3rd Duke of Grafton (1757-1811)
British Prime Minister (1768-1770)
Lord Privy Seal (1771-1775, 1768)
Born 1735 Died 1811
Also known as the "Royal Oak" and "The Turf Macaroni"
Augustus Henry Fitzroy was born on the 28th September 1735, being the son of Augustus Fitzroy and Elizabeth Cosby, but more importantly he was the grandson of the 2nd Duke of Grafton. After his father's early death on the 24th May 1741, Augustus Henry became the heir apparent to the dukedom and was thus known as the Earl of Euston during his youth.
Educated at Westminster School and Peterhouse College, Cambridge, he first entered Parliament on the 10th December 1756 representing first Boroughbridge and then Bury St. Edmunds, but his time in the House of Commons was necessarily brief as following his grandfather's death on the
6th May 1757 he became the 3rd Duke of Grafton and took his seat in the House of Lords. Despite however entering politics at such an early age it was a number of years before he made his maiden speech, on the 9th December 1762 to be precise, when he spoke on the question of the terms of the Peace of Paris.
At this time Augustus was known as an opponent of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, George III's favourite and Prime Minister between 1762 and 1763, but afterwards began to adopt a more positive attitude towards the crown. In 1765 he was Secretary of State under the Marquess of Rockingham; but he resigned the next year, after Rockingham refused to find a position for William Pitt1. However his support of Pitt proved worthwhile as in the following year he was appointed First Lord of the Treasury when William Pitt became Prime Minister in July 1766. Augustus' nominal position as head of government gradually became more tangible as he was forced to take charge of the government as a result of Pitt's illness and in October 1768 became recognised as Prime Minister when Pitt finally resigned.
His short period of office was not particularly happy as Augustus was largely preoccupied with trying to maintain the disintegrating administration he'd inherited, whilst dealing with the difficult American colonial situation and the various ramifications of the North Briton case and the repeated attempts of John Wilkes to take his seat in Parliament.
It has to be said that although Augustus Henry has been described as "one of the leading politicians of his time"2 he was probably one of the least effective and most incompetent individuals ever to have held the office of Prime Minister. Augustus appears to have entered politics out of a sense of duty but despite his good intentions he was singularly unsuited to political office of any kind. Although well regarded by some of his contemporaries in Parliament others were only to aware of his faults. The Spectator described him as "a man of weak will, admiral purpose, and common intellect ... for politics he had not the smallest talent" whilst William Massey said that he was "unsteady, capricious and indolent, he had hardly any quality of a statesman". Throughout his period in office he was subject to the attacks of the satirist Junius in the Public Advertiser who condemned him with the words "It is not that you do wrong by design, but that you should never do right by mistake." Most of this criticism was well deserved as Augustus was singularly unsuited to political life and regularly fell asleep during cabinet meetings.3
Augustus' major problem was that he was more interested in women and horses than politics and was thus condemned by Town and Country as "a gamester who squandered the treasures of the nation upon horses and women". Indeed he was a notorious womaniser and his brief tenure as Prime Minister was further complicated by the fact that he conducted a rather public affair with a certain Nancy Parsons, the daughter of a Bond Street tailor who married a gentleman named Horton and became known as 'everybody's Mrs Horton'. Junius composed a set of obscene verses on the affair under the title Henry and Nan, which although far too graphic to be published, circulated privately and did much to embarrass poor Augustus and so upset him that he was quite unable to perform any official duties whatsoever. It eventually all became too much for Augustus who finally resigned on the 21st January 1770.
Despite the scandal however he remained in good favour with George III who promptly awarded him the Order of the Garter. This wasn't quite the end of Augustus' political career as he did accept the office of Lord Privy Seal in Lord North's government in 1771 only to resign in 1775 over the question of the American colonies, and was again Lord Privy Seal in 1782 in the Marquess of Rockingham's second ministry.
Thereafter the Duke of Grafton faded from the political scene, but whereas his parliamentary career was somewhat undistinguished he was far more successful in his chosen passion of racing. The racing stud that he established at Euston Hall came to dominate racing during the first quarter of the 19th century. Together with his son George Henry Fitzroy the 4th Duke, who shared his passion for the turf, the Euston Hall stud produced no less than twenty-five winners of the Derby and the Oaks between the years 1800 and 1837.
The 3rd Duke was twice married. He was first married to Anne Liddell, daughter of Sir Henry Liddell, Baron Ravensworth of Ravensworth Castle on the 29th January 1756. Anne produced five children, three of whom survived infancy but the couple were separated some nine years later and divorced on the 23rd March 1769. (Neither party remained faithful to their marriage vows.) Augustus was married for the second time to Elizabeth Wrottesley on the 24th June 1769. Although Elizabeth was not regarded as particularly attractive she did apparently posses a "quiet and amiable character". The Duke himself praised her "tenderness and affection as mother of a numerous family", which is just as well as she bore him thirteen children in sixteen years.
As noted above Augustus did not restrict his amorous activities to his wives and also fathered a number of illegitimate children, as many as thirteen according to some accounts. It is therefore somewhat surprising (but not unusual) to find that he discovered religion in his later years when he became a prominent Unitarian. He eventually died at his home in Euston Hall, Suffolk on the 14th March 1811 at the age of seventy-five.
1 This would be William Pitt 'the Elder', known as the Earl of Chatham from the 4th August 1766 onwards.
2 The opinion of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
3 The quotations from The Spectator, Mr Massey, Junius and from Town and Country in the succeeding paragrah are all dragged from Brian Master's book noted below.
4 Anne or Nancy Parsons was also, at various times, the mistress of the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Dorset and eventually married Charles Maynard, 2nd Viscount Maynard in 1776. Not that her marriage apparently changed her habits to any great degree.
- Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for GRAFTON, DUKES OF
- Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton at
- The ministry of Augustus Henry Fitzroy, third Duke of Grafton October 1768 - January 1770
- Horse Racing info from
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Stirnet Genealogy at
- The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm