TOWNSHEND, Hon. John (1757-1833).

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



4 Aug. 1788 - 1790
30 Mar. 1793 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 19 Jan. 1757, 2nd s. of Hon. George Townshend.  educ. Eton 1763-71; St. John’s, Camb. 1773; L. Inn 1774.  m. 10 Apr. 1787, Georgiana Anne, da. of William Poyntz of Midgham, Berks., div. w. of William Fawkener, 3s. 6da.  Styled Lord John Townshend 31 Oct. 1787-d.

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty Mar.-July 1782, Apr.-Dec. 1783; P.C. 7 Feb. 1806; jt. paymaster gen. 1806-7.


Townshend, when still a very young man, became a member of the Devonshire House circle, and an intimate friend of Fox, by whom he was deeply influenced throughout his political career. According to the Gentleman’s Magazine (1833, i. 369): ‘in early life ... Townshend was conspicuous for the grace of his manners, his genius, wit, and elegant literature. His poetical productions were much admired.’ The Duchess of Devonshire thought he had ‘great parts’. ‘I daresay he will make a very good figure hereafter’, she told her mother on 14 Aug. 1777, adding that he and Fox at that time had for their chief topic ‘politics and Shakespeare’.1

In 1780 Townshend successfully contested Cambridge University, where his connexion with Fox seems to have gained him the support of the younger anti-ministerialist part of the university. The English Chronicle wrote: ‘He possesses a polished understanding, a free and classical elocution, and a most winning address.’ George Selwyn was less impressed. He wrote to Carlisle, 27 Feb. 1781:2

The chief subject of C. Fox’s harangue yesterday was an éloge upon economy, and Jack Townshend, who spoke for the second time, rehearsed these maxims of his preceptor. Jack did better than the time before but was so eclipsed by Mr. W. Pitt, that it appeared to impartial people but an indifferent performance.

But Horace Walpole writes of the same debate: ‘The young men in the Opposition made a considerable figure particularly John Townshend.’3 Townshend spoke several times before the fall of North; on 12 Dec. 1781 supported Lowther’s motion to end the war and ‘reprobated in the most severe terms, the total misconduct, ignorance, and mad obstinacy of his Majesty’s ministers’.4 Selwyn reported to Carlisle that Townshend had spoken for longer than usual, ‘but I have heard yet no violent encomiums on Jack’s parliamentary abilities’.5

Townshend was appointed a lord of the Admiralty in Rockingham’s Administration, and his speeches during the remainder of the Parliament dealt with naval affairs only. In July 1782 he resigned with Fox. He voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; was again made a lord of the Admiralty on the formation of the Coalition; and after its dismissal went into opposition. In 1784 he once more contested Cambridge University, but was defeated after a severe contest in which all Pitt’s influence was exerted against him. Out of Parliament he maintained a close connexion with Opposition circles, and was one of the authors of the Rolliad. He does not seem to have attempted to re-enter Parliament till 1788 when the Opposition put him up at the Westminster by-election, and he was returned after a violent contest. Townshend remained a follower of Fox even after the outbreak of war with France.

Wraxall wrote of him:6

Few men held a higher place in Fox’s friendship ... a place to which he was well entitled by the elegance of his mind, his various accomplishments, and steady adherence throughout life. Though not endowed with eminent parliamentary talents, he possessed an understanding highly cultivated, set off by the most pleasing manners.

He died 25 Feb. 1833.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, ed. Bessborough, 32.
  • 2. HMC Carlisle, 464-5.
  • 3. Last Jnls. ii. 349.
  • 4. Debrett, v. 131.
  • 5. HMC Carlisle, 551.
  • 6. Mems. iii. 340.