JENKINSON, Charles (1729-1808), of Addiscombe, Surr.

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



1761 - Dec. 1766
20 Jan. 1767 - July 1772
7 Aug. 1772 - 1774
1774 - 1780
1780 - 21 Aug. 1786

Family and Education

b. 26 Apr. 1729, 1st s. of Col. Charles Jenkinson (3rd s. of Sir Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Bt., M.P.) by Amarantha, da. of Capt. Wolfran Cornwall, R.N.; bro. of John Jenkinson and cos. of Charles Wolfran Cornwall.  educ. Charterhouse 1740; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1746; L. Inn 1747.  m. (1) 9 Feb. 1769, Amelia (d. 7 July 1770), da. of William Watts of Southall, Berks., gov. of Fort William, Bengal, 1s. (Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, prime minister 1812-27); (2) 22 June 1782, Catherine, da. of Sir Cecil Bisshopp, 6th Bt., wid. of Jenkinson’s cos. Sir Charles Cope, 2nd Bt., 1s. 1da.  suc. fa. June 1750; cr. Baron Hawkesbury 21 Aug. 1786; suc. cos. in the baronetcy and family estates 22 July 1790; cr. Earl of Liverpool 1 June 1796.

Offices Held

Private sec. to Lord Holdernesse 1758-61; under-sec. of state Mar. 1761-May 1762; private sec. to Bute as first ld. of Treasury, and treasurer of the Ordnance May 1762-Apr. 1763; jt. sec. to Treasury Apr. 1763-July 1765; auditor to the Princess Dowager July 1765-1772; ld. of Admiralty Dec. 1766-Dec. 1767, of Treasury Dec. 1767-Jan. 1773; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Jan. 1773-Oct. 1775; P.C. 5 Feb. 1773; clerk of the pells [I] 1775- d.; sec. at war 1778-Mar. 1782; member of the Board of Trade 1784, pres. 1786-1804; chancellor of duchy of Lancaster 1786-1803.


Charles Jenkinson belonged to a younger branch of an old Oxfordshire family.1 Two of his uncles, his grandfather, and great-grandfather had represented the county as Tories. He was intended for the Church, but, after taking part on the Whig side in the Oxfordshire election of 1754, he turned his mind towards politics. His first patron was Lord Harcourt, who introduced him to Lord Holdernesse, secretary of state. Holdernesse, wrote Jenkinson to George Grenville on 15 Nov. 1756,2

was so good as to employ me both at his own house and in the secretary’s office, without any profit or emolument to myself, but with the design alone of instructing me in foreign affairs and the business of that office, and qualifying me for anything of which my friends might hereafter think me worthy.

To Grenville, a man of similar mind and outlook, Jenkinson looked for advancement; but Grenville was unable to obtain for him an official situation, and it was not until 1760 that his services were recognized by the award of a pension of £250 per annum.3

In March 1761 Bute, newly appointed secretary of state, took Jenkinson at Grenville’s recommendation as his under-secretary. ‘I am absolutely in love with Lord Bute’, Jenkinson wrote to Grenville on 24 Mar., ‘his goodness shows itself to me more and more every day.’ And on 26 Mar.:4 ‘His Lordship ... has been so good as to assign me a particular apartment [in his house] where I shall live and be always at hand.’ At the general election of 1761 Jenkinson was returned for Cockermouth on the interest of Sir James Lowther, Bute’s prospective son-in-law. He conceived a regard and esteem for Bute such as he afterwards felt for no other minister; though cold and cautious by nature, he could show deep loyalty once his friendship had been won. When Bute took the Treasury Jenkinson became his private secretary (the place at the Ordnance was given to provide him with a salary). At the centre of power and secure in the confidence of his chief, he had every prospect of further advancement.

On Bute’s resignation, Jenkinson became one of Grenville’s secretaries to the Treasury, concerned both with parliamentary and financial business. In the autumn of 1763, using Bute’s list of 1761, he classified the Members of the House of Commons according to their presumed political allegiance. He conducted the correspondence with Griffith Davies, the Treasury manager at Harwich, and had charge of the Government interest in the Cinque Ports. Routine patronage and financial business also occupied his attention, and he was concerned with the plan for a stamp tax in the colonies. As early as September 1763 he was taking advice about the drafting of the bill, and on 2 July 1764 wrote to Grenville:5

In the last session of Parliament you assigned as a reason for not going on with the Stamp Act that you waited only for further information on that subject. This having been said, should not Government appear to take some step for that purpose? I mentioned this to you soon after the Parliament was up. I remember your objections to it; but I think the information may be procured in a manner to obviate those objections, and without it we may perhaps be accused of neglect.

Jenkinson wished to remain on friendly terms with Bute, and to smooth away any friction that might occur between Bute and Grenville. In August 1763, after Bute had opened negotiations with Pitt for a new Administration, Jenkinson and Gilbert Elliot persuaded him to advise the King to recall Grenville; and in December Jenkinson conveyed a friendly message from Bute to Grenville. Jenkinson remained loyal to Grenville but their relationship lost something of its friendly character: Jenkinson felt that Grenville’s suspicion of Bute’s influence was excessive, and Grenville mistrusted Jenkinson’s friendship with Bute. Jenkinson never quite threw off the odium of being Bute’s agent in Administration, and in 1766 his acceptance of office under Chatham was regarded by the Opposition as a sign of Bute’s continued influence at court. In fact Bute played little part in politics after July 1766, and Jenkinson had to steer his course alone.6

Jenkinson lost office with Grenville in July 1765, but a few days later was appointed to a place in the household of the Princess Dowager—by whose recommendation is not easy to say. Replying to Grenville’s letter of congratulation, he wrote:7

The office conferred on me is very agreeable to me, as I owe it to no minister whatsoever and it leaves me unconnected and free to act that part which my honour and conscience dictates. I think it a happiness to have no concern in the politics of the present hour.

Politically timid, Jenkinson attached himself to the Crown as the one stable element in the political scene; a born bureaucrat, of restricted sympathies, his passion was for the detail of office. He never felt the excitement of the parliamentary game, and feared responsibility for policy. He held the typical eighteenth-century view that government was mainly a matter of precedent and law. With such ideas, he naturally followed Grenville in opposing the repeal of the Stamp Act. ‘The present time’, he said in the debate of 21-22 Feb. 1766,8 ‘[was] the properest to tax the colonies, when they were grown able to bear it and not yet strong enough to resist it.’ Rigid in his ideas and authoritarian in his outlook, he lacked the breadth of vision to understand American aspirations.

When Chatham took office in July 1766 many who had been in opposition to the Rockingham Administration reverted to the court. In November Jenkinson told Grenville that he could not separate himself from his patron, Sir James Lowther, ‘being brought into Parliament by him, and knowing no other person who would give him a seat there’—a clear hint of what was to follow. On 3 Dec. Jenkinson informed Grenville that he had been appointed to the Admiralty Board, ‘to which Mr. Grenville returned no answer, and forbid his porter ever to let him into his house again’.9 Henceforth Jenkinson adhered to each successive Administration until the fall of North, but took care not to attach himself too closely to any political leader. At the general election of 1768 he was returned for Lowther’s borough of Appleby, but, like all Lowther’s clients, found it impossible to maintain a dignified and tolerable relationship with his over-bearing patron. On 8 Aug. 1772 Jenkinson wrote to Gilbert Elliot:10

You will be surprised to hear that I have vacated my seat at Appleby and been chosen for Harwich. I have for some time had a squabble with Sir James ... I have endeavoured to make him reasonable but in vain, and, finding I could not, I determined to change my seat, as I have done. I believe you will think me neither unwise nor unfortunate on this occasion.

At Harwich, and later at Hastings and Saltash, Jenkinson sat on the Government interest. He progressed steadily up the ministerial ladder, without achieving any post of real consequence. In the House he was a frequent speaker but not a good debater: his style was precise, formal, and pedantic, and he relied on the strength of his reasoning to convince. James Harris wrote about his speech on the repeal of the Stamp Act, 21 Feb. 1766: ‘No speech was more fraught with matter nor more accurately put together, but from defect of voice was ill-heard, though perhaps the best worth hearing of any speech for argument and information.’

Throughout the American war Jenkinson was generally credited with an influence at court and in Administration beyond that to which he was entitled by his office. Horace Walpole believed him to be the ‘sole confidant’ of the King and ‘the director or agent of all his Majesty’s secret counsels;11 and Burke wrote to Rockingham on 5 Jan. 1775:

I have great reason to suspect that Jenkinson governs everything. But it would be right to know this a little more clearly. A trusty person set at his door to follow him in his motions would give great lights. Surely it is so far from mean or trifling that nothing is more worthy of a general than to get good intelligence of the enemy’s motions.

But Jenkinson himself wrote to Lord Harcourt on 29 Dec. 1777:12

The world are so obliging as to give me the credit of much more influence than I really have, and when I deny it I have seldom the good fortune to be believed. In the management of public affairs it is true that I sometimes have a share, I am always ready to give any assistance I am able, but I never intrude it, and to say the truth it is never called for but in emergencies when they cannot do without me.

The springs of policy during the North Administration are exceedingly difficult to trace, but it is clear that by 1778 Jenkinson, together with John Robinson, Charles Wolfran Cornwall, and Grey Cooper, belonged to the inner circle of North’s confidential advisers. In this there was nothing extraordinary: all were servants of the Treasury, or, in Jenkinson’s case, had long experience of Treasury matters. In December 1778 Jenkinson became secretary at war, an office which gave him direct access to the King, and henceforth his influence was out of all proportion to his departmental standing. The King recognized that in Jenkinson he had an able and loyal servant, and began to rely upon him for information about the state of his Administration which could not be obtained from ministers in the closet. ‘I think it right that your Majesty should in the present moment be informed of everything that passes’, wrote Jenkinson on 20 Nov. 1779; and on 16 Mar. 1782: ‘I shall continue in town that I may have an opportunity of observing all that passes, and be able to render every service in my power.’ He sent information about Lord Gower’s attitude towards Administration, North’s doubts and indecisions, the conduct of ministers in the House of Commons, rumours of divisions among Opposition leaders, the intrigues of Wedderburn and Eden, etc. From supplying information it was but one step to giving advice: on how to treat Keppel, how to handle Wedderburn, how North should conduct the military inquiry in the House of Commons, etc. In 1779 Jenkinson was consulted by the King on the appointment of a secretary of state and on the terms to be offered for the support of Opposition.13 With John Robinson, North’s confidential secretary to the Treasury, he had an old friendship, and the two worked closely together. Jenkinson had no qualms about the policy to be pursued towards America, and supported the King’s attempt to buttress his weak Administration. He wrote to the King, 7 Nov. 1779, about admitting the Opposition to office provided they would support the American war:14

I highly approve of your Majesty’s conduct in everything you have said and done, of your resolution to resist the evil [the break-up of North’s Administration] as long as you possibly can, and of your determination to convince the world that whatever may happen is not owing to want of fortitude in your Majesty or of attachment to those principles which you approve. I always think that when a man pursues this line of conduct Providence will support him and lead him out of the difficulties in which he is involved.

Jenkinson was aware of the delicacy of his position and took care to prevent his communications to the King from being known. On 4 Nov. 1779 he ended a letter: ‘I thought it better to write all this to your Majesty than to come to court and have an audience, which might create suspicion.’ And on 30 Nov.: ‘I received your Majesty’s note just as I was going to the House of Commons, where I had a motion to make that would not admit of delay; I thought it best therefore to go, that I might not occasion suspicion.’15 In August 1779 he agreed ‘to prepare something for the consideration of Parliament on Irish affairs’—‘not that I would have ever given an opinion on what ought to be done for the relief of that kingdom’, he added in a letter to Robinson, ‘which is a task for which I confess I am wholly unequal’.16 But the matter leaked out and Jenkinson refused to undertake it—‘as the condition I made of not being known to have any concern in this business is thus already broken’, he wrote, ‘I must beg Lord North’s permission to decline having any further share in it’. Still, Jenkinson did take up the business again. ‘Lord North ... is glad that you approve of his amendments to the Irish addresses’, wrote Robinson on 23 Oct.; and on 29 Oct.: ‘I really wish to get you the Irish papers ... as you will want them for your judgment on what is done.’ When in October 1779 Robinson asked Jenkinson to look over the Government’s proposals to the East India Company, he added: ‘You may be assured that I will not let slip from me the least thing tending to show that you have been so good as to take up the business.’17 In short, Jenkinson occupied an important place at the centre of government, was consulted on important Government business, and did not wish his activities to be known. Yet there is little evidence that he initiated or directed policy, and it is very doubtful whether he could have led North or the King in a direction they did not wish to go.

Perhaps North was the person from whom Jenkinson desired most to conceal his activities. Their relations, though apparently friendly, were equivocal. Jenkinson looked with contempt on North’s hesitations and vacillations, and did not believe that he was sincere in wishing to give up his office.18 North, however, tried to bring Jenkinson into a more important situation. In October 1778 and in February 1779 he proposed to resign the Exchequer to Jenkinson—‘by much the fittest person in England to have the direction of the finances’, but nothing came of the proposal. Similarly a suggestion in October 1779 that Jenkinson should be admitted to the Cabinet, though backed by North, Sandwich and Robinson, came to nought. It is difficult to say why: the King confided so much in Jenkinson that he would hardly have objected to his being in the Cabinet. Perhaps the objection came from Jenkinson himself. In January 1782 he refused a categorical offer from North of the secretaryship of state for the American department. Cautious, timid, and reserved, he preferred to work behind the scenes, and it is no wonder that the Opposition ascribed to him an unconstitutional influence at court. Still, in spite of these offers Jenkinson professed to believe that North was jealous of him. In July 1781 he had a quarrel with North about a trifling affair of patronage. ‘I will not ask in order to be refused and slighted’, he wrote to Robinson. ‘There is not one man in his Government of any consideration that he treats in the same manner ... The plan is to make as much use of me as possible, but to keep me as low as he is able both in rank and consideration.’19 And to the King, 22 Jan. 1782, after having refused the American department: ‘I entertain great doubts whether his intentions were ever very favourable to me, notwithstanding what he says.’20

On North’s resignation in March 1782, Jenkinson was at hand to strengthen the King’s resolve not to capitulate to the Opposition. They seem to have discussed a plan for an all-party Administration, and Jenkinson talked to Gower and Thurlow about it.21 But North declared that no such Administration could command the confidence of the Commons; the King had to yield to Rockingham; and Jenkinson lost his office. He wrote to Robinson on 13 June:22 ‘I have thought it most advisable to absent myself wholly from the House of Commons, unless my friends should desire my attendance’; and during the period of the Rockingham Administration he was not in touch with the King. But Shelburne, even before Rockingham’s death, informed the King that he wished to see Jenkinson in office; and soon after taking the Treasury, opened communications with him. ‘Lord Shelburne certainly must and shall have my fullest support,’ wrote the King to Jenkinson on 13 July. ‘I therefore desire Mr. Jenkinson will give him every degree of assistance.’ To which Jenkinson replied: ‘I will accordingly give every support and assistance in my power to Lord Shelburne ... My attachment has ever been to your Majesty and ever will be; and for this reason I did not think it right to enter into any new engagement till I had received your Majesty’s commands on this subject.’23 But it is not clear what assistance Jenkinson gave to Shelburne. He received no office; and spoke only twice in the House during the period of Shelburne’s Administration (he voted for the peace preliminaries but did not speak in the debate). Nor was Shelburne the man to allow Jenkinson a share of the royal confidence.

On Shelburne’s fall, Jenkinson was again prepared to advise the King. ‘Mr. Jenkinson has thought much of the subject of possible arrangements’, wrote Thurlow to the King, 1 Mar. 1783.24 ‘... I submit it to your Majesty that it would be useful to hear from himself his ideas.’ But nothing Jenkinson could suggest could get round the fact that Fox was master of the House of Commons, and the Coalition was another period of eclipse for Jenkinson. He spoke and voted against Fox’s East India bill, and seems at this time to have been again in contact with the King. ‘You may be assured’, he wrote to Robinson on 5 Dec., ‘that the King sees the bill in all the horrors that you and I do.’ And on 14 Feb. 1784, after Pitt had taken office: ‘You may be assured that a certain person is firm, so that nothing will shake his resolution.’25

In December 1783 Pitt was in no position to reject offers of support, from whatever quarter they came. But he was very shy about taking Jenkinson into his Administration, and preferred to win him by fair words and promises. ‘Mr. Pitt intends to write to you a very strong letter’, wrote Robinson to Jenkinson on 25 Dec. 1783, ‘expressing his opinion of you, his wish to show you every attention, and giving you assurances of his regard.’ And later the same day: ‘Fears and doubts, makes difficulties to your having office at the moment.’26 By the end of 1784 Pitt was firmly established in power and nothing had yet been done for Jenkinson. ‘I am no ways solicitous about myself’, he wrote to Robinson on 7 Dec. ‘... I do not choose to give up the game as yet entirely, but I pursue it with great coolness and without anxiety for the event.’27 In March 1784 he had been appointed a member of the newly-constituted Board of Trade, an honorary appointment but one where he did useful work; and some of Pitt’s supporters were apprehensive that this was the prelude to further advancement. Grafton wrote to Camden on 31 Dec. 1785:28

We have here a report to which I can give no credit, although it is confidently asserted, concerning Mr. Jenkinson’s advancement to our House and to the Cabinet. Your Lordship would, I am confident, if no other friend interposed to keep the minister from a step which would ruin his credit with the nation and make him soon feel that he was playing only a second part to others. Surely it can never be.

Pitt probably appreciated Jenkinson’s expert knowledge of commercial and financial problems. In August 1786, when the Board of Trade was again reconstituted, Jenkinson became president and was created a peer. In 1791 he entered the Cabinet and in 1796 obtained an earldom. He left the Cabinet in 1804 and died 17 Dec. 1808. By temperament more suited to be a permanent official than a politician, it was his lot to live in an age when the civil service had not yet separated itself from Parliament. Hence much of the confusion of his career.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Jenkinson Pprs. 1760-6.
  • 2. Grenville Pprs. i. 180.
  • 3. Namier, England in Age of American Rev. 75; T52/50/413.
  • 4. Grenville Pprs. i. 359, 361.
  • 5. Add. 35911, ff. 17-18; Grenville Pprs. ii. 373.
  • 6. Grenville Pprs. ii. 197, 231; iii. 220; Jenkinson Pprs. 393-400.
  • 7. 22 July 1765, Grenville (JM) mss.
  • 8. Ryder’s ‘Debates’.
  • 9. Grenville diary, Grenville Pprs. iii. 381, 393.
  • 10. Minto mss.
  • 11. Mems. Geo. III, iv. 89-90.
  • 12. Jenkinson Pprs. pp. xxiv-xxv.
  • 13. Jenkinson’s corresp. with Geo. III, Fortescue, iv, v.
  • 14. Fortescue, iv. 476.
  • 15. Ibid. 472, 503.
  • 16. Add. 38307, f. 19.
  • 17. Add. 38212, ff. 137-8, 191, 201-2.
  • 18. Fortescue, iv. 500, v. 338.
  • 19. 29 July 1781, Abergavenny mss.
  • 20. Fortescue, v. 338.
  • 21. Ibid. 391, 393-4, 401-2.
  • 22. Add. 38309, f. 63.
  • 23. Fortescue, vi. 69, 74, 84, 85, 88.
  • 24. Ibid. 253.
  • 25. Abergavenny mss.
  • 26. Add. 38567, ff. 175, 177-8.
  • 27. Abergavenny mss.
  • 28. Camden mss.