TOWNSHEND, Hon. George (1724-1807), of Raynham, Norf.

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



1747 - 12 Mar. 1764

Family and Education

b. 28 Feb. 1724, 1st S. of Charles, 3rd Visct. Townshend (whose mother was a half-sis. of the Duke of Newcastle and of Henry Pelham), by Audrey [Etheldreda], da. and h. of Edward Harrison, M.P., of Balls Park, Herts., a rich E.I.Co. director, and niece of George Harrison; bro. of Hon. Charles Townshend.  educ. Eton c.1740; St. John’s, Camb. 1741.  m. (1) 19 Dec. 1751, Lady Charlotte Compton, suo jure Baroness Ferrers (d. 14 Sept. 1770), da. of James, 5th Earl of Northampton, 4s. 4da.; (2) 19 May 1773, Anne, da. of Sir William Montgomery, 1st Bt., of Magpie Hill, Tweeddale, 2s. 4da.  suc. fa. as 4th Visct. 12 Mar. 1764; cr. Mq. Townshend 31 Oct. 1787.

Offices Held

P.C. 2 Dec. 1760; lt.-gen. of Ordnance Apr. 1763-Aug. 1767; ld. lt. [I] Aug. 1767-Sept. 1772; master gen. of the Ordnance Oct. 1772-Mar. 1782, Apr.-Dec. 1783.

Ld. lt. Norf. 1792- d.

Joined army 1743; capt. 7 Drag. Apr. 1745; 20 Ft. 1745; capt. 1 Ft. Gds. and lt.-col. Feb. 1748; ret. 1750; col. May 1758; col. 64 Ft. June-Dec. 1759; 28 Ft. Oct. 1759-73; maj.-gen. 1761; lt.-gen. 1770; col 2 Drag. Gds. 1773- d.; gen. 1782; f.m. 1796.


George Townshend was the son of a formidable father, intelligent yet primitive, suspicious, vehement, and oppressive, and of a mother fastidious and intellectual, known for her wit and promiscuity. George himself was warm-hearted, sensitive and capable of enthusiasms, but unsteady and odd, intermittently ambitious, often disgruntled, quarrelsome, lacking in judgment, and burdened with an insuperable urge to ridicule, the resort of the intelligent under oppression. He grew up antagonistic to his superiors, and responsive to the misery of the downtrodden.

When his parents separated in March 1741, George hovered between the two, and did not, like Charles, break with his mother who, according to Horace Walpole,1 governed him. During the war of the Austrian succession he served in Flanders (at Dettingen and Fontenoy), fought at Culloden, and became aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. While in Flanders he was in 1747 put up for Norfolk by his father, and was returned unopposed on a compromise with the Tories; as also in all his subsequent elections. Having quarrelled with Cumberland,2 Townshend, at the end of 1750, left the army, and hatred of the Duke, which was reciprocated, henceforth coloured his politics. For a while he flirted with Leicester House, but after the Prince’s death made his peace with the Pelhams. Re-elected in 1754, he reported to Newcastle3 how Armine Wodehouse and he ‘were attended into the town’ by the principal gentlemen of the county and by at least 3,500 freeholders, all coming at their own expense—anyway he did not defray it for anybody; and had there been any opposition, ‘we could have brought at least 2,000 more of the 7,000 this county produces’. Townshend assured Newcastle of his attachment, and was counted by him among his supporters. When on 25 Mar. 1755 the House was acquainted with French preparations for war, Granby and Townshend ‘moved the Address and a vote of credit’ (but on 12 Dec. 1755 Townshend, ‘with much warmth and threats, expressed his resentment’ on having been drawn to make the motion for a misapplied credit).4

Townshend’s attachment to Newcastle did not outlast the appointment of Fox, Cumberland’s political agent, as secretary of state and leader of the House. On 13 Nov 1755 he and his brother Charles joined Pitt and the Grenvilles, speaking and voting against the Address.5 Next he attacked Fox for his circular letter to Members inviting their attendance, in which he claimed to have been entrusted by the King with ‘the conduct of the House of Commons’ (should have been ‘with the conduct of his affairs in the House of Commons’).6

On 8 Dec. 1755 George Townshend, strongly supported by Pitt, moved for a bill to ‘establish a real militia’,7 whose cause was to remain his chief concern for years to come. Walpole, averse to it, alleged that ‘opposition to the Duke, who had drawn his notions of war from the purest German classics, prompted his enemies to promote whatever he would dislike’. This may well have influenced Townshend; but what must have weighed with him was the prospect of resuming a military life outside the Duke’s domain. The preparatory stages of the bill were taken in January, with H. S. Conway, a friend of the Duke, and Fox trying to substitute a different plan; ‘they hope once more to evade the establishment of this their much dreaded constitutional force’, wrote Townshend to Pitt on 14 Feb., and described it as ‘this essential and indeed almost only remaining effort in defence of our liberties and ability as a nation’.8 While waiting for the bill to come on in the House, Townshend adorned ‘the shutters, walls, and napkins of every tavern in Pall Mall with caricatures of the Duke and Sir George Lyttelton, the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Fox’ (an art which he next practised in ‘a new species of manufacture’—on cards). The bill, managed by him, passed through all its stages by 10 May—at the end, ‘a few persons sat till six in the morning fabricating and fashioning it ... and it was voted without a division’. It was defeated in the Lords on 24 May, which made Townshend resort to a new form of propaganda: ‘a circular letter to great boroughs and corporations, instructing them to instruct their representatives to stickle for another militia bill’.9 Hardwicke wrote to Newcastle, 26 Aug.:10

Everybody is alarmed at Mr. Townshend’s conduct in taking upon him to instruct all the boroughs in England, and to solicit petitions to Parliament, by circular letters in his own name. ’Tis I believe entirely new and unprecedented.

In the cabinet crisis of November 1756, Townshend did not seek office for himself but supported Charles’s claims; and next was used by Bute to make him accept the post offered to him.11

The King’s speech on 2 Dec. 1756 recommended the framing of a national militia, and Townshend moved the Address in a speech which Henry Digby, a nephew of Fox, described as ‘very indifferent’.12 During the next half year the militia bill and inquiries into the loss of Minorca engrossed his attention. The militia bill was introduced in the Commons in January 1757; on 26 Apr. was carried by Townshend to the Lords who made many amendments, amended in turn by the Commons; in the conferences between the two Houses Townshend was again manager for the Commons. The bill received the royal assent on 28 June.

In preparation for a parliamentary inquiry into the loss of Minorca, Townshend, on 14 Jan. 1757, convened at his house a meeting of Members.13 It was attended by at least three other Whigs (Lord Pulteney, Charles Townshend and Admiral Vernon) and by a representative body of Tories (Affleck, Bagot, William Beckford, Cornewall, Fazakerley, Hanger, William Harvey, Charles Mordaunt, Northey, Newdigate, William Vaughan, Vyner, and Wodehouse).

George Townshend said he had in the House declared he would move an inquiry which made him desire the meeting, that Mr. Pitt and the Administration would support and assist with papers, etc., but desired to be excused appearing at this meeting for fear of offence somewhere, but heartily desired an inquiry—consulted what method proper, by secret, select, or committee of the whole House?

It was resolved ‘to leave it to the gentlemen in Administration to consider what expedient’.

Unable to see Pitt, who was ill, Townshend informed him by letter14 that ‘having consulted a great number of gentlemen about the inquiry’, he had ‘something very material to communicate ... from many very valuable men’—‘we will put off till the last moment the great national business that lies at our door sooner than proceed in it without your advice’. Newdigate further records on 1 Feb.:

Walked to Mr. Townshend’s, met many of the same gentlemen as before. Mr. Townshend said he had a commission from Mr. Pitt to say that he would support the inquiry in the House. Desired questions might be settled by the gentlemen. A good deal of conversation and that matter, but not the questions, were settled.

When on 8 Feb. Townshend called for papers, ‘the inquisition seemed affectedly limited to the loss of Minorca’, and its point was directed against Fox: even more so after Pitt’s dismissal on 6 Apr., in order to impede the formation of a Government under Fox.15

‘At a meeting of Pitt’s friends and the Tories’, writes Walpole, ‘it was agreed to push the scrutiny into the military part with great vehemence.’ On 25 Apr. Townshend moved ‘a long string of questions’; and next, resolutions censuring the Newcastle-Fox Administration. He also continued his campaign by caricature: one print Walpole found ‘so admirable in its kind’ that he sent it to Mann. ‘His genius for likenesses in caricature is astonishing ... I need say nothing of the lump of fat crowned with laurel on the altar [Cumberland].’ But his parts ‘lie entirely in his pencil, his pen has no share in them; the labels are very dull’.

On 17 June, Pitt wrote to Townshend about the negotiations for a new Government which he and Bute were carrying on with Newcastle and Hardwicke, and asked him to call the next morning.16 Townshend has endorsed the letter with an indignant memorandum—for a fortnight he had heard nothing from Pitt, and when next morning Charles and he waited on Pitt, to their astonishment they heard him

avow the ridiculous and dishonest arrangement of men which is now to take place—not the least adoption of any public system of measures being declared or even hinted at by him.
Upon this occasion I without hesitation declared my resolution to be no part of it—my brother did the same.

‘The two Townshends are gone into the country in a rage’, wrote Walpole to Mann, 20 June; and in his Memoirs:17 George was furious ‘at any amnesty for Fox; Charles, at not being promoted himself’.

But the militia, which kept George fully occupied, made him turn once more to Pitt. Attempts to implement the Act at first met with a good deal of indifference among the nobility and gentry, and with bitter resistance from the population: serious riots occurred all over the country. Charles Townshend wrote to his mother, 25 Aug. 1757:18

George ... gives me a strange account of his new lord lieutenant [Lord Orford]. The militia has been strangled even in Norfolk ... A very irresistible prejudice has either arisen in the minds of the common people or been artfully insinuated into them against ... this bill, which among the lower orders of men is ... considered ... as a renewal of an ancient military bondage, as a new heavy tax upon their labour, and as an experiment how far they may be gradually made soldiers.

According to Walpole,19 Lord Townshend, then on very ill terms with George, and ‘as wrong-headed as his son, and more mad ... attended by a parson and a few low people, began a mob on the day the meeting for the militia was to be held, and pasted up one of his own libels on the doors of four churches nearest to his seat’. And next the two ‘engaged in a paper war against one another, over the militia’.20

When the House met on 1 Dec. 1758, Lord Royston reported to his father:21

Mr. Pitt ... seemed to think the militia bill might have been executed, if the principal gentry had exerted themselves more, maintained his former opinion about it, but was sensible the plan had faults; was afraid we were not to expect much from it. This drew up Mr. Townshend, who is just come out of Norfolk, and who seemed apprehensive that his favourite scheme would be dropped. He was for an inquiry into the causes of its non-execution, and reflected on those lord lieutenants who had taken no notice of the Act.

Pitt thereupon assured him ‘that he wished success to the militia as much as himself’. A bill ‘to explain, amend, and enforce’ the Act was brought in; was piloted by Townshend; and received the royal assent on 20 June 1758.

In the previous month Townshend, with the assistance of Pitt to whom he had applied, had been reinstated in the army.22 On 26 Sept. Charles wrote to his mother23 about the success in many parts of the country of the Militia Act, ‘the child of your son’. George ‘never was in better health or spirits’, and

seems more intent upon his command in the army than ever I saw him: the retreat of his formidable and abdicated enemy [Cumberland], the disreputation of almost all the senior officers hitherto employed, and the infinite honour naturally bestowed upon commanders successful in this perilous time, all unite in indulging and inflaming his original genius and uncommon talents for the army.

On 27 Aug. he applied to Pitt for employment on an expedition against France; and on 28 Dec. was appointed to serve as brigadier under Wolfe on that against Quebec.24 He left for America on 15 Feb. 1759. But on 6 Sept. he wrote to his wife that he felt ‘unfit for this scene’ and wished that before returning to the army he had consulted his ‘own nature more’.

I never served so disagreeable a campaign as this. Our unequal force has reduced our operations to a scene of skirmishing, cruelty, and devastation. It is war of the worst shape ... General Wolfe’s health is but very bad. His generalship in my poor opinion is not a bit better.

And on 20 Sept., when he had to act as chief commander after Wolfe had been killed and Monckton wounded: ‘The command of an army is as disagreeable as any other. Men are as mean here as in any other profession.’ On 18 Sept. he received the surrender of Quebec, and a month later set out for England. He was severely criticized at the time for paying too little tribute to Wolfe and claiming too much merit for himself; and the charges have been often repeated.25 Previous dissensions with Wolfe had naturally left their mark; and Townshend had delivered too many bitter attacks not to become a target.

In Parliament Townshend once more looked after the militia, its term and finance. He was among the principal English supporters of the Scottish militia bill; spoke for it on 4 Mar. 1760, and acted as teller when it was defeated on 15 Apr.26 In the new reign Townshend took early steps to engage Bute’s sympathy, reporting to him on 28 Nov. 1760 a meeting of friends of the militia which showed ‘the greatest unanimity and affection for this national measure’, but determined ‘to postpone any attempt for a prolongation until next sessions’. Bute replied in a stilted but most cordial letter, addressing him repeatedly as ‘George’.27

In February 1761 Townshend went out to the army in Germany but returned home in December.28 Reporting to the King, he commiserated greatly ‘the situation of the countries that the armies have so long lived upon’.29

As to home affairs, he was very full in his expressions of devotion to me [wrote George III to Bute], of indignation for the treatment I have met with, and of invectives against Mr. Pitt having whilst in ministry not fulfilled any of the topics he had with so much oratory dwelt on whilst out of place; he also expressed great warmth of friendship for my dearest friend; upon which I assured him he had never varied in the same sentiments with regard to him; he touched on the militia, but was silent on my declaring a wish that the term of seven years might be unanimously voted; I yet hope if my dearest friend speaks to him that he may be kept within bounds.

When the King complained of Charles Townshend’s behaviour a few weeks back, George replied ‘he hoped his brother would ever act right; but should he not, that he would be the first to attack him’.

In February-March 1762 Townshend, warmly supported by Lord Strange, was busy in Parliament over the new militia bill (including a compulsory clause against delinquent counties, seven or eight in England, and three or four in Wales)—every one of his five speeches reported by Harris dealt with the militia; and when on 19 Mar. the attorney-general moved a term for it of seven years, Townshend voted against, wishing it to be made permanent.

Shortly afterwards Townshend, at his own desire, was sent on active service to Portugal; was absent from the debates on the peace treaty; but was counted a staunch supporter of Bute, who on 2 Nov. addressed to him a long letter on the peace negotiations, his own position, on ‘the most factious combination of soi disant great men against the lawful rights and liberty of the King’, and on Fox’s break with Cumberland. And Townshend, after his return, in the debate on the army estimates, 4 Mar. 1763, ‘spoke high in commendation of the most glorious peace that was ever made for this country’.30

Informed by Bute of his impending resignation, he replied on 9 Apr.31 in a pompous and verbose style echoing Bute’s letter; discoursed on ‘the insolence of an aristocracy ... forging fetters’ for the King—‘my wishes for your success were earnest’—convinced as he was that Bute would advise the King to ‘cultivate the constitution’ and preserve the powers vested in the Crown ‘without which the prince is a cipher and a slave’. It also appears from the letter that he counted on Charles taking the place assigned to him in the new Government (in which he himself was made lieutenant-general of the Ordnance). During the next few days he did his best to make Charles do so, but failed. This produced an estrangement between them: George warmly adhered to the Grenville Administration, Charles joined the Opposition. But again in the House the militia was Townshend’s main concern—no speech by him on Wilkes and general warrants is recorded. ‘Residing in a malt county’, he spoke and voted with the Government even on the Cider Act.32

Having succeeded his father, 12 Mar. 1764, Townshend did not attempt to maintain a hold on one seat for the county; he still cultivated a family interest at Great Yarmouth where their seat was held by ‘Spanish’ Charles Townshend; but his choice of Members was limited to Tamworth, in his wife’s right. Townshend had now two ambitions, both ultimately realised: the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, and a marquessate. His own political importance during the next three years largely depended on the influence he had on Charles. After their father’s death there seems to have been a reconciliation between them, not complete at first, but growing, especially as Charles was moving away from the Opposition and trying to make his way back into office (on 28 Oct. 1764 he declared to an intermediary that explanations with the Government ‘would come best through Lord Townshend, who naturally ... has my first and nearest confidence’).33 He negotiated for Charles’s inclusion in the Grenville Administration in May 1765,34 and his advice was largely responsible for Charles refusing effective office in the Rockingham Administration formed under Cumberland’s auspices—‘since the Duke did not seem inclined to forget former quarrels, and no application was made to Lord Townshend’, wrote Charles James Fox to his father on 13 July after a talk with Lady Townshend.

One old quarrel was, however, buried a few years later. When upon Lady Ferrers’ death Lord Holland inquired after Townshend through a friend, Townshend wrote to him in a letter of 3 Nov. 1770:35

Allow me to say, my Lord, that this tribute to the wretched is the more sensibly felt, because it flows from the generous sentiments of an adversary in public life; or at least from one against whom my politics or my prejudices (for they are too often the same thing, especially in the first part of life) have in a former day engaged me.
Your Lordship, I will confess, has in the warmth of debate disconcerted me by your good nature; you have now bound me by your humanity, and be assured, my Lord, that my sentiments which are sufficiently tumultuous, and which your discernment can easily trace from both channels of my blood, hath long felt returning ebb.

After having been in opposition to the Rockingham Government, Townshend adhered to that of Chatham in which Charles was chancellor of the Exchequer; was, largely through his influence, made lord lieutenant of Ireland; supported North, and went out with him; and once more held the Ordnance under the Coalition.

He died 14 Sept. 1807.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Mems. Geo. II. i. 39.
  • 2. C. V. F. Townshend, Military Life of Ld. Townshend, 128-9.
  • 3. Add. 32735, ff. 246-7.
  • 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 19, 131; Add. 32861, f. 290; 35353, f. 183.
  • 5. Add. 33034, f. 208; 32680, f. 471.
  • 6. Ilchester, Hen. Fox, i. 187-8; Add. 32861, f. 55; Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 65-67.
  • 7. Ibid. 97-102, 302.
  • 8. Chatham Corresp. i. 22-23.
  • 9. Walpole to Conway, 4 Mar. 1756; Mems. Geo. II ii. 191, 228, 245; Add. 32866, f. 376.
  • 10. Add 32867, ff. 72-77.
  • 11. Chatham Corresp. i. 186-7, 191-2.
  • 12. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), p. 222.
  • 13. Sir Roger Newdigate’s pocket diary for 1757, Newdigate mss, Warws. RO.
  • 14. Chatham Corresp. i. 216-17.
  • 15. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 305; iii. 3.
  • 16. HMC Townshend, 393 (misdated by editor).
  • 17. Mems. Geo. II, iii. 34.
  • 18. Townshend mss, Raynham.
  • 19. Mems. Geo. II, iii. 41-42.
  • 20. Walpole to Ld. Strafford 11 Oct. 1757.
  • 21. Add. 35351, f. 432.
  • 22. Townshend to Pitt, 2 May 1758, Chatham mss; Add. 32881, ff. 262-3.
  • 23. HMC Townshend, 394-5.
  • 24. Chatham Corresp. i. 345-7; HMC Townshend, 306, 308-9.
  • 25. C. V. F. Townshend, 230-284.
  • 26. Add. 32903, f. 75.
  • 27. Bute mss.
  • 28. HMC Rutland, ii. 265.
  • 29. Sedgwick, 73-74.
  • 30. Add. 36797, ff. 16-17; 38200, ff. 89-90; 32947, ff. 265-6.
  • 31. Bute mss.
  • 32. Fortescue, i. 287.
  • 33. Chas. Townshend to John Morton (q.v.), Townshend mss of the Duke of Buccleuch.
  • 34. Grenville Pprs. iii. 118-20.
  • 35. Ilchester, Letters to Hen. Fox, 233, 289.