Grosvenor, Richard, first Earl Grosvenor
- S. M. Farrell
Richard Grosvenor, first Earl Grosvenor (1731–1802)
Grosvenor, Richard, first Earl Grosvenor (1731–1802), politician and landowner, was born on 18 June 1731 at Eaton Hall, Cheshire, the elder son of Sir Robert Grosvenor, sixth baronet (1695–1755), MP for Chester from 1733 to 1755, and Jane (1704/5–1791), daughter of Thomas Warre of Shepton Beauchamp and Swell Court, Somerset. He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, from 1748, and took the degrees of MA in 1751 and DCL in 1754. On the death on 1 August 1755 of his father, whom he had joined in the Commons as a member for Chester at the general election of 1754, he succeeded as seventh baronet and thereafter exercised the electoral patronage of Chester, which he represented until 1761. He consolidated his Cheshire estates, for instance by purchasing the hamlet of Belgrave and the manor of Eccleston in 1758, and established close connections with Chester, where he served as mayor in 1759 and paid for the erection of the east gate in 1769.
In politics, Grosvenor at first followed the tory predilections of his father, but came to ally himself with William Pitt the elder. On 23 November 1758 he seconded the address and spoke in favour of the Pitt–Newcastle coalition. It was through Pitt that he was created Baron Grosvenor on 8 April 1761, and he took his seat in the Lords on 3 November that year. But he did not follow Pitt into opposition, instead supporting the ministry of the earl of Bute, whose peace preliminaries he seconded in the Lords on 9 December 1762. He prepared some 'hints respecting our acquisitions in America' and other papers (dated 2 February 1763) (BL, Add. MS 38335, fols. 1–5, 14–33). In May 1765 he expressed to Bute's successor, George Grenville, his 'great concern [at] a report of your being to quit' office (BL, Add. MS 57825, fol. 30), and he opposed the ensuing Rockingham administration's American policy, protesting against the repeal of the Stamp Act (11 and 17 March 1766). He subsequently sided again with the earl of Chatham (as Pitt had become) on his return to power in late 1766.
On 19 July 1764 Grosvenor had married Henrietta (bap. 1745, d. 1828), daughter of Henry Vernon of Hilton Park, Staffordshire, former MP for Lichfield and Newcastle under Lyme, with whom he had four sons. She attracted the attentions of George III's brother, Henry Frederick, duke of Cumberland, and embarked on an affair, which was brought to a sordid end by their discovery in flagrante delicto in November 1769. Grosvenor brought an action for criminal conversation against the prince, whose correspondence with his mistress was published with an account of the trial, and in July 1770 Grosvenor was awarded damages of £10,000. Satirized as ‘the Cheshire Cornuto’, he was also known to be guilty of adultery and therefore could not sue for divorce, but he separated from his wife, upon whom he settled £1200 a year. Lady Grosvenor later married (1 September 1802) George Porter, who inherited the title of Baron de Hochepied in the Hungarian nobility in 1819; they died within three months of each other in early 1828.
With his wife effectively pensioned off Grosvenor was free to return to a lifestyle that combined the rakish pursuits of horse-racing and womanizing with political influence. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1771. During the 1770s he supported the North ministry's policy during the American War of Independence. Although he was disappointed never to have been appointed lord lieutenant of Cheshire, he thereafter usually aligned himself with ministers. Having voted against Fox's India Bill on 17 December 1783, on the recommendation of William Pitt the younger he was rewarded with the title of Earl Grosvenor on 5 July 1784. In later life he increasingly delegated the exercise of the family's political influence to his son Robert Grosvenor, Viscount Belgrave, later second Earl Grosvenor and first marquess of Westminster (1767–1845).
Grosvenor was the principal patron of the satirist and journalist William Gifford and contributed to the Grosvenor family's extensive art collection. Grosvenor commissioned Richard Dalton, keeper of the king's pictures and antiquary to George III, to acquire works in Italy for the collection, and also purchased paintings from Benjamin West—including the original of The Death of Wolfe—Thomas Gainsborough, Richard Wilson, and George Stubbs. The collection would be expanded dramatically by his son. Under his auspices, the literary pieces composed at a gathering at Eaton in 1788 were published in Chester in 1789 as The Eaton Chronicle, or, The Salt-Box. He died at Earls Court, Kensington, on 5 August 1802, and was buried in the family vault at Eccleston, Cheshire, on 15 August. According to the artist Joseph Farington, who in 1793 had described him as one of the 'most profligate men, of his age, in what relates to women' (Farington, Diary, 1.5), he
had been in a bad state of health owing to a surgical complaint two years before he died. It was a stricture owing to injections while he was a free liver and for temporary relief an aperture was made as a passage, which ever remained an open wound. He declined gradually and bore his illness with much patience.ibid., 6.2098
Grosvenor, who had always been 'a dupe to the turf' and had had to make economies by selling his stock-breeding stables in 1796, left debts of at least £150,000. Ironically, given their Mayfair estates in London, the family's fortunes were potentially vast, and would indeed increase dramatically under the second earl.
- GM, 1st ser., 72 (1802), 789
- J. Croston, County families of Lancashire and Cheshire (1887), 334–5
- BL, Add. MS 38335, fols. 1–5, 14–33
- BL, Add. MS 57825, fol. 30
- The genuine copies of letters which passed between his royal highness the duke of Cumberland and Lady Grosvenor, to which is annexed, a clear and circumstantial account of the trial, 5th edn (1770)
- J. Chandos, ‘Marriage (and one or two other social institutions) Georgian style’, Horizon [New York], 16/4 (1974), 96–101
- The Eaton Chronicle, or, The salt-box (1789)
- J. V. Beckett, The aristocracy in England, 1660–1914, pbk edn (1988)
- J. Young, A catalogue of the pictures at Grosvenor House, London (1820)
- priv. coll., letters and papers
- J. Reynolds, oils, 1760, priv. coll. [see illus.]
- H. R. Cook, stipple, pubd 1808 (after J. Reynolds), BM, NPG
- T. L. Atkinson, mezzotint (after T. Gainsborough), BM, NPG
- W. Dickinson, mezzotint (in robes of mayor of Chester; after B. West), BM
- T. Gainsborough, portrait, Chester
- portrait, repro. in Chandos, ‘Marriage … Georgian style’
- portrait (after J. Reynolds)
Wealth at Death
personalty sworn under £70,000, but debts of over £100,000: TNA: PRO, death duty records, IR 26/66, no. 80; Beckett, Aristocracy in England, 304; Farington, Diary, 6.2098