Magazine article History Today

Ford Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Warke and Earl of Tankerville

Magazine article History Today

Ford Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Warke and Earl of Tankerville

Article excerpt

In the turbulent world of Restoration politics, Ford Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Warke, and later Earl of Tankeville (1655-1701), was one of the most notorious and able politicians. His career from 1677 to 1701, the subject of this month's History of Parliament article, is emblematic of the fortunes of the Whigs in this period of exclusion bills, plots, rebellions and "Glorious" Revolution.

Grey came from a family with a presbyterian and parliamentarian tradition his grandfather had opposed Charles I in the Civil War--and upon taking his seat, in the House of Lords in 1677, aged barely twenty-one, he quickly became one of the Earl of Shaftesbury's most committed and unscrupulous allies in the campaign against the Duke of York. The Habeas Corpus Bill of 1679 was helped along its way through Parliament by underhand means when Grey of Warke, acting as teller in a division on the bill, got away with counting one particularly fat peer as ten people, which tipped the division in his side's favour by only two votes. Perhaps because of his youth and 'common touch'--similar in many ways to his good friend the Duke of Monmouth--he was popular with the people outside Westminster, and in 1679-81 was effective in getting Whig candidates elected in Northumberland, Essex and Sussex, the counties whore his principal estates lay. His political opponent the Bishop of Chichester even dubbed him 'the Electorgeneral Grey'.

With his overabundant political energy and penchant for drama, Grey was at the heart of the large set pieces of political theatre which the Whigs staged in London during the Exclusion Crisis--pope-burning processions, lavish public dinners, petition drives, massed attendance at political trials, tumultuous and rigged municipal elections. His contemporaries were most scandalised by the stories of his incestuous (in seventeenth-century eyes) liaison and elopement with his own sister-in-law Henrietta Berkeley, daughter, like his legal wife Mary, to the powerful Earl of Berkeley. Aphra Behn recounted this infamous affair in barely veiled fictional form in her Love-Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister. While publicly notorious, he was also secretly plotting throughout 1682-83 for the overthrow of the Duke of York and the installation of the Duke of Monmouth as king. When the Rye House Plot was revealed in the summer of 1683, Grey of Warke had to flee to the Continent quickly, where he was shortly joined by his mistress and sister-in-law, Henrietta.

Grey was the only member of the nobility to join Monmouth in his fatal attempt to claim the throne by force in June 1685. …

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