Skip to main content

Charles Grey

Charles Grey

The English statesman Charles Grey, 2d Earl Grey (1764-1845), served as prime minister from 1830 to 1834. He is best known for securing the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832.

Charles Grey was born at Fallodon, Northumberland, on March 13, 1764, the son of Col. Charles Grey (later, 1st Earl Grey) and heir to his father's elder brother, Sir Henry Grey of Howick. The Greys were an ancient Northumberland family, and the young Charles received an aristocratic education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1786, at the age of 22, he became a member of Parliament for the county, joining the followers of Charles James Fox.

Tall, slim, and aristocratic, with great debating talent, Grey early won a leading place among the exclusive Foxite Whigs. The most prominent among those who founded the Society of the Friends of the People in 1792, Grey deserves most of the credit for attaching his party to the cause of parliamentary reform. In 1793 and 1797 he moved reform motions in the Commons.

The Whig support of reform and opposition to British participation in the wars of the French Revolution condemned them to long years in opposition. It was not until 1806 that they finally achieved office in the coalition ministry of "All the Talents." Grey served as first lord of the Admiralty and, on Fox's death in September 1806, succeeded him as foreign secretary and leader of the party. He played a leading part in the abolition of the slave trade and was a firm supporter of extended civil rights for Catholics, which caused the downfall of the government early in 1807.

Grey's support for Catholic emancipation kept him out of office until 1830. He had, however, never abandoned his belief in the necessity for parliamentary reform, and when the Duke of Wellington opposed it and the Tory ministry collapsed, Grey got his opportunity. He became the head of a coalition of Whigs, Canningites, and one or two High Tories, who eventually carried the Reform Bill of 1832. Grey's role was crucial. He insisted on a bill broad enough to satisfy public opinion and resisted all efforts to water it down. He also handled King William IV with a happy combination of tact and firmness. The result was a measure which largely eliminated the rotten boroughs and enfranchised a large section of the middle classes. Grey believed that by carrying timely reform he had saved the country from revolution, and he may well have been right. Though he remained in office until 1834, Grey did not play a major role in the great reform measures which followed parliamentary reform.

Upon leaving office Grey retired to his beloved Northumberland and spent his last years in the country pursuits he loved and in the bosom of his large and happy family. He died in 1845, at the age of 81.

Further Reading

George Macaulay Trevelyan, Lord Grey of the Reform Bill (1920), remains an excellent biography. Asa Briggs, The Making of Modern England, 1783-1867: The Age of Improvement (1959), contains a more recent commentary on Grey's political career and achievements.

Additional Sources

Derry, John W. (John Wesley), Charles, Earl Grey: aristocratic reformer, Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass.: B. Blackwell, 1992. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Charles Grey." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Charles Grey." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 16, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/charles-grey

"Charles Grey." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved November 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/charles-grey

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.