SPENCER, Lord Charles (1740-1820), of Wheatfield, Oxon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1761 - Feb. 1801

Family and Education

b. 31 Mar. 1740, 2nd s. of Charles, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, by Hon. Elizabeth Trevor, da. of Thomas, and Baron Trevor; bro. of Lord Robert Spencer.  educ. Eton 1747-54; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1756-9; in Holland 1759-60.  m. 2 Oct. 1762, Hon. Mary Beauclerk, da. and h. of Vere, 1st Baron Vere, 2s.

Offices Held

Surveyor of gardens and outranger of Windsor forest Dec. 1762-Apr. 1763, P.C. 20 Apr. 1763; comptroller of the Household Apr. 6-July 1763, ld. of Admiralty 1768-July 1779; treasurer of chamber Sept. 1779-June 1782; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Sept. 1782-Mar. 1784; jt. postmaster gen. Mar. 1801-6; master of the mint Feb.-Oct. 1806.


In 1761 Spencer, while still abroad,1 was returned jointly for Oxfordshire with Sir James Dashwood, on a compromise with the Tories which was resented by many of the Whigs after the great contest of 1754. A member of the Bedford party, he supported Bute’s ministry, and on 25 Nov. 1762 made his maiden speech seconding the Address. Next month he was appointed to sinecure offices worth about £1,000 p.a.2 In April 1763, when his brother Marlborough became lord privy seal, Spencer was appointed comptroller of the Household; and his appearance at gatherings summoned to hear the drafts of the King’s speeches and his being asked to move the Address in November 1763 (in the end he did not do so), suggest that Bedford and Marlborough were anxious to bring him forward in public life.3 Before long, however, he gave evidence of independent political judgment, perhaps also of concern about his position as a county representative; on 15 Feb. 1764 he voted against the ministry on general warrants. Marlborough wrote to Bedford:4

I have wrote a very strong letter to my brother, which I hope and believe will have some weight. I am really very hurt at this accident, and am thoroughly convinced that he has been talked into it since I last saw him.

Next day it was generally understood that Marlborough had instructed his brother to abstain from voting against the ministry:5 and he did not do so in the next division of 18 Feb. On the 20th Marlborough reported to Bedford: ‘I am very happy to be able to acquaint your Grace that my brother is fully convinced of his having been in the wrong, and I am certain he will alter his conduct’; and Spencer himself explained that the vote he had given against general warrants was not to be taken as a sign of discontent with the ministry.6 In July 1765, after the dismissal of Bedford and Grenville, Cumberland, engaged in forming the Rockingham ministry, and hoping to win over Marlborough, urged him to suffer Spencer to keep his office. Spencer, however, resigned in accordance with his brother’s advice.7 On 22 Feb. 1766 he voted with others of his party against the repeal of the Stamp Act. In the autumn his restoration to his office was one of the conditions set by Bedford in his negotiations for a coalition with Chatham. In November Spencer thought little of the prospects and asked Bedford to cease pushing his claim—‘the expenses of re-election and other things upon coming into this place amount to near a year’s income of it, so that I should be out of pocket by it ... if I were not to keep it that time ... I cannot help thinking that angels from heaven are not likely to keep in a twelvemonth as things are now circumstanced’. At the end of 1767, when Bedford eventually struck his bargain with Grafton, Spencer was allotted a place at the Admiralty; but, to avoid re-selection, his appointment was deferred until the dissolution.8 Until March 1782 he was a regular ministerial supporter, but occasionally took an independent line. In 1771, in opposition to North, he seconded Meredith’s motion for an amendment of the Nullum Tempus Act which would have operated in favour of Portland. In that speech, one of the only two by him during this Parliament, he confessed his diffidence—‘a very unpleasant thing to speak in the House’.9 In 1774 he voted against the Government in favour of making Grenville’s Act respecting controverted elections permanent; and in 1777 he did not vote in the division on the payment of the King’s debts and an increase of the civil list. At the beginning of 1779 he so disapproved of Sandwich’s handling of the quarrel between Keppel and Palliser that he refused to serve any longer at the Admiralty Board.10 ‘He meant likewise’, wrote the English Chronicle, ‘to have voted against [Sandwich] on the navy questions, with the approbation of the Duke of Marlborough, who, however, at the entreaty of Mr. William Eden, sacrificed his own and his brother’s opinions.’ As the ministry did not wish to alienate Marlborough and his connexions, a compensation had to be found for Spencer; in September 1779 he was appointed treasurer of the chamber, and he voted with North’s ministry until its fall.

After the formation of the Rockingham Administration Spencer’s office was doomed to disappear under Burke’s plan for the reform of the Household. George III and Shelburne, not wishing to offend Marlborough and having failed to secure the office of lord steward for him against Fox’s nominee, Carlisle, tried to obtain the office of joint vice-treasurer of Ireland for Spencer, but were again defeated by Fox’s insistence on the appointment of Lord Robert Spencer.11 In July 1782 Spencer accepted this post from Shelburne when his brother resigned it,12 gave a promise of support, and voted on 18 Feb. for the peace preliminaries. He was left in office under the Coalition and voted for Fox’s East India bill. After the dismissal of the Coalition, to Marlborough’s distress, he allowed himself to be persuaded into moving on 16 Jan. 1784 that the continuance in office of Pitt’s ministry was contrary to constitutional principles.13 As John Moore, bishop of Bangor and once Spencer’s tutor, wrote about him to the Duke, 30 Sept. 1780: ‘Lord Charles, with the best of hearts but a ductile mind, is now and then impressed strongly with the sentiments of warm party men with whom he lives in habits of friendship.’ In the Parliament of 1784 he was a firm supporter of the Fox-Portland party.

He died 16 June 1820.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: I. R. Christie


  • 1. A. L. Rowse, Later Churchills, 100-1.
  • 2. Grenville Pprs. ii. 21.
  • 3. Jenkinson Pprs. 217; Harris’s ‘Debates’, 13 Nov. 1763, 8 Jan., 23 Apr. 1765.
  • 4. Bedford mss.
  • 5. Yorke, Hardwicke, iii. 563; Horace Walpole to Hertford, 15 Feb. 1764.
  • 6. Bedford mss.
  • 7. Marlborough to Bedford, 4, 11, 13 July 1765, to Gower, 11 July 1765.
  • 8. Grafton, Autobiog. 182; HMC Carlisle, 223.
  • 9. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 224, p. 199.
  • 10. Herbert, Pembroke Pprs. i. 182.
  • 11. Geo. III to Shelburne, 14 May 1782, Lansdowne mss; Fox to Rockingham [22 May 1782], Rockingham mss.
  • 12. Fortescue, vi. 77, 79.
  • 13. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 57b.