ROSE, George (1744-1818), of Duke St., Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - June 1788
1 July 1788 - 1790
1790 - 13 Jan. 1818

Family and Education

b. 17 June 1744, 2nd s. of Rev. David Rose of Lethnot, Forfar, by his 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Donald Rose of Westerclunie.  educ. Westminster.  m. 7 July 1769, Theodora, da. of Maj. John Duer of Fulham, Mdx., 2s. 1da.

Offices Held

Entered R.N. ?1758; left ?1763; a clerk of the Exchequer records c.1763; employed in publication of House of Lords recs. from Apr. 1767; jt. keeper of recs. at Westminster 1773,1 sole 1791; surveyor of green wax monies 1774-97; sec. to board of taxes 1777-Aug. 1782; sec. to Treasury, Aug. 1782-Mar. 1783, Dec. 1783-Mar. 1801; master of Exchequer pleas office 1784-97; clerk of the Parliaments 1788- d.; P.C. 13 Jan. 1802; jt. paymaster gen. and vice-pres. Board of Trade 1804-6, vice-pres. Board of Trade and treasurer of navy 1807- d. (with brief interval in 1812).


Rose’s father, a Scots episcopalian minister, was imprisoned after the ’45, and George at the age of four was ‘adopted by his mother’s brother, at the time living in Hampstead, and educated by him’. He entered the navy ‘at a very early age’, serving in the West Indies; finding promotion barred, he left, but retained all his life an interest in the sea and in naval matters. ‘Through private friendship [he] was appointed a clerk in the record office’, and his work on the journals and rolls of Parliament brought him into touch with Lord Marchmont, chairman of the Lords committee dealing with their records, who assisted him in his career.2 This interest, coupled with Rose’s reticence about his origins, fostered a belief that Marchmont was his father.3 As secretary of the board of taxes Rose acquired knowledge of public finance; advised Lord North on means of recovering arrears due to the Exchequer;4 and was consulted ‘on everything’ by Lord John Cavendish when chancellor of the Exchequer in 1782, suggesting to him the consolidation of the customs later carried out under Pitt.5 He also became friendly with Lord Thurlow, who ‘brought him forward into a political line’,6 by offering him, on Shelburne’s behalf, the secretaryship of the Treasury. ‘After several days’ deliberation, I was prevailed upon to accept the offer ... I made it an express condition that I would not come into Parliament.’7 ‘I gave up a considerable income [£900 a year] to take an employment which I certainly did not seek.’8 Employed entirely on finance, Rose did not mix ‘in Lord Shelburne’s politics in any manner’; while these were attended to by his colleague Thomas Orde under the direction of John Robinson, Rose introduced reforms in the organization of the Treasury and the payment of its officials. He disliked working with Shelburne, whom he found capricious, and on his fall ‘parted from him with feelings of no pleasant nature’. He declined a Coalition offer to continue in his office, and spent several months travelling with Thurlow in France, Germany, and Switzerland. In Paris he met Pitt, ‘as little disposed to future connexion with Lord Shelburne as myself ... he manifested an earnest desire for a permanent and close intimacy with me’. Henceforth Rose considered himself ‘as inalienable from Pitt’.9

Rose was involved in the plans for turning out the Coalition, and Charles Jenkinson on 5 Dec. 1783 advised Robinson that Thurlow should be approached ‘through Mr. Rose’.10 Robinson’s survey prepared in December just before Pitt took office contains frequent references: ‘These places to be taken care of by Mr. Rose’; ‘Mr. Rose to speak to’; etc. He returned to office with Pitt; this time mixing in political arrangements, he prepared under Robinson’s guidance for the general election of April 1784: a rare instance of a Treasury secretary having his predecessor’s assistance in managing a general election. At the height of the contest Rose complained, ‘I have lately written so much that I do not remember what I have written to anyone.’11 Among others, he arranged that Orde, absent in Ireland, should come in for Harwich; and he himself for Launceston, on the Northumberland interest. His friendship with Lord Percy was of some years’ standing. ‘It is ridiculous to conceive the number of letters, containing the most extravagant requests, which I receive by every post, founded on my intimacy with you, and the certainty that if I would solicit, and you would only speak, even the most absurd and preposterous demands would be complied with’, wrote Percy during Rose’s first period at the Treasury.12

Daniel Pulteney thought that, ‘except Rose and Stephens, there is hardly one man of any service either in the Treasury or the Admiralty’; but he later criticized Rose: ‘Such stuff is brought into the House by Rose and Steele, and frequently passed, as occasion great triumph to the Opposition.’ Pitt ought to beg, borrow or buy some abler assistance.13 He was also accused of carelessness by Lord Buckingham.14 Rose spoke frequently in Parliament, but almost invariably as a Treasury spokesman, moving financial resolutions, opposing suggested alterations in taxes, often going ‘a good deal into figures’, defending Pitt’s financial policy.15 His speeches, as one biographer wrote, ‘were confined chiefly to details of facts, which he stated in a manner that aimed at nothing like ornament’. As he admitted in controverting Sheridan, in wit and metaphors ‘he was conscious he must engage in an unequal war’.16

Despite his close association with Pitt, he differed from him on two points—parliamentary reform and the slave trade. He declined ‘after repeated solicitations to vote with him in his motion for parliamentary reform’. ‘In so nice a matter I must be governed by my own feelings.’ He feared that ‘if a breach should once be made in the representation’, nothing could prevent ‘in a short time, its being widened to a ruinous extent’. Because of this disagreement he offered to retire, but Pitt would not allow it.17 Of the slave trade he favoured the gradual extinction by means of a duty on imported slaves increasing annually until imports would be closed at the end of ten or twelve years. The revenues, he suggested, should be used to pay bounties to slave mothers on children living to the age of five. He admitted that his own property and that of his ‘nearest connexions’ was involved.18

In the summer of 1785 he tried unsuccessfully to help Orde with the Irish commercial resolutions. He wrote to Orde on 25 July: ‘Anxious as I was to avoid the resolutions going, I could not urge Mr. Pitt further than to endeavour to convince the Cabinet, which he did with all possible earnestness—failing in that, it was too much to press him to act against their united opinions.’19 His unofficial correspondence with Irish officials on commercial and financial questions was disapproved of by Lord Hobart, the chief secretary, who appealed to the lord lieutenant to try to stop it (Feb. 1790).20 As well as handling Treasury business, speaking in the House, and managing patronage and elections, Rose was consulted in affairs independent of his department, for instance Eden’s despatches from Paris in 1787.21

In June 1788 Rose succeeded to the clerkship of the Parliaments, of which he had been awarded the reversion in 1782 for his services to the Lords. This necessitated his re-election, but relations with Percy, since 1786 Duke of Northumberland, had been uneasy for several months, and now the Duke, complaining of ‘neglect by the minister’ (although he had received the Garter two months previously), demanded appointments for certain protégés before he would re-elect Rose; who replied that

no circumstances, nor any consideration whatever, could now induce me to owe a fresh obligation to your Grace ... I had great doubts whether you would be disposed to re-elect me; or ... whether ... I should think it possible, consistently with my feelings, to accept of such re-election; those doubts are removed by your Grace’s letter of last night.22

Consequently Rose had to find another seat; and Harry Burrard made way for him at Lymington. By 1790 he had established at Christchurch, near his estate of Cuffnells, an interest of his own, having ‘directed the Treasury artillery’ against its electors.23

Rose by this time was receiving a considerable income from his several offices and sinecures, principally £3,000 as secretary of the Treasury and, in 1789-90, rather more than £1,100 as clerk of the Parliaments. Shortly before the dissolution in 1790 Alderman Sawbridge alleged in the House that Rose’s broker had been involved in malpractices, a charge which he was forced publicly to withdraw at the threat of a duel.24 Rose continued steadfast to Pitt, and after his death supported Lord Liverpool. A contemporary summed him up as ‘indefatigable, methodical, and yet rapid; equal to, but not above, the business of the Treasury’.25

He died 13 Jan. 1818.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: M. H. Port


  • 1. T54/41/398-400, but 1772 according to Diaries Corresp. of Rt. Hon. Geo. Rose, ed. Harcourt, i. 8.
  • 2. Diaries Corresp. i. 8-12. Biographical sketch by his da.
  • 3. Wraxall, Posthumous Mems. iii. 457.
  • 4. Parl. Hist. xxv. 308.
  • 5. Diaries Corresp. i. II, 23.
  • 6. Farington, Diary, i. 34.
  • 7. Diaries Corresp. i. 24.
  • 8. Parl. Hist. xxxi. 187.
  • 9. Diaries Corresp. i. 28-29, 31-32; Add. 42775, f. 141.
  • 10. Abergavenny mss.
  • 11. Laprade, 111, 112, 120.
  • 12. Add. 42774A, ff. 3-19.
  • 13. HMC Rutland, iii. 129, 224.
  • 14. HMC Fortescue, i. 380.
  • 15. Debrett, xvi. 412.
  • 16. R. Chambers T. Thomson, Biog. Dict. Eminent Scotsmen, 195; Stockdale, viii, 422.
  • 17. Diaries Corresp. i. 35-37; Add. 42772, f. 1 (endorsed ‘May 1783’ but clearly 1785).
  • 18. Diaries Corresp. i. 37-41.
  • 19. HMC Rutland, iii, 231.
  • 20. HMC Fortescue i. 562.
  • 21. Diaries Corresp. i. 69.
  • 22. Add. 42774 A, ff. 51-55.
  • 23. Oldfield, Boroughs (1792), ii. 79.
  • 24. Add. 42775, f. 141; 42779, f. 82; 42774A, ff. 59-66.
  • 25. Wraxall, Mems. iii. 457.