COWPER, George Nassau Clavering, Visct. Fordwich (1738-89).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



13 Dec. 1759 - 1761

Family and Education

b. 26 Aug. 1738, 1st s. of William, 2nd Earl Cowper, by Henrietta, da. of Henry Nassau de Auverquerque, 1st Earl of Grantham. m. 2 June 1775, Hannah Anne, da. and coh. of Charles Gore of Hockstow, Lincs., 3s. suc. to estates of maternal gd.-fa. in 1754; and fa. as 3rd Earl Cowper 18 Sept. 1765; cr. a prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Joseph II, 1777.

Offices Held


Cowper, sent abroad for his education, was by October 1757 ‘weary of Lausanne and wanting to ramble’.1 A year later he went on a tour,2 arrived at Venice 21 June 1759,3 and eventually at Florence, where he remained. Elected to Parliament in absentia he never took his seat. ‘We have Lord Fordwich’, wrote Horace Mann to Horace Walpole, 14 June 1760, ‘losing his whole time by acting the cicisbeo to the Marchesa [Corsi], and entertaining all her dependants.’ On the eve of the general election of 1761, 13 Feb., Dean Cowper wrote to Lord Cowper: ‘I don’t think but Lord Fordwich in spite of his perverse negligence is still safe in, Brassey’s interest being so closely connected with yours ...’ He was not even declared a candidate. On 17 Oct. 1761 Mann wrote to Walpole:

Lord Fordwich, who disobliged his father and lost his seat in Parliament by only not fixing the time of his departure, seems resolved to return to England soon.

He did not—even the earnest entreaties of his dying father failed to get him back from Florence. Still, his absence abroad did not stop him from applying in 1765 for the Order of the Bath, and the lord lieutenancy of Kent;4 and in 1768 for the Garter or the Thistle.5 In 1780, having tried through the Grand Duke of Tuscany to influence the King of Spain in favour of a general peace, he asked George III once more for the Garter to ‘alleviate the mortification I am under ... in having failed in my enterprise’; and offered the King Raphael’s self-portrait and his ‘Madonna and Child’ (sold in 1928 for £175,000) for £2,500.6 In August 1782 he applied to be created a duke;7 and having at last returned to England in 1786, ‘a very great stranger ... in his native land and to it’,8 he asked to be made British minister at Florence; went back without it; and died at Florence 22 Dec. 1789; but was buried at Hertingfordbury in Hertfordshire.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Spencer Cowper, Dean of Durham, to Earl Cowper, 23 Oct. 1757, Letters of Spencer Cowper, ed. Hughes.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to Lady Bute, 24 June 1759.
  • 4. See letters from the Duke of Grafton to Cowper, 30 Aug. and 20 Nov. 1765, Herts. RO. Cowper mss.
  • 5. See ibid. letters from Bute, 27 May, and from Grafton, 12 Dec. 1768.
  • 6. Fortescue, v. 50.
  • 7. Cowper to Shelburne, 5 Aug. 1782, Lansdowne mss.
  • 8. Frances Boscawen to Mrs. Delany, 27 May 1786, Autobiog. and Corresp. vi. 356.