George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquis Townshend, was born February 28, 1724, the eldest son of Charles, 3rd Viscount (1700-1764), and his wife Etheldreda Audrey Harrison (ca. 1708-1788). In 1741, his parents formally separated, and, unlike his younger brother Charles Townshend (1725-1767), future chancellor of the exchequer, he sided with his mother, who was known for her wit and sympathy for the Jacobites. In 1743, during a tour of Europe, he enlisted in the British army in Flanders as a volunteer, and in 1745, was appointed captain in the 7th (Cope's) Regiment of Dragoons. In 1746, he served under the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden, and the next year became his aide-de-camp, and eventually reached the position of lieutenant-colonel. In 1749, he graduated from St. John's College, Cambridge. Around this time, he fell out with the Duke of Cumberland, and took an eight year absence from the military in 1750.
Around this time, Townshend became increasingly involved in politics, standing for Norfolk in 1747 while still in Flanders, and later in the decade strongly supporting a bill that called for the extension of the British militia in lieu of a standing army. He also gained prominence as a caricaturist, but his skewering of politicians gained him many enemies. During the Seven Years War, he returned to the British army and served as a brigadier in Quebec under Major-General James Wolfe, whom he disliked and caricatured. Upon the death of Wolfe and wounding of Robert Monckton, Townshend, as Wolfe's second-in-command, assumed command of the British forces in the Siege of Quebec and accepted the surrender of the city on September 18, 1759. He was promoted to the rank of major-general in 1761, and fought at the Battle of Villinghausen in July of that year.
After his return to England, Townshend served as lieutenant general of the ordnance from 1763 to 1767, and through the influence of his brother Charles, who was chancellor of the exchequer, he was named lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1767. In an attempt to rebuild the Crown's influence in Irish politics, Townshend was ordered to take up residence in Dublin. His first major task was to augment the size of the British army in Ireland in order to equalize the regiment size between British and Irish units, an unpopular measure among Irish politicians. He was also directed to break the political power of the unruly "Undertakers" of Irish Parliament. He succeeded, but only by using methods so corrupt that he was recalled in 1772. Townshend returned to his ordnance post and did not hold another important public office, though he lived until September 14, 1807.
On December 19, 1751, Townshend married Charlotte Compton, 15th Baroness Ferrers of Chartley, with whom he had eight children. After her death on September 3, 1770, he married Anne Montgomery in 1773, and with her had six children.
The collection contains 127 letters and 7 letterbooks, covering the years 1649 to 1848, with the bulk concentrated around 1767-1772. The materials relate almost entirely to Townshend's career as lord lieutenant of Ireland.
The Correspondence series primarily contains Townshend's incoming correspondence for the 1760s and 1770s, with a small number of outgoing items written by Townshend. Letters concern Townshend's political career, the politics of Ireland, the Seven Years War, political patronage, and Townshend's social and family life. While sailing to North America in the spring of 1759, Townshend wrote some of the earliest letters in the collection to his wife Charlotte; in these he described the voyage and his shipmates. On February 18, 1759, he mentioned acquainting himself with a French pilot on the deck of the HMS Neptune , and wished that his young son George could see the assemblage of ships at Plymouth. Other early letters relate to his career in Parliament, including a bill to expand the militia, which he strongly supported (May 11, 1765).
During 1767 to 1772, the years in which Townshend served as lord-lieutenant of Ireland, the bulk of letters concern Irish politics, political patronage, and Townshend's social life in Dublin. One frequent topic was the augmentation of the army in Ireland, which Townshend advocated as a way to standardize the size of British and Irish regiments. The collection includes the comments of William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, on the subject (March 14, 1768), as well as those of Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Earl of Grafton (October 18, 1768). Also present is Lord Frederick North's discussion of another of Townshend's undertakings, the division of the Irish Board of Revenue into two boards of excise and customs (January 3, 1771), and Shelburne's comments on a bill to enable Catholics to lend money to Protestants (May 7, 1768).
In addition to references to these political issues, the Correspondence series contains numerous mentions of patronage as well as payments made to several Irish politicians. On January 16, 1768, Shelburne wrote to Townshend, acknowledging his "secret and confidential" letters and recommended offering a "certain Salary" to the lord chief justice of the Kings Bench in Ireland. He also noted, "In regard of the Bill for Appointing The Judges during good Behaviour, I can add nothing more to what I have already said on that Subject to your Excellency." Thomas Thynne, 1st Marquis Bath, noted in a letter that "other Opportunities must be found, as soon as possible, for providing for some of the most eminent of those Gentlemen who so honorably supported Government the last Session of Parliament" (July 8, 1769). In addition, Townshend received frequent requests from friends and acquaintances for favors and minor roles in the government. This includes a request by a Henrietta Macartney that Townshend confer on her younger brother "any small place of about four hundred pounds a year" (February 11, 1768), as well as a request for a favor from William Barrington for a friend's son. Occasional bits of Irish news, letters concerning family matters (including the death of Townshend's wife in August 1770), and remarks about Townshend's departure from Ireland in late 1772 are also part of this series. On this last topic, Richard Jackson wrote, that the exit must provide "agreeable Relief to you from the long Fatigue and Trouble of a painful Preeminence in this Country" (September 4, 1772).
The Letter Books series contains 7 letter books covering 1767-1772. The original numbering of volumes 1-7 has been kept despite some overlapping dates. The letter books consist of George Townshend's outgoing letters to various recipients, including, among many others, William Barrington, 2nd Viscount Barrington; Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton; William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (known as the Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784); Frederick North, Lord North; and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Several early letters contain references to the death his younger brother, Charles, in August 1767, and the family's grief over the loss. However, most letters relate to politics, patronage and appointments, and Townshend's activities as the lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In letters to his colleagues, Townshend wrote candidly about many topics, including the filling of political vacancies, conditions in Ireland, and his agenda for augmenting the army in Ireland and reorganizing the Irish Board of Revenue. In a letter of November 28, 1768 (Volume 1), he wrote to Grafton, "With respect to Ireland it is true Sir that Preferments in the Church since I have been here, have gone chiefly and in unnatural Proportion to the Natives." To Lord Frederick Campbell, he wrote about the Irish poor: "The emancipating the poor Irish Peasants from the savage Oppressive Landlords…will have a very salutary effect both upon the Service of the Crown & the prosperity of the Kingdom." ([January 1769] Volume 1, page 337). The letterbooks provide a wealth of information on the various positions taken by Townshend, as well as the duties required of him as lord-lieutenant.
Powell, Martyn J., "Townshend, George, first Marquess Townshend (1724--1807)." In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, Jan 2008 [accessed 1 March 2011]