Grenville’s relations with King George III which were never good collapsed in early 1765. The King blamed Grenville for riots in London and sought to replace the government but failed to find a candidate. Sensing the King’s weakness Grenville imposed humiliating conditions on the King but in doing so turned George into an implacable foe. Less than a month later, with the help of his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, and the Whig grandee, the Duke of Newcastle, George turned the tables on Grenville with the appointment of Newcastle’s protegee the Marquess of Rockingham. Grenville left office with his reputation enhanced but the king’s hatred meant that Grenville never held office again.
Following the dismissal of George Grenville, King George III appoints the Marquess of Rockingham as First Lord of the Treasury. Rockingham was politically inexperienced and initially the main direction of the government came from the two men who brought the government into being, the former Prime Minister the Duke of Newcastle (Lord Privy Seal) and the King’s uncle the Duke of Cumberland (Minister without Portfolio).
Pitt had been ill for some time and unable to attend cabinet and lead the government. His position as the ‘great commoner’ had been weakened by his move to the House of Lords. Left without a leader, ministers carried on as best they could often without consulting the Prime Minister. Pitt eventually gave up his untenable position, complaining about the way he had been treated. His successor, the Duke of Grafton, had been de facto leader for the previous year and with so many of his cabinet, including the Marquess of Bath, Lord North, Lord Camden and Lord Hawke having served under Pitt, Grafton offered a continuation of the previous administration.
Grafton’s Whig government did not so much fall as fall apart. Attacked by his predecessor, the Earl of Chatham, and pilloried in the press, Grafton struggled to get legislation through parliament. In early January 1770 Lord Camden the Lord Chancellor attacked his colleagues and was sacked. The Marquess of Granby resigned in support of Camden. Three days later Charles Yorke who had reluctantly agreed to become Lord Chancellor committed suicide. This proved to be the last straw for Grafton who resigned the following week and was succeeded by the Tory Lord North.
Elected Whig MP for Buckingham in 1741 (a seat he represented throughout his political career until he left the House of Commons in 1770), Grenville was an early supporter, along with his brother-in-law William Pitt the Elder, of the “Boy Patriot” group lead by Lord Cobham which opposed the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. He joined the administration of Henry Pelham as a Lord of the Admiralty and served in a succession of Whig governments in the 1740s and 50s. Later estranged from Pitt, Grenville served Tory Lord Bute, eventually succeeding him as Prime Minister. During his term in office, Grenville prosecuted John Wilkes for seditious libel and introduced the Sugar and Stamp Acts which caused great resentment in the American Colonies. Never on good terms with George III, Grenville fell out with the King over who should rule in the event of the King’s becoming mentally unfit which led to Grenville’s dismissal never to return to high office.
Although twice Prime Minister, Melbourne is chiefly remembered for the affairs of his wife, Lady Caroline, most notoriously with Lord Byron and for his tutelage and close relationship with the young Queen Victoria. However, Melbourne’s achievements were more notable than he is often given credit for. He served as Chief Secretary for Ireland under George Canning and Viscount Goderich and was an effective Home Secretary in the Whig government of Earl Grey. Melbourne’s governments reformed local government, increased religious tolerance and reformed the Poor Law. Melbourne resigned after the Whig’s defeat in the 1841 general election. A stroke the following year precluded a return to political life and he died in 1848 aged 69.
Rockingham was arguably the first leader of a political party, when in 1762 a group of young Whigs formed an opposition club in reaction to the actions of King George III and his favourite the Earl of Bute. In 1765 Rockingham employed Edmund Burke as his secretary. It proved an inspired choice and Burke proved an excellent propagandist for the Rockingham Whigs. Rockingham’s two periods as Prime Minister were short but eventful. He worked hard to avoid conflict with America, including repeal of the unpopular Stamp Act. During his second ministry Rockingham attempted to improve Anglo-Irish relations with the repeal of the Irish Declaratory Act and Poyning’s Law, giving the Irish Parliament more freedom than it had had for over 300 years.
Shelburne’s appointment followed the death of the Marquess of Rockingham. Shelburne made a number of changes to the previous government. The 23 year old William Pitt became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Charles James Fox was replaced by Lord Grantham. The government enjoyed a shaky hold on power being outnumbered by the supporters of Fox and Lord North, the former Prime Minister. Shelburne’s main policy was to conclude peace with the United States and its allies. In order to secure parliament’s agreement of the Treaty and to secure his government Shelburne needed to make an agreement with one of the factions, but he did not recognise the fragile position of the government until it was too late. Although successful in the House of Lords, the treaty was defeated in the Commons and Shelburne resigned in March 1783 after only eight months in office.
The power behind the government came from an unlikely alliance between Whig Charles James Fox and Tory Lord North both of whom dominated the government as Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary. Portland was an acceptable figurehead to both factions and, as importantly, to King George III. Portland by all accounts got on well with Fox and North and was happy to be a figurehead and leader in the House of Lords. The government was short lived for although it commanded a majority in the House of Commons, King George was determined that it wouldn’t last long and he engineered its downfall in December of the same year after only 260 days in office.
Ellice was elected Whig-Radical and later Liberal MP for Coventry from 1818 until 1826 and again from 1830 until his death in 1863. He was the brother-in-law of Charles Grey, who as Earl Grey was Prime Minister from 1830-34 and under him Ellice served as an unofficial whip and played a significant role in the passage of the First Reform Act. Ellice owned great highland estates and was a deputy lieutenant of Inverness-shire. He was also the father of Edward Ellice who was Liberal MP for St Andrews Burghs from 1837-1880.
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston was one of the great political figures of the nineteenth century. He was first elected as a Tory and served in the governments of Spencer Perceval and Lord Liverpool as Secretary at War, however his support for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform led him in 1830 to join Earl Grey’s Whig government as Foreign Secretary. He laid down the tenets of British foreign policy which lasted into the twentieth century. Palmerston was an immensely popular politician and a major electoral asset to the newly created Liberal Party in the 1850s and 60s. His rather carefree approach to politics belied a serious purpose. He was a passionate opponent of slavery and during his two periods as Prime Minister he ended the Crimean War, reformed the divorce laws and regulated company law. On his death Palmerston was given a state funeral – one of only four Prime Ministers to be granted such an honour.
Hobhouse started his political career as a radical pamphleteer which earned him a prison sentence in Newgate Prison. The following year in 1820 he was elected to Parliament as Whig MP for Westminster, repesenting the constituency until 1833 and later serving as MP for Nottingham 1834-47 and Harwich 1848-51. After the Whigs gained power in 1830 he served in a number of posts including Secretary at War and President of the Board of Control, a post he returned to in 1846 under Lord John Russell. In 1851 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Broughton. Hobhouse was a friend of Lord Byron and fresh from university accompanied Byron on his travels in Greece and Turkey. Byron dedicated his poem Childe Harold to him.
Along with David Hume and others, Adam Smith played a central role in the Scottish Enlightenment of the mid-18th Century. Famed for ideas such as the ‘invisible hand’ he gained widespread recognition as the grandfather of economic thought. Despite this he never used the word ‘economics’ in his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations – the word was yet to be coined upon its publication in 1776. In March 2007 he became the first Scot to appear on Bank of England currency, after his likeness was included on the twenty pound note.
First large-scale publication of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine’s work asserts that when a government does not guarantee people their personal natural rights, a political revolution is permissible. Paine’s book is inspired by the continuing French Revolution and was a response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France which was more sceptical about rapid social upheaval and its consequences.
First elected as Whig MP for Hull in 1818, Graham became a noted advocate of parliamentary reform. With the formation of Earl Grey’s administration in 1830, Graham entered the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. He split with the Whigs in 1834 over the Irish Church Question and joined the Tories in 1837, serving in Sir Robert Peel’s administration as Home Secretary. In the arguments over repeal of the corn laws that split the Tory Party Graham sided with Peel. Later in 1852 with other Peelites he joined Lord Aberdeen’s coalition government, returning to the Admiralty. Although refusing further office after 1855, Graham played a leading role in persuading the Peelites to join Lord Palmerston’s government and helped to found the Liberal Party.
Described by Sir William Harcourt as ‘the last Doge of Whiggism’, Russell was Whig later Liberal MP for Tavistock 1813-17, 1818-20 and 1830-31, Huntingdonshire 1820-26, Bandon 1826-30, Devonshire 1831-32, Devonshire South 1832-35, Stroud 1835-41 and City of London 1841-61. A keen reformer, Russell was one of the major figures in the struggle to pass the 1832 Reform Act. Along with Lord Palmerston, Russell was a key member of every non-Tory government between 1846 and 1865 and the rivalry of the two men dominated the politics of the period. Russell’s two spells as Prime Minister (1846-52 and 1865-66) were neither particularly happy nor productive; however his first administration was responsible for the 1847 Factory Act and the Public Health Act of 1848. Charles Dickens dedicated A Tale of Two Cities to Russell ‘In remembrance of many public services and private kindnesses’.
Radical Whig Charles James Fox speaking to Whigs at Freemason’s Tavern provokes the ire of his Tory arch-rival William Pitt the Younger, as well as his dismissal from the Privy Council, with a toast to ‘Our Sovereign Majesty the people’.
A solicitor by profession and a Radical by inclination, Coppock became one of the country’s most well known election agents having been appointed by the Liberal Party as Secretary of the County Registration Society. There was scarcely a parliamentary election in which he was not involved and he was judged to be one of the founders of centralised political organisation in the period immediately following the Great Reform Act.
Thomson joined Earl Grey’s government in 1830 as Vice-President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy. Under Lord Melbourne he was promoted to President of the Board of Trade in 1834 and again 1835-39. In 1839 Thomson was raised to the peerage as Baron Sydenham and succeeded the Earl of Durham as Governor General of Canada, where he died less than two years into his term of office.
After diplomatic service in Russia and Spain, Clarendon joined Lord Melbourne’s government for its last year as Lord Privy Seal. In the 1840s Clarendon was strongly influenced by his brother Charles Pelham Villiers, a leading exponent of free trade, and when the Whigs returned to power in 1846 Clarendon accepted the post of President of the Board of Trade. With the formation of Lord Aberdeen’s coalition government, Clarendon embarked on the first of three spells at the Foreign Office. Out of office for much of Lord Palmerston’s premiership, Clarendon returned to the Foreign Office in 1865 and again in 1868 in Gladstone’s first administration. He died in office in 1870 and was succeeded by Lord Granville.