VILLIERS, Hon. George (1759-1827), of Portman Square, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 23 Nov. 1759, 3rd s. of Thomas Villiers†, 1st Earl of Clarendon, by Lady Charlotte Capel, da. (and coh. of her mother) of William, 3rd Earl of Essex, by 1st w. Jane, da. of Henry Hyde†, 4th and last Earl of Clarendon; bro. of Hon. John Charles Villiers*. educ. Eton 1769-76, St. John’s, Camb. 1776-9. m. 17 Apr. 1798, Hon. Theresa Parker, da. of John Parker†, 1st Baron Boringdon, 5s. 1da. surv.
Groom of bedchamber 1784-1815; clerk of the council, duchy of Lancaster Aug. 1786-d.; paymaster of marines Mar. 1792-Jan. 1810; ranger, Cranborne Chase 1805-10; registrar, Gibraltar and marshal, Antigua 1811-d.
Capt. Herts. yeoman cav. 1794, Watford vol. cav. 1803.
Villiers was a courtier first and foremost. Fanny Burney reported of him in 1789:
He is very clever, somewhat caustique, but so loyal and vehement in the King’s cause, that he has the appellation, from his party, of The Tiger. He would not obtain it for his person, which is remarkably slim, slight, and delicate.
He joined his elder brother, ‘the "Nereus" of Pitt's forces', in Parliament on a vacancy in 1792, when he defeated a Whig at Warwick on the 3rd Earl's interest. Soon afterwards he became paymaster of the marines; as such his accounts were soon in a muddle, owing to the delay his imprests met with at the Treasury, forcing him to overdraw on his banker to meet official requirements. In 1796 he was listed as a friend of government in quest of a seat, but, having impressed on Pitt his expenses at Warwick, he was allowed to retain that seat. His only surviving vote was for Pitt's assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. No speech is known and when his attendance was solicited by the Lords for a conference in committee on the scarcity of provisions, 18 Nov. 1800, he was absent. When he left Parliament in 1802, George Rose commented that his loss would not be felt at all, as he 'did not attend four times in a session'. Later that year he was the bearer of messages from the Princess Royal to the King from Stuttgart.1
Like his brother he doubtless wished to smooth the way with the King for Pitt's return to power on terms congenial to him in 1804; he was equally ready to act as mediator between the King and his heir, and between Pitt and the King, when Pitt contemplated overtures for a comprehensive government a year later. In February 1807 he hankered after the inclusion of Pitt's friends in the Grenville ministry and a month later was prepared to sound George III on the possibility of a change of administration. The King certainly indulged him. George Rose, in the course of a wild forest ride amid the din of an incessant rainstorm (30 Oct. 1804), understood the King to say that he had given Villiers £400 a year 'as a private bounty, in compensation for disappointing him of the rangership of Windsor Park, or some such office'. Rose noted:
He being a groom of the bedchamber, as well as paymaster of marines, the former of which employment he had agreed to give up on his appointment to the latter; but by some management he kept both, and has now, it seems, this private allowance from the King besides.
What the King did not spell out to Rose was that he was fitting out Cranborne Lodge for Villier's residence as his ranger and farm bailiff; his family were accommodated in Windsor Old Lodge until 1805, when the appointment took effect.2
On the change of ministry in 1807, the Duke of Cumberland (through Lord Eldon) was Villier's advocate with the Duke of Portland, who was told that he would be going back on 'verbal and written promises' if he did not provide 'pecuniary aid'. (Villiers had not recovered his expenses on the King's farms, or even received all his salary as bailiff.) Cumberland was disappointed that Villiers could not become master of the buckhounds, an office not previously bestowed on a commoner and now bestowed on Lord Cornwallis; and brushed aside Portland's excuse that he had recommended Villiers with Cornwallis and that Villiers already held two offices by pointing out that he would have resigned the bedchamber on appointment to the buckhounds. As Villiers had rendered the royal family 'very serious and important services ... in many instances of too delicate a nature to be publicly alluded to', it was as well that the King made him ranger of Cranborne: Villiers was perfectly capable of ingratiating himself with the Whigs. Meanwhile nothing came of the Duke of Cumberland's wish, in November 1807, that Villiers should succeed to Archbishop Markham's duchy of Lancaster sinecure, but he continued to press ministers on Villiers's behalf.3
In 1809 it was Lord Glenbervie's turn to be outraged by Villiers, who was proposed by the Duke of Portland to the King in September as one of his two juniors in a new commission to manage the crown properties on the death of John Fordyce*. He denounced in his journal
in intriguing, selfish, meddling, mischief-making qualities of Villiers, who by his own teasing, and the illecebrae of his wife has gained a great ascendancy over the royal mind, and has teased his Majesty and the Duke of Portland for that appointment, hoping thereby to smooth the way for his many jobs at Cranborne Lodge and his domineering authority over the Parks and Forest of Windsor.
The scheme which required statutory authorization—in itself an obstacle—was suspended by the remodelling of the ministry—particularly embarrassing to Villiers as his brother-in-law Lord Boringdon was a close friend of Canning, now out of office. On 18 Oct. 1809 Villiers besieged Perceval, Portland's successor, revealing more of his claims:
On my declining the offer of a pension of £1,200 p.a. for the joint lives of Mrs G. Villiers and myself (for reasons with which you have already been troubled, but which can never be publicly alluded to, though they were well known to Mr Pitt and to some other of our friends), his Grace positively promised me the reversion of Mr Fordyce's place.
He added that he had been prepared to accept the commissionership, with the King's blessing and £1,000 p.a. additional income, but wished to be sure that he was not expected to relinquish his paymastership (worth £1,200 p.a.). Fordyce's place had been worth £2,000 p.a.4
It was at this point, despite his delaying tactics—for he was fully aware of them—that the unsatisfactory state of Villier's official accounts came to Perceval's attention (27 Dec. 1809). Villiers accepted liability for his arrears, offering a plan for the more efficient execution of his office, and Perceval accepted his resignation, 6 Jan. 1810, allowing him to offer it to the King in person. Meanwhile 'a new instance of official negligence' occurred when Villiers's bond for sureties of £10,000 from Lords Talbot and Claredon, when he took office in 1792, disappeared. He had invested part of his official funds in real estate, but his former first clerk Edmund Waters, who had appropriated funds for 'his opera concern', had most to answer for. Lord Boringdon urged Villiers to secure Lord Arden's mediation with Perceval, hold out for the new office offered him and surrender the old, accepting liability for the arrears. On 15 Jan. 1810 Perceval informed the King, whom Villiers could not face, of his resignation, pointing out that his arrears up to 1804 stood at £280,000. Canning commented, 20 Jan.:
A very bad story indeed ... never was anything more unfortunate for the country and for government—for the cause of all governments, I mean, than this blow-up, at this particular moment. It really seems as if all sorts of evils had been accumulated for this opening of Parliament.
Denis Browne* also thought Villiers had done much 'mischief in the public mind—it is now said that he was well acquainted with Sir Francis Burdett amd Harry Clifford and that they quoted a great deal from his from his information'. The King could scarcely believe his ears, but a parliamentary inquiry was more to be feared. Cobett called for one in hsi Political Register, 27 Jan. 1810, estimating the deficit at half a million pounds. Villiers was spared by the more notorious case of Joseph Hunt*, who absconded with the Ordnance funds and stole the limelight in the House. Apart from Boringdon's friends, George Tierney, on the other side, connived at Villers's case being suppressed and this, together with the issue of an extent on Villiers's property, prevented him from being browbeaten by the finance committee, which recommended the abolition of the office in any case. Villiers was denied the new office that had been offered him and was left, in Lord Boringdon's estimate, 'subject to a debt of £1,500 or £2,000, a clear income of between £2,000 and £3,000 a year, with all the property in Cranborne House'.5
Villiers did not altogether escape further humiliation. Confined to his house, he learnt that the King had replaced him 'in the care and management of the Home Park'. His own farming and horsebreeding ventures were not successful. He appealed to the King (4 May 1810) not to prejudge him. Until her death later that year he had a valuable ally in the King's favourite daughter Princess Amelia. Princess Charlotte was led to believe that her aunts tried, through Villiers, 'to keep the Prince out of the Regency', but when he became Regent, he transferred him to his bedchamber services from the King's. He had already secured two colonial sinecures to keep his head above water. By the time the report of the finance committee touched on his affairs in September 1812, he was ready to fight back—it being apparent that his debts to the public had been exaggerated. Owing to Villiers's inability to regulate his accounts himself, and to an enemy at the navy office, the business dragged on for several years; in 1819 a balance against Villiers of some £220,000 was at length established. By then, no further disgrace could he visited on him. He was already beyond the pale as far as 'place or pension' was concerned.