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Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich

The Right Honourable
The Earl of Ripon
Lord Ripon by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
31 August 1827 – 21 January 1828
Monarch George IV
Preceded by George Canning
Succeeded by The Duke of Wellington
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
31 January 1823 – 20 April 1827
Monarch George IV
Prime Minister The Earl of Liverpool
Preceded by Nicholas Vansittart
Succeeded by George Canning
President of the Board of Trade
In office
24 January 1818 – 21 February 1823
Monarch George III
George IV
Prime Minister The Earl of Liverpool
Preceded by The Earl of Clancarty
Succeeded by William Huskisson
In office
3 September 1841 – 15 May 1843
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel
Preceded by Henry Labouchere
Succeeded by William Ewart Gladstone
Personal details
Born (1782-11-01)1 November 1782
Died 28 January 1859(1859-01-28) (aged 76)
Putney Heath, London
Political party Tory Whig Conservative
Spouse(s) Sarah
Alma mater St John's College, Cambridge

Frederick John Robinson, 1st Earl of Ripon PC (1 November 1782 – 28 January 1859), styled The Honourable F. J. Robinson until 1827 and known as The Viscount Goderich /ˈɡdrɪ/ [1] between 1827 and 1833, the name by which he is best known to history, was a British statesman. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between August 1827 and January 1828.

A member of the rural landowning aristocracy, Robinson entered politics through family connections. In the House of Commons he rose through junior ministerial ranks, achieving cabinet office in 1818 as President of the Board of Trade. In 1823 he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, a post he held for four years. In 1827 he was raised to the peerage, and in the House of Lords was Leader of the House and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

When the Prime Minister, George Canning, died in 1827 Goderich succeeded him, but was unable to hold together Canning's fragile coalition of moderate Tories and Whigs. He resigned after 144 days in office.

After leaving the premiership Goderich served in the cabinets of two of his successors, Earl Grey and Sir Robert Peel.

Life and career

Early years

Robinson was born at Newby Hall, Yorkshire, the second son of Thomas Robinson, 2nd Baron Grantham, and his wife, Lady Mary, née Yorke, daughter of the second Earl of Hardwicke.[2] He was educated at a preparatory school at Sunbury-on-Thames,[3] and, from 1796 to 1799, at Harrow followed by St John's College, Cambridge from 1799 to 1802.[4] William Pitt the Younger was Member of Parliament for Cambridge University, to which, as The Times said, "accordingly most of the budding Tory statesmen of the day resorted".[n 1] Robinson was an accomplished classicist, winning Sir William Browne's Medal for the best Latin ode in 1801.[5] After graduating in 1802 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn. He remained a member there until 1809, but did not pursue a legal career and was not called to the bar.[6]

First political appointments

Robinson entered politics through a family connection. His mother's cousin, the third Earl of Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, appointed him as his private secretary in 1804.[7] Two years later Hardwicke secured for him the parliamentary seat of Carlow, a pocket borough near Dublin.[8] In 1807 Robinson gave up the seat and was elected as MP for Ripon, close to his family home in Yorkshire.[9]

In his first years in Parliament Robinson declined offers of junior ministerial posts, out of deference to his patron Hardwicke, who was an opponent of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Portland.[4] However, the Foreign Secretary, George Canning, chose him as the secretary of Lord Pembroke's mission to Vienna, aimed at securing a new treaty of alliance between Britain and Austria.[10] The mission was unsuccessful, but Robinson's reputation was not damaged, and, as his biographer E Royston Pike puts it, "as a good Tory [he was] given several small appointments in successive ministries."[11] His political thinking was greatly influenced by Canning, but he became the protégé of Canning's rival Lord Castlereagh, who appointed him his under-secretary at the War Office in May 1809. When Castlereagh resigned from the government in October, unwilling to serve under the new Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, Robinson resigned with him.[4] In June 1810 he accepted office as a member of the Admiralty board.[4] and was made a Privy Counsellor in 1812,[12]

In 1814 Robinson married Lady Sarah Albinia Louisa Hobart (1793–1867), daughter of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, and a relation of Castlereagh. There were three children of the marriage, only one of whom survived to adulthood.[4]

Robinson served under Lord Liverpool as Vice-President of the Board of Trade between 1812 and 1818,[13] and as joint-Paymaster of the Forces between 1813 and 1817, from which position he sponsored the Corn Laws of 1815.[4] Robinson's Corn Importation Bill, successfully presented to Parliament in February 1815, was a protectionist measure, imposing minimum prices for imported wheat and other grains.[14] The historian Gregor Dallas writes:

Robinson's Bill began a debate on free trade and protection that would last for thirty years and would change the political landscape of Britain. Battle lines were drawn up in February and March, 1815, and the first shots fired in what would become one of the most furious political struggles of the century.[14]

The Corn Laws made the price of wheat artificially high, to the benefit of the landed classes and the detriment of the working classes. While the Bill was going through Parliament Robinson's London house was frequently attacked by angry citizens; in one such attack the railings outside the house were ripped out, the front door smashed open, paintings ripped, and furniture thrown out of the window.[15] In another attack two people were shot, one of them fatally.[16] Describing the incident to the House of Commons Robinson was moved to tears,[17] showing, as the biographer P J Jupp put it, "a propensity under stress which was to earn him the first of several nicknames, in this case the Blubberer".[4]

Cabinet minister

In 1818 Robinson entered the cabinet as President of the Board of Trade and Treasurer of the Navy, under the premiership of Lord Liverpool.[4] In 1823 he succeeded Nicholas Vansittart as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The historian Richard Helmstadter writes:

Robinson was a first-rate administrator, a superb head of a department. He had a good mind, a great capacity for work, and an appetite for precision. He was a great fusser, but he fussed in a gentle way, and no one disliked him for it. His very lack of strong partisan convictions enabled him to serve, almost as a neutral civil servant, a long succession of political leaders.[18]

Robinson served as Chancellor for four years, and was regarded as a success in the post.[11] The public finances were in good order, with a revenue surplus for the first three years of his chancellorship.[19] He cut taxes and made grants to house the Royal Library in the British Museum and to buy the Angerstein collection for the National Gallery. Jupp writes, "These achievements, together with his support for Catholic relief and the abolition of slavery, led to his being regarded as one of the most liberal members of the government and to two more nicknames – 'Prosperity Robinson' and 'Goody'."[4] Robinson's last year at the Treasury was overshadowed by a run on the banks, caused by the collapse of the City of London bankers Pole Thornton and Co.[20] Robinson was not blamed for the collapse, but his measures to mitigate the crisis were widely seen as half-hearted.[n 2]

Under strain from the financial crisis, Robinson asked Liverpool for a change of post. In January 1827 he was given a peerage as Viscount Goderich,[n 3] but Liverpool had no time to reshuffle his cabinet, being taken ill in February 1827 and resigning the premiership.[23] He was succeeded by Canning, whose appointment caused a major realignment in the political factions of the day. The Tories split into four groups, distinguished by their view of Catholic Emancipation. Canning and his followers were liberal on the matter; Robinson belonged to a moderate group that was willing to support Canning; the faction led by the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel opposed emancipation; and an ultra-Tory group resisted any kind of liberalising measure.[4] To the anger of the King, George IV, who regarded it as a betrayal, Wellington and Peel refused to serve under Canning. With half the Tories ranged against him, Canning was obliged to seek support from the Whigs. Goderich, appointed by Canning as Leader of the House of Lords as well as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, found the upper house no less stressful than the Commons. He was the target for the anger of the anti-Canning Tories in the Lords, suffering many personal verbal assaults; when he attempted to get a new Corn Law enacted it was defeated by an alliance of peers led by Wellington.[4]

Prime Minister

Canning's health had been declining since the beginning of 1827, and on 8 August he died.[24] A prominent Whig commented, "God has declared against us. He is manifestly for the tories, and I fear the king also, which is much worse."[25] The King, however, though he had long inclined to favour Tories over Whigs, was still angry at the refusal of Wellington and Peel to serve in Canning's cabinet. A widespread expectation (possibly shared by Wellington himself) that the King would send for Wellington was confounded.[25] On the day of Canning's death Goderich and the Home Secretary, William Sturges Bourne, were summoned to Windsor Castle, where the King announced his intention of appointing Goderich to the premiership.[n 4]

Goderich immediately encountered difficulty in balancing the conflicting demands of the King and the Whigs about the composition of his cabinet. George considered that the three ministerial posts held by Whigs were quite enough; the Whigs pressed hard for the inclusion of a fourth, Lord Holland, as Foreign Secretary.[25] Goderich satisfied nobody with his inability to resolve matters. A leading Whig, George Tierney, spoke of his party's dissatisfaction with Goderich: "[T]hey think Goderich has behaved so ill in this affair that they can have no confidence in him. They believe so much in the integrity of his character that they do not suspect him of any duplicity in what has passed, but his conduct has been marked by such deplorable weakness as shows how unfit he is for the situation he occupies."[25] There was further discontent in the coalition cabinet at Goderich's vacillation over the appointment of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, once again caught between the demands of the King and those of his Whig allies.[25] Within a month, William Huskisson, a Tory colleague, was writing of Goderich: "The king has taken the exact measure of him, and openly says he must do all the duties of a premier himself, because Goderich has no nerves! I am using nearly his own words; and he has been acting, and still talks of acting up to this declaration."[25] George's contempt for his Prime Minister was confirmed in his description of Goderich as "a damned, snivelling, blubbering blockhead."[27]

In addition to the conflicting pressures from the King and the Whigs, Goderich had to cope with the mental problems from which his wife was suffering. In December Huskisson wrote:

Poor Goderich is quite unnerved, and in a most pitiful state. Much of this misfortune is perhaps the natural effect of his character, but it is, in the present instance, greatly aggravated by the constant worry in which he has been kept by his all but crazy wife, and by the entire ascendancy which his good nature (not to say his weakness) has allowed her to assume.[25]

Wellington was by now distancing himself from the ultra-Tory wing of his party,[28] and by January 1828 the King had concluded that the coalition could not continue and that a Tory ministry under Wellington would be preferable. Goderich had already written a letter of resignation to the King, but had not yet sent it, when he was summoned to Windsor. He described the disintegrating state of his administration; the King asked him to send for the Lord Chancellor, who was in turn bidden to summon Wellington to receive the King's commission to form a government.[25] According to one account, Goderich was in tears during his interview with the King, who passed him a handkerchief, but within days Goderich was rejoicing in his release from office: "quite another man [who] sleeps at nights now, and laughs and talks as usual."[4] His premiership had lasted 144 days, which was then, and at 2012 remains, the second shortest in British history, three days longer than that of his immediate predecessor, Canning.[29]

Later cabinet posts

In 1830 Goderich moved over to the Whigs and joined Lord Grey's cabinet, as Colonial Secretary. Both on moral and on economic grounds he was strongly opposed to slavery throughout his career, and he worked hard in the 1830s for the emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire.[30] His work was continued by his successor as Colonial Secretary, Lord Stanley, whose abolitionist legislation Goderich piloted through the House of Lords.[4]

In 1833 Goderich was created Earl of Ripon.[31] He had not sought the advancement in the peerage, but wished to accept the King's offer of the Garter, for which, at that time, a viscountcy was considered an insufficient rank.[32] He left the Colonial Office in the same year, and did not wish to hold any further office, but Grey insisted on his taking the senior non-departmental post of Lord Privy Seal.[32] However, the next year Goderich and Stanley broke with the Whigs over what they saw as a threat to the established status of the Church of Ireland.[4]

From 1841 to 1843 Ripon served in Peel's second administration as President of the Board of Trade, with the young W. E. Gladstone as his deputy.[4] His final ministerial post was President of the Board of Control from 1843 to 1846.[4] During his career, as Helmstadter observes, he had been, in succession, "a Pittite, a Tory, a Canningite, a Whig, a Stanleyite, a Conservative, and a Peelite. Between 1818 and 1846 he was a member of every government except Wellington's and Melbourne's."[18]

Apart from his political career Goderich served as president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1830 to 1833, and of the Royal Society of Literature from 1834 to 1845.[33]

Ripon died at Putney Heath, London, in January 1859, aged 76.[4] He was succeeded by his only son, George who became a noted Liberal statesman and cabinet minister and was created Marquess of Ripon.[4] The son was unique in being conceived at No 11 Downing Street, while Robinson was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and being born at No 10, when his father, now Goderich, was Prime Minister.[34]

Goderich's government, September 1827 – January 1828

Notes and references



External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by
  • More about Frederick Robinson, Viscount Goderich on the 10 Downing Street website.
  • the UK National Archives
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Michael Symes
Member of Parliament for Carlow
1806 – 1807
Succeeded by
Andrew Strahan
Preceded by
Sir James Graham, Bt
Charles Allanson-Winn
Member of Parliament for Ripon
1807 – 1827
With: George Gipps 1807–1826
Lancelot Shadwell 1826–1827
Succeeded by
Lancelot Shadwell
Louis Hayes Petit
Political offices
Preceded by
George Rose
Vice-President of the Board of Trade
1812 – 1818
Succeeded by
Thomas Wallace
Preceded by
Lord Charles Somerset
Paymaster of the Forces
1813 – 1817
with Charles Long
Succeeded by
Charles Long
Preceded by
The Earl of Clancarty
President of the Board of Trade
1818 – 1823
Succeeded by
William Huskisson
Preceded by
George Rose
Treasurer of the Navy
1818 – 1823
Preceded by
Nicholas Vansittart
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1823 – 1827
Succeeded by
George Canning
Preceded by
The Earl Bathurst
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
Succeeded by
William Huskisson
Preceded by
George Canning
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
31 August 1827 – 21 January 1828
Succeeded by
The Duke of Wellington
Preceded by
The Earl of Liverpool
Leader of the House of Lords
1827 – 1828
Preceded by
Sir George Murray
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
1830 – 1833
Succeeded by
Lord Stanley
Preceded by
The Lord Durham
Lord Privy Seal
1833 – 1834
Succeeded by
The Earl of Carlisle
Preceded by
Henry Labouchere
President of the Board of Trade
1841 – 1843
Succeeded by
William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by
Lord FitzGerald and Vesey
President of the Board of Control
1843 – 1846
Succeeded by
Sir John Cam Hobhouse
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl of Ripon
1833 – 1859
Succeeded by
George Robinson
Viscount Goderich
1827 – 1859
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