SACKVILLE (afterwards GERMAIN), Lord George (1716-85), of Stoneland Lodge, Suss. and Drayton, Northants.

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



1741 - 1761
1761 - 1768
1768 - 11 Feb. 1782

Family and Education

b. 26 Jan. 1716, 3rd s. of Lionel, 1st Duke of Dorset, and bro. of Charles, Earl of Middlesex.  educ. Westminster 1723-31; Trinity, Dublin 1731; Irish bar 1734.  m. 3 Sept. 1754, Diana, da. and coh. of John Sambrooke, 2s. 3da.  suc. fa. in estate of Stoneland Lodge 1765; and to Drayton on d. of Lady Elizabeth Germain in 1769 and took name of Germain. cr. Visct. Sackville 11 Feb. 1782.

Offices Held

Capt. 3 Horse 1737; lt.-col. 28 Ft. 1740; col. army 1745; col. 20 Ft. 1746-9, 12 Drag. 1749-50, 3 Horse 1750-7; maj.-gen. 1755; col. 2 Drag. Gds. 1757-9; lt.-gen. 1758; lt.-gen. of the Ordnance 1758-9; c.-in-c. British forces, Germany Oct. 1758; dismissed the service 1759.

M.P. [I] 1733-61; ranger of Phoenix Park 1736- d.; clerk of the Council [I] 1737- d.; P.C. [I] 19 Sept. 1751; chief sec. [I] 1751-5; P.C. [GB] 27 Jan. 1758-25 Apr. 1760, 20 Dec. 1765- d.; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Dec. 1765-July 1766; first ld. of Trade Nov. 1775-Nov. 1779; sec. of state for America Nov. 1775-Feb. 1782.


Lord George Sackville was the favourite son of a fond and indulgent father. Dorset’s older sons were a sad disappointment to him: Lord Middlesex was a spendthrift, who quarrelled with his father; and Lord John was mentally unbalanced. Dorset took Lord George to Ireland when he went in 1731 as lord lieutenant; appointed him to two Irish sinecures; and gave him a commission in a regiment on the Irish establishment. Back in England in 1740 Sackville exchanged into an English regiment, and during the war of the Austrian succession served in Flanders and Scotland. He was wounded at Fontenoy, was well noticed by the Duke of Cumberland, and acquired the reputation of a brave and resourceful officer. When Dorset went again to Ireland in 1751 Sackville became his chief secretary; and he and Archbishop Stone, the primate, were the real rulers of the country during Dorset’s second vice-royalty, a period marked by violent opposition to Government in the Irish Parliament.

In 1755 Sackville resumed his place in the British House of Commons with the reputation of a rising man both in politics and the army. Horace Walpole described him as ‘of very sound parts, of distinguished bravery, and of as honourable eloquence’; and thought him one of the best speakers in the Commons. His speeches ‘informed and convinced’;1 he had ‘a naturally clear understanding’, wrote Shelburne,2 ‘which prevented his taking up any argument ... of which he was not complete master’, and he usually reserved himself for big political questions. Dorset placed the family influence in the Cinque Ports and at East Grinstead at his disposal; his mother’s relatives and his army connexions brought him many friends among the Scots; and he began to build up a personal following in the House of Commons. He was ambitious and egocentric; imperious and reserved; disposed to quarrel with all in authority over him, yet beneficent towards his dependants; a bad colleague but a good master.

After the general election of 1754 Newcastle had classed Sackville as a friend; and in October 1755, when he took Fox for secretary of state, counted on Sackville’s continued support. Sackville declared ‘that he had no objection to Mr. Fox’; but complained ‘that he was left out of everything, knew nothing, and in short must have some military distinction’. ‘He will be immediately appointed on the staff’, wrote Newcastle to Hardwicke on 18 Oct. 1755; and seems to have regarded Sackville’s support as assured. But when on 8 Nov. Newcastle invited him to move the Address, Sackville replied:

I took the liberty of fully explaining my situation to your Grace when I last waited upon you, and if you will be pleased to recollect what I then said ... you will see the impropriety of my taking a part which would declare the strongest attachment to the present Administration.3

What Sackville had said does not appear in Newcastle’s papers, nor the steps Newcastle took to win him over. In the debate of 5 Dec. 1755 on the army estimates Sackville made ‘an excellent speech’, reproving Pitt for irresponsibility;4 and he was one of the leading speakers for Administration in the debate of 12 Dec. on the subsidy treaties.

At first he stood aloof from the struggle for power between Pitt and Fox, and in his speeches showed his concern at the defenceless state of the country. He helped Pitt with the militia bill of December 1755, and on 29 Mar. 1756 moved to address the King to send for the Hanoverian troops. Dislike of Cumberland (the symbol of superior authority) prevented any close relationship with Fox; who yet appreciated his abilities and tried to win him over. During the Pitt-Devonshire Administration, wrote Walpole,5Sackville ‘took every opportunity of showing how useful or troublesome he could be’. And Calcraft wrote about him to Lord Loudoun on 7 Jan. 1757:6 ‘Secretary at war he will be if he pleases and soon—higher if he likes it, but this seems his ambition.’

According to Walpole, Sackville had leaned towards Fox, ‘deeming Mr. Pitt’s system too romantic for duration’. In February 1757, ‘when Pitt condescended to make room in his virtue for Hanover’, Sackville ‘made no difficulty of uniting with him’.7On 18 Feb. he supported Pitt’s motion for the Hanoverian subsidy: ‘His part was most friendly and handsome’, wrote Pitt to Bute,8 ‘and his weight decided the success of the day ... He deserves every return in our power.’ And Calcraft to Loudoun on 4 Mar.:9‘I am sorry to say we are in fear Lord George Sackville has made up at Leicester House, but Mr. Fox is sensible of his merit, that should he come in he will push hard to bring Lord George in with him.’ Walpole writes that Sackville ‘confessed he had taken his part, as the contest lay between Leicester House and the Duke [of Cumberland]’.10 Certainly his volte-face, which offended Cumberland and made a mortal enemy of the King, was not entirely due to interested motives. Sackville knew that Fox was afraid to take over responsibility for the war, and realized that Pitt could no longer be kept out.

When Fox tried to form an Administration after the dismissal of Pitt, he offered Sackville the post of secretary of state. ‘If Lord George will take it’, Fox wrote to Lord Waldegrave, 19 Mar. 1757,11 ‘nothing can shake us in the House of Commons.’ But Sackville declined. The Prince of Wales wrote to Bute on 10 June:12 ‘Lord George shows himself the man of honour you have often described him to me.’ Pitt, in his negotiations with Newcastle, insisted on the War Office for Sackville: ‘if that was not yielded he must break off the communication, and by what he hinted he was not his own master upon that subject’.13 The King told Hardwicke ‘that Lord George had most ungratefully abandoned him after all that he had done for his Lordship, and had gone over to his enemies’;14 and categorically refused the demand.

On the retirement of Cumberland in October 1757 Pitt secured for Sackville the place of lieutenant-general of the Ordnance. ‘Lord George ... was now rising to a principal figure’, wrote Walpole.15 ‘His abilities in the House of Commons and his interest with Pitt gave him great weight in Government, and everything seemed to promise him the first rank in the army.’ And Shelburne wrote in retrospect:16 ‘I do not conceive that anything but the checks which stopped his military career could have prevented his being prime minister.’ In June 1758 he went as second-in-command of the expedition against St. Malo; but like most soldiers disapproved of these amphibious operations, and when offered the command of that to St. Cas is said to have told Pitt ‘he would not longer go buccaneering’.17 He pressed to be allowed to go to Germany; and, against the King’s wish, was appointed second-in-command of the British force. In October 1758, on the Duke of Marlborough’s death, he became commander-in-chief; but the power of promoting officers, which had been granted to Marlborough, was withheld from him at the express command of the King. Nor did Sackville receive the customary promotion to Marlborough’s place as head of the Ordnance. ‘Hurt and disappointed’, he felt his consequence diminished.18

It was clearly his duty to maintain a good understanding with Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, commander-in-chief of the allied army. This he failed to do, and perhaps hardly tried: there was ‘want of confidence, narrowed communication, difference of opinion in councils of war’.19 The story that Sackville annoyed Ferdinand by trying to put down peculation by the German commissaries may well be true, but does not account for everything; he even managed to quarrel with the easy-going Granby, his second-in-command. In November 1758 the Prince of Wales wrote to Bute:20

I got a curious anecdote last night concerning Lord George. An officer in the Hanoverian service has been at Hanover, who says his Lordship is so imperious and satirical that none of the foreign troops can bear him, and that if he is to remain at the head of the British troops they expect some fracas between the different corps that compose the allied army.

When Leicester House believed such stories there must have been a good deal of truth in them. It is against this background that his conduct at the battle of Minden must be considered.

At the decisive moment of the battle (1 Aug. 1759) he failed to obey Prince Ferdinand’s repeated orders to bring up the cavalry; whereby it was claimed the defeat of the French was rendered less complete. He was dismissed from all his military appointments and his rank in the army (by which he lost about £5,000 per annum). Court martialled at his own request, he was declared ‘unfit to serve his Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever’. The King forbade him the court; struck his name from the Privy Council; and issued an order, to be read at the head of every British regiment, in which the sentence was described as ‘much worse than death to a man who has any sense of honour’. Rigby expected him to be expelled the House of Commons;21 but Pitt (so Shelburne stated in the Lords twenty years later22) pointed out that Sackville represented a family borough and could be re-chosen again and again.

Sackville ably conducted his own defence, assisted by Alexander Wedderburn. ‘Nothing was timid—nothing humble in his behaviour,’ writes Walpole.23 His defence was clever, but hardly convincing: he made much of the discrepancy between the different orders, justified his delay by the wooded nature of the ground, and pointed out that he did in fact order the cavalry to advance. But failure to engage at the height of battle can only be justified by the weightiest reasons. The court could have come to no other verdict. Byng was shot for a lesser offence.

What was behind Sackville’s conduct at Minden? The charge of cowardice may be dismissed: both before and after Minden Sackville showed his coolness under danger. Walpole believed he was jealous of Prince Ferdinand.24 This is near the mark. Sackville himself wrote to Bute on 3 Aug. 1759:25

The cruel part of the Prince’s answer26 is that as I commanded the whole British corps my part was as much with the infantry as with the cavalry, when his own order of battle fixes me to the right wing of cavalry. I never knew anything so unfair, so unjust, and I must say so wicked.

He ascribed his unfavourable reception by the Prince to ‘the effect of my having too freely declared my opinion upon the first operations of this campaign’. In short, Sackville went into battle resentful at having been allotted what he regarded as an inferior position by a commander whose strategy he distrusted.

Walpole later wrote of this period of Sackville’s disgrace:27 ‘I, Sir John Irvine [Irwin], and Mr. Brand had been the only three men in England who had dared to speak to or sit by Lord George in public places.’ From two other quarters his cause was viewed sympathetically. The Duke of Argyll is reported to have said:28 ‘He was a friend of the Scots, let us say nothing against him’; and the Prince of Wales thought the proceedings against him ‘extraordinary and contrary to our constitution’.29 It seemed, however, that he was finished; but Walpole wrote to Mann on 20 Apr. 1760: ‘I think this is not the last we shall hear of him.’ And Sackville to Captain Hugo, his former German aide-de-camp, 27 Aug. 1760:30 ‘I must have recourse to patience till time shall alter circumstance.’

On George II’s death Sackville obtained from Bute permission to attend at court, and was ‘well received’ by the King. But the ministers, in particular Pitt, were offended; and Sackville ‘was privately instructed to discontinue his attendance’.31 He had expected from the new reign nothing less than immediate reinstatement in the army; but had to rest content with the King’s promise ‘when peace came to take off the violent proscription against him’.32

Sackville now turned his attention to winning back his position in Parliament, and within a few months had again made himself one of the leading speakers in the Commons. His first speech since his disgrace was on the German war, 10 Dec. 1761: he objected to its expense, but was against breaking it off abruptly. He spoke ‘admirably well’, wrote James Harris; and Lord John Cavendish:33 ‘He was heard as quietly and replied to as civilly ... as if nothing had happened.’ Of his speech on the motion for the Spanish papers, 11 Dec. 1761, Harris wrote: ‘with great decorum and nothing personal [he] answered the greater part of Mr. Pitt’s arguments’. On 10 Dec. 1762 he defended the peace prelimaries against the charge of bad faith to Prussia. In January 1763 Fox advised Bute to consult Sackville about reducing the army;34 and in September suggested him to Sandwich as an effective speaker in the Commons:35‘He won’t be afraid of Charles Townshend, I believe, nor of Pitt neither.’

Late in December 1762 Sackville claimed the fulfilment of the King’s promise. The King thought his application untimely: ‘A civil employment is what suits him best’, he wrote to Bute,36 ‘ ... how much should we not hear again of the unlucky day of Minden if he were in the profession again?’ A further postponement was made. On 2 Apr. 1763 Sir Henry Erskine raised the matter with Jenkinson.37

I am anxious for Lord Bute’s sake [he wrote] in whose name I have stipulated fifty times to Lord George that he should have his rank and a civil employment at the end of this session ... Beside all this, the day will unquestionably come when ... Lord Bute’s friends will have occasion for his assistance and support, and if it be not done I must add that he is the most intriguing man in Parliament, has much influence with Charles Townshend, and they will infallibly join the Opposition.

The King, replied Bute on 8 Apr.,38 appreciated Sackville’s ‘merit and abilities’; but ‘from reasons of state alone’ could not take a step which ‘would revolt numbers about him’. There was no objection to Sackville coming to court; and the King ‘at a proper time ... should not be against giving him a civil office’.39

If I am to continue unrelieved [wrote Sackville to Erskine on 10 Apr.] till every part of Administration should wish to see me restored to favour and employment, I may pass the remainder of my life in vain expectation ... Nothing but the utmost necessity shall oblige me to give any degree of opposition to such ministers as the King may employ, but if I am sensible that those about his Majesty shall persist in preventing me from receiving those marks of the King’s justice which his own benign and amiable disposition would incline him to show ... surely I may be allowed to declare in Parliament my disapprobation of the measures of such men.

And on 2 Sept. to his friend John Irwin: ‘If I have anything to repent of it is having left the impression of my being strongly joined and connected with what is thought the remains of my Lord Bute’s Administration.’40 On Wilkes’s case he spoke for the court, 23 Nov. 1763, but on 22 Jan. 1764 Walpole reported him as ‘ill-disposed’ towards Grenville.41 In the debate on general warrants of 6 Feb. he spoke ‘well and magnanimously’ but ‘warm for the question’ (i.e. against Administration);42 and on the division carried five followers with him into the Opposition lobby (Lord Middlesex, John Damer, John Irwin, Sir Thomas Hales, Aubrey Beauclerk). In the division of 15 Feb. he was a teller for the Opposition, and he also voted with them on 18 Feb.

But Sackville had his own game to play, and kept clear of the main Opposition group. His only political connexion at this time appears to have been with Charles Townshend.43 ‘If Charles Townshend gets a place’, wrote Walpole to Hertford on 22 Jan. 1765, ‘Lord George Sackville expects another.’ By then he had tired of opposition: on 4 Mar. 1765 he voted with the court on Calvert’s motion on ex officio informations, and on the Regency bill (9 May) spoke against the Opposition motion to appoint the Queen Regent.

On 7 July 1765 Lord Egmont asked Sackville about his attitude to the newly-formed Rockingham Administration. Sackville said his political allegiance was only to the King, whom he did not wish to see given up ‘entirely to the direction of any one man, or to any set of men’. He recommended Townshend for leader of the House of Commons, said of himself that he would be ‘extremely sorry to be in any office of responsibility’, but made it clear that he would not undertake to support Administration ‘upon the strongest assurance of future consideration’ only. Townshend claimed to have recommended Sackville to the ministry, found that ‘the measure had been under general consideration’, and urged him to make his wishes plain.44

According to Walpole,45 Sackville ‘was early in the most humble application to the Duke of Cumberland to be received into the new establishment’, but ‘the Duke was disposed to give him hopes only’. This seems to be borne out by Newcastle’s comment on ‘the Duke’s last plan’, 12 July:46 ‘As to the vice-treasurership of Ireland ... I understand one is to be kept vacant for Lord George Sackville, and I mightily approve that.’ Nothing was said to Sackville. He wrote on 29 July to Irwin: ‘As to myself I must remain as I did’; and on 14 Sept.: ‘The new ministry ... have not yet filled up the vice treasurers’ employments.’47But Rockingham, in a list of arrangements for the opening of Parliament, dated 27 Nov. 1765,48 included Sackville among those who were to manage for Administration ‘in case of attack’; and wrote to Newcastle on 1 Dec.:49 ‘Sir Jeffery [Amherst] told me that he was sure Lord George was determined to be a supporter, and was ready to take part if anything offered.’ Newcastle now opposed Sackville’s appointment, fearing it would offend Pitt; but on 1 Dec. the offer was made and accepted. ‘I am not sorry I am now once more belonging to court’, wrote Sackville to Irwin on 23 Dec.50

This short period of office (he was dismissed the moment Pitt came to power) whitewashed him. He never identified himself with the Rockingham Administration (though he occasionally spoke for them); and voted against them over the Anstruther election, 31 Jan. 1766, and the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. He was grateful to Rockingham,51 but his authoritarian views on the colonies forbade any close connexion. He wrote about Ireland on 27 June 1766: ‘The lenity of Government sets everything afloat in that kingdom’; and about America on 6 Jan. 1767: ‘The ministers ... must perceive how ill they are requited for that extraordinary lenity and indulgence with which they treated ... these undutiful children.’52

He made up his quarrel with Grenville in January 1766; and Wedderburn, their common friend, drew them closer together. Grenville’s diary for 27 Nov. 1766 contains the entry:53 ‘Lord George Sackville sent to Mr. Grenville to devote himself to him, and came to him that evening’; and in all parliamentary lists at this time Sackville was classed as Grenville’s follower. He spoke for Grenville’s motion on the corn embargo, 5 Dec. 1766; and when during the debate on Grenville’s motion on American defence, 26 Jan. 1767, Townshend promised to try to raise a revenue from America, it was Sackville who obtained from him a definite pledge. Sackville was informed by Grenville of the outcome of the ministerial negotiations of July 1767. Grenville, he said in the Commons on 21 May 1773, was ‘a name I never mention without respect’.54

In the Parliament of 1768 Sackville voted consistently with the Opposition, and attended their dinners at the Thatched House Tavern in 1769 and 1770. His speeches in the House were always temperate and sensible; he had no sympathy with the wilder fancies of Opposition (though on 12 Feb. 1770 he supported Dowdeswell’s motion to disfranchise revenue officers, and on 4 Mar. 1772 voted for shorter Parliaments), and never set out to be a popular hero. He wrote to Sir William Hamilton on 17 Nov. 1769 about the petitioning movement:55

These appeals to the people are dangerous and may have false consequences, and teaching them upon this occasion to take cognizance of public business collectively will lower in their opinion every future representative body as well as the present, and when once the mob and the middling people lose their respect for Parliament there is an end of all Government and subordination.

On Grenville’s death in November 1770 Germain (as he was now called) was once more isolated in politics, but Rockingham had come to value his support and tried to draw him into his circle. Germain’s conduct in the duel he fought with George Johnstone in December 1770 erased the stain of cowardice. ‘Nothing could exceed the coolness, readiness, and intrepidity of Lord George on this occasion’, wrote Thomas Townshend jun., who had been his second.56 On 23 Jan. 1771 Germain was invited by Richmond, acting leader of the party during Rockingham’s absence at Bath, to ‘a very private meeting’ to consider relations with Chatham;57 and he also attended the meetings called to discuss the party’s line on the Spanish convention, 5, 10 Feb. 1771. Rockingham wrote to Burke on 14 Feb. 1771: ‘I am particularly sorry that ... I have not had the opportunity of conversing fully with Lord George Germain ... I am sure when I do ... it will give me much pleasure and satisfaction.’

In April 1772 he was elected to Burgoyne’s select committee on the East India Company, being placed fourth on the poll—an indication of his recovered standing in the House. As the session of 1772-3 approached, when East India affairs would be the principal business, Rockingham asked Burke to find out Germain’s attitude towards the plan of seceding from Parliament. Burke replied on 29 Oct. 1772:

I rather suspect that he will not approve of it. Though he is not very active in the House, few are more diligent attenders. I fancy this attendance is his principal amusement, and he may not think so favourably of any scheme of policy that tends to take away that pleasure from him. Besides he has got deep into the India committee, and does not seem totally to dislike the business that is going on there, or the general tendency of it.

Germain thought the plan of non-attendance ‘absolutely impracticable’.58 Rockingham, who could not attend the meeting of Parliament, urged Dowdeswell to consult Germain before the East India business came into the House; which he did. Yet on 18 Dec. Germain spoke for Administration’s bill to restrain the company from sending out supervisors to India: he was ‘sorry to hear it thrown out that an opposition is made to this business’.59 The Rockinghams were hurt and bewildered. ‘The part which Lord George Germain took ...’, wrote Burke to Rockingham on 7 Jan. 1773, ‘did us great mischief at the time.’ And in the same letter:

I am apt to think that notwithstanding the extraordinary line which Lord George has taken he has no connections with the ministry ... Strange as it may appear with regard to a man of his time of life and his habits of business, he feels himself flattered by having been nominated to the select committee. He is entertained beyond measure with the anecdotes he learns there; and this amusement and importance give him a strong leaning towards those who promote enquiries productive of such agreeable effects. The Duke of Richmond thinks that Lord George is not quite satisfied in not having the lead of your Lordship’s friends in the House of Commons; and is therefore not displeased with any opportunity of throwing difficulties in the way of those measures which he does not direct. I am not sure that ... a certain professional leaning to strong acts of power and to a high authority in the Crown have not their full operation on his conduct ... Besides I find that ... Lord Clive has obtained a considerable ascendant over him ...
Much as I esteem Lord George Germain in some things and admire him in many things, I must say he has not taken the measure of all the party with his usual ability if it be any part of his plan to have the lead of us in the House of Commons. The object he looks for seems to me quite impracticable, even though Mr. Dowdeswell did not exist ... In argument Lord George is apt to take a sort of undecided, narrow ground, that evades the substantial merits of the question, and puts the whole upon some temporary local, accidental, or personal consideration.

In short, Germain was not imbued with true Rockingham principles; and one can only wonder how anyone ever thought he was.

During the next two years Germain was once again unconnected in Parliament. This was probably the period of his greatest influence as a speaker. He had ‘persisted to act in public’, wrote Walpole, ‘till the uncommon excellence of his abilities had surmounted the load of contempt under which he had lain’. And of his speech in defence of Clive, 21 May 1773: ‘He was allowed to have surpassed himself, and to have compressed into a few pithy manly sentences the sum of all that could possibly be said in alleviation or excuse, in justice or policy.’60 But it was in his speeches on America in early 1774 that his influence reached its zenith.

Throughout the period of his co-operation with the Rockinghams he had never changed his views on America, nor had he trimmed to suit his new friends. In the spring of 1774 he wished to see ‘what may put this country upon a permanent foundation with regard to the colonies’; which required ‘vigour, firmness, and decision in the execution’ and ‘must be laid in the foundation of wisdom’.61 His demand for resolute action against lawlessness in Boston, 28 Mar. 1774, received from North the tribute:62 ‘I think the country obliged to Lord George. What he has said highly deserves our attention’, and even Walpole, who had little sympathy with his views on America, wrote that there was ‘much sense and foresight’ in this ‘much admired speech’.63 North’s punitive measures, said Germain on 2 May 1774,64 were ‘calculated for the protection of those who support the civil power’.

What is the state of Boston? Anarchy and confusion. Have they at this instant a civil magistrate that dare act? Have they any redress for any one grievance but what depends upon the will of the licentious multitude? ...
An honourable gentleman who sits near [Conway] says we are disputing about a trifling object, we are disputing about a tax. Who would dispute a moment ... upon such a subject as this? If the giving up that tax could quiet America ... should we not fly to the resource and be happy in promoting the peace and good understanding of the mother country and the colonies? But if we give up the tax at this time ... we depart from the constitution of Great Britain, and I defy the ablest man among us ... to find ground to stand on for supporting your supremacy if you do not do it upon this ground ... Depart from this, they will assert every right and substitute their assembly in the place of your Parliament.

And on 26 Nov. 1775:65 ‘If the Americans, ... willing to share their common burthens with us, can propose any mode [of taxation] which will make them easy, which will remove their fears and jealousies, I shall be ready to adopt it.’

In April 1774 it was rumoured that Germain was about to take office, even to resume his rank in the army.66 In January 1775 John Burgoyne had a talk with him about America.67

He had more information upon the subject [wrote Burgoyne], more enlarged sentiments, and more spirit than any of the ministers with whom I had conversed. He acknowledged that he was in all consultations upon American measures, that indeed his warmth had led him almost to offer himself to Lord North; but ... he assured me upon his honour no word had passed between them ... intimating even a wish on either side for a ministerial connection.

In October 1775 Germain refused an invitation from North to go to America ‘with ample powers to settle everything in dispute with any colony’; next month he became secretary of state for America. ‘I have tried and cannot avoid it’, he wrote to Irwin. ‘Pity me, encourage me, and I will do my best.’68

‘Till Lord George came into place’, wrote Walpole, ‘there had been no spirit or sense in the conduct of the war.’ He was ‘indefatigable in laying plans for raising and hiring troops’.69 George Selwyn wrote to Lord Carlisle on 8 Dec. 1775:70 ‘Lord George Sackville seems in very great spirits—is quite persuaded that all this will end after the first campaign, and that he himself ... shall establish his reputation as a minister by it.’ And Gibbon to Holroyd on 4 Nov. 1776: ‘Lord George Germain ... was in high spirits and hopes to reconquer Germany in America.’

Germain counted on the help of a large body of loyalists. ‘How much more mischief must be done before we are to avail ourselves of local force?’, he wrote to Irwin on 13 June 1775.71 ‘It had never been his idea that America could be conquered’, he said in Parliament on 11 June 1779,72‘... he trusted rather to the good sense and feeling of the people of America in general than to the force of arms.’ And on 6 Nov. 1780:73 ‘he was convinced more than half the people in America were the friends of this country’; it was ‘the tyranny of Congress’ which alone prevented the loyalists from taking up arms. He ‘denied that he ever said he should require an unconditional submission’, but repeated again and again ‘that he never wished to see the Government of this country treating with its colonies while they were in arms against it’.74

During the course of the war Germain quarrelled with every commander-in-chief in America and with most of the Cabinet at home. Against Carleton he pursued a ceaseless vendetta; both Burgoyne and Howe on their return home blamed him for their lack of success; Bathurst left the Cabinet because of a quarrel with him; there was a quarrel with Sandwich in 1781; etc. Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga followed by Howe’s request to be recalled weakened Germain’s position with the King. ‘The good of the service requires that either the secretary or the general should retire’, wrote the King to North in January 1778.75 ‘I wish you would ... tell me fairly which of the two measures will be best.’ Germain, depressed by his wife’s death, wished to resign: ‘A man at my time of life’, he wrote to his undersecretary, William Knox,76 ‘... will make but a bad figure in an office that requires full vigour of mind, activity, and diligence.’ But Suffolk persuaded him to remain.

Germain approved of North’s conciliatory proposals ‘on the grounds of expediency’,77 end ‘wished all the Acts might be repealed subsequent to 1763’.78 But he complained that the plan had been drawn up ‘not only without consulting with me but without the smallest degree of communication’.79 Affronted by the appointment of Carleton to a military governorship, he again thought of resigning—‘I cannot doubt but that my services are no longer acceptable’, he wrote to Irwin on 3 Feb. And the King to North on 3 Mar.:80 ‘I own I think Lord G. Germain’s defection a most favourable event ... the laying it on my bequeathing the government of Charlemount on Carleton is quite absurd, and shows the malevolence of his mind.’ But he would not retire without ‘some mark of favour from the Crown’; which the King was not prepared to grant.

On 12 May 1778 Germain applied to North for the office of lord warden of the Cinque Ports—‘long ... the object of my wishes’.81

If your Lordship thinks of asking that office for yourself I can have no pretensions to it; the truth is that when I consider my age, I cannot expect to have health and activity much longer to discharge the duty of my present situation. Indeed, I have found the attendance of the House of Commons this session too fatiguing and almost intolerable.

After much pressure from North the King consented, but the projected ministerial re-arrangement of which it was to form part fell through. And so he remained, disliked by the King and the ministers, distrusted by the soldiers. ‘He has not been of use in his department’, wrote the King to North on 15 June 1779.82 The Board of Trade was taken from him and given to Lord Carlisle. ‘I have no reply to make’, wrote Germain to North on 13 Sept., when told of the proposed arrangement, ‘but humbly to submit ... though I must feel it as degrading to me.’83

On 9 Sept. 1779 Germain wrote to Sir William Hamilton:84

Indecision and a false tenderness for the lives of individuals have raised up this rebellion to its present formidable state ... I have no patience with the dilatory proceedings of our military department ... Do what you will, nothing will avail till Lord North will adopt a system, pursue it with firmness, and oblige every department of Government to act under his directions ... I know no other receipt [but the one] Lord Chatham had last war. All was languid and every department had its forms and difficulties. He raised them all, and by activity alone succeeded in every attempt, for he had neither plan, system, nor even intelligence.

Here was an important reason for British lack of success. Though Germain was responsible for operations in America, he had little authority over the army and none over the navy. Yet in his letters to America he continued to profess optimism. Even as late as 7 Mar. 1781 he wrote to Clinton:85 ‘So very contemptible is the rebel force now in all parts, and so vast is our superiority everywhere, that no resistance on their part is to be apprehended that can materially obstruct the progress of the King’s arms in the speedy suppression of the rebellion.’ But in the House of Commons he fell back on the argument that there was no alternative to carrying on the war: to grant American independence would be ‘the destruction of this country’.86

After Yorktown Germain drew up a memorandum for the Cabinet in favour of continuing the war, wrong alike in its premisses and conclusions.87 ‘If you consider the consequences of totally abandoning the colonies’, he wrote, ‘you must not confine yourself only to the dismembering the Empire ... but you must reflect upon the additional weight and strength France will derive from it.’ Canada, the Newfoundland fisheries, and the West Indies would also be lost. The Americans were too closely tied to France to be able to make peace unless French demands were satisfied. But ‘their dislike of a military government, their natural aversion to the French nation, may incline them to return to their connexion with this country, if we remain in a situation to receive and protect them’. He told the King he would remain in office only ‘if the war was carried on with vigour’ and ‘the separation with America was not adopted’.88

His policy was favoured only by the King; who, however, was now anxious to see him go in order to have Carleton as commander-in-chief. Despite repeated promptings North vacillated, and it was not until February 1782 that Germain resigned. A motion in the Lords against his being created a peer was defeated by 61 to 26.

For the last three years of his life he kept himself aloof from all party connexions. He voted against Fox’s East India bill and supported Pitt; but turned against him on the Irish commercial propositions—the last occasion on which he spoke in Parliament.

He died 26 Aug. 1785.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Mems. Geo. II, i. 279; ii. 144, 147.
  • 2. Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, i. 250.
  • 3. Add. 32860, ff. 19, 40, 90, 434.
  • 4. Rigby to Bedford, 6 Dec. 1755, Bedford Corresp. ii. 180-1.
  • 5. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 284.
  • 6. Add. 17493, f. 28.
  • 7. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 316.
  • 8. Sedgwick, ‘Letters from Pitt to Bute 1755-8’, Essays presented to Sir Lewis Namier, 120.
  • 9. Add. 17493, f. 49.
  • 10. Mems. Geo. II, iii. 29.
  • 11. Henry Fox mss.
  • 12. Sedgwick, Letters Geo. III to Bute, 7.
  • 13. Dupplin to Lincoln, 16 June 1757, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 14. Erskine to Bute, 18 June 1757.
  • 15. Mems. Geo. II, iii. 107-8.
  • 16. Fitzmaurice, i. 239.
  • 17. Dodington’s Diary, 10 July 1758.
  • 18. Sackville to Pitt, 1 Nov. 1758, Chatham Corresp. i. 367.
  • 19. Dodington to Ld. Bowes, 8 Apr. 1760, Dodington mss.
  • 20. Sedgwick, 16.
  • 21. Bedford Corresp. ii. 413.
  • 22. Debrett, viii. 109-12.
  • 23. Mems. Geo. II, iii. 272-3.
  • 24. To Lady Upper Ossory, 23 Nov. 1775.
  • 25. Bute mss.
  • 26. The Prince’s answer to Sackville’s letter of 2 Aug. 1759. Both are printed in HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 312-13.
  • 27. Last Jnls. ii. 49.
  • 28. Alex. Carlyle to Chas. Townshend, 11 Sept. 1759, Buccleuch mss.
  • 29. Sedgwick, 42-43.
  • 30. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 44.
  • 31. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 11-12.
  • 32. Bute to Shelburne, [Apr. 1763], Fitzmaurice, i. 168.
  • 33. Grafton, Autobiog. 35-36.
  • 34. Fox to Bute, 5 Jan. 1763, Bute mss.
  • 35. 23 Sept. Sandwich mss.
  • 36. Sedgwick, 179.
  • 37. Bute mss.
  • 38. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 58.
  • 39. Fitzmaurice, i. 168.
  • 40. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 59-60, 93.
  • 41. To Hertford.
  • 42. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 43. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 60-62.
  • 44. Ibid. 62-66.
  • 45. Mems. Geo. III, ii. 145.
  • 46. Add. 32967, f. 349.
  • 47. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 102.
  • 48. Rockingham mss.
  • 49. Add. 32972, f. 193.
  • 50. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 103.
  • 51. Sackville to Rockingham, 2 Aug. 1766, Rockingham mss.
  • 52. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 106, 119.
  • 53. Grenville Pprs. iii. 390.
  • 54. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 248, ff. 223-43.
  • 55. Add. 39779, ff. 20-21.
  • 56. To Rockingham, 19 Dec. 1770, Rockingham mss.
  • 57. Richmond to Rockingham, 22 and 23 Jan. 1771, ibid.
  • 58. Burke to Rockingham, 11 Nov. 1772, ibid.
  • 59. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 242, ff. 74-75.
  • 60. Last Jnls. i. 233, 326.
  • 61. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 253, ff. 235-9.
  • 62. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 63. Last Jnls. i. 323-4.
  • 64. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 256, ff. 277-285.
  • 65. Almon, iii. 193-4.
  • 66. Chatham Corresp. iv. 340.
  • 67. E. B. de Fonblanque, Pol. Mil. Episodes ... from Life and Corresp. of ... John Burgoyne, 126.
  • 68. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 138; ii. 10-11.
  • 69. Last Jnls. i. 511; ii. 49.
  • 70. HMC Carlisle, 306.
  • 71. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 135.
  • 72. Almon, xiii. 367-8.
  • 73. Debrett, i. 46-49.
  • 74. Almon, iv. 128.
  • 75. Fortescue, iv. 13.
  • 76. HMC Var. vi. 142.
  • 77. Almon, viii. 326.
  • 78. Fortescue, iv. 35.
  • 79. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 139.
  • 80. Fortescue, iv. 45.
  • 81. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 73.
  • 82. Fortescue, iv. 356.
  • 83. HMC Stopford-Sackville, ii. 141.
  • 84. Add. 39779, ff. 20-21.
  • 85. CO5/101.
  • 86. Debrett, i. 46-49.
  • 87. HMC Stopford-Sackville, ii. 216-20.
  • 88. Fortescue, v. 331.