Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townshend, George (1755-1811)
TOWNSHEND, GEORGE, second Marquis Townshend, Earl of Leicester, and Baron de Ferrars of Chartley (1755–1811), born on 18 April 1755, was the eldest son of George Townshend, first marquis [q. v.], by his first wife, Lady Charlotte Compton, baroness de Ferrars. He was educated at Eton and St. John's College, Cambridge, and was created M.A. on 6 July 1773. On his mother's death in 1774 he succeeded to the barony of De Ferrars. He served in the army for a few years, being gazetted cornet in the 9th dragoons on 29 Sept. 1770, lieutenant in the 4th regiment of horse on 1 Oct. 1771, and captain in the 18th light dragoons on 23 Jan. 1773, and in the 15th (king's) light dragoons on 31 Dec. of the same year. In speaking in the debate on the address on 26 Oct. 1775 De Ferrars declared he should oppose all the measures of the court, though, out of respect to his father, he would not begin that day (Walpole, Last Journals, i. 512). He did not, however, take any prominent part in politics. On the return of the whigs to office he was made a privy councillor (24 April 1782), and was nominated captain of the band of gentlemen pensioners. To that post he was reappointed by Pitt on 31 Dec. 1783, and on 5 March 1784 was named a member of the committee of the privy council which managed colonial commerce until the constitution of the board of trade. On 18 May of the same year De Ferrars was created Earl of Leicester of the county of Leicester. When he asked his father's permission to assume it, he replied he might take any title but that of Viscount Townshend. The earldom of Leicester had been extinct since 1759, and Fox wished to have given it to his friend Coke, whose family had possessed it after the Sidneys, and to whom it reverted in 1837 [see Coke, Thomas William of Holkham, Earl of Leicester].
In February 1788 Leicester signed a protest against Thurlow's proposal that the commons should produce evidence in support of Hastings's impeachment before calling on the defendant. He held the office of master of the mint from 20 Jan. 1790 to July 1794, and that of joint postmaster-general from the latter date till February 1799. He was named lord steward of the household on 20 Feb. 1799, and held office till August 1802. On the death of his father in 1807 he succeeded as second Marquis Townshend. Before his death he had sold much of his Norfolk property to the Marquis Cornwallis and to Edmund Wodehouse. He was much interested in archæology, having the reputation of being the best amateur antiquary of his time. Walpole writes of his violent passion for ancestry, and makes many bantering allusions to his taste for heraldry. In 1784 Leicester ousted Edward King (1735?–1807) [q. v.] from the presidency of the Society of Antiquaries ‘in an unprecedented contest for the chair’ (Nichols). Throsby addressed to him his ‘Letter on the Roman Cloaca at Leicester, 1793;’ and four years before he obtained from George III permission for Gough to dedicate to him his new edition of Camden's ‘Britannia.’ Leicester was also a fellow of the Royal Society and a trustee of the British Museum. He died suddenly at Richmond on 27 July 1811. A portrait of him was engraved by M'Kenzie after a painting by J. S. Copley.
Townshend married, in December 1777, Charlotte, second daughter and coheir of Mainwaring Ellerker, esq., of Risby Park, Yorkshire. She died in 1802. By her he had two sons, George Ferrars and Charles Vere Ferrars, who died without issue.
The elder son, George Ferrars Townshend, third Marquis Townshend (1778–1855), was disinherited by his father, who also gave his library and pictures to Charles, his second son. He lived chiefly abroad. On his death at Genoa on 31 Dec. 1855, the earldom of Leicester became extinct. He was succeeded in the marquisate by his cousin, John Townshend (1798–1863), son of Lord John Townshend of Balls Park, Hertfordshire. George Ferrars Townshend's wife Sarah, daughter of John Dunn-Gardner of Chatteris, left him a year after marriage, and on 24 Oct. 1809 went through a ceremony at Gretna Green with John Margetts. Their son John was baptised at St. George's, Bloomsbury, in December 1823, under the name of Townshend, and afterwards assumed the title of Earl of Leicester. He represented Bodmin for several years. All the children of the Gretna Green marriage having been declared illegitimate by an act of parliament of 1842, he assumed his mother's maiden name.[Doyle's Official Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerage; Gent. Mag. 1811, ii. 93; Walpole's Letters (Cunningham), vii. 159, 192, 204, 372, viii. 556, ix. 156–7; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vi. 279–80, viii. 58, 338, ix. 87 n.; Neale's Views of Seats, vol. iii. with view of Rainham Hall, engraved by J. F. Hay; Rogers's Protests of the Lords, Nos. 103, 114, 115; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits; Carthew's Hundred of Launditch, iii. 296; Wraxall's Memoirs (Wheatley), iii. 356; Diary of Mme. D'Arblay, 1890, i. 243.]