The Prime Ministers: Lord North

Note: Because Lord North is the last Prime Minister whom I view as not being too recent, but also as having had a long enough career to write an article on, this will be the last post in The Prime Ministers series. It will be replaced on Mondays by another series.

Frederick North was born on April 13th, 1732 in London. He was educated, unsurprisingly, at Eton and Oxford, then took a grand tour of Europe, during the course of which he studied at the University of Leipzig. In 1754, at age 22, he was elected unopposed to the Commons as Member for Banbury. North became a junior Lord of the Treasury under the Second Newcastle Ministry, and fast became known for being personable and easy to work with, as well as competent, while his politics drifted to the Tory side of the spectrum. North successfully led a motion to expel a radical MP who had made a libelous attack against the government from the Commons, but otherwise stayed out of the public eye through the 1760s, not wishing to join any of the Whig governments of the time until 1766, when he joined William Pitt the Elder’s Ministry; in 1767, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer as Charles Townsend’s (of the Townsend Acts fame) successor, and then Leader of the Commons the following year. Pitt resigned in 1768, leaving the Ministry to Lord Grafton, and when Grafton too resigned in 1770, North became Prime Minister. The first event of his ministry was much like one which occurred 212 years later, when Spain tried to seize the Falklands Islands. North faced Spain down, and the latter desisted on French advice. This incident boosted North’s early popularity, but it gave him the incorrect notions that France would not fight Britain over colonial affairs, and an exaggerated sense of the power of the Royal Navy.


In 1773, following the Boston Tea Party, North introduced the Coercive Acts, designed to pummel the American colonies into submission. They had the opposite effect, enraging the colonists even more In 1775, the US War of Independence broke out with the Battle of Lexington, and things went quickly downhill for North. Although New York and Philadelphia were taken early in the war, the British military was unable to conclusively defeat the colonists, while France, Spain and Holland all joined the war against Britain between 1778 and 1780. The war was unpopular, and facing manpower shortages, the government tried to end restrictions on Catholics in the military, which caused the Gordon Riots of 1780. Martial law had to be declared to put down these anti-Catholic London riots. After a brief resurgence of popularity following the 1781 capture of Charleston, North was turned out of office in 1782 by a Vote of No Confidence, the first Prime Minister to suffer this fate. In 1783, North returned to government in a coalition with Charles Fox, which was nominally led by the Duke of Portland, and helped sign the peace to the war he had so badly managed. North was elevated to the Lords in 1790, and died two years later.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s