Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Townshend, Second Viscount

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
2741963Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition — Townshend, Second Viscount
TOWNSHEND, Charles Townshend, Second Viscount (1674–1738), a statesman of unsullied integrity, was the eldest son of Horatio, the first viscount, and was born in 1674. He succeeded to the peerage in December 1687, and was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge. When he took his seat in the House of Lords his sympathies leant to Toryism, but this predilection soon faded away, and in February 1701–2 it was rumoured among the courtiers that he would hold the office of privy seal in the Whig ministry which William III. had in view. For some years after the accession of Queen Anne he remained without office, but on 29th September 1707 he was created captain of the yeomen of the guard, and in the same year he was summoned to the privy council, a distinction renewed by the queen’s two successors on the throne. The command of the yeomen remained in his hands until 13th June 1711, but its responsibilities did not prevent him from acting as joint plenipotentiary with the duke of Marlborough in the peace negotiations with France which were carried on at Gertruydenberg, near Breda, or from serving as ambassador extraordinary at The Hague congress (2d May 1709–26th March 1711). Townshend was high in favour with George I., and on that king’s arrival at The Hague in September 1714 he published the appointment of Townshend as secretary of state for the southern department, and entrusted to his new minister the privilege of nominating his own colleague. Horace Walpole, his brother-in-law and private secretary, recommended Stanhope for the vacant post, and Stanhope was duly appointed. Townshend did not neglect to avail himself of the advantages afforded by his attendance on the king, and before the arrival of George I. in England he had obtained complete ascendency both over his mind and the dispositions of the advisers by whom his line of conduct was generally determined. The policy of the new ministers at home and abroad lay in the promotion of peace. With this object they endeavoured to limit the charges against their predecessor Harley, Lord Oxford, to high crimes and misdemeanours. To gain this end they brought about, in 1716, an alliance between those ancient rivals in arms, France and England. In spite of their success, their influence was gradually undermined by the intrigues of Lord Sunderland and by the discontent of the Hanoverian favourites, who deemed the places and the pensions which they had gained an insufficient reward for their exertions. In October 1716 Stanhope accompanied the king on his journey to Hanover, and during this visit was seduced from his allegiance to his colleagues by the wily Sunderland, who had ingratiated himself into the royal favour. George I. was induced to believe that Townshend and Walpole were caballing with the prince of Wales, and were forming designs against the royal authority. Townshend was dismissed in December 1716 from his place of secretary of state, and was offered in lieu thereof the splendid banishment of lord-lieutenant of Ireland, a gilded sinecure which he at first contemptuously declined and only condescended ultimately to accept on the condition that he was not required to set foot on Irish soil. His latent spirit of hostility to this arrangement quickly developed into open antagonism, and in March 1717 Townshend was dismissed from his position. At the close of May 1720 a partial reconciliation took place between the opposing Whig sections of Stanhope and Townshend. The latter was readmitted into the ministry as lord president of the council (11th June 1720), and his devoted relation and colleague Sir Robert Walpole became paymaster-general. When the South Sea Bubble burst, the fortunes of the principal members of the ministry shared in the misfortune of the scheme which they had promoted. Stanhope, in a paroxysm of passion during a heated debate, broke a blood-vessel, and Sunderland, though acquitted of the charge of personal corruption, was forced to retire into private life. The withdrawal of these statesmen assigned to their rivals the chief prizes in the state: Townshend became (10th February 1721) secretary of state, and Walpole gained the position of first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer. The death of George I. threatened a change of advisers, but the dismay of the new king's favourite, Spencer Compton, at being called upon to draw up the royal speech, led to the old ministers of the crown being retained in their places. What the attacks of the opposition could not effect, the internal strife of the administration accomplished. Townshend was of a proud, impetuous disposition, born with a nature more accustomed to rule than to obey. His family had for several generations stood higher in the social life of Norfolk than Walpole's progenitors, and when he himself attained to distinction in politics his position as a member of the Upper House was greater than that enjoyed by his friend in the Commons. As the power of the Lower House increased, and as Walpole became more and more the object of the attacks of the Tories, the pre-eminence of Townshend passed from him. So long, to use the witty remark of Sir Robert Walpole, as the firm was Townshend and Walpole, things went well with them, but when the positions were re versed jealousies arose between the partners. The growing alienation was hastened by the death, in 1726, of the secretary's wife, the sister of Walpole. At the close of 1729 Townshend endeavoured to obtain the appointment of his old and attached friend, Lord Chesterfield, as his fellow secretary of state, and the failure of the attempt brought about a fierce scene between Walpole and himself. They broke out into passionate words, seized one another by their coat-collars, and would have come to blows had they not been prevented by their friends who were pre sent. After this outbreak of passion further co-operation was impossible, and Townshend, having the good sense to recognize the position, retired into private life on 15th May 1730. The chief domestic events of his ministry were the impeachment of Bishop Atterbury, the partial restoration of Lord Bolingbroke, and the troubles in Ireland over the granting to a man called Wood of a patent for coining pence. Its concluding act was the signing of the treaty of Seville (9th November 1729). Townshend died of apoplexy 21st June 1738.

Townshend was slow in forming, but resolute in adhering to, his opinion, and, like most other men of that stamp, was impatient of contradiction. His manners have been styled "coarse, rustic, and seemingly brutal," but these defects were not visible in his domestic life. Never did minister leave office with cleaner hands; he did not add one acre to his estate nor leave large fortunes to his younger children.