History and Tour

Earl Grey

Earl Grey - copyright: National Portrait Gallery Born: 13 March 1764 in Falloden, Northumberland

First entered Parliament: 6 July 1786

Age he became PM: 66 years, 254 days

Maiden speech: 21 February 1787 speaking against the Free Trade Treaty recently negotiated with the French

Total time as PM: Three years, 229 days

Died: 17 July 1845 Howick Hall, Northumberland

Facts and figures

Education: Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge

Family: Grey was the second son of nine children. He was married to Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby, and had seven daughters (one illegitimate) and ten sons

Interests: Being in the countryside, dogs, cribbage


Great reformist

A firmly Whig politician, Earl Grey oversaw four years of political reform that had enormous impact on the development of democracy in Britain.

Earl Grey’s political experience before becoming the Prime Minister was limited.

He first took office briefly under Grenville in 1806, but it was nearly a quarter of a century before he returned to office as PM.

Earl Grey’s most remarkable achievement was the Reform Act of 1832, which set in train a gradual process of electoral change.

Earl Grey played a great part in electoral reform Indeed, it sowed the seeds of the system we recognise today.

Around 130 years of parliamentary reform began with this act and culminated in universal suffrage for men and women over 18, secret ballots and legitimate constituencies.

The battle to pass the historic act was a difficult one.

Grey resigned after the Lords rejected it, although he returned to office when Wellington found himself unable to form an administration.

Wellington then consented, and Grey was able to push the bill through.

Other reforming measures included restrictions on the employment of children, and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833.

Best-known for tea

One of Grey’s other legacies is the blend of tea known as Earl Grey. He reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic present, of tea that was flavored with bergamot oil.

It's not just the tea that we remember Earl Grey for - this monument is a famous landmark in Newcastle-upon-Tyne It became so popular that Grey asked British tea merchants to recreate it.

After resigning in 1834, Grey did not linger in politics. He was greatly attached to his family, and he retired from the limelight to spend his remaining years with them.

He was said to be ‘tall, slim and strikingly handsome’ although in later years he went bald and wore spectacles.

Quote unquote

“The only way with newspaper attacks is, as the Irish say, ‘to keep never minding’. This has been my practice through life.”

Did you know?

He is commemorated by a statue - known as Grey’s Monument - in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne.


Mary Elizabeth Ponsonby married the Earl aged 18. Over the next 24 years she remarkably had 16 children yet remained ‘cheerful and good-humoured’ and was devoted to her family. Letters left to her estate show that she had a keen interest in politics and current affairs.

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