FREDERICK NORTH, 2nd earl of Guilford, but better known hy his courtesy title of Lord North (1732-1792), prime minister of England during the important years of the American War, was born on the 13th of April 1732, and after being educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, was sent to make the grand tour of the continent. On his return he was, though only twenty-two years of age, at once elected M.P. for Banbury, of which town his father was high steward; and he sat for the same town in parliament for nearly forty years. In 1759 he was chosen by the duke of Newcastle to be a lord of the treasury, and continued in the same office under Lord Bute and George Grenville till 1765. He had shown himself such a ready debater that on the fall of the first Rockingham ministry in 1766 he was sworn of the privy council, and made paymaster-general by the duke of Grafton. His reputation for ability grew so high that in December 1767, on the death of the brilliant Charles Townshend, he was made chancellor of the exchequer. His popularity with both the House of Commons and the people continued to increase, for his temper was never ruffled, and his quiet humour perpetually displayed; and, when the retirement of the duke of Grafton was necessitated by the hatred he inspired and the attacks of Junius, no better successor could be found for the premiership than the chancellor of the exchequer. Lord North succeeded the duke in March 1770, and continued in office for twelve of the most eventful years in English history. George III. had at last overthrown the ascendancy of the great Whig families, under which he had so long groaned, and determined to govern as well as rule. He knew that he could only govern by obtaining a majority in parliament to carry out his wishes, and this he had at last obtained by a great expenditure of money in buying seats and by a careful exercise of his patronage. But in addition to a majority he must have a minister who would consent to act as his lieutenant, and such a minister he found in Lord North. How a man of undoubted ability such as Lord North was could allow himself to be thus used as a mere instrument cannot be explained; but the confidential tone of the king's letters seems to show that there was an unusual intimacy between them, which may account for North's compliance. The path of the minister in parliament was a hard one; he had to defend measures which he had not designed, and of which he had not approved, and this too in a House of Commons in which all the oratorical ability of Burke and Fox was against him, and when he had only the purchased help of Thurlow and Wedderburne to aid him. The most important events of his ministry were those of the American War of Independence. He cannot be accused of causing it, but one of his first acts was the retention of the tea-duty, and he it was also who introduced the Boston Port Bill in 1774. When the war had broken out he earnestly counselled peace, and it was only the earnest solicitations of the king not to leave his sovereign again at the mercy of the Whigs that induced him to defend a war which from 1779 he knew to be both hopeless and impolitic. At last, in March 1782, he insisted on resigning after the news of Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, and no man left office more blithely. He had been well rewarded for his assistance to the king: his children had good sinecures; his half-brother, Brownlow North (1741-1820), was bishop of Winchester; he himself was chancellor of the university of Oxford, lord-lieutenant of the county of Somerset, and had finally been made a knight of the Garter, an honour which has only been conferred on three other members of the House of Commons, Sir R. Walpole, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Palmerston. Lord North did not remain long out of office, but in April 1783 formed his famous coalition with his old subordinate, C. J. Fox (q.v.), and became secretary of state with him under the nominal premiership of the duke of Portland. He was probably urged to this coalition with his old opponent by a desire to show that he could act independently of the king, and was not a mere royal mouthpiece. The coalition ministry went out of office on Fox's India Bill in December 1783, and Lord North, who was losing his sight, then finally gave up political ambition. He played, when quite blind, a somewhat important part in the debates on the Regency Bill in 1 789, and in the next year succeeded his father as earl of Guilford. He did not long survive his elevation, and died peacefully on the 5th of August 1792. It is impossible to consider Lord North a great statesman, but he was a most good-tempered and humorous member of the House of Commons. In a time of unexampled party feeling he won the esteem and almost the love of his most bitter opponents. Burke finely sums up his character in his Letter to a Noble Lord: " He was a man of admirable parts, of general knowledge, of a versatile understanding, fitted for every sort of business; of infinite wit and pleasantry, of a delightful temper, and with a mind most disinterested. But it would be only to degrade myself," he continues, " by a weak adulation, and not to honour the memory of a great man, to deny that he wanted something of the vigilance and spirit of command which the times required."
By his wife Anne (d. 1797), daughter of George Speke of White Lackington, Somerset, Guilford had four sons, the eldest of whom, George Augustus (1757-1802), became 3rd earl on his father's death. This earl was a member of parliament from 1778 to 1792 and was a member of his father's ministry and also of the royal household; he left no sons when he died on the 20th of April 1802 and was succeeded in the earldom by his brother Francis (1761-1817), who also left no sons. The youngest brother, Frederick (1766-1827), who now became 5th earl of Guilford, was remarkable for his great knowledge and love of Greece and of the Greek language. He had a good deal to do with the foundation of the Ionian university at Corfu, of which he was the first chancellor and to which he was very liberal. Guilford, who was governor of Ceylon from 1798 to 1805, died unmarried on the 14th of October 1827. His cousin, Francis (1772-1861), a son of Brownlow North, bishop of Winchester from 1781 to 1820, was the 6th earl, and the latter's descendant, Frederick George (b. 1876), became 8th earl in 1886.
On the death of the 3rd earl of Guilford in 1802 the barony of North fell into abeyance between his three daughters, the survivor of whom, Susan (1797-1884), wife of John Sidney Doyle, who took the name of North, was declared by the House of Lords in 1841 to be Baroness North, and the title passed to her son, William Henry John North, the nth baron (b. 1836) (see NORTH, BARONS).
For the Lord Keeper Guilford see the Lives by the Hon. R. North, edited by A. Jessopp (1890); and E. Foss, The Judges of England, vol. vii. (1848-1864). For the prime minister, Lord North, see Correspondence of George III. wtth Lord North, edited by W. B. Donne (1867) ; Horace Walpole, Journal of the Reign of George III. (1859), and Memoirs of the Reign of George III., edited by G. F. R. Barker (1894); Lord Brougham, Historical Sketches of Statesmen, vol. i. (1839); Earl Stanhope, History of England (1858); Sir T. E. May, Constitutional History of England (1863-1865) ; and W. E. H. Lecky, History of England in the 18th century (1878-1890).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)