TOWNSHEND, Hon. Charles (1725-67), of Adderbury, Oxon.

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



1747 - Nov. 1756
14 Dec. 1756 - 1761
1761 - 4 Sept. 1767

Family and Education

b. 27 Aug. 1725, 2nd s. of Charles, 3rd Visct. Townshend, and bro. of Hon. George Townshend.  educ. Clare, Camb. 1742-5; Leyden 1745-6; L. Inn 1742, called 1747.  m. 18 Sept. 1755, Caroline, da. of John, 2nd Duke of Argyll [S] and 1st Duke of Greenwich (GB), wid. of Lord Dalkeith M.P. and mother of Henry, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch [S], 2s. d.v.m. 1da. She was cr. 19 Aug. 1767, Baroness of Greenwich.

Offices Held

Ld. of Trade June 1749-Apr. 1754, of Admiralty Apr. 1754-Dec. 1755; treasurer of the chamber Nov. 1756-Mar. 1761; sec. at war Mar. 1761-Dec. 1762; first ld. of Trade Feb.-Apr. 1763; paymaster gen. May 1765-July 1766; chancellor of Exchequer July 1766- d.


Charles Townshend, for brilliancy and fickleness unsurpassed in a generation neither dull nor steadfast, effectively contributed to the political confusion of his time, and died without positive achievement to his credit, but leaving behind the burden of his American measures: the upshot of the only policy which he had steadily pursued. Admired but not esteemed, trusted and believed by no one, he astonished and amused, which satisfied his vanity: he ‘knew his superiority over all men, and talked of it’.1 Devoid of convictions, he ‘spoke to show how well he could adorn a bad cause or demolish a good one’,2 and ‘could never argue from a real sense of right or wrong’.3 He would flatter grossly, and next ridicule; and his flattery sometimes bordered on ridicule. Lady Mary Coke, his wife’s sister, said to her three months before his death:4 ‘that ... his abusing and ridiculing every mortal in different companies, had created him so many enemies that there was nobody that thought they could depend on him’. Not attached to men or a cause, reacting against group pressure, he was forced by political ambition into team work, for which he was temperamentally unfit: when in office he would almost invariably make up to the Opposition, and when in opposition would try to work his way back into office. He lacked the courage and judgment necessary to steer a lone course; rigid in his ideas and devoid of intuitive awareness, he was apt to misjudge situations. He did not change or mellow; nor did he learn by experience; there was something ageless about him; never young, he remained immature to the end. He went through life in the mould into which his young years had cast him.

Townshend suffered much from ill-health—‘my crazy constitution’ and ‘weakness of body’. After puberty epilepsy set in: it had apparently an organic basis and was probably due to injury at birth; this may have also caused some psychological abnormality. The young years of the ailing boy seem to have been spent mostly at home: which must have aggravated the effects of family tensions. When his parents separated in March 1741, Charles professed to side entirely with his father, and avoided all contact with his mother, speaking of her with contempt. But for his father he felt no love either; much rather fear relieved by mockery, not unperceived by the father. The correspondence between the two, usually strained and never natural, makes painful reading: their letters, often of portentous length, are a perpetual struggle. Charles is seen perturbed yet aggressive, trying by a show of attachment and submission to assuage his father and wheedle him into benignity but unable to refrain from irritating argument; Lord Townshend, vehement, intelligent, and suspicious, scents insincerity, reacts against requests for money, yet with bad grace gives in, especially when Charles has his fits. As Charles’s financial dependence on his father diminished, the distance between them widened, and about the time of his rich marriage he drew closer to his mother. But it is doubtful if he felt affection for anyone (barring perhaps his children); and poverty of heart accounts for his life’s failure. The lack of truth and loyalty in early relations was reproduced toward his chiefs: he could be awed though neither kept down nor secured for long; and his mockery was the aggressiveness of a brilliant, rebellious, but cowed mind. Only in his dealings with the American Colonies did Townshend show constancy and gravity of demeanour: assuming the authority of a parent, pained but determined, and insisting on discipline and subordination.

At the general election of 1747 Townshend was returned at Great Yarmouth on his father’s interest, having solemnly promised that ‘Parliament shall never occasion a neglect of the bar’. But after severe returns of his ‘usual disorder’ in the winter of 1747-1748, Lord Townshend agreed to his giving up the bar; begged Newcastle to have him ‘fixed in some place of business’; and (pressed by Charles) named the Admiralty Board.5 A year later Charles had to content himself with a seat at the Board of Trade where he became acquainted with colonial affairs, formed his ideas on America, and distinguished himself ‘in drawing plans and papers’, among them the remarkable instructions sent in August 1753 to Sir Danvers Osborn, governor of New York. In these, which Townshend subsequently owned to have ‘advised’, the New York assembly was charged with trampling upon the royal authority by assuming ‘to themselves the disposal of public money’,6 and was directed to make permanent provision for the salaries of the royal officials and the security of the province: the executive was to be freed from dependence on the colonial assemblies. Such a remodelling of colonial government was henceforth Townshend’s aim, to which the raising of a revenue by act of the British Parliament was a necessary corollary.7

During Townshend’s early years in the House his speeches, mostly on departmental business, were studied and pedantic, and ‘gave little indication of his amazing parts’. The first noted by Walpole was on the clandestine marriage bill, 21 May 1753: ‘as the younger son of a capricious father who had already debarred him from an advantageous match’, he spoke against increasing the power of parents over their children’s marriages, and ‘acted a very good speech with great cleverness’. By 1755 as a speaker he had few equals in the House. ‘When he attained his maturity he exceeded everybody.’8

In the resettlement of offices after Pelham’s death on 6 Mar. 1754, Townshend again tried to skip one rung of the ladder, and asked for a seat at the Treasury Board, but had to content himself with the Admiralty. His election at Yarmouth in 1754, hotly contested, cost his father £1,900.

In August 1754 Newcastle consulted Townshend on a plan of union of the American Colonies for mutual defence submitted by Lord Halifax. Townshend thought it impracticable, and anyhow undesirable: he doubted their reaching agreement on their respective contributions; but if they did, feared their asserting their authority over supplies, ‘the only means of supporting ... the superintendency of the Mother Country’. ‘Whatever is done, can only be done by an Act of Parliament’: a plan should be sent from hence with a fund to which the provinces should contribute.9

With these ‘Remarks’ Townshend wrote to Newcastle, his great-uncle: ‘I shall think it the honour of my life if, in anything, I shall be thought by you to be of any degree of service or deserve your notice.’ But by October 1755 Newcastle had to class him as ‘doubtful’. His marriage in September 1755 to the Dowager Lady Dalkeith, with a personal estate of £46,000 and an income of £3,000 p.a., rendered him independent of office (and father). ‘He wanted nothing but independence to let him loose: I propose great entertainment from him’, wrote Walpole.10 On the Address, 13 Nov. 1755, he voted with Pitt against the Government; Pitt was dismissed on the 20th, and Townshend, who went out of his way to attack and abuse Newcastle, during the Christmas recess.

When in October-November 1756 Pitt was forming his Administration, Townshend expected ‘an office of business’, but was offered a mere court sinecure, the treasurership of the chamber, which, pressed by his brother and Bute, he accepted. For his deputy he took John Huske, a tough adventurer.

As re-election at Yarmouth was a precarious and expensive undertaking—and even more so Norwich, where he was asked to stand—Townshend stipulated for a Government seat which he obtained at Saltash: he undoubtedly hoped for ‘frequent occasions to be rechosen’.11 But during the parliamentary inquiry into the loss of Minorca he singled out Newcastle, not Fox, for attack; and on 28 Feb., after sharp exchanges between Pitt and Fox over Byng’s court martial, demonstratively commended Fox. ‘“I wish you joy of him”, cried Pitt, loud enough to be heard by half the House.’12 And Fox, planning a new Government, wrote on 4 Mar.: ‘I would have Charles Townshend, who has left his brother and Pitt, secretary at war.’13

When Temple and Pitt were dismissed from office (April 1757), and their relatives and friends were resigning, Charles Townshend hung back, but finally on 22 Apr., asked Devonshire ‘to solicit his Majesty’s favourable acceptance of my resignation’.14 During the tangled negotiations for a new Government, neither Pitt nor Newcastle was under obligation to him, and he clung to Devonshire whose main desire was release from active employment. On 16 June Townshend was offered his previous office of treasurer of the chamber;15 and the same when the two Townshends called on Pitt, 18 June.16 Charles replied that he had held the office already;17 did not mean to resign; but would not go with the new Administration to court, and would retire to the country.

So he did, hoping the scheme ‘of the ministry I thought I left unalterably settled’ might still founder; and meantime made a show of bucolic happiness:

My whole grounds are a bank of perfumes; my cattle are fat, my child is handsome, and why should I fret that mankind, whom I did not make, cannot be made better?

When the ship was ‘at last launched’, Townshend had dire forebodings for ‘this unhappy country’; gloated over Pitt's declining popularity (‘the flame of adoration is already strangely abated’); congratulated himself on his supposed disappointment—‘who would be eager to have a share in ... such a Government?’ Pitt's ‘talents ... so irresistible in opposition’ are found ‘ineffectual in administration’.18

The years of Pitt's glory were a time of self-effacement for Charles Townshend. He turned once more to Newcastle, and wrote, 15 July 1758:

In every passage of my life, I shall wish and endeavour to deserve your Grace's favourable opinion and the honour of your friendship; from which, if I have sometimes been too much diverted by errors and indiscretions, they are errors which I ever remember with regret, and indiscretions I flatter myself I have had the sense to discover and correct.

Newcastle would have wished to re-employ him, and in October 1759 consulted Hardwicke: ‘Will Charles Townshend do less harm in the War Office or in the Treasury?’ Hardwicke replied that no one would approve him for chancellor of the Exchequer:

That office should be filled by somebody who may in a particular manner be depended upon, of some gravity, known veracity, whose word may be taken and relied upon.19

July-Aug. 1759 Townshend spent with his wife at Dalkeith, re-planning, as step-father and guardian of young Buccleuch, his plantations, and, in the absence of his wife's uncle Argyll, the future of Scotland. He wrote to his mother:

We see an infinite variety of company here: the whole neighbourhood have dined with us ... All the lords of sessions, all the resident gentlemen of estate, the gentlemen of the law, the presbytery, and every order of men have been to see us ... The women are lively, the men are learned, and both are well bred ... The face of this part of the kingdom, so very new to me, has pleased me, independently of the very great civility and personal favour I have met with. It is a very rising country.

He dazzled the Scots by his ‘shining talents and elegant flattery’,20 while his advocacy of a Scottish militia appealed to their national feelings.21 John Dalrymple, the historian, appointed by Townshend law agent for the Buccleuch estates, wrote to him on 29 Aug.:22 ‘No man did surely ever make himself so popular in so short a time as you did in this country.’ Encouraged by friends and dependants, Townshend toyed with the idea of standing for Edinburgh at the general election, and in daydreams saw himself as future manager for Scotland. Correspondence continued for a while. But on 4 Jan. 1760 Dr Alexander Carlyle wrote to Townshend: ‘I cannot learn that any of your friends have heard from you for two months.’ And Townshend wrote to Dalrymple, 4 Feb.: ‘Would you believe it? neither the provost ... or any of my acquaintance at Dalkeith have so much as enquired after me during their stay here. So much for my ambiguous thoughts.’23 Like a great deal in Townshend's life, his Scottish escapade was inconsequential.

Townshend felt ‘restless, angry, and wretched’;24 ‘he could not remain any longer in his present employment’. In December 1759 he asked Pitt to be made ‘third plenipotentiary for America’ if peace negotiations started; and when directed to speak to Newcastle, claimed ‘that he ... had the ear of the Prince of Wales more now than anybody’, and that the Prince wished Newcastle to ‘bring him into business’: evidence of the direction in which Townshend was turning. On George III's accession, having sworn allegiance to Bute (‘for a time’, as Bute himself put it), he was forced on Newcastle as secretary at war. He had also to be found a seat in the new Parliament; and himself nibbled at Liverpool, and attacked Pembroke Boroughs, causing difficulties to Newcastle, although as early as 26 July 1760 he was on Newcastle's list of ‘Persons to be brought into Parliament at the next election’. From George III Townshend obtained a promise to be brought in at Harwich, and Newcastle had to comply, whatever trouble this caused him—‘all attempts made by me (and I believe by my Lord Bute) to bring Mr. Charles Townshend in at some other place, were, by this trifling and provoking behaviour, become impracticable’.25

In July 1761 Walpole noted (to Lord Strafford) ‘a bad return’ of Townshend's ‘old complaint’. Another severe fit prevented him from opening the army estimates on 4 Dec.26

By November 1761 Townshend was once more in semi-opposition to the Government of which he was a member. Offended that Grenville (and not himself) had on Pitt's resignation been made leader of the House, Townshend attacked him at the meeting of the principle men of business on 4 Nov.; recanted the next night; but on 9 Dec. extolled the ‘divine spirit’ infused by Pitt ‘into our councils’. ‘There is, and perhaps with reason, at court a settled inveteracy against Charles Townshend’, wrote Newcastle to Devonshire the same day. There were differences between him and Bute over army appointments; by May-July 1762, Townshend talked of resigning; while the King wished him out of the service or at least out of the War Office—‘nothing would strengthen the opinion of the present Government in the eyes of the public so much as that vermin being against it’. A transfer to the Board of Trade was mooted: ‘I believe Charles Townshend has a promise for his favourite American plan’, wrote Rigby to Bedford, 16 Sept. But on 13 Oct., after Fox had been made leader of the House: ‘Charles Townshend is not pleased and intends to stay at the War Office.’ He himself claimed to have refused an offer by the King of ‘the Board of Trade and secretary for the plantations’, on the ground that he could not support Fox—a story which deserves little credence. On 19 Oct. Rigby wrote to Bedford: ‘Charles Townshend, that splendid shuttlecock ... laughs at the ministry at night and assures them in the morning that he is entirely theirs.’27 That very day Samuel Touchet (q.v.), a somewhat shady friend, reported having left him ‘determined to support the King's measures ... with cordiality’; while Townshend himself sent a message to Newcastle that ‘he was ready’ the moment Newcastle and Devonshire ‘called upon him’. The peace preliminaries, signed in Paris on 3 Nov., reached London on the 8th. On the 10th, Townshend described Florida to the King as a useless acquisition, and ‘ran out in praises of Porto Rico’, which had been relinquished.28 That same day he thus depicted himself to an unknown correspondent:29

It is my firm resolution to act the part of a man of business and a man of honour; to be decided by things and not men; to have no party; to follow no leader, and to be governed absolutely by my own judgement, with respect to the peace now concluded, the approaching system of measures and the future ministry. It was formerly my ill fortune to be much neglected and frequently injured by my uncle the Duke of Newcastle: I have been twice dismissed from public office in his Grace's and the Duke of Devonshire's administration: I have been left by Mr. Pitt, at the end of a successful Opposition, in an unpleasant office, without communication or common respect; I  have been received with kindness and treated with confidence by his Majesty, in the execution of my present office ...

... let me speak the truth to you; it is because I will not be the second of any man that you call me inconstant; it is the voice of party that pronounces this censure; and it is because I will not be the obedient instrument of any set of men, that I have not, at this instant, that crack of party, which you call the confidence of mankind. Let me add, that if my constancy is to be judged of by any obligations, they are all to the Crown; but I shall act upon a still higher obligation than those!

... my talents, such as they are, they shall be directed only by myself; delivered up to the views neither of popular nor of court faction; and exercised at no man's order.

There was imitation of Pitt in Townshend's boasts of independence; of regarding measures not men; and in wishing in his relations with the King to by-pass leaders and parties. But he lacked Pitt's aloofness and daring, and, while objecting to the peace terms, negotiated about office. On 20 Nov. the King wrote to Bute:30 ‘I shall be glad if Townshend will remove into the Board of Trade.’ On the 23rd, Fox to Bute, after a talk with Townshend: ‘Anybody who did not know him, would have thought him not only a friend but the most zealous one.’31 But to Fox, the same day:32 ‘Townshend has begged to defer his final answer till Thursday morning [25 Nov.—the day Parliament met].’ And Rigby to Bedford, 24 Nov.:33

There is no guessing at Charles Townshend's intentions, but he continues yet to shuffle, and I dare say will resign or be turned out.

In the Commons on 25 Nov. Townshend commended the peace preliminaries;34 he did not speak on 1 Dec., but was included by Fox among the Members favouring the preliminaries. Then, veering round, he wrote to Bute on 6 Dec.35 that he wished to retire. The letter itself is untraced, and Bute's reply does not name the reasons given by him.

Townshend was now expected to speak against the treaty. But when on 9 Dec. the debate went in favour fo the Government, he defended the treaty, and, wrote Rigby, ‘made the finest speech I ever heard in my life’. After that he was courted by both sides. Newcastle wrote to Thomas Walpole, 12 Dec.:36

My nephew Charles Townshend, (who never comes near me) may be at the head [of the Opposition], if he pleases; and he will be sounded upon it.

Fox to Bute, 11 Dec.:37

It seems to me that he may be had. Get him with all his faults (I don't say trust him) and they won't be able even to make our attendance necessary.

And Rigby to Bedford, 16 Dec.:38

Charles Townshend declares in and out of the House that he will support the Administration out of employment. I suppose he will soon have what he wants. In good truth, he shines in Parliament more than ever.

Negotiations dragged on for about two months, apparently over the terms on which Townshend was to take the Board of Trade. What his powers ultimately were is uncertain, but they were not extensive, and he was of the Nominal Cabinet only.

On 22 Feb. Townshend made in Parliament his report upon the state of ‘private mad-houses’: ‘’twas ably drawn’, writes James Harris, ‘and set forth a scene of great villainy’; and Walpole admits that Townshend ‘took great pains in that business’ and ‘distinguished himself’.39 He felt for the oppressed where self-identification, be it unconscious, set in.

Townshend's seven weeks at the Board of Trade were marked by two incidents. The substance of the first remains unascertained: Bute wrote to Fox on 2 Mar. that Townshend had given him ‘a most unusual proof of the ungenerous turn of the present age’, and the King to Bute on 3 Mar., that ‘Townshend's conduct is what I should not have thought any other man capable of, but himself very much so, for I look on him as the worst man that lives’. The other arose over his proposing in the House, c.20 Mar., to raise a revenue in America by lowering the duty on French molasses and effectually securing its payment. As the King wrote to Bute, ‘this subject was new to none, having been thought of this whole winter’; but Townshend's unauthorized performance deserved ‘the dismissing him or the least making him explain his intentions’.40

In the last three weeks of March the Government to be formed on Bute's withdrawal was being considered by him and the King. It was planned to remove Townshend to the Admiralty, a department ranking above the Board of Trdae, but of much less importance now when ‘that greatest and most necessary of all schemes, the settelement of America’, was to be effected. On 6 Apr. Bute informed Townshend of the imminent changes and the offer to him. Townshend thanked him but deferred acceptance; and on the 13th begged ‘to remain where he was’. Next day he was sent for by the King; shuffled, but finally accepted; on the 15th about noon, came back ‘to push in the strongest manner’ for a place at the Admiralty Board for his friend Peter Burrell; the King refused; an hour later Townshend desired Halifax to tell the King that he could not ‘kiss hands without Burrell’; finished by bringing Burrell with him to court; and, unable to carry his point, declined office.41

On 18 May, Townshend wrote to his mother:

I cannot pretend to you that my spirits are at present very good, for I am far from easy within myself. You know I love public business; I had a brilliant prospect as I was; my children are, as yet, not fully provided for; I am too young for retirement; and I am separated from my brother [who had pressed him to accept] ... The country is in beauty ... The place itself much improved, and so much prettier than ever I saw it that I almost wonder I like it less.

But a month later to his friend Chase Price (q.v.):

I am ... sincerely cheerful, self-pleased, resolute and sanguine ... I am true to myself, and to the cause. I have not, in one word, at any instant, lamented or departed from the part I lately took ... There is a dignity even in the manner of being displeased.42

While still in office Townshend had cultivated Pitt;43 and in Pitt's plan of Administration in August 1763, he was named for secretary of state—‘without concert, the least communication or any mutual intercourse’, wrote Townshend to his mother, Pitt ‘has given me the most public proof of his esteem and friendship in the most delicate and effectual manner’.44 Sounded through his brother if he would take some other office in the reconstructed Grenville Administration, Townshend declined.

The Opposition now hoped to see Pitt at their head, and Townshend acting with him. But for a whole month, during the debates on Wilkes, Townshend kept silent—‘he voted with us’, wrote Horace Walpole to Lord Hertford, 25 Nov., ‘but never uttered a word’. Only on 16 Dec. he ‘broke out with much vehemence’ against Grenville and North.45 ‘I am glad of it for the sake of  his own character’, wrote Rockingham to Devonshire, 21 Dec., ‘... he seems to be quite determined.’46 But Walpole (to Lord Hertford, 29 Dec.), with greater insight:

Mr. Charles Townshend ... having sat silent through the question of privilege, found himself interested in the defence of Dr. Brocklesby! [Wilkes's doctor and Townshend's friend] ... I do not look upon this as productive of consequential speaking for the Opposition; on the contrary, I could expect him sooner in place, if the ministry could be fools enough to restore weight to him.

In fact, during the recess Townshend made approaches to Grenville through John Bindley (q.v.), another somewhat shady friend, who reported Townshend to have said ‘he saw there was nothing to be done in opposition’, and that Pitt ‘was a man nobody could act with’; and to have expressed regard for Halifax and Grenville, and ‘great regret for the words of heat’ which passed between him and Grenville on 16 Dec. To this message Grenville claims to have only answered ‘that he was obliged to Mr. Townshend for his good opinion, and should always be glad to see his talents employed in support of the King's measures’.47

When Parliament re-assembled Townshend, on 20 Jan., ‘made a most vehement speech ... finely turned, finely delivered, and embellished with all the topics of virtue, honour etc.’;48 but ‘that very evening’, according to Grenville's diary, ‘repented of what he had done’, and said ‘he was very sorry’ for the offence he had given to Grenville.49 During the following weeks he supported the Government over the Cider Act, but the Opposition over Wilkes and general warrants: on 6 Feb. he made one of ‘the finest speeches that ever were heard’; and on the 17th one ‘so fine that it amazed even from him’,50 ‘a speech, like most of his, easier to be described than detailed’.51

On 25 Feb. Newcastle wrote to Townshend about the forthcoming budget: ‘The next point of consequence ... is their disposition of North America ... you must suggest to us what it may be proper to do there.’ On 7 Mar. Grenville foreshadowed the plan he was to open on the 9th, ‘particularly as to the taxing of America’, and was strongly supported by Townshend—‘our ... expenses being so great, America ought to share’. But on the 9th Townshend was absent. Hardwicke died on 6 Mar.; and on the 7th Newcastle wrote to Townshend about the need of having him, as ‘a person of weight ... and a particular friend and relation of my own’, to direct their Cambridge University friends in the contest for high steward between the 2nd Lord Hardwicke and Sandwich. Yet he tried to evade responsibility for Townshend's absence from the House: ‘you will judge what it may be proper to do’—to which Townshend replied: ‘I shall obey, not advise.’ He went, and on the 9th wrote in a perfervid letter to Newcastle: ‘the common cause of the University, Whiggism and Liberty will triumph here’. And Walpole to Hertford on the 11th: ‘I suppose, by this time [he] has ranted, and romanced, and turned every one of their ideas topsy-turvy.’52

Lord Townshend died on 12 Mar. leaving nothing to Charles who had expected £2,000 a year.53

The Opposition made a poor showing in the budget debates; and Townshend in letters to Newcastle now harped on its hopeless state.54 The initial success of last session was not followed up. Himself blamed for his absence at Cambridge, he disregarded ‘such loose censure’,

especially when it comes from men with whom I have acted voluntarily, not by compact; ... in whose plans I had originally no participation, whose systems I am not bound to adopt, and to whom I stand, in no sense, nor any degree accountable ... I shall ... be ever pleased with having obeyed your commands.

He rambled on about ways of strengthening the minority; sketched grandiose schemes of a nationwide propaganda campaign, etc. In conclusion: he would still wish to support the minority—

if any hope should remain of success ... but ... it must be a reasonable hope of success, resulting from union, plan, activity and strength. I am far from being in a condition to make even this prudent, after my family disappointments and the little favour I have ever met with from former Administrations ...

meaning Newcastle, Devonshire, and Pitt.  The letter was obviously to serve as a justification of whatever part he should finally take.55

In the summer, between new approaches to Grenville,56 Townshend published anonymously, A Defence of the Minority with regard to General Warrants, so inferior to what was expected from him that some doubted his being its author;57 but he blamed want of success on ‘the strange negligence’ of the Opposition in circulating it.58 He ‘hardly wishes to be with us’, wrote Newcastle on 30 Sept.,59 ‘but he must be encouraged, and, in some measure, courted, or he is gone’. In October there were yet further approaches through John Morton (q.v.).60 When these miscarried, partly it seems through too much finessing by Townshend, he wrote to Morton on 5 Nov.:

You have been treated with unexampled insincerity, if you are not mistaken in every word which you have repeated from the person [Grenville] who at first proposed, then approved, and now disowns every step you have taken.

None the less, a fortnight later, Townshend stated his concrete terms:61 the Pay Office with a seat in the Cabinet, and the deputy leadership of the House; but he would wait for Holland's death (which seemed near). Grenville's reply is not recorded; still, Townshend proceeded openly to avow his desiderata.62

In January 1765 he spoke on a variety of subjects, but kept silent when the dismissal of officers for votes in Parliament came up in debate. On 6 Feb. he supported the American stamp bill in a ‘lively and eloquent’ speech, and received ‘a pretty heavy thump from Barré’. On 23 Feb. Lord Townshend told Grenville that Charles ‘meant to take a firm and cordial part with Mr. Grenville’, assurances repeated by Charles himself on 3 Mar. On 23 Apr. he was among the leading Government supporters convened by Grenville to hear the King's Speech on the Regency bill; but in the House preserved silence on this ticklish subject; and was listed for secretary of state in schemes of a Government to supersede Grenville's. When, however, the King was forced to reinstate the Grenville-Bedford Administration, one of their conditions was Townshend's appointment to the Pay Office.63

In the June negotiations for a new Government he was not named by Pitt for any of the chief posts, but by Newcastle from the outset for chancellor of  the Exchequer or secretary of state. He was not at the meeting of Newcastle's friends on 30 June when it was decided to try to form a Government; but on 4 July Rockingham went to Adderbury and offered him the Exchequer, which Townshend said he would not hold under ‘any man living’. Even when offered a secretaryship of state and urged by the King to take it, he declined, influenced by his brother who was hostile to Cumberland, the patron of the Rockinghams. These, to avoid having Townshend in declared opposition, left him the Pay Office. By his own choice, he was once more on the periphery of Government, and even after Cumberland's death refused a seat in the Cabinet.64

Yet he had a share in shaping Rockingham's American policy, and this though he had long urged taxing America by Act of the British Parliament, and had supported the Stamp Act. He was at the small informal gatherings at Rockingham's, 19 and 21 Jan. 1766, in which the fatal Declaractory Act was framed: the ablest of those present and best versed in American affairs. Only three speeches by him on the repeal are reported, 17 Dec. 1765, and 7 and 11 Feb. 1766. And this was the burden of his argument: Britain has an undeniable right to tax the Colonies; but there may be inability to pay this particular tax; anyhow the means to enforce obedience are lacking: the plan of government in North America must first be altered. Having thus re-asserted his basic thesis and position, he voted for the repeal. Even so it is remarkable that in the resettlement of offices on Grafton's resignation, Newcastle and his friends should have wished to make Townshend secretary for America. The idea, after having been canvassed during the first fortnight in May, was dropped; and it is not clear whether the offer was made, and if so, why it was refused.

The Pay Office had special attractions for Townshend who lived beyond his means, however ample, and had a taste for financial ventures. Information about these crops up in various quarters. Early in 1763 he promoted a scheme of George Colebrooke and Arnold Nesbitt (qq.v.) to buy the ‘stock’ of the French Jesuits in Dominica for £60-70,000.65 With the same two, and five other Members, he engaged in the English Linen Company at Winchelsea.66 With Bindley and Fordyce he was a partner in the privateer Townshend.67 Together with Lord Adam Gordon he applied in February 1766 for a grant of land in East Florida.68 That he engaged in other ventures, especially with his friends Huske, Touchet, Bindley, and Chase Price, all four financial schemers and plungers, seems a reasonable supposition; but his money was frequently ‘placed out in other people's names’.69

By June 1766 Townshend was operating with £100,000 of Pay Office money, which rose to £150,000 at the end of his life.70 He speculated on the Stock Exchange. ‘In June 1766 he held in Government stocks £66,000 valued at £66,859, and in India stock £5,500 valued at £9,900.’ Next, as chancellor of the Exchequer about to negotiate with the East India Company, he was switching over into India stock. John Powell, clerk at the Pay Orffice and âme damnée of Henry Fox, wrote to Townshend, 2 Sept. 1766:71

In consequence of your message by Mr. Touchet I have done for your account the business contained in the enclosed accounts. I have ordered seven thousand pounds 4 per cents more to be sold to make good the purchase of India Stock. I shall transfer the 4 per cents out of my name and put the India in my name—therefore no opinion can possibly arise that this business is done for your account; it will be set down in opinion for the account of Lord H[olland].

At Christmas his Government stocks were down to £45,000 worth £46,013, and his India stocks up to £17,000 worth £37,400. By April 1767 he had made £7,071 out of his East India speculation.

The biggest loan of Pay Office money in Townshend's ledger is £20,300 to young Buccleuch; and Lady Mary Coke recounts72 that £20,000 of the Duke's money was laid out at Adderbury, the Duke's estate lived in by Townshend, who apparently used for improving it money lent by himself to his step-son and ward.

Grafton, pressed by Pitt to take the Treasury in his Administration, insisted, in their interview of Sunday, 20 July 1766, on having Townshend for chancellor of the Exchequer. Pitt tried to dissuade him but ‘at last gave way, though much against his inclination’; and Townshend ‘was not to be called to the Cabinet’. Next day Pitt had an inconclusive talk with Townshend; and on the 22nd sent him a message asking for an early answer. When Townshend replied with a turgid semi-acceptance, Pitt wrote back that he meant to leave to Townshend's ‘maturest consideration’ the part he should judge proper to take. They met again on Thursday the 24th; Pitt understood Townshend to accept; saw the King on Friday at 11 a.m.; and at 4 p.m. wrote to Townshend that he had done justice to his ‘zeal for the King's service’ and his ‘handsome and obliging proceedings’ towards Grafton and himself. Meanwhile Townshend was passing through ranges of indecision to a negative conclusion; sent on Friday at 11 a.m. and at noon two confused notes to Grafton: he did not consider things settled; wished to remain at the Pay Office; and was going to ask for an audience with the King. Grafton thereupon wrote to Pitt that he was prepared to leave Dowdeswell at the Exchequer, ‘as I plainly perceive that it is for the general good, and very likely for my own private ease of mind’; and went off to Wakefield Lodge for the weekend. That same day the King wrote to Pitt at 4.15 p.m.:

I think it necessary to acquaint you with my having seen Mr. Townshend, who expressed to me his reasons for having determined to stay in the Pay Office; I told him there must be some misunderstanding for that you had this morning acquainted me with his desire of being chancellor of the Exchequer. He left me, uncertain what he should do, but that if he took it, he musy say it was by my express commands not his choice; that what he held was more honourable and worth £7,000 p.a., whilst the other was but £2,500; that if he accepted, he hoped he should have some indemnification; that Lord Rockingham being quiet would much depend on Mr. Dowdeswell's remaining chancellor of the Exchequer. In short, he left me in a state of great uncertainty, and means to talk again with you.

Pitt replied at 6.30 p.m.: Townshend ‘is engaged to serve in that office and I am persuaded will not retract his declarataions’; and if Rockingham's ‘being quiet’ depends on Dowdeswell continuing at the Exchequer, Dowdeswell should not remain in that office.73

The same night Pitt receive Townshend's reply to his letter of 4 p.m.: Pitt's recommendation to an office of rank and trust is the great honour to any man.

It is my earnest wish to cultivate and merit, in every measure of business and act of my life, your confidence and esteem, and I shall be happy indeed, if, in the pressing and critical circumstances of this kingdom, I should be acknowledged by posterity to have contributed, under your protection, to facilitate the re-establishment of general confidence, real government, and a permanent system of measures.

And to Grafton on the same day, 25 July, after having given an embellished account of his interview with the King:

Your Grace may be assured that I shall accept, still desiring to be understood that I relinquish my own natural inclination and evident interest, upon the hope of being known by you, Mr. Pitt, and the Crown to sacrifice, with cheerfulness and from principle, all that men usually pursue to the veneration I bear Mr. Pitt, my plan of union with your Grace, and my gratitude to my Sovereign ... God prosper our good labours, and may our mutual trust, affection and friendship grow from every act of our lives.74

The letter, despite its flamboyant oratory, does not conceal Townshend's sense of ‘sacrifice’ and grievance. Sulking at exclusion from the Effective Cabinet, he avoided attendance even when it was required—‘as I have not the general circulation nor the general summons, I should not choose to be called upon extraordinary occasions’, he wrote to Grafton on 4 Sept. He was admitted a month later, the first chancellor of the Exchequer to sit in the Cabinet alongside a first lord of the Treasury. When a peerage for his wife, solicited for some time past, was not among the new creations, Townshend wrote to Grafton on 10 Oct., that if compliance with the commands of the Crown and the plan of its servants, against his own interest and to oblige others, could not beget confidence and favour, he had rather not ‘pursue a vexatious plan of labour and a sterile cultivation of those who cannot desire what they do not value’.75

In this mood he entered on the only year of his career in which he played a foremost part in government: in an Administration called upon to deal with the stupendous problems of India and America. Chatham and he, the most brilliant, most incalculable and unmanageable of men, both mentally unstable, were joined together, with no tie of real sympathy of common purpose to unite them. Of the tragic story of the Chatham Administration, amply recounted elsewhere,76 only certain aspects particularly bearing on Townshend can be touched upon here.

Chatham denied the right of a trading company to territorial revenues, and desired an inquiry into the affairs of the East India Company as a prelude to state intervention; while Townshend wanted to avoid such an inquiry (which would have produced a break in East India stock) and tried to secure for the state a share in the Company's spoils by negotiations with its directors. On 7 Dec. Chatham wrote to Grafton:77

If the inquiry is to be contracted within the ideas of Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer ... the whole becomes a farce, and the Ministry a ridiculous phantom ... Mr. C. Townshend's fluctuations and incurable weaknesses cannot comport with his remaining in that critical office.

But he neither disciplined nor removed Townshend, and withdrew to Bath, while Townshend was negotiating with East India directors. When Chatham returned to London on 2 Mar. 1767, after his Government's defeat over the land tax, 27 Feb., he tried to replace Townshend by North; but on North declining the office, made no further attempt to get rid of him, whom the complete breakdown in Chatham's health left free to carry on in his own way. Though his course was impeded by divisions within the East India Company and by its blunders, the agreement reached toward the end of May came far nearer to Townshend's than to Chatham's original programme.

With regard to America, Townshend scored his disastrous success. His unauthorized pledge in the House on 26 Jan. 1767 to raise a revenue in America—an aggravated repetition of his intervention in March 1763—was not a spontaneous reaction to an Opposition challenge; some such measures were known to be planned by him but were discussed with unofficial intimate advisers, and not in the Cabinet.78 What rendered his plan even more objectionable to the Americans was the linking up of ‘the fund arising from the American duties’ with a remodelling of Colonial government. When on 5 May Townshend was to have introduced in the House resolutions for punishing the delinquency of New York over the Mutiny Act, he managed to postpone doing so till he had obtained the King's assent ‘to the proposition of independent salaries for the civil officers in America’.79 This, though, confined to ‘offending provinces’, was embodied in the American bills which received the royal assent on 2 July. Two months before his death Townshend, the reputed weathercock, realized the programme he had outlined at the opening of his career.

With Chatham's eclipse and the growing confusion within Administration, its reconstruction or dissolution seemed unavoidable; and during those months—as ‘one who wished him well’ told Lady Mary Coke—Townshend ‘on all occasions paid compliments to Mr. Grenville and Mr. Dowdeswell in the House ... and ... as constantly passed over in silence the merits of those who acted with him’.80 Throughout March Rockingham, in touch with Townshend, expected him to quit the Government; and in the House Townshend ‘came every day ... to talk with Mr. Grenville, and to abuse Lord Chatham and laugh at the Administration’.81 Nor did he confine this to private talks: in his famous ‘champagne speech’ of 8 May, intoxicated more with high spirits than drink, in a torrent of wit and absurdity he arraigned Lord Chatham's ‘wild incapacity’, and mocked the Government of which he was a foremost member82—a unique performance.

He sulked and courted in turn. When in April Lady Dalkeith inherited from her mother a fortune estimated at £4,000 a year, he flaunted at Grafton his grievances and independence: ‘I am now out of reach of fortune, and can act without anxiety.’ On 5 June he spoke to Grenville of ‘the impossibility of his going on with the present set of people—his wish was to be detached from them’; he expected to be dismissed in the holidays, or else would soon resign; ‘he could not think of acting under the Duke of Grafton, much less Lord Rockingham’; he and Grenville together ‘might lead the House of Commons’. But next, on 25 June, he wrote to Grafton: ‘I never wish to have any mark of approbation separate from your Grace’; and thought it an honour to be joined to him in press attacks.83

Townshend's year in office brought him discredit: in the July negotiations between Grafton, the Rockinghams and the Bedfords for a reconstruction of the Government, he was not a principle, and though office for him was discussed, the importance which on previous occasions attached to his participation, was no longer in evidence. In the midst of these negotiations Townshend wrote to Grafton on 14 July:84

85Lord Rockingham has not spoke one word to me; the King did not yesterday recollect Lady Dalkeith's peerage; and I find so little real kindness that I earnestly desire to mix in nothing.

The peerage was conceded soon after, but it is doubtful if it put an end to his fluctuations. There is a memorandum in Lord Townshend's hand about a conversation on 17 Sept. with the notorious Theobald Taafe (M.P. for Arundel 1747-54, an adventurer and professional gambler) who claimed that Charles Townshend, ‘just before his death’ had tried to negotiate through him with Rigby for a juncture with the Bedfords and Grenvilles.86 With the same Taafe he negotiated for the purchase of three Cornish seats at the general election of 1768—after Townshend's death offered by Taafe to Lord Clive who would have nothing to do with him. It might well be asked why credence should be given to statements by such a man as Taafe. But there is a letter from Lady Dalkeith87 in which she wrote to Lord Townshend, 21 Oct. 1768, that she heard with ‘great concern’ that Taafe had letters from Charles in his possession.

’Tis too true that for the three last years of our dead friend's life, this Taafe was often with him, and very wretched it made me, as I knew he was a man of very bad character, I expressed my uneasiness at it ... for sometime after he did not dine at our house, which gave me comfort till I found out, that he frequently came of evenings after I was gone out.

When Townshend died of a ‘putrid fever’ on 4 Sept. 1767, ‘never was there a man who left his affairs in such disorder’, wrote Lady Mary Coke;88 or those of the state encumbered with a more fatal inheritance: a sorry end to one of the most brilliant men in 18th century politics.


Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 82.
  • 2. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 147.
  • 3. W. Burke to Edmund Burke, post 4 Sept. 1767.
  • 4. Lady Mary Coke, Jnl. ii. 13.
  • 5. Add. 32717, f. 444.
  • 6. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 340; ii. 173.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. 1754, pp. 65-66; L. W. Labaree, Royal Instructions to British Colonial Governors, 1670-1776.
  • 8. Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 82, Mems. Geo. II, i. 340-1, and to Conway 24 May 1753; HMC, Townshend, 381.
  • 9. Add. 32736, ff. 510-13.
  • 10. To R. Bentley, 17 July 1755.
  • 11. Ld. Orford to Townshend, Nov. 1756, Buccleuch mss.
  • 12. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 349-50
  • 13. Ilchester, Letters to Hen. Fox, 103.
  • 14. Devonshire mss.
  • 15. Ld. Dupplin to Ld. Lincoln, 16 June 1757, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 16. Bedford Corresp. ii. 251-2
  • 17. Townshend to Devonshire, 18 June 1757, Devonshire mss.
  • 18. To his mother, 23, 30 June, 25 Aug., 18 Oct.; to Devonshire, 30 June, Devonshire mss.
  • 19. Add. 32881, f. 394; 32896, ff. 300, 322-5.
  • 20. A. Carlyle, Autobiog. 389.
  • 21. Ld. Elibank to Townshend, 21 Dec. 1759, Buccleuch mss.
  • 22. Buccleuch mss.
  • 23. Buccleuch mss.
  • 24. To his mother, 31 [sic] Sept. 1759.
  • 25. Add. 32916, ff. 49-55; 32900, ff. 120-1; 32999, ff. 19-20; 32920, f. 228; Dodington, Diary, 16 Jan. 1761: Namier, Structure, 372-3.
  • 26. Harris's 'Debates'; Add. 38334, ff. 19-20.
  • 27. Sedgwick, 67, 112, 117-18, 120; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 79; Add. 32932, ff. 74-91; 32939, f. 56; 32943, ff. 332-40; Bedford mss 45, f. 220; 46, ff. 44, 56; Chatham Corresp. ii. 181-3.
  • 28. Shelburne to Bute, 19 Oct., Bute mss; Add. 32943, ff. 332-40; Sedgwick, 161.
  • 29. A draft or copy in the Buccleuch mss.
  • 30. Sedgwick, 164.
  • 31. Bute mss.
  • 32. Henry Fox mss.
  • 33. Bedford mss, 46, f. 128.
  • 34. Bedford Corresp. iii. 159; Harris's 'Debates'; Newdigate's 'Debates'.
  • 35. Register of Bute's Corresp., Add. 36797.
  • 36. Add. 32945, f. 285.
  • 37. Bute mss.
  • 38. Bedford mss 46, f. 148.
  • 39. Mems. Geo. III, i. 192.
  • 40. Letters to Hen. Fox, 172; Sedgwick, 195, 201-2.
  • 41. Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, i. 148; Add. 36797, ff. 39-40; Sedgwick, 219, 220-1; Mems. of Jas. Oswald, 410-12.
  • 42. Hatfield mss.
  • 43. Townshend to Pitt, 2, 6, 16 Mar. 1763, Chatham mss.
  • 44. Chatham Corresp. ii. 266.
  • 45. Mems. Geo. III, i. 266.
  • 46. Devonshire mss.
  • 47. Grenville Pprs. ii. 482-3.
  • 48. Harris's 'Debates'.
  • 49. Grenville Pprs. ii. 484-5.
  • 50. Walpole to Hertford, 19 Feb.
  • 51. Mems. Geo. III, i. 300.
  • 52. Add. 32956, ff. 104, 310-11; Harris's 'Debates'.
  • 53. Walpole to Hertford, 15 Feb. 1764.
  • 54. Add. 32958, ff. 226-7, 248-53.
  • 55. Add. 32958, ff. 307-11.
  • 56. Jenkinson Pprs. 301; Jenkinson to Grenville, 28 Aug., Grenville mss (JM).
  • 57. Letters to Hen. Fox. 201
  • 58. Townshend to T. Walpole, 23 Sept., T. Walpole mss of Mr. D. Holland at Lullings.
  • 59. Add 32962, f. 179.
  • 60. Grenville Pprs. ii. 443, 448; Grenville to Morton, 17 Oct., Grenville letter bk.; Townshend to Morton, 17, 28, 29 Oct., 5 Nov., and Morton to Townshend, 29, 30 Oct., 3, 8 Nov., Buccleuch mss.
  • 61. Grenville Pprs. ii. 465.
  • 62. Jesse, Selwyn, i. 342, 368, 373.
  • 63. Harris's 'Debates'; Walpole to Hertford, 12 Feb. 1765; Fitch Pprs. ii (Colls. Conn. Hist. Soc.), 317-26; Grenville Pprs. iii. 118-21; Rockingham Mems. i. 191-2, 195; Newcastle's Narrative, 6, 15.
  • 64. Add. 34713, ff. 253-6; 32972, f. 93; Grenville Pprs. iii. 65-66n.
  • 65. Jas. Harris's memorandum of a conversation with Shelburne, 9 May 1763, Malmesbury mss.
  • 66. 4 Geo. III, c. 37, ex inf. Miss L. S. Sutherland.
  • 67. Bindley to Townshend, 14 July 1764, Buccleuch mss.
  • 68. APC Col.; HMC Dartmouth, ii. 40.
  • 69. Lady Mary Coke, Jnl. ii. 126.
  • 70. L. S. Sutherland and J. Binney, 'Henry Fox as Paymaster of the Foorces', EHR, 1955, pp. 256-7.
  • 71. Buccleuch mss.
  • 72. Jnl. ii. 130.
  • 73. Grafton, Autobiog. 92; Fortescue, i. 378, 379-81; Chatham Corresp. ii. 456-7, 459-63; Buccleuch mss; Grafton mss.
  • 74. Chatham Corresp. ii. 464-5; Grafton Autobiog. 96-97.
  • 75. Grafton mss.
  • 76. Grafton, Autobiog.; Walpole, Mems.; J. Brooke, Chatham Admin.; L. S. Sutherland, E. I Co. in 18th Cent. Politics.
  • 77. Autobiog. 110-11.
  • 78. See under TOUCHET and HUSKE.
  • 79. Namier, Crossroads of Power, 209-11.
  • 80. Jnl. ii. 13.
  • 81. Grenville Pprs. iv. 222.
  • 82. Mems. Geo. III, iii. 17-18.
  • 83. Grafton mss; Harris's minute of conversations with Grenville, 14, 15 June 1767, Malmesbury mss.
  • 84. Grafton mss.
  • 85. Grafton mss.
  • 86. The whereabouts of the doc. is unknown; it was summarized in a catalogue of Francis Edwards, c. 1925.
  • 87. In possession of Mr. T. Blakeney.
  • 88. Jnl. ii. 130