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William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville Whig 1806 to 1807
25 October 1759 , Buckinghamshire
12 January 1834, Buckinghamshire
Dates in office
1806 to 1807
Slave Trade Act 1807: abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.
On his resignation: “The deed is done and I am again a free man, and to you I may express what it would seem like affection to say to others, the infinite pleasure I derive from emancipation.”
William Wyndham Grenville 1st Baron Grenville was the son of George Grenville, an earlier Prime Minister.
Entering the Commons in 1782, Lord Grenville became a close ally of Prime Minister William Pitt ‘the Younger’. He served in Pitt’s government as Home Secretary, Leader of the House of Lords as Baron Grenville, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
As Foreign Secretary, he oversaw the tumultuous Wars of the French Revolution, focusing on fighting on the continent as the key to victory, rather than war at sea and in the colonies.
In 1801 he left office at the same time as Pitt, over the issue of Catholic Emancipation. He became close to Opposition leader Charles James Fox in his years out of office, and when Pitt returned to office in 1804, he did not take part.
Lord Grenville was invited to form a government, but did so reluctantly. He formed a cross-party alliance of MPs which became known as the ‘Ministry of all The Talents’. It was a coalition between his supporters, the Foxite Whigs, and the supporters of former Prime Minister Lord Sidmouth. Lord Grenville, as First Lord of the Treasury, and Fox, as Foreign Secretary, were joint leaders.
Holding office for only a year, he shared his father’s poor public image, and his ministry was mostly unsuccessful, failing to make peace with France or to accomplish Catholic emancipation. It did, though, result in one momentous achievement: the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
The end of his term came soon after, however, as a result of struggle over the ongoing issue of Catholic emancipation. He tendered his resignation with palpable relief.
Even after retiring he continued in opposition, maintaining his alliance with the Whigs, criticising the Peninsular War and refusing to join Lord Liverpool’s government in 1812.
In years after the Peninsular War, he gradually moved back closer to the Tories, but his political career was ended by a stroke in 1823. It was the start of a long period of ill-health that would lead to his death a decade later.