation in refusing with his colleagues to accept the pledge required by George III.16

Early April found Grenville, unlike his younger brother, in favour of active opposition. He voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr., but soon afterwards, convinced that ‘the House of Commons is really mortal to me’, he offered to resign his seat. Lord Buckingham would not hear of it. He counselled abandonment of the constitutional issue as the main point of attack, and on 30 Apr. claimed ‘no disposition to withdraw myself from my humble share in the proscription with which we are menaced’ but in less than two months he was resigned to only a token attendance in the first session of the new Parliament. He voted against the address, 26 June, and replied ‘with great animation and effect’, according to his nephew, to Canning’s ‘insinuations’ concerning the expeditions to Turkey and Egypt mounted under the ‘Talents’.17

Grenville took an active part in the discussions which led to the appointment of George Ponsonby as leader of the Whig party in the Commons late in 1807, and from the moment of Lord Grey’s death insisted, against the arguments of his brother and Lord Holland, who were disposed to let the matter resolve itself, that a formal and generally acceptable appointment was vital to the preservation of the party. Having gained this point, he exerted himself in promoting Ponsonby, to whom he was drawn chiefly by an aversion to Whitbread. Holland and Fitzwilliam would have urged Grenville’s own claims, but both recognized that there was no hope of pressing him into service. He was initially inclined to approve the seizure of the Danish fleet, and certainly unwilling to condemn it out of hand, feeling that he could not do so with propriety as it bore too close a resemblance to the late government’s intentions regarding Portugal, of which he had disapproved. He was confirmed in his reticence by reports that Sidmouth was likely to declare against it. Grey was irritated by this ‘crotchet’, which ‘surpasses all the fancies we have hitherto known in him’, but Grenville, ‘most desirous of keeping us all together as we stand’, so far mastered his scruples as to feel able to vote for Ponsonby’s motion of 3 Feb. for information concerning the Copenhagen expedition. On 8 Feb. he was involved in a testy exchange with Canning over the Constantinople expedition, and a week later was reported to be ‘screaming with anger’ in a heated debate on Portugal. His last known speech was against the motion of censure on the Constantinople expedition, 20 May (described by Tierney as ‘an excellent statement of the case on the part of the Talents’), and his last recorded vote in the 1807 Parliament was for the Irish petition, 25 May 1808.18

In January 1809 Grenville told his brother that he did ‘not mean to give attendance this session’, and he evidently abided by this resolution until he vacated his seat for Lord Buckingham’s younger son early in 1810. He continued to participate in the deliberations of the opposition hierarchy, provided a useful link, with Tierney, between Lords Grenville and Grey and was active as a seeker andrelayer of opinions when the Whigs were cabinet-making in January 1811. There was talk of his taking the Admiralty if they formed a government, but when he discovered that some of the former Foxites objected to this idea, as well as to the notion of Lord Grenville’s retaining his sinecure auditorship as he had in 1806, he formally renounced to Grey his claim to any salaried office.19

When Lord Temple succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Buckingham in February 1813 he was at a loss for a replacement for himself in the county seat. Grenville offered the use of his ‘name and shadow’ until his nephew’s son came of age in 1818 but, as he informed Lord Grenville,

told him that no case, not even that of you and Grey being the ministers, would ever again make me a public man and that the utmost I can do . is, to go down to the House for three or four of the great questions only and that to mark my determination of retirement, I should on those occasions sit up in the gallery till the division.

He kept his word, and his only known votes in the 1812 Parliament were for the Catholic relief bill, 13 and 24 May 1813, against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and for his nephew Charles Williams Wynn’s bid for the Speakership, 2 June 1817. He paired in favour of Catholic relief, 9 May, and for the continued suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. Talk of peace in the autumn of 1813 alarmed him enough to make him threaten to ‘buckle on his armour, make a speech and mount his war horse’, but the emptiness of the rumours relieved him of the necessity and he suppressed his first impulse to speak and vote on the question of Norwegian independence, on which he differed from Lords Grenville and Buckingham, in June 1814.

Grenville continued to see Tierney at the turn of each year, thereby briefly perpetuating the usefulness of his role in the wings of the political stage, but the separation of the Grenvillites from the main body of the Whig opposition ended even this. His academic interest in politics was unabated, and issued in a steady flow of news, comment and advice to his brother and nephew but his refusal to marry theory and practice increasingly irritated more active combatants. In 1816 Tierney found him ‘more slow and tiresome than ever’, and the following year Grey, to Lady Spencer’s secret delight, delivered a savage attack on those who uselessly occupied seats in Parliament, which was aimed obliquely, but effectively, at an embarrassed Grenville.20

Grenville’s failure to attain the independent stature at the highest level of politics which his connexions and abilities placed within his reach was apparently one of the will. At the same time, his ties of blood and friendship with leading figures, his ability to draw out opinions from others, his belief in the value of unreserved communication and his willingness to make himself accessible, gave him a useful role, and his views were generally worthy of the respect of his associates. He was by far the most attractive and popular of the Grenvilles who were active in politics in this period: on hearing that he had survived his ordeal on the ice in 1799 Lady Bessborough wrote:

The general anxiety about him and joy for his safety must be very flattering to him if he ever knows it. It was the highest of all honours, the homage paid to worth, for had either of his brothers been in the same situation, neither their titles, their riches, or their places would have gained them half the interest that was shown for him.

He enjoyed a long and graceful retirement, which he devoted largely to the improvement of his magnificent library. Charles Greville, who came to know him intimately in the last years of his life, was fascinated by this ‘remarkable man, with his mind so fresh and firm, and teeming with recollections, a sort of link between the living and the dead’.21 He died 17 Dec. 1846.

Leader of the opposition

Out of office, Grenville became leader of a Whig opposition to his former Pittite colleagues, whose stance on the Catholic issue led him now to regard them unequivocally as ‘Tories’. Differences over policy with Foxite allies and the government’s successful prosecution of the war, however, limited his effectiveness, and in 1817 he retired from the role. A stroke in 1823 did not prevent his occasional and effective intervention in political debates before his death on 12 January 1834 on his estate at Dropmore, Buckinghamshire.

25 October 1759, Buckinghamshire

12 January 1834, Buckinghamshire

Dates in office
1806 to 1807

Political party

Major acts
Slave Trade Act 1807: abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.

Copyright Professor Arthur Burns. This article was produced as part of the No10 Guest Historian series, coordinated by History & Policy.

Watch the video: Unveiling the Lord William Wyndham Grenville Memorial