February 11th – in 1806 – William Grenville became Prime Minister

In 1806 Britain was still at war with France and the wars fought with France in the period from 1801-1815 are known as the Napoleonic Wars.  George III (Mad King George) was on the throne although the Prince Regent was already causing havoc. Less than 3% of the population had the right to vote in elections – the Reform Acts were 30 years in the future – but after the death of the Tory politician – William Pitt the Younger, King George asked William Grenville to form a “Ministry of All Talents” to try and negotiate an end to the conflict with France.  William was the son of George Grenville who had been Prime Minister and a cousin of William Pitt. 

Grenville aimed to form the strongest possible government and so included most leading politicians from almost all groupings, although some followers of the younger Pitt, led by George Canning, refused to join.

The inclusion of Charles James Fox raised eyebrows as King George III had previously been very hostile to Fox, but the King's willingness to put aside past enmities for the sake of national unity encouraged many others to join or support the government as well. The ministry had a fairly progressive agenda, much of it inherited from Pitt.  Within this short lived government were names that we may still recognise today – George Walpole, Earl Spencer (Diana, Princess of Wales 3rd Great Grandfather) and Viscount Sidmouth who had been Prime Minister from 1801-1804.

The Ministry of All the Talents had comparatively little success, failing to bring the sought-after peace with France. In fact, the war continued for nearly another decade. It did, however, abolish the slave trade in Britain in 1807 before breaking up over the question of Catholic emancipation.

This is a fascinating period of history which has many colourful stories – The Prince Regent being quite a character; the Industrial revolution and the changing nature of the national landscape, leading up to the great Whig Social reforms of the 1830s.