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Grenville, William Wyndham Grenville, Baron

GRENVILLE, WILLIAM WYNDHAM GRENVILLE, BARON (1759-1834), English statesman, youngest son of George Grenville, was born on the 25th of October 1759. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, gaining the chancellor's prize for Latin verse in 1779. In February 1782 Grenville was returned to parliament as member for the borough of Buckingham, and in the following September he became secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, who at this time was his brother, Earl Temple, afterwards marquess of Buckingham. He left office in June 1783, but in the following December he became paymaster-general of the forces under his cousin, William Pitt, and in 1786 vice-president of the committee of trade. In 1787 he was sent on an important mission to the Hague and Versailles with reference to the affairs of Holland. In January 1789 he was chosen speaker of the House of Commons, but he vacated the chair in the same year on being appointed secretary of state for the home department; about the same time he resigned his other offices, but he became president of the board of control, and in November 1790 was created a peer as Baron Grenville. In the House of Lords he was very active in directing the business of the government, and in 1791 he was transferred to the foreign office, retaining his post at the board of control until 1793. He was doubtless regarded by Pitt as the man best fitted to carry out his policy with reference to France, but in the succeeding years he and his chief were frequently at variance on important questions of foreign policy. In spite of his multifarious duties at the foreign office Grenville continued to take a lively interest in domestic matters, which he showed by introducing various bills into the House of Lords. In February 1801 he resigned office with Pitt because George III. would not consent to the introduction of any measure of Roman Catholic relief, and in opposition he gradually separated himself from his former leader. When Pitt returned to power in 1804 Grenville refused to join the ministry unless his political ally, Fox, was also admitted thereto; this was impossible and he remained out of office until February 1806, when just after Pitt's death he became the nominal head of a coalition government. This ministry was very unfortunate in its conduct of foreign affairs, but it deserves to be remembered with honour on account of the act passed in 1807 for the abolition of the slave trade. Its influence, however, was weakened by the death of Fox, and in consequence of a minute drawn up by Grenville and some of his colleagues the king demanded from his ministers an assurance that in future they would not urge upon him any measures for the relief of Roman Catholics. They refused to give this assurance and in March 1807 they resigned. Grenville's attitude in this matter was somewhat aggressive; his colleagues were not unanimous in supporting him, and Sheridan, one of them, said " he had known many men knock their heads against a wall, but he had never before heard of any man who collected the bricks and built the very wall with an intention to knock out his own brains against it."

Lord Grenville never held office again, although he was requested to do so on several occasions. He continued, however, to take part in public life, being one of the chief supporters of Roman Catholic emancipation, and during the remaining years of his active political career, which ended in 1823, he generally voted with the Whigs, although in 1815 he separated himself from his colleague, Charles Grey, and supported the warlike policy of Lord Liverpool. In 1819, when the marquess of Lansdowne brought forward his motion for an inquiry into the causes of the distress and discontent in the manufacturing districts, Grenville delivered an alarmist speech advocating repressive measures. His concluding years were spent at Dropmore, Buckinghamshire, where he died on the 12th of January 1834. His wife, whom he married in 1792, was Anne (1772-1864), daughter of Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford, but he had no issue and his title became extinct. In 1809 he was elected chancellor of Oxford university.

Though Grenville's talents were not of the highest order his straightforwardness and industry, together with his knowledge of politics and the moderation of his opinions, secured for him considerable political influence. He may be enrolled among the band of English statesmen who have distinguished themselves in literature. He edited Lord Chatham's letters to his nephew, Thomas Pitt, afterwards Lord Camelford (London, 1804, and other editions); he wrote a small volume, NugaeMetricae(i&24), being translations into Latin from English, Greek and Italian, and an Essay on the Supposed Advantages of a Sinking Fund (1828).

The Dropmore MSS. contain much of Grenville's correspondence, and on this the Historical Manuscripts Commission has published a report.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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