GRIFFIN, John Griffin (1719-97), of Audley End, Essex

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



28 Nov. 1749 - 3 Aug. 1784

Family and Education

b. 13 Mar. 1719, 1st s. of William Whitwell of Oundle, Northants, by Hon. Anne Griffin, da. and h. of James, 2nd Baron Griffin (by Lady Essex Howard, da. and h. of James, 3rd Earl of Suffolk and Lord Howard de Walden).  educ. Winchester 1734-6.  m. (1) 9 Mar. 1749, Anna Maria (d. 18 Aug. 1764), da. of John, Baron Schutz, s.p.; (2) 11 June 1765, Catherine, da. of William Clayton of Harleyford, Bucks., s.p.  suc. fa. 1755, and on d. of his uncle Edward, 3rd Baron Griffin, to Audley End 1742, and took name of Griffin 1749;  cr. K.B. 3 May 1761; the abeyance of the barony of Howard de Walden terminated in his favour 3 Aug. 1784; cr. Baron Braybrooke 5 Sept. 1788, with sp. rem. to his second cos. once removed, Richard Aldworth Neville.

Offices Held

Ensign 3 Ft. Gds. 1739, capt. 1743, capt. and lt.-col. 1747; col. 1756; maj.-gen. 1756; col. 33 Ft. 1760-6; lt.-gen. 1761; col. 1 Troop Horse Grenadier Gds. 1766-88; gen. 1778; col. 4 Drag. 1788- d.; f.m. 1796.


Griffin served under the Duke of Cumberland in Flanders, 1747-8. Returned for Andover on the interest of his uncle, John Wallop, 1st Earl of Portsmouth, his first political connexion was with Henry Fox, secretary at war and Cumberland’s right-hand man. In Dupplin’s list of the Parliament of 1754 Griffin is included in Fox’s group; and when in 1755 Fox wished to secure Portsmouth’s support for Sir Edward Winnington at Bewdley, he approached him through Griffin. ‘You, my Lord’, wrote Griffin to Portsmouth on 19 Sept. 1755,1 ‘are not unacquainted with the civilities I have received from Mr. Fox and the farther obligations I am likely to owe him and I am persuaded will, if you can on this occasion, give me a fresh proof of your friendship.’

He served on the expeditions to St. Malo and St. Cas in 1758, and on his return claimed to have met with ‘a reception from the King and court ... far I own beyond anything that my own merit could entitle me to’.2 He applied to Newcastle for the Order of the Bath, 26 Nov. 1758; a second application was made on 17 June 1759 and one to Pitt on 28 Aug. 1759.3 He served in Germany 1759-60, where he was ‘in three different affairs (and wounded in the last two of them)’.4 On the accession of George III he renewed his application for the Bath, this time to Bute and with success.5

He received Newcastle’s whip in 1761 through Lord Barrington, secretary at war, and in Bute’s list was classed ‘Government’. He supported Bute and applied to him for favours (unsuccessfully) through Jenkinson—a military governorship, 18 July 1762, the lieutenant governorship of the Isle of Wight, 19 Aug., an office about the Queen, 7 Nov.; and obtained from Sandwich promotion in the navy for his brother.6

A letter to Pitt of 27 Oct. 1763 is the first suggestion of his leaving Government: he requested ‘the honour of a few minutes conversation’ before the meeting of Parliament, which Pitt, professing himself ‘extremely flattered’, granted.7 On 23 Nov., on a point of procedure, he voted against Government over Wilkes; and on 19 Jan. 1764 said in the House that ‘he should vote his own way and according to evidence, though not only one general and one colonel, but a dozen had been broke’.8 Yet he voted against the Opposition motion to postpone considering Wilkes’s case—‘he was’, wrote James Grenville to Lady Chatham, ‘much more an intimidating, than an intimidated voice, but the effect was not the less important against us’.9 In the division of 18 Feb. he voted against Government.

Rockingham in July 1765 classed Griffin ‘pro’, and courted him ‘in an obliging, unsolicited and friendly manner’.10 Griffin applied for a vacant regiment which had been already promised elsewhere, and Conway, most anxious to propitiate him, wrote on 7 Sept.:

I own among others I should be particularly happy that you showed us so much friendship as not to let the world say you were among the refuters and for our sakes among the dissatisfied, which I feel would with justice hurt us, and I should almost flatter myself you would even at the expense of a slight disadvantage wish to serve us were it the case.

And Rockingham the same day: ‘I trouble you with a letter lest you should feel any uneasiness, which I am sure would not only be very disagreeable to me but critical I may say to all of us.’11 On 13 Sept. a grant of the revenues of five lighthouses on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, which he held for 36 years, was further extended; and in March 1766 he was appointed to the command of a troop of Horse Grenadier Guards.

Griffin, though sensible of his obligations to Rockingham, welcomed Chatham’s return to office, and on 15 Aug. 1766, barely a fortnight later, applied to him for a peerage. Chatham, anxious to ‘proceed with the sincerity of a real friend’, felt obliged to inform Griffin that ‘his Majesty will probably not be easily moved to create many’.12 Griffin repeated his application on 31 Aug.:

May I not be allowed to say that those whose expectations have been raised only by applications to former ministries cannot have quite so much reason to hope for the accomplishment of them under your Lordship’s Administration as I had flattered myself I had had for mine?

On 26 Oct. he inquired if Chatham desired the ‘close attendance of your particular friends’ at the meeting of Parliament.13 On 28 Nov., after the Rockinghams had broken with Chatham over Lord Edgcumbe’s dismissal, he expressed to Chatham his ‘concern at the present situation of affairs’ and asked ‘the honour of a very few minutes conversation’.14 Obviously, he was uneasy about Chatham’s treatment of the Rockinghams. He voted with Government over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, yet kept on friendly terms with Rockingham, who, though careful to stand well with him, treated him as a follower of Chatham.

Griffin voted with Opposition over Wilkes on 2 and 3 Feb. 1769; pressed by Rockingham to attend the division of 8 May, which confirmed Luttrell in his seat for Middlesex, he declared himself ‘no friend to the resolution of the House of Commons which gave Colonel Luttrell his seat there’, but ‘particular business’ prevented his attendance.15 On 15 July 1769 he congratulated Chatham on the recovery of his health,16 and on 9 and 25 Jan. 1770 voted with Opposition over the Middlesex election. He voted against the Spanish convention, 13 Feb. 1771.

No correspondence between Griffin and Chatham after 1769 survives, and they seem to have lost touch with each other. When Chatham and Rockingham quarrelled in March 1771 Rockingham tried to make sure that Griffin would be on his side, yet Griffin maintained his independence. Rockingham wrote on 23 Feb. 177117 for Griffin’s support on Dowdeswell’s jury bill (the occasion of the quarrel)—‘the best mode, and I believe I may also say the only mode’ of resolving ‘the doubts and controversies which have arisen on the power of juries’, in spite of the ‘difference of opinion in some considerable persons’. His next request for Griffin’s attendance was on the royal marriage bill, 7 Mar. 1772. Griffin, though he disliked the bill, thought it ‘indelicate’ to oppose what was ‘a personal point to his Majesty’;18 and did not vote against the bill on 11 Mar. On 25 Feb. 1774 he voted for Grenville’s Election Act.

Early in 1774 Lord Richard Cavendish wrote to Rockingham:19

I take the liberty of giving you this trouble at the request of Dr. [Richard] Watson to inform you that in a conversation he had the other day with Sir John Griffin, he seemed disposed to come over to the opinions of Opposition about America and expressed a great desire, of communicating his sentiments to you, and of knowing yours in the present turn of affairs. Dr. Watson thinks that an application of any sort from you would be agreeable to him, and could not fail to have a good effect on his conduct.

On 24 Feb. 1775, in the debate on the bill to prohibit the colonists from fishing off Newfoundland, Griffin expressed ‘his sincere wishes to see a happy conclusion put to the American disputes without bloodshed’: the operation of the bill should be delayed ‘to such a period as ought to give those so inclined time to return to their duty’, so that ‘none but the unrelenting and untractable could feel its influence’.20

Confronted with the choice between abandonment of British sovereignty or war, Griffin hesitated and was unwilling to decide. On 22 Oct. 1775 Rockingham urgently requested his attendance at the opening of Parliament;21 he did not vote for the Opposition amendment against the Address on 26 Oct., but on 1 Nov. spoke in debate on the naval estimates.22

He declared that he had hitherto supported Government on principles, without regard to men; thinking it his duty as an honest man so to do, as long as the true interest of the country appeared to be consulted, and the public affairs conducted to the credit or honour of the nation; denied that to be the case at present ... adding, he should ill deserve to sit there any longer, if he continued to afford his support to men, the effects of whose mistaken and pernicious measures had reduced us to so shameful and dishonourable a situation. Professed himself an advocate for the supreme legislative authority of this country over its colonies; disclaimed however on the one hand vindicating the rash and indiscreet measure of having taxed the Americans, as he did on the other, their mode of resistance.

He opposed ‘coercion and conquest’, the use of foreign troops, the increase of the army, and the calling out of the militia,

instead of which, he added, tender of conciliation on terms suited to the true spirit of the British constitution ought to be preferred and held out to the Americans, which, if found not to prevail, to relinquish all connections with them; or otherwise, if practicable, to harass them with your fleets, by interrupting their trade, till at length they might perhaps be brought to sue for protection.

He remained independent, friendly with Rockingham but not of his party, more courted than courting. When, on 9 May 1777, Sir James Lowther moved for an address to the King to increase his brothers’ incomes, Griffin, ‘objecting to the propriety of the motion, and urging the difficulty of discussing a subject of so delicate a complexion’, moved the previous question.23 And he wrote to Rockingham on 11 Apr. 177824 about a motion by Thomas Powys which would have authorized the conciliation commissioners to grant American independence:

If those gentlemen, my Lord, who are of opinion that the Americans will not treat but on the footing of independence should prove to be right, I must confess, all circumstances considered, it nevertheless does not appear to me necessary nor in sound policy prudent in this first instance to begin by acknowledging their independence.

He was more concerned for the welfare of the Empire than to see Administration defeated, and closer in spirit to Chatham than to Rockingham—predestined to follow the younger Pitt.

From 1780 till the fall of North’s Administration he voted in every recorded division with the Opposition. He voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, and received his peerage from the younger Pitt.

He died 25 May 1797.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Essex RO, Braybrooke mss.
  • 2. Griffin to Newcastle, 5 Feb. 1760, Add. 32902, f. 74.
  • 3. Add. 32886, f. 25; 32892, f. 129; Chatham mss.
  • 4. Add. 32902, f. 74.
  • 5. Bute to Griffin, 8 Jan. 1761 (misdated 1760), Braybrooke mss.
  • 6. Add. 38199, ff. 38, 156; 38200, f. 97; Sandwich to Griffin, 6 Sept. 1763, Braybrooke mss.
  • 7. Braybrooke mss.
  • 8. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 9. Chatham Corresp. ii. 274-5.
  • 10. Griffin to Pitt, 14 Sept. 1765, Chatham mss.
  • 11. Braybrooke mss.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Chatham mss.
  • 14. Braybrooke mss.
  • 15. Rockingham mss.
  • 16. Chatham mss.
  • 17. Braybrooke mss.
  • 18. Griffin to Rockingham, 8 Mar. 1772, ibid.
  • 19. Rockingham mss.
  • 20. Almon, i. 233.
  • 21. Braybrooke mss.
  • 22. Almon, iii. 87-88.
  • 23. Ibid. vii. 165.
  • 24. Rockingham mss.