CRAUFURD, Robert (1764-1812), of Blyth Hall, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 5 May 1764, 3rd s. of Sir Alexander Craufurd, 1st Bt., of Newark, Ayr, and bro. of Charles Gregan Craufurd*. educ. Harrow 1779; Göttingen Univ. 1787. m. 6 Feb. 1800, Mary Frances, da. of Henry Holland, architect, of Hans Place, Chelsea, Mdx., sis. of Henry Holland*, 3s.

Offices Held

Ensign 65 Ft. 1780, 26 Ft. 1780. lt. 98 Ft. 1780, 26 Ft. 1781; capt. 75 Ft. 1782; attached to his bro. Charles at the Austrian h.q. 1795; maj. Hompesch’s hussars 1797; lt.-col. 60 Ft. 1797; dep. q.m.g. [I] 1798; military commr. at Russian h.q. in Switzerland 1799; half-pay 1802, brevet col. 1805; under-sec. of state for War and Colonies 1806; brig.-gen. 1809, maj.-gen. 1811.


Prince Augustus, who met Craufurd at Göttingen in 1787, informed his father the King that he ‘has got a very good character’. In that year he and his brother Charles translated Tielke’s Art of War. He subsequently served in the war against Tipu Sultan in India, where his uncle Quentin Craufurd had made a fortune; but he ‘sold out as a captain on some subject of disgust’, leaving his affairs there in a muddle, and joined his elder brother Charles, who was envoy to Condé’s émigré army on the Continent, in 1795. ‘My brother’, wrote Charles to Lord Grenville, ‘is not only master of both the German and French languages but he is extremely well versed in military affairs having served 15 years and paid the utmost attention to the study of the profession in all its branches.’ He claimed to be reluctant to turn his back on India unless he was provided for, and when his brother was invalided obtained military employ with the Archduke Charles’s army in his stead, then in Ireland during the rebellion and in Switzerland. As commissary his manners were ‘sometimes very offensive’ and the archduke thought he would do better in the field. Lord Grenville was prepared to appoint him inspector general, as well as commissary, in August 1799, when the alternative of joining the Duke of York’s staff in the Helder expedition presented itself and was accepted by Craufurd. In 1800 he was offered the post of adjutant general in India, which he accepted, but was prevented from taking it up by the settlement of commissariat accounts and was left a lieutenant-colonel on half-pay.1

In 1802 Craufurd entered Parliament for Retford in the seat intended by his sister-in-law the Duchess of Newcastle for her second husband, his brother Charles, whose illness prevented him from occupying it. In the preceding years he had developed an admiration for William Windham*, who had gone into opposition to Addington’s ministry with Lord Grenville and it was their line that Craufurd followed in the House on the resumption of hostilities. Beginning on 27 June 1803 he spoke only on military matters, as a critic of the ministry’s defence plans. The House was cleared of strangers by the secretary at war when he went into detail on 30 June and 6 July. He approved the amendments to the defence bill, 18 July, but in his most ambitious speech, 22 July, developed his ideas on augmenting the regulars, arming the people and fortifying the coasts, with compliments to Windham. He approved the Irish martial law bill, 28 July, and promised a motion (viewed with some misgivings by Lord Grenville) on the better defence of the realm. For this motion, 2 Aug., the gallery was cleared, to his dismay. Moreover, he withdrew it ‘to give Mr Fox an opportunity of making another motion of a different kind, of which that gentleman had given no notice’.2 This was for a council of general officers and Craufurd was teller for it. He deprecated reliance on the volunteer force, 5, 10 Aug., and thereafter his opposition intensified. Welcoming inquiry into the conduct of the Irish government, he expressed himself in favour of Catholic relief, 11 Aug., and on 5 Dec. he opposed the renewal of martial law in Ireland. On 12 Dec. he supported Fox’s plea for a military council and two days later defended Windham’s views. He was a forthright critic of the volunteer consolidation bill, 29 Feb. 1804, and regretted that Pitt was not at the helm. In March and April he reiterated his views on defence and he was in the minorities of 7, 14, 15, 19 Mar., 13, 16, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804 that heralded Addington’s downfall.

Craufurd was listed ‘Grenville’ on Pitt’s return to office in May 1804. Had Windham taken office, he wished to ‘range myself under your standard’; in any case he meant to follow him ‘in or out of office’.3 He opposed Pitt’s additional force bill by vote and speech, expressing his preference for Windham’s plans. From 16 July 1804 he lay low and when he reappeared, 28 May 1805, mentioned that he had been absent. He was still critical of Pitt’s military measures and on 28 June unsuccessfully moved the reorganization of the regular army. He was in the majority for the criminal prosecution of Melville on 12 June and listed ‘Opposition’ in July.

Craufurd could confidently expect employment under Windham in the Grenville ministry and the latter made him under-secretary at the War Office, ‘the most hostile measure to the Duke [of York] and the army that he could have adopted’.4 Craufurd accepted it, though ‘not quite so high a situation as he might have looked to’, according to his brother Charles.5 Even to this a snag arose—there were three under-secretaries of state in the House and it was thought that only two might sit there. Craufurd would not vacate his seat, for fear of embarrassing his patron’s interest at Retford; nor would the two others. Lord Grenville, who clearly wished Craufurd to vacate, was lobbied by Windham and Craufurd but could not suggest alternative employment. Windham thought him indispensable to him. As if to prove this he steadily supported Windham’s measures in debate, 3 Apr.-14 July 1806. After he had refused to go to the Cape as deputy governor, a solution that appealed to him was found in June when he was given the command of an expedition to South America. Not satisfied with a colonelcy, he wished for the local rank of major-general and Grenville had to veto Windham’s bid to remunerate him as if he were commander-in-chief. His task was to attack the Spaniards in Chile and Peru. Windham had commended him to Grenville in glowing terms:

Every one confesses his good sense and talents as an officer ... and his probity and disinterestedness have been evinced both in the circumstances which have brought us together, and have shown themselves in every transaction since. He has literally sacrificed all his professional prospects to the part he took in Parliament, and scarcely an opportunity can be looked for for replacing him, should the present be passed over. Among his other claims is the moderation and modesty with which he has urged his wishes on the present occasion, after having been giving to me, for now 5 months, his assistance as under-secretary of state in mere consideration of my wish to have him placed in that situation. I should really never be able to look him in the face if I were to pass him by upon this occasion.6

A less charitable view was taken by the Duke of Northumberland:

He may possibly be a very brave, and well meaning officer, but when I recollect that his mother was confined for all the latter part of her life, that a brother I knew in Portugal died mad, and that I am told a sister of his is now actually confined in a mad house, I do not think it prudent ... he himself, on certain occasions, has appeared not to be perfectly right.7

Craufurd’s appointment to the command ended his political career. He was dismayed when he got to the Cape on his way to Chile to learn of a change of plan. He was to join Sir Samuel Auchmuty at Rio de la Plata to await General Whitelocke’s expedition and attempt to retake Buenos Aires. Disgusted at this subordinate role, he asked to be called home, his brother remonstrating with Windham on his behalf.8 He nevertheless commanded a light brigade in the advance on Buenos Aires, until checked on Whitelocke’s orders and obliged to surrender. On his return home the disgrace did not fall on him and he made his peace with the Duke of York.9 This enabled him to distinguish himself in the Peninsular War by his reckless courage as a leader of light troops. He received the thanks of the House, 31 Jan. 1809, and, posthumously, on 10 Feb. 1812. He had perished in the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo on 24 Jan. On his deathbed he solemnly asked Wellington’s forgiveness for his intrigues against him. A monument to his memory was erected in St. Paul’s Cathedral.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: P. A. Symonds / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Geo. III Corresp. i. 357; HMC Graham of Fintry, 12; Add. 37846, f. 38; PRO, FO29/5, C. G. Craufurd to Grenville, 4 Aug. 1795; HMC Fortescue, v. 217, 290, 309, 348; Fortescue mss, Craufurd to Grenville, 24 Apr. 1806.
  • 2. Add. 37846, f. 202; The Times, 4 Aug. 1803.
  • 3. Add. 37882, ff. 79, 81.
  • 4. NLS mss 11143, f. 209.
  • 5. Add. 37886, f. 143.
  • 6. HMC Fortescue, viii. 33, 103-4, 119, 122, 157, 209; Colchester, ii. 136; Fortescue mss, Craufurd to Grenville, 16, [21], 24 Apr., 26 June 1806; Add. 37883, f. 224; 37884, ff. 178, 180, 220.
  • 7. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2262.
  • 8. HMC Fortescue, ix. 1; Add. 37886, ff. 143, 157, 220, 231, 259.
  • 9. Leveson Gower, ii. 285; HMC Fortescue, ix. 138.
  • 10. DNB; Croker Pprs. ed. Jennings, i. 346-7.