William Wyndham Grenville Baron Grenville

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Grenville, William Wyndham, 1st Lord (1759–1834). Prime minister. The third son of George Grenville, prime minister 1763–5, he was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he became a distinguished classical scholar. He entered Parliament in 1782 and cast in his lot with his cousin the young William Pitt. Shelburne appointed him chief secretary in Ireland in 1782 and under Pitt he was paymaster of the forces 1783–9, an office he held together with membership of the India Board of Control and of the Board of Trade after 1784. A diligent administrator, he contributed to the major financial and economic achievements of Pitt's peacetime ministry. In 1787 he was sent on diplomatic missions to The Hague and Versailles and sounded out the possibilities of an agreement with the French to end the African slave trade, a cause which remained close to his heart until he was able as prime minister in 1807 to accomplish it.

In January 1789 Grenville agreed to become Speaker of the House of Commons in order to help Pitt in the midst of the Regency crisis, but he craved a cabinet post and when the crisis was over was appointed home secretary. By this time he was recognized as Pitt's ‘second in command’ and in 1790 was elevated to the Lords to oversee the government's business there. He was translated to the foreign secretaryship in 1791 and for ten years was responsible for British policy in the French Revolutionary War. Grenville found the post uncongenial and his successes were few. In 1801 he resigned with Pitt over the king's refusal to grant catholic relief, but unlike Pitt he determined not to take office again unless the king withdrew his veto. Accordingly he did not return with Pitt in 1804 but formed an alliance with the Foxite Whigs, with whom he served in the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’ in 1806–7.

As prime minister, Grenville achieved little beyond the abolition of the slave trade. The government collapsed when George III thwarted their attempt to smuggle concessions to the Irish catholics past his protestant conscience. For the next ten years Grenville and Grey, Fox's successor, led the opposition to Portland, Perceval, and Liverpool but neither found the position agreeable. The alliance ended in 1817 when they disagreed over the government's suspension of habeas corpus to deal with radical agitation. Grenville then retired from political life, devoting his remaining years to classical scholarship.

Grenville was a diligent administrator and a conscientious politician but the glittering prizes eluded him. He lacked warmth, imagination, and leadership qualities. His forbidding manner earned him the nickname of ‘Bogey’ and he seemed remote and insensitive except to his circle of family and friends.

E. A. Smith


Jupp, P. , Lord Grenville (1985).

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William Wyndham Grenville Grenville, Baron, 1759–1834, British statesman; youngest son of George Grenville. He was foreign secretary in the ministry of his cousin William Pitt from 1791 to 1801. During the French Revolutionary Wars, Grenville led the British war party and favored Pitt's repressive internal measures. He was also a champion of free trade and of Catholic Emancipation. In 1806 he formed the "ministry of all the talents," which abolished (1807) the slave trade.