GRENVILLE, George (1712-70), of Wotton, Bucks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1741 - 13 Nov. 1770

Family and Education

b. 14 Oct. 1712, 2nd s. of Richard Grenville, M.P., by Hester, da. of Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Bt., M.P., and sis. and h. of Richard, 1st Visct. Cobham (she suc. by sp. rem. to his viscountcy in Sept. 1749 and was cr. Countess Temple in October).  educ. Eton 1725-8; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1730; I. Temple 1729, called 1735, bencher 1763.  m. May 1749, Elizabeth, 2nd da. of Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt., M.P., 4s. 5da.

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty 1744-7; of Treasury 1747-54; P.C. 21 June 1754; treasurer of navy, Mar. 1754-Nov. 1755, Nov. 1756-Apr. 1757, June 1757-May 1762; sec. of state May-Oct. 1762; first ld. of Admiralty Oct. 1762-Apr. 1763; first ld. of Treasury Apr. 1763-July 1765.


George Grenville, during his first 20 years in politics, was overshadowed by his rich and domineering brother, Lord Temple, on whose interest he sat at Buckingham (and who could have cut him out of the entail), and by William Pitt, since 1754 his brother-in-law, to whom he played second fiddle in the Commons. They treated him with patronising benevolence, but neither greatly exerted himself on his behalf.

In the reshuffle on Pelham’s death in March 1754, Pitt thought that Grenville should have the Exchequer or the War Office; when he was made treasurer of the navy, hoped this would lead on to the Exchequer; and wrote to Temple on 8 Apr.:1 ‘George Grenville’s turn must come for greater things; there I lay the stress.’ And to Hardwicke on 4 Apr.:2 ‘Mr. Grenville is universally able in the whole business of the House and, after Mr. Murray and Mr. Fox, is among the very first, if not the best Parliament-man in the House.’ Yet he was suffered by Pitt and Temple, when they were in office during the next seven years, to remain treasurer of the navy.

In October 1756, when Pitt was negotiating with Hardwicke for a re-entry of their group into the Government, ‘he informed us’, writes Grenville, ‘that he had stated me for the office of paymaster ... and that it was consented to without any difficulty’. But a few weeks later Pitt let the pay office be divided between Potter and Dupplin.3 In May 1757 he proposed Grenville for chancellor of the Exchequer, but in the end agreed to his being merely restored to his previous place. Meanwhile Grenville was doing Pitt’s chores in the House, accounted an excellent man of business but hardly a statesman. By 1760 he wished to withdraw from active politics to the Speaker’s Chair, for which he was eminently qualified. But before the election came on in November 1761, a change occurred not wholly unforeseen.

Grenville was a favourite with the new court, addressed by Bute as ‘Dear George’. ‘The King commended George Grenville extremely’, wrote Newcastle to Hardwicke, 9 Jan. 1761; ‘approved him very much [for Speaker], if he liked it; but would himself have rather kept him for some employment of greater consequence.’4 This made Newcastle fear a further attempt to foist Grenville on him as chancellor of the Exchequer. On 11 Feb. Bute informed Grenville that he would be of the [Nominal] Cabinet—‘Let me congratulate you, my worthy friend, on this additional honour; may I see many added to it.’5 But this did not give Grenville the circulation of Cabinet papers; and Bute (told by Gilbert Elliot on 26 Feb. that he had found Grenville uninformed by ‘any of his own family’ of what was transacting6), when appointed secretary of state, immediately ordered his private secretary, Charles Jenkinson, confidentially to communicate to Grenville ‘all things of importance’7.

On Pitt’s resignation, 2 Oct., Bute offered his place to Grenville who declined it; even so the King pressed him to assume the leadership of the House. But Grenville, frightened of Pitt and distrustful of Newcastle and Fox, begged the King to let him ‘go into the Chair, which situation was on many accounts far the most eligible to him’; and stated his own want of support and the danger of being finally abandoned ‘in the midst of his enemies’.8 To reassure him Bute, on 13 Oct. sent Elliot with a letter which he was to show to Grenville but return to Bute because of its disparaging remarks about Newcastle. After Elliot had left, Grenville dictated to his wife a summary of some 600 words;9 the original is among the Bute mss.

You desired me at parting [wrote Bute in the opening paragraph] to think on the painful discourse that we had had together, painful to me indeed beyond description wherein I saw manifestly all the symptoms of a mind extremely agitated turning every incident in the blackest light and viewing with an eye of despondency every part of your intended situation.

Yet even then Grenville was already subconsciously cutting out Bute as a superior intervening between himself and the King—this is shown by two omissions in his summary, significant because unintentional. Bute wrote:

Your eyes will see and from you I shall hear the transactions of each day. Part of your duty will be to report to the King the conduct of these gentlemen. The King will be informed. That is sufficient. For when you know him better you will find a firmness extremely calculated to support his own authority delegated by him to others.

But this is how Grenville remembered it—‘myself’ being Grenville:

Information from myself of what passed: daily representation by myself in the Closet of the conduct and proofs which I should daily receive from experience of the King’s resolution.

Daily reporting by him to the King but none to Bute. Again in Bute’s letter:

... from the minute you are there, your honour my honour, your disgrace, my disgrace is his, to all intents and purposes ...

But in Grenville’s summary:

... that the King ... would support me to the utmost, my honour his honour, my disgrace his disgrace ...

Once more Bute is eliminated, and Grenville remains alone with the King: long shadows of a future as yet unperceived.

Grenville was nearly 50, and had never stood alone. Now Temple forbade him the house, and Pitt treated him with cold contempt: he felt unnerved. Could he assume the leadership of the House without parliamentary backing of his own? When Bute secured for him Fox’s support,

What a figure shall I make? [Grenville said to Newcastle] Mr. Fox has superior parliamentary talent to me; Mr. Fox has a great number of friends in the House of Commons, attached strongly to him; Mr. Fox has great connections, I have none; I have no friends; I am now unhappily separated from my own family.10

So Bute, ‘teased out of his life’, had now to save Grenville from being eclipsed by Fox’s support. ‘Mr. Fox will attend every day’, wrote Shelburne to Bute,11‘and will either by silence or by speaking as he finds it prudent ... do his best to forward what your Lordship wishes.’ Grenville’s brother-in-law, Lord Egremont, succeeded Pitt as secretary of state, and he himself, while remaining treasurer of the navy, became minister for the House of Commons with a seat in the Effective Cabinet, the only Commoner in it. An unrelenting worker, in action he gradually recovered from the anxieties and self-doubt which, acute at this turn in his career, he had avowed, but which, cautious and formal in his approach, he was usually able to repress, or at least to disguise.

An illuminating sketch of Grenville is given by his cousin and devoted but not uncritical follower, Thomas Pitt jun.12

Mr. Grenville ... was of all the heads of party the worst patron ... he weighed every favour in the nicest scale; but I knew my honour would be always safe with him ... He had nothing seducing in his manners. His countenance had rather the expression of peevishness and austerity ... He was to a proverb tedious ... he was diffuse and argumentative, and never had done with a subject after he had convinced your judgment till he wearied your attention—the foreign ministers complained of his prolixity which they called amongst each other, the being Grenvilisé. The same prolixity rendered him an unpleasant speaker in the House of Commons ... Yet though his eloquence charmed nobody, his argument converted ... The abundance of his matter, his experience of the forms and practice of the House ... his accurate knowledge of the laws and history of his own country ... his wariness never to suffer himself to be drawn out beyond the line he had prescribed to himself ... his skill upon all matters of finance, of commerce, of foreign treaties, and above all the purity of his character ... gave him ... weight ... He never took notes; he never quitted his seat for refreshment in the longest debates, and generally spoke the last, when his strength and his memory served him to recollect every argument that had been used, and to suffer scarce a word of any consequence to escape his notice ... He was a man born to public business, which was his luxury and amusement. An Act of Parliament was in itself entertaining to him, as was proved when he stole a turnpike bill out of somebody’s pocket at a concert and read it in a corner in despite of all the efforts of the finest singers to attract his attention. Order and economy were so natural to him that he told me from the first office he ever held till he became minister he had made it an invariable rule to add the year’s salary to his capital contenting himself with carrying the interest the succeeding year into his expenses. His prudence rather bordered upon parsimony.

During the session Nov. 1761-May 1762, as leader of the House Grenville had to face Pitt in debates on foreign affairs. Bute’s congratulations on 10 Dec. were warm but condescending: ‘this will do, my dear friend, and shows you to the world in the light I want.’13 By intervening in Treasury business, which his position as leader of the House enabled him to do, Grenville was instrumental in forcing Newcastle from office. But when Bute, though ignorant of finance, was about to assume the Treasury, Grenville would not serve as his chancellor of the Exchequer—his ‘mind revolting against what [Bute] had ever looked upon as fixed’.14 ‘I am inclined to think ...’, the King had written to Bute on 6 May, ‘that Grenville is weak enough to think he may succeed the Duke of Newcastle.’ He looked to a post ‘where he could ... figure more than as an assistant in a Board’.15 After having thrust Grenville into the front rank, the King and Bute were taken aback at his enhanced self-esteem.

Grenville succeeded Bute as secretary of state, for which post he was ill-qualified. In the summer further differences arose between them: Grenville insisted on peace terms higher than Bute ‘could be brought to consent to’; and as manager of the House desired authority to talk to the Members ‘upon their several claims and pretensions’, which Bute would not concede. Consequently a Government reshuffle was undertaken, but Grenville was informed only after things had been fixed:16 Fox replaced him as leader of the House, and Halifax as secretary of state. Grenville, relegated to the Admiralty, tamely submitted, and on 14 Oct. ‘with good humour delivered up the seals’.17

‘Grenville has thrown away the game he had two years ago’, wrote the King to Bute, 14 Mar. 1763, when discussing who should succeed him at the Treasury.18 But Fox, having declined it, on 17 Mar. ‘very reluctantly’ recommended Grenville; Shelburne, however, was to replace Egremont as secretary of state.19 Although the King himself was averse to Shelburne, his appointment was pressed on Grenville when on 24 Mar. Bute offered him the Treasury—‘if Lord Egremont’s quitting the seals, or Shelburne having them’ are insurmountable obstacles to him, wrote Bute to Grenville the next day, ‘I must in a few hours put other things in agitation’. Grenville replied in a very long and submissive letter: he did not ‘presume to suggest who is the most proper for that high office’, but thought it his duty before he ‘entered upon such a situation’ to state his opinion ‘upon those parts of the system which have been opened’ to him. And further: ‘If your Lordship had allowed me to consult with some of those who must bear the greatest share in it ...’—a unique performance in Government making.20 Even Grenville’s own Board was being fixed for him by Bute; and the King told him ‘that I received him in the Treasury as recommended by my dear friend [Bute] and as such should support him’.21

One reason for Bute’s wishing to remove Egremont had been that, in order to preserve the King’s independence, men ‘too much allied’ should not hold ‘the active posts of Government’. The King agreed, but hoped that ‘Grenville’s coming into the Treasury will so hurt Halifax that it will dissolve his union’ with the two brothers-in-law.22 When Halifax and Egremont were re-appointed secretaries of state, they and Grenville were enjoined by Bute and the King to preserve ‘a strict union’ not only among themselves but with all defenders of Government, ‘as the only means of supporting the King’s independency’. The emphasis was really on union with those others, Shelburne being specifically mentioned;23 but ‘a strict union’ among themselves to the exclusion of the other ministers, became the practice of the Triumvirate,24 a most anomalous formation: which can be viewed as the premiership in commission or as the narrowest Effective Cabinet on record. Hardwicke noted as early as 8 Apr. that the two secretaries ‘talked in the style of the ministers’;25 and one of them told a foreign minister ‘in form’ that the three were the ministry, and ‘that everything important was to be determined by their unanimous opinion’.26 Grenville admitted them even to an equal share in patronage: an unprecedented procedure which shows how weak he felt as head of the Government. Perhaps that uncertainty made him, when taking the Treasury, stipulate for the reversion of a teller’s place for his son and £3,000 p.a. for himself when out of office—‘a shameful thing, never heard of before’, wrote Newcastle on 3 June;27 and the King to Bute, 27 Apr.: ‘I told him ... for his own sake he had better not have wished it now, but his avarice overcame his prudence.’28

Bute haunted the new Administration: had he never again interfered in government, the part of ‘minister behind the curtain’ would still have been ascribed to him; and within a month the ministers were saying that they would quit if they found him acting it.29 Their minds became ‘cankered with the most violent jealousies against him’, wrote the King,30 who, to break up the Triumvirate, offered the vacant presidency of the Council to Hardwicke. On his refusing, the King embarked, early in August, on wider schemes of Government reconstruction, next rendered inevitable by Egremont’s sudden death on the 21st. In these negotiations Bute was a prime mover; why they failed is not altogether clear even now. But their failure, and the accession of the Bedfords, strengthened Grenville’s position; and Bute himself wrote to the King that he desired to retire absolutely from all business and even absent himself from the King till the Administration was firmly established. Of this the King informed Grenville when asked by him on 28 Aug. to let in future ‘no secret influence whatever’ prevail against the advice of his ministers; and the next day read out to him part of Bute’s letter:31 whereupon Grenville, without first asking the King’s leave, repeated in an account of the crisis circulated to his friends, that Bute would retire even ‘from the presence and place of residence’ of the King.32 Public use of what Bute ‘intended should have remained a secret’, was greatly resented by him,33 and no doubt also by the King, despite consent obtained from him post factum. Tactless and insensitive, Grenville little realised, and still less foresaw, the impression or impact of his actions on others.

To follow up the history of Grenville’s Administration would by far transcend the scope and limits of this biography: only certain aspects characteristic of him and of his position especially with regard to the King, colleagues, and the House of Commons, can be touched upon. In the new Government Bedford was president of the Council, and Sandwich and Halifax secretaries of state, and the three formed with Grenville an Inner Cabinet or junta within the Effective Cabinet: when in January 1764 they decided to dine together once a week, the King’s suggestion (he wanted an observer at these meetings) that the chancellor should be included, was ignored.34 Yet a common front with the three against Bute did not stop Grenville from appealing to the King for support against them.

The conversation with the King as related in the Grenville diary on 8 Sept. 1763, the day before the new ministers kissed hands, gives the leitmotif of many a later entry. Grenville started by trying to rechew the story of the late crisis.

The King said ... let us not look back, let us only look forward; nothing of that sort shall ever happen again. Mr. Grenville said he hoped not; that he put himself entirely upon his Majesty’s protection.

He had advised the King to call to his Government Bedford and Sandwich in order to strengthen it—

these might prove too strong for him, his only reliance was upon his Majesty’s truth and honour, and on that he trusted he might depend. The King assured him he might; that he would never fail him, nor forget his services. His Majesty again dropped something of Lord Bute’s retreat not being necessary, or at least might be shortened.
Mr. Grenville dissented, and spoke again of the great uneasiness and ferment there was against him.

Within a week of joining the Government Bedford raised the question of ‘the disposal of offices’; a month later, Halifax and Sandwich suggested that Grenville should continue with them the Triumvirate’s partnership in patronage. But Grenville’s invariable reply was that while he was understood to manage the King’s business in the House of Commons, he would never consent that any offices tenable by Members ‘should go through any channel but his own’;35 and he told Halifax on 13 Oct. that while Bedford, Holland, and Sandwich ‘had been forming a party for themselves for these twenty years’, he had none, and therefore had to ‘reap what aid he could from patronage’. This, in fact, he extended through Treasury control far beyond the House of Commons. The King, to separate Grenville from his colleagues, encouraged his claim to exclusive patronage; expressed disapproval ‘of the factions of great lords who are making parties for themselves’; and declared that ‘it was necessary to lodge the power of Government in one man alone ... Mr. Grenville’, through whom ‘all recomendations and appointments should come’.36 The King talked ‘a good deal of Lord Sandwich, with whom he always seems displeased’; and complained also of Halifax and Bedford.37 He went even further: told Grenville ‘that the rest of the ministers acted against him’; and that Sandwich and Halifax ‘do not act fairly’ by Grenville.38 And on 26 Feb. 1764, ‘I know the difference between you and the rest of my servants; they have many purposes to serve, you have none but my service, and that of the public.’ Grenville readily lapped up such remarks; and on 13 Aug. 1764, finding the King graciously disposed towards him, asked for the grant of a lighthouse (to become available in four years), a sinecure worth about £2500 p.a., ‘as a provision for his younger children, who, from various circumstances relating to the unhappy state of his family, might be left in difficulties’.39 Even by the standards of the time Grenville’s behaviour, as avowed in his diary, failed to uphold the dignity of his office.

Nor did he realize how much his manner and discourses irritated George III, and with obtuse pertinacity he tried to force his way into the King’s private life and favour. In September 1763 he pressed the King to let him succeed Bute as keeper of the privy purse, which the King refused: Bute had held it not as first lord of the Treasury but as ‘his immediate friend’, and the King ‘claimed the right of disposing of an office so immediately about his person’.40 Again, in April 1764 Grenville asked the King to let him inhabit the New Lodge in Richmond Park (obviously to be near the King even there); and when the King (not to be Grenvilisé in his leisure hours) refused, Grenville invoked the intercession of Bute who, to the dissatisfaction of ministers, had come up to London.41 But by mid-1764 Grenville was becoming aware of failure as would-be favourite—he said to James Harris on 11 June42 that

his years compared to the King (52 to 26) did not promise any great degree of intimacy as a favourite, that if it were feasible to become so, he had not time for that character, and to do the public business—that he was perfectly well with Lord Bute.

By the end of the year there were expostulations and ‘pretty strong’ remonstrances on Grenville’s part, while the King was cold, distant, and embarrassed.43 Grenville complained of inferior persons about the King who indisposed him ‘to his principal servants’; of ‘lukewarm friends to Government’ who, while professing attachment to the King, ‘thought themselves at liberty to oppose his measures and ministers’; and of ‘want of a thorough support and countenance from the King to his principal servants’.44 What brought about the change is uncertain: most probably questions of patronage and a renascent suspicion that Bute was interfering. There were frequent disputes between Grenville and Bute’s brother, James Stuart Mackenzie, about Scottish appointments. Early in 1765 Grenville warned Charles Townshend that ‘if he wished to attain any situation in the King’s service through any channel but Mr. Grenville’s ... Mr. Grenville would quit that moment’; and Townshend assured Grenville that ‘he was in no communication with Lord Bute’.45 Lastly there is the incident with Thomas Worsley, an intimate friend of Bute’s. George III wrote in a memorandum in the autumn of 1765:46

No office fell vacant in any department that Mr. Grenville did not declare he could not serve if the man he recommended did not succeed. A very strong instance of this insolence appeared in his sending for Mr. Worsley, the surveyor of the works, and abusing him for my having curtailed the painter’s office, and he used this very remarkable expression, that if men presumed to speak to me on business without his leave that he would not serve an hour; had I followed my own inclinations I certainly should have dismissed him the moment I heard this.

It was typical of Grenville that he raged over the curtailing of a painter’s office, but did not object in the least when about an important talk which Sandwich had with the Austrian ambassador he spoke to the King before acquainting Grenville with it.47 In fact, foreign affairs engaged his attention mainly when they bore on finance—witness his differences with Bedford, Halifax, and Sandwich in 1764 over the outstanding accounts with the French. Bute had described him to Charles Yorke in April 1763 as ‘a very worthy and able man ... whose turn lay towards the revenue, and to that public economy, which was so much wanted.’48 He reduced the unfunded debt; tried to reform the revenue; insisted on its officials, many of whom had considered their salaries as sinecures, attending to their duties; boasted of having ‘saved great sums’ in contracts he had made; and of having ‘never quartered a person on a place ... nor ... suffered a place to be sold’.49 And in one of his expostulatory discourses to the King: ‘that he had neither pressed him for grants, honours, nor pensions, that the secret service money was by a great deal less than under any other minister’50 (the grants and pensions he had obtained for himself and his family he conveniently forgot). The orderly routine of Grenville’s administration was appreciated by officials—thus Sir James Porter, minister to Brussels, wrote to Sir George Amyand on 11 Sept. 1764: ‘Mr. Grenville will deserve a statue from all the King’s servants, especially those abroad. I see we shall now be paid regularly.’51

Opponents as well as friends paid tribute to Grenville’s budget of March 1764: Horace Walpole wrote that Grenville opened it fully, ‘for brevity was not his failing; but he did it with art and ability’;52 and Harris that the speech of 2¾ hours ‘was perfectly well heard the whole time, and gained the applause of the whole House’. Country gentlemen, many of whom had voted against the Government over general warrants, and who had never attended ministerial levees, met at his ‘by agreement’53 because they appreciated his care of the tax-payer’s money, an attitude not encountered for years past. Even the great blunder of that budget, the scheme for taxing America, was meant to relieve the unfair burden of the British tax-payer, and did not spring from a desire to assert Britain’s supremacy over the Colonies. But Grenville, being of a legalistic turn of mind—himself bred to the law—failed to see why this country should not avail itself of a power of which he thought it duly possessed. Similarly over Wilkes and general warrants he merely followed the opinion of the law officers, without entertaining any of the arbitrary notions ascribed to him. He thought in terms of administration and law rather than of policy. Yet by the end of 1764 his Government seemed firmly established in office, in line of succession to Walpole’s and Pelham’s.

Relations between the King and his ministers were, however, already moving toward a crisis when his illness in Feb.-Mar. 1765 caused him, on recovering, to propose a Regency bill in which he reserved to himself the power to appoint the Regent without naming the person in the Act. This revived anti-Bute suspicions, and the attempt of the ministers to exclude the Princess Dowager from the Regency (in which Halifax and Sandwich involved the King) hardened his determination to change the Government. During these tense weeks Grenville, feeling the ground slip from under his feet, plied the King with exhortations and reproaches: ‘with a firm and steady countenance’ he complained of being shown little ‘confidence and communication’ upon the subject of the bill; of the King having visibly withdrawn ‘even his approbation from him’; and he engaged in long self-laudatory discourses.54 When the King, having failed to form a new Government, on 21 May asked him to continue in office and ‘pressed for a categorical answer’, Grenville expatiated on the sacrifices he had made for the King’s service, on the promises he had received, etc. The terms which the ministers, obsessed by the idea that Bute had been the prime mover in the crisis, imposed on the King as conditions of their resuming office included the dismissal of J. S. Mackenzie from the Scottish privy seal which the King had promised him for life; and they insisted on it although according to Grenville’s own account the King told him ‘he should disgrace himself if he did’.55 And here is George III’s account to Egmont:56

That he told him [Grenville] he saw evidently that they were not satisfied with his parting with his power, but that nothing would content him, but his parting with his honour too—bid him take notice what he told him—and earnestly and in great anger bid him take notice of this—more than once—that he had forced him to part with his honour—that as a King for the safety of his people he must submit.

Thereupon Grenville, according to his diary, begged the King rather to dismiss him ‘than to put him under the cruel dilemma of thinking that he was forcing his inclination’.

Dismissed he was seven weeks later without a chance of return. When on 10 July he surrendered the seal of his office, he went once more over the story of his official career (the summary of his discourse in the diary exceeds 1700 words). The King ‘was civil, imputing no blame, but giving no word of approbation throughout the whole conversation’. George III recalled Pitt and Newcastle after having vowed never to employ them again; but not Grenville. Lord Holland wrote to George Selwyn, 27 Aug. 1765:57

I am persuaded, Selwyn, that the King, who we can see can swallow anything almost, could not, however, bear his conversation. A dose, so large and so nauseous, often repeated, was too much for any body’s stomach.

In October 1761, and even in April 1763, Grenville was without a following of his own; in July 1765 quite a respectable array of Members went with him into opposition. Most of these could, however, hardly be classed as followers: there were the Bedfords who under the Rockingham Administration invariably went with Grenville, but began to waver under Chatham; similarly, unconnected officeholders, displaced by the Rockinghams and gradually reinstated 1766-8. Grenville’s personal followers (to whom Grenville’s reconciliation with Temple in May 1765 added none in the Commons) were a small and heterogeneous group, dwindling and neglected by him once it became clear that he would not return to office.58 But perhaps most significant is the position which Grenville had established for himself among the so-called Tory country gentlemen. Harris wrote in a memorandum on the crisis of May-July 1765, under date of 23 May:59

Great encomiums of Mr. Grenville by all persons. The persons of the first rank and credit at the Cocoa Tree declared for him. On Tuesday last [21 May] he had a very full levée, when were Sir James Dashwood, Sir Charles Tynte, Sir Robert Burdett, Sir Walter Bagot, and many others.

And as their support was disinterested, it was more enduring—in January 1767 Charles Townshend, in an incomplete list places against 14 of them ‘Grenville’, to whom several others could certainly be added. They respected Grenville’s character, approved of his economy, and also of his American measures.

Grenville in his last talk with the King, on 10 July, besought him60

not to suffer any one to advise him to separate ... his British and American dominions; that his Colonies was the richest jewel of his Crown; that for his own part he must uniformly maintain his former opinions both in Parliament and out of it; ... that if any man ventured to defeat the regulations laid down for the Colonies, by a slackness in the execution, he should look upon him as a criminal and the betrayer of his country.

The defence of his American policy, especially of the Stamp Act, stood now in the centre of Grenville’s parliamentary activities: an amendment to the Address declaring America in rebellion, 17 Dec.; a motion for American papers, 19 Dec.; a speech on 14 Jan. 1766 insisting, as usual, on the ‘strict dependence’ of America; on 17 Jan. against rescinding the order to print the American papers (‘very angry’, Conway put against his name in a list of speakers sent to the King):61 erudite speeches transfused with passion. Thus on 7 Feb., when moving for an address to the King for enforcing all laws in America :62

America would not have been in this condition if they had believed that we would enforce the law ... Whoever advises the King to give up his sovereignty over America is the greatest enemy to this country and will be accused by all posterity.
Says he finds the Americans disputing the authority of this country and was willing to try how far their disobedience could reach ...
Let those who encourage America and have raised and increased this condition by such encouragement extricate us out of it, and God grant that they may meet with success.

He was ready to join anyone, even Bute, in an attempt to defeat the repeal of the Stamp Act; and avidly listened to any gossip alleging that this was also the wish of the King—who might have favoured enforcing the Act had it not been Grenville’s (see the King’s ironic remarks to Grafton, 17 Dec. 1765,63 on Grenville’s ‘great care’ and ‘wise regulations’ in that matter).

Under the Chatham Administration Grenville from the outset favoured sharp Opposition, while his allies, the Bedfords, oscillated between Opposition and negotiations for a re-entry into Government. With Pitt removed to the House of Lords, Grenville grew in stature—he was, wrote Walpole, ‘confessedly the ablest man of business in the House of Commons, and, though not popular, of great authority there from his spirit, knowledge, and gravity of character’.64 He took a leading part in the campaigns over the corn embargo, East India affairs, for the reduction of the land tax, etc. But again American affairs were his foremost concern; and he ‘never forgot the Stamp Act, never forgave those who repealed it, and never ceased to urge the policy he had initiated’.65 It was his motion on 26 Jan. 1767 which brought Townshend’s schemes for Colonial taxation into the open. But even Townshend’s speech of 13 May and the repressive measures proposed, did not satisfy Grenville—‘no moderation was to be suffered, when the authority of Parliament was resisted’.66

Two things became obvious in the negotiations for a Government reconstruction in July 1767: that the King gave ‘an implied exclusion’ to Grenville; and that, because of Stamp Act memories, Grenville could never join in office with the Rockinghams. With the accession of the Bedfords to the Chatham Administration in December 1767, the last, illusory, hopes of his return to office vanished, and with them his interest in parliamentary manoeuvres: henceforth it was his man of business, Thomas Whately, rather than Grenville, who looked after what remained of their group in the House.

Detachment from struggles for office added dignity to Grenville’s position as foremost senior statesman among commoners. In February 1768 all debate on the principle of a bill was deferred to the third reading on account of Grenville’s absence, ‘sent word that he had some objections to the preamble’.67 Urged to stand for Buckinghamshire in 1768, he replied that ‘after having had the honour to serve the King and the kingdom in the highest public situation it would not become me at my time of day to be running about and canvassing for a county election’.68 In September 1769 Whately explained to Burke Grenville’s keeping aloof from the petitioning movement by the peculiarity of his situation, ‘being the only commoner in opposition who had been at the head of his Majesty’s affairs’; and Burke admitted that this ‘must restrain him upon many occasions’.69 In the House, however, during the years 1766-9, Grenville was one of the most frequent speakers.

On 5 Dec. 1769 he suffered a grievous loss through his wife’s death. ‘I know you wish to avoid every attendance [in the House] which the occasion does not call for,’ wrote Whately to him, 12 Jan. 1770.70 His last important measure was a bill in March-April 1770 to reform the trial of election petitions in the House. These were being decided by favour or party, the House substituting its vote for that of the electors no less than in the case of Wilkes. By transferring the examination of election petitions to committees chosen by lot, Grenville secured for them a fairer judicature: an effective reply to the grievances arising from the Middlesex election. The bill ‘was generally liked’, and a Government motion to put it off for two months, was defeated by 185 to 133.71

Seriously ill in the summer, in October Grenville was brought to London ‘in a state of languor and debility’; and died on 13 Nov. 1770. A post mortem disclosed an advanced condition of decay of several ribs and the skull.72

In Grenville’s will estates are mentioned which he had purchased in Eastern Florida; and in 1770 he secured through Thomas Pitt and Samuel Wharton a share in the Vandalia scheme on the Ohio River.73

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Grenville Pprs. i. 107, 111, 119, 120.
  • 2. Yorke, Hardwicke, ii. 215.
  • 3. Narrative, dated 12 Apr. 1762, Grenv. Pprs. i. 422-39.
  • 4. Add. 32917, ff. 203-4.
  • 5. Grenv. Pprs. i. 359.
  • 6. Bute mss.
  • 7. Grenv. Pprs. i. 361.
  • 8. Grenville’s narrative, ibid, 409-15.
  • 9. Ibid. 395-7.
  • 10. Newcastle to Devonshire, 31 Oct., Add. 32930, ff. 225-6.
  • 11. Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, i. 95-96.
  • 12. ‘Family Characters and Anecdotes’ by Lord Camelford, Fortescue mss at Boconnoc.
  • 13. Grenv. Pprs. i. 418.
  • 14. Bute to Grenville, 22 May, ibid 446.
  • 15. Sedgwick, 100, 104-5.
  • 16. Grenv. Pprs. i. 449-53, 482-5.
  • 17. The King to Bute, 14 Oct., Sedgwick, 147.
  • 18. Ibid. 200-1.
  • 19. Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, i. 147-9.
  • 20. Grenv. Pprs. ii. 32-40.
  • 21. Sedgwick, 209-10.
  • 22. Ibid. 203-4.
  • 23. Bute to Grenville, Grenv. Pprs. ii. 40-41; Grenville to Bute, Bute mss, both 1 Apr.; the King to Bute, 4 Apr., Sedgwick, 209-10.
  • 24. Sedgwick, 228.
  • 25. Add. 32948, ff. 54-57.
  • 26. Newcastle to Jos. Yorke, 13 Apr., ibid. ff. 120-2.
  • 27. Add. 32949, f. 15.
  • 28. Sedgwick, 230-1.
  • 29. Hardwicke to Newcastle, 13 May, Add. 32948, f. 275.
  • 30. Fortescue, i. 163.
  • 31. Grenv. Pprs. ii. 200-1.
  • 32. Ibid. ii. 104-7, 117, 203; Jenkinson Pprs. 394.
  • 33. Jenkinson Pprs. 394-5.
  • 34. Grenv. Pprs. ii. 256, 489, 498, 503, 506, 515.
  • 35. Grenville diary (printed in Grenv. Pprs.) 15, 28 Sept., 11 Oct., 12 Nov.
  • 36. Ibid. 15, 28 Sept., 5 Dec. 1763, 23 Mar. 1764.
  • 37. Ibid. 6, 14 Mar., 3, 22, 26 Sept.
  • 38. Ibid. 8 June, 5 Dec. 1764.
  • 39. Ibid. 13 Aug. 1764.
  • 40. Ibid. 26 Sept.-1 Oct. 1763.
  • 41. Sedgwick, 237; Jenkinson Pprs. 396.
  • 42. Malmesbury mss.
  • 43. Grenv. Pprs. ii. 523-4; iii. 112-16.
  • 44. Diary, 19 Dec. 1764; 25, 27 Jan. 1765.
  • 45. Diary, 23 Feb., 3 Mar. 1765.
  • 46. Fortescue, i. 164.
  • 47. Diary, 24, 25 Dec. 1763.
  • 48. Add. 32948, ff. 92-98.
  • 49. Memo. of conversations by Jas. Harris, 16 Nov., 20 Dec. 1763, Malmesbury mss.
  • 50. Diary, 1 May 1765.
  • 51. HMC 12th Rep. IX., 342.
  • 52. Mems. Geo. III, i. 309.
  • 53. Newdigate diary, 21 Feb. 1764, Newdigate mss, Warws RO.
  • 54. Diary, 28 Apr., 1 May.
  • 55. Ibid. 22 May.
  • 56. Fortescue, i. 115.
  • 57. Jesse, Selwyn, i. 405-6; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 115.
  • 58. Brooke, Chatham Admin. 262-75.
  • 59. Malmesbury mss.
  • 60. Diary, Grenv. Pprs. iii. 215-16.
  • 61. Fortescue, i. 236.
  • 62. Ryder’s ‘Debates’, Harrowby mss.
  • 63. Grafton mss.
  • 64. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iv. 125.
  • 65. Brooke, Chatham Admin. 26.
  • 66. Mems. Geo. III, iii. 26.
  • 67. Burke to Chas. O’Hara, 20 Feb. 1768.
  • 68. To J. Morton, 15 Oct. 1767, Grenville letter bk.
  • 69. Grenv. Pprs. iv. 446-7.
  • 70. Ibid. 505.
  • 71. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iv. 74.
  • 72. Camelford, ‘Family Characters’; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iv. 125.
  • 73. Grenville to T. Pitt, 9 and 29 July 1770, Grenville mss (JM).