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King and politicians 1760-1770

The eighteenth century was long deemed ‘the classical age of the constitution’ in Britain, with cabinet government based on a two-party system of Whigs and Tories in Parliament, and a monarchy whose powers had been emasculated by the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689. This study furthers the work of Sir Lewis Namier, who, in 1929, argued that no such party system existed, George III was not a cypher, and that Parliament was an administration composed of factions and opposition. George III is a high-profile and well-known character in British history, whose policies have often been blamed for the loss of Britain's American colonies, around whom rages a perennial dispute over his aims: was he seeking to restore royal power or merely exercising his constitutional rights? This is a chronological survey of the first ten years of his reign through power politics and policy making.

Chap 10 19/8/02 11:49 am Page 219 10 George III, Lord North and the defeat of ‘faction’ (1770) The political contest at the beginning of 1770 marked the culmination of the events of the first decade of George III’s reign. The King’s opponents pitted the power of the House of Commons against that of the Crown, but circumstances tipped the balance in favour of the monarchy. The success of Lord North enabled George III to defy ‘faction’ and make good his royal claim to have a Prime Minister of his own choice. When Parliament met on 9 January neither the eve

in George III
Wilkes and America

Chap 5 19/8/02 11:46 am Page 95 5 The Grenville ministry (1763–1765): Wilkes and America It was a widespread assumption in 1763 that Bute had resigned as Prime Minister with the intention of becoming George III’s secret background adviser, enjoying power without responsibility. Active politicians could not envisage any other explanation: Lord Bristol commented to Pitt that Grenville would be ‘the phantom of a prime minister’;1 and Newcastle summarised opinion at Westminster for the British ambassador at The Hague. ‘People generally think, that my Lord Bute

in George III
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Factions or parties?

Chap 11 19/8/02 11:50 am Page 237 11 Conclusion: factions or parties? The old concept of a two-party system of Whigs and Tories does not survive detailed knowledge of mid-eighteenth-century politics.1 By 1760 less than one hundred MPs could be deemed Tories even by a generous definition, and in the ensuing decade they split asunder, being variously attached to the Court or to factions, or remaining independent of all connections. The ministry at George III’s accession was a coalition of all the Whig groups, but soon fell apart. The next five ministries were

in George III
Peace and cider

office only out of a sense of duty to his young sovereign, and made it clear to George III that he was doing so only on a temporary basis. ‘The end of my labours was solemnly determined, even before I undertook them’, Bute was to tell Henry Fox on 2 March 1763.4 It was a well-kept secret, though his young acolyte Lord Shelburne claimed to have known it, informing diarist James Harris on 7 April 1763, the day after Bute’s resignation was announced. ‘It had been his intention to retire (as he, Lord Shelburne, knew) for more than a twelve-month’, once he had settled the

in George III
War and peace

to ‘expensive but just and necessary war’. Lord Egmont, a Leicester House man, commented that this converted a declaration ‘implying a disposition to peace, into one which imported … a strong adoption of the war’.2 During the day George III suggested to Bute that he should take ministerial office, seemingly as Northern Secretary in place of Lord Holderness, but Bute declined, so the King recalled on 6 March 1761, ‘as not chusing to throw himself into so much business and not knowing what the other ministers might think of it’.3 That discussion presumably preceded

in George III

Prime Minister Henry Pelham in 1754 with a Chap 2 19/8/02 26 11:41 am Page 26 George III: King and politicians catastrophic start to another French war: hostilities began that year in North America, though not in Europe until 1756. The Duke of Newcastle could and did replace his brother at the Treasury, but he had to find a House of Commons Leader.3 William Pitt, the obvious candidate, would be an awkward colleague, for he was an advocate of maritime rather than continental warfare, and George II disliked him for his anti-Hanoverian stance. So Newcastle

in George III
The Stamp Act Crisis

contemporaries, with Pitt neutral, Grenville hostile, and Charles Townshend unwilling to commit himself by accepting high office: but Charles Yorke did his duty as Attorney-General, and an unexpected bonus was the blossoming performance of William Dowdeswell, both as Chancellor of the Chap 6 19/8/02 126 11:47 am Page 126 George III: King and politicians Exchequer and as a Commons spokesman. And the ministry was strong there in terms of numbers: a Parliamentary list compiled in September named 294 MPs as ‘Pro’, only 113 as ‘Con’, with 127 as ‘Doubtful’. Pitt’s followers

in George III
India and America

Chap 7 19/8/02 11:47 am Page 148 7 The Chatham ministry I. The year of Charles Townshend (1766–1767): India and America On 7 July 1766 George III summoned William Pitt to form a ministry in accordance with ‘the opinion you gave on that subject in Parliament a few days before you set out for Somersetshire’.1 On that occasion, 24 April, diarist James Harris recorded Pitt as wishing for ‘such a ministry at the King himself should choose, the people approve, and who should be eminent above others for their ability and integrity. That the people grow weary of

in George III
Political re-alignments

acquired financial expertise. The contrast between the dazzling and unpredictable Townshend and the sound, reliable North could hardly have been greater. Yet Townshend himself was among those who had discerned the talents of the man now to be his successor.2 George III at once instructed Grafton to offer the Exchequer to Lord North. The Duke later noted that this decision was ‘particularly satisfactory to me, as I knew him to be a man of strict honour: and he was besides the person whom Lord Chatham desired’, recalling the abortive attempt to replace Townshend by North

in George III