Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville

Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville

Granville George Leveson Gower, 2nd Earl Granville KG, PC (11 May 1815 – 31 March 1891), was a British Liberal statesman.


The eldest son of Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville (1773—1846), by his marriage with Lady Harriet Cavendish, daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, he was born in London. His father was a younger son of Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Gower and 1st Marquess of Stafford (1720—1803), by his third wife; an elder son by the second wife (a daughter of the 1st Duke of Bridgwater) became the 2nd Marquess of Stafford, and his marriage with the daughter and heiress of the 18th Earl of Sutherland (Countess of Sutherland in her own right) led to the merging of the Gower and Stafford titles in that of the Dukes of Sutherland (created 1833), who represent the elder branch of the family. As Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, the 1st Earl Granville (created viscount in 1815 and earl in 1833) entered the diplomatic service and was ambassador at St Petersburg (1804—1807) and at Paris (1824—1841). He was a Liberal in politics and an intimate friend of George Canning. The title of Earl Granville had been previously held in the Carteret family.

Life and career

Following an education at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, young Lord Leveson went to Paris for a short time under his father, and in 1836 was returned to parliament in the Whig interest for Morpeth. For a short time he was under-secretary for foreign affairs in Lord Melbourne's ministry. In 1840 he married Lady Acton (Marie Louise Pelline de Dalberg), widow of Sir Richard Acton, and mother of the historian Lord Acton). From 1841 till his father's death in 1846, when he succeeded to the title, he sat for Lichfield.

In the House of Lords he signalized himself as a Free Trader, and Lord John Russell made him Master of the Buckhounds (1846). He proved a useful member of the party, and his influence and amiable character were valuable in all matters needing diplomacy and good breeding. He became vice president of the Board of Trade in 1848, and took a prominent part in promoting the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the latter year, having already been admitted to the cabinet, he for about two months at the first of the year succeeded Palmerston as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs until Russell's defeat in 1852; and - when Lord Aberdeen formed his government at the end of the year, he became first Lord President of the Council, and then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1854). Under Lord Palmerston (1855) he was again president of the council.

His interest in education (a subject associated with this office) led to his election (1856) as chancellor of the University of London, a post he held for thirty-five years; and he was a prominent champion of the movement for the admission of women, and also of the teaching of modern languages.

From 1855 Lord Granville led the Liberals in the Upper House, both in office, and, after Palmerston's resignation in 1858, in opposition. He went in 1856 as head of the British mission to the tsar's coronation in Moscow. In June 1859 the Queen, embarrassed by the rival ambitions of Palmerston and Russell, sent for him to form a ministry, but he was unable to do so, and Palmerston again became prime minister, with Lord John as foreign secretary - and Granville once again as president of the council.

In 1860 his wife died, and to this heavy loss was shortly added that of his great friends Lord and Lady Canning and of his mother (1862); but he devoted himself to his political work, and retained his office when, on Palmerston's death in 1865, Lord Russell (now a peer) became prime minister and took over the leadership in the House of Lords. Granville, now an established Liberal leader, was made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and in the same year married again, his second wife being Miss Castalia Campbell.

During the American Civil War, Granville was noninterventionist along with the majority of Palmerston's cabinet. His memorandum against intervention in September 1862 drew Prime Minister Palmerston's attention. The document proved to be a strong reason why Palmerston refused to intervene, and why Britain's relations with the North remained basically stable throughout the rest of the conflict despite tensions.

From 1866 to 1868 he was in opposition, but in December 1868 he became Colonial Secretary in Gladstone's first ministry. His tact was invaluable to the government in carrying the Irish Church and Land Bills through the House of Lords. On June 27, 1870, on Lord Clarendon's death, he became foreign secretary. With war clouds gathering in Europe, Granville worked to authorize preliminary talks to settle American disputes and in appointing the British High Commission to sail to the United States and negotiate the most comprehensive treaty of the nineteenth century in Anglo-American relations with an American commission in Washington.

Lord Granville's name is mainly associated with his career as foreign secretary (1870-1874 and 1880-1885); but the Liberal foreign policy of that period was not distinguished by enterprise or "backbone." Lord Granville personally was patient and polite, but his courteous and pacific methods were somewhat inadequate in dealing with the new situation then arising in Europe and outside it; and foreign governments had little scruple in creating embarrassments for Britain, and relying on the disinclination of the Liberal leaders to take strong measures. But Granville's Gladstonian foreign policy based on patience, peace, and no alliances kept Britain free from European wars. It brought cemented better relations with the United States, and it was innovative in supporting Gladstone's wish to settlement British-American fisheries and Civil War disputes over the Confederate cruisers built in Britain, like the "Alabama," through international arbitration in 1872. For example, the long-standing San Juan Island Water Boundary Dispute in Puget Sound, which had been left ambiguous in the Oregon Treaty of 1846 to salve relations and get a treaty sorting out the primary differences, was arbitrated by the German Emperor also in 1872. In putting British-American relations up to the world as a model for how to resolve disputes peacefully, Granville helped create a breakthrough in international relations.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 broke out within a few days of Lord Granville's quoting in the House of Lords (July 11) the curiously unprophetic opinion of the permanent under-secretary (Mr. Hammond) that "he had never known so great a lull in foreign affairs."

Russia took advantage of the situation to denounce the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris, and Lord Granville's protest was ineffectual. In 1871 an intermediate zone between Asiatic Russia and Afghanistan was agreed on between him and Shuválov; but in 1873 Russia took possession of the Khanate of Khiva, within the neutral zone, and Lord Granville had to accept the aggression (See also: The Great Game).

When the Conservatives came into power in 1874, his part for the next six years was to criticize Disraeli's "spirited" foreign policy, and to defend his own more pliant methods. He returned to the foreign office in 1880, only to find an anti-British spirit developing in German policy which the temporizing methods of the Liberal leaders were generally powerless to deal with.

Lord Granville failed to realize in time the importance of the Angra Pequeña question in 1883-1884, and he was forced, somewhat ignominiously, to yield to Bismarck over it. Whether in Egypt, Afghanistan or equatorial and south-west Africa, British foreign policy was dominated by suavity rather than by the strength which commands respect. Finally, when Gladstone took up Home Rule for Ireland, Lord Granville, whose mind was similarly receptive to new ideas, adhered to his chief (1886), and gracefully gave way to Lord Rosebery when the latter was preferred to the foreign office; the Liberals had now realized that they had lost ground in the country by Lord Granville's occupancy of the post.

He went to the Colonial Office for six months, and in July 1886 retired from public life. He died in London on March 31, 1891, being succeeded in the title by his son, born in 1872. Lord Granville was a man of much charm and many friendships, and an admirable after-dinner speaker.

He spoke French like a Parisian, and was essentially a diplomatist; but he has no place in history as a constructive statesman. Yet of late this view is being challenged. Perhaps in light of what was stated above about Granville's work as foreign secretary to conserve Anglo-American peace, and peace with Europe, which continued the growth of Britain's prosperity through informal empire, he was constructive under the guidelines of the day. Certainly, his leading the non-interventionist cabinet majority (with George Cornewall Lewis the Secretary of War) against Russell and Gladstone in September 1862 was another significant constructive contribution. Finally, his persistence in remaining Gladstone's "second" through heyday and bad days of the Liberal party in power over nearly a decade in total from 1868 through 1886, contributed to domestic political stability.


*Granville was the name of the present Canadian city of Vancouver from 1870 until its incorporation in 1886. Granville Street is a major north-south thoroughfare in the city.

*Granville, New South Wales is the name of a suburb of Sydney, Australia. It was named in 1880. [Granville: From Forest to Factory, John Watson (ed.), 1992, Granville Historical Society.]



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