GROSVENOR, Robert, Visct. Belgrave (1767-1845), of Eaton Hall, Cheshire.
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Family and Education
b. 22 Mar. 1767, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Richard Grosvenor†, 1st Earl Grosvenor, by Henrietta, da. of Henry Vernon† of Hilton Park, Staffs. educ. Westminster 1777; Harrow 1780; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1783; Grand Tour 1786-8. m. 28 Apr. 1794, Hon. Eleanora Egerton, da. and h. of Thomas Egerton†, 1st Baron Grey de Wilton, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl Grosvenor 5 Aug. 1802; cr. Mq. of Westminster 13 Sept. 1831; KG 11 Mar. 1841.
Ld. of Admiralty Aug. 1789-June 1791; PC 21 June 1793; commr. Board of Control June 1793-May 1801.
Ld. lt. Flints. 1798-d.; mayor, Chester 1807-8.
Maj. commdt. St. Margaret and St. John Westminster vols. 1798-1803; lt.-col. commdt. Flints. militia 1798-1805.
In 1790, Belgrave, whom Dundas had once considered an ideal ministerial candidate for Westminster,1 transferred from his government seat to Chester, where he was returned unopposed on the family interest. He spoke against opposition motions on the Spanish convention, 13 Dec. 1790, and the Oczakov crisis, 12 Apr. 1791, when, moving the previous question, he argued that war was preferable to submission to Russian aggrandizement. That month he was reckoned hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. He gave up his seat at the Admiralty board in June 1791, and on 17 Aug., asking Pitt to provide for his former travelling tutor William Gifford, the future editor of the Quarterly Review, wished the minister ‘joy on the tranquillizing aspect of affairs’. His tone was considerably less amicable when, four years later, Pitt made difficulties about appointing Gifford a lottery commissioner, but his remonstrance was evidently effective, for Gifford subsequently obtained such a place.2
Belgrave returned to office at the Board of Control in June 1793, but is not known to have spoken in debate until 23 Nov. 1795, when he denounced the promoters of a Chester petition against the pending repressive legislation as unrepresentative Jacobins. He was a government teller in divisions on the two bills, 10 Nov. and 10 Dec. 1795. On 2 Dec. he contended that a large military force was ‘necessary to prevent the designs of traitors’ at home and defended vigorous prosecution of the war. He voted for abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796, and was a teller for majorities in favour of the slave trade limitation bill, 12, 23 Apr. and 2 May 1799. On 27 Nov. 1797 Belgrave, who earlier in the month had been added to the revived Bank committee, obtained leave to introduce a bill to clarify the Treating Act of 1696, proposing that in future a proven offender should be disqualified from representing the seat where he had transgressed for the duration of the relevant Parliament. It passed the Commons, but was defeated in the Lords. He voted for the triple assessment, 4 Jan. 1798, supported the Lancaster sessions bill, 16 May, and publication of the report on the treatment of prisoners of war, 7 June, and was a teller for the minority against an amendment to the salt duties transfer bill, 20 June 1798. He was a ministerial teller in the division on the Union, 7 Feb., supported the measure as the ‘only means of saving Ireland’, 14 Feb., and was one of the commissioners appointed to manage the conference with the Lords on it, 19 Feb. 1799. He replied to points raised by Tierney on the report of the inquiry into Coldbath Fields prison and denounced the United Irishmen as perpetrators of ‘plunder and pillage’, 19 Apr., defended the prison authorities, 21 May 1799, and was a teller for the government majority against recommittal of the report.
Belgrave’s narrow religious views were expressed in his motion of 27 May 1799, seconded by Wilberforce, for a bill to suppress Sunday newspapers, which in his view had become ‘an additional weapon in the hands of infidelity’. He replied to the many criticisms levelled against the measure, 11 June, but it was defeated on its second reading by 40 votes to 26. Two days later he made allegations of malpractice by some colonels of militia over the payment and clothing of their men. He welcomed the suspension of habeas corpus, 19 Feb. 1800, as an antidote to the spread of Jacobinism, was a government teller in the division and spoke at length against Tierney’s motion denouncing restoration of the Bourbons as a war aim, 28 Feb. He then said that Catholicism was preferable to ‘no religion at all’, that France was ‘secretly sighing’ for the return of peace and monarchy and attacked the opposition for ‘arguing topics in that House, with a view to influencing the people out of it’. He advised caution on the scheme to allow imports of Baltic corn, lest the domestic producer was undercut, 17 Mar., supported the bill to encourage the cultivation of potatoes on waste lands, 24 Mar., and that for substituting provisions for cash in poor relief.
Belgrave seconded the vote of thanks to Addington on his leaving the Speaker’s chair to become prime minister, 16 Feb., and opposed inquiry into the Ferrol expedition, 19 Feb. 1801. He supported Addington’s ministry and remained in office until May 1801. He revived his bill to clarify the Treating Act, 22 Mar. 1802. It was withdrawn on 30 Apr. and replaced by a new one, which passed the Commons on 5 May but was overtaken by the dissolution. He welcomed Peel’s bill to protect apprentices in the cotton industry, 6 and 18 Apr. 1802, but called for its extension to woollen manufacture and other child labour, to the displeasure of its industrialist author. On Burdett’s motion for inquiry into the conduct of Pitt’s administration, 12 Apr. 1802, he proposed an amendment thanking them for their services. It was procedurally incorrect, and on the advice of the Speaker and Pitt he withdrew it, but he gave notice after the debate that he would later bring on a motion to the same effect. He moved it as an amendment to Nicholls’s motion for a vote of thanks for Pitt’s removal from office, 7 May 1802, when it was carried by 222 votes to 52.
On 21 Aug. 1802 Thomas Grenville referred to ‘the intimate footing upon which Lord Belgrave always stands with Addington’,3 but the minister had already been deprived of his support in the Commons by Lord Grosvenor’s death. This put him in possession of the extensive and lucrative family estates in Cheshire, North Wales and Middlesex, where the northern portion of the manor of Ebury had already been profitably developed as the residential district of Mayfair. By the time Pitt returned to power in 1804 Grosvenor, who was said to disapprove his surrender on Catholic relief, was disaffected. His letter of 14 May 1804 ‘remonstrating against his too liberal grants of the peerage’ to lawyers, soldiers and sailors was apparently never forgiven by Pitt, who had his revenge by ignoring Grosvenor’s letters recommending a friend to the vacant deanery of Chester in December 1805. After Pitt’s death he went over to the Whigs, but no evidence has been found to substantiate the story that he did so ‘in consequence of being refused by Mr Pitt the first lordship of the Admiralty’.4
In 1819, Grosvenor was said to be one of the four richest men in England. He had already paid £80,000 for more Cheshire property and subsequently laid out over £150,000 for estates at Shaftesbury and Stockbridge, which extended his parliamentary influence beyond Chester. In 1826, he secured an Act of Parliament allowing him to develop the southern part of the Ebury estate (Belgravia and Pimlico) and the following year he bought Moor Park in Hertfordshire for £120,000.5 He died 17 Feb. 1845.