2nd Duke of Grafton (1690-1757), Lord Chamberlain (1724-1757)
Born 1683 Died 1757
Born on the 25th October 1683 at Arlington House, Charles Fitzroy was the only child of Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton and Isabella Bennet who was herself a great heiress, being the only child of the former Secretary of State, Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington. Of course his father Henry was himself allegedly the illegitimate son of Charles II by the notorious Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, and so at the young Charles's baptism on the 30th October, his sponsors were the king himself, together with the Prince of Orange, and Anne, Princess of Denmark.
Charles was styled the Earl of Euston as a child, until that is his father Henry died on the 9th October 1690 from wounds suffered during the storming of Cork, shortly before his seventh birthday. Indeed although nominally a Stuart the 1st Duke had been amongst the keenest supporters of William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution, and Charles in turn remained faithful to the their Hanoverian sucessors. The young 2nd Duke signed up as an army volunteer in April 1703 and served under the Duke of Marlborough at the siege of Bonn with the rank of captain of horse, although by January 1704 he was back home having abandoned any idea of a military career. Soon afterwards he took his seat in the House of Lords on his twenty-first birthday on the 25th October 1704. His Whig politics were soon apparent and he was appointed the Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk in 1705, and subsequently served as the Lord High Steward for the coronation of George I in 1714, and then as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber from 1714 to 1717. He then became the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1720 although he soon fell out with the Irish Lord Chancellor, Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton, and later resigned that office in 1724 over the issue of William Wood's infamous patent to produce copper coins for Ireland.
The unemployed Charles was then appointed as Lord Chamberlain in April 1724, a post that he held for the remainder of his life, being thus placed at the centre of the court ceremonial for a period of twenty-three years, throughout the remainder of the reign of George I, and much of the reign of George II. His responsibilites included those of censoring plays and selecting the Poet Laureate but these were minor tasks in comparison to the central role he played in the organisation of the daily life of the court, deciding on crucial matters of precedence and the like, whilst ensuring that their majesties were kept suitably amused and diverted.
The manner in which he performed these duties became the subject of much contemporary debate. Jonathan Swift declared that Charles was "almost a slobberer, without one good quality", and James Waldegrave, 1st Earl Waldegrave described him as being "totally illiterate", whilst noting that "yet from long observation and great natural sagacity he became the courtier of his time". Indeed John, Lord Hervey was particularly unimpressed by Charles, and wrote rather disparingly of his conversational style, describing as a "sort of gold leaf, that is a great embelishing where it is joined to anything else, but makes a very poor figure by itself." He also composed the following little satirical ditty;
So you friend booby Grafton, I'll e'en let you keep
Awake he can't hurt, and he's still half asleep.
Nor ever was dangerous but to womankind
And his body's as impotent now as his mind
However as the Earl Waldegrave was to note, Charles "was a great teazer" and "had an established right of saying whatever he pleased", and thus he appears to have developed the ability to communicate unpleasant truths to his royal masters without causing offence. In fact whether Charles was quite the "booby" he seemed to some is debatable. Horace Walpole observed that "With very good common-sense and knowledge of mankind he contrived to be generally thought a fool and by being thought so contrived to be always well at Court and to have it so remarked that he was so", whilst remarking that he had "the greatest penetration in finding out the foibles of men that ever I knew and wit in teasing them". Or indeed as the Duke of Manchester put it he was "shrewd, witty, and only seemingly simple".
Charles was also reputed to have been the lover of the Princess Amelia, daughter of George II, as the two spent a great deal of time hunting together in Windsor Forest. Oddly enough the King raised no objection to the time they spent together, although he did object to the fact that the Duke was "spending all his time in tormenting a poor fox, that was generally a much better beast than those who pursued him", whilst expressing his sympathy for the Duke's horse which had to carry "his great corps of twenty stone weight". Indeed hunting was one of Charles's enthusiasms, which amongst other things provided a useful excuse for absenting himself from court at times of political crisis, which he continued to practice regularly into this seventies and which eventually proved the death of him. He suffered a fall from his horse whilst out hunting in February 1757, and injured his leg, which later turned septic and resulted in his death on the 6th May 1757 at the age of seventy-three, being later buried at Euston on the 13th.
In addition to inheriting a raft of titles from his father he also
inherited the titles of the Earl of Arlington, Viscount Thetford and Baron Arlington from his mother after her death on the 7th February 1723. He was married to Henrietta Somerset, the daughter of Charles Somerset, Marquess of Worcester and sister of the 2nd Duke of Beaufort, who bore him a total of eight children; four boys and four girls. One would have thought that an heir and three spares would have been more than enough, but as it happened all four sons were to predecease their father. The eldest Charles Henry (1714-1715) died before his second birthday, the youngest Charles (1718-1739) died unmarried. Son number two, the infamous George Fitzroy, Earl of Euston (1715-1747) died without issue, and so it was left to the two sons of the third son Augustus Fitzroy (1716-1741) to keep the dynasty going. Thus it was the eldest of these two boys, Augustus who succeeded his grandfather and became the 3rd Duke of Grafton in 1757. Charles also had at least one illegitimate child, Charles Fitzroy-Scudamore (1707-1782) who enjoyed a long career as a Member of Parliament and was indeed the father of the House of Commons at the time of his death.
- George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
- The entry for GRAFTON from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
- Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
- E.S. Turner Amazing Grace: The Great Days of Dukes (Sutton Publishing, 2003)
- A. A. Hanham, ‘FitzRoy, Charles, second duke of Grafton (1683–1757)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Oct 2007