Born 1815 Died 1891
Granville George Leveson-Gower, eldest son of the 1st Earl Granville (1773-1846), by his marriage with Lady Harriet, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, was born in London on the 11th of May 1815. (*) After being at Eton 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; see Acton and Dalberg). 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 succeeded Palmerston at the foreign office until Lord John Russell's defeat in 1852; and when Lord Aberdeen formed his government at the end of the year, he became first President of the Council, and then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1854). Under Lord Palmerston (1855) he was president of the council. His interest in education (a subject associated with this office) led to his election (1856) as chancellor of the London University, 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 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. He was made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and in the same year married again, his second wife being Miss Castalia Campbell.
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 the 27th of June 1870, on Lord Clarendon's death, he was transferred to the foreign office. 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 Great Britain, and relying on the disinclination of the Liberal leaders to take strong measures.
The Franco-German War of 1870 broke out within a few days of Lord Granville's quoting in the House of Lords (11th of July) 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 Shuvalov; but in 1873 Russia took possession of Khiva, within the neutral zone, and Lord Granville had to accept the aggression. 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 Pequena 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 the 31st of March 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.
The life of Lord Granville (1905), by Lord Fitzmaurice, is full of interesting material for the history of the period, but being written by a Liberal, himself an under-secretary for foreign affairs, it explains rather than criticizes Lord Granville's work in that department. (H.C.H.)
Extracted from the entry for GRANVILLE, GRANVILLE GEORGE LEVESON-GOWER, 2ND EARL in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain. (*) Excluded the text here that refers to the 2nd Earl's father and predecessor.