VERNON, George Granville Venables (1785-1861).
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Family and Education
b. 6 Aug. 1785, 1st s. of Rt. Rev. the Hon. Edward Venables Vernon, bp. of Carlisle (afterwards abp. of York), by Lady Anne Leveson Gower, da. of Granville Leveson Gower†, 1st Mq. of Stafford; bro. of Granville Venables Vernon*. educ. Westminster 1798; Christ Church, Oxf. 1803; continental tour. m. (1) 27 Mar. 1815, Lady Elizabeth Bingham (d. 9 Sept. 1838), da. of Richard Bingham*, 2nd Earl of Lucan [I], 1da.; (2) 30 Sept. 1847, Frances Elizabeth, da. of John Braham of London, wid. of John James Henry Waldegrave of Navestock, Essex and of George Edward, 7th Earl Waldegrave, s.p. Took name of Harcourt (his fa. having suc. to the estates of William Harcourt†, 3rd Earl Harcourt) 15 Jan. 1831. suc. fa. 1847.
Vernon, delicate, studious and diffident in youth, was intended for a diplomatic career; but he was scarcely of age when he was propelled into Parliament by his uncle the 2nd Marquess of Stafford. The latter’s heir was not quite of age and Vernon was an obvious choice for Lichfield: he was related to Viscount Anson, co-patron with the marquess, and his father had, since Pitt’s death, concurred with the marquess in supporting the Grenville administration. In fact, there was no time to consult his father, whose consent was taken for granted, and it was his uncle George Simon Harcourt†, 2nd Earl Harcourt, who gave the arrangement his ‘entire approbation’, explaining, ‘I know nothing so likely to rub off the solemnity of Christ Church and to give him the becoming manners of the world, as the placing him where he must mix with it’.1 He did not meet with a contest until 1826.
Vernon voted with the government majority on the Hampshire election petition, 13 Feb. 1807; only four days before, he had been obliged to make his excuses to the House for inadvertent absence from the Saltash committee. He voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the Grenville ministry, 9 Apr. 1807, though his father would not support Stafford’s similar one in the Lords and was made archbishop of York. He joined opposition in their first offensive in the Parliament of 1807 and apparently made a promising speech in committee, but he showed no inclination to become a regular debater. He was in the minorities on the Copenhagen expedition, 3 and 8 Feb., Calcraft’s motion, 14 Mar., and in sympathy with the Irish Catholics on 5, 11 and 30 May 1808. He met with the Whigs to approve George Ponsonby’s leadership in the House, 18 Jan. 1809. He opposed the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. and, though he ‘did not vote ... against the Duke of York’ and ‘voted in favour of Lord Castlereagh’ (25 Apr.), he was once more in the minority on the Dutch commissioners’ abuses, 1 May 1809. He was listed a ‘thick and thin’ Whig in 1810, when he made ‘a maiden speech of considerable ability’, 1 Feb., seconding the amendment to the vote of thanks to Wellington: ‘He made a good beginning upon bad ground’.2 He opposed ministers on the Scheldt question throughout. He also opposed the imprisonment of Burdett and supported the release of his fellow radical Gale Jones, 5, 16 Apr. On 21 May 1810, to the surprise of the Grenvilles, he voted for parliamentary reform. After supporting the Whigs on the Regency, he was offered ‘an official situation in the Treasury’ by Lord Grenville if they came to power: in response, 2 Feb. 1811, he stated that he was flattered by such ‘unmerited partiality’ in view of his father’s ‘political differences’ with Grenville.3 He himself was in the minority of young Whigs who favoured an alliance with Canning, influenced in this by his uncle Lord Granville Leveson Gower*. Sydney Smith described him, 6 Dec. 1811, as
a very clever young man, genus Whig, species Whiggista mitior, of which species I consider Lord Lansdowne to be at the head, as the Lords Holland and Grey are of the Whiggista truculens anactophenus.
In January 1812 Vernon was the bearer of feelers from the Whig leaders to Canning (through Lord Granville Leveson Gower) on the subject of parliamentary co-operation. Canning, who thought him ‘a pert gentleman’, was indignant at the manoeuvre (‘for who is Mr Vernon?’) and rejected it, wondering how much wishful thinking on Vernon’s part was involved in the parley.4
Vernon, who had opposed the bank-note bill, 19 July 1811, voted frequently with opposition in the session of 1812. They named him for the civil list committee. He evidently favoured sinecure reform. He opposed the orders in council, 3 Mar. On 23 Apr. he spoke, ‘with very considerable success’, in favour of Catholic relief. His friend John William Ward thought it ‘odd that George Vernon made his speech turn on Providence and such archiepiscopal matters, it being his usual practice to affect the layman’. Francis Homer thought his style was ‘too neat and academic for daily use in debate; but he showed some power of sarcasm, which in the House of Commons will recommend any style’. Vernon’s model was clearly Canning. He voted for parliamentary reform, 8 May, and for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812. He did not follow his friend Ward in enlisting under Canning’s banner, though he admitted to Lansdowne (24 Aug. 1812) that he was ‘suspected of apostatizing like Ward’, because he dined with Canning. After his election, too, he boasted at Lichfield of his support for Catholic relief. To Lansdowne he confided (9 Nov.) that he had not been deprived, by a Whig accession to office, of
that leisure which allows me to idle over Ariosto or wrestle with a chorus in Aeschylus, which adds much more to the positive happiness of my life than any humble participation in the affairs of government would do, but I feel much for the disappointment of many of our friends to whom that participation was in many respects an object of importance, and I am much afraid of strong dissensions in the country on the Catholic question.
He added that unlike many others, he did not ‘abate one tittle in the regard, esteem and admiration’ he felt for Lord Grey, but was sure ‘that he must lower his tone a little if he wishes to be minister of this country’:
If he had extended his political connection in Parliament, of which you know I was very desirous two years ago, he might have succeeded, but the majority of the country has no taste for pure ... Whiggism, and either coalition with Canning or civility to the court were necessary for the success of our party. I should have preferred and adopted the first while we had much to offer and therefore could offer it honourably; neither alternative was chosen and the consequence is that the court triumphs in our disgrace and Canning in his own superiority. He could not now probably do us the honour of acting with us, if we offered to unsnouch ourselves [dispense with ‘Snouch’, as George Ponsonby* was known, as opposition leader] in the House of Commons and worship him.5
Vernon was disinclined to second the amendment to the address, but spoke on it, 30 Nov. 1812, and claimed that on a division he would have joined opposition. He voted with them on the bank-note bill, 8 Dec. 1812, and on the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813. On 2 Mar. he voted for Catholic relief. He then proceeded to Berlin and Vienna with his cousin Lord Gower*, still ‘violent about our home politics’, and thence to Italy with Viscount Ebrington*, John Nicholas Fazakerley* and Frederick Sylvester North Douglas*. He interviewed the exiled Buonaparte on Elba and heard him extol the solidity of the English aristocracy. He returned home in December 1814. Sydney Smith regretted that his ensuing marriage was ‘one of passion, not of reason; though a great coxcomb, he is a good and clever man and deserves something better’.6 Vernon is not known to have cast a vote with opposition in the session of 1815, during which his brother Granville joined him in the House. Unlike the latter, he did not again act with opposition, influenced in this by his uncle Stafford’s desertion of them in 1815. He voted with ministers on the Regent’s expenditure on 31 May. He excused himself to Lansdowne, 18 Nov. 1815, as acting loyally to one ‘who has always behaved to me at least as kindly as if I were a son’, and at the same time agreeing cordially with him in politics ‘during the whole of last year’. (He ‘could not have voted against the war, nor held the seat of a person who did so’.) In nine years the marquess had not attempted to direct his vote and, while he should ‘very much prefer’ being his ‘own patron’, he had ‘at least served a good master’. He concluded ‘if I had a good reason for going out of Parliament I should leave it’.7 Soon afterwards he reported that he had fallen foul of Lord Holland with regard to the latter’s hostility to the Bourbon restoration in France. The only fly in the ointment was the decision of his cousin James Macdonald to adhere to the Whigs, which, so Homer assured Lord Grey, he felt ‘very keenly’: Brougham reported that Vernon made himself ‘rather odious’ at Woburn by committing the ‘folly of ridiculing J. Macdonald—a subject he should have shunned like the plague’.8
Vernon voted for the army estimates, 6 and 8 Mar. 1816, and in the government minority on the property tax, 18 Mar. Either he or his brother voted and spoke in favour of the suspension of habeas corpus, 23, 24 June 1817, ‘although charges and imputations might be cast upon him for his conduct’; at any rate he upheld the consequences of the suspension in Scotland by his vote of 10 Feb. 1818. He was in the government minority on the ducal marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818. Next session he appeared on 18 Feb. 1819 and then in the minority critical of the transportation of convicts.9 On 2 Mar. he was in the majority for a committee on criminal law reform. He opposed Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. He remained in town as late as 23 Dec. 1819 to vote for government measures against sedition.
Vernon later inherited an Oxfordshire estate and came in for that county. He died ‘Father of the House’, 19 Dec. 1861.10
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Harcourt Pprs. ed. E. W. Harcourt, xiii. 10 seq.; Lonsdale mss, bp. of Carlisle to Lowther, 22 Oct., encl. Harcourt to Stafford, 17 Oct. 1806.
- 2. NLI, Richmond mss 73/1746; Windham Diary, 500.
- 3. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 445; Fortescue mss.
- 4. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 348; Syndey Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, i. 216; PRO 30/29/8/5, f. 582; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 28 Jan. 1812.
- 5. Letters of Countess Granville, i. 33; Horner mss 5, f. 174; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [2 Aug.]; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 12 May; Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld Morpeth, 7 Oct. 1812; Lansdowne mss.
- 6. Harcourt Pprs., xiii. 17-24; Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, ii. 151, 282; Lansdowne mss, Vernon to Lansdowne, 30 Dec. , 2 Mar. 1815; Sydney Smith Letters, i. 252.
- 7. Lansdowne mss.
- 8. Ibid. Vernon to Lansdowne, 22 Dec.; Horner mss 6, f. 294; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [7 Dec. 1815].
- 9. Buckingham, Regency, ii. 315.
- 10. Gent. Mag. (1862), i. 230.