Biography

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George Grenville (1712-1770)

George Grenville was the second son of seven children born to Richard Grenville and his wife Hester, Countess Temple. His elder brother was Richard, Earl Temple, Lord Cobham; his sister Hester married William Pitt. Grenville was born on 14 October 1712 at Westminster in London. He was educated at Eton between 1725 and 1728, going on to Christ church, Oxford in 1730. He was called to the Bar in 1735. In 1741 he was elected as MP for Buckingham, a pocket borough of his uncle Richard, Viscount Cobham. There were only thirteen electors. In his early years in parliament, Grenville was a member of his uncle's faction whose members were known as "Cobham's Cubs" and included Pitt the Elder. This group opposed Walpole's government which fell in 1742. In 1744 Grenville entered Pelham's government but was dismissed by the Newcastle administration in 1755, only to be brought back into government in 1756 as Treasurer to the Navy.

In May 1749, Grenville married Elizabeth Wyndham, the grand-daughter of the Duke of Somerset, after postponing the wedding in the hope of receiving a large legacy. Somerset disapproved of the match and left Elizabeth a very small allowance in his will. The couple had four sons and five daughters: one of their sons became PM in his own right.

During Newcastle's ministry (1754-62), Grenville became increasingly friendly with the Earl of Bute and the Leicester House Set; he also gained a reputation in the House of Commons as an expert on procedural matters. When George III succeeded to the throne in 1760, Grenville joined Bute in urging an end to the Seven Years' War, whereas the government (particularly Newcastle and Pitt) were in favour of continuing the conflict. In 1761, Grenville was appointed as Leader of the House of Commons.

In May 1762, the Duke of Newcastle resigned and Bute formed a ministry with Grenville being made Secretary of State for the Northern Department. His brother-in-law, Lord Egremont was Secretary of State for the Southern Department. However, Bute opened the peace preliminaries with France without consulting his Cabinet and Grenville opposed him. Consequently, Bute demoted him to First Lord of the Admiralty, a post that Grenville was forced to accept because he needed the money - since the break with his brother (Lord Temple) the previous year, Grenville had no private income.

After the signing of the Peace of Paris, Bute introduced the Cider Tax in an attempt to pay off the national debt. Grenville spoke in favour of the duty, earning himself the ridicule of the Commons. On 16 April 1763, much to his surprise, Bute asked Grenville to take over as PM. Grenville accepted, even though Bute had appointed most of the Cabinet. A week later, John Wilkes published Number 45 of the North Briton which contained a vicious attack on the King's Speech concerning the Peace of Paris. Grenville then had to deal with an issue that had originated in Bute's ministry.

In a further attempt to pay off the national debt, Grenville introduced a spate of legislation for the American colonies:

Also in 1765, Grenville introduced the Regency Bill because of the king's illness. The king specified that the Regent should be either the Queen or another member of the Royal Family but his Ministers decided to remove the name of his wife because of her close friendship with Bute. George III took this as an insult and ordered that the queen's name should be reinserted. Grenville also had to deal with the silk-weavers' riots, caused by the government's failure to restrict the import of foreign silk. The king blamed Grenville for the riots.

In July 1765, Grenville was persuaded to resign, to make way for a ministry headed by the Duke of Cumberland with the Marquis of Rockingham as First Lord of the Treasury. Grenville went into opposition and did not hold office again. He opposed any measures of conciliation for the American colonies, voting against the repeal of the Stamp Act. Grenville's opposition to most government measures in the period 1765-70 resulted in him losing more and more credibility as a politician.

In the summer of 1770, Grenville became ill. He had suffered from a recurring respiratory illness throughout his life that had caused him to leave London for months at a time. On 13 November 1770 (the day of the opening of parliament), Grenville died in London of a blood disorder.


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Last modified 22 November, 2014

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