GREY, Charles (1764-1845), of Falloden and Howick, Northumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



6 July 1786 - 1807
1807 - July 1807
20 July 1807 - 14 Nov. 1807

Family and Education

b. 13 Mar. 1764, 1st surv. s. of Lt.-Gen. Sir Charles Grey of Falloden by Elizabeth, da. of Charles Grey of Southwick, co. Dur. educ. Marylebone 1770-3; Eton 1773-81; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1781; M. Temple 1783; Grand Tour (France, Germany, Italy) 1784-6. m. 18 Nov. 1794, Mary Elizabeth, da. of William Brabazon Ponsonby*, 10s. 5da. Styled Visct. Howick 11 Apr. 1806-14 Nov. 1807; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl Grey 14 Nov. 1807; uncle Sir Henry Grey*, 2nd Bt., to Howick 1808; KG 27 May 1831.

Offices Held

PC 5 Feb. 1806; first ld. of Admiralty Feb. Sept. 1806; sec. of state for Foreign affairs Sept. 1807-Mar. 1807; first ld. of Treasury Nov. 1830-July 1834.


Grey’s father and uncle were favourably disposed to government, but he was returned for his native county in 1786 with no firm political commitment. The Whigs soon claimed him and he joined Brooks’s and the Whig Club in 1787. His brilliant parliamentary debut presaged his rapid rise in the party and his admission to the salons of fashionable Whig society, where he cut a dashing figure. His liaison with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who bore his child in 1792, permanently poisoned his relationship with the Prince of Wales. Henry Addington* observed in 1787 that ‘Grey’s credit as a man of discretion and temper remains to be established’; and a year later Sir Gilbert Elliot, who thought him a ‘very clever, spirited, and pleasant man, and extremely ripe indeed for his age’, foresaw his ‘premature ambition running foul of the established heads of the party one day and doing mischief’. It did some during the Regency crisis, when Grey squabbled with Sheridan in particular. Lady Holland described him in 1793 as ‘a man of violent temper and unbounded ambition’, whose ‘supercilious’ manner made him unpopular; and Wraxall considered him, for all his talent, to be ‘distant, grave, lofty, retired, and sometimes repulsive’.1

Grey launched the Whig attacks on government over the Spanish convention, 13 and 14 Dec. 1790, but both his motions were heavily defeated. He was a teller for the minorities against the malt tax, 20 and 22 Dec., and for the majority in favour of continuing Hastings’s impeachment, 14 Feb. 1791, when he was appointed one of the managers. He opposed the unpaid dividends bill, 15 and 22 Mar., voted against government on the Oczakov crisis, 29 Mar., and on 12 Apr. moved a series of censorious resolutions, which were rejected by 252 to 172. He was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. He voted for abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1791, as he did again on 15 Mar. 1796. He chided Burke for intruding the contentious French issue into the debate on the Quebec bill, 6 May. He secured the appointment of an inquiry into the laws concerning debt, 12 May, revived it on 6 Feb. 1792, but on 11 May, being uncertain how best to proceed, postponed his intended measure until the next session. His motion against a prorogation until full information was provided about the Russian armament, 2 June 1791, was defeated by 170 to 75 and his amendment to the address, calling for peace in India, 31 Jan. 1792, by 209 to 85. He repeatedly pressed for ministerial explanations on the Oczakov affair and injected a sharp personal attack on Pitt into his speech in support of Whitbread’s motion, 29 Feb. 1792.

Grey and Lord Lauderdale were the prime movers in the formation of the Association of the Friends of the People, 11 Apr. 1792. This was not the mere impulsive prank of Holland House legend. It seems likely that Grey and his associates formally adopted parliamentary reform in order to arrest the drift of the Whig party towards a Burkean stance, as well as to provide a weapon against Pitt. They also hoped to give a moderate and respectable lead to general reforming sentiment in the country and to counter the effects of the wilder notions inspired by Paine’s works. At the same time, it is unlikely that Grey was aware of the real nature of the burgeoning radical reform movement. He later regretted his involvement with the Association and claimed that ‘one word’ from Fox would have kept him ‘out of all the mess’, but there is no evidence that Fox was consulted before the initial step was taken.2

The move disturbed Fox and alarmed the conservative Whigs, whose hostility, together with mounting evidence of the extent of radical reform sentiment in the country and a general desire to avoid a public party wrangle, had the effect of moderating Grey’s attitude when he gave notice, 30 Apr. 1792, that he would raise the question of reform next session. He argued for ‘a timely and temperate reform’, but ‘disclaimed all connection’ with those who ‘wished to promote confusion and excite mischief’. Fox declared for reform and defended the Association, but admitted that he would not have advised Grey to take the part he had. Pitt’s reactionary speech set the general tone of the debate, which went badly for the reformers; Grey, disturbed by expressions of Whig hostility, was forced even more on to the defensive in his reply.3 He was a teller for the minority in favour of Fox’s proposed religious toleration bill, 11 May, called for inquiry into the Birmingham riots, 21 May, and condemned the proclamation against seditious societies as a ploy adopted by Pitt to split the opposition, 25 May, when his angry castigation of Pitt’s ‘political malignity’ provoked an uproar and his amendment was negatived.

Grey, who was not actively involved in the renewed party crisis of June and July 1792, continued to preach moderation as spokesman for the Association. They made little headway and their position became even more uncomfortable when events in France in the autumn, which shocked Grey, further polarized opinion. Despite internal dissensions, they pressed on with plans to promote moderate reform in the hope of getting a positive response from Fox, with whom George Tierney*, their treasurer, thought it vital that Grey should reach a frank understanding. In December 1792 Grey and Thomas Erskine* took the lead in founding the Association for Preserving the Freedom of the Press, as a riposte to the proliferation of loyalist associations. Early in 1793 he confessed that the tide of opinion was against reform, but he hoped that a show of steadiness by its promoters might encourage a favourable turn.4

When supporting Fox’s amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, he accused ministers of fomenting alarm and deplored the prospect of war with France. He declared his loyalty to Fox when he seconded his call for negotiations, 15 Dec. The execution of Louis XVI horrified him, but the increasing certainty of war appalled him even more and he was conspicuous in the Foxites’ attempts to draw information from ministers. He stated, 18 Feb. 1793, that they had ‘to inquire whether the war be justifiable, even if they should be alleged to join what had been said in France’; on 21 Feb. he moved an address to the King to register his formal protest against the war. Lord Holland later applauded his loyalty to Fox and his ‘firmness, character, and consideration’ in these debates: ‘From this period he was only the second of Mr Fox, in the estimation of the party and of the country’. Grey attacked the traitorous correspondence bill, 22 Mar., and the issue of Exchequer bills, 29 Apr. In February 1793 the Association published their reports on the representative system and next month authorized Grey to raise the issue in Parliament. He voted for receipt of the Sheffield reform petition, 2 May, presented one from Alnwick, 3 May, and three days later moved to refer the Association’s petition to a committee of the whole House. He dismissed the stock objections to reform and put the case for making the House once more truly representative of the people in order to check the ‘encroachments of prerogative’, but declined to make detailed proposals. He got only 41 votes against 282, but had the consolation of hearing Fox unequivocally align himself with the reforming wing of the party. He voted for Wharton’s motion on the 1688 settlement, 31 May, moved unsuccessfully on behalf of the managers of Hastings’s impeachment, in which he had lost all keen personal interest, to postpone its proceedings, 6 June, and voted for Fox’s peace motion, 17 June 1793.5

Grey was the subject of various speculations in the autumn. Earl Fitzwilliam suspected him of trying to beat up pacifist feeling in the country; William Elliot*, noting reports that he was ‘inclined to descend from the Mountain’, ruminated that ‘his father and uncle may have had some influence on his politics and that he may begin to tire of the Society of the Friends of the People’; Lord Wycombe* thought he might be ‘crippled’ by his father’s appointment to the command of the West Indian expedition. The Association lost ground by their refusal to participate in the projected British Convention, but a turn of opinion against the war renewed their energies, though they proceeded circumspectly. Grey was ‘more convinced than ever’ that reform could be ‘peaceably effected’, but feared ‘a perseverance in abuse until the people, maddened by excessive injury, and roused to a feeling of their own strength, will not stop within the limits of moderate reformation’.6

He gave a silent vote against the address, 21 Jan. 1794, but vociferously condemned the employment of foreign troops, 10 Feb., when he castigated the French regime as a ‘furious and rigid tyranny’, but deplored the encroachment of prerogative on popular liberties. His censure motion was defeated by 184 to 35 and his call for an indemnity bill, 14 Mar., by 170 to 41. Fox now reckoned him ‘the person most improved’ in debating talent on the opposition side. He played a full part in the campaigns on behalf of Muir, Palmer and Lafayette and in the attack on the foreign enlistment bill, but confessed to the House, 11 Apr., an inclination to give up politics, ‘where the only effect of his exertion was personal odium and disapprobation’. Afraid of ‘the high-prerogative doctrines of the government on one side, and the violence of those on the other whose conduct I do not commend, but whose temper I cannot much wonder at’, he stated to John Cartwright in March 1794 his preference for a householder franchise over universal suffrage. Although he recognized the futility of raising reform in the House, he reiterated his belief in the need for it when denouncing the suspension of habeas corpus and the report of the secret committee, 16 May. In a major attack on the third reading of the suspension bill the following day, he argued that only an appeal to the public could improve the chances of securing reform. His stubborn resistance at least prevented Pitt, with whom he had several bitter exchanges, from rushing the measure through in one day. He supported Fox’s anti-war resolutions, 30 May, and on 10 July exhorted ministers to ‘acknowledge the Republic upon terms reciprocal, fair and honourable to both countries’.7

Grey attended Hardy’s trial ‘in order’, as he wryly told his fiancee, ‘to learn how to conduct myself when it comes to my turn’. Thomas Pelham* believed that he and Whitbread were ‘determined to bring forward parliamentary reform in direct opposition to Fox’s advice’, but he did not raise it in the House in 1795. He voted for Wilberforce’s peace amendment, 30 Dec. 1794, opposed the renewal of habeas corpus suspension, 5, 15 and 23 Jan. 1795, and on 26 Jan. moved a resolution that the existence of the present French government ought not to preclude peace overtures. Pitt’s amendment was carried by 269 votes to 86. His renewed attempt to establish whether the government was prepared to wage bellum ad internecinum to overthrow the Republic, 6 Feb., was defeated by 190 votes to 60 and got little verbal support. One witness told Farington that he ‘spoke unequally, sometimes with force, but when heated lost himself’, though Fox thought it an ‘excellent’ effort.8 He presented peace petitions from Scotland, 19 and 21 Mar., and voted for Wilberforce’s peace motion, 27 May. He objected to any move to defray the Prince of Wales’s debts, 27 Apr., tried unsuccessfully to reduce his marriage grant by £25,000, 14 May, and took the same hard line in subsequent debates on the issue. He spoke at length against Foster Barham’s motion criticizing the conduct of his father and Sir John Jervis* in Martinique, 2 June 1795.

Grey tried to organize a Northumberland county meeting to petition for peace and had hopes of a general movement to agitate the question on a non-party basis. The scheme collapsed, and he was sunk in gloom in early November, but he was roused to fury by the subsequent repressive legislation, which he contested bitterly in the House. Charles Abbot* described him as ‘angry, declamatory, and verbose; implacable in his enmity to Pitt, and unconciliatory’ towards the House; another hostile observer thought that ‘personality to the minister and not the good of his country swayed him’. In accordance with his pledge to stir up opinion against the measures, he promoted a Northumberland protest and addressed the Westminster meeting, 16 Nov. 1795. He was involved in the formation of an association to direct a national campaign for their repeal at the turn of the year, when he wrote that the people ‘must declare open war against the government’, although he seriously doubted the prudence of the venture. Its failure confirmed his conviction of the ‘almost incurable apathy’ of the people.9

His inability to stimulate any significant popular response on the subject of peace intensified his frustration. His peace motion planned for 9 Dec. 1795, when he hoped to recruit support from disaffected ministerialists, was undercut by the message on the state of affairs in France, which hinted at British willingness to negotiate. In the debate on it, he supported Sheridan’s amendment asserting that the internal state of France ought never to be a bar to negotiations. Persistent questioning of Pitt drew no satisfactory answer and Grey, concluding that ‘the hopes inspired by the King’s message were without foundation’, decided to raise the question of peace again himself, though he did ‘not expect to gain an additional vote in the House of Commons or any active support out of it’. His motion of 15 Feb. 1796 was defeated by 189 votes to 50. He had told his friend Thomas Bigge that he intended to expose ‘some of the enormities’ of the administration and on 10 Mar. he moved for inquiry into the finances, urging the country gentlemen to ‘free themselves from the influence of that lodestone’ which was ‘imperceptibly drawing them into the gulf of ruin’. The motion was crushed by 207 votes to 45 and he complained to Sir John Swinburne that he was at a loss to know what more could be done ‘to animate a people stupidly blind to their own destruction’.10 He attacked the budget, 18 Apr., and on 6 May moved a string of resolutions accusing ministers of ‘misapplication of the public money’, which he intended to form the basis of impeachment proceedings. They were defeated by 209 votes to 38. He opposed the legacy duty and the succession tax, spoke frequently against the barrack system and voted for Fox’s motion criticizing the conduct of the war, 10 May 1796.

Despite his political frustration and rumours of trouble in Northumberland, where his line was unpopular, Grey was determined to stand again at the general election, but was not prepared to spend money. In the event, there was no opposition. Un-enthusiastic about Tierney’s scheme to launch a petitioning campaign and relieved when it was shelved, he told Bigge that he might not bother to attend the new Parliament, yet he took his place and resumed his criticism of Pitt’s financial policy, 7 Dec. 1796, though he apparently performed below his best. His attempt to defer the committee of supply, 8 Dec., in order to attack Pitt for making the imperial loan without the consent of Parliament, was defeated by 164 votes to 58. He continued to denounce the transaction and on 30 Dec. blamed government for the failure of peace overtures and moved unsuccessfully for a call of the House on 10 Jan. 1797.11

Convinced that ‘we are come to that melancholy point of political degradation, in which we can no longer bear either our corruption or the remedies’, Grey advocated a Foxite secession before Christmas, but was overruled. In February 1797 he asked Bigge to consider the possibilities of procuring petitions for the dismissal of ministers, which he subsequently encouraged. Although the suspension of cash payments necessitated his continued attendance in Parliament, he looked ‘with a longing eye to that period when I may be enabled to quit it with honour’. He sat on the secret committee of inquiry into the Bank stoppage, but was said to have ‘laid in his disclaim on any general obligation to secrecy’ and supported the motions of Fox and Sheridan on the issue, 28 Feb. and 1 Mar., when he called for parliamentary reform as well as retrenchment. He repeated his allegations of Pitt’s financial mismanagement, 26 Apr., and on 16 May moved a series of resolutions, which were decisively rejected, incriminating him for his handling of the Bank question. He supported Whitbread’s motions on Ireland, 3 Mar., and the delay in implementing increases in seamen’s pay, 10 May.12

On 17 May 1797 Fox gave notice that on the 26th either he or Grey would move for parliamentary reform. An anonymous memorandum of 22 May in the Prince of Wales’s papers states that Fox, like Bedford and Grey, ‘who were of those who encouraged him to that step’, subsequently came to regret it; but the writer was confident that the issue would be handled temperately, without prejudice to the planned formation of a new administration on the initiative of the ‘armed neutrality’ and other ministerial malcontents. Grey, whom Lord Moira was keen to include in a revamped cabinet, later told Bigge that even though Fox had not told him of his offer to stand aside in order to facilitate the formation of a new ministry, he had given ‘a decisive and peremptory refusal’ to an invitation, 25 May, to participate himself. He moved the reform motion the following day with a speech which, Abbot conceded, was ‘moderate and discreet’. He rejected universal suffrage and ‘any speculation of natural and imprescriptible rights’ but his proposals, based on a scheme concocted by the Friends of the People some years earlier, were quite far-reaching. He concluded with a personal statement of his intention of seceding: in future, his parliamentary activities would be confined to voting on measures which affected the interests of his constituents’. A respectable minority of 91 supported his motion. According to Pitt, the mutiny punishment bill was read a second time, 2 June 1797, ‘with no other opposition than the single negative of Mr Grey’, but the reports of the debate did not record an intervention by him.13

In October 1797 Grey, who could not share Wyvill’s optimism about rousing public opinion to support reform, told Whitbread that he hoped Fox would not attend ‘till the country gives him some decisive assurance of support’. For himself, he would ‘not budge unless obliged to do so by a call of the House’. Pleased to find Fox of like mind, he maintained his argument that only a genuine movement of opinion against the existing system could warrant a resumption of active opposition, when countering Tierney’s view that the onus was on the politicians to give a lead. When Northumberland ministerialists considered exploiting local dissatisfaction with his secession, his first instinct was to offer his resignation to any meeting that was called, but on his father’s advice he decided to sit tight. Although he thought Tierney’s enthusiasm for encouraging the agitation against the triple assessment was misguided, he tried, without success, to organize a county meeting on the issue. At the end of the year he was hurt by Fox’s failure to respond to his appeal for advice on his personal position and unsettled by rumours that Fox was inclined to become active again.14

When Grey went to London in January 1798 Lady Holland found him unusually ‘placid in his temper and pleasing in his manner’, but noted that ‘he says he is dissatisfied with his political conduct, and regrets having continued so long in Parliament after seceding’. In his correspondence with Wyvill he advocated the revival of the old association movement, but he failed to organize a Middlesex meeting and the collapse of Wyvill’s schemes in Yorkshire convinced him of the futility of further exertion on the subject. Rumours persisted that Moira and a ‘third party’ were working for a change of government and, according to Lady Holland, Grey made at least a show of accepting the Prince of Wales’s offer of reconciliation and agreed to put Lord Lansdowne in touch with Moira, ‘but declined all further interference’. Thomas Tyrwhitt* thought he was favourably inclined to the Prince’s notion that opposition should move an address expressing their loyalty to the King in the event of an invasion, but Lady Holland wrote that the idea was ‘totally rejected by the whole party’. Wycombe remarked that if the French did come, they would find Grey ‘fuming like a virgin of 30 consumed by an hopeless passion’. He attended O’Connor’s trial in May 1798. Incensed by events in Ireland, he voted for Cavendish’s censure motion, 22 June, and nurtured hopes that Whig attacks in the Commons might lead to changes in the Irish government. These soon evaporated, but he pledged himself to bring the problems of Ireland, in which he had taken a keen interest since his marriage, to public notice.15

By December 1798 Grey felt himself to be in an ‘awkward situation’, as Lady Holland recorded:

He now regrets the secession, yet ... it is owing ... most especially to him ... he is tired of inactivity, and wishes to attend, yet he feels a difficulty in doing so after all he has declared upon its inutility; besides that, to the world it will always have the appearance of being a most deceitful line of conduct, to have gotten Mr Fox pledged to absence, and then become a leader. Unless I knew him to be of an honest, open, warm-hearted character, I should myself suspect a little fraud, but I fully acquit him.

Lord Minto, for one, suspected that Grey was ‘disposed to dispute the lead with Tierney’. In truth, Fox had expressed no concern on learning in October of his ‘intention to attend occasionally’, and Grey himself, who voted against the income tax, 14 Dec. 1798, explained to Bigge:

retaining my seat ... I feel that a further attendance is required of me, and shall therefore think it necessary to be present at the most material measures of the present session, though I shall not take any active part, unless my constituents’ shall ... express ... a wish that I should do so.

He admitted that the ‘wrong step’ of secession had created problems:

A total secession, without resigning my seat, I must acknowledge to be wrong, and so long as it is out of my power (on account of private reasons which have not escaped you) to resign my seat, and still less to take any active part while Fox abstains from doing so, there is no mode of conduct I can adopt, which in my own opinion would be perfectly right.

His activities in the House in 1799 were largely confined to protests against the Irish union. He announced his intention of raising the question of crown influence on the Irish Members and coupling with it the general question of reform, 31 Jan.; and on 7 Feb. he followed his qualified endorsement of Sheridan’s critical motion with a major attack on the measure, which Abbot judged ‘the only good speech on the opposite side’.16

Early in 1800 Grey was again considering parliamentary reform as an antidote to the anticipated effects of the Union. He voted against the address on the collapse of peace negotiations, 3 Feb., and for inquiry into the failure of the Dutch expedition, 10 Feb. Although he was initially inclined to support Tierney’s attack on war for the restoration of the Bourbons, 28 Feb., he apparently did not attend; but he reinforced Tierney’s opposition to the income tax, 17 Apr., and made an unsuccessful wrecking motion of his own. He remained ‘a little uncomfortable’ about taking an active part in the absence of Fox, whom he could not persuade to come up. He denounced the Union, 21 Apr., when his motion to suspend proceedings until the sentiments of the Irish people had been ascertained was crushed by 236 votes to 30. On 25 Apr. he moved an instruction to consider how ‘more effectually to provide for and secure the independence of Parliament’ against the increasing influence of the crown, which he maintained would be boosted by the Union. Although he still believed reform to be essential, he declined to press it, being ‘aware that there is no very general sentiment in the public in favour of such a project’, but stated that had the time been ripe he would have proposed to disfranchise 40 rotten boroughs and reduce the number of Irish Members to 85. He secured 34 votes against 176. That evening he again lamented to Lady Holland his ‘precipitation and bad judgement in urging the measure of secession’, and when she hinted that in order to allay suspicion of his conduct he ought to get Fox to make a ‘public declaration’ of his retirement, he replied, truthfully, that Fox had ‘oftentimes urged him to attend’, and added that it was unthinkable that he should ask his leader to close his public life on his account. He moved a series of detailed amendments to the Union bill, all of which were negatived, 5 May 1800.17

In the autumn Grey, recently much in Tierney’s company, was reported to be eager for action at the meeting of Parliament. Though certain that secession was no longer defensible, he was unable to see his way clearly beyond that and resolved to ‘trust to accident’ to determine his conduct. He refused to follow Sheridan’s example and fall in with Pitt’s desire for unanimity on the address, 11 Nov. 1800, and moved an amendment to omit that part which imputed the failure of peace overtures to France. Sheridan’s hostile retort was generally condemned.18 According to Tierney, on 17 Nov. 1800 Grey reached an understanding with Fox, who gave his ‘perfect, unqualified and distinct’ consent to his taking the lead in the Commons. The opposition was revamped and plans were made for regular party meetings to maintain cohesion. By 18 Nov., when he spoke for Jones’s motion on the evacuation of Egypt, Grey had temporarily settled his differences with Sheridan; after making peace between him and Tierney a few days later, he hoped that matters would proceed ‘smoothly’. In the debate on the food shortage, 26 Nov., he applauded the ‘liberal and enlightened principles’ of commerce enunciated by Pitt, but disputed his contention that Jacobins were exploiting the sufferings of the poor and fell into heated argument with Wilberforce, who deplored his ‘unnatural union’ with radicals. He attacked the conduct of the war and called for the removal of ministers, 27 Nov. Canning thought that on both occasions his elevation had gone to his head, but admitted that his speech for peace negotiations, 1 Dec., was ‘very good’. Grey kept in touch with Fox, who offered advice and occasional minor criticism, voted for Jones’s censure motion, 4 Dec., opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, 12 and 18 Dec., and unsuccessfully brought up Lemaitre’s petition, 15 Dec. 1800.19

Soon afterwards he was in correspondence with Wyvill, who was trying to mount a Yorkshire meeting to petition for peace or the removal of ministers. Grey still held that ‘all parliamentary opposition must be unavailing if it does not meet with popular support’ and favoured concentration on the second point, but gave an assurance of his loyalty to the reform cause. Though unable to coax Fox out of retirement, he consulted him on plans for the new session. He overcame extreme nervousness to acquit himself well when moving an amendment to the address, 2 Feb. 1801, which called for inquiry into the state of the nation, with particular reference to foreign affairs. It was defeated by 245 votes to 63. On 9 Feb. he gave a week’s notice of a direct censure motion. He later postponed it on account of the confusion arising from Pitt’s resignation, but got Fox to promise to attend when it came on. This precipitated a violent quarrel with Tierney, whose annoyance at his ‘going down to St. Anne’s to get sense’, reported and embellished by Sheridan, led Grey to accuse him of enticing him back into action in order to exclude Fox and thereby advance himself. He was contemptuous of the Addington ministry and spoke in support of inquiry into the Ferrol expedition, 19 Feb. 1801.20

During the King’s illness Grey, according to Lady Holland, was sounded by Moira about serving in a ministry excluding both Pitt and Fox, but, like the Duke of Bedford, he said that he ‘would never take office unless Fox was the efficient man in the cabinet’. The continued political uncertainty made him ‘restless and impatient’ and, ‘vexed’ by the lack of support for his attack on the Irish martial law bill, 12 Mar., he told his wife that he was ‘more anxious than ever to quit politics’. When he finally made his motion on the state of the nation, 25 Mar., he directed the brunt of his attack against Pitt’s administration, but refused to allow his successors any honeymoon period. The motion was defeated by 291 votes to 105. He led the opposition to the government’s repressive legislation in April and used the debate on the Portuguese subsidy, 18 May, to make another retrospective attack on Pitt. He could not persuade Fox to attend for the indemnity bill, which he forcefully condemned, 5 June. On the Irish martial law bill, 10 June, he bridled at Addington’s charge that he wished to sabotage the chances of peace and declared himself to be ‘the decided enemy of his government’.21

Two events of June 1801 materially shaped Grey’s future and profoundly influenced his attitude to politics. His father, whose health was precarious, accepted a peerage, thereby ending his prospects of a long career in the Commons. While many people wondered at his acquiescence, it seems that only filial affection prevented him from protesting. It certainly annoyed him, less perhaps on account of its implications for himself than because his father had accepted ‘what he thinks a favour’ from a ministry which he himself despised. Fox told Wyvill that Addington had taken advantage of Sir Charles Grey’s vanity and that Grey’s removal from the Commons would be ‘a severe blow’; but he tried to convince Grey himself that the Whigs’ chances of taking office were so negligible as to make it ‘of less importance than it would have been in former days’. At about the same time, Grey’s uncle let him and his wife take over Howick as their residence. This met his anxious wish to find a permanent base for himself and his growing family, to which he was devotedly attached. The remoteness of Howick from London inevitably fostered his increasing inclination to opt for tranquillity and idleness.22

Grey, ‘too much convinced of the impolicy of the last secession to think of playing any such game again’, wanted a Whig muster on the peace preliminaries, but would not commit himself to appearing before Christmas. Like Fox, he considered the peace terms, however unsatisfactory, to be preferable to continued war, but he had to chide Fox for the indiscreetly pro-French sentiments of his Shakespeare tavern speech. Although Tierney’s hints of interesting possibilities arising from Addington’s overtures did not at first tempt him to go to London, he made an unexpected visit late in October. He announced his intention of voting for the peace, 30 Oct., and welcomed the Northern Convention, 13 Nov., but stood by his past criticisms of the British attitude towards the Northern powers. He returned to Howick soon afterwards. When in London he was asked by St. Vincent on behalf of Addington to consider entering the cabinet with Moira and Bedford. While he did not reject the proposal out of hand, it came to nothing, as far as he was concerned, when ministers refused to change the Irish government. He later explained to Tierney, who was disappointed with his decision:

it is not personal power or patronage that I want ... [but] a real security for myself and a certain indication to the public that the government is to be conducted on different principles from those which have prevailed of late years. ... To this I have no reason to think that Addington is disposed ... Nor, if disposed, do I believe that he would be allowed by the Court to assent to such an arrangement ... the Court is very ready to buy us. But are they willing to acquiesce in a moderate and liberal system of government?

Lady Holland unfairly charged him with disloyalty to Fox, but Grey, who was upset by hostile press comment on the episode, was entitled to think that Fox had withdrawn from serious involvement in politics and given him a free hand. Whitbread assured him that his conduct had been irreproachable, and Fox, though embarrassed by Wyvill’s request for confirmation of stories that Grey had refused office because Addington would not concede reform, gave a diplomatic answer and told Grey that he approved of his behaviour. Yet Grey, who reacted too sensitively, as his friends thought, to a drunken outburst from Sheridan, was perplexed by Fox’s sudden request, 9 Feb. 1802, for an assurance that all negotiation between himself and Addington was at an end. Tierney saw this as an attempt by Fox to reassert his authority, but Fox himself explained to Grey that far from suspecting him of deception, he merely wished ‘to be quite sure, and authorized too to say I was quite sure, with respect to your mode of considering the business’.23

Grey was now determined to avoid as far as possible ‘all political connexions of any kind’ and did not return to London until late March 1802. He merely gave a silent vote for Tierney’s amendment on the civil list, 29 Mar., and was the only leading member of opposition to divide against inquiry into the Prince’s financial claims, 31 Mar. He questioned Addington on the chances of a resumption of cash payments, 2 Apr., and replied trenchantly to Pitt’s ‘panegyric on his own administration’, 5 Apr., when he also attacked Addington’s budget and mocked his subserviency to the Court. Left by Fox to decide the line to be taken on Belgrave’s amendment to Nicholls’s motion applauding Pitt’s fall, 7 May, he opted for direct opposition, and in the debate he laid responsibility for the serious defects of the peace settlement on the desperate state to which Pitt had reduced the country. He abstained from voting on Windham’s motion against the treaty, 14 May, conceding that ministers had been right to make peace, but refusing to accept their contention that its ‘beneficial effects’ were attributable to the successful prosecution of the war.24

Grey professed to care little whether he was returned at the general election and was anxious to ‘avoid giving any expectation of an active attendance’. He was re-elected, but at the end of October 1802 claimed that his wife’s fifth pregnancy made it impossible for him to go to London before next March, despite his increasing awareness that a renewal of war was likely. Fox urged him to consider taking office with Addington, without himself, if the minister sought reinforcements against the warmongers, or at least to be active in maintaining Foxite cohesion on the principle of preserving peace. Grey, who had rebuked Tierney for his persistent abuse of Fox, refused to be drawn, pleaded the excuse of his wife’s condition and stated his determination ‘never again to take anything like a lead in politics’. That apart, he was prepared to work for ‘the preservation of peace on honourable terms’, though he could not dissemble his belief that Buonaparte was now the aggressor. He felt that, in any case, the balance of domestic politics was unfavourable to a lasting peace and that Pitt would engineer his return to power as a war minister. While he agreed with Fox that opposition’s best course was to ‘encourage ministers as much as possible in a pacific disposition’, he thought they must avoid ‘any appearance of indifference to the powers, still more of anything like approbation of the measures of the French government’, and insisted that if war broke out it must be wholeheartedly supported. He considered opposition bound to cooperate with Addington in the unlikely event of his seeking a junction, but repeated his disclaimer on active personal involvement. Fox’s subsequent resort to flattery made no impression on him and it is clear that their difference of opinion on the question of war and peace, though not fundamentally great, was marked enough to reinforce Grey’s unwillingness to commit himself to further heavy involvement in politics.25

Early in 1803, after the birth of his first son, he told Fox that he would attend when summoned, though preferably ‘as late as possible’. He still considered Buonaparte’s language to be deliberately provocative and now questioned the utility of rallying behind ministers in support of peace, as they seemed determined to denigrate the Foxites as advocates of base appeasement. He privately wondered how far Fox’s eagerness for action stemmed from ‘thorough deliberation and sound judgement’, but at the same time he was disgusted by the warlike language of Sheridan and Tierney. On 12 Mar. 1803 Fox, appalled by the King’s message hinting at imminent war, pressed him to attend. Grey, too, was shaken by this development and now blamed the British government for the almost certain rupture of peace. He agreed to go up but, failing to grasp Fox’s distinction between support of peace and of the ministry, expressed strong reservations about backing Addington, as well as insisting that he could not assume ‘any lead or direction’. He claimed the same right as Fox to relax his attendance in the event of war, but promised assistance if Fox was prepared to be active, in which case he was willing to secure the co-operation of other political groups to try to replace the present ministry with one more competent to wage war effectively. After reaching London, 25 Mar. 1803, he began to complain peevishly at the continued confusion of affairs. He spent Easter with Whitbread at Southill, whence he was recalled by Fox with the news that an approach from Addington might be in the offing. He believed there would be ‘none that we can accept’ and when his father urged him to co-operate with government if at all possible, he replied that he ‘would not negotiate on any ground but that of having a majority in the cabinet, Fox being one’. He also thought Fox too sanguine about the effects of exertion by opposition, although his own hopes for the preservation of peace and belief in the pacific disposition of France strengthened during April.26

In the House, 22 Apr. 1803, he argued that electoral corruption at Ilchester required a more drastic remedy than the prosecution of individuals. He opposed the Nottingham election bill, 29 Apr., but felt he ‘spoke like Addington, or perhaps worse’. He was unable, or unwilling to make the effort, to make sense of the political scene and claimed that ‘my disposition to withdraw myself from it entirely increases every hour’. His attempt to prevent the adjournment, 6 May, was unsuccessful, but he thought he had managed to make ministers ‘see the perilous path they are treading’. He took the same course on 13 May, when his ‘desire to bring things to some decisive point which may enable me to leave London’ gave him an additional ‘powerful inducement’ to press for information. Perusal of the papers concerning the collapse of negotiations convinced him that ‘it would have been very easy for men of any ability, and desirous of peace, to have preserved it’. He suspected Pitt of scheming for his own return to power, but considered the Foxites morally bound to protest against the war, even though they would thereby play into his hands. He consoled himself with the reflection that while Pitt’s conduct ensured Addington’s survival and confirmed the war, it thus proved ‘how unnecessary it is for me to stay’. On the address in answer to the King’s message, 23 May, he moved an amendment ‘merely to say that we would support the war’ and ‘holding out the desire of peace’, as he ‘could not consent to the original address’. He reckoned that he had coped ‘tant bien que mal’. Thomas Creevey* said he was ‘courageous, dignified and calm’, Sheridan that he spoke with ‘great perspicuity and force’ and both of them that the attention with which his speech was received was a tribute to its quality. There are indications that had he seen a genuine willingness on the part of Addington, Pitt and the Grenvilles to keep the door open for peace he would have waived his amendment, and in the resumed debate, 24 May, he offered to do so if the offending words were dropped from the address. They were not, and the amendment was rejected by 398 votes to 67. Grey, who professed to have no interest in the future development of domestic politics, left for Howick on 1 June 1803.27

His view of public affairs remained infinitely gloomy and Fox’s ambiguous response to his message, imparted through Whitbread, to the effect that ‘nothing can be done without Fox, and every proposition must be made to Fox’, confirmed his view that Fox was too much the creature of ‘impulses’. When Fox raised the notion of a junction with the ‘new’ opposition, Grey agreed that, remote as the prospect of forming one might be, it would be wise to avoid the creation of fresh obstacles to it. He was quite against any co-operation with the ministry, whose defence measures had been ‘botched’ and who were responsible for the ‘melancholy chapter’ of events in Ireland. In October he confided to Whitbread his wish that Fox ‘would seriously turn his mind to what he ought to do in Parliament’. In his own view, the main object should be to remove Addington; and ‘if a strong union could be formed against the Court, it would be a great thing’. Yet he advanced the excuse that he could not go to London because it was impossible either to leave his family exposed to the threat of an invasion or to take them with him. He made a further attempt to get Fox to come to a rational decision on policy, only for Fox in turn to exhort him to make the final decision and attend at the start of the session. Grey, though clear that ‘we ought to state very freely our opinions of the measures of administration, and in doing this to smooth the way as much as possible for co-operation with those whose sentiments concur with ours’, insisted that he could not. Neither Fox nor Whitbread could see the logic of this, but they did not press him heavily. Events at the opening of the session, when he thought Fox was allowing Sheridan to steal a march on him, convinced Grey that he could be of no use in London and he contemplated absence for the whole session, adding his wife’s latest confinement and his financial problems to the list of excuses. Fox consulted him on the propriety of moving for Catholic relief. He gave only a ‘conditional’ and on balance unfavourable opinion, but when Fox, disappointed by Irish Whig aversion to the move, wrote in despair of the likely disintegration of the party, Grey offered to attend if provision could be made for a relative to look after his wife and advised him not to give up the question too hastily. He even volunteered to handle it himself, but on reflection decided that it ought not to be forced at present.28

He was nonplussed to learn of the Grenvilles’ approach to Fox for the formation of a coalition to turn out Addington and substitute a broad-bottomed administration. He could not believe that they favoured ‘peace on reasonable terms’, thought that the object of such a junction could be achieved only by ‘a long siege’, to which he was unwilling to commit himself, and suspected that the ultimate beneficiary would be Pitt. He endorsed Fox’s decision to express merely ‘a general inclination to support’ on particular issues. Consideration of the problem was suspended by the King’s illness. Fox urged Grey to come up and to ‘make up your mind to be what you must be, if things take a turn which I think not improbable. I will give you every assistance, but you must be at the head.’ Grey replied that that could not be, but he obeyed the summons and arrived in London on 23 Feb. 1804. A conference with Fox confirmed his forebodings of ‘disgusting intrigues and some arrangement at last, in which I shall refuse to have any share’. While he was mainly preoccupied with trying to contrive his departure as early as was decently possible, he was seriously concerned about ministers’ refusal to disclose the full truth about the King’s health and on 27 Feb. he demanded information. The same day he criticized the volunteer consolidation bill and called for a general inquiry into defence arrangements. Neither effort satisfied him. On 2 Mar., after a party meeting, he again pressed for an explicit statement on the King’s executive competence and, failing to get it, threatened a motion on the subject. He supported inquiry into the Irish insurrection, 7 Mar., and thought the division showed ‘what might be done if there was a cordial union of all those who disapprove of the administration’. Though at first personally disposed to make a major issue of the King’s condition, he saw the difficulties and risks involved and welcomed the opposition decision, 10 Mar., to do nothing. He was nevertheless ‘much satisfied’ with his personal protest in the House the previous day, as it freed him from ‘the disgrace of a silent acquiescence’. After unsuccessfully proposing an amendment to the volunteer consolidation bill, 12 Mar., he left London.29

As a result, he was only an interested spectator of the combined attack on Addington. His wife’s convalescence from the birth of their sixth child was his excuse for resisting Fox’s urgent requests for his presence in London, but he told Whitbread that

my total despair of any political good, deprives me of all energy. A constitutional languor contributes to the same effect. I feel quite unequal to any great exertion, and dread being placed in a situation that may require it.

He was additionally pained by his father’s steady support for the tottering ministry in the Lords. He reluctantly left Howick on 28 Apr., believing that if Addington did not survive, it would all end in the restoration of Pitt. When Fox, barred from office by the King, gave his followers the option of joining Pitt without him, Grey was the prime mover in putting an ‘absolute veto’ on it. Though prepared to acknowledge in public that opposition had no cause to complain of Pitt’s conduct, he was privately contemptuous of its ‘meanness’. Determined to leave London by the end of May, he only stayed on for form’s sake, attending the ‘detestable House’ to attack the volunteer consolidation bill, 23 May. George III’s relapse forced him to change his plans and he drafted the Prince’s letter to Lord Eldon requesting an official statement on the King’s condition. He participated in the opposition to the additional force bill in June, and indeed believed that only apathy among the opposition rank and file had allowed the measure, and the ministry, to survive. He supported Whitbread’s censure of the lord advocate, 22 June, and went north the next day.30

His political correspondence with Fox was not resumed until November 1804. He was determined to have nothing to do with any offer arising from the negotiations between Pitt and the Prince and was against junction with Pitt on any terms. Unlike Fox, he saw no advantage in moving the Catholic question. He saw the Spanish war as a better bet and wanted opposition to ‘occupy with all their forces the advantageous ground of which they are in possession’, but he tried to escape personal involvement. This time Fox would not be denied and Grey went to London, under protest, early in 1805 to take charge of the attack on the Spanish war. According to Robert Adair*, he was ‘clear and sometimes eloquent’ in moving an amendment of censure, 11 Feb. He was active in all the major onslaughts on government in February and March and played a full part in the hounding of Melville, which rekindled some of his old enthusiasm. He felt initially that ‘if we are seconded by the public, as at present there is every reason to hope we shall be’, the ministry was doomed; but events in the House taught him to expect nothing more from a demonstration of public opinion than moral backing for those who were ‘active in the prosecution of public delinquency’. He was one of the committee appointed to draw up articles of impeachment, 26 June. After failing to secure information on the rumoured renewal of continental co-operation he moved, 20 June 1805, to postpone the prorogation. While he saw concerted military action and joint negotiation as the best means of defeating France, he wanted to know if the current plans afforded a realistic hope of success and argued that ‘a separate peace, on moderate terms, would be preferable to a mere defensive war’. The motion went down by 261 votes to 110 and Grey left London soon afterwards.31

Before doing so he gave Fox a ‘letter of attorney’ to dispose of him as he saw fit, subject to unspecified limitations, if Pitt decided to barter with opposition. When Fox asked him to state his terms, he named the war department and the Exchequer as the only offices to which he had insuperable objections, though he told Whitbread, ‘I wish to God he would allow of a more general objection, and leave me entirely out’. Like Fox, he did not expect Pitt to make an acceptable offer and thought the only reasonable response would be to propose the construction of a fresh administration, of which Pitt would not be the leader; but it was some time before he came round to Fox’s view that he would not make even a token gesture. The military disasters at the end of 1805 proved to him that it was ‘nonsense to talk any more of continental confederacies’. He went to London early in 1806, feeling that only the influence of the crown could sustain Pitt in power against a concerted attack, though he did not discount the possibility of opposition disunity. According to Moira, the general disposition of opposition after Pitt’s death was to behave with ‘dignity and moderation’, but Fox ‘hinted his apprehensions from the violence of Mr Grey’s temper’. He seems to have controlled it.32

Grey became first lord of the Admiralty in the ‘Talents’. His first few weeks in office were vexatious and personally distressing: he was genuinely hurt by Whitbread’s disappointed reproaches over his exclusion, though he was partly at fault in the misunderstanding which led to it; he had to try to placate the disgruntled Duke of Northumberland, one of his main electoral props; and he found the whole scramble for spoils unedifying. When Whitbread urged him to insist on an earldom for Lord Grey, he declined to be ‘pressing for myself’, but the promotion took place in April 1806 and Grey assumed the courtesy title of Viscount Howick. His onerous departmental duties, which he handled creditably, prevented him from taking a prominent part in general debate. He spoke against the demand for inquiry into St. Vincent’s naval administration, 14 May, defended the West India auditors bill, giving George Rose a good dressing down, 16 June, and on Mildmay’s motion for a vote of thanks to the volunteers, 11 July, vindicated the government’s defence plans and carried the previous question against Sheridan’s resolution. Creevey described it as ‘one of his best speeches, full of honour, courage and good faith’. He was responsible for drawing up proposals for a general increase in naval pay.33

Howick’s dismay at the collapse of Fox’s health was increased by his fear that it presaged further labour and responsibility for himself. His awareness of a wish among the Foxites and, reportedly, on the part of Fox himself, to see Holland take over the foreign seals encouraged him to demur when Lord Grenville exhorted him to prepare himself for the task. He hoped and waited in vain for explicit instructions from Fox. After feverish discussions following Fox’s death, when several permutations were considered and rejected, Howick reluctantly took the foreign secretaryship and the leadership in the Commons, perceiving that he was bound to do so both to prevent Grenville seeking reinforcements from opposition and to fulfil his own moral obligations to the Foxites. He still spoke of holding the seals only as locum for Holland, whom he tried at the last minute to persuade Grenville to appoint. Holland thought he had behaved ‘in the handsomest, openest and fairest manner possible’ but wondered, as did Fitzpatrick, whether he would be so keen to surrender the office when the time came. Lord Sidmouth considered that he had ‘shown no personal solicitude for change of situation or increase of power’.34

Six weeks earlier Howick had taken a deeply pessimistic view of the peace negotiations, and when he assumed formal responsibility for their conduct he was even more ‘warlike’ than before, though still ‘anxious for peace’, if attainable with honour. The negotiations, meaningless for some time, were officially terminated within a fortnight. The government’s general foreign policy was ineffectual, but Howick did protest, almost alone, against the South American expedition. He repeatedly bemoaned his ‘inadequacy’ for the job and was made ‘quite sick’ by the defeat of Russia. When Whitbread encouraged him to ‘resist despondency’ and ‘die sword in hand’, he replied: ‘Die I believe I shall in some way or other before the session is over. I think of it with absolute horror.’ Whitbread’s condemnation of the government’s handling of the negotiations added to his discomfort, but he insisted that, if anything, they had gone ‘too far’ in their endeavours to obtain peace rather than done ‘too little’, as his brother-in-law would have it.35

On the address, 19 Dec. 1806, he replied vigorously to Canning’s attack on the government’s record. Even Abbot thought the speech ‘powerful and eloquent’ and by general consent it was one of his finest performances. William Lamb* wrote in 1813 that Howick’s appearance as leader had

excited much expectation. His commanding figure, his lofty, yet gracious deportment and his style of eloquence, somewhat measured and solemn, were peculiarly adapted to the new situation ... His first speech made an impression which I believe he had never made before; it encouraged his friends; it dismayed his opponents; and during the whole time that he remained at the head of the government he never lost the superiority which he had at first asserted; but proved himself, now that Mr Pitt and Mr Fox were gone, capable of supplying the place which they had filled.

His biggest test came on the peace negotiations, 5 Jan. 1807, when he had to answer both opposition allegations that ministers had allowed themselves to be duped by France and Whitbread’s charge that they had not tried hard enough. Although Whitbread’s amendment was negatived, Howick got little verbal support from the government benches for his reply, in which he stressed government’s determination to prosecute the war with vigour. This delighted the opposition, but upset Francis Horner* and Lady Holland, who thought he had spoken injudiciously, ‘with all the exaggerated declamation of a pupil of the Pitt school’. He defended the ministry’s military record, 21 Jan., resisted calls for the production of the recent order in council concerning neutral vessels, 4 Feb., and replied splenetically to Perceval’s condemnation of government’s conduct in the Hampshire election, 13 Feb. He introduced and passionately supported the slave trade abolition bill, 10 Feb., and gave a favourable reception to Whitbread’s Poor Law reform scheme, 19 Feb. 1807.36

Howick played a central role in the episode which led to the ministry’s fall. He sincerely desired conciliatory and remedial measures in Ireland, but shared his colleagues’ fears that the intransigence of the Irish Catholics would lead to disaster, and was a leading advocate of the concessionary measures adopted in the Catholic militia bill as a means of quieting agitation and demonstrating the government’s good faith. In Lord Spencer’s absence through illness, he handled the cabinet’s dealings with the King. The truth is far from clear, but it is at least arguable that he resorted to subterfuge in the process. When the King’s objections to the bill became known, Howick’s own instinct was to stand by it, but he acquiesced in its abandonment, largely because of ‘the state of Ireland, and the danger of adding to all the bad effects of so severe a disappointment to the Catholics the calamity of establishing a government there, founded on principles of exclusion’. He ‘never had a happy moment’ after this surrender and was relieved by the King’s unacceptable demand for a pledge as to their future conduct.37

Howick, who supported Bankes’s resolution against reversions, 24 Mar., and the attack on Perceval’s holding the duchy of Lancaster for life, 25 Mar. 1807, favoured an early demonstration of concerted opposition strength in Parliament, though he was anxious to keep the Catholics quiet. After his lengthy vindication of the fallen ministry, 26 Mar., he judged the temper of the House to be extremely favourable and exerted himself to muster support for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge which, given a good attendance, he was hopeful of carrying. In the debate, 9 Apr., he named Eldon and Hawkesbury as ‘secret advisers’ behind the throne and deplored Perceval’s appeal to religious bigotry. While the House was dividing he ‘harangued’ opposition Members in the lobby and announced that if the motion were carried, as was widely expected, he would forthwith move an address for the dismissal of ministers. Its defeat, and that of Lyttelton’s motion, 15 Apr., when he spoke briefly, disappointed him; but he thought ‘the effect as far as Parliament is concerned has not been unfavourable’.38

At the general election of 1807 he lost his county seat when the Duke of Northumberland treacherously launched a campaign to return his son, which was strengthened by ‘No Popery’ feeling, Howick’s widespread unpopularity and the hostility of local shipping interests to the late government’s American intercourse bill. Unwilling, in view of his father’s failing health, to spend money, Howick withdrew on the eve of the poll. Lord Lauderdale had already taken it upon himself to persuade the Duke of Argyll to seat him for the Ayr district of burghs for two months, but in the event Lord Thanet, ignoring his protests, gave him a temporary refuge at Appleby. In July he transferred to Bedford’s borough of Tavistock.39

Howick, eager for parliamentary warfare, moved an amendment to the address, 26 June, which condemned the dissolution and the exploitation of religious animosity, but the opposition muster of 155 against 350 fell far short of his hopes and expectations. He complained of the East India deficit, 27 June and 16 July, defended the American intercourse bill and criticized ministerial packing of the finance committee, 30 June, and got the better of Huskisson in a squabble over Ponsonby’s pension as retiring Irish chancellor, 2 and 3 July. Richard Sharp* believed his ‘very temperate, dignified and statesmanlike’ speech in support of Whitbread’s censure motion, 6 July, was his best of the session. On the Maynooth grant, 15 July, he repudiated Perceval’s charge that the ‘Talents’ had neglected the Irish church; but he gave his support to the principle, if not the details, of the Irish insurrection bill, 24 July.40 He believed that the government’s dealings with America and the seizure of the Danish fleet afforded excellent grounds for attack in the next session, but before he could concert measures his father died, 14 Nov. 1807. His removal from the Commons was regarded by all leading Whigs as a severe blow.41

Two decades of political frustration, the steadying influence of his marriage and the natural effects of the passage of time had wrought marked changes in Grey. By 1807, it was hard to recognize in him the hot-headed, ambitious, bumptious tyro of the early 1790s. Disillusionment had nourished in him an abiding pessimism, which made him prey to doubt and hesitation and, coupled with increasing laziness, sometimes inclined him to put personal convenience before political responsibility. At the same time, when it came to the point he rarely shirked his obligations, and was a faithful lieutenant to Fox, whose own vacillations did not help matters. He was certainly one of the outstanding parliamentary orators of his day, but his manner did not make him a popular figure among his contemporaries at large. Externally arrogant, supercilious and bad-tempered, he was at bottom extremely sensitive and mordantly self-critical.

Fox’s mantle sat uneasily on Grey who presided, often nominally, over the generally low fortunes of the Whigs for 27 years after his removal from the Commons. He was often lethargic, indecisive, selfish and petty, rarely capable of feeling or inspiring enthusiasm and increasingly outmoded in his adherence to a high-minded, narrow political creed. Yet he never abandoned his basic belief in the need for parliamentary reform, and it eventually fell to him to head the ministry which effected it. That the crisis of 1830-32 was successfully negotiated was due in no small measure to Grey, who, though to some extent carried along by the tide of events, responded to it with a boldness and vigour which he had not shown for many years. He died 17 July 1845.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Georgiana ed. Ld. Bessborough, 7, 183, 294; Pellew, Sidmouth, i. 45-47; Minto, i. 130, 188-9, 196, 244; W. Sichel, Sheridan, ii. 400-26; J. W. Derry, Regency Crisis, 55, 58, 65, 76, 87, 108, 126-7, 195; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 98, 100-1; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, iv. 400-1.
  • 2. Wyvill, Pol. Pprs. iii, app., pp. 128-35; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, i. 13-14; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 98; Grey, 11; H. Butterfield, ‘Fox and Whig Opposition in 1792’, Camb. Hist. Jnl. ix. (1949), 302-4; F. O’Gorman, Whig Party and French Revolution, 82-83; L. G. Mitchell, Fox and Disintegration of Whig Party, 176-7; J. Cannon, Parl. Reform, 121-2.
  • 3. Minto, ii. 11; Geo. III Corresp. i. 751; O’Gorman, 83-86; Mitchell, 177-80.
  • 4. Grey, 18-19; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 29 Oct., 4, 15 Nov. 1792; E. Hughes, ‘Scottish Reform Movement and Grey’, Scottish Hist. Rev. xxxv (1956), 26-41; O’Gorman, 117-18; Northumb. RO, Swinburne mss 614/29.
  • 5. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 1; Holland, i. 31-32; Wyvill, iii, app. pp. 189-292; Burke Corresp. vii. 371.
  • 6. A. Aspinall, Politics and Press, 451; Add. 42058, f. 121; NLS mss 11138, f. 32; Lansdowne mss, Wycombe to Lansdowne, 23 Aug. 1793; Grey, 22; O’Gorman, 165.
  • 7. Fox Corresp. iii. 65; Grey, 22; Trevelyan, 94; Wyvill, v. pp. ix-xvi; Add. 51732, Caroline Fox to Ld. Holland, 22 May 1794.
  • 8. Grey mss, Grey to Mary Ponsonby [Oct. 1794]; Add. 51706, Pelham to Lady Webster, 15 Jan. 1795; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1198; Farington, i. 90; Fox Corresp. iii. 104-5.
  • 9. Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 20 Aug., 1, 3, 14 Sept. 1795, 1 Jan., 6 Feb. 1796, to Mrs Ponsonby [Nov.] 1795; Swinburne mss 614/32-35; Alnwick mss 57, f. 103; Colchester, i. 7, 23; Farington, i. 111; O’Gorman, 213-14.
  • 10. Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1340; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 9 Dec. 1795; Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 6 Feb. 1796; Swinburne mss 614/31, 34.
  • 11. Swinburne mss 614/31; Grey to Bigge, 16 May, 16 June, 3 July, 26 Aug. 1796; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1478; Burke Corresp. ix. 152.
  • 12. Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 23 Feb. 1797; Swinburne mss 614/28, 30; Alnwick mss 58, f. 184; PRO 30/29/4/6, f. 926.
  • 13. Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1264; Alnwick mss 58, ff. 184, 219; Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 15 June 1797; Colchester, i. 104; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1566.
  • 14. Whitbread mss W1/866, 867, 869, 873; Add. 47565, f. 46; Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 11 Oct., 15, 29 Nov., 7, 22, 23, 25 Dec. 1797.
  • 15. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 170-1, 178-80; Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 9, 29 Jan., 23 Feb., 5, 24 Mar., to his wife, 21-23 May, to Mrs Ponsonby, 11 July; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss 7/2/251/3, 4; Add. 37308, f. 106; Add. 51682, Wycombe to Lady Holland, 23 Mar. 1798.
  • 16. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 215, 224; NLS mss 11052, f. 89; Fox Corresp. iii. 146; Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 14, 30 Dec. 1798; Colchester, i. 171-2.
  • 17. Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 29 Dec. 1799, to Fitzpatrick, [19 Feb.], to Holland [Apr.], Mary Grey to Bigge, 22 Jan. 1800; Add. 47565, ff. 13, 22; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 73-74.
  • 18. Whitbread mss W1/1203; Add. 51544, Grey to Holland, 7 Nov.; Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 13 Nov. 1800; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2276.
  • 19. Lansdowne mss, Tierney to Lansdowne, 19 Nov.; The Times, 3 Dec.; Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 19, 25 Nov.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife [28 Nov.], 2 Dec. 1800; Add. 38833, f. 9; 47565, ff. 10, 31; Colchester, i. 211; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2288.
  • 20. Wyvill mss 7/2/251/8, 11, 16; Add. 47565, ff. 6-8, 15-20, 27, 39; 48247, f. 1; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 126-7, 138-40; Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 1, [9] Feb. 1801.
  • 21. Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 131-2, 137; Grey mss, Grey to his wife [Mar.], 13, [14], 17 Mar. 1801; Add. 47565, f. 37.
  • 22. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii. 163; Add. 47565, f. 41; 48247, f. 79; Wyvill mss 7/2/150/13; Grey mss, Grey to his wife [June 1801].
  • 23. Add. 47565, ff. 48-58; Hants RO, Tierney mss 33a, 33b, 52g; Leveson Gower, i. 305; HMC Fortescue, vii. 71; Buckingham, iii. 181; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 147; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey [12], [15], 22 Oct., Thursday [Dec.], 19 Dec. 1801, 1, 4, 8, 9, 13, 16, 19, 23 Jan., 19 Feb. 1802, Whitbread to same, 7 Dec. 1801, 5, 28 Jan., 5 Feb., Grey to Whitbread, 31 Jan., to Ponsonby, 27 Feb. 1802; Whitbread mss W1/2408.
  • 24. Whitbread mss W1/875; Fox Corresp. iii. 366; The Times, 3 Apr. 1802; Add. 47565, ff. 38, 59, 60.
  • 25. Whitbread mss W1/877, 880, 882, 921; Add. 47565, ff. 62-71; 47566, f. 132; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 4 Dec., Grey to Fox, 5, 17 Dec. 1802.
  • 26. Grey mss, Grey to Fox, 7 Jan., 25 Feb., [4], 15, 19 Mar., to Whitbread, 20 Feb., to Bigge, 14 Mar., to his wife, 26, 27 Mar., 4, 5, 7, 19-21, 25, 30 Apr. 1803; Add. 47565, ff. 72-84; Whitbread mss W1/883.
  • 27. Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 30 Apr., 2-7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 19-21, 24, 27, 31 May, to Fox [31 May]; Add. 47565, f. 85; Creevey mss, Creevey to Currie, 24 May 1803; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 195-6; Leveson Gower, i. 421-3.
  • 28. Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 3, 22 June, 12 Nov., 6 Dec., Grey to Fox, 3, 14, 30 Aug., 26 Oct., 3, 24 Dec. 1803, 7, 13 Jan. 1804; Whitbread mss W1/885-8; Add. 47565, ff. 87-109, 236.
  • 29. Add. 47565, ff. 110, 112; Grey mss, Grey to Fox, 2, 9, 18 Feb., to his wife, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28 Feb., 1-3, 5, 7, 9, 10 Mar. 1804.
  • 30. Grey mss, Grey to Fox, 23 Mar., 8, 10, 16, 20, 22, 27 Apr., to his wife, 29 Apr., 1-8, 14-18, 24, 29, 31 May, 1, 4, 7, 11, 12, 14-19 June, Whitbread to Grey, 31 Mar., 14 Apr. 1804; Whitbread mss W1/889, 890, 892, 893, 923; Add. 47565, ff. 114-31; Rose Diaries, ii. 171.
  • 31. Add. 47565, ff. 133-41; Grey mss, Grey to Fox, 25 Nov., 30 Dec. 1804, 13 Jan. 1805; Fox Corresp. iii. 66-67; Leveson Gower, ii. 16, 55-56, 82, 86, 88; Swinburne mss 618, Grey to Swinburne, 20 Apr., 1 May, 6 June 1805.
  • 32. Grey mss, Grey to Fox, 1, 7, 10, 20 July, 23 Aug., 22 Sept. 1805, 5 Jan. 1806, to Whitbread, 15 July 1805; Add. 47565, ff. 143-55; Creevey Pprs. i. 45; NLS mss 9370, f. 94.
  • 33. Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 7 Feb., replies [7], [8] Feb. 1806; Alnwick mss 63, f. 62; HMC Fortescue, viii. 48, 52-53, 76-77, 119; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2204; Creevey Pprs. i. 81; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3233.
  • 34. Buckingham, iii. 40-72; HMC Fortescue, viii. 74, 241-2, 316-19, 337-49; Grey mss, Whitbread to Howick, 4, 7, 9 Sept., Howick to Whitbread, 8, 20 Sept., to Holland, 21 Sept.; Add. 51544, Holland to Howick [22 Sept.] 1806; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2229, 2239; Leveson Gower, ii. 215; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 170-3, 182, 184-5; Holland, ii. 53-62; Pellew, Sidmouth, ii. 438.
  • 35. Grey mss, Howick to Whitbread, 2 Aug., 2, 17 Dec., to Holland, 28 Sept., 2 Nov., to Lauderdale, 1 Oct., to Adair, 7 Oct., Whitbread to Howick, 30 Nov., 10, 12, 16 Dec. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 365, 371-2, 392; Grey, 135; Trevelyan, 149-52; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 203.
  • 36. Colchester, ii. 84; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3351, 3373; Sheridan Letters, ii. 307; NLS mss 1041, f. 99; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss, box 16, Lamb autobiog.; Harrowby mss, R. Ryder to Harrowby, 7 Jan. 1807; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 196-7; Leveson Gower, ii. 236; Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 15, 17 Feb. 1807.
  • 37. M. Roberts, Whig Party, 13-34; Grey mss, Howick to Bedford, 4 Dec. 1806, 15 Jan., 18 Feb., 6, 19 Mar. 1807, to G. Ponsonby, 31 Dec. 1806, 10 Jan., 18 Feb., to Ld. Ponsonby, 11 Jan., 19 Mar., to Fitzwilliam, 17, 19 Mar. 1807; HMC Fortescue, ix. 61, 115-16; Colchester, ii. 93-96; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3388, 3394.
  • 38. Grey mss, Howick to Auckland, 22 Mar., to Ponsonby 27, 28 Mar., 24 Apr. 1807; Buckingham, iii. 147; Leveson Gower, ii. 243; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 48; Holland, ii. 219; HMC Fortescue, ix. 131; Colchester, ii. 119; Ld. Melbourne’s Pprs. 36-37; Add. 51550, Howick to Lady Holland [16 Apr. 1807].
  • 39. See NORTHUMBERLAND; Fortescue mss, Lauderdale to Grenville [15] May, Holland to same [16] May, Tierney to same, 24 May; Grey mss, Thanet to Howick, 21, 24 May, Bedford to same, 23, 31 May, Howick to Holland, 30 May 1807.
  • 40. Grey mss, Howick to Holland, 30 May, to Ponsonby, 2 June, to Lady Holland, 12 June 1807; Farington, iv. 140; Add. 51593, Sharp to Holland [6 July 1807].
  • 41. Grey mss, Howick to Whitbread, 23 Oct., to Holland, 13 Nov.; Lansdowne mss, Howick to Petty, 5 Nov.; Add. 41852, f. 323; Add. 52178, Brougham to Allen, 17 Nov. 1807; Leveson Gower, ii. 307; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F32/60.