William Wyndham Grenville, son of Prime Minister George Grenville, and a first cousin of the Younger Pitt was born in 1759. He went to Eton and Oxford (as do and did so many PMs), and was sitting in the House of Commons as a Member for a Buckinghamshire constituency for only eight years before being raised to the peerage as a Baron in 1790 when he was 31.
One year before becoming a Baron he was Home Secretary, and became Foreign Secretary during crucial years for the British Empire – 1791 to 1801.
During cousin Pitt’s second administration Grenville chided him not very gently for his policies at home, which kept him out of the Cabinet, but Young Mr Pitt could not ignore Grenville’s immense popularity both inside the House and out of it.It was just as well that after Pitt’s premature death, Grenville was personally invited by George III to form a coalition government. For those students who are not quite certain what a ‘coalition government’ is, Britain has one now. Mr Cameron (Conservatives) and Mr Clegg (Liberal Democrats) are joint prime ministers, and the Cabinet contains officials from both parties. Another famous coalition was in action throughout the Second World War, with Clement Atlee as Deputy Prime Minister to Winston Churchill.
Lord Grenville formed what has been well-named ‘The Ministry of all the talents’ which lasted from February 1806 to March, 1807. There can be no doubt that it was this administration which successfully steered Parliament (to use an appropriate nautical term) through the Bill abolishing the slave trade. Careful students will note that the Bill stopped the trafficking of slaves sold by their tribal leaders in Coastal North Africa to the ship-borne traders, who then took them across the Atlantic in the most dreadful conditions for sale in the Caribbean and the United States. It did not, because it could not, stop owners from keeping slaves in those western plantations. Both the British and the United States navies combined to sweep the seas free of the slave traders. If caught, the Law entitled Britain to hang every member of the slave trader’s crew. In the days before modern communications, however, traders spotting a Government vessel approaching bristling with guns, often had time to unload their ship of every slave on it before being arrested. Still this Bill effectively stopped more than two hundred years of the lucrative trade in human souls, in which all maritime powers were very much involved, though the list was headed by Britain, the United States, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and France.
Later Grenville fell out with George III over Catholic Emancipation, and he resigned. Portland succeeded him as PM and though he stayed as a Member of Parliament he never held a cabinet post again. He died at the age of seventy-five in 1834.
Charles Grey was born in 1764, was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and became Member of Parliament for Northumberland in 1786. He was a supporter of the firebrand Charles James Fox (q.v.), opposing war with republican France, for instance, and working towards drastic parliamentary reform. Grey’s dislike of the idea of war with France dissolved when Napoleon formed his ‘Consulate’ system of government. This meant France being ruled by three Consuls, of which the Chief Consul would have all the power (Napoleon) and the other two did not. The original idea (Sieyés’) did not foresee this, but Napoleon had ‘adapted’ it to his convenience
Grey succeeded Fox in the Coalition Government of 1806 – 7 (see above), but despite becoming the 2nd Earl Grey in 1807 at the personal recommendation of George III, he fell out with the King (as had Grenville) over Catholic Emancipation and the Government fell in March, 1807. This began a period of twenty-three years in which Grey remained out of office. Working in the Opposition, he campaigned for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. Then he made a bad career move: in the hateful personal conflict between George IV and his wife, Grey took Queen Caroline’s side in 1820. This made Grey an enemy of George IV. He had to maintain a low profile until the crown changed heads, making William IV king. He invited Grey to form a Whig (basically liberal) Government, with which Grey was able at last to carrry out much-needed parliamentary reform, after which he retired in 1834, and died in 1845 at the age of eighty-one.
It is said that this peer had a brand of excellent tea named after him, a blend of various teas with a balsamic ambience known to day as ‘The Earl Grey’.
Edward Grey was born in 1862. His great-grandfather was Charles Grey’s brother (see above). Edward went to Winchester (even older than Eton; founded by William of Wykeham) and Balliol, Oxford.
He became a Liberal MP (for Berwick) in 1885 at the age of twenty-three and stayed in that seat of 31 years. He was Under-Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs from 1892 – 5, but from December of 1895 he was Foreign Secretary, until May, 1916. This became a record.
It was Grey who orchestrated the Anglo-Russian Entente (mutual understanding) of 1907. He also allowed military conversation to be maintained between Britain and The French and Belgians, eventually with the Russians as well. Before this, such discussions about defence between great nations might have been seen as spying, but Grey saw to it that it was not.
He was basically pacifist, hating wars and seeing their uselessness clearly, but he made it cleato Parliament in August, 1914 that he saw Britain obliged to defend Belgium if attacked. When this happened, it was the start of the Great War.
During the Balkan Wars (which are more or less permanent, and always have been) Grey worked tirelessly as an arbitrator. Despite going blind, he also championed the idea of the League of Nations. Edward Grey was one of the very last men to stay in politics from a sense of duty to his country rather than personal choice or as a paying proposition. He died at the age of seventy-one in 1933 as Viscount Grey of Falloden.
Sir George Grey was a professional soldier and colonial administrator, passing out from Sandhurst Military College (the British equivalent of West Point and St. Cyr) and becoming an infantry officer from 1828 – 39). In 1841 (at the age of twenty-nine) he became Governor of South Australia, where he re-organised the administration, recovered the finances, and made himself a renowned name as someone who gets things done.
In 1845 he moved to New Zealand where he governed both islands successfully from that year until 1853, making himself agreeable and popular with the Maoris. Always restless, he was transferred to the Cape Colony (Africa) in 1853, where was again successful until he blotted his copybook by suggesting a ‘South African Federation’. Unpopular with the Foreign Office, but always popular with those he governed, he returned to New Zealand from 1861 – 7, in time to end the Maori War but making himself enormously unpopular with military personnel; they disliked his directness and rather abrupt way with senior officers (he probably thought them crapulous, and said so!).
After being ordered back to England, he spent some time doing very little except encouraging state-aided emigration to ‘The Colonies’, before returning to his beloved New Zealand where he served in the House of Representatives for twenty years from 1874. He was Prime Minister in 1877 and stayed in this post for two years. He made a number of important reforms including adult suffrage (getting people the vote), three-year parliaments, and taxes on land ownership.
He returned to England in 1894 and died four years later at the age of eighty-six.