George Canning (1770-1827)

George Canning’s life would see him fatherless when he was 1 year old, shooting a pistol in a duel, an affair with the King’s wife and becoming the British Prime Minister.

George Canning (1770-1827)
George Canning (1770-1827)

11th April 1770 George Canning was born into an Anglo-Irish family at his parents’ home in Queen Anne Street, Marylebone, London.

11th April 1771 George’s farther George Sr died after abandoning the family and died in poverty due to his substantial debts as a failed wine merchant and lawyer.

George’s mother Mary-Anne (nee Costello) took work as a stage actress, a profession that was not considered respectable at the time.

George grew up with his cousins at the home of his uncle, who provided him with an income and an education at Hyde Abbey School and Eton College.

1787 He came out top of the school at Eton and left at the age of 17 years old, George would go on to Christ Church, Oxford University.

1789 George won a prize for his Latin poem ‘The Pilgrimage to Mecca’ which he recited in Oxford Theatre.

1791 George began practicing law after receiving his BA from Oxford University.

George has an interest in British politics and joined the Whig party. His impoverished background and limited financial resources made unlikely a bright political future in the Whig party, whose political ranks were led mostly by members of the wealthy landed aristocracy in league with the newly rich industrialist classes. George would become considerably more Conservative after witnessing the excessive radicalism during the French Revolution.

1793 With the help of William Pitt, George became a member of parliament for Newtown on the Isle of Wight.

1796 George changed seats to Wendover in Buckinghamshire.

George rose quickly in British politics, his speeches and essays in Parliament gave the followers of William Pitt a rhetorical power they had previously lacked. Over time George became a prominent public speaker and became one of the first politicians to campaign heavily in the country. Due to his charisma and promise, he gained a circle of supporters who would become known as the Canningites.

2nd November 1795 George got his first ministerial post as the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He would later resign this post at the Foreign Office on 1st April 1799.

George got involved in the founding of the Anti-Jacobin, which was a newspaper that gave support to the government, much of the content was written by George. The Newspaper was short lived; it ran from 20th November 1797 to 9th July 1798.

1799 He become a Commissioner of the Board of Control for India.

1800 George was appointed Paymaster of the Forces and therefore to the Privy Council as well.

8th July 1800 George gets married to Joan Scott at St George's (Anglican church), Hanover Square in London. The witnesses were John Hookham Frere (English diplomat and author) and William Pitt the Younger (British Prime Minister 1783-1801).

February 1801 Due to King George III’s opposition to Catholic Emancipation, William Pitt resigned as Prime Minister. Despite Pitt’s advice to stay in office, George loyally followed him into opposition. He would write ‘I resign because Pitt resigns and that is all’.

1801 George’s son ‘George Charles Canning’ was born.

27th May 1802 George requested in the House of Commons that all grants of land in Trinidad that was captured by Britain from Spain should be rejected until Parliament had decided what to do with the Island. There was a concern that the Island would be populated by slaves (like other West Indian islands). George suggested that it should be a military post and attract ex-soldiers. He also wanted to free the slaves and have better methods to cultivate the land. Henry Addington who was the new Prime Minister (he would be succeeded by William Pitt on 10th May 1804) acceded to Canning's demands, the Reverend William Leigh believed George had saved 750,000 lives.

1802 George’s 2nd son ‘William Pitt Canning’ was born (died from drowning in Madeira, Portugal in 1828).

1804 George’s daughter ‘Harriet Canning’ was born, and he returned back in to office with William Pitt, becoming Treasurer of the Navy.

1807 George became Foreign Secretary and became involved in the planning of the attack on Copenhagen in September 1807, which he undertook at his country estate, South Hill Park, Easthampstead in Berkshire.

It was also at this time his association with Hinckley began. He came Hinckley to consult with the famous Dr Robert Chessher about his eldest son ‘George Charles’, who due to a fall had become lame. George visited the Bulls Head in the Market Place where he wrote to a relative. In the letter he stated that he was impressed with Dr Chessher but not so much with Hinckley, he wrote that the Bulls Head was the vilest Inn, in the nastiest town, in the dirtiest country that imagination can conceive.

March 1807 Whatever he thought about Hinckley, he decided to move in to the Castle Hill House in Castle Street, so that his son ‘George Charles’ could be under Dr Chessher’s care. He said the house was a ‘fine handsome house’.

19th April 1808 George wrote to King George III asking for permission to be absent from town during the holidays, not having had an opportunity of seeing his family since the beginning of November 1807.

21st April 1808 The King replies from Windsor Castle granting George permission to ‘gain a little respite from his fatiguing duties’.

September 1809 George argued with Robert Stewart (Lord Castlereagh) who was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, over the deployment of troops that Canning had promised would be sent to Portugal. There was a secret deal done without Lord Castlereagh knowing. Lord Castlereagh was so aggrieved he challenged George to a duel, George accepted.

21st September 1809 At Putney Heath in London, George and Lord Castlereagh met up for the duel. George had never fired a pistol and Lord Castlereagh was known to be one of the best shots. George fired and widely missed his mark, in return George received a wound in his thigh. There was an outrage that two cabinet ministers had resorted to a duel. George left office once more and Lord Castlereagh stood down.

April 1811 George moved the family from Castle Hill House in Hinckley to the nearby village of Burbage, where he took up residence in a house along Church Street, which in later years the house would become ‘Burbage Constitutional Club’.

1812 George’s 3rd son ‘Charles Canning’ was born at Gloucester Lodge, Brompton, near London.

1814 He became the British Ambassador to Portugal and would keep this post for a couple of years.

1816 He became President of the Board of Control. Four years later he would resign from office in the opposition to the treatment of Queen Caroline (the wife of King George IV). George and Caroline were close friends; it was rumoured that they may have had a sexual affair.

1820 George’s son ‘George Charles’ died from Tuberculosis.

August 1822 George become both Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons. During his second term of office he was incremental in preventing South America falling into the influence of France.

1825 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia had commercial treaties with Britain. In November the first minister from the Latin American state of Colombia arrived in London. George declared that ‘Spanish America is free, and if we and if we do not mismanage our affairs she is English... the New World established and if we do not throw it away, ours’.

12th December 1826 George was given the opportunity at the House of Commons to defend the polices he had adopted towards France, Spain and Spanish America. He said ‘I resolved that if France had Spain it should not be Spain with the Indies. I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old’. George was more interested with Britain’s political and economic interests in Latin America than with Latin American independence and would enhance Britain’s prestige throughout Latin America.

George was the first British Foreign Secretary to devote a large proportion of his time and energy to the affairs of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. He could foresee the important political and economic role the Latin American states would one day play in the world.

10th April 1827 George was chosen by King George IV to succeed the previous Prime Minister, Robert Jenkinson (2nd Earl of Liverpool) in preference to both Sir Arthur Wellesley (1st Duke of Wellington) and Sir Robert Peel. They both refused to serve under George, as a result, he found it difficult to form a government and chose to invite a number of Whigs to join his Cabinet creating a coalition with his Canningites.

8th August 1827 George died at Chiswick House in West London at the age of 57 years. His health had been in steep decline since January that year, when he became so ill it was thought he might not have recovered. His total period in office remains the shortest of any Prime Minister, a mere 119 days. George was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

22nd January 1828 Joan was created 1st Viscountess Canning of Kilbraham, with a special remainder to the male heirs of her late husband, George.

George would have the road ‘Canning Street’ in Hinckley named after him and a Blue Plaque place on the side of his home in Burbage.

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