GRENVILLE, Lord George (1788-1850), of Gosfield Hall, Essex and Lillies, nr. Aylesbury, Bucks.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 31 Dec. 1788,1 2nd s. of George Grenville†, 1st Mq. of Buckingham, by Lady Mary Elizabeth Nugent, da. and coh. of Robert Nugent†, 1st Earl Nugent [I]; bro. of Richard Temple Nugent Grenville, Earl Temple*. educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1804. m. 6 Sept. 1813, Anne Lucy, da. of Hon. Vere Poulett*, s.p. suc. mother by spec. rem. as 2nd Baron Nugent [I] 16 Mar. 1812; GCMG 12 Aug. 1832.
Ld. of Treasury Nov. 1830-Nov. 1832; ld. high commr. to Ionian Islands 1832-5.
Cornet 2 Bucks. yeomanry 1803, lt.-col. 1813.
Nugent was earmarked for Parliament by his father while he was still pursuing his distinguished university career. When he became keen to accompany his cousin Viscount Ebrington* to the Peninsula in a military capacity in 1808, Lord Buckingham dismissed the project as ‘an utter waste of time without any one recommendation’, being anxious ‘to keep him, for the little time I can control him, close to his studies, as the only chance of making to himself hereafter an honourable career that may give him bread’2. He was returned for the family pocket borough as soon as he came of age.
In his early parliamentary career Nugent was indistinguishable from the body of the Grenvillite Whigs. His maiden speech was made in support of Romilly’s bill to ameliorate the penal laws concerning theft, 9 Feb. 1810. He voted against government on the Walcheren issue, 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar., and emphasized his orthodoxy by voting against Brand’s parliamentary reform motion, 21 May, and speaking for Grattan’s motion to consider the Roman Catholic petition, 1 June. Having prevailed in his determination to visit the Peninsula, he left England in the autumn of 1810 and shortly afterwards was reported to be in Cadiz and to be going thence ‘with young Grattan for a month to Africa, and then to Lisbon’. Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby*, who met him in Spain, described him as ‘a fat, entertaining man, I should think very clever, rather too large and heavy for quick movements, and consequently not exactly the man for the outposts’. He returned to England early in 1811, having impressed George Cranfield Berkeley*, admiral in command of the Portuguese station and a relative of the family, with his ‘violent spirits’, ‘quick and piercing understanding’ and ‘the most honourable and excellent mind I ever witnessed’, and bearing with him the seeds of his epic poem, Portugal, published in 1812.3
Nugent’s vote for Milton’s motion of 6 June 1811 criticizing the reappointment of the Duke of York as commander-in-chief pleased Lord Grenville, but ruffled his uncle Thomas Grenville* and his brother, who abstained in common with the other Members who owed their seats to Lord Buckingham. Although he received general praise for the ‘ingenuity’ of his tribute to Wellington, 26 Apr. 1811, Nugent made few contributions to debate and does not appear to have been very regular in his attendance at this time. He displayed a generous liberal spirit when attacking the severity of the penal code, 29 Mar. 1811, and pleading the cause of the Irish Catholics, 3 Feb. 1812, and in August 1812 wrote that ‘men of real patriotic feeling’ had been driven by the Regent’s ‘system of favouritism and of secret influence’ to combine in ‘a war against the Court’. For almost two years after the general election of 1812, when he transferred to the seat controlled by his father at Aylesbury, he was virtually inactive in the House. His attendance was certainly restricted by the persistence of the poor health which had afflicted him since childhood (a feverish attack had almost killed him in 1807) and possibly by an indifference to domestic politics which issued in whims such as that which took him suddenly to Paris in April 1814, to the annoyance of his uncle Thomas.4 His first recorded speech for over two years was made on 19 July 1814 when he raised the issue of an alleged injustice suffered by the captain of a naval packet, which he pursued doggedly to an unsuccessful conclusion in May the following year. He had voted against the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 5 July, and seconded Ebrington’s motion to have his sentence to the pillory remitted, 19 July 1814.
As the issues thrown up by the termination of the war and its aftermath came to dominate politics Nugent’s political commitment intensified. While the Grenvillites began to detach themselves from the Whigs and gravitate towards government, he adhered, with Ebrington and his other cousin Richard Neville, to the main body of opposition. In the division of 25 May 1815 on the amendment to the Regent’s message concerning the renewal of war with France, when most of the Grenvillites deserted the Whigs, he remained loyal enough merely to abstain. Shortly before the session of 1816 he told Lord Grenville that being anxious to pass it ‘not quite so idly, or, if possible, so uselessly, as I have every preceding one’, he had the notion of moving an amendment to the address condemning the lengthy prorogation and the maintenance of a large standing army. In the event he merely gave notice of a motion to that effect, 1 Feb. 1816: he subsequently postponed it, probably at Grenville’s persuasion.5He voted in the small minorities for Brougham’s three motions critical of the peace treaties, 9 and 15 Feb., and condemned the ‘enormous and unconstitutional establishment’, especially the standing army to be maintained in France, 12 Feb. In the debate of 19 Feb. on the address approving the treaties, he censured the terms of the peace as ‘at once extravagant and oppressive, insecure with regard to our foreign policy, and highly dangerous to our best interests at home’, but conformed to the prevailing desire of the Whig hierarchy to avoid controversy by placing the emphasis of his attack on the standing army. At the same time his fears, reiterated at intervals throughout the session, ‘lest, as the French army brought from America notions which dethroned a King, our army may import from France notions which may disfranchise the people’, pointed to the divergence between his basic attitudes and those of his senior relatives. The general unanimity of the campaign for economy and retrenchment during the 1816 session, in which he participated with enthusiasm, enabled him to maintain a harmony of votes if not of spirit with the body of the Grenvillite Whigs, but the developing rift between them was implicit in his repeated denunciations of the growing menace of ‘a military system’ of domestic government. He was elected to Brooks’s on 7 May 1816.
The decisive split between the Grenvillites and the Whigs over the handling of social unrest in 1817 irrevocably parted Nugent from his relatives on political issues. His brother, now Marquess of Buckingham, aware that ‘both his health and his politics require watching’, was anxious that Lord Grenville should speak to him lest he should ‘fall into the hands of the block-heads’; but if his uncle did arraign him he made no impression, for he voted against the suspension of habeas corpus, 26 and 28 Feb., against Canning’s embassy to Lisbon, 6 May, and, when opposing the renewed suspension of habeas corpus on 27 June, attacked the ‘evil administration’, ‘unfeeling profusion’ and ‘boundless corruption’ of ministers. His brother, who believed that the Whigs were feeding his vanity by ‘writing him word that I am bought by the dukedom and that he is the only independent Grenville existing’, was distressed but, despite Nugent’s offer to relinquish the Aylesbury seat, resolved, for the sake of family unity, not to interfere with it or with his politics, and left him to reign ‘supreme over a disorder peculiarly his own’.6
When the Grenvillite ‘third party’ took their seats below the gangway at the opening of the 1818 session, Nugent’s corpulent figure remained conspicuous on the opposition benches. Buckingham reported that he had been ‘very subdued and moderate in his language’ while there was talk of Brougham succeeding Ponsonby as leader, but that Romilly’s emergence had revived his spirits. He voted against the appointment of a secret inquiry into the state of the country, 5 Feb., and against the domestic espionage system, 11 Feb. and 5 Mar., attacked the army of occupation, 4 Mar., and caused his brother considerable anguish by deliberately speaking in reply to his acolyte Fremantle in opposing the indemnity bill, 9 Mar. 1818. When the issue of parliamentary reform was raised during the 1818 contest at Aylesbury, Nugent, who came top of the poll, declared himself in favour of triennial parliaments, but denounced the ‘monstrous’ propositions of annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Buckingham regretted the utterance, which he attributed to Romilly’s influence, but was ‘much struck with the change of his tone’ and found him ‘much moderated’ in general.7
Nugent signed and warmly approved the requisition calling on Tierney to become leader of the opposition in the Commons. After obtaining Grey’s permission, he presented the English Catholics’ petition for relief from civil disabilities, 4 Mar. 1819, but his plan to bring in a bill grounded on it was rejected at a meeting of leading Catholics later in the year.8 He continued to divide regularly with opposition, voted for inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 1 Apr. and 6 May, and for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, attacked the foreign enlistment bill, 21 June, and voted for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 1 July 1819.
His reaction to the ‘Manchester massacre’ and its aftermath was awaited with anxiety by his relations, particularly his brother who, though able to quash the move to summon a county meeting, found the temper of opinion at Aylesbury embarrassingly hostile. By mid November it was clear that Nugent would go his own way, and, after demanding inquiry into the incident and pleading for remedial commercial legislation in the debate on the address, 24 Nov. 1819, he voted steadily against the government’s repressive measures. His conduct brought the written approbation of his constituents’, and with it a threat to the county Members. While his uncle Thomas conceded that Nugent’s reply, for which his approval was sought, was designed ‘to discourage this effusion of zeal in his followers’, he did not disguise his disapprobation of ‘his conduct respecting Aylesbury in the centre of his brother’s property and interest’, and his annoyance was increased by Nugent’s appearance at the Westminster meeting of 9 Dec. 1819, ‘to support Burdett and his incendiary resolutions’.9
Nugent was a loyal and reasonably active Whig of liberal inclinations after 1815, but he made no major mark in politics. Such status as he did enjoy in the party owed more to the interest which naturally attached to a renegade Grenville than to any genuine political weight. A man of academic and literary tastes, his published works included Oxford and Locke (1829), Memorials of John Hampden (1832), Legends of the Library at Lillies (1832) and Lands, Classical and Sacred (1845-6). He died 26 Nov. 1850.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Spencer Bernard mss PFE4/9a.
- 2. Add. 41851, f. 339.
- 3. HMC Fortescue, x. 59, 76; Lady Bessborough and her Family Circle, 209; Buckingham, Regency, i. 43.
- 4. Add. 41853, f. 227; Buckingham, i. 80, 99; ii. 63; HMC Fortescue, x. 149; Fremantle mss, Nugent to T. F. Fremantle, 13 Aug. 1812.
- 5. Fortescue mss, Nugent to Grenville [18 Jan. 1816]; NLW, Coedymaen mss 5, f. 304.
- 6. Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle [12 Feb.], 13 Apr., 7 May, [2 July]; Fortescue mss, Buckingham to Grenville, 13 Feb.; Coedymaen mss 12, f. 924; 20, Buckingham to Williams Wynn, 9 May, 15 Sept. 1817.
- 7. Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 15 Feb., 9, 12 Mar., 8 July; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey 28 Jan.; Coedymaen mss 8, f. 551; PRO 30/9/16, Bankes to Colchester, 7 Feb. 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 5.
- 8. Grey mss, Nugent to Grey, 19 Feb.; Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 4 May 1819.
- 9. Buckingham, ii. 345, 353, 374; HMC Fortescue, x. 450-1; Add. 38280, f. 266; Colchester, iii. 95.