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Grey, Ford, earl of Tankervillelocked

(bap. 1655, d. 1701)
  • Richard L. Greaves

Grey, Ford, earl of Tankerville (bap. 1655, d. 1701), conspirator and politician, was baptized on 20 July 1655 at Harting, Sussex, the son of Ralph Grey, second Baron Grey of Warke (bap. 1630, d. 1675), and Catherine (1634–c.1682), widow of Alexander Colepeper and daughter of Sir Edward Ford of Harting. About 1674 Grey married Mary Berkeley (d. 1719), daughter of George Berkeley, ninth Baron Berkeley and later first earl of Berkeley, and Elizabeth Massingberd, daughter of John Massingberd. Grey succeeded his father as Lord Grey of Warke on 24 June 1675.

Committed to the country programme—he had an instinctive distrust of the court and courtiers—Grey canvassed Essex on behalf of country parliamentary candidates in March 1679. In May, acting as a teller for a vote on the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act, he counted a corpulent peer as ten, enabling the country to carry a vote for a conference with the Commons by a majority of two. During the spring Grey, the earl of Shaftesbury, and others met regularly with Titus Oates. With Shaftesbury and three other peers, Grey supported Oates's charges against the queen. Grey's backing for Sir Robert Peyton's parliamentary candidacy in September 1679 nearly incited a riot in London. Grey, Shaftesbury, Lord Howard of Escrick, and others petitioned the king in December, asking that parliament convene in January 1680. On 30 June 1680 Grey, nine other peers, and ten commoners, including Lord William Russell, attempted in king's bench to accuse the duke of York of Catholicism, but the judges pre-empted them by dismissing the jury. A member of the Green Ribbon Club, Grey supported efforts to exclude James from the succession, and in December 1680 he voted to attaint the Catholic peer Viscount Stafford. With Buckingham, Grey campaigned—unsuccessfully—for Slingsby Bethel in March 1681 when the latter stood as MP for Southwark. Blamed for a tumult during the London shrieval election in June 1682 Grey, Richard Goodenough, and others were tried and convicted (May 1683); when Grey failed to appear for sentencing in June, he was fined 1000 marks.

Grey attracted attention in other ways. About 1680, suspecting his wife was having an affair with the duke of Monmouth, he reportedly ordered her to leave London within hours, but his relationship with the duke survived this contretemps. Later, when he ridiculed the duke of Albemarle's ornate gun, calling it a 'coxcomb's fancy' and a fool's weapon, the latter challenged him to a duel (Price, 72); Grey bested him on 1 June 1682, forcing Albemarle to surrender his sword. Later the same year the earl of Berkeley learned that Grey had been having an affair with Lady Henrietta (Harriet) Berkeley (b. in or after 1664, d. 1706), another of the earl's daughters and Grey's sister-in-law. When she fled, Grey refused to disclose her whereabouts until her family promised not to send her to France, whereupon the earl accused Grey in king's bench on 23 October of conspiring to take her away; Grey pleaded not guilty. On 6 November Berkeley filed suit de homine replegiando, indicating that she had been forcefully or fraudulently taken away and detained. Grey was found guilty but no punishment was imposed. The scandal formed the basis for Aphra Behn's fictionalized account in The Love Letters of a Nobleman to his Sister (3 vols., 1684–7): the first volume drew upon trial reports of the case.

Much of the information concerning Grey's participation in the plotting of Shaftesbury and Monmouth in the early 1680s comes from his fulsome confession in 1685, which has been criticized as self-serving and chronologically imprecise, but much of it can be corroborated. Grey first heard Shaftesbury discuss the use of force to assure a protestant succession after the Lords rejected the Exclusion Bill in November 1680, but Monmouth, Grey, Russell, and Sir Thomas Armstrong demurred. The subject was revived when they learned of Charles's ill health in May 1682, and continued when the lord mayor declared the tory candidates victorious in the London shrieval election. Grey refused his cohorts' request to seek support in Essex with the help of Colonel Henry Mildmay, whom he disliked. The conspirators hoped to mount an uprising after Monmouth's return from Cheshire, but support in London was inadequate. In September Grey and the others, over Shaftesbury's objections, opted for delay. After Grey and Robert Ferguson conferred with Sir John Trenchard about support in the south-west, the plotters set 19 November for the insurrection. Grey, Monmouth, and Armstrong reconnoitred the night-time disposition of the royal guards and conferred with Lord Brandon and Sir Gilbert Gerard about backing in Cheshire. However, in the absence of further word from Trenchard, the cabal postponed the rebellion.

Shaftesbury's flight to the Netherlands in November 1682 temporarily halted the plotting, but in February Monmouth told Grey that a council was again laying plans. Although the duke invited Grey to join, he was dissuaded by Monmouth's depiction of internal division between monarchists (Monmouth and Russell) and republicans (Essex, Algernon Sidney, and John Hampden). Monmouth reiterated the invitation in March, and the following month Grey and Russell consulted with Sir John Cochrane, one of the Scots who had come to London to discuss co-ordinated uprisings. Later that month, Grey insisted that a declaration be drafted and that a military commander, not a council, lead the rebellion. The conspirators agreed to lend Argyll £10,000 for a Scottish insurrection. However, on 11 May, acting on a tip, searchers found eighty to ninety muskets and armour concealed in Grey's London house; he claimed the weapons were for his estates in Essex, Sussex, and Northumberland. After Grey and two sureties posted recognizances totalling £20,000, he was released. He retired to his Sussex home, asking Russell to contribute £3000 to the uprising on his behalf, with assurance of repayment. Following Josiah Keeling's disclosure of the Rye House conspiracy, Grey was arrested on 26 June, but he escaped when the messenger taking him to London fell asleep [see also Rye House plotters]. The government offered £500 for Grey's apprehension, but he escaped to the Netherlands, taking his mistress, a pregnant Lady Henrietta Berkeley, and her husband with him. Grey was indicted for high treason on 12 July 1683.

Grey spent his exile in Cleves and occasionally the Netherlands. He evaded capture by royalist agents at Leiden in June 1684, and the following year failed to raise money to purchase a command in Brandenburg. Required to leave Cleves, Grey relocated to Amsterdam, where he helped Argyll and Monmouth plan their invasions. He sailed with the latter, whose cavalry he rather ineptly commanded. At Bridport (14 June 1685), Grey was willing to take on a much larger force of local militia, but then fled in the confusion of battle when he thought that all was lost, and the situation had to be saved by his subordinates. In the night attack at Sedgemoor (5–6 July), though later bitterly accused of cowardice by Monmouth, he seems to have displayed some courage and resolution, but was dogged by ill luck and the inexperience of himself and his men. He was taken the day after the battle. Grey's life was spared because of Lord Lumley's intervention, Grey's willingness to provide a full confession, and the earl of Rochester's financial stake in keeping Grey alive. Eleven months earlier, the earl had been given £16,000, to be paid from Grey's estate over twenty-one years, but with payments to cease upon Grey's death. When Grey's brother Ralph posted a bond of £140,000, agreeing to pay Rochester's debts and others totalling £18,000, Grey's attainder was reversed. His pardon passed the great seal on 12 November 1685. His title was restored on 7 June 1686, the same month that his estate at Up Park, Sussex, was returned. He testified as a witness for the crown in the trials of lords Brandon and Delamere.

When William invaded, Grey declined to join James's troops, citing a recent fall from his horse. He was active in the convention, attending seventy-one of the seventy-eight sessions, and voting with thirty-five other peers to protest against the Lords' rejection of a clause averring that James had abdicated. Still a committed whig, in March 1689 he favoured the exemption of protestant nonconformists from the Test Act, and in May he opposed the Lords decision not to reverse the judgment against Oates. Ill health kept him from involvement in parliament between November 1689 and November 1691, but it was another three years before he participated regularly. William appointed Grey to the privy council in May 1695 and created him earl of Tankerville on 11 June 1695. An adept negotiator, he participated in the conference with representatives from the House of Commons to finalize the Trial of Treasons Act (1696). The same year he supported the Association Bill and managed Sir John Fenwick's attainder. With Lord Somers, he fought unsuccessfully in 1698 for a compromise that would have allowed William to keep his Dutch brigade. A member of the Board of Trade from 15 May 1696, when he replaced the earl of Stamford, until 1699, Tankerville attended fewer meetings than nearly all his fellow members. He also served as a lord of the Treasury (June 1699 to December 1700, being the first lord for the last twelve months), a lord justice (June 1700), and lord privy seal (from November 1700 until his death the following year). He declined the first lordship of the Admiralty, professing that he would rather be dragged through a horse pond, probably because of the Commons' recent investigation of the Admiralty. An influential courtier and an able orator, Tankerville showed little talent as an administrator.

Tankerville died in Pall Mall, London, on 24 June 1701 and was buried at Harting on 1 July. His wife outlived him and died on 19 May 1719. Their only child, Mary, married Charles Bennet, second Baron Ossulston, in 1695. In his will, dated 31 May 1696, Tankerville left his estate to his daughter, though much of it was successfully claimed by Rochester in 1704 as payment for debts. He also remembered Lady Henrietta Berkeley, when he left her £200 p.a. in a codicil dated 17 April 1701.

Moved to embrace radical political courses in the late 1670s and 1680s by a deep concern about the perceived threat of international Catholicism to English liberties and protestantism, Grey hovered near the most influential whigs but never obtained their stature. Inept as a military commander and not particularly effective as a conspirator, he lived to serve the Williamite regime loyally if not with distinction.


  • TNA: PRO, state papers domestic, 29/424–425, 427–430, 433–434, 438
  • entry book, TNA: PRO, 44
  • BL, Lansdowne MS 1152
  • The secret history of the Rye-House plot: and of Monmouth's rebellion (1754)
  • BL, Harley MS 6845
  • GEC, Peerage, new edn, vol. 6
  • R. L. Greaves, Secrets of the kingdom: British radicals from the Popish Plot to the revolution of 1688–89 (1992)
  • C. Price, Cold Caleb [1956]
  • BL, Add. MSS 8127, 38847, 41809, 62453
  • U. Edin. L., Laing MS La.I.332
  • N. Luttrell, A brief historical relation of state affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols. (1857), esp. vols. 1–4
  • [T. Sprat], Copies of the informations and original papers relating to the proof of the horrid conspiracy against the late king, his present majesty and the government (1685)
  • State trials, vols. 9, 11


  • TNA: PRO, family papers, C 104/81–83
  • Berks. RO, Grey of Warke MSS
  • BL, Add. MSS 8127, 38847, 41809, 62453
  • BL, Harley MS 6845
  • BL, Lansdowne MS 1152
  • Essex RO, Grey family MSS
  • TNA: PRO, entry book, 44
  • TNA: PRO, state papers domestic, SP 29/424–425, 427–430, 433–434, 438
  • U. Edin., Laing MS La.I.332


  • P. Lely, oils, 1672, Audley End, Essex; repro. in Price, Cold Caleb
  • C. N. Schurtz, line engraving, 1689 (after P. Lely), BM, NPG
  • A. Browne, mezzotint (after P. Lely), BM, NPG
  • P. Lely, portrait, BM; repro. in Price, Cold Caleb
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
W. Cobbett, ed. T. B. Howell & T. J. Howell, 34 vols. (1809–28)
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London