The Age of George III

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The Ministry of George Grenville (April 1763 - July 1765)

George Grenville was Pitt's brother-in-law and the brother of Lord Temple. Grenville already had much political experience as First Lord of the Admiralty. He was extremely able and a competent administrator but he appeared to be self-willed, and politically was limited for a number of reasons. He was shallow, humourless and verbose and had incurred Pitt's wrath for serving under Bute. More importantly, he did not have the King's wholehearted support. He further alienated George by demanding that the King should have nothing to do with Bute.

George III said of Grenville:

His opinions are seldom formed from any other motives than such as may be expected to originate in the mind of a clerk in a counting house.

The king also commented:

When he has wearied me for two hours he looks at his watch to see if he may not tire me for one hour more.

Grenville's ministry fell finally over problems in America and over the issue of the freedom of the individual, started by John Wilkes. It appeared that the government was trying to silence the North Briton, a newspaper written by Wilkes, and thus was attacking the freedom of the individual which had been established by the Bill of Rights.

John Wilkes became MP for Aylesbury in 1757 as a follower of Pitt and Temple. In 1761 the Earl of Bute set up a newspaper called The Briton, edited by Smollett, to publicise his policies because Bute was a poor parliamentary speaker. The following year Wilkes set up The North Briton as a rival paper which he used it to attack, ridicule and abuse Bute and his administration. Issue 45 of the North Briton resulted in a general warrant for the arrest of 'the authors, printers and publishers of a seditious and treasonable paper, entitled the North Briton, Number XLV'.

This act by the government raised three constitutional issues:

Wilkes and forty-eight others who were involved with No 45 were arrested. After a trial, Wilkes was acquitted. He resumed publication of the newspaper and his seat in the Commons. From then on it was indirectly assumed that the press had the right to comment on and/or criticise parliament, and report debates. Wilkes was unpopular in parliament but to the electorate he became a symbol of liberty and radicalism. In 1764 he disgraced himself and fled to France to escape prosecution. He was dismissed from parliament.

Grenville lost much credibility over his handling of the Wilkes affair but other factors helped cause the fall of his ministry:

Wars had created a National Debt

Year Event
National Debt
£ millions
1713 end of the War of Spanish Succession
1748 end of the War of Austrian Succession
1763 end of the Seven Years' War (Peace of Paris)

The government borrowed money from the Dutch, merchant bankers, the Bank of England (which was established in 1694), private companies and individuals - at high rates of interest. Grenville believed that he had to try to pay it off, but could not afford to upset Independent Gentlemen in so doing. He therefore:

In 1764 the Sugar Act was passed. This reduced the molasses duty of 6d per gallon to 3d but Grenville enforced payment through stricter customs controls in the thirteen colonies. The Sugar Act did not raise as much revenue as had been expected so in March 1765 the Stamp Act was passed. It was to be implemented in America on 1 November 1765. The Act extended the British Stamp Act to America and taxed all newspapers, legal documents, licenses, dice, playing cards and official documents. Both of these pieces of legislation were passed easily by parliament despite colonial opposition. The result of the passing of the Stamp Act were the Stamp Act riots throughout the American colonies, beginning in August and culminating in the Stamp Act Congress in October. In America, 'no taxation without representation' became the cry. However, Grenville did not have to deal with the colonial problems that resulted in his policies because he was invited to resign by George III in July 1765.

In the spring of 1765, George III had his first bout of mental illness which resulted in him becoming absent-minded and incoherent. The king was unable to fulfil his duties as monarch. Although his illness did not last long, it did raise the question of a Regency Council, in case the King was removed for any length of time or if he died. George III wanted the right to name the Regent but the House of Lords rejected this proposal. Problems over the Regency Bill made Grenville even more unpopular with George III, although the King got his way in the end, nominating his wife as Regent.

During Grenville's ministry George III was extending Buckingham House and resented Grenville's insistence on economies. The King wanted his London home to be a suitable residence for the monarch and thought Grenville was miserly. All these factors led to the fall of Grenville's ministry. In July 1765 his ministry was replaced by the first ministry of the Marquis of Rockingham.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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