Twins in Parliament: the Grenvilles and Buckingham Borough, 1774

Twins in Parliament: the Grenvilles and Buckingham Borough, 1774

Buckingham, a corporation borough with only 13 electors, was entirely under the control of the Grenvilles. At the general election of 1774, the head of the family, the 2nd Earl Temple, returned for the two Buckingham parliamentary seats his nephews James Grenville (1742-1825) and Richard Grenville (1742-1823), who were twins. James had sat for Thirsk from 1765 to 1768 and had first been elected for Buckingham in 1770. Richard entered Parliament for the first (and only) time at this election and retired at the dissolution of the 1774 Parliament in 1780. They are thought to be the first known pair of twins to sit together in Parliament.

The first Grenville to sit for Buckingham was Richard (1678-1727), who transferred from Wendover at the 1722 general election. He had married Hester Temple, the sister and heiress of Sir Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham; she was created Countess Temple on succeeding to the Temple country residence of Stowe in 1749 (now a famous public school). It was the estate at Stowe which gave the family a commanding interest in nearby Buckingham, where the corporation (local council) was packed with a biddable set of tenants and employees. One of the two seats was held by a Grenville from 1734 and, once the rival interest belonging to George Denton had been seen off, the second seat was also held by a Grenville between 1747 and 1780.

Five of Richard and Hester Grenville’s six sons sat in Parliament, although not all at the same time. Their eldest son, another Richard (1711-79), sat in the 1741 Parliament for Buckinghamshire, and later in the century the family consolidated its interest over one of the county seats. He succeeded his mother as 2nd Earl Temple in 1749 and died, without male heir, in 1779. Of his younger brothers, James (1715-83) represented four constituencies over the period 1742-70 and was the father of the twins, Henry (1717-84) sat for three different seats over a total of a dozen years during part of which he was ambassador in Constantinople, and Thomas (1719-47) was a naval officer and Member for Bridport, 1746-7.

Temple’s most famous brother was George Grenville (1712-70), who was prime minister from 1763 to 1765 and architect of the ill-fated American Stamp Act of 1765. Three of his sons became MPs, including William Wyndham Grenville (1759-1834), who became Baron Grenville in 1790 and was prime minister during the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’, 1806-7. Temple and George’s sister Hester had married William Pitt the elder (the 1st earl of Chatham), so George Grenville’s brother-in-law Chatham and his son William Pitt the younger, Lord Grenville’s first cousin, were another pair of prime ministers within the same extended family.

George Grenville’s eldest son, another George (1753-1813) and also MP for Buckingham, succeeded his uncle as 3rd Earl Temple in 1779 and was made marquess of Buckingham in 1784. His elder son Richard (1776-1839) was created duke of Buckingham and Chandos in 1822, but the family’s fortunes declined during the nineteenth century and the dukedom ended on the death of the 3rd duke in 1889. The Stowe interest continued to return one of the Members for Buckingham borough until 1857.

Examples of twins sitting in the Commons at the same time are extremely rare. It happened again in 1837, when Edward John Stanley, MP for Cheshire North, was joined in the chamber by his younger twin William Owen Stanley, another Liberal, who had been elected for Anglesey. Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey since 1992, and Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Liverpool Garston since 1997, made history as the first twin sisters to hold seats in the lower House simultaneously.

Author: Stephen Farrell