GROSVENOR, Hon. Robert (1801-1893).
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Family and Education
b. 24 Apr. 1801, 3rd. s. of Robert Grosvenor†, 2nd Earl Grosvenor (d. 1845), and Hon. Eleanor Egerton, da. and h. of Thomas Egerton†, 1st Bar. Grey de Wilton; bro. of Richard Grosvenor, Visct. Belgrave*. educ. Westminster 1810-16; Christ Church, Oxf. 1818; L. Inn 1821. m. 17 May 1831, Hon. Charlotte Arbuthnot Wellesley, da. of Henry Wellesley†, 1st Bar. Cowley, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. styled Lord Robert Grosvenor 1831-57; suc. fa. to Moor Park, Rickmansworth, Herts. 1845; cr. Bar. Ebury 15 Sept. 1857. d. 18 Nov. 1893.
Comptroller of household Nov. 1830-Dec. 1834; PC 1 Dec. 1830; groom of stole to Prince Albert 1840-1; treas. of household July 1846-July 1847; commr. health of the metropolis 1847-50, clerical subscriptions 1864-1865, ritual 1867-70.
Grosvenor was born at Millbank House, Westminster, and named after his father, one of the wealthiest noblemen in England.1 He was educated at Eton and Oxford and embarked on a tour of the continent with his brother Thomas in the summer of 1819, only to return in haste in September for the wedding of their eldest brother Lord Belgrave, Member for Chester. His new sister-in-law thought him ‘full of entertainment and fun ... a most amiable creature and easy friend’.2 Within a week of his coming of age in 1822 his father returned him on a vacancy for his ‘new’ borough of Shaftesbury.3 Lord Grosvenor acted with the Whig opposition and Robert and Belgrave voted with them to abolish one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May, and reduce embassy costs, 15, 16 May, and for criminal law reform, 4 June 1822, for which he presented a Shaftesbury petition that day.4 Disappointed in love, he set out for the continent in July and remained abroad until December 1823.5 His father had considered putting him or Belgrave forward for Dorset at the February 1823 by-election, but desisted.6 On 1 Sept. 1823 his mother wrote to him:
Your father has been long grumbling at your beguiling us with continual plans of removal and giving us directions to write to other places while you have been dawdling ... at Naples and I have been seriously uneasy, fearing that your heart was in danger, that you were severely exposed to temptation and had no friend at hand to admonish you.7
He was admitted to Brooks’s, 25 Feb 1824, proposed by Lords Morpeth† and Derby, and voted with Belgrave for repeal of the window tax, 2 Mar., against renewing the Aliens Act, 2 Apr., for inquiry into the Irish church, 6 May, and the state of Ireland, 11 May, and in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and paired against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 6 June 1825. Mrs. Arbuthnot had speculated in March that he was ‘the cause’ of Isabella Forester’s broken engagement with Lord Apsley*.8 Before leaving for Russia as an unofficial member of the duke of Devonshire’s ambassadorial delegation to the coronation of Tsar Alexander, he presented an anti-slavery petition from Shaftesbury, 21 Mar.,9 and voted against administration on the president of the board of trade’s salary, 7, 10 Apr., and for corn law revision, 18 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 27 Apr. 1826.10 His kinsman General Thomas Grosvenor made way for him at Chester at the general election in June, when he was returned in absentia after a severe contest.11
Grosvenor remained lax in his attendance. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, and on the 8th presented a Chester petition against the importation of foreign flour. He voted to postpone the vote of supply pending resolution of the ministerial uncertainty following Lord Liverpool’s stroke, 30 Mar., and his application for a week’s leave that day was ridiculed and rejected. He was named as a defaulter, 5 Apr., but excused. He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn for electoral corruption, 28 May. He presented constituents’ petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June, and against the alehouse licensing bill, 18 June 1827.12 That month he tried to counter strong local opposition to his family’s support for Catholic relief by publishing a pro-emancipation pamphlet, which he also defended in the correspondence columns of the Chester Chronicle.13 He presented and endorsed Chester’s petitions for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 15 Feb., and of the Test Acts, 25 Feb., for which he voted, 26 Feb. 1828. He confirmed his support for Catholic relief on presenting favourable petitions from the Catholics of Chester and Piddington, 29 Apr., and divided for it, 12 May. He voted for more effective control over the crown’s excise recovery proceedings, 1 May, and against the Buckingham House expenditure, 23 June 1828. He divided for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. On 13 Apr. he set out on a fact-finding tour of the Eastern Mediterranean, where he was privy to the negotiations between the Russians and Turks. After visiting consulates in the Greek Islands, Constantinople, Malta, Tunis and Tripoli, he prolonged his travels by taking a passage to Cadiz, where on 12 June 1830 he wrote informing his mother that he would return forthwith via Barcelona and Paris:
I know not what may be my father’s intentions with regard to me at the ensuing elections. You do not ask me to return home, but I think from the tenor of your correspondence that you do not forbid me altogether to do so. You have had no opportunity of writing to me since the king’s health declined so rapidly, and, after due consideration, I do not think I shall be doing my duty towards my father if I do not at least put it in his power to make what use of me he shall think fit, in case of His Majesty’s demise.14
Lord Grosvenor put him forward alone for Chester, where he arrived to canvass on 24 July 1830. His ‘three year sojourn on the continent’ was severely criticized, but his return with the Tory Sir Philip Grey Egerton was unopposed and he assisted in Belgrave’s successful canvass of the county.15 An edition of his travel journal was published afterwards to raise funds for Chester infirmary.16
The Wellington ministry listed Grosvenor among their ‘foes’, and he was perturbed when Lord Grosvenor, who had been admitted to the privy council, 22 July 1830, directed him to ‘vote with the duke’ if an amendment was moved and to ‘join no factious opposition’. Writing in confidence to his friend George Fortescue, whom Grosvenor had brought in for Hindon, he observed:
My opinion is daily becoming less and less favourable to the duke’s way of going on, and I have almost arrived at the conclusion that he ought to be turned out. My father says he is sick of party and looks with aversion upon any junction with extreme droite; I begin to think party is almost essential to the carrying on of the affairs of state and I think nothing so bad as that desultory half-and-half sort of opposition which characterized our proceedings during the last Parliament.17
Though listed as absent from the division on the civil list by which the Wellington ministry were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830, he subsequently claimed that he had been paired with Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, who voted in person against it.18 His appointment as comptroller of the household, at £800 a year, in Lord Grey’s administration was a surprise and caused Lord Bathurst to speculate that it might be a ploy to silence his father’s probing questions in the Lords.19 Presenting anti-slavery petitions from Chester, 25 Nov., he dissented from their prayer for immediate abolition and echoed Warburton’s plea ‘that the condition of the negroes should be first so gradually improved as to render freedom a benefit, and not a curse’. His re-election was opposed by the ‘popular’ party in Chester, who denounced him ‘not only as the son of a peer who is a notorious and powerful boroughmonger, but a pensioner upon the public purse, and as a man who has been deficient in the performance of his public duties’. He defeated their absent nominee Foster Cunliffe Offley* in the ensuing poll.20 Addressing his supporters at a party dinner, 20 Dec. 1830, he reiterated his belief that slavery should be abolished gradually and spoke strongly in favour of parliamentary reform, but did not disguise his reservations on the merits of the secret ballot.21 He ‘inadvertently omitted to take the oaths before taking his seat’, and a second by-election was held, 15 Mar. 1831, when his return was not opposed. A bill indemnifying him from payment of a penalty fine of £500 for each day he had sat since his re-election had been carried unanimously and received royal assent, 11 Mar.22 He presented the Chester printers’ petition for repeal of the stamp duties on newspapers, 19 Mar. Indicating that his support for reform, on which he corresponded with the anti-refomer Bickham Estcott†, had strengthened since he and Egerton had issued an equivocal joint statement, 5 Mar., he presented their constituents’ petition in favour of the ministerial reform bill and emphasized that Chester was ‘a Tory town’ loyal to the king and constitution and that support for the petition had been unanimous.23 He divided for the reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar. Presenting the Cheshire reform petition the next day, he declared his
determination to support ministers in every part of the bill. By this measure ministers propose to redeem their pledges, not by instalments, but to the full amount. If ministers should yield up a single essential point, I will not continue to give them my support.
He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. Chester returned him and the reformer Cunliffe Offley unopposed at the ensuing general election, and he maintained that he had also been requisitioned to stand for two other counties.24 He briefly assisted Belgrave in his canvass of Cheshire before returning to London for his wedding to Wellington’s niece Charlotte, which had been ‘approved’ by his colleagues at Grillion’s.25 Lord Wellesley informed her father, who was then ambassador in Vienna: ‘I think you will be satisfied with the connection. Mr. Grosvenor appears to me to be an excellent man of very good manners and steadiness of conduct. I believe the whole family to be very amiable and worthy’. The duke, who also lent them Stratfield Saye for their honeymoon, gave the bride away.26
Grosvenor voted for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, against adjournment, 12 July 1831, and sparingly for its details. He criticized its opponents for using the Manchester-Leeds railway bill to delay its progress, 21 July, and, to expedite it, he commended ministers for uniting Chatham with Rochester and Strood, 9 Aug., and appointing half-pay officers as boundary commissioners, 1 Sept. Informing The Times that his name had been erroneously omitted from the government minority against enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., he stated that it was ‘the third time it has occurred ... I do not wish to spend my nights in the dense atmosphere of the House ... without having the credit of doing my duty’.27 He assumed the style Lord Robert Grosvenor when his father became marquess of Westminster at the coronation. Edward Littleton* privately blamed him, through his association with Sir Ronald Craufurd Ferguson*, for the election of Sir Francis Burdett* to chair the reform dinner at Stationers’ Hall in honour of Lord Althorp* and Lord John Russell*.28 He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He presented a Chester petition against the importation of foreign flour, 6 Sept., and Cheshire’s reformers now openly approved his conduct.29 Summoned by circular, he divided for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, after Sir Watkin Williams Wynn terminated their pairing arrangement, but seems to have failed to do so in January 1832.30 He divided for the bill’s provisions for Appleby, 21 Feb., Helston, 23 Feb., and Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and its third reading, 22 Mar., and for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. On the 13th the Speaker advised him how, if necessary, he should deliver the monarch’s response.31 He voted against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish reform bill, 1 June. He divided with government in both divisions on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, and on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and helped to ‘kill off’ William Evans’s abortive motion claiming that Britain had a right under the treaties of 1814 and 1815 to interfere to prevent Russian aggression in Poland, 7 Aug. Attending to constituency concerns, he pressed for the appointment of a select committee on the general register bill and was appointed to it, 22 Feb. He said he would prefer to see a duty levied on Russian tallow than an excise duty on soap, 28 Feb., and endorsed Lord Sandon’s testimony to the growing unpopularity in Northern England of the grants to Irish charter schools, 16 Mar. He presented petitions from Chester for and against the government’s proposals for Irish education, 18 June, and against the vagrants removal bill, 3 July 1832.
Grosvenor presented Chester’s civic address to Princess Victoria when she opened the Grosvenor Bridge over the Dee, 16 Oct. 1832, and she sponsored his daughter Victoria Charlotte at her christening next day.32 His return for Chester as a Liberal in December 1832 was assured, although the borough was polled, and he now proved ‘indefatigable in his exertions’ on Belgrave’s behalf in the gruelling contest for Cheshire South.33 He remained Member for Chester until his election for Middlesex in 1847, and a Liberal until Gladstone conceded Home Rule in 1886, when he defected to the Unionists. He served with distinction as a health commissioner, travelled extensively with his family and became the chief lay spokesman for the Evangelical party in the Lords, to which he was elevated in 1857. He died in November 1893 at his London home in Park Street, recalled as a church reformer, inaugural member and president of the Association for Promoting a Revision of the Prayer Book and a Review of the Acts of Uniformity, and as the author of many tracts and pamphlets.34 His eldest son Robert Wellesley Grosvenor (1834-1918), Liberal Member for Westminster, 1865-74, succeeded him in the peerage and to Moor Park (the Hertfordshire estate bequeathed to him by his father), and his other surviving children inherited the bulk of his personal fortune.35
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
Access to the Grosvenor papers, privately held at Eaton Hall, is gratefully acknowledged. For Grosvenor’s later letters and speeches see E.V. Bligh, Lord Ebury as a Church Reformer (1891).
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 114-15; Oxford DNB sub Robert Grosvenor (1767-1845).
- 2. G. Huxley, Lady Elizabeth and the Grosvenors, 17; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC10/81-90.
- 3. M.J. Hazelton-Swales, ‘Urban Aristocrats’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1981), 445; Grosvenor mss 9/11/48; The Times, 12 Nov. 1822.
- 4. The Times, 5 June 1822.
- 5. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 439, ff. 1-123.
- 6. The Times, 14 Feb. 1823; Grosvenor mss 9/9/10, 24, 46, 47; 9/10/94; 9/11/40-43; 9/13/7.
- 7. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 439, f. 156.
- 8. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 384.
- 9. The Times, 22 Mar. 1826.
- 10. Add. 52017, Townshend to H.E. Fox, 29 Apr. 1826.
- 11. Chester Chron. 19 May; Procs. at Chester Election (1826).
- 12. The Times, 9, 31 Mar., 7, 19 June 1827.
- 13. Chester Chron. 1, 8 June 1827.
- 14. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 440, ff. 1-84; Ms. Eng. Misc. c. 667-8; Greville Mems. i. 324.
- 15. Chester Courant, 6, 13, 20, 27 July; Chester Chron. 9 July, 6, 13 Aug. 1830; Grosvenor mss 12/1.
- 16. Extracts from Jnl. of Lord R. Grosvenor (1831).
- 17. Greville Mems. ii. 8; Add. 69366, Grosvenor to Fortescue, 20 Sept. 1830.
- 18. Chester Chron. 10 Dec. 1830.
- 19. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 441, ff. 8-11; Add. 76373, Althorp to Grey [?19 Nov. 1830]; Wellington mss WP1/1156/7.
- 20. Chester Courant, 7, 21 Dec.; Chester Chron. 3, 10, 17 Dec. 1830; Derby mss 920 Der (13) 1/161/27.
- 21. Chester Chron. 24 Dec.; Chester Courant, 28 Dec. 1830.
- 22. Chester Chron. 11, 18 Mar.; Chester Courant, 15 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 353, 355-6, 359, 363.
- 23. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 441, ff. 1-4; Chester Chron. 18, 25 Mar.; Chester Courant, 22 Mar. 1831.
- 24. Chester Courant, 10 May 1831.
- 25. Chester Chron. 20 May 1831; P.M.G. Egerton, Annals of Grillion’s Club, 55.
- 26. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. 441, ff. 92-93.
- 27. The Times, 20 Aug. 1831.
- 28. Hatherton diary, 15 Sept. 1831.
- 29. Chester Courant, 18 Oct. 1831.
- 30. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 441, ff. 4-7; NLW ms 2797 D, Sir W. to H. Williams Wynn, 18 Dec. 1831.
- 31. Bodl. Ms. Eng. lett. c. 441, ff. 13-14.
- 32. Huxley, 42.
- 33. Chester Chron. 28 Sept.; The Times, 18 Oct., 4 Dec.; N. Wales Chron. 18 Dec. 1832; Huxley, 103-5.
- 34. The Times, 19 May 1845, 24 July 1861, 20 Oct. 1891, 20, 23, 24 Nov. 1893; Bodl. Ms. Eng. Lett. c. 441, ff. 51-53; R. Grosvenor, Leaves From My Jnl. (1851); On the Revision of the Liturgy (1859); The Only Compromise Possible in Regard to Church Rates (1861); On the Amendment of the Act of Uniformity (1862); The Laity and Church Reform (1886); Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (1877); Auricular Confession and Priestly Absolution (1880); J. Hildyard, The Ingoldsby Letters on the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer (1860, 1861).
- 35. The Times, 5 Mar. 1894.