Frederick, Lord North

1770 - 1782

North (1732-92) had as a young man in the 1750s supported Newcastle, but after 1760 he emerged as a Tory (his father was a nominal Whig and gained the Guilford earldom and a Rockingham third wife thereby, but earlier family members included a Stuart Lord Chancellor and several Jacobites). North was George III’s obvious and thankful choice when Grafton resigned and served him for 12 years, rewarded in 1772 by one of only two 18th-century Garters awarded to a commoner. His Toryism, and the predominantly though not exclusively Tory flavour of his government was however anathema to the Whiggish and Dissenting American colonists. With such a government, however mild and competent, the American colonists felt un-represented and grievances festered even among the moderates.

North, an amiable man who made friends easily, was an excellent administrator with a good financial sense and a good, witty Commons performer who dominated the House, albeit with an off-putting appearance and mannerisms. He was thus a good peacetime prime minister until 1775. Somewhat indecisive, he was then an ineffectual war leader.

After 1778 North served much less capably and happily than before only because the King could find nobody else who would continue the war – both North’s candidates for the succession, Chatham and the 12th Earl of Suffolk (1739-79), collapsed in Parliament and died before they could take up the poisoned chalice. 1778-82 was thus the last period of predominantly Royal government in British history, with Charles Jenkinson and John Robinson (1727-1802) as the main facilitators of Royal wishes within the administration. Still, even as late as 1780 North won a thumping election majority, and his followers stuck with him closely enough to make it worth Fox coalescing with him in 1783.

North has been a figure of fun to historians. This is unfair overall, though the war years do drag him down. Overall, he should probably be somewhere in the 30s, a little below average. As a dining companion, he would rank among prime ministers considerably higher than that -- much more fun than the bores and egomaniacs who dominate this list.

© 2020 Martin Hutchinson