George Grenville - Encyclopedia

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GEORGE GRENVILLE (1712-1770), English statesman, second son of Richard Grenville and Hester Temple, afterwards Countess Temple, was born on the 14th of October 1712. He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, and was called to the bar in 1735. He entered parliament in 1741 as member for Buckingham, and continued to represent that borough till his death. In parliament he was a member of the "Boy Patriot" party which opposed Sir Robert Walpole. In December 1744 he became a lord of the admiralty in the Pelham administration. He allied himself with his brother Richard and with William Pitt in forcing their feeble chief to give them promotion by rebelling against his authority and obstructing business. In June 1747 he became a lord of the treasury, and in 1754 treasurer of the navy and privy councillor. As treasurer of the navy in 1758 he introduced and carried a bill which established a less unfair system of paying the wages of the seamen than had existed before. He remained in office in 1761, when his brother Lord Temple and his brother-in-law Pitt resigned upon the question of the war with Spain, and in the administration of Lord Bute he was entrusted with the leadership of the House of Commons. In May 1762 he was appointed secretary of state, and in October first lord of the admiralty; and in April 1763 he became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. The most prominent measures of his administration were the prosecution of Wilkes and the passing of the American Stamp Act, which led to the first symptoms of alienation between America and the mother country. During the latter period of his term of office he was on a very unsatisfactory footing with the young king George III., who gradually came to feel a kind of horror of the interminable persistency of his conversation, and whom he endeavoured to make use of as the mere puppet of the ministry. The king made various attempts to induce Pitt to come to his rescue by forming a ministry, but without success, and at last had recourse to the marquis of Rockingham, on whose agreeing to accept office Grenville was dismissed July 1765. He never again held office, and died on the 13th of November 1770.

The nickname of "gentle shepherd" was given him because he bored the House by asking over and over again, during the debate on the Cider Bill of 1763, that somebody should tell him "where" to lay the new tax if it was not to be put on cider. Pitt whistled the air of the popular tune "Gentle Shepherd, tell me where," and the House laughed. Though few excelled him in a knowledge of the forms of the House or in mastery of administrative details, his tact in dealing with men and with affairs was so defective that there is perhaps no one who has been at the head of an English administration to whom a lower place can be assigned as a statesman.

In 1749 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Wyndham, by whom he had a large family. His son, the second Earl Temple, was created marquess, and his grandson duke, of Buckingham. Another son was William, afterwards Lord Grenville. Another, Thomas Grenville (1755-1846), who was, with one interval, a member of parliament from 1780 to 1818, and for a few months during 1806 and 1807 president of the board of control and first lord of the admiralty, is perhaps more famous as a book-collector than as a statesman; he bequeathed his large and valuable library to the British Museum.

The Grenville Papers, being the Correspondence of Richard Grenville, Earl Temple, K.G., and the Right Hon. George Grenville, their Friends and Contemporaries, were published at London in 1852, and afford the chief authority for his life. But see also H. Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George II. (London, 1845); Lord Stanhope's History of England (London, 1858); Lecky's History of England (1885) and E. D. Adams, The Influence of Grenville on Pitt's Foreign Policy (Washington, 1904).

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