CANNING, Stratford (1786-1880).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



2 Apr. 1828 - 1830
1831 - 1832
1835 - 2 Feb. 1842

Family and Education

b. 4 Nov. 1786, 4th s. of Stratford Canning (d. 1787), merchant, of Clement’s Lane, London, and Mehitabel, da. of Robert Patrick, merchant, of Somerville, co. Dublin. educ. dame-sch. Snaresbrook 1790; Newcombe’s, Hackney 1792; Eton 1795; King’s, Camb. 1806. m. (1) 3 Aug. 1816, Harriet (d. 17 June 1817), da. of Thomas Raikes, merchant, of London, s.p.; (2) 3 Sept. 1825, Eliza Charlotte, da. of James Alexander*, 1s. d.v.p. 3da. GCB 7 Dec. 1829; cr. Visct. Stratford de Redcliffe 14 Apr. 1852; KG 11 Dec. 1869. d. 14 Aug. 1880.

Offices Held

PC 20 July 1820.

Précis writer, foreign office 1807; 2nd sec. mission to Denmark Oct.-Nov. 1807; sec. mission to Turkey 1808-9, sec. of embassy, 1808-12, minister plenip. ad int. 1810-12; envoy extraordinary and minister plenip. to Switzerland 1814-19, to U.S.A. 1820-3; spec. mission to Russia 1824-5; ambassador extraordinary and plenip. to Turkey 1826-7, 1841-58; jt. plenip. to Greece Aug.-Dec. 1828; spec. mission to Constantinople 1831-2; extraordinary mission to Spain 1832-3; to Switzerland 1847-8; spec. missions to Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, Greece, Hanover, Prussia and Saxony 1848.


The American secretary of state John Quincy Adams made the following assessment of Stratford Canning shortly before he relinquished his post as ambassador to the United States, 24 June 1823:

He is a proud, high tempered Englishman of good, but not extraordinary parts; stubborn and punctilious, with a disposition to be overbearing ... He is, of all the foreign ministers with whom I have had occasion to treat, the man who has most severely tried my temper ... He has, however, a great respect for his word, and there is nothing false about him. This is an excellent quality for a negotiator. Mr. Canning is a man of forms, studious of courtesy and tenacious of private morals. As a diplomatic man his great want is suppleness, and his great virtue is sincerity.1

Canning provoked similar reactions throughout his career. Ribeaupierre, a Russian diplomat encountered in June 1829 by Henry Edward Fox*, ‘could not resist rather ridiculing the stiffness of his manners and his love of etiquette, and overstrained decorum, and exaggerated discretion’, and, Fox concluded, ‘evidently dislikes him, though he esteems his character’.2 Lord Strangford, whom Canning succeeded as ambassador to Turkey in 1826, considered him an insufferable pedant and ‘the most indefatigable inquirer into two-pences I ever met’.3 Nonetheless, he achieved great eminence in diplomacy, a career on which he was set by his cousin George Canning*, the future premier, under whose aegis he enjoyed rapid promotion. Yet it was not the profession he would have chosen. He was an indifferent traveller, disliked living abroad and regarded his foreign postings merely as a springboard into domestic politics. But when he eventually achieved his ambition of a seat in Parliament, his mentor was dead and he failed to make an impression on his own account.

Canning’s upbringing resembled that of his eminent cousin. Their fathers were both disowned for unsuitable marriages and died young. Stratford Canning senior was a partner in the London mercantile and banking firm of French, Burroughs and Canning of St. Clement’s Lane, where Canning himself was born. After his father’s death in 1787, his mother ‘Hitty’ moved her family of four sons to Wanstead, Essex, where Canning attended dame school, before moving to the tougher regime of Hackney at the age of six. The society of his youth included the politician and dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan†, a near neighbour, and George Canning, who accompanied his cousin, 16 years his junior, on his going to Eton. Three years later, he observed with a proprietorial eye that ‘Stratty’ was often to be seen ‘walking by himself’, which he took to indicate ‘a turn for meditation entirely laudable’.4 Canning appears to have been a formidable scholar, much venerated by his contemporaries, who included Richard Wellesley*, Joseph Planta*, and Henry Gally Knight*, with whom he edited the school magazine Miniature, a conscious imitation of the Microcosm of his cousin’s era, and to which he contributed ‘elaborate and Johnsonian’ articles.5 An early spectator of Commons debates, he formed an admiration for Pitt, to the extent of showing unseemly disrespect at the death of Fox, for which he was upbraided by his Whiggish mother.6

As captain of the school, Canning entered King’s College, Cambridge in 1806, but within a year his cousin had secured his appointment as a précis writer in the foreign office, of which he had lately assumed control. He was permitted to keep terms at King’s, whose authorities took a lenient view of his joining a diplomatic mission to Denmark without authorization, but would not countenance his continuation after his posting to Constantinople in 1808. He was awarded an MA in 1813 by royal mandamus, on account of absence ‘occupied in the king’s affairs’.7 En route to Turkey, he found time to look over ancient Greek sites, ‘in mute admiration, with a Virgil in one hand, and a bottle of claret in the other’, but he rapidly tired of the East. In November 1809 he complained to Wellesley of the lack of society, observing that ‘a lady according to our English notions is here an unknown animal’.8 George Canning’s resignation a month earlier had removed the option of resuming his clerkship back home, and the departure of his superior Robert Adair† in May 1810 left Canning, not yet 24, in sole charge of the Turkish embassy. John Cam Hobhouse*, who met him shortly afterwards while travelling, described him as a ‘pleasant young man with a bad voice’.9 His enlarged sense of patriotic duty led to a notable clash with the eccentric expatriate Lady Hester Stanhope, whom he warned against open association with the French ambassador in August 1811. She responded with a sarcastic suggestion to Lord Wellesley, the foreign secretary, that Canning, as ‘both a religious and political Methodist’, should be appointed ‘commander-in-chief at home and ambassador-extraordinary to the various societies for the suppression of vice and cultivation of patriotism’.10 Although Canning assisted in securing the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, formalized by the Treaty of Bucharest in May 1812, his first biographer’s claim that his role was pivotal has been disputed.11 Throughout the mission, he bemoaned the lack of instruction and support from the foreign office. Delays in the arrival of his successor led him to despair of ever ‘getting away from this horrible hole’, 3 Sept. 1811, but he was eventually relieved in June 1812 and returned to London.12

Canning’s sights were always set on Parliament. At Cambridge he had spent interludes ‘at a spouting club for eventual flights in oratory’ and in July 1810 he thanked Richard Wellesley ‘for your wish that I should meet you in the House of Commons; perhaps the day may come; I am disposed to hope it’.13 To John Nicholas Fazakerley*, another Eton contemporary, he outlined his political beliefs, 1 Dec. 1812:

In the present state of public affairs both at home and abroad, the path of wisdom lies between the prevailing extremes of opinion ... I dare say you will agree with me that the country does not so much want a Whig or a Tory, a Foxite or a Pittite, as some man with enough of the ascendancy of genius to frighten the fools at home into their proper places, and to direct the public resources with vigour and effect against our enemies abroad.

He named this earthly saviour as his cousin, whose continued absence from high office was an effective blight on his own political ambitions. As he loftily continued

private circumstances rendered it an absolute duty on my part to claim the pension to which I am entitled ... for diplomatic service, and this of course disqualifies me for the House of Commons. I wish it were otherwise, but fortune forbids, and I can only hope that the restraint will not be long, and never such as to clog the independence of my mind.14

At his cousin’s election for Liverpool in 1812, he diffidently proposed the toast at a celebratory dinner, and with Fazakerley, Gally Knight, and Wellesley was a founder member of the non-partisan Grillion’s Club in 1813.15 That summer he toured the North of England with Planta and met Anne Isabella Milbanke, daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke of Halnaby, Yorkshire, who spurned his proposal of marriage, and subsequently married Lord Byron. The rejection prompted his return to diplomacy, and having scorned a secretarial posting with an Austrian mission, he became envoy to Switzerland the following year, an appointment which caused him to make a timely revision of his opinion of Lord Castlereagh*, the foreign secretary. The complicated negotiations on the formation of the Swiss Diet suited his enormous capacity for business, which hid an inability to distinguish the significant from the inconsequential.16 Attending the Congress of Vienna in December 1814, he offered a jaundiced summary of its proceedings to his secretary in Zurich, Henry Addington:

In general, England mediates, France protects old rights and virtuous principles, Russia dictates sentimentality, and aggrandizes herself for the general welfare, Austria and Prussia squabble, mutually deceiving and deceived; the others claim and protest, some one, some both. All agree in dancing and wearing fine coats, and all wonder why the Congress lasts so long.17

On home leave in August 1816 he married Harriet Raikes, who came from a family with whom his own had ‘long been acquainted’ and whose father had been chairman of the Bank of England, 1797-9.18 She died in childbirth the following June and he resigned his post in August 1819, after a tour of Italy.19

On his return to England Canning attended several Commons debates, which in a diary fragment he rated ‘the highest intellectual entertainment one can enjoy’.20 But his ambitions to participate were frustrated, as hitherto, by financial considerations, and by his cousin’s apparent reluctance to assist him on the home front. As he confided to Gally Knight, 24 Jan. 1820, ‘what I should certainly prefer above all other things ... is an independent seat in Parliament. But how am I to obtain it unless I turn Whig, or radical?’. He reserved the option to pursue an independent course, but admitted to ‘a decided leaning in favour of Mr. Pitt’s principles’ and the preservation of the constitution as established, ‘under which, however defective in theory, this country has eminently flourished’. Resigned to continuing with his diplomatic career for the time being, he accepted the post of ambassador to Washington as that most suited to a future in the domestic political arena, hoping that ‘if I do not die either of impatience or the yellow fever, I shall be all the better for it a few years hence’.21 Before his departure in August 1820 he attended the trial of Queen Caroline and evinced little sympathy with her cause. Yet he supported his cousin’s resignation over the issue in December, and opined that ministers had acted like ‘great fools’.22 In Washington his brief was to maintain the steady thaw in Anglo-American relations, though in the event Congress failed to ratify the treaty he co-negotiated on the principal points of contention, the United States-Canada boundary and the British navy’s right of search over foreign vessels. He returned to London on sick leave in September 1823 and did not resume his post, in which he been discomfited both by extremes of temperature and the lack of ‘reverence’ displayed by the natives. It appears that he settled a dispute with a French diplomat in February 1822 by resort to single combat, an incident not mentioned by his biographer.23

Canning was gratified at the evidence he found of improving prosperity in England, and ‘to crown the chapter of marvels, a popular administration’, 23 Sept. 1823.24 But his hopes of obtaining a treasury secretaryship through his cousin were dashed the following March, and he reluctantly accepted the ambassadorship to Turkey, on the future promise of a vice-presidency of the board of trade. His first task was to report on the proceedings of an international conference on Greece in St. Petersburg, where in February 1825 he concluded a treaty with Russia on the north-west American frontier. That September he took as his second wife Eliza Alexander, daughter of James Alexander, the patron-Member for Old Sarum, who was half his age and had initially refused him, put off by his ‘earnest, resolute and masterful nature’. She was won over by his dogged persistence and the efforts of Planta as an intermediary. The couple honeymooned in Reigate, from where Canning sent his mother accounts of their morning religious devotions.25 With his bride in tow, Canning departed for Turkey in October, having bombarded his predecessor Strangford with silly questions. Strangford subsequently alleged that Canning, ‘that great God of war’, had mislaid en route to Constantinople a diplomatic box, which was later discovered with its lock forced, and that he ‘either ... did not report the circumstance to his great namesake, or ... the latter took no notice of it’.26 According to Planta, he was ‘instructed up to the teeth’. A plan was in his pocket for limited Greek independence, but as the Turks had gained an ascendancy over the rebels, they had little incentive to negotiate and during the two-year impasse that followed he became ‘a mere spectator and reporter’ of dreadful Turkish atrocities.27 ‘Never certainly had man so complete a failure in all his undertakings as I have had since my arrival here’, he lamented to Planta, 29 Apr. 1826.28 A report circulated of his ‘probable’ appointment to Lisbon in February 1827, but he gave himself another year to bring the ‘Greek business’ to a conclusion, though his cherished object remained to ‘return to Christendom and employment at home’. George Canning’s elevation to the premiership raised his hopes, and Planta assured him that a domestic office beckoned on completion of the task in hand, 11 July. All such calculations were upset by the death of his cousin in August 1827, a personal and professional calamity to Canning, which at a distance, he could conceive of only as a ‘hideous dream’.29

In the meantime he repeatedly pressed the government to take a firmer line with the Turks. On 9 Oct. 1827 Huskisson, the colonial secretary, indicated that he had gone ‘a step further than I had proposed’ by ordering the blockade of Turkish occupied ports to ‘all neutral vessels, whether under convoy or not’.30 Canning had already sensed official disapproval and requested frank intelligence from Planta of any moves against him, in which he suspected the malign hand of Lord Granville, the ambassador to France, ‘griev[ing] to think that my cousin may, perhaps, have died with sentiments unfavourable to my conduct’, 1 Oct. At the same time, he awaited ‘decisive intelligence, probably of a gunpowder description, from the Archipelago’, which arrived at the end of the month, when Admiral Edward Codrington sailed his squadron into the Greek port of Navarino and virtually destroyed the Turkish fleet.31 The phrasing of Canning’s instruction to him had been typically bellicose: ‘The prevention of supplies [to Greek ports under Turkish occupation] is ultimately to be enforced ... by cannon-shot’, 1 Sept. The subsequent contrition expressed in his memoir over this choice of words was not evident in his congratulatory letter to Codrington, 21 Dec. 1827. In public, he was exonerated from blame when, fearing Turkish reprisals, he withdrew his embassy and returned to England in February 1828.32 But Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded the private view of Wellington, the new premier, that Canning had ‘mismanaged the negotiation at Constantinople very much’, and the opinion of Esterhazy, the Austrian ambassador, that ‘his temper had caused all the evil’.33 Lord Ellenborough, the lord privy seal, anticipated that he ‘would not be sent again’ to the eastern theatre.34

Hobhouse found Canning to be ‘very merry and not at all in mourning’ at a London dinner party in March 1828.35 Shortly thereafter he was returned for his father-in-law’s pocket borough of Old Sarum, in order, as he told Richard Wellesley, 3 Apr., to fill the ‘vacant spot’ while his ambassadorship was in limbo. He later commented that representing ‘the rottenest borough on the list’ had been no source of pride, but had conferred the advantage of freedom from both financial and political obligations.36 In the House he followed an independent line similar to that mapped by his cousin, and he appeared in Lord Palmerston’s* list of ‘liberals’ in June 1828, though he was curiously absent from another contemporary reckoning of the Canningite rump.37 He ‘could not but sympathize cordially’ with George Canning’s support for Catholic emancipation, as he later recalled, and gave his first known vote for relief, 12 May 1828, though he privately held out few hopes for the conference on the question subsequently agreed to by the Lords.38 In spite of a vow to hold his tongue for a while in the House, he made an intervention in favour of financial provision for his cousin’s family, but did not assist their case by incorrectly describing Lord Althorp, who opposed the proposition, as a supporter of Canning’s administration, 13 May. Writing to Wellesley four days later he likened the experience to that of a skater who falls through thin ice, and

splashes about for a few minutes, and finally succeeds in scrambling to land very much frightened and not quite drowned ... I could have wished to throw in a parenthesis in favour of economy in general, and a second in recognition of Lord Althorp’s respectability; but the fear of losing sight of my road threw me into a hurry, and utterly incapacitated me for stopping to pick up flowers by the way ... My position was really a very difficult one, for I had no communication either with the government or with Lady Canning’s friends, and meant on no account to speak unless roused by strong opposition ... I suspect ... that I have gained more credit for spirit than for tact, for enterprise than for eloquence.39

His performance was judged a ‘sad failure’ by George Canning’s former toady Lord Seaford, who added that ‘with his expectations of success as a parliamentary speaker, the disappointment must have been very severe’.40 Planta’s words of congratulation rang hollow: ‘You did as I expected you would, except that you were more nervous of your voice’ and ‘not quite so loud therefore as I expected. This time and practice is sure to remedy’.41 In the event, Canning never became an accomplished orator, and later recalled his initial experiences in the Commons with an unusual degree of humility:

I was kept back by something under the name of shyness and timidity ... To go above the gangway was for some time simply impossible. I screwed up my courage to the point of speaking once in my first session; but ... the few sentences I pronounced in favour of a pension to Mr. Canning’s widow had little to recommend them but a certain proud earnestness and warm devotion to his memory. At later periods I overcame this weakness in part; but to this hour the remains of it hang like a wet swab round my thoughts.42

In July 1828 Canning was deputed to attend the Poros Conference on the boundary of Greece, despite the privately expressed hope of Lord Dudley, the former foreign secretary, that he ‘would turn Member of Parliament altogether, and give up diplomacy. He is a man of worth and talents, but his perverse and ungovernable temper makes it a very unpleasant task to deal with him’.43 Canning’s differences with government were already plain. His dissatisfaction with Dudley’s indecisive policy had led him to take the case for a British expeditionary force to the Aegean directly to Wellington, and to Huskisson he criticized the decision to recall Codrington as a signal of irresolution, 22 May.44 In private, Ellenborough asserted that he had ‘the weakness of those who call themselves liberals in favour of the Greeks, desiring to give the largest possible extent to the frontier to be assigned to them’, 1 Sept.45 This view duly prevailed at Poros in December 1828, much to the consternation of Lord Aberdeen, the new foreign secretary, who felt that Canning had been too obdurate in rejecting Turkish proposals. Further strife ensued when he disregarded instructions to lift a shipping blockade of Crete and allowed his resentment at the consequent reprimand to be recorded in a dispatch.46 (The foreign secretary was also driven to distraction by the sheer volume of his official communications, in which he seldom used a sentence where a paragraph would do.)47 When Canning indicated an unwillingness to argue for a more limited Greek boundary in subsequent negotiations, 21 Feb., Aberdeen accepted his resignation with alacrity, telling him ‘it would undoubtedly be too much to expect from you that you should labour with zeal to destroy at Constantinople, what you had constructed with so much pain at Poros’, 28 Mar. 1829.48 In his place, the minister sent his brother Robert Gordon, who, remarked Mrs. Arbuthnot, would ‘at least obey orders’, a sentiment echoed by Ellenborough.49 There were those in the region, too, who rejoiced at Canning’s removal. John George Woodford, the lieutenant-governor of Corfu, complained that his ‘procrastination and vacillation are terrific for all those who have to transact business with him; and he appears to have been blind to the moral and physical force of the Turks’.50 Canning stamped on his letter of recall in a fit of pique, but looked forward to ‘a certain interval of quiet in England’, while signalling his willingness to go to Lisbon, or even to resume his former post, ‘if government were to find sufficient motives (as I cannot but think they will before long) for acting in a resolute and straightforward manner’, 27 Apr.51 Outside the governing circle, Lady Holland imagined that he had returned voluntarily, to try his luck in Parliament. The duke of Bedford confirmed to her, 6 Apr., that he had

long been aware that Stratford Canning meant to retire from diplomacy. He expects to make a distinguished figure in Parliament, in which expectation they say he will be disappointed [as] the name alone will not make an able or eloquent orator.52

In the event, he arrived in England after the 1829 session had closed and passed the summer at his father-in-law’s seat in Kent.53

In recognition of his diplomatic services, Canning was invested with the Order of the Bath, an award agreed by George IV ‘with great pleasure’, 8 Nov. 1829. A delay in its conferral of the award necessitated ‘a long personal explanation’ from Aberdeen before Canning was satisfied, and it did not take long for him to discover a downside, which he duly reported to his wife, 11 Dec.:

I am sometimes half tempted to blaze out against the waiters and cooks who seem to have an understanding together for the trial of my patience. Yes; Sir Stratford! No; Sir Stratford! You must not be surprised if I go back to Windsor and beg His Majesty to unknight and unriband me.54

He was in the minority for the amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, and, according to one source, for a reduction in the army estimates, 19 Feb. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., inquiry into a revision of taxation, 25 Mar., reduction in the ordnance estimates, 29 Mar, and information on privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May. He divided in favour of Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. On foreign policy he voted against the ministry on the issue of military interference in Portuguese internal affairs 10 Mar., 28 Apr., but supported them over the grant for South American missions, 7 June, believing opposition to be misconceived. Stating his awareness of the need for economy, he justified the expense of the embassies in Paris and St. Petersburg, but said that savings could be made at smaller diplomatic missions. Hobhouse, who spoke next, commended the ‘weight and effect’ of Canning’s opinions, but his suggestions were evidently not taken up. He challenged Hume on a point of information concerning consular estimates, 11 June 1830.

At the 1830 general election Canning’s seat for Old Sarum was reoccupied by his wife’s uncle, and he engaged in a fruitless search for another. He passed up an identified vacancy ‘from the peculiar circumstances of his situation as a public servant ... liable at any time to lose an unguaranteed seat at full price’, and abandoned a plan to contest Southampton as hopeless.55 He likewise declined to fight Marlborough on behalf of the local independents, and following a late entry to the field at Leominster, retired after making ‘an able speech’.56 After the death of Huskisson in September, his name was mentioned in connection with the Liverpool seat once held by his cousin, but nothing came of it.57 Reporting his failure to secure a berth to his mother, 23 Aug., he had noted that ‘the votes which I have given are not likely to recommend me for employment, while the administration remains as it is’. Yet he exhibited little faith in the successor Grey ministry either, telling his wife, 13 Feb. 1831:

The government is far from strong, their adversaries quite as weak. But little prospect of an understanding between the best on both sides, which might form the salvation of the country, and the awful question of reform coming on like a fire-engine, not to extinguish the combustion, I fear, but to increase our perplexity and alarm.58

After the defeat of the first reform bill in April, Thomas Gladstone* reported that Canning, ‘although quite as moderate a reformer as myself in his wishes ... thinks there are but two alternatives, the bill or no reform’.59

At the ensuing general election he was again mentioned as a candidate for Liverpool, but was ultimately returned for Stockbridge on the Foster Barham interest, for the reported sum of £1,000.60 He was portrayed by the patron as a reformer, but on the hustings deemed the ministerial plan to be ‘much too sweeping’.61 At the opening of Parliament, 21 June, he was ‘nearly squeezed to a mummy’ in the crush and, as he informed his wife, failed to gratify his wish for a sight of the king wearing his crown. Of the ministers, he was most impressed by Edward George Smith Stanley and Sir James Graham in the early days of the session.62 Despite his misgivings, he voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, ‘in the conviction that the monarchy could not go on without it’, as he later informed his erstwhile diplomatic colleague David Morier.63 At the time he assured his wife that ‘reform will be carried, there may be modifications, perhaps even considerable ones ... but a great substantive measure will pass ere long, be sure’.64 He voted against adjournment of the bill, 12 July. In the interest of curtailing the slave trade, he hoped that the United States might now be prepared to ratify the treaty he had co-drafted six years previously, 25 July. Nervousness, he told his wife, had caused him to speak ‘in a hurried and naked manner’ on this occasion, but he found support for his impression that he had been ‘well listened to’. He added that he had abandoned a plan to protest against the disfranchisement of his own borough.65 One source lists him in the majority for the disfranchisement of St. Germans, 26 July, but all agree that he was in the minority to delay consideration of Chippenham’s inclusion in schedule B, 27 July. He divided against the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., and the extension of the county franchise to borough leaseholders and copyholders, 20 Aug. He voted with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He divided against the preservation of non-resident voting rights in enlarged boroughs, 2 Sept., for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. 1831.

This was Canning’s last recorded activity in the unreformed Parliament, for, with his customary diffidence, he accepted an invitation from Palmerston, the foreign secretary, to return to Greece on a special mission. Before his departure he enjoyed an audience with the king, who, as he later remembered, ‘evinced a warm interest ... but sleep overtook him while talking, and I could only wait in silence till he awoke’. He found the Greeks in chaos, on the verge of civil war, and was ‘at times half persuaded that they labour under a curse’, but like so many of his contemporaries, fancied that he saw in their faces ‘the stream of art, of oratory, or of song’ that had belonged to their classical ancestors. He arrived in Constantinople, 28 Jan. 1832, and after prolonged negotiations with the Turks, aided by intimations of future assistance against their troublesome Egyptian vassal, won their agreement to an enlarged Greek boundary, virtually to the extent envisaged by the Poros Conference. His magisterial advice to the Greeks on departure was, by his own recollection

to repair the ravages of war, to plough your lands, to build ships, and above all to increase your families. Material property is the true basis of moral and political advancement, institutional securities come in their turn. A strong hand is your first need.

He was garlanded with praise on his return home in September 1832. Palmerston reportedly greeted him with the words ‘Canning, you are the man’, while Gally Knight, noting the vindication of his stance against the policy of the Wellington administration, observed, ‘Few men have the opportunity of so completely reaping the reward of their rectitude’.66

The disfranchisement of Stockbridge left Canning without a seat at the 1832 dissolution. He evidently did not seek another, and in October 1832 he was named as ambassador to St. Petersburg, an appointment first mooted in April of the previous year. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the tsar refused to receive him, though it is likely that it had something to do with the meddlesome Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador in London, who, irked at Palmerston’s rejection of her advice against sending Canning, ‘a most impracticable, disagreeable man’, had urged Nesselrode, the Russian foreign minister, to exercise a veto and ‘teach these islanders manners’. With Grey’s support, Palmerston persisted in favour of Canning, a political ally, and by the time a fresh appointment was made in 1835, the affair had achieved the status of a diplomatic incident.67 Meanwhile Canning was sent in December 1832 to Spain, where his mediative proposals on the disputed Portuguese succession were summarily rejected. In this futile endeavour he was accompanied by Lord William Russell*, to whom he was introduced by his brother Lord John Russell*, the paymaster-general, as ‘a gentleman of somewhat cold manner, and a little sensitive, but very earnest in all he does, and able as well as willing to pursue a course favourable to the views of government, and an enlightened policy’.68 At the 1835 general election he stood for King’s Lynn in tandem with Lord George Cavendish Bentinck*, and with the support of a ‘mixed combination of liberal Tories and frightened Whigs’ was returned after a contest. In the House he followed Smith Stanley and, like Gally Knight, crossed the floor with him to join Peel on the opposition benches.69 He had refused the post of governor-general of Canada during the latter’s short-lived first ministry, and he did so once more in 1841, when the Conservatives’ return to office encouraged him to believe that a ministerial appointment lay within his grasp. Ironically, it was Smith Stanley, whose frankness Canning professed so to admire, who privately advised of his unfitness, while Peel himself marvelled at how he ‘tortures himself, and every other person with whom he comes into contact’. After refusing the post of the treasurer of the queen’s household, he chose to resume his diplomatic career, inevitably, as ambassador to Turkey, where he remained for 16 years.70 From the immense influence he wielded over the sultan, and the impetus he gave to internal reforms in Turkey, he made his reputation, and gained the nickname of ‘The Great Elchi’ [ambassador].71 A reluctant diplomat to the end, he attempted to resign in 1847-8, when he undertook several special missions. He was an early candidate for the foreign secretaryship in the Derby ministry of 1852, but the appointment was deemed too provocative to Russia. Lord Malmesbury, who took the post instead, admitted that his rival’s talents were ‘beyond dispute, but his temper is so despotic and irritable, that he can only display them in a peculiar kind of diplomacy. He managed the Turks in their own way and it was Sultan versus Sultan’.72 As a consolation Canning was given a peerage, taking the hybrid title of Stratford de Redcliffe, the latter part being derived from the family’s medieval place of residence near Bristol. Contemporaries as assorted as Queen Victoria, Derby, Malmesbury and Greville believed that his festering grievance against the tsar caused him to foment the dispute which led to the Crimean war in 1854, for which his personal responsibility was fixed in the public consciousness by Alexander Kinglake’s The Invasion of the Crimea (1863).73 His rehabilitation was first attempted in the 1930s and more recent historians have continued to attribute less significance to his role.74

In retirement, Stratford took up his pen. An anthology of his undistinguished poetry, entitled Shadows of the Past (1866), was dedicated ‘to his fellow members of Grillion’s Club, whose social meetings ... have drawn political adversaries together, and softened the resentments of party warfare’. Among his works of ‘drama in verse’ was Alfred the Great in Athelney (1876), the name of whose hero he had once memorably invoked to put backbone into an Ottoman prince.75 He produced two religious works, Why I am a Christian (1873), a response to creeping secularism, which ran to five editions, and The Greatest of Miracles (1876). A compilation of his retirement musings on foreign affairs, The Eastern Question, was posthumously published in 1881. Stratford died in August 1880, at Frant, Sussex, where he had latterly settled, outliving his only son, George Stratford Canning (1832-78), who had been an invalid virtually since birth.76 By the terms of his will, dated 15 Sept. 1875, the Frant estate and his house in Grosvenor Square passed to his wife and three unmarried daughters, who were named as joint-executors and trustees. He was the first diplomat to have a statue erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey, on which Tennyson’s lines of tribute were inscribed:

Thou third great Canning, stand among our best

And noblest, now thy long day’s work has ceased,

Here silent in our Minster of the West

Who wert the voice of England in the East.77

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer


This account draws liberally on S. Lane-Poole, Life of Stratford Canning, 2 vols. (1888). The originals of Canning’s memoirs, which are extensively printed therein, were subsequently lost, along with much of his personal correspondence. E.F. Malcolm-Smith, Life of Stratford Canning (1933) is largely a redaction of the above work. A. Cunningham, Anglo-Ottoman Encounters in Age of Revolution (1993) and Eastern Questions in 19th Cent. (1993) contain essays on aspects of Canning’s career.

  • 1. J. Adams, Mems. vi. 157.
  • 2. Fox Jnl. 340.
  • 3. Bagot, Canning and Friends, ii. 292.
  • 4. Lane-Poole, i. 16-17.
  • 5. Ibid. i. 22.
  • 6. Ibid. i. 17-18, 23.
  • 7. Ibid. i. 23-27.
  • 8. Ibid. i. 40-41, 70-71.
  • 9. Ibid. i. 46-7, 79; Broughton, Recollections, i. 29.
  • 10. Lane-Poole, i. 116-8; Wellesley Pprs. ii. 56-59.
  • 11. Lane-Poole, i. 174-6; Cunningham, Anglo-Ottoman Encounters, 144-87.
  • 12. Lane-Poole i. 91, 131, 160, 178, 182.
  • 13. Ibid. i. 36, 88.
  • 14. Ibid. i. 189-91.
  • 15. Ibid. i. 124, 185-7.
  • 16. Ibid. i. 202, 212, 222-70.
  • 17. Ibid. i. 243-4.
  • 18. Ibid. i. 272-4; W.M. Acres, Bank of England from Within, ii. 621.
  • 19. Lane-Poole, i. 275-84.
  • 20. Ibid. i. 294.
  • 21. Ibid. i. 287-9.
  • 22. Ibid. i. 295-8; TNA FO352/8/4, Planta to Canning, 15 Mar. 1821.
  • 23. Lane-Poole, i. 301-38; B. Willson, Friendly Relations, 109-23; FO352/8/4, Planta to Canning, 11 Feb. 1822.
  • 24. Bagot, ii. 200.
  • 25. Lane-Poole, i. 385; Malcolm-Smith, 95.
  • 26. Bagot, ii. 292, 336.
  • 27. FO352/13A/1; Lane-Poole, i. 386-400. For a modern account of Canning’s first spell as ambassador to Turkey, see Cunningham, Anglo-Ottoman Encounters, 276-323.
  • 28. Lane-Poole, i. 395, 405, 409, 417-28, 432-3.
  • 29. NLW ms 2795 D, B. Taylor to H. Williams Wynn, 20 Feb. 1827; FO352/17A/3, Canning to Planta, 25 Feb., 11 June, 1 Oct., reply, 11 July 1827.
  • 30. Lane-Poole, i. 441-8: Huskisson Pprs. 245.
  • 31. FO352/17A/3.
  • 32. Lane-Poole, i. 449-59; FO 352/17B/7.
  • 33. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 161-3.
  • 34. Ellenborough Diary, i. 42.
  • 35. Broughton, iii. 253.
  • 36. Lane-Poole, ii. 2, 4.
  • 37. Bulwer, Palmerston, i. 278-9; Colchester Diary, iii. 567-8.
  • 38. Lane-Poole, i. 386, 439; ii. 5.
  • 39. Ibid. ii. 4-5
  • 40. TNA 30/29/9/5/67.
  • 41. FO352/20A/5.
  • 42. Lane-Poole, ii. 2-3.
  • 43. TNA 30/29, Dudley to Granville, n.d. [1828].
  • 44. C.W. Crawley, The Question of Greek Independence, 109-10; Lane-Poole, i. 456-66.
  • 45. Ellenborough Diary. i. 206, 244.
  • 46. Lane-Poole, i. 479-84; Wellington mss WP1/951/58; 961/25; 971/36; 972/7.
  • 47. Wellington mss WP1/987/12, 988/4.
  • 48. Lane-Poole, ii. 486-8.
  • 49. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 259-60; Ellenborough Diary, i. 412.
  • 50. Taylor Pprs. 250.
  • 51. Lane-Poole, i. 489; FO352/22/2, Canning to Planta, 27 Apr. 1829.
  • 52. Lady Holland to Son, 100; Add. 51669.
  • 53. Lane-Poole, ii. 7.
  • 54. Wellington mss WP1/1056/1; 1059/25; Lane-Poole, ii. 8.
  • 55. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 6 July 1830; Lane-Poole, ii. 8-10.
  • 56. Wilts. RO, Marlborough mss 124/4/15, 18, 22; Hereford Jnl. 4 Aug.; Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 5 Aug. 1830; Herefs. RO A95/V/W/C, Miles to Bellamy, 15 Sept. 1830.
  • 57. Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss, Palmerston to C. Grant, 25 Sept.; Add. 51590, Agar Ellis to Lady Holland, 20 Sept. 1830.
  • 58. Lane-Poole, ii. 11.
  • 59. Glynne-Gladstone mss 198, T. to J. Gladstone, 24 Apr. 1831.
  • 60. Ibid. 3 May 1831; Lane-Poole, ii. 10.
  • 61. Add. 51836, J. Foster Barham to Holland, 26 Apr.; Portsmouth Herald, 8 May 1831.
  • 62. Lane-Poole, ii. 13.
  • 63. Ibid. ii. 17.
  • 64. Ibid. ii. 14.
  • 65. Ibid.
  • 66. Ibid. i. 493-518; Cunningham, Eastern Questions, 29-54.
  • 67. Greville Mems. ii. 357; Cunningham, Eastern Questions, 23-28, 55-56; Sir C. Webster, Foreign Policy of Palmerston, 321; K. Bourne, Palmerston, 361; Reid, Lord Durham, i. 55; Lane-Poole, ii. 17-23.
  • 68. Lane-Poole, ii. 24-32; Russell Letters, i. 184-5.
  • 69. Lane-Poole, ii. 35-48.
  • 70. Parker, Peel, iii. 485; Lane-Poole, ii. 23, 37, 49-50.
  • 71. Cunningham, Eastern Questions, 108-29; Lane-Poole, ii. 53.
  • 72. Disraeli, Derby and Conservative Party ed. J. Vincent, 47, 49, 66, 82; Malmesbury Mems. 278, 307.
  • 73. Victoria Letters (ser. 1), ii. 560; Disraeli, Derby and Conservative Party, 75-76; Malmesbury Mems. i. 425; Greville Mems. vii. 16.
  • 74. H.M.V. Temperley, ‘Stratford de Redcliffe and the Origin of the Crimean War’, EHR, xlvii (1933), 601-21; xlix (1934), 265-98; D.M. Goldfrank, Origin of Crimean War (1994), 287-9.
  • 75. Canning, The Eastern Question ed. A.P. Stanley, p. xii.
  • 76. Malcolm-Smith, 140, 164.
  • 77. Lane-Poole, ii. 465-7.