HARCOURT, George Simon, Visct. Nuneham (1736-1809).

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



1761 - 1768

Family and Education

b. 1 Aug. 1736, 1st s. of Simon, 1st Earl Harcourt, by Rebecca, da. and h. of Charles Samborne le Bas, of Pipewell Abbey, Northants.  educ. Westminster 1746-1748; Grand Tour (Germany and Italy) 1754-6.  m. 26 Sept. 1765, his 1st cos. Hon. Elizabeth Venables Vernon, da. of George, 1st Lord Vernon, s.p.  suc. fa. as 2nd Earl 16 Sept. 1777.

Offices Held

Master of the horse to the Queen 1790- d.


Lord Nuneham was returned after a contest on the Spencer interest at St. Albans. His father was a courtier: had been governor to George III when Prince of Wales, was sent to Mecklenburg in 1761 to escort the future Queen to England, and was appointed her master of the horse. Naturally Nuneham was expected to adhere to the court. In Bute’s list of 1761 he is marked ‘Bute’, and he appears in Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries. On 7 Nov. 1762 Harcourt wrote to Charles Jenkinson:

I have wrote to Lord Bute about Lord Nuneham, but my letter to his Lordship is far from being pressing. I have expressed my desire to see Lord Nuneham in his Majesty’s service but I have left it entirely at large, to take place now, or hereafter, whichever may be most convenient to his Majesty or his Administration.

Nuneham received no appointment, and probably did not desire one. He was of little political consequence. Harcourt said in December 1762 ‘that Lord Nuneham did not open his mouth in the House’, and there is no record of his speaking afterwards.1

He supported the Grenville Administration, but in the division of 18 Feb. 1764 on general warrants voted against them. The same day Harcourt wrote to the King:2

I am under such perturbation of mind, and so completely unhappy on account of Lord Nuneham who (I find) has taken a part in the last question so contrary to your Majesty’s interest, so contrary to the wellbeing of this country, and so diametrically to my own principles, that I think myself called upon in duty and honour to declare my disapprobation of it.
Lord Nuneham has hitherto attended so little to affairs of Government that I fear he has allowed himself to be imposed upon by those who have but too well succeeded in making him and other unwary people the dupes of faction and the tools of ambition.

The King assured Harcourt that no blame should be laid to his account, and the incident passed over without doing father or son any harm. It does not appear that Nuneham ever repented his vote, but he took care not to offend again. After his marriage in September 1765 he went abroad, and did not return to England until the end of 1766. His only other recorded vote in the Commons was with Administration on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767.

Horace Walpole wrote3 about Nuneham after he had become a peer:

The new Earl was a most honest man, and, being by principle averse to the measures of the court, had quitted the House of Commons because he would not support the measures and would not differ with his father.

‘I have neither spirits nor constitution’, wrote Nuneham to Harcourt, 10 June 1772,4 ‘to engage in the hurry and bustle, nor to support the constraint of a public scene.’ But he had political opinions: he was a friend of Mrs. Catherine Macaulay, the Radical, and an admirer and correspondent of Rousseau. His first vote in the House of Lords was against the court on the Address, 20 Nov. 1777, and he consistently opposed the American war. Neither he nor his wife went to court until December 1783, when Harcourt refused the offer of the embassy to Spain but accepted for his wife a place in the Queen’s bedchamber. Then, writes Walpole (but this was after he had quarrelled with Harcourt),5 ‘she and her Lord became a proverb even to courtiers, of the most servile attachment to their Majesties’. The attachment, at least, is proved by the number of letters addressed to them by members of the royal family.6

Harcourt died 20 Apr. 1809.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Jenkinson Pprs. 82, 101.
  • 2. Ibid. 267.
  • 3. Last Jnls. ii. 75.
  • 4. Harcourt Pprs. iii. 113.
  • 5. Note by Walpole on his letter to Mason of 2 Feb. 1784, Yale ed. xxix. 332.
  • 6. Harcourt Pprs. vi.