NORTH, Hon. Frederick (1766-1827).

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



21 Sept. 1792 - Feb. 1794

Family and Education

b. 7 Feb. 1766, 3rd s. of Frederick North*, 2nd Earl of Guilford, and bro. of George Augustus North*. educ. Eton 1775-82; Christ Church, Oxf. 1782. unm. suc. bro. Francis as 5th Earl of Guilford 11 Jan. 1817; GCMG 21 Oct. 1819.

Offices Held

Chamberlain of Exchequer Dec. 1779-Oct. 1826; comptroller of customs, London Feb. 1794-1812; sec. of state in Corsica Jan. 1795-1797; gov. and v.-adm. Ceylon Mar. 1798-July 1805; chancellor, Univ. of Corfu 1819-27.


In his maiden speech, North informed the House that ‘a life of sickness and exile had ... almost from his infancy, separated him from his country’, and in 1816 Lady Spencer described him as ‘a poor creature, and so little of an Englishman that there is no point of contact with him’. The Dey of Algiers gave him permission to tour his seraglio: ‘He is so ugly, let him see them all’. Others viewed him more favourably: Sir Gilbert Elliot wrote of him in 1788 as ‘the invalid, who is the only pleasant son of the family, and he is very remarkably so’ and, a year later, that he had ‘all the cleverness and drollery and agreeableness of his family’. Hannah More thought him ‘a very agreeable and accomplished young man ... so learned, so pleasant and with so fine a taste’.1 At Oxford he became an ardent philhellene and on 23 Jan. 1791 was received into the Orthodox church in Corfu. He returned from his travels too late to see his father alive and came in for the family borough on the vacancy caused by his death.

When he entered the House, North’s eldest brother was expected to be won over to government with the Portland Whigs but by December 1792 it was clear that this would not be the case. North himself was listed a Portland Whig that month and expressed dismay at his brother’s reluctance to give up Fox. In his impromptu maiden speech, 15 Dec. 1792, a ‘very unpleasant’ obligation, he came out against the recognition of the revolutionary regime in France advocated by Fox. On 10 and 17 Feb. 1793 he attended the ‘third party’ meetings at Windham’s house. On 15 Mar. and in a set speech on 21 Mar., he defended the traitorous correspondence bill: the latter, abridged because of his ‘confusion’, was his last attempt, for he regarded himself as a failure in debate. In May 1793 he was indisposed and in December smitten by gout, but promised to attend the opening of the session that day in a letter to Windham of 28 Jan. 1794, which indicated his wholehearted acceptance of Windham’s political line of rallying to the government. It seems, however, that he disliked the contention that recruits to office were henceforward to be labelled Pittites. Shortly afterwards he succeeded to the reversionary office of comptroller of the customs of London on the death of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, which brought him no more than £300 p.a., but obliged him to vacate his seat.2

In August 1794 Sir Gilbert Elliot’s cousin William Elliot reported to him in dismay that Henry Dundas was anxious to foist North on Sir Gilbert as his secretary on his becoming viceroy of Corsica. Believing that Sir Gilbert had discovered that North’s ‘high spirits’ were annoying, he took the liberty of pressing Windham to recommend North to ministers as diplomatic successor to William Wyndham at Florence. A month later Elliot thought it a pity North was ‘so irksome’ to Sir Gilbert, as he had ‘many excellent qualities’ and seemed to want to go to Corsica, though he might not like it there. On 1 Dec. 1794, hearing that Sir Gilbert had capitulated, Elliot supposed that he could do no other and consoled him with the Duke of Portland’s opinion that North might be induced to decline, especially as there was talk of ‘some other promotion’ for him. But to Corsica he went with £1,500 p.a. and the viceroy confessed that he had misjudged him: he was ‘the greatest acquisition that any man ever made’. To Windham Sir Gilbert enlarged on his fitness ‘for the foreign line’ and commended North’s ambition to be awarded a diplomatic post at Rome, Naples or Florence.3

North’s real diplomatic ambition was Constantinople, but he went instead as first English governor to Ceylon. Apart from the outbreak of hostilities with the King of Kandy for which he was criticized in Parliament, his administration was reputable and humane. George III extended to him the benevolence he repeatedly professed for the whole family. In November 1802 there was a possibility of his being transferred to Madras, but he remained in Ceylon. In December 1804 he desired to resign for health reasons. Thereafter he devoted himself to his philhellenic interests, becoming first chancellor of the university of the Ionian islands in Corfu, which he had been instrumental in promoting. The Speaker reported of him in 1806: ‘He grows every day more like his father—in bulk and countenance. In wit and humour he always resembled him strongly.’ He died 14 Oct. 1827, ‘a pleasant but a singular man’.4

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Debrett (ser. 2), xxxv. 101; Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, Tues. [23 Oct. 1816]; Broughton Recollections, i. 36; Minto, i. 235, 286; Roberts, Mems. Hannah More, ii. 157.
  • 2. Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 494; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 171; NLS mss 11138, f. 63; 11140, f. 145; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 8 Jan. 1794; Windham Pprs. i. 209; Add. 37874, f. 6; Chatsworth mss, Lady E. Foster jnl. 28 Jan. 1794.
  • 3. NLS mss 11138, ff. 71, 89, 106; 12900, Sir G. to W. Elliot, 1 Oct. 1795; Windham Pprs. i. 304.
  • 4. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 371, 388, 396, 407; Bucks. RO, Hobart mss C266; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2979; DNB; Add. 35645, f. 316; Colchester, iii. 107.