Thursday 13 November 2014

George Grenville, The Gentle Shepherd

George Grenville (Wotton Underwood, Buckinghamshire, England, 14th October 1712 – Mayfair, Middlesex, England, 13th November 1770) 

George Grenville by Richard Houston, after William Hoare, 1750-55
George Grenville by Richard Houston, after William Hoare, 1750-55

As some of you may know, many years before I opened the salon, I spent some time employed in the political world in a most junior role. I was a very lowly cog in the Westminster machine and it was with a sigh of utterly delirious delight that I left that world behind ten years or more ago. My tale today finds us back in the ambitious, unforgiving Palace of Westminster to hear of a moment in the life of the Gentle Shepherd, better known as George Grenville, a Whig Prime Minster of Great Britain. Politicians are, of course, no stranger to nicknames and as these things go, the Gentle Shepherd is not one of the most unkind. In my post today I shall tell the tale of a fateful speech and the name given in jest that stuck with Grenville!

As an elder statesman of British politics, Grenville was a brother-in-law to William Pitt, a man who would be both political ally and opponent through their long and historic careers. It was Pitt who gave him the sobriquet during a debate in the House of Commons on the Cider Bill of 1763.

Giving a speech on the Bill, Grenville addressed the House to ask them that, if a tax could not be set on cider, then were could it be set instead? With no answer forthcoming he asked again where the money might be found, imploring the House, "tell me where", and repeating the request again to drive the point home.

As the sitting ended and Pitt left the chamber he began to whistle the very popular tune of the time, Gentle Shepherd, the chorus of which contained the refrain, "tell me where". Those Members of Parliament in the vicinity found the none-too-subtle dig at Grenville utterly hilarious and the nickname stuck. To this day Grenville is associated with Gentle Shepherd, not quite the sort of song that a statesman might want to accompany his name!


Unknown said...

Catherine, I was offered a clerical job in the Cabinet Office when I was in my early twenties but, being rather shy in those days and knowing nobody in London, I decided not to take it. Looking back I think I made the right decision. I did end up in the Civil Service but in the local Inland Revenue office instead.

Catherine Curzon said...

I suspect you made the right decision; I certainly wouldn't go back to the world of politics!