The Age of George III

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Lord Grenville's Ministry February 1806 - March 1807

Pitt the Younger died on 23 January 1806 and his remaining Cabinet members were reluctant to carry on in office under a new PM. On 27 January 1806 the King invited Lord Grenville to form a Government 'without exclusion'. Consequently, on 11 February Grenville was appointed Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. Charles James Fox became Foreign Minister and Lord Sidmouth became Lord Privy Seal in Grenville's so-called 'Ministry of All the Talents'. The administration was referred to by some as a 'Fox or a Sidmouth Government with a trace of Grenville', but Grenville had a very strong influence upon the ministry. He soon set to work on what he called his 'defensive and husbanding system', instigating administrative reforms in the Treasury and its accounting practices, and in the sphere of Scottish civil justice, and devising new financial mechanisms to meet the increasing costs of war.

On 7 May 1806 Grenville introduced into the House of Lords the Foreign Slave Trade Bill, designed to reduce British participation in the trade by two-thirds to three-quarters by giving statutory force to Pitt's proclamation of August 1805. During the Third Reading debate, nine days later, Grenville further stated that 'an event most grateful to his feelings' would be 'to witness the abolition of a traffic that is an outrage to humanity, and that trampled on the rights of mankind'. In June Grenville and Fox successfully moved resolutions in both Houses of Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade, Grenville having lobbied in the House of Lords on behalf of the measure, and persuading Sidmouth of its merits. The following February, he made an eloquent speech the Second Reading of the Bill that carried the resolutions into effect.

On 13 September 1806 Fox died, necessitating a reconstruction of the ministry. During the summer Grenville had faced increasing opposition over the conduct of the Government's affairs in the House of Commons and its taxation and military reforms. His subsequent failure to gain support of leading Opposition Members caused Grenville to reconstruct the administration in a way which gave it neither strength nor authority. To add to his problems, in October the failure of the Paris peace negotiations together with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War made Grenville vulnerable at home. With a view to strengthening his ministry, he sought and gained the King's agreement to dissolve Parliament. In the ensuing general election, Grenville's majority increased by between 20 and 30.

In the face of Dublin's Catholic leaders' threat to petition the new Parliament for full Catholic relief - an action which would be certain to divide the ministry - Lord Howick (later Earl Grey), who succeeded Fox as Foreign Secretary, introduced the Roman Catholic Army and Navy Service Bill on 5 March 1807. The measure would have enabled Catholics to hold commissions in both services. However, the King and Sidmouth deemed that the proposal would extend the provisions of the Irish Act of 1793, and neither would accept it. Faced with the alternatives of proceeding with the Bill and alienating the King, or modifying the measure and placing his administration in an impossible position, Grenville decided to drop the Bill on 15 March. However, he did request the King's permission to speak openly on the subject of Catholic claims in Parliament and to offer such advice to the monarch 'as the course of circumstances shall appear to require'. On 17 March 1807 the king demanded a positive assurance from his Ministers that they would not press the issue on him again. Grenville was by this time anxious that his Government should be dismissed, thus allowing him to retire as he wished. He therefore felt unable to give such an undertaking to the king.

On 25 March 1807, following the King's announcement that he intended to seek an alternative administration, Grenville surrendered his seal of office. On the same day the Bill abolishing the slave trade gained Royal Assent. This was the one lasting testimony to Grenville's ministry. During the following ten years he was the leader of the main body of opposition to the Portland, Perceval and Liverpool administrations. On 29 September 1809 Grenville declined Perceval's invitation to join the Government in a coalition with Grey upon resignation of the Duke of Portland. His differences with Perceval on the Irish question were such that his agreement to the proposition would be considered 'a dereliction of public principle'.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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