GRENVILLE, Thomas (1755-1846).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



25 Oct. 1779 - 1784
1790 - 1796
1796 - 22 Jan. 1810
6 Mar. 1813 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 31 Dec. 1755, 2nd s. of George Grenville of Wotton, Bucks. by Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt., of Orchard Wyndham, Som.; bro. of William Wyndham Grenville*. educ. Eton 1764-71; Christ Church, Oxf. 1771; L. Inn 1774. unm.

Offices Held

Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1778; lt. 86 Ft. 1779, ret. 1780.

Minister to Paris May-July 1782; minister extraordinary (with Ld. Spencer) to Vienna July-Oct. 1794; PC 5 Dec. 1798; envoy extraordinary and minister plenip. to Berlin Dec. 1798-Aug. 1799; c.j. in eyre South of Trent 1800-d.; pres. Board of Control July-Sept. 1806; first ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1806-Apr. 1807.

Capt. Bucks. yeomanry 1795, maj. 1798, lt.-col. Mid Bucks. 1803.


Grenville’s association with the opposition to his cousin Pitt cost him his seat in 1784 and estranged him politically from the rest of his family, but he remained loyal to the opposition, joined the Whig Club in 1785 and had strong claims for consideration when the Whigs prepared for the general election of 1790. Earl Fitzwilliam who, like Fox, was a personal friend, offered to negotiate his return, but the Duke of Portland, believing that Grenville would demur when he discovered that the gesture would cost Fitzwilliam at least £3,000, persuaded him to take his chance at Bath. Grenville remained nominally in contention until the eve of the election, but his chances of success were never good, and in the end he fell back on Fitzwilliam, who arranged his return for Aldeburgh on the Crespigny interest.1

For most of the period of internal crisis brought on the party by the French revolution Grenville, like other leading conservative Whigs, was concerned less with taking sides in the ideological debate than with trying to avert the threat posed to the unity of a party which derived its network of personal relationships and raison d'être from the events of 1782-4. Ultimately, his alarm at the direction which the Foxite section wished the party to take convinced him that traditional Whig principles were no longer relevant and that a new political alignment, inevitably entailing the destruction of the party, was called for. He so far misjudged Burke as to express to Fitzwilliam on 19 Apr. 1791 his belief that no rejoinder would be made to Fox’s eulogy of French principles four days earlier. When proved wrong, he accompanied Fox in his attempt to dissuade Burke from raising basic issues in the debate on the Quebec bill, 21 Apr., and the following day begged Fitzwilliam to persuade Burke to desist from fomenting discord within the party on the floor of the House. At that time, Grenville was taking Fox’s line in favouring repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. Yet, writing to Fitzwilliam on 28 Apr., he revealed that his fears of the effects of a public debate did not merely derive from ‘motives of expediency with respect to party connections and political union’, but were rooted in a fundamental political conservatism:

If there is any ground of serious apprehension in the course of opinions with respect to the government and constitution of this country, the true solid and manly defence of it is best made in adhering to the principles and practice of it, in resisting all dangerous innovations and in supporting against all change that which we acknowledge to be the established form of the government we live under; but surely it is no part of this duty to agitate mere abstract questions of political rights, it is rather the duty of every thinking man to compose and temper those questions, than to subject them to those dangerous discussions from the contentions of which no man knows or sees all that may be to arise.2

He voted for Grey’s resolutions of 12 Apr. 1791 on the Oczakov crisis and on 25 May moved an address to the King, defeated by 208 votes to 114, which deplored the armament and asserted the principle that the crown’s prerogative of making war and peace should be exercised in consultation with the Commons. He voted for Whitbread’s motion on the same subject, 1 Mar. 1792.

The spread of political societies and the formation of the Association of the Friends of the People in the spring of 1792 prompted Grenville to side with the conservative wing of the Whig party against parliamentary reform in the debate of 30 Apr. He supported the royal proclamation, 25 May, but, in accordance with the prior resolution of the Whig leaders to soften asperities, his language was moderate. Although he was increasingly disturbed by events in France and their repercussions at home in the later months of 1792, Grenville, who was mentioned by Pitt to Portland as a possible choice as governor-general of Bengal in July, resented the attempts of Burke, Windham and Lord Loughborough to bring the conservative Whigs into closer alignment with the ministry and to encourage the adoption of a more aggressive military policy. To Fitzwilliam he observed that ‘a declaration of offensive war against France’, by provoking distress, inflaming the people and diminishing their resistance to contamination from French principles, ‘might probably at once produce here all the dangers and calamities which you and I equally fear’; and to Windham he rehearsed the arguments ‘against opposition making itself, by advising the executive government of this country, a blind and helpless instrument in the hands of administration’. He remained anxious to keep the best possible terms with Fox, and accordingly, though he declared himself ready to support a war provoked by French aggression, voted for his amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, as an indictment of the government’s internal policy. Supporting the aliens bill, 4 Jan. 1793, he expressed a hope that his connexion with Fox ‘by the present difference would be strengthened, not impaired’.3

The ambivalence of his position became even more pronounced with the outbreak of war. He rebuffed Windham’s efforts to draw him into the ‘third party’, allowed the Duke of Portland to consult him in the concoction of an acceptable resolution on Fox’s conduct for the Whig Club meeting of 19 Feb. and supported Fox’s motion of 21 Mar. 1793 to delay consideration of the traitorous intercourse prevention bill. Yet the war, as a specific issue, received his support. He ‘expressed himself very decidedly’, according to Pitt, against Fox’s amendment concerning the outbreak of hostilities, 12 Feb., and six days later voted against Fox’s resolutions laying the blame for the war on the British government. By the autumn of 1793 Grenville, whose name was still being mentioned for an Indian appointment, fully shared in the Portland Whigs’ awareness of the illogicality of their current political position, but, his distrust of Pitt dying hard, remained averse to a formal junction with ministers. In early December he pinned his faith on vigorous support of the war by a party entirely and demonstrably independent of both government and Friends of the People. The news of the fall of Toulon merely reinforced his conviction that the logic of events, at home and abroad, had made it impossible any longer to keep political terms with Fox, and on 29 Dec. he wrote sadly to sever their connexion.4

As a member, with Windham and Thomas Pelham, of the self-styled ‘virtuous triumvirate’, Grenville participated in the deliberations of the Portland Whigs before the new session. He voted for the address, 21 Jan., defended government on the issue of the foreign troops, 14 Mar. 1794, and in May sat on the committee of secrecy to consider measures to curb seditious activities. On 13 June he was a party to the deliberations of Portland, Spencer, Mansfield and Windham on the question of coalition with the ministry and advocated an immediate junction. When Windham threatened to disrupt the arrangements at the eleventh hour, Grenville travelled through the night to Norfolk and managed to break his resolution to decline office.5

He did not greatly profit from the coalition, for his immediate share in the spoils consisted of a joint mission with Lord Spencer to Vienna, with the object of encouraging the Emperor to greater exertions against France. When Fitzwilliam asked him to accompany him to Ireland as chief secretary when his own appointment as lord lieutenant was effected, he sought the advice of his younger brother Lord Grenville, who recommended him to seek instead long-term foreign employment. His aversion to this line of business, the poor progress of the current negotiations and an awareness that the Irish secretaryship, though disagreeable in itself, afforded perhaps the only immediate hope of forwarding his political ambitions, induced him to signify his willingness to accept if pressed. At the same time, he staked his claim to employment ‘at home’ thereafter. Lord Grenville kept him informed of the crisis of October caused by the dispute over the terms on which Fitzwilliam was to take over in Ireland and warned him not to commit himself before his return from Vienna. It was presumably the prospect of a rift in the new coalition, and the additional awkwardness caused by his brother Lord Buckingham’s determination to interpret Fitzwilliam’s appointment as a personal slight, which lay behind the ‘private and personal difficulties’ on which Grenville based his decision to decline the office when he returned home in November. He also turned down a three-year foreign mission pressed on him by Pitt and Lord Grenville. When Fitzwilliam was recalled from Ireland in February 1795, Grenville pleaded with him to remain in the cabinet, but did not hesitate to defend Portland and his colleagues against Fitzwilliam’s complaints and to offer to resign his seat if the Earl felt unable any longer to support government. Fitzwilliam absolved him from any such obligation.6 In April 1795 he introduced, but was forced to abandon, a bill to amend the Grenville Act governing the process of balloting for election committees.

His political reconciliation with the rest of his family was cemented by his return for his elder brother’s pocket borough of Buckingham at the general election of 1796. He was evidently inactive in debate, but he continued to support government, served on the secret committee of inquiry into the Bank stoppage in 1797 and voted for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. When Cornwallis replaced Camden as lord lieutenant of Ireland in June 1798, Pitt pressed Grenville to accept the office of chief secretary in the event of Thomas Pelham’s retirement, but Pelham’s decision to stay on saved him from the difficulty of deciding between his ‘utter aversion’ to the job and his ‘reluctance to decline any personal risk or inconvenience in these critical times’. When Pelham finally retired in November, Pitt favoured Grenville’s claims, but bowed to Cornwallis’s preference for Castlereagh. Lord Grenville thought his brother had been slighted, but rejoiced that ‘Tom is not to be embarked dans cette maudite galère’ and urged him to undertake a mission to Berlin and Vienna, with full power to treat with the Allies. Grenville swallowed his disappointment and reluctantly accepted the undertaking on his brother’s ‘assurances that his colleagues felt as strongly as himself the importance of my giving way to their wishes’, although according to Lord Minto, who was himself covetous of the job, neither Pitt nor Dundas would have chosen him but for Lord Grenville’s pressure, having doubts about ‘his zeal and animation in the cause’. The venture was dogged by misfortune. Repeated delays in starting because of bad weather, and a shipwreck in appalling conditions off Cuxhaven which almost cost him his life, so retarded Grenville’s arrival in Berlin that the French were able to frustrate his designs. He left Berlin in September 1799, did not proceed to Vienna and reached England in October. A proposal that he should stand for Oxford University, made during his absence, was declined.7

When Dundas retired as treasurer of the navy in May 1800 Grenville, though aware that the post was to go to Dudley Ryder, reminded his brother that, on the junction with Pitt, Portland had been authorized to promise himself and Pelham the first claim to Privy Council offices after Lord Mornington. Lord Grenville consulted Pitt, but told him (on the strength of Tom’s avowal that ‘I can have no intention of looking for a claim of six years to the leavings of Ryder, Steele and Canning’ and that ‘it is not in my temper to intrude any pretensions of mine where they are in any degree reluctantly admitted’) that his brother ‘would much rather release you from an engagement if taken, than urge its execution against your wishes and convenience’. Pitt was able to offer in July a life grant of the sinecure of chief justice in eyre south of Trent, worth £2,300 a year, which Grenville accepted, ‘thinking that this arrangement offers the possibility of more active parliamentary business than what has hitherto appeared to be within my reach’. In August 1800 he was designated British representative at the projected Lunéville peace conference, but Napoleon’s refusal to grant passports and the subsequent turn of events on the Continent kept him at home. His brother suggested in November that his going to Berlin might serve a useful purpose, but Grenville, who saw more advantage in the immediate conclusion by both Britain and Austria of separate treaties with France, and was in any case reluctant to embarrass his brother-in-law Carysfort, the envoy at Berlin, was unenthusiastic.8

During the six years which followed the fall of Pitt’s first ministry, Grenville’s political activities reached their peak of involvement and importance. Speaking more frequently in the House, he achieved a reputation for solid ability, and in the political realignment of these years he emerged briefly as a front-rank politician. Privately, he greeted Addington’s accession to power with ridicule, but he remained relatively inactive until the autumn of 1801, rejecting in the interim Lord Hawkesbury’s offer of the embassy to St Petersburg. Convinced that the military establishment must be maintained at its wartime level, he was alarmed by press reports of the peace terms, and on 3 Nov. 1801, in his first major speech for over seven years, he condemned the peace preliminaries as a feeble surrender of all the substantial gains of the war, a threat to the future security of the country and a shameful desertion of allies. His performance was widely praised. Quickening in his hostility to Addington’s government, he became involved early in 1802 with Windham in the support of Cobbett’s Political Register, but he differed from Windham in preferring ‘incidental discussion’ of ministerial incompetence to a general parliamentary attack. In February he discussed the political situation with Pitt and persuaded Lord Grenville to resume communications with him. He spoke briefly in favour of several minor motions concerning the Treaty of Amiens early in May, and on 13 May spoke and voted in support of Windham’s major attack.9

In September 1802, Grenville could not see ‘any credit or advantage to be got by active opposition’, but when Parliament opened he shared the buoyant mood of the Grenvillites, fresh from their conference at Stowe and fortified in their convictions by growing evidence of French militance. There was no truth in newspaper reports that Grenville was to stand for the Speaker’s chair against Charles Abbot. He supported the address, 23 Nov. 1802, because it acknowledged the necessity of taking military precautions, but he used the debate on the grant of an extraordinary supply of seamen, 2 Dec., to impugn the intelligence and competence of the government. His desire to see ‘vigorous minds in government’ also informed his attack on the army estimates, 9 Dec., when he denied that the Grenvilles and their associates ‘recommended provocation to hostility’, or sought a return to power with Pitt. Grenville approved his younger brother’s attempts to restore Pitt’s energies and correct his views early in 1803, but the confidence of the ‘new opposition’ had ebbed and his confession that he was unable ‘to look for any real good to be now done by pressing forward on our part’ reflected their increasing despondency and frustration. On 9 Mar. he deplored in the House the limited information given by ministers about French military preparations, but otherwise confined himself to private forecasts of their likely failure of nerve, taking comfort in his belief in the sagacity of ‘the line which we have taken in neither triumphing nor enlarging upon this early and complete proof of all our predictions’. Arguing that the renewal of hostilities was both just and expedient, he opposed Grey’s amendment to the address of 24 May; and his emphatic support of Patten’s motion of censure, 3 June, was described by the Speaker as ‘very able’, by Whitbread as ‘as good a speech as could be made’ and by Fox, a year later, as ‘of the highest order’. Grenville himself clearly perceived the futility of opposition on its present footing, and although his private pronouncements on the incapacity of ministers lost none of their vehemence, he closed his own parliamentary session early and told Lord Grenville in August that, much as he deplored the government’s yeomanry and volunteer arrangements,

for us, who have taken the course of executing their measures instead of debating against them, the best and most consistent and most useful course will be to continue to try and make sense of their nonsense by doing whatever seems practicable; and that, in so doing, we do what, for a hundred reasons, is better than the most eloquent protest which can be put upon the journals of Parliament.

He renewed the parliamentary assault in December 1803, having been alarmed by Fox’s apparent desire to prop up Addington in return for a dishonourable peace, in order to prevent Pitt’s return to power. Though aware of the danger that ‘the language one holds will be represented as opposing the prosecution of vigorous measures in Ireland’, he attacked the proposal to continue martial law there, 9 Dec., on the ground of his general lack of confidence in the government. Two days later he condemned their military arrangements as inadequate, and in passing criticized Pitt’s ‘contracted view’ of them.10

Grenville welcomed the plan to form a combined opposition early in 1804 and his old ties with Fox made him the obvious choice as emissary to St. Anne’s. He attacked the volunteer consolidation bill, 27 Feb., maintained constant communication with Fox, whose occasional exasperation with Pitt’s hesitancy he shared, and was prominent in the general parliamentary attack on Addington in March and April. Disgusted by Pitt’s decision to resume office without his erstwhile allies, he sided with Fox against Pitt in a discussion of the volunteer consolidation bill, 23 May. He apparently voted against the additional force bill for the first time on 15 June; and, when speaking against its third reading, 19 June, he protested at the accusations of factious conduct which Pitt had levelled at the Grenvillites. In June he was put up by Lord Buckingham for the recently extended constituency of Aylesbury, to meet the challenge of William Cavendish. He was defeated, but re-elected for Buckingham, and, being eager to cement the alliance with the ‘old’ opposition, was less disposed than his brother to make an issue of the Cavendishes’ interference.11

From the vantage point of his London house, Grenville kept his younger brother closely informed of the negotiations between Pitt, George III and the Prince of Wales late in 1804, was present at a meeting of opposition leaders at Lord Moira’s on 14 Jan. 1805 and was included by the Prince in his discussions of March with ‘a few confidential friends’, on the framing of a memorandum to the King concerning the education of Princess Charlotte. Considering Pitt’s ‘allusion to his sense of the King’s objections’ to Catholic relief to be ‘inconsistent with his former conduct’ and unconstitutional, as ‘a direct use of the influence of the King’s name from the mouth of the minister to Parliament’, he stressed the necessity of marking opposition’s disapproval. He did not undertake the task himself and seems to have been relatively inactive in the House in 1805, apart from his full participation in the attack on Melville for alleged misappropriation of public funds, on which he took a stronger line than Lord Grenville.12

Although he did not anticipate any useful result from the feelers put out by Pitt to his brother in September 1805, Grenville was willing to assist in promoting ‘a real good understanding’, but he was also careful to communicate frankly with Fox, to preclude the danger of misunderstanding between the two wings of opposition. By 4 Oct. he had abandoned his hopes of seeing the formation of a genuine ‘broad-bottom’ administration; but, while he understood Lord Grenville’s ‘reluctance to engage in the course of opposition’, he reminded him of ‘considerations affecting the possibility of future advantage from keeping our own friends together which are important enough to demand very serious reflection’. Like his brother, he was not disposed to criticize the war effort publicly, whatever his view of the ‘means, motives and persons employed in it’, as long as there remained a hope of its success; but when, on the collapse of the third coalition, he received a letter from Fox arguing that there could now be no restraint on attacking ministers’ conduct of the war, he conceded the point. Aware that his brother viewed that conduct ‘in a less blameable light’, and perceiving that Pitt’s failing health raised the possibility of Fox and Lord Grenville being required to co-operate in office, he argued that ‘this is the moment for a full and unreserved explanation to take place between them’, and persuaded Lords Grenville, Spencer and Buckingham to meet Fox for discussions later in the month. In the interim, he wrote frankly to Fox of his brother’s reservations, and followed up his efforts to promote harmony by visiting Fox on 11 Jan. 1806, when he was delighted to find that his views on the question of making peace were ‘in no respect of the description which had been suspected’. He did not attend the debate of 27 Jan. 1806 on Pitt’s funeral honours.13

Grenville did not immediately receive office in his brother’s ministry. When difficulties arose over Lord Grenville’s holding both the Treasury and his sinecure auditorship of the Exchequer, he contemplated reverting to his original scheme of recommending Spencer as first lord, with Tom as chancellor of the Exchequer, but once the problem was settled his claims to the office do not seem to have been strongly pressed against those of Lord Henry Petty. In the negotiations attending the formation of the ministry and the allocation of offices and distribution of patronage, Grenville’s associations with Fox made him the ideal intermediary between the two major constituents of the coalition, but the role exposed him to Fox’s complaints of Lord Grenville’s lack of co-operation and he was further ruffled by the admission of Lord Sidmouth and his followers into the government.

During February and March Grenville passed on to his brother requests for patronage and electoral information and advised on the arrangement of minor offices. On 28 Feb. Fox sought his aid, ‘to enable me to humour as much as I can some of your brother’s extreme delicacies’; while on 18 Mar. Lord Grenville requested him to ‘get at Fox and talk to him about India’. In May he had to intervene in a potentially embarrassing squabble between Lord Buckingham and his son. He is not known to have spoken in the House during the 1806 session and he did not vote for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. As early as 27 Feb. he had pressed Lord Grenville to make at least temporary use of his seat to facilitate his arrangements, because ‘I am, as you know, so bad an attender that it is no sacrifice for me to make’. Accounts from friends and adversaries confirm that two months later he was in low spirits and imply that his discomfiture derived in some way from the rift between Grenvillites and Foxites in the Commons. Disappointment at the outcome of his labours since 1804 towards the creation of a genuine union of talents in government, rather than any serious physical deterioration, seems to have been behind the constant lamentations that his health could not sustain an active political career, which make their first appearance in his correspondence at this time.14

When Lord Minto was appointed governor-general of Bengal in June 1806, Lord Grenville insisted to Fox, who acquiesced, that Tom should succeed him at the Board of Control, with a seat in the cabinet. At the same time, the prime minister told the Speaker that his brother’s ‘health made it very doubtful whether he would be able to stand the wear and tear of the House of Commons’. Grenville had no time to make any impression at the India Office before the prospect of Fox’s death made inevitable a reorganization of the front bench in the Commons. Though ready to accept the larger role which he saw would be asked of him, he repeatedly warned that ‘my health and strength will never bear the trial’, and encouraged his brother’s negotiations with Canning, to whom he was willing to surrender his office, while remaining in the cabinet if Lord Grenville wished. When the negotiations foundered and it became necessary to repair the loss of Fox from existing material, Lord Grenville inclined towards placing Tom at the Home Office, while Buckingham yearned to see him with the foreign seals; but the limitation of two secretaries of state in the Commons, and Windham’s refusal to take a peerage, forced Grenville to transfer Tom to the Admiralty, with a view to his exchanging places with Spencer and assuming the lead in the Commons in the event of Lord Howick’s removal to the Upper House. Grenville had made no secret of his aversion to the position, based partly on an awareness that Spencer had a more fitting claim, and more particularly on a fear that it ‘will engross all my time, and annihilate me for the House of Commons’; by early October he was complaining that he was ‘overpowered by the business, which leaves me not an instant of quiet, and breaks in upon my only fund of strength, my sleep’. The possibility of his contesting Oxford University recurred at the general election of 1806, but progressed no further than hesitant discussion, and his elder brother ‘put Tom to bed to his old wife Buckingham, instead of alma mater’.15

Grenville was no more at ease in the new year. Richard Ryder* told Lord Harrowby, 7 Jan. 1807, that ‘T. Grenville’s face of discomfort upon the Treasury bench is a chose à voir’. In his only known speech of any substance during the life of the ‘Talents’, 23 Jan., he moved for an additional supply of seamen, and provoked criticism by declaring his intention of arranging the future presentation of estimates ‘in a more detailed and intelligent shape’, which was construed by opposition as a slur on the efficiency and honesty of his predecessors. When Lord Grenville renewed his overtures to Canning in February, he asked Tom to try to mollify Howick’s irritation at the disregard of Whitbread’s claims. Grenville offered ‘to furnish every facility by giving Admiralty, or anything else that can best assist’, and his brother, resigned at last to the truth ‘that in the way in which I most looked to his aid, and in which it was most wanted, he can give me none, I mean in House of Commons debate’, specifically mentioned to Canning on 5 Mar. the possibility of his replacing Tom. In the cabinet deliberations on the King’s objections to the Roman Catholic army and navy service bill in March, Grenville advocated total concession of the measure, which he considered to be of doubtful value, but had no hesitation in refusing with his colleagues to accept the pledge required by George III.16

Early April found Grenville, unlike his younger brother, in favour of active opposition. He voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr., but soon afterwards, convinced that ‘the House of Commons is really mortal to me’, he offered to resign his seat. Lord Buckingham would not hear of it. He counselled abandonment of the constitutional issue as the main point of attack, and on 30 Apr. claimed ‘no disposition to withdraw myself from my humble share in the proscription with which we are menaced’; but in less than two months he was resigned to only a token attendance in the first session of the new Parliament. He voted against the address, 26 June, and replied ‘with great animation and effect’, according to his nephew, to Canning’s ‘insinuations’ concerning the expeditions to Turkey and Egypt mounted under the ‘Talents’.17

Grenville took an active part in the discussions which led to the appointment of George Ponsonby as leader of the Whig party in the Commons late in 1807, and from the moment of Lord Grey’s death insisted, against the arguments of his brother and Lord Holland, who were disposed to let the matter resolve itself, that a formal and generally acceptable appointment was vital to the preservation of the party. Having gained this point, he exerted himself in promoting Ponsonby, to whom he was drawn chiefly by an aversion to Whitbread. Holland and Fitzwilliam would have urged Grenville’s own claims, but both recognized that there was no hope of pressing him into service. He was initially inclined to approve the seizure of the Danish fleet, and certainly unwilling to condemn it out of hand, feeling that he could not do so with propriety as it bore too close a resemblance to the late government’s intentions regarding Portugal, of which he had disapproved. He was confirmed in his reticence by reports that Sidmouth was likely to declare against it. Grey was irritated by this ‘crotchet’, which ‘surpasses all the fancies we have hitherto known in him’, but Grenville, ‘most desirous of keeping us all together as we stand’, so far mastered his scruples as to feel able to vote for Ponsonby’s motion of 3 Feb. for information concerning the Copenhagen expedition. On 8 Feb. he was involved in a testy exchange with Canning over the Constantinople expedition, and a week later was reported to be ‘screaming with anger’ in a heated debate on Portugal. His last known speech was against the motion of censure on the Constantinople expedition, 20 May (described by Tierney as ‘an excellent statement of the case on the part of the Talents’), and his last recorded vote in the 1807 Parliament was for the Irish petition, 25 May 1808.18

In January 1809 Grenville told his brother that he did ‘not mean to give attendance this session’, and he evidently abided by this resolution until he vacated his seat for Lord Buckingham’s younger son early in 1810. He continued to participate in the deliberations of the opposition hierarchy, provided a useful link, with Tierney, between Lords Grenville and Grey and was active as a seeker andrelayer of opinions when the Whigs were cabinet-making in January 1811. There was talk of his taking the Admiralty if they formed a government, but when he discovered that some of the former Foxites objected to this idea, as well as to the notion of Lord Grenville’s retaining his sinecure auditorship as he had in 1806, he formally renounced to Grey his claim to any salaried office.19

When Lord Temple succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Buckingham in February 1813 he was at a loss for a replacement for himself in the county seat. Grenville offered the use of his ‘name and shadow’ until his nephew’s son came of age in 1818 but, as he informed Lord Grenville,

told him that no case, not even that of you and Grey being the ministers, would ever again make me a public man; and that the utmost I can do ... is, to go down to the House for three or four of the great questions only; and that to mark my determination of retirement, I should on those occasions sit up in the gallery till the division.

He kept his word, and his only known votes in the 1812 Parliament were for the Catholic relief bill, 13 and 24 May 1813, against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and for his nephew Charles Williams Wynn’s bid for the Speakership, 2 June 1817. He paired in favour of Catholic relief, 9 May, and for the continued suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. Talk of peace in the autumn of 1813 alarmed him enough to make him threaten to ‘buckle on his armour, make a speech and mount his war horse’, but the emptiness of the rumours relieved him of the necessity; and he suppressed his first impulse to speak and vote on the question of Norwegian independence, on which he differed from Lords Grenville and Buckingham, in June 1814.

Grenville continued to see Tierney at the turn of each year, thereby briefly perpetuating the usefulness of his role in the wings of the political stage, but the separation of the Grenvillites from the main body of the Whig opposition ended even this. His academic interest in politics was unabated, and issued in a steady flow of news, comment and advice to his brother and nephew; but his refusal to marry theory and practice increasingly irritated more active combatants. In 1816 Tierney found him ‘more slow and tiresome than ever’, and the following year Grey, to Lady Spencer’s secret delight, delivered a savage attack on those who uselessly occupied seats in Parliament, which was aimed obliquely, but effectively, at an embarrassed Grenville.20

Grenville’s failure to attain the independent stature at the highest level of politics which his connexions and abilities placed within his reach was apparently one of the will. At the same time, his ties of blood and friendship with leading figures, his ability to draw out opinions from others, his belief in the value of unreserved communication and his willingness to make himself accessible, gave him a useful role, and his views were generally worthy of the respect of his associates. He was by far the most attractive and popular of the Grenvilles who were active in politics in this period: on hearing that he had survived his ordeal on the ice in 1799 Lady Bessborough wrote:

The general anxiety about him and joy for his safety must be very flattering to him if he ever knows it. It was the highest of all honours, the homage paid to worth, for had either of his brothers been in the same situation, neither their titles, their riches, or their places would have gained them half the interest that was shown for him.

He enjoyed a long and graceful retirement, which he devoted largely to the improvement of his magnificent library. Charles Greville, who came to know him intimately in the last years of his life, was fascinated by this ‘remarkable man, with his mind so fresh and firm, and teeming with recollections, a sort of link between the living and the dead’.21 He died 17 Dec. 1846.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F115/11; Ginter, Whig Organization, 104, 107-9, 130, 145, 206.
  • 2. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F115/53-55, 57.
  • 3. Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 469, 472, 474; Fitzwilliam mss, box 44, Grenville to Fitzwilliam, 29 Aug., 15, 17, 24 Nov. 1792; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F30i; Geo. III Corresp. i. 819.
  • 4. Add. 33629, f. 27; 37847, f. 204; 42058, ff. 115, 118, 128, 135; NLS mss 11138, ff. 18, 57; 11159, f. 6; Fitzwilliam mss, box 45, Grenville to Fitzwilliam, 29 Oct.; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 6, 26 Dec. 1793; Add. 47569, f. 30.
  • 5. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 118-19; Add. 33630, ff. 2, 11, 15; 42058, ff. 100, 161; 47571, f. 106; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F31/15; Portland mss PwF4398, 4399.
  • 6. Portland mss PwF3769, 3780; HMC Fortescue, ii. 610, 620; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, ii. 266, 277-8, 281-3, 297-300, 312-21; Fitzwilliam mss, box 46, Grenville to Fitzwilliam, 11 Nov. [1794]; Add. 41855, ff. 58, 62; 42058, ff. 3, 180, 182; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F31/79, 85.
  • 7. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 1759; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, ii. 398-401, 411, 415, 419; HMC Fortescue, iv. 235-6, 392, 426, 456-7, 465-6, 468, 473-516; v. 325 and passim; NLS mss 11042, ff. 110, 130; D. C. Elliot, Huntington Lib. Q. xviii (1954-5), 129-46.
  • 8. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 3/32; HMC Fortescue, vi. 218, 220-2, 235, 301, 307, 309, 346, 384, 394; Buckingham, iii. 80, 93, 96, 110-12.
  • 9. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 8-9; HMC Fortescue, vii. 35-37, 45-47, 64-65, 75-78, 80-83, 88-89, 91-92; Buckingham, iii. 175; Add. 35701, f. 145; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 275; Malmesbury mss, Elliot to Malmesbury, 5 Nov.; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire jnl. [5 Nov.] 1801; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 5 Jan.; Add. 41854, ff. 308-12; Fitzwilliam mss, box 60, Laurence to Fitzwilliam mss, box 60, Laurence to Fitzwilliam, 12, 24 Feb. 1802.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, vii. 110, 128, 138-9, 181, 183, 184, 187; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 4; Buckingham, iii. 219, 245, 253, 263, 274, 304, 333; Add. 41852, f. 146; Colchester, i. 425; Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 3 June 1803; Add. 47575, f. 116.
  • 11. HMC Fortescue, vii. 207, 210-11, 217; R. E. Willis, Jnl. of British Studies, xi (1972), 38; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW 7/2/161/2; Add. 41851, f. 229; 41856, ff. 153, 157, 159; 47581, f. 147; Fitzwilliam mss, Grenville to Fitzwilliam, 28 Jan.; Spencer mss, Grenville to Lady Spencer, 10 May 1804.
  • 12. HMC Fortescue, vii. 236-46, 255, 261, 268; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 230-1; Buckingham, iii. 410-12; Fortescue mss, Prince to Grenville, 1 Mar. 1805; Leveson Gower, ii. 45.
  • 13. HMC Fortescue, vii. 302-7, 321; Buckingham, iv. 5-8, 10-11; Rose Diaries, ii. 241.
  • 14. HMC Fortescue, vii. 349; viii. 23, 42; Buckingham, iv. 15-16, 37-38; Add. 41852, ff. 221, 247; 41854, ff. 24, 26; 41856, ff. 1???, 202, 204, 206, 224; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 7 Feb., Lady to Ld. Spencer, 10 May; Harrowby mss, Bathurst to Harrowby, 2 June 1806.
  • 15. HMC Fortescue, viii. 199, 204, 240-2, 316-20, 337-55, 386; Buckingham, iv. 38-72, 82, 87; Colchester, ii. 74; Add. 41851, ff. 262, 266, 284; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 182.
  • 16. Harrowby mss; HMC Fortescue, ix. 56-57; Buckingham, iv. 129, 134-40; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 6 Mar. 1807; Add. 41852, f. 287.
  • 17. Add. 41851, ff. 316, 320, 321, 327; Buckingham, iv. 165, 168, 172, 175, 181, 188.
  • 18. HMC Fortescue, ix. 147-9, 156-8; Add. 41852, ff. 323, 335, 341; 41857, ff. 69-70; 51534, Grenville to Holland, 11 Dec.; 51544, Holland to Howick, 8 Nov.; 51593, Fitzwilliam to holland, 13 Dec.; Grey mss, Grey to Tierney, 14 Dec. 1807, Tierney to Grey, 24 May; Add. 51724, Ponsonby to Lady Holland [15 Feb. 1808].
  • 19. HMC Fortescue, ix. 267; Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, 16 Jan.; Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 19 Jan. 1811.
  • 20. HMC Fortescue, x. 330; Add. 51549, Lady Holland to Grey [28 Oct. 1813]; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 2 June 1814; Add. 51585, Tierney to Lady Holland, 7 Jan. 1816; Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 17 Apr. 1817.
  • 21. Leveson Gower, i. 242; Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, v. 44.