An early advocate of free trade, Villiers was campaigning to repeal the Corn Laws before Cobden and Bright arrived on the scene. Born into a prominent Liberal family – his brother the 4th Earl Clarendon was Foreign Secretary under Palmerston and Gladstone, Villiers served as Whig, Liberal and Liberal Unionist MP for Wolverhampton 1835-85 and Wolverhampton South 1885-98. Villiers held ministerial office under Palmerston and Russell as President of the Poor Law Board (1859-66). He split with the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule and joined the Liberal Unionists. Refusing a peerage, Villiers continued to sit in the House of Commons, becoming Father of the House from 1890. At the time of his death he was the last surviving MP who was elected before the accession of Queen Victoria.