The Grenville Whigs (or Grenvillites) were a name given to several British political factions of the 18th and early-19th centuries, all associated with the important Grenville family of Buckinghamshire.
The Grenville family interest, led by Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple, which dominated local politics in Buckinghamshire, was prominent in mid-18th century politics as close allies of Temple's brother-in-law, William Pitt the Elder. However, in the early-1760s, a split occurred within the family as a result of Pitt's dismissal from the government in October 1761. While Temple quit the government in protest, his younger brother, George Grenville, remained in the government, now dominated by King George III's favorite, Lord Bute, and served as Leader of the House of Commons. The followers of the younger Grenville became known as Grenvillites, or Grenville Whigs.
George Grenville fully came into his own as a politician in 1763, when he was made prime minister, but his own following was not sufficient to form a government. Grenville was forced to rely largely on the Bedford Whigs, supporters of the Duke of Bedford, to staff his ministry. After Grenville himself was ousted from power in 1765 as a result of conflicts with the King, Grenville moved into opposition, and for a time from 1766 to 1767, was the leader of one of three separate opposition factions (the other two were led by the Duke of Bedford and Lord Rockingham). After Grenville's own death in 1770, the Earl of Suffolk took over the official leadership of Grenville's faction, and negotiated Grenvillite entrance into the North ministry in early 1771, but many of Grenville's former supporters refused to follow him, remaining in opposition with Chatham and Temple.
After Lord Temple's death in 1779, George Grenville's sons, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 3rd Earl Temple (from 1784 the Marquess of Buckingham), and William Wyndham Grenville became the principal figures in the Grenville family interest. Temple played a key role in bringing down the Fox-North coalition in December 1783, and in bringing his cousin William Pitt the Younger to power as prime minister, but was himself snubbed for major office. Nevertheless, he and his supporters backed the new ministry, and William Grenville soon became one of Pitt's closest advisors, serving for ten years (1791–1801) as Foreign Secretary during the difficult period of the French Revolutionary Wars.
The resignation of Pitt's government in 1801 brought about a separation between Pitt and his cousin, by now Lord Grenville, which was encouraged by Buckingham and his followers, who had always resented Pitt for preventing him from receiving major office. In the period of the Addington government from 1801 to 1804, a number of former supporters of the Pitt government declared their dissatisfaction with the new ministry, and came to consider Grenville as their leader, calling themselves "Grenvilles" or "Grenvillites." Although Grenville himself initially kept his distance from his supposed followers, by 1803 he had acknowledged himself as their leader. Other than dependents of Lord Buckingham, the group largely consisted of former Portland Whigs who had joined the Pitt government in 1794 and opposed the Addington government's policy of peace with France. Notable members of the group included Lord Spencer, Lord Fitzwilliam, William Windham, and Buckingham and Grenville's brother Thomas Grenville. This group, which was also known as the "New Opposition" gradually made a tentative alliance with Fox's "Old Opposition," although the two disagreed wholly on the issue of war with France - the Grenvillites wished to prosecute it more aggressively, while Fox desired peace through negotiation.
When Addington's government fell in 1804, Grenville hoped to form a coalition government which included supporters of Pitt, Fox, and himself, but was stymied by the King's refusal to countenance a government which included Fox. Thus, Grenville, unwilling to go into government without his new ally Fox, remained in opposition when Pitt formed his second government in May of that year.
When Pitt died two years later, however, the king had little choice but to appoint a government including both "New" and "Old" Opposition, and Grenville was made prime minister in the Ministry of All the Talents. Although the coalition partners agreed about little besides the abolition of the slave trade, it was really George III's opposition to the ministry which destroyed it in early 1807. Thereafter, Grenville acted as nominal Leader of the Opposition, although Lord Grey, leader of the Foxites, was essentially coequal with him.
Withdrawal from politicsEdit
After Buckingham's death in 1813 and Grenville's withdrawal from politics in 1817, the Grenvillites remained a distinct political grouping in opposition, although they were by now little more than a pawn of the ambitions of Buckingham's son, the 2nd Marquess of Buckingham - those former Portland Whigs who remained active in politics had by now largely returned to their former Whig allegiances. In 1822, the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool bought the group's support for the government by creating Buckingham as Duke of Buckingham and Chandos and bringing in several of his supporters, notably Charles Williams-Wynn, who became President of the Board of Control, into the government. In the years that followed, the Grenvillites disappeared as a distinct political faction.
- Kriegel, Abraham D. (Apr 1980), "Review of 'The Grenvillites, 1801–29: Party Politics and Factionalism in the Age of Pitt and Liverpool by James J. Sack'", The American Historical Review, 85 (2), JSTOR 1860597
- Sack, James J. (1975), "The Decline of the Grenvillite Faction under the First Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, 1817–1829", The Journal of British Studies (published Autumn 1975), 15 (1), doi:10.1086/385681, JSTOR 175241