The Earl Grey
Portrait by Thomas Phillips, c. 1820
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
22 November 1830 – 9 July 1834
MonarchWilliam IV
Preceded byThe Duke of Wellington
Succeeded byThe Viscount Melbourne
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
22 November 1830 – 9 July 1834
Preceded byThe Duke of Wellington
Succeeded byThe Viscount Melbourne
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
24 September 1806 – 25 March 1807
Preceded byCharles James Fox
Succeeded byGeorge Canning
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
24 September 1806 – 31 March 1807
Preceded byCharles James Fox
Succeeded bySpencer Perceval
First Lord of the Admiralty
In office
11 February 1806 – 24 September 1806
Preceded byThe Lord Barham
Succeeded byThomas Grenville
Member of the House of Lords
Hereditary peerage
15 November 1807 – 17 July 1845
Preceded byThe 1st Earl Grey
Succeeded byThe 3rd Earl Grey
Member of Parliament
for Northumberland
In office
14 September 1786 – 14 November 1807
Preceded byLord Algernon Percy
Succeeded byEarl Percy
Personal details
Born(1764-03-13)13 March 1764
Fallodon, Northumberland, England
Died17 July 1845(1845-07-17) (aged 81)
Howick, Northumberland, England
Political partyWhig
(m. 1794)
Children16, including Henry, Charles, Frederick, and Eliza Courtney (illegitimate)
RelativesHouse of Grey (family)
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey KG PC (13 March 1764 – 17 July 1845), known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was a British Whig politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. He was a descendant of the House of Grey and the namesake of Earl Grey tea.[1] Grey was a long-time leader of multiple reform movements. During his time as prime minister, his government brought about two notable reforms. The Reform Act 1832 enacted parliamentary reform, greatly increasing the electorate of the House of Commons.[2]

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 led to the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire via a programme of compensated emancipation. Grey was a strong opponent of the foreign and domestic policies of William Pitt the Younger in the 1790s. In 1807, he resigned as foreign secretary to protest against George III's uncompromising rejection of Catholic emancipation. Grey finally resigned as prime minister in 1834 over disagreements in his cabinet regarding Ireland, and retired from politics. Scholars rank him highly among British prime ministers, believing that he averted much civil strife and enabled Victorian progress.[2]

Early life

Shield of arms of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey

Descended from a long-established Northumbrian family seated at Howick Hall, Grey was the second but eldest surviving son of General Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey KB (1729–1807) and his wife Elizabeth (1743/4–1822), a daughter of George Grey of Southwick, County Durham. He had four brothers and two sisters. He was educated at Richmond School,[3] followed by Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge,[4] acquiring a facility in Latin and in English composition and declamation that enabled him to become one of the foremost parliamentary orators of his generation.

Early political career

Grey was elected to Parliament for the Northumberland constituency on 14 September 1786, aged just 22. He became a part of the Whig circle of Charles James Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and the Prince of Wales, and soon became one of the major leaders of the Whig party. He was the youngest manager on the committee for prosecuting Warren Hastings. The Whig historian T. B. Macaulay wrote in 1841:

At an age when most of those who distinguish themselves in life are still contending for prizes and fellowships at college, he had won for himself a conspicuous place in Parliament. No advantage of fortune or connection was wanting that could set off to the height his splendid talents and his unblemished honour. At twenty-three he had been thought worthy to be ranked with the veteran statesmen who appeared as the delegates of the British Commons, at the bar of the British nobility. All who stood at that bar, save him alone, are gone, culprit, advocates, accusers. To the generation which is now in the vigour of life, he is the sole representative of a great age which has passed away. But those who, within the last ten years, have listened with delight, till the morning sun shone on the tapestries of the House of Lords, to the lofty and animated eloquence of Charles Earl Grey, are able to form some estimate of the powers of a race of men among whom he was not the foremost.[5]

Grey in a blue coat, white waistcoat and tied cravat, and powdered hair, by Henry Bone (after Thomas Lawrence), August 1794

Grey was also noted for advocating Parliamentary reform and electoral reform. During the French Revolution and the Revolutionary ideals of liberty, freedom and equality became widespread across Europe and beyond. In Britain, the demand for universal suffrage caused the British government in 1790, to impose serious legislation against sedition and revolutionary activities deemed as against British values of democracy. The passage of these measures were by the dominant Tory Party and Prime Minister Pitt, whose Later tenure was dubbed by his enemies as "Pitt's Terror". Charles Fox and Richard Sheridan Brinsley, key allies and mentors of the young Grey, denounced the government's actions for suppressing reform movements due to association with revolutionary ideals.

In 1792 he was the main force behind a petition submitted to Parliament in favor of reforms aimed at restoring "the freedom of election and a more equal representation of the people in parliament, and securing to the people a more frequent exercise of their right of electing their representatives," as a 1884 book described it.[6] The 1792 petition produced no change but in 1832 he pursued the goal more satisfactorily with passage of the Great Reform Bill. In his drive for fairer representation, he favored Catholic emancipation. His affair with Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, herself an active political campaigner, did him little harm although it nearly caused her to be divorced by her husband.

Foreign secretary, 1806–1807

In 1806, Grey, by then Lord Howick owing to his father's elevation to the peerage as Earl Grey, became a part of the Ministry of All the Talents (a coalition of Foxite Whigs, Grenvillites, and Addingtonites) as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Following Fox's death later that year, Howick took over both as foreign secretary and as leader of the Whigs. The ministry broke up in 1807 when George III blocked Catholic Emancipation legislation and required that all ministers individually sign a pledge, which Howick refused to do, that they would not "propose any further concessions to the Catholics".[7]

Years in opposition, 1807–1830

A group of naked British Whig politicians, including three Grenvilles, Sheridan, St. Vincent, Moira, Temple, Erskine, Howick, Petty, Whitbread, Sheridan, Windham, and Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln, crossing the river Styx in a boat named the Broad Bottom Packet. Sidmouth's head emerges from the water next to the boat. The boat's torn sail has the inscription "Catholic Emancipation" and the centre mast is crowned with the Prince of Wales feathers and the motto "Ich Dien". On the far side the shades of Cromwell, Charles Fox and Robespierre wave to them. Overhead, on brooms, are the Three Fates; to the left is a three-headed dog. Above the boat three birds soil the boat and politicians.
In Charon's Boat (1807), James Gillray caricatured the fall of the Whig administration, with Howick taking the role of Charon rowing the boat.

The government fell from power the next year, and, after a brief period as a member of parliament for Appleby from May to July 1807, Howick went to the Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. He continued in opposition for the next 23 years. There were times during this period when Grey came close to joining the Government. In 1811, the Prince Regent tried to court Grey and his ally William Grenville to join the Spencer Perceval ministry following the resignation of Lord Wellesley. Grey and Grenville declined because the Prince Regent refused to make concessions regarding Catholic Emancipation.[8] Grey's relationship with the Prince was strained further when his estranged daughter and heiress, Princess Charlotte, turned to him for advice on how to avoid her father's choice of husband for her.[9]

On the Napoleonic Wars, Grey took the standard Whig party line. After being initially enthused by the Spanish uprising against Napoleon, Grey became convinced of the French emperor's invincibility following the defeat and death of Sir John Moore, the leader of the British forces in the Peninsular War.[10] Grey was then slow to recognise the military successes of Moore's successor, the Duke of Wellington.[11] When Napoleon first abdicated in 1814, Grey objected to the restoration of the Bourbons' authoritarian monarchy; and when Napoleon was reinstalled the following year, he said that the change was an internal French matter.[12]

In 1826, believing that the Whig party no longer paid any attention to his opinions, Grey stood down as leader in favour of Lord Lansdowne.[13] The following year, when George Canning succeeded Lord Liverpool as prime minister, it was, therefore, Lansdowne and not Grey who was asked to join the Government, which needed strengthening following the resignations of Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington.[14] When Wellington became prime minister in 1828, George IV (as the Prince Regent had become) singled out Grey as the one person he could not appoint to the Government.[15]

Prime minister (1830–1834)


Further information: Whig government, 1830–1834

In 1830, following the death of George IV and the resignation of the Duke of Wellington on the question of Parliamentary reform, the Whigs finally returned to power, with Grey as prime minister. In 1831, he was made a member of the Order of the Garter. His term was a notable one, seeing the passage of the Reform Act 1832, which finally saw the reform of the House of Commons, and the abolition of slavery throughout almost all of the British Empire in 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act. As the years had passed, however, Grey had become more conservative, and he was cautious about initiating more far-reaching reforms, particularly since he knew that the King was at best only a reluctant supporter of reform.[citation needed]

Colonial policy

Grey contributed to a plan to found a new colony in South Australia: in 1831 a "Proposal to His Majesty's Government for founding a colony on the Southern Coast of Australia" was prepared under the auspices of Robert Gouger, Anthony Bacon, Jeremy Bentham and Grey, but its ideas were considered too radical, and it was unable to attract the required investment.[16] In the same year, Grey was appointed to serve on the Government Commission upon Emigration (which was wound up in 1832).[17]

Social policy

In 1831 two acts were introduced concerning Truck wages. The first repealed all existing enactments on the subject of truck "and the second provided that workmen in a number of the principal industries must receive payment in the current coin of the realm."[18]

Catholic emancipation and retirement

It was the issue of Ireland which precipitated the end of Grey's premiership in 1834. Lord Anglesey, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, preferred conciliatory reform including the partial redistribution of the income from the tithes to the Roman Catholic Church and away from the established Church of Ireland, a policy known as "appropriation".[19] The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Stanley, however, preferred coercive measures.[20] The cabinet was divided, and when Lord John Russell drew attention in the House of Commons to their differences over appropriation, Stanley and others resigned.[21] This triggered Grey to retire from public life, leaving Lord Melbourne as his successor. Unlike most politicians, he seems to have genuinely preferred a private life; colleagues remarked caustically that he threatened to resign at every setback.

Grey returned to Howick but kept a close eye on the policies of the new cabinet under Melbourne, whom he, and especially his family, regarded as a mere understudy until he began to act in ways of which they disapproved. Grey became more critical as the decade went on, being particularly inclined to see the hand of Daniel O'Connell behind the scenes and blaming Melbourne for subservience to the Radicals with whom he identified the Irish patriot. He made no allowances for Melbourne's need to keep the radicals on his side to preserve his shrinking majority in the Commons, and in particular, he resented any slight on his own great achievement, the Reform Act, which he saw as a final solution of the question for the foreseeable future. He continually stressed its conservative nature. As he declared in his last great public speech, at the Grey Festival organised in his honour at Edinburgh in September 1834, its purpose was to strengthen and preserve the established constitution, to make it more acceptable to the people at large, and especially the middle classes, who had been the principal beneficiaries of the Reform Act, and to establish the principle that future changes would be gradual, "according to the increased intelligence of the people, and the necessities of the times".[22] It was the speech of a conservative statesman.[23]

Lord Grey's ministry, November 1830 – July 1834

Lord Grey atop Grey's Monument, looking down Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne


Personal life

Mary Grey, Countess Grey with her children Caroline and Georgiana

Before his marriage, Grey had an affair with the married Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Grey met Cavendish while attending a Whig society meeting in Devonshire House, and they became lovers. In 1791 she became pregnant and was sent to France, where she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, who was raised by Grey's parents:[24][25][26]

Marriage and legitimate children

On 18 November 1794, Grey married Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby (1776–1861), only daughter of William Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly and Louisa Molesworth. The marriage was a fruitful one; between 1796 and 1819 the couple had ten sons and six daughters:[28]

Inscription on Grey's Monument

Later years and death

Grave at Howick Hall in Howick, Northumberland

Grey spent his last years in contented, if sometimes fretful, retirement at Howick with his books, his family, and his dogs. The one great personal blow he suffered in old age was the death of his favourite grandson, Charles, at the age of 13. Grey became physically feeble in his last years and died quietly in his bed on 17 July 1845, forty-four years to the day since going to live at Howick.[29] He was buried in the Church of St Michael and All Angels there on the 26th in the presence of his family, close friends, and the labourers on his estate.[23]

His biographer G. M. Trevelyan argues:

in our domestic history 1832 is the next great landmark after 1688 ... [It] saved the land from revolution and civil strife and made possible the quiet progress of the Victorian era.[30]


Earl Grey tea is commonly believed to be named after Grey

Grey is commemorated by Grey's Monument in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne, which consists of a statue of Lord Grey standing atop a 40 m (130 ft) high column.[31] The monument was damaged by lightning in 1941 and the statue's head was knocked off.[32] The monument lends its name to Monument Metro station on the Tyne and Wear Metro, located directly underneath.[33] Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne, which runs south-east from the monument, is also named after Grey.[34]

Durham University's Grey College is named after Grey, who as prime minister in 1832 supported the Act of Parliament that established the university.[35]

Earl Grey tea, a blend which uses bergamot oil to flavour the brew, is commonly believed to be named after Grey, although the term was apparently first used decades after his death.[36]


  1. ^ Kramer, Ione. All the Tea in China. China Books, 1990. ISBN 0-8351-2194-1. pp. 180–181.
  2. ^ a b Paul Strangio; Paul 't Hart; James Walter, eds. (2013). Understanding Prime-Ministerial Performance: Comparative Perspectives. Oxford University Press. p. 225. ISBN 9780199666423.
  3. ^ "Info" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Grey, Charles (GRY781C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ Thomas Babington Macaulay, ‘Warren Hastings’, Edinburgh Review LXXIV (October 1841), pp. 160–255.
  6. ^ Paul, The History of Reform, p. 62-69
  7. ^ Smith 1996, p. 125
  8. ^ Smith, E.A. (1996). Lord Grey 1764–1845. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited. pp. 198–199. ISBN 978-0750911276.
  9. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 222–226
  10. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 169–171
  11. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 172–174
  12. ^ Smith, 1996 pp 176–8
  13. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 240–241
  14. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 241–242
  15. ^ Smith, 1996 pp245-6
  16. ^ "Foundation of the Province". SA Memory. State Library of South Australia. 5 February 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  17. ^ "Emigration from the United Kingdom" (PDF). Journal of the Statistical Society of London. 1 (3): 156–157. July 1838. doi:10.2307/2337910. JSTOR 2337910 – via JSTOR.
  18. ^ Conservative social and industrial reform: A record of Conservative legislation between 1800 and 1974 by Charles E, Bellairs, P.10
  19. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 288–293
  20. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, p. 301
  21. ^ Smith (paperback) 1996, pp. 304–305
  22. ^ Edinburgh Weekly Journal, 17 September 1834
  23. ^ a b E. A. Smith, 'Grey, Charles, second Earl Grey (1764–1845)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, May 2009, accessed 13 February 2010.
  24. ^ Hastings, Chris. "Princess Diana and the Duchess of Devonshire: Striking similarities". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  25. ^ Bolen, Cheryl. "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire". Cheryl Bolen. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  26. ^ Bergman, Norman A (1998). "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Princess Diana: a parallel". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 91 (4): 217–219. doi:10.1177/014107689809100414. ISSN 0141-0768. PMC 1296647. PMID 9659313.
  27. ^ "Summary of Individual: Robert Ellice". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  28. ^ Payne, Edward John (1911). "Grey, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 586–588, see page 588, third para, penultimate sentence. By his wife Mary Elizabeth, only daughter of the first Lord Ponsonby, whom he married on the 18th of November 1794, he became the father of ten sons and five daughters.
  29. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: SEP 1845 XXV 130 ALNWICK
  30. ^ Peter Brett, "Grey, Charles, 2nd Earl Grey" in D. M. Loades, ed. (2003). Reader's guide to British history. Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 1:586. ISBN 9781579584269.
  31. ^ Historic England. "Earl Grey Monument (1329931)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  32. ^ David Morton (18 March 2015). "How the statue on Grey's Monument was struck by lightning and lost its head". ChronicleLive.
  33. ^ "Tyne and Wear Metro : Stations : Monument". the Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  34. ^ David Morton (6 September 2017). "18 things you probably never knew about Newcastle's magnificent Grey's Monument". ChronicleLive.
  35. ^ Sarah Chamberlain and Martyn Chamberlain (Spring 2009). "The Legacy of Earl Grey". Durham First. No. 29.
  36. ^ "Early Grey: The results of the OED Appeal on Earl Grey tea". 3 April 2013.

Further reading

Other sources

Parliament of Great Britain Preceded byLord Algernon PercySir William Middleton, Bt Member of Parliament for Northumberland 1786–1800 With: Sir William Middleton, BtThomas Richard Beaumont Succeeded byParliament of the United Kingdom Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byParliament of Great Britain Member of Parliament for Northumberland 18011807 Served alongside: Thomas Richard Beaumont Succeeded byEarl PercyThomas Richard Beaumont Preceded bySir Philip FrancisJohn Courtenay Member of Parliament for Appleby May 1807 – July 1807 Served alongside: James Ramsay Cuthbert Succeeded byNicholas William Ridley-ColborneJames Ramsay Cuthbert Preceded byRichard FitzPatrickLord William Russell Member of Parliament for Tavistock July 1807 – November 1807 Served alongside: Lord William Russell Succeeded byGeorge PonsonbyLord William Russell Political offices Preceded byThe Lord Barham First Lord of the Admiralty 1806 Succeeded byThomas Grenville Preceded byCharles James Fox Foreign Secretary 1806–1807 Succeeded byGeorge Canning Leader of the House of Commons 1806–1807 Succeeded bySpencer Perceval Preceded byThe Duke of Wellington Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 22 November 1830 – 9 July 1834 Succeeded byThe Viscount Melbourne First Lord of the Treasury 1830–1834 Leader of the House of Lords 1830–1834 Party political offices None recognised before Leader of the British Whig Party 1830–1834 Succeeded byThe Viscount Melbourne Whig Leader in the Lords 1830–1834 Succeeded byThe Viscount Melbourne Peerage of the United Kingdom Preceded byCharles Grey Earl Grey 1807–1845 Succeeded byHenry Grey Baronetage of Great Britain Preceded byHenry Grey Baronet(of Howick) 1808–1845 Succeeded byHenry Grey