Frederick North, Lord North

Frederick North, Lord North
The Right Honourable
The Earl of Guilford
Portrait by Nathaniel Dance.
Prime Minister of Great Britain
In office
28 January 1770 – 22 March 1782
Monarch George III
Preceded by The Duke of Grafton
Succeeded by The Marquess of Rockingham
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
11 September 1767 – 27 March 1782
Monarch George III
Preceded by Charles Townshend
Succeeded by Lord John Cavendish
Secretary of State for Home Affairs
In office
2 April 1783 – 19 December 1783
Monarch George III
Preceded by Thomas Townshend
Succeeded by The Earl Temple
Member of Parliament
for Banbury, Oxfordshire
In office
1754 – 4 August 1790
Preceded by John Willes
Succeeded by Lord North
Personal details
Born 13 April 1732(1732-04-13)
Piccadilly, London
Died 5 August 1792(1792-08-05) (aged 60)
Grosvenor Square, London
Political party Tory
Spouse(s) Anne Speke North
Children George, Lord North (1757-1802)
Lady Catherine North (1760-1817)
The Hon. Francis North (1761-1817)
Lady Charlotte North (d. 1849)
The Hon. Frederick North (1766-1827)
Lady Anne North (d. 1832)
Alma mater Trinity College, Oxford

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, KG, PC (13 April 1732 – 5 August 1792), more often known by his courtesy title, Lord North, which he used from 1752 until 1790, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. He led Great Britain through most of the American War of Independence. He also held a number of other cabinet posts, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.


Early life (1732-1754)

Lord North was born in London on 13 April 1732, at the family house at Albemarle Street, just off Piccadilly,[1] though he spent much of his youth at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire. Lord North's strong physical resemblance to George III, suggested to his contemporaries that Prince Frederick may have been North's real father (and North the King's brother), a theory compatible with the Prince's reputation but with little real evidence.[2] His father, the first Earl, was at the time Lord of the Bedchamber to Prince Frederick, who stood as godfather to the infant.

North was descended from the 1st Earl of Sandwich and was related to Samuel Pepys and the 3rd Earl of Bute. He at times enjoyed a slightly turbulent relationship with his father Francis North, 1st Earl of Guilford, yet they remained very close. In his early years the family was not wealthy, though their situation improved in 1735 when his father inherited property from his cousin.[3] His mother, Lady Lucy Montagu, died in 1734. His father remarried, but his stepmother, Elizabeth North, also died in 1745, when Frederick was thirteen. One of his stepbrothers was Lord Dartmouth, who remained a close friend for life.[4]

He was educated at Eton College between 1742 and 1748, and at Trinity College, Oxford where in 1750 he was awarded an MA. After leaving Oxford, he travelled in Europe on the Grand Tour with Dartmouth, visiting Leipzig where he studied at the University of Leipzig. He visited Vienna, Milan, and Paris, returning to England in 1753.

Early political career (1754-70)

On 15 April 1754, North was elected unopposed as the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Banbury, at the age of twenty two.[5] He served as an MP from 1754 to 1790 and first joined the government as a junior Lord of the Treasury on 2 June 1759 during the Newcastle-Pitt coalition. He soon developed a reputation as a good administrator, parliamentarian and was generally liked by his colleagues. Although he initially considered himself a Whig, it became obvious to many contemparies that his sympathies were largely Tory and he did not closely align with any of the Whig Factions in Parliament.[6]

In November 1763 he was chosen to speak for the Government concerning the issue of John Wilkes, a member of parliament who many felt had made a libellous attack of both the Prime Minister and the King in an edition of his radical newspaper The North Briton. North's motion that Wilkes be expelled from the House of Commons passed by 273 votes to 111. Wilke's expulsion took place in his absence, as he had already fled to France following a duel.[7]

When a government headed by the Whig magnate Lord Rockingham came to power in 1765, North left his post and served for a time as a backbench MP. He turned down an offer by Rockingham to rejoin the government, largely out of fear with being associated with the wealthy Whig grandees that dominated the Ministry.[8]

He came back once more when Pitt returned to head a second government in 1766. North was appointed Joint Paymaster of the Forces in Pitt's ministry and became a Privy Counsellor. As Pitt was constantly ill, the government was effectively run by the Duke of Grafton,[9] with North as one of its most senior members.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

In December 1767, he succeeded Charles Townshend as Chancellor of the Exchequer. With the resignation of the secretary of state Henry Seymour Conway in early 1768, North became Leader of the Commons as well, and continued to serve under Chatham's successor, the Duke of Grafton.

Prime Minister (1770-82)

In The State Tinkers (1780), James Gillray caricatured North (on his knees) and his allies as incompetent tinkers of the National Kettle. George III cries out in rapture in the rear.


When the Duke of Grafton resigned as Prime Minister, North formed a government on 28 January 1770. His ministers and supporters tended to be known as Tories, though they were not a formal grouping and many had previously been Whigs. He took over with Britain in a triumphant state, following the Seven Years War, which had seen the First British Empire expanded to a peak taking in vast new territories on several continents. Circumstances forced him to keep many members of the previous cabinet in their jobs, despite their lack of agreement with him.[10] In contrast to many of his predecessors, North enjoyed a good relationship with George III, partly based on their shared patriotism and desire for decency in their private lives.[11]

Falklands Crisis

His Ministry had an early success during the Falklands Crisis in 1770 in which they faced down a Spanish attempt to seize the Falkland islands, nearly provoking a war.[10] Both France and Spain had been left unhappy by Britain's perceived dominance following the British victory in the Seven Years War.[citation needed] Spanish forces seized the British settlement on the Falklands and expelled the small British garrison. This was intended as the first stage in a plan which would then see a Franco-Spanish force invade Britain. However, Louis XV did not believe his country was ready for war and in the face of a strong mobilisation of the British fleet the French compelled the Spanish to back down. Louis also dismissed Choiseul, the hawkish French Chief Minister, who had advocated war and a large French Invasion of Britain.

The government's prestige and popularity were enormously boosted by the incident. They had successfully managed to drive a wedge between France and Spain, and demonstrated the power of the Royal Navy - although it was suggested by critics that this gave Lord North a level of complacency and an incorrect belief that the European powers would not interfere in British colonial affairs. This was contrasted with the previous administration's failure to prevent France from annexing the Republic of Corsica, a British ally, during the Corsican Crisis two years earlier. Using his newfound popularity, North took the chance to appoint Lord Sandwich to the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty.

American War of Independence

French caricature on the government of Frederick North after the defeat of Grenada (1779).

Most of his government was focused first on the growing problems with the American colonies and later on conducting the American War of Independence which broke out in 1775, following the Battle of Lexington. The battles of Lexington and Concord were the result of many taxes which Lord North was in favour of; including many of the well known Acts. North deferred overall strategy of the war to his key subordinates Lord George Germain and the Earl of Sandwich. Despite a series of victories and the capture of New York and Philadelphia the British were unable to secure a decisive victory. Lord North proposed a number of legislative measures which were supposed to punish the Bostonians for the Boston Tea Party. These measures were known as the Coercive Acts in Britain, while dubbed the Intolerable Acts in the colonies. By shutting down the inefficient Boston government and cutting off trade, he hoped it would keep the peace and shutdown the rebellion. But in 1778 the French allied themselves with the American rebels, and in 1779 Spain joined the war as an ally of France. Next the Mysore and the Dutch Republic joined in 1780. The British found themselves fighting a global war on four continents, without a single ally. After 1778 the British switched the focus of their efforts to the defence of the West Indies, as their sugar wealth made them much more valuable to Britain than the Thirteen Colonies. In 1779 Britain was faced with the prospect of a major Franco-Spanish invasion, but the Armada of 1779 was ultimately a failure. Several peace initiatives fell through, and an attempt by Richard Cumberland to negotiate a separate peace with Spain ended in frustration.

The country's problems were added to by the First League of Armed Neutrality, which was formed to counter the British blockade strategy, and threatened British naval supplies from the Baltic. With severe manpower shortages, North's government passed an act abandoning previous statutes placing restrictions on Catholics serving in the military. This provoked an upsurge of anti-Catholic feelings and the formation of the Protestant Association leading to the Gordon Riots in London in June 1780.[12] For around a week the city was in the control of the mob, until the military was called out and martial law imposed.[13] In spite of these problems the war in America had begun to recover for Britain, following the failure of a Franco-American attack on Newport and the prosecution of a Southern Strategy which saw Britain capture Charleston and its garrison. During 1780 and 1781 the North government gained strength in the House of Commons.[14]


North holds the rather dubious distinction of being the first British Prime Minister to be forced out of office by a motion of no confidence, resigning on 20 March 1782 on account of the British defeat at Yorktown the year before. In an attempt to end the war, he proposed the Conciliation Plan, in which he promised that Britain would eliminate all disagreeable acts if the colonies ended the war. The colonies rejected the plan, as their motivation had become full independence. North resigned unexpectedly announcing the news to the house at the beginning of a debate in which the opposition had planned to launch further attacks on him. After the announcement parliament adjourned. Most of the opposition, expecting a long debate, had sent their carriages away, and were forced to stand in the rain while North had his waiting. North turned to them and remarked "Good night, gentleman. You see what it is to be in on the secret."[15]

In April 1782 it was suggested in cabinet by Lord Shelburne that North should be brought to public trial for his conduct of the American War, but the prospect was soon abandoned.[16] Ironically, in 1782 the war began to turn in Britain's favour again, through naval victories, owing largely to policies adopted by Lord North and the Earl of Sandwich. The British naval victory at the Battle of the Saintes took place shortly after the government's fall, and had it still been in office, would have received a boost from it that would have allowed the government to gain strength.[17] Similarly, despite predictions that Gibraltar's fall was imminent, it managed to hold out and was relieved. Britain was able to make a much more favourable peace in 1783 than had appeared likely at the time when North had been ousted. In spite of this North was critical of the terms agreed by the Shelburne government which he felt undervalued the strength of the British negotiating position.

Portrait (1753), oil on canvas, of Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (1732–1792) by Pompeo Batoni (1708–1787)

Fox-North Coalition (1783)

In April 1783, North returned to power as Home Secretary in an unlikely coalition with the radical Whig leader Charles James Fox known as the Fox-North Coalition under the nominal leadership of the Duke of Portland. King George III, who detested the radical and republican Fox, never forgave this supposed betrayal, and North never again served in government after the ministry fell in December 1783. One of the major achievements of the coalition was the signing of the Treaty of Paris which formally ended the American War of Independence.

The new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, was not expected to last long and North, a vocal critic, still entertained hopes of regaining high office. In this, he was to be frustrated, as Pitt dominated the British political scene for the next twenty years, leaving both North and Fox in the political wilderness.

Later life (1783-92)

He left his seat in Parliament when he went blind in 1790, shortly before succeeding his father as Earl of Guilford, spending his final years in the House of Lords. He died in London and was buried at All Saints' Church, Wroxton (Oxfordshire) near his family home of Wroxton Abbey. His son George North, Lord North, took over the constituency of Banbury, and in 1792 acceded to his father's title. Ironically, Wroxton Abbey is now owned by Fairleigh Dickinson University, an American college. The modernised abbey currently serves as a location for American students to study abroad.


Lord North is today predominantly remembered as the Prime Minister "who lost America".

Guilford County, North Carolina is named after the father of Lord North. It was established in 1771, and today contains the cities of Greensboro and High Point, being the third most populous county in North Carolina. A preserved 18th century door on display in Edinburgh Castle shows a hangman's scaffold labelled "Lord Nord" carved by a prisoner captured during the American War of Independence. (Vivalynne Vorall)

Marriage and family

Lord North married Anne Speke (before 1741-1797) on 20 May 1756. They had six children:

  • George Augustus North, 3rd Earl of Guilford (11 September 1757-20 April 1802), who married, firstly, Maria Frances Mary Hobart-Hampden (died 23 April 1794), daughter of the 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire, on 30 September 1785 and had issue. He married, secondly, Susan Coutts (died 24 September 1837), on 28 February 1796.
  • Catherine Anne North (1760–1817)
  • Francis North, 4th Earl of Guilford (1761–1817)
  • Lady Charlotte North (died 25 October 1849), who married Lt. Col. The Hon. John Lindsay (15 March 1762-6 March 1826), son of the 5th Earl of Balcarres, on 2 April 1800.
  • Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford (1766–1827)
  • Lady Anne North (before 1783-18 January 1832), who married the 1st Earl of Sheffield on 20 January 1798 and had two children

Titles from birth to death

  • The Hon. Frederick North (1732–1752)
  • Lord North (1752–1754)
  • Lord North, MP (1754–1766)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord North, MP (1766–1772)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord North, KG, MP (1772–1790)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord North, KG (1790)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Guilford, KG, PC (1790–1792)


"Oh God! It's all over" – upon hearing news of the surrender at Yorktown.[18]


  1. ^ Whitely p.1
  2. ^ Tuchman, Barbara (1984). The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. New York: Knopf, 185.
  3. ^ Whiteley p.2
  4. ^ Whiteley p.6-7
  5. ^ Whiteley p.19
  6. ^ Whiteley p.24
  7. ^ Whiteley p.49
  8. ^ Whiteley p.51
  9. ^ Whiteley p.60
  10. ^ a b Rodger p.329
  11. ^ Whiteley p.329
  12. ^ Hibbert p.23-62
  13. ^ Hibbert p.84-140
  14. ^ Rodger p.343
  15. ^ Fleming p.153
  16. ^ Whiteley p.215
  17. ^ Fleming p.155
  18. ^ Yorktown Battlefield


  • Butterfield, Herbert. George III, Lord North, and the People, 1779-80 (1949)
  • Charles Daniel Smith. The Early Career of Lord North, the Prime Minister, (1979)
  • Fleming, Thomas. The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown. First Smithsonian Books, 2008.
  • Hibbert, Christopher. King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780. London, 1958.
  • Rodger, N.A.M. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815, (2007)
  • Valentine, Alan. Lord North (1967, 2 vol.), the standard biography
  • Whiteley, Peter. Lord North: The Prime Minister who lost America, (1996)
  • Lord North, The Correspondence of King George the Third with Lord North from 1768 to 1783 ed by George, William Bodham Donne, ed. (1867) online edition

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Townshend
Paymaster of the Forces
With: George Cooke
Succeeded by
George Cooke
Thomas Townshend
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Lord John Cavendish
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Charles James Fox
Preceded by
The Duke of Grafton
Prime Minister of Great Britain
28 January 1770 – 22 March 1782
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Rockingham
Preceded by
Thomas Townshend
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
The Earl Temple
Leader of the House of Commons
With: Charles James Fox
Succeeded by
William Pitt the Younger
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
John Willes
Member of Parliament for Banbury
Succeeded by
Lord North
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Lichfield
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
The Duke of Portland
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Bedford
President of the Foundling Hospital
Succeeded by
The Duke of Portland
Preceded by
The Earl of Thomond
Lord Lieutenant of Somerset
Succeeded by
The Earl Poulett
Preceded by
The Earl of Holdernesse
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
William Pitt the Younger
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Francis North
Earl of Guilford
Succeeded by
George North

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