Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grey, Charles (1729-1807)

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GREY, CHARLES, first Earl Grey (1729–1807), general, was second surviving son of Sir Henry Grey, first baronet of Howick, Northumberland. The father was high sheriff of that county in 1738,was created a baronet in 1746, and died in 1749, having married in 1720 Hannah, daughter of Thomas Wood of Falloden, near Ainwick. By her, who died in 1764, he had, with other issue, two sons—Henry, second baronet (died unmarried in 1808), and Charles, who became the first earl Grey. Charles was born at Howick in 1729, and at the age of nineteen obtained an ensigncy of foot. He was a lieutenant from 23 Dec. 1752, in 6th foot (Guise's), then at Gibraltar. His name appears in the 'Annual Army List' for 1754, the first published officially. Having raised men for an independent company he became captain 21 March 1755, and on 31 May was brought into the 20th foot, of which Wolfe was lieutenant-colonel. He served with the regiment in the Rochefort expedition of 1757, and went with it to Germany the year after, where his regiment won great fame at Minden 1 Aug. 1759, on which occasion Grey was wounded while acting as aide-de-camp to Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. He was again wounded in command of the light company of the regiment at Campen, 14 Oct. 1760. On 21 Jan. 1761 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel-commandant of the newly raised 98th foot, the earliest of several regiments so numbered in succession. He is said to have served with it at the siege of Belle Isle. The regiment, which was formed at Chichester, served at the siege of Belle Isle in 1761 and the capture of Havana in 1762, and was disbanded at the peace of 1763, when Grey was placed on half-pay. He became colonel in the army and king's aide-de-camp in 1772.

In 1776 he went out with the reinforcements under General Howe, and received the local rank of major-general in America, which was made substantive two years later. He displayed a vigour and activity in which many other English leaders were conspicuously wanting. On 21 Sept. 1777 he surprised a force under the American general Anthony Wayne, and routed it with great loss, a success bitterly resented by the Americans. Grey had taken the precaution to have the flints removed from his men's muskets, to prevent any possible betrayal of their advance, from which incident he acquired the nickname of 'No-flint Grey.' He commanded the third brigade of the army at the battle of Germantown, Philadelphia, 4 Oct. 1777. In the autumn of 1778 he inflicted heavy loss on the enemy by the capture and destruction of stores at New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard. Soon after his return thence he surprised Bayler's corps of Virginian dragoons near New Tappan, and, according to American accounts, annihilated the entire regiment (Appleton, Dict.) On his return home in 1782 Grey, who had been appointed major-general and colonel of the 28th foot in 1778, was promoted to lieutenant-general and made K.B. He was also appointed commander-in-chief in America, but the war having come to an end he never took up the command. In 1785 Grey was one of a board of land and sea officers nominated by the king, under the presidency of the Duke of Richmond, to investigate the question of the defenceless state of the dockyards. Grey was one of the majority of the board which reported in favour of fortifying both Portsmouth and Plymouth. A motion to that effect, introduced by Mr. Pitt on 27 Feb, 1786, was lost on division by the casting vote of the speaker (Parl. Debates, vol. xxv.) In 1787 Grey was transferred to the colonelcy of the 8th dragoons, and in 1789 to that of the 7th dragoon guards. In 1793 Grey and Jervis (afterwards, Earl St. Vincent) were appointed to command a combined expedition against the revolted French West India islands. Before it sailed the Duke of York had retired from before Dunkirk, and the ports of Nieuport and Ostend were in immediate peril. Grey was accordingly despatched with a small force to relieve Nieuport, a service which he effected. On his return the expedition, which was marked by the perfect accord between the two services, left England for Barbadoes, 23 Nov. 1793. Martinique was reduced in March 1794, and St. Lucia, the Saints, and Guadeloupe were taken in April. At the beginning of June the same year a superior French force from Rochefort regained possession of Guadeloupe, the British garrison, which was greatly reduced by fever, being inadequate to hold it. On receiving the news Grey and Jervis, who were at St. Kitts preparing to return home, collected such forces as were available and attempted the recapture of Guadeloupe, but without success. Grey returned home in H.M.S. Boyne in November 1794. On his return he was promoted to general, made a privy councillor, and transferred to the colonelcy of the 20th or Jamaica light dragoons; thence in 1799 he was removed to that of the 3rd dragoons (now 3rd hussars).

At the time of the mutiny at the Nore in 1797, Grey, who appears to have had a knowledge of naval matters, was selected for the command at Sheerness in the event of its becoming necessary to reduce the mutineers by the fire of the defences. He commanded what was then known as the southern district, consisting of the counties of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, in 1798-9, during which time he resided and had his headquarters at Barham Court, near Canterbury. After his retirement from active service Grey was raised to the peerage by patent, on 23 May 1801, under the title of Baron Grey de Howick, in the county of Northumberland. On 11 April 1806 he was advanced to the dignities of Viscount Howick and Earl Grey. He also had the governorship of Guernsey in the place of that of Dumbarton, previously held by him.

Grey married, 8 June 1762, Elizabeth, daughter of George Grey of Southwick, county Durham, and by her, who died in 1822, had five sons and two daughters. He died at Howick 14 Nov, 1807, and was succeeded in the title by his eldest son, Charles, second earl Grey, K.G. [q. v.] His fifth son, Edward (1782-1837), was bishop of Hereford from 1832 to 1837 (see Gent. Mag. 1837, ii, 311), and was father of Sir William Grey (1818-1878)[q. v.]

[Collins's Peerage (1812 ed.), vol. v.; Foster's Peerage; Annual Army Lists; Sykes's Local Records, i. 193(notice of first Sir Henry Gray); Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs, vols, iii-vi.; Appleton's Amer. Biog. Dict.; Ross's Cornwallis Corresp. i. 155, ii. 284; Rev. J. Cooper Willyams's Campaign in the West Indies in 1794; Cannon's Historical Records, 20th Foot and 3rd Light Dragoons: Gent. Mag. 1807(which contains the absurd misstatement that Grey was the last surviving officer present with Wolfe at Quebec). A letter from Gray, addressed to Earl St. Vincent in 1805, forms Addit. MS. 29915, f. 31. A bundle of about sixty letters from Grey on naval matters, the dates ranging from 1761 to 1794, are noted in Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 230, as preserved among the Marquis of Lansdowne's MSS.]

H. M. C.