A Whig Prime Minister

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, March 13, 2007 ,

Tory Historian has reluctantly decided to mention a Whig Prime Minister of some importance: Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, the man who piloted the Great Reform Act through Parliament in 1832.

Today is his birthday. He was born on March 13, 1764 in Falloden, Northumberland.

His biography is one of an immensely worthy politician, what with presiding over that Reform Act, the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833 (though, as we know slave trade was abolished some time before that) and the restrictions on the employment of children.

There is, however, a surprising aspect to his personality. He seems to have been very highly sexed. The fact that his wife produced 16 children (while, according to accounts, remaining cheerful) may just point to the fact that he was keen on doing his duty. But few school textbooks that expostulate on the Great Reform Act ever mention the fact that the Earl Grey was the great love of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who even bore him a daughter (a fairly scandalous occurrence even among the lax Whig aristocracy).

This is not that daughter but the oldest one, Georgy, born well in wedlock. Still, Reynolds’s picture, exhibited at the moment at the Royal Academy is a delight.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. I am never quite sure why we continue to call it the Great Reform Act, since it restricted rather than expanded the franchise and was intended to close down the question of electoral reform. 1867, 1884 and 1918 are all more important, but diminshed by sequential numbering, and 1928 is largely ignored, David Butler as always excepted.

  3. Can't disagree with any of that, John. I guess the Whigs managed to create publicity for themselves quite unfairly. Certainly, we should take up the 1928 Act as that, in a way, completed the process.

  4. Anonymous Says:
  5. I too was encouraged to sneer at the 1832 Act at university. But that was nearly 40 years ago when the far left was rampant. I would have hoped that such political spinning had ended.

    Did Lord John Russell really intend to close down the question of electoral reform, or did he make further, unsuccessful attempts ?

    It is a pity there were not enough sophisticated historians around then to tell the king, the Tory last ditchers, the mps packed into the House night after night, the London mob and the rioters at Nottingham and Bristol that it was a fuss over nothing.

  6. Anonymous Says:
  7. Tried to get my comment through earlier - but failed. Fr may have been encouraged to sneer at 1832 by the fare left - my personal recollections is that they sneered at the whole possibility of reform. Those who analysed the mythology around 1832 were certainly not far left, and they were not questioning its political importance. So gibes about "a fuss about nothing" are out of order. If there is spinning (and personally I would deprecate the notion of conscious bias implied)it would be in the Whig/Liberal notion of a series of acts, one flowing from another with an almost ineviatble regularity. As for Lord John Russell, he may have earned the soubriquet Finality Jack for an injudicious speech later in the decade, but a close look at the work he did on the reform bill would suggest (a) that he was determined not to base it on principle (that was the issue between him and the Radicals) and (b) that he intended to close down the question for his political lifetime. Contemporaries thought it might hold for forty years. Subsequent history - even Lord John's own - tells us nothing about the intentions of the framers of the bill or of the Government that accepted it and drove it through - and the effects of the Act were clearly to restrict the franchise. So an important event surely, but not the "Great Reform Act".

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