Charles Townshend

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Charles Townshend

Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
2 August 1766 4 September 1767
Monarch George III
Prime Minister The Earl of Chatham
Preceded by William Dowdeswell
Succeeded by Lord North
President of the Board of Trade
In office
1 March 1763 20 April 1763
Preceded by The Lord Sandys
Succeeded by The Earl of Shelburne
Personal details
Born(1725-08-29)29 August 1725
Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England
Died4 September 1767(1767-09-04) (aged 42)
Nationality British
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Lady Caroline Campbell
Alma mater University of Leiden
University of Oxford

Charles Townshend (28 August 1725 – 4 September 1767) was a British politician who held various titles in the Parliament of Great Britain. His establishment of the controversial Townshend Acts is considered one of the key causes of the American Revolution.


Early life

He was born at his family's seat of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England, the second son of Charles Townshend, 3rd Viscount Townshend, and Audrey (died 1788), daughter and heiress of Edward Harrison of Ball's Park, near Hertford. He was a sickly child, suffered from epilepsy, and had a strained relationship with his parents. [1] Townshend was a brash young man, whose "wonderful endowments [were] dashed with follies and indiscretions." [2] Charles graduated from the Dutch Leiden University on 27 October 1745; while there he had associated with a small group of other English youth, who later became well known in various circles, including Dowdeswell, Wilkes, and Alexander Carlyle. The latter would chronicle their exploits in his Autobiography.

Following his return in 1746, he represented Great Yarmouth in Parliament until 1756, when he found a seat for the admiralty borough of Saltash, subsequently transferring in 1761 to Harwich, another borough where the seat was in the government's gift. Public attention was first drawn to his abilities in 1753, when he delivered a lively attack against Lord Hardwicke's marriage bill, although this measure passed into law. [3]


From 1749- April 1759, Townshend was a member of the Board of Trade. It was during this time that he first showed an interest in increasing British powers of taxation and control over the American colonies. [4] In 1754 and 1755, he served as Lord of the Admiralty, but at the close of 1755, his passionate attack against the policy of the ministry caused his resignation. In the administration which was formed in November 1756, and which was ruled by William Pitt the Elder, the lucrative office of treasurer of the chamber was given to Townshend, but he retired the following Spring and George Grenville took over. The higher post of First Lord of the Admiralty then fell to Townshend's lot and his refusal to accept the nomination led to his exclusion from the new administration.

In the dying days of Grenville's cabinet, to retain the administration of Lord Rockingham, Townshend accepted the position of Paymaster of The Forces, though he questioned the stability of the administration, calling it a "mere Lute-string administration" and stating that it was "pretty 'summer wear', but it will never stand the winter." [5]

Under the ministry of William Pitt the Elder, Townshend accepted the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer [3] in August 1766. A few weeks later his urgent appeals to the great minister for increased power were favorably answered, and he was admitted to the inner circle of the cabinet. The new chancellor proposed the continuance of the land tax at four shillings in the pound, while he held out hopes that it might be reduced next year to three shillings, whereupon his predecessor, William Dowdeswell, by the aid of the landed gentlemen, carried a motion that the reduction should take effect at once. Townshend pledged to find revenue in America with which to meet the deficiency caused by the reduction. [3]

Early in 1767, shortly after The Stamp Act was repealed owing to violent protests, Townshend proposed that the Parliament could procure revenue from the Americans without causing them offense via "external" import taxes instead of internal taxes. [6] These were known as the Townshend Acts. [3] The Acts passed resolutions for taxing several exports to America, such as glass, paint, paper and tea. [7] The Townshend Acts established a Board of Commissioners in Boston to enforce them, which was seen as a threat to the American colonial tradition of self-government. He estimated these export taxes would produce a sum of ₤40,000 for the English treasury. He had the support of his cousin Thomas Townshend who was also a minister in the government. The Townshend Acts would be Townshend's last official act before his death.

Soon after that he died somewhat suddenly of a fever on September 4, 1767.

Private life

In August 1755 he had married Caroline Campbell (d. 1794), the eldest daughter of John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll and the widow of Francis Scott, Earl of Dalkeith, the eldest son of Francis Scott, 2nd Duke of Buccleuch.

Townshend's wife was created (August 1767) baroness Greenwich, and his elder brother George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, was made Lord-lieutenant of Ireland.

Townshend conceived a great and dangerous passion for his step-daughter Frances Douglas, Lady Douglas, and her memorialist, Lady Louisa Stuart, wrote after his death of his character:

This was careless, gay, inconsiderate, volatile, seemingly foreign to every serious reflection or feeling. He had one of those happy tempers which nothing can ruffle, without a grain of pride, sternness or resentment in his nature. Ready to laugh with every body and at every thing, he poured out wit in torrents; and it was so much the worse for truth if ever truth stood in wit's way. [8]

The American towns of Townsend, Massachusetts and Townshend, Vermont were founded and named after Charles Townshend in 1732 and 1753, respectively.[ citation needed ] Raynham, Massachusetts was also named after him.

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  1. Lewis Bernstein Namier, John Brooke, The House of Commons: 1754-1790, p.539–548, Boydell & Brewer, (1985)
  2. Bancroft, III, p.245.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm 1911.
  4. "Charles Townshend | British statesman". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  5. earl.), Philip Henry Stanhope (5th (1853). History of England from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Aix-la-Chaoelle (to the Peace of Versailles.
  6. Bancroft, III, p 238.
  7. Christopher Ward. (1957). The War of the Revolution. Volume I. p. 9. The Macmillan Company
  8. Lady Louisa Stuart, Memoire of Frances, Lady Dougles, at page 37; Edinburgh and London, Scottish Academic Press, 1985
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Roger Townshend
Edward Walpole
Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth
With: Edward Walpole
Succeeded by
Charles Townshend
Edward Walpole
Preceded by
George Clinton
Viscount Duncannon
Member of Parliament for Saltash
With: George Clinton
Succeeded by
John Clevland
George Adams
Preceded by
Thomas Sewell
Wenman Coke
Member of Parliament for Harwich
With: John Roberts
Succeeded by
Thomas Bradshaw
John Roberts
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Hillsborough
Treasurer of the Chamber
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Dashwood, Bt
Preceded by
The Lord Holland
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
Lord North and George Cooke
Preceded by
William Dowdeswell
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Lord North