GREY, Hon. Charles (1804-1870), of Sheen, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



26 June 1832 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 15 Mar. 1804, 2nd s. of Charles Grey†, 2nd Earl Grey (d. 1845), and Mary Elizabeth, da. of William Brabazon Ponsonby† of Bishop’s Court, co. Kildare; bro. of Henry George Grey, Visct. Howick*. m. 26 July 1836, Caroline Eliza, da. of Sir Thomas Harvie Farquhar, 2nd bt., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. d. 31 Mar. 1870.

Offices Held

2nd lt. Rifle Brigade 1820; lt. 23 Ft. 1823; capt. 43 Ft. 1825; maj. unattached (half-pay) 1828; maj. 60 Ft. 1829; lt.-col. unattached (half-pay) 1831; lt.-col. 71 Ft. 1833; half-pay 1842; col. army 1846; maj.-gen. 1854; col. 3 Ft. 1860; lt.-gen. 1861; col. 71 Ft. 1863-d.; gen. 1865.

Priv. sec. to fa. as first ld. of treasury Aug. 1832-July 1834, to Prince Albert 1849-61, to Queen Victoria 1861-d.; jt.-keeper of privy purse 1866-d.


Grey’s father preferred him to his elder brother Lord Howick and, remembering his own misery at Eton, had him educated privately and carefully at their Northumberland home at Howick, where a relaxed regime gave him a happy boyhood, although idleness was not tolerated and much stress was laid on duty and obligation.1 Lord Grey was unhappy with his choice of an army career (in the tradition of his grandfather), believing that the law would serve him better, but obtained for him a commission in the Rifle Brigade in November 1820, when he told Grey’s mother:

This, I conclude, will give him pleasure. It inspires me only with melancholy, in thinking that with the talents and advantages of education he possesses, the highest distinctions of the state as well as reputation and fortune are within his power and that he abandoned them for a profession in which he will too probably live uncomfortably and die a beggar. I am afraid however that the die must now be considered as cast, and I have only to pray that he may never find reason to repent his choice.2

When Grey went to Ireland with his regiment in 1821 his father, commenting that ‘though the army is your profession ... you are not to consider yourself precluded from other things’, namely diplomacy or Parliament, exhorted him to read Demosthenes and Homer.3 The following year Lord Holland’s son Henry Fox*, a guest at Howick, found him to be ‘clever, and agreeable from his boyish high spirits’.4 His father bought him a captaincy in the 43 Foot in 1825 and, after a spell near Edinburgh, where he was urged to take advantage of its ‘opportunities for improvement’, and assisting in Lord Howick’s unsuccessful bids to secure the Northumberland county seat in the spring of 1826, he was on active service in Portugal from November that year until the end of 1827.5 Lord Grey purchased him a half-pay majority for £1,400 in 1828, when he was an aide-de-camp to Lord Anglesey as lord lieutenant of Ireland in the Wellington ministry.6 After Anglesey’s recall and the concession of Catholic emancipation, he was stationed with his regiment at Limerick, whence he went to Ennis in August 1829 to witness the county Clare by-election which saw the final return of Daniel O’Connell. He formed the erroneous opinion that ‘O’Connell and his set are very well disposed to be quiet and conciliatory’.7 By April 1830, when he was still in Ireland, he was anxious to secure promotion; but it was not until July 1831, by which time his father, an enthusiastic practitioner of nepotism, was in power as the head of the reform ministry, that he obtained a half-pay lieutenant-colonelcy.8 For most of that year he was abroad, spending time at Gibraltar and sailing to Turkey in his sailor brother Frederick’s ship.9

In June 1832 he was sent by his father’s ministry to contest a vacancy for Chipping Wycombe on the interest of the largely Whig corporation. According to his opponent Benjamin Disraeli†, whose father lived at nearby Bradenham, and who, having failed to obtain government backing, stood on an ostensibly radical platform, Grey was provided with two treasury minders, and on his first appearance in the borough ‘made a stammering speech of ten minutes from his phaeton’. Though completely outshone on the hustings by the flamboyant Disraeli, Grey, who at the nomination praised his father as a veteran reformer, denied being a government nominee, said that he would ‘never’ support the ballot or triennial parliaments and advocated economy, retrenchment and ‘a total and effectual alteration’ of Irish tithes, had a comfortable victory.10 He took his seat on 2 July and was in the government majorities on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July 1832, but is not known to have spoken in debate in the six weeks before the Parliament was dissolved. He was his father’s private secretary from that time until the end of his premiership in 1834. He successfully contested Chipping Wycombe at the general elections of 1832 and 1835, but retired from Parliament, where he made no mark, in 1837. He found his metier as a dedicated and discreet private secretary first to the Prince Consort, of whose Early Life he published an account in 1867, and then to Queen Victoria. He paid homage to his father with his reverential Life and Opinions of the 2nd Earl Grey (1861). He suffered a paralytic stroke on 26 Mar. 1870 and died without regaining consciousness five days later at his apartment in St. James’s Palace.11 His elder son Charles had died in 1855, but the survivor, Albert Henry George (1851-1917), succeeded Howick as 4th Earl Grey in 1894.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. E.A. Smith, Lord Grey, 92, 137-9; Oxford DNB.
  • 2. Grey mss, Grey to Lady Grey, 9 Nov. 1820; Smith, 142-3.
  • 3. Smith, 143.
  • 4. Fox Jnl. 145.
  • 5. Grey mss GRE/B22/1/4-30, 41-70.
  • 6. Smith, 143-4.
  • 7. Grey mss B22/1/72, 73.
  • 8. Ibid. B22/2/7.
  • 9. Grey mss D1A.
  • 10. Bucks Gazette, 16, 23, 30 June 1832; Disraeli Letters, i. 201.
  • 11. The Times, 1 Apr. 1870.