VERNON (afterwards HARCOURT), George Granville Venables (1785-1861), of 19 Hanover Square and Stable Yard, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Aug. 1785, 1st s. of Hon. and Rev. Edward Venables Vernon (afterwards Harcourt), vic. of Sudbury, Derbys., and Lady Anne Leveson Gower, da. of Granville Leveson Gower†, 1st mq. of Stafford; bro. of Granville Venables Harcourt* (formerly 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 Oxon. estates of William Harcourt†, 3rd Earl Harcourt) 15 Jan. 1831. suc. fa. 1847. d. 19 Dec. 1861.
Vernon, scholarly and ‘naturally fond of reading’, whose father was bishop of Carlisle, 1797-1807, and archbishop of York from 1807 until his death 40 years later, had sat since 1806 for Lichfield on the Trentham interest of his uncle, the 2nd marquess of Stafford, with whom he had deserted opposition in 1815, having previously been a moderate Whig. At his unopposed return at the 1820 general election he expressed relief that Lichfield had not succumbed to ‘the calamitous tumults of sedition’ and urged the necessity of upholding ‘that harmony and subordination in all classes, without which commerce would not flourish nor industry be secure’.1 A poor attender, he was credited with having ‘voted with ministers’ by a radical commentary of 1825, but this was not always the case.2 He voted with the Liverpool ministry over the omission of Queen Caroline’s name from the liturgy, 23 Jan., but was in the opposition minority for Hamilton’s motion on the issue, 26 Jan. 1821, when, according to the ministerialist Lord Ancram*, he was one of ‘our friends’ who ‘voted against us merely because their father or brothers disapproved of the bill [of pains and penalties] in the other House’.3 A letter from his aunt conveyed the approval of Lord Stafford, whose ‘sentiments and yours perfectly coincide’, and of his father, whose own speech had been ‘very well expressed and delivered’ and who was ‘the individual peer who had the most cause for satisfaction’.4 ‘He was much relieved by the conversation he had with you in the House which removed any doubt from his mind on Hamilton’s motion’, his aunt later informed George Macpherson Grant*, adding that she hoped ‘no other’ questions would ‘arise on which any further scruple can be felt in going with’ ministers.5 On 29 Jan. he dissented from a petition presented by Anson, his Whig colleague at Lichfield, in support of the queen, claiming that it did not express ‘the unanimous sense of the inhabitants’ and that a protest against it ‘had been signed by about 300 persons’. He added that in voting for Hamilton’s motion ‘he had not been influenced by any view of overturning the present administration’, but had merely been motivated by the ‘original omission of the queen’s name’, and called for an address to the king to authorize Parliament to ‘prescribe such a form of prayer’ as would ‘prevent the recurrence of similar controversies’.6 He divided against the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He divided against parliamentary reform, 12 May, but for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May 1821. On 16 Aug. 1822, after Lord Londonderry’s* suicide, he wrote a letter of strong support to Canning, arguing that his ‘resolution to accept the government of India’ was ‘most deeply to be regretted’ and that it was ‘most essentially important to the House of Commons and the public interest, that you should remain here to fill that station which naturally belongs to you’. He added that he had ‘not taken the least interest in party politics nor formed any connection with any member of the government which I have been generally supporting’ since 1812, when he had attempted ‘to bring the leading members of the opposition, with which I was then connected, into co-operation with you’, and considered himself ‘therefore perfectly at liberty ... to support any line of conduct in relation to the present administration’ and Canning’s putative leadership of the House of Commons. Writing again, 25 Oct. 1822, he denied having aspired to the vacant under-secretaryship at the foreign office, which he thought had already been filled:
If you had been enabled to offer the under-secretaryship to me, of which your letter shows me very unexpectedly the kind intention ... I should have felt myself under some difficulty, because having never since 1812 contemplated office as a good even without the sacrifice of a seat in Parliament, I was by no means prepared to ... relinquish this, even for ... the only official situation of which ... the duties and circumstances would be pleasant to me ... I have taken so little interest in the business of Parliament for some years, and have derived so little amusement from its debates, that I should probably have consulted better for my own happiness and enjoyment of life by preferring your office.7
He divided for abolition of the death penalty for larceny, 21 May 1823, repeal of the usury laws, 8 Apr. 1824, and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825.
At the 1826 general election he offered again for Lichfield where the Trentham interest, following his uncle’s decision to sever all connection with Staffordshire politics, had been sold to his Whig kinsman Lord Anson, whose support he now received. A ‘most severe contest’ ensued, during which his headquarters were ‘violently assailed’ and stones were thrown at him, but after seven days the independent candidate conceded defeat, accusing Vernon and Anson of achieving their victory through ‘the violation of all law’.8 Vernon voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. On 18 Apr. he informed the moderate Whig leader Lord Lansdowne of his father’s ‘authentic account’ of ‘the interview between the king and his prelates of Canterbury and London’ and the ‘immense importance of enabling Canning to succeed if possible in giving Ireland a fit government’. ‘If he fails’, he warned, ‘the Tories will resume their influence, and if they choose to appeal to the people on the Catholic question, I fear they may be much strengthened’. In offering his support, he again disclaimed all personal interest in office, having ‘supported government for twelve years without it’, and believing that ‘under present circumstances it could scarcely be worth my while to risk another contest at Lichfield’. He regretted that his connection and coincidence of political opinions with Lord Stafford in 1815 had prevented him from taking ‘the course of personal connection with you, which was always most suited to my inclination’.9 He was in the ministerial minority against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827. He voted for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, and the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, 30 Mar. 1829. His only known votes in the rest of this Parliament were against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, 23 Feb., and for Jewish emancipation, 17 May 1830.
At the 1830 general election Vernon offered again, claiming to have given ‘fair and steady support to the government’. Faced with stiff opposition from the independent candidate Sir Edward Dolman Scott*, on the third day of polling a deal was struck whereby Vernon would ‘be returned this time’, but ‘whenever the period of another general election should arrive, he would not offer’ again.10 He was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘friends’ and divided in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Unpredictably, he voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he duly retired from Lichfield, highlighting his ‘recent support of the reform bill’, and offered instead for Oxfordshire where, following the death of the 3rd Earl Harcourt in June 1830, his father had succeeded to the estates of Stanton Harcourt and Nuneham Courteney, which they refurbished at a total cost of £70,000.11 In his published addresses Harcourt, as he was now styled, claimed to have discharged ‘the duty of an independent Member ... neither joining in a factious opposition to any existing administration, nor giving to any unqualified support’, and to have been ‘the advocate of reform at time when reform was unfashionable’, coming as he did from ‘a most respectable reforming family’. His opponents, however, accused him of advocating ‘measures which he has hitherto invariably opposed’ and alleged that his ‘pockets and those of other members of his family, are filled with money drawn from the public purse’. Granville Ryder* considered him ‘a bad canvasser’ who ‘would otherwise be pretty sure of Oxfordshire’, and noted that he had ‘made a poor job of it, in Oxford market place, coquetting with the farmers’. After a three-day poll he was returned when the Tory candidate Lord Norreys* (who later became his son-in-law) withdrew.12
Vernon spoke briefly on a technicality during a debate on the truck bill, 25 June 1831. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, when it was observed by John Hobhouse that during Peel’s speech ‘some of our converts, Harcourt Vernon for instance, winced under his whipping’, and gave general support to its details.13 He voted for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again gave general support to its details, although he was in the minority for his brother’s amendment to enfranchise all ratepayers above £10 annual value, 3 Feb. 1832. He voted for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., and the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. 1832.
He was returned again as a reformer at the 1832 general election and sat for Oxford