Lord North

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Lord North was born in London on the 13th of April 1732, at the family house at Albemarle Street, just off Piccadilly, though he spent much of his youth at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire.

Lord North’s strong physical resemblance to George III suggested to contemporaries that Prince Frederick might have been North’s real father (and North the King’s brother), a theory compatible with the Prince’s reputation but supported by little real evidence.

North was descended from the 1st Earl of Sandwich and was related to Samuel Pepys and the 3rd Earl of Bute.

He at times had a slightly turbulent relationship with his father Francis North, 1st Earl of Guilford, yet they were 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.

In November 1763 he was chosen to speak for the Government concerning radical MP John Wilkes.

Wilkes had made a savage attack on both the Prime Minister and the King in his newspaper The North Briton, which many thought libellous.

North’s motion that Wilkes be expelled from the House of Commons passed by 273 votes to 111.

Wilkes’ expulsion took place in his absence, as he had already fled to France following a duel.

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 expand to a peak by 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.

During peacetime North’s financial administration was sound, but he lacked the initiative to introduce radical fiscal reforms.

The most important events of his ministry were those concerned with the American Revolution.

He cannot be accused of causing it, but one of the first acts of his ministry was the retention of the tea duty, and his ministry responded to the Boston Tea Party with the Coercive Acts of 1774.

Underestimating the colonists’ powers of resistance, he attempted to combine severity and conciliation.

He faced war halfheartedly and was easily depressed by reverses; after 1777 it was only George III’s repeated entreaties not to abandon his sovereign to the mercy of the Rockingham Whigs that induced North to defend a war that at times he felt to be hopeless and impolitic.

From late 1766 to mid-1769, poor health removed Chatham from politics.

The Duke of Grafton became the nominal head of the ministry, but he lacked the charisma and leadership necessary to govern.

Slowly, the Chathamite ministers resigned first, Shelburne, then Granby and Camden, then others–and went into Opposition.

Grafton was soon surrounded by ministers he could not control and hostility to his ministry grew in Parliament.

The crisis over the return of the radical John Wilkes and his subsequent election from Middlesex leads to the resignation of the Duke.

The stage was now set for Lord North to become Prime Minister.