HOWARD, George, Visct. Morpeth (1773-1848).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



10 Jan. 1795 - 1806
1806 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 17 Sept. 1773, 1st s. of Frederick, 5th Earl of Carlisle, by Margaret Caroline, da. of Granville Leveson Gower, 1st Mq. of Stafford; bro. of Hon. William Howard*. educ. Raikes’s sch., Neasden; Eton 1785; Christ Church, Oxf. 1790; continental tour 1793-4; m. 21 Mar. 1801, Lady Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish, da. of William, 5th Duke of Devonshire, 6s. 6da. suc. fa. as 6th Earl of Carlisle 4 Sept. 1825; KG 17 Mar. 1837.

Offices Held

PC 7 Feb. 1806; commr. Board of Control 1806-7; envoy extraordinary to Prussia Sept. 1806; chief commr. woods, forests and land revenues May-July 1827; ld. privy seal July 1827-Jan. 1828, June-July 1834; cabinet minister without portfolio 1830-4.

Ld. lt. Yorks. (E. Riding) 1824-40.

Capt. N. Riding yeomanry 1794; lt. N. Riding riflemen 1801, capt. 1803, capt. commdt. 1803.


In 1790, George Augustus Selwyn*, the mentor of Morpeth’s youth, feared that he was becoming ‘too much of [a] Démocrate’,1 but by the time he came of age and was returned for the family borough, Morpeth, like his father (a former Northite), was a supporter of Pitt, of the war against France and of repressive legislation.

His maiden speech, 22 Jan. 1795, in support of a protest against a petition for peace from Carlisle, Pitt considered ‘one of the prettiest things to see and hear that could be imagined’. It led to his being invited to propose the address, 6 Oct. 1796, a task Pitt informed the King he performed ‘in a manner that promised his becoming a very pleasing and useful speaker’. He continued to support Pitt, defending the curtailment of civil liberty, 23 May 1797, and in June was rewarded with membership of Malmesbury’s peace mission to Lille, although later in the year he declined an opportunity for further diplomatic experience at Berlin in favour of his uncle, Lord Granville Leveson Gower*.2 On 14 Feb. 1799 he made a major speech on the subject of union with Ireland, a measure which he believed to be ‘the only one that could correct the vices that were evidently inherent in the Irish government’ and would, if combined with Catholic emancipation, ‘preclude the recurrence of all religious feuds, and all party animosities and other distinctions’.

Thereafter, he never fulfilled his early promise in debate, a failure which contemporaries were united in attributing to his retiring disposition rather than inability. His friend Lord Boringdon’s considered opinion (in 1809) was that

with every advantage physical and moral, he labours under a natural shyness, which he has never been altogether able to subdue. It is not a shyness which discloses itself by an offensive reserve in society ... but a shyness which is alone perceptible to those who know him well. It is this which has prevented him taking a more active part in the debates in Parliament; and which also frequently renders his first address in general society little correspondent with his real character and with the natural warmth and excellence of his heart. With respect to public life, I have some doubts, how far he would be suited to any situation requiring prompt decision and the expeditious dispatch of difficult and complicated business. No man however could more adorn any high and distinguished situation, where such qualities were not required.

Lady Holland wrote of him in 1799:

He has rather too much diffidence of his own abilities, and will frequently be silent, tho’ he has a strong opinion upon the subject discussed, unless he has some established authority to support him ... He seldom enters into an argument at length, but his observations are invariably correct and judicious ... His passions are not strong; he can never enjoy the extreme of delight, or suffer excess of sorrow. Not that he is deficient of right feelings; he can be angry, but not vindictive.3

Morpeth’s earliest political friendships were with Canning, a former schoolfellow, and his group. With them he contributed to the Anti-Jacobin and it was Canning who in 1795 prompted him to oppose the slave trade. But he did not divide with his friends on the subject in 1796, for as Lady Holland noted, ‘he wisely chooses to conduct himself without being interfered with, so he is not quite one of ye Elect’.4 Yet it was on Canning’s advice that he gave up the plan for going as a.d.c. to Lord Chatham in the Helder expedition in 1799. He also formed friendships in Whig society and on at least two occasions, 3 and 13 Mar. 1797, voted with opposition under what Canning described as Devonshire House influence.

After Pitt’s resignation, he was attracted by both groups of friends, his marriage sealing the link with the Whigs. His father insisted on his opposing the Prince of Wales’s claim to have his income reviewed in March 1802. On 14 May and 24 Nov. 1802, despite his initial favourable reaction to it, he opposed the peace of Amiens, which, because of its neglect of Dutch and Portuguese allies, he considered inferior to the peace proposals of 1797. He was privy to the Canningite plot of 1802 to restore Pitt to office. In November he was also an admirer of Fox’s speeches, although he ‘differed from the doctrine’. He particularly disliked the pacifism of the Whig party and wrote to Lord Holland:

Where are your Whig principles respecting the condition of Europe, those principles that I believed raised this country to its greatest eminence, which I am afraid we are now to exchange for the selfish doctrine of Wilberforce and his followers.5

He voted for Patten’s censure motion on 3 June 1803. Nevertheless he divided with Fox on his amendment for a council of general officers, 2 Aug., and warmed to him when he began to attack Addington. He voted with opposition regularly in March and April 1804, being then listed ‘Pitt’, though he spoke only once (16 Apr.). Canning had hoped that Pitt would have found a place for him in 1804, but as he declined a place at the Board of Control, no other offer was made; then Morpeth, who had hoped for a coalition of Pitt and Fox, went into open opposition to the ministry, being classed in September 1804 as a supporter of Fox and Grenville. This line at first displeased his father, who had to be placated. Morpeth had ‘no rancorous party feeling’ and lamented for Pitt’s sake his reconciliation with Addington. He was prepared to act as mediator in Canning’s quarrel with Hawkesbury and was still prepared to admire Pitt’s oratory in February 1805, but it was at Fox’s request that he attended to vote against the slave trade that month. After initial doubts, he supported Whitbread’s motion for the censure of Melville, 8 Apr., and wrote to his wife, ‘Pitt has decided my vote; he has made so bad a defence that I have neither doubts or delicacies left’. Later that year he favoured a coalition and Canning sounded Pitt on the possibility of winning Morpeth back with the offer of the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, but Pitt was sceptical as it entailed a peerage, even when Canning assured him that ‘Morpeth would not be to be had ... by anything in the House of Commons’. Failing this, Canning wished a diplomatic mission might be offered Morpeth, but there was none.6

Morpeth voted with Pitt’s friends on 27 Jan. 1806, but accepted a place at the Board of Control in the Grenville ministry. At first he hesitated to act with his former Addingtonian enemies and there was an idea of switching him to the Treasury board, but he accepted the office in the belief that he would lead in the House on Indian affairs. His colleague at the board, John Hiley Addington*, attempted to usurp this position, but it was Morpeth who proposed and presented the Indian budget, 10 July 1806, calling for proper management and economy which would promote action on principles of ‘moderation, justice, and equity’.7 Although this office was never congenial to him, he retained an interest in Indian affairs after the resignation of the ministry and on several occasions raised Indian topics in debate.

In September 1806, at his father’s request, Morpeth (who confided to Thomas Grenville that his real ambition was to be lord lieutenant of Ireland) reluctantly undertook a diplomatic mission to Berlin to offer aid to the Prussians conditional upon their restoration of Hanover. Arriving only two days before the outbreak of hostilities with the French, he beat a hasty retreat with his duties unfinished. Press criticism of his mission disillusioned him and he complained bitterly to Holland of lack of ministerial support. Holland mollified him, but privately regretted that ‘this ill-fated mission had not given him a better opportunity for displaying those qualities and attainments which nothing but his extreme diffidence conceals from public notice and applause’. In the House, the fiasco was glossed over by Canning but it continued to rankle. Sydney Smith described him as ‘very irritable, and very sensitive, the last to a fault’.8

During his absence, Morpeth was returned for Cumberland, a seat his father had coveted for him for ten years. Out of office from 1807, he continued to support the Whigs, and although he did not attend regularly, was a select committeeman on Indian affairs and was listed in the Satirist in 1810 among the ‘thick and thin men, who vote against ministers on all occasions’. After rejecting Ireland from preference for a foreign mission, he was considered for an under-secretaryship when the Whigs were ministry-making in 1811. He had approved Ponsonby’s appointment as leader of the party because of his knowledge of Irish affairs, ‘the most serious subject of discussion’. On 3 Feb. 1812 he took over the motion of his brother-in-law, Lord George Cavendish, for an inquiry into the state of Ireland; in proposing the motion, which was defeated by 229 votes to 135, he concentrated almost exclusively on the subject of Catholic relief. Prompted by Lord Grenville, on 4 Nov. 1813 he gave notice of, and on 22 Apr. 1814 (egged on by Whitbread) introduced a motion to regulate the conduct of the Speaker, following his expression of anti-Catholic sentiments in his speech at the close of the previous session. It was defeated by 274 votes to 106. Thereafter he spoke only in favour of the English Catholics, 4 Mar. 1819, and expressed a hope that the Irish Catholics would be ‘less Papist than they have been hitherto’.9

Morpeth at first supported the renewal of war with France, 7 Apr. 1815, but subsequently feared that harsh measures there could lead to a further revolution. But at home his instinctive conservatism became manifest when the subject of parliamentary reform was raised and in years of social crisis. On 17 Mar. 1809 he openly admitted that he differed from his constituents’ in not condemning the Duke of York for corruption, stating that he could place no trust in the evidence of either Mrs Clarke or Miss Taylor. He voted against Madocks’s motion alleging ministerial corruption, 11 May 1809. In April 1810, though not prepared to make a scapegoat of (Sir) Francis Burdett*, he objected strongly to the inflammatory speech made by Whitbread to the London livery.10 In 1817 he declined membership of the finance committee and dropped quietly into abstention in divisions on the suspension of habeas corpus, though the Whigs had found his tribute to Francis Horner when he moved the new writ for St. Mawes on 3 Mar. 1817 ‘perfect’. In August 1818 he approved the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whigs in the House and the latter wished he would occupy the Whig front bench.11 He sat on the Windsor establishment committee in 1819 and was an alarmist after Peterloo. On 24 November he did not join opposition on the address. He had refused to sign a requisition for a Cumberland county meeting to condemn the Manchester magistrates, since he did not wish to alarm men of property or associate with the radicals, although he wrote to Holland: ‘I care so little about politics in the common sense of the word, that if it could be considered as a mere party question I should be inclined to surrender my opinion to those with whom I generally agree’.12 He narrowly escaped censure at the Cumberland meeting and, despite its instructions to the contrary, in the House he spoke in favour of the seditious meetings bill, 13 Dec., though he called for ‘conciliation’ by loosening commercial restrictions and by employing surplus labour ‘in works of practical and durable utility’.

In 1820 Morpeth gave up his seat for Cumberland, a predestined martyr to his supposed compromise with the Lowthers, against whom he had refused to accept a running partner in 1818. He was unwilling to fight for his seat. He declined all offers of a seat in the Commons thereafter, explaining to his wife, ‘There is hardly anybody one wishes to hear’. He was also relieved to remove the obstacle to easier relations with his father which politics had long been: ‘I hate politics and the House of Commons’.13 In the Lords he made little mark in debate, but his friendship with Canning brought him office in 1827 and Grey included him in his cabinet. Failing health caused his retirement from politics after 1834. He died 7 Oct. 1848.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. HMC Carlisle, 687.
  • 2. Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 22 Jan. 1795; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 508. HMC Fortescue, iii. 336; Leveson Gower, i. 155, 188, 190.
  • 3. Add. 48244, f. 131; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 238-9.
  • 4. Canning jnl. 26 Feb. 1795; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 218.
  • 5. PRO 30/29/9/1, f. 150; Add. 38833, f. 53; 51577, Morpeth to Holland, 30 Nov., 15 Dec. [1802].
  • 6. Carlisle mss, Canning to Morpeth, 13 May 1804; D. Marshall, Rise of Canning, 269; Chatsworth mss, Lady Morpeth to Duchess of Devonshire, 26 Nov. 1804; PRO 30/29/9/1, f. 185; 30/29/6/5, f. 915; Leveson Gower, ii. 51; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife 30 Oct., 22 Nov. 1805.
  • 7. HMC Fortescue, viii. 17, 19, 29-30; Parl. Deb. vii. 1044-53.
  • 8. Carlisle mss, Morpeth to Grenville, 26 Sept. 1806; Add. 51577, 22, 24, 29 Nov. 1806; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, ii. 84; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife 12 Feb. 1807; Sydney Smith letters ed. N. C. Smith, i. 142.
  • 9. HMC Fortescue, x. 106-7; Add. 42058, f. 204; 51577, 14 Dec. 1807, 5 Oct. 1815; Grey mss, Ponsonby to Grey, 3 Jan. 1814.
  • 10. Add. 51577, 22 July, 11 Sept. 1815; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4126; HMC Fortescue, x. 26.
  • 11. Add. 51584, Tierney to Holland, 23 Sept. 1818.
  • 12. Add. 51577, 7 Oct. 1819.
  • 13. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 5 Apr.; Carlisle mss, 8, 9, 10 Feb. 1820.