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Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, KG, PC (13 April 1732 – 5 August 1792), more often known by his courtesy title, Lord North, which he used from 1752 until 1790, was Prime Minister of Great Britainmarker from 1770 to 1782. He led Great Britainmarker through most of the American War of Independence. He also held a number of other cabinet posts, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Early life (1732-1754)

Lord North was born in London on 13 April 1732, at the family house at Albemarle Streetmarker, just off Piccadillymarker - though he spent much of his youth at Wroxton Abbeymarker in Oxfordshire. Lord North's strong physical resemblance to George III, suggested to his contemporaries that Prince Frederick may have been North's real father (and North the King's brother), a theory compatible with the Prince's reputation but with little real evidence. His father, the first Earl, was at the time Lord of the Bedchamber to Prince Frederick, who stood as godfather to the infant.

He was descended from the 1st Earl of Sandwich and was related to Samuel Pepys and the 3rd Earl of Bute. He at times enjoyed a slightly turbulent relatonship with his father Francis North, 1st Earl of Guilford, yet they remained very close. In his early years the family was not wealthy, though their situation improved in 1735 when his father inherited property from his cousin. His mother, Lady Lucy Montagu, died in 1734. His father remarried, but his stepmother, Elizabeth North, also died in 1745, when Frederick was thirteen. One of his stepbrothers was Lord William Dartmouth, who remained a close friend for life.

He was educated at Eton Collegemarker between 1742 and 1748, and at Trinity College, Oxfordmarker where in 1750 he was awarded an MA. After leaving Oxfordmarker, he travelled in Europe on the Grand Tour with Dartmouth, visiting Leipzig where he studied at the University of Leipzigmarker. He visited Viennamarker, Milanmarker, and Paris, returning to England in 1753.

Early political career (1754-70)

On 15 April 1754 North was elected unopposed as the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Banburymarker, at the age of twenty two.He served as an MP from 1754 to 1790 and first joined the government as a junior Lord of the Treasury on 2 June 1759 during the Newcastle-Pitt coalition. He soon developed a reputation as a good administrator, parliamentarian and was generally liked by his colleagues. Although he initially considered himself a Whig, it became obvious to many contemparies that his sympathies were largely Tory and he did not closely align with any of the Whig Factions in Parliament.

In November 1763 he was chosen to speak for the Government concerning the issue of John Wilkes, a member of parliament who many felt had made a libellous attack of both the Prime Minister and the King in an edition of his radical newspaper The North Briton. North's motion that Wilkes be expelled from the House of Commons passed by 273 votes to 111. Wilke's expulsion took place in his absence, as he had already fled to France following a duel.

When a government headed by the Whig magnate Lord Rockingham came to power in 1765, North left his post and served for a time as a backbench MP. He turned down an offer by Rockingham to rejoin the government, largely out of fear with being associated with the wealthy Whig grandees that dominated the Ministry.

He came back once more when Pitt returned to head a second government in 1766. North was appointed Joint Paymaster of the Forces in Pitt's ministry and became a Privy Counsellor. As Pitt was constantly ill, the government was effectively run by the Duke of Grafton, with North as one of its most senior members.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

In December 1767, he succeeded Charles Townshend as Chancellor of the Exchequer. With the resignation of the secretary of state Henry Seymour Conway in early 1768, North became Leader of the Commons as well, and continued to serve under Chatham's successor, the Duke of Grafton.

Prime Minister (1770-82)


When the Duke of Grafton resigned as Prime Minister, North formed a government on 28 January 1770. His ministers and supporters tended to be known as Tories, though they were not a formal grouping and many had previously been Whigs. He took over with Britain in a triumphant state, following the Seven Years War, which had seen the First British Empire expanded to a peak. Circumstances forced him to keep many members of the previous cabinet in their jobs, despite their lack of agreement with him.

Falklands Crisis

His Ministry had an early success during the Falklands Crisis in 1770 in which they faced down a Spanish attempt to seize the Falkland islandsmarker, nearly provoking a war.

The government's prestige and popularity were enormously boosted by the incident. They had successfully managed to drive a wedge between France and Spain, and demonstrated the power of the Royal Navy - although it was suggested by critics that this gave Lord North a level of complacency and an incorrect belief that the European powers would not interfere in British colonial affairs. This was contrasted with the previous administration's failure to prevent France from annexing the Republic of Corsica, a British ally during the Corsican Crisis two years earlier. Using his newfound popularity, North took the chance to appoint Lord Sandwich to the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty.

American War of Independence

Most of his government was focused first on the growing problems with the American colonies and later on conducting the American War of Independence which broke out in 1775, following the Battle of Lexingtonmarker. North deferred overall strategy of the war to his key subordinates Lord Germain and the Earl of Sandwich. In 1778 the French allied themselves with the American rebels, and in 1779 Spain joined the war as an ally of France. Next the Mysore and the Dutch Republic joined in 1780. The British found themselves fighting a global war on four continents, without a single ally.

Their problems were added to by the First League of Armed Neutrality, which was formed to counter the British blockade strategy, and threatened British naval supplies from the Balticmarker. With severe manpower shortages, North's government passed an act abandoning previous statutes banning Catholics serving in the military. This provoked an upsurge of anti-Catholic feelings, and led to the Gordon Riots in London.


North holds the rather dubious distinction of being the first Prime Minister of Britain, or indeed anywhere else in the world, to be forced out of office by a motion of no confidence, resigning on 20 March 1782 on account of the British defeat at Yorktown the year before. In an attempt to end the war, he proposed the Conciliation Plan, in which he promised that Britain would eliminate all disagreeable acts if the colonies ended the war. The colonies rejected the plan, as their motivation had become independence.

Ironically in 1782 the war began to turn in Britain's favour again, through naval victories, owing largely to policies adopted by Lord North and the Earl of Sandwich. Britain was able to make a much more favourable peace in 1783 than had appeared likely at the time when North had been ousted.

Fox-North Coalition (1783)

In April 1783, North returned to power as Home Secretary in an unlikely coalition with the radical Whig leader Charles James Fox known as the Fox-North Coalition under the nominal leadership of the Duke of Portland. King George III, who detested the radical and republican Fox, never forgave this supposed betrayal, and North never again served in government after the ministry fell in December 1783. One of the major achievements of the coalition was the signing of the Treaty of Paris which formally ended the American War of Independence.

The new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, was not expected to last long and North, a vocal critic of his, still entertained hopes of regaining high office. In this he was to be frustrated, as Pitt dominated the British political scene for the next twenty years, leaving both North and Fox in the political wilderness.

Later life (1783-92)

He left his seat in Parliament when he went blind in 1790, shortly before succeeding his father as Earl of Guilford, spending his final years in the House of Lordsmarker. He died in London and was buried at All Saints' Church, Wroxtonmarker (Oxfordshire) near his family home of Wroxton Abbeymarker. His son George North, Lord North, took over the constituency of Banbury, and in 1792 acceded to his father's title.

Ironically, North's family home, Wroxton Abbeymarker is now owned by Fairleigh Dickinson Universitymarker, an American college. The now modernised abbey currently serves as a location for American students to study abroad.


Lord North is today predominantly remembered as the Prime Minister "who lost America".

Guilford County, North Carolinamarker is named after the father of Lord North. It was established in 1771, and today contains the cities of Greensboro and High Point, being the third most populous county in North Carolina. A preserved 18th century door on display in Edinburgh Castlemarker shows a hangman's scaffold labelled "Lord Nord" carved by a prisoner captured during the American War of Independence.

Marriage and family

Lord North married Anne Speke (before 1741-1797) on 20 May 1756. They had six children:
  • George Augustus North, 3rd Earl of Guilford (11 September 1757-20 April 1802), who married, firstly, Maria Frances Mary Hobart-Hampden (died 23 April 1794), daughter of the 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire, on 30 September 1785 and had issue. He married, secondly, Susan Coutts (died 24 September 1837), on 28 February 1796.
  • Catherine Anne North (1760-1817)
  • Francis North, 4th Earl of Guilford (1761-1817)
  • Lady Charlotte North (died 25 October 1849), who married Lt. Col. The Hon. John Lindsay (15 March 1762-6 March 1826), son of the 5th Earl of Balcarres, on 2 April 1800.
  • Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford (1766-1827)
  • Lady Anne North (before 1783-18 January 1832), who married the 1st Earl of Sheffield on 20 January 1798 and had two children

Titles from birth to death

  • The Hon. Frederick North (1732-1752)
  • Lord North (1752-1754)
  • Lord North, MP (1754-1766)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord North, MP (1766-1772)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord North, KG, MP (1772-1790)
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord North, KG (1790)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Guilford, KG, PC (1790-1792)


"Oh my God! It's all over" – upon hearing news of the surrender at Yorktown.


  1. Whitely p.1
  2. Tuchman, Barbara (1984). The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. New York: Knopf, 185.
  3. Whiteley p.2
  4. Whiteley p.6-7
  5. Whiteley p.19
  6. Whiteley p.24
  7. Whiteley p.49
  8. Whiteley p.51
  9. Whiteley p.60
  10. Rodger p.329


  • Butterfield, Herbert. George III, Lord North, and the People, 1779-80 (1949)
  • Charles Daniel Smith. The Early Career of Lord North, the Prime Minister, (1979)
  • Rodger, N.A.M. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815, (2007)
  • Valentine, Alan. Lord North (1967, 2 vol.), the standard biography
  • Whiteley, Peter. Lord North: The Prime Minister who lost America, (1996)
  • Lord North, The Correspondence of King George the Third with Lord North from 1768 to 1783 ed by George, William Bodham Donne, ed. (1867) online edition

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