DE GREY, Thomas (1748-1818), of Merton, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. 14 July 1748, o. surv. s. of William de Grey. educ. Eton 1760-5; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1766. m. 30 Apr. 1772, Hon. Augusta Georgiana Elizabeth Irby, da. of William, 1st Baron Boston, 2s. 2da. suc. fa. as 2nd Baron Walsingham, 9 May 1781, and his uncle Thomas de Grey to his Merton estates, 23 June 1781.
Groom of the bedchamber 1771-7; ld. of Trade June 1777-81; under-sec. of state for American dept. Feb. 1778-Sept. 1780; vice-treasurer [I] 1784-7; jt. postmaster gen. 1787-94; chairman of committees, House of Lords, 1794-1814.
De Grey’s return for Wareham on the interest of the late John Calcraft was negotiated by Lord North with Calcraft’s executors and with Philip Francis.1 He spoke and voted, 25 Feb. 1774, against making the Grenville Act permanent;2 Lord Townshend described his speech as ‘most able and well delivered’;3 and at the general election of 1774 returned him for Tamworth. At the opening of the new Parliament, 5 Dec. 1774, de Grey seconded the Address; and spoke several times in 1775, always on the Government side, and mostly on colonial problems. When on 5 June 1777 places were vacant at the Board of Trade and the Green Cloth, North offered Lord George Germain the choice of Sir Ralph Payne or de Grey. ‘De Grey deserves to be advanced’, wrote the King next morning;4 and he was to go to the Board of Trade. ‘No office under Heaven ... would I have accepted’, wrote de Grey to Charles Hotham5 on 16 June, ‘if I was not at liberty to be as much about his Majesty’s person as ever, though not officially. The office I have quitted is one of the most agreeable as well as one of the most honourable that any commoner can enjoy.’ He speaks of his ‘unalterable attachment’ to the King—but he had to subordinate personal considerations to the interests of his family. ‘I owe my appointment to this office entirely to Lord George Germain.’ In February 1778 de Grey was appointed under-secretary to Germain, ‘whose kindness to me’, he wrote on 22 Sept. 1780, ‘has always been more that of a parent than a principal in office’. He repeatedly spoke in the House on matters connected with his department. The Public Ledger described him in 1779 as ‘a plodding, busy, persevering young man, and fit for such an employment of real business’; but his letters are fairly colourless, and his speeches as a rule received but short notice.
When the King asked North, on 27 Dec. 1780, to suggest some proper person for vice-chamberlain to the Queen (it was understood, replied North, that ‘the person should be of a noble family ... of genteel manners, good character, a married man, and not very young’) North named de Grey as one of four possible candidates, adding however that he did believe de Grey would not wish ‘to quit his seat at the Board of Trade’. The King replied the next day: ‘Mr. de Grey would certainly not resign the Board of Trade for it, besides his manner is certainly not quite genteel and from his hurry he might fill the office but awkwardly.’6
Robinson wrote against Tamworth in his survey for the general election of 1780: ‘Mr. de Grey will not come in again here. Who Lord Townshend will elect is not known.’ The seat at Lostwithiel was bought for de Grey from Lord Edgcumbe by the Government for £3,000, to which de Grey’s father contributed £1,000, the usual share for servants of the Crown.7 When William de Grey was about to be created a peer Charles Sackville, on 21 Sept. 1780, wrote to Hotham about Thomas: ‘de Grey as eldest son to a peer can no longer hold the under-secretaryship’; and when he succeeded as 2nd Lord Walsingham, a place at the Board of Trade was considered beneath his rank. But although by that time he had inherited two fortunes, according to Selwyn he got Robinson to ‘job away’ half a year’s salary of his successor, A. M. Storer,
in order to put one quarter more into the pocket of Lord Walsingham, who had the pride acquired by his title, of disdaining to be in a new patent, and so pressing that the old might not expire till he had received £200 more salary.8
In the House of Lords Walsingham was a frequent speaker, especially on colonial matters. On 17 Feb. 1783 he spoke against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries; but on 30 June voted in favour of Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform. Viscount Sackville wrote to William Knox on 4 July:
Lord Walsingham ... has at last ventured to vote in opposition. I am glad he takes any decided part; it was too unbecoming in him to be suing to every minister, without attachment to any individual or any settled system. I think he cannot do wrong if he is admitted into Lord Thurlow’s train, for Lord Temple and his Lordship will probably form the next Administration.
He also voted against Fox’s East India bill, 15 Dec. 1783; and henceforth adhered to Pitt. A conscientious and able administrator, he was one of the best post masters general of the period and ‘paid inveterate attention to business and accounts’.9
He died 16 Jan. 1818.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. North to Ld. March, 19 Jan. 1774, Cely-Trevelyan Coll. vi. f. 141, Soc. of Antiquaries of London; Parkes Merivale, Mems of Francis, i. 343.
- 2. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 252, pp. 168-9.
- 3. To J. Hely-Hutchinson, 25 Feb. 1774, HMC 12th Rep. IX, 278.
- 4. Fortescue, iii. 452-3.
- 5. Hotham mss, E. Riding RO, Beverley.
- 6. Fortescue, v. 170-2.
- 7. Laprade, 24, 58-59.
- 8. Selwyn to Ld. Carlisle, 11 Dec. 1781, HMC Carlisle, 540; Storer to Carlisle, 11 Dec., ibid. 548; Walpole to Countess of Upper Ossory, 18 Dec. 1781.
- 9. K. L. Ellis, Post Office in the 18th Cent. 111.