George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer : biography
George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer KG PC FRS FSA (1 September 1758 – 10 November 1834), styled Viscount Althorp from 1765 to 1783, was a British Whig politician. He notably served as Home Secretary from 1806 to 1807 in the Ministry of All the Talents.
Background and education
Lord Spencer was born at Wimbledon Park, London, the son of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, and his wife Margaret Georgiana Poyntz, daughter of Stephen Poyntz, and was baptised there on 16 October 1758. His godparents were King George II, the Earl Cowper (his grandmother's second husband) and his great-aunt the Dowager Viscountess Bateman. His sister Lady Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire and became a famed Whig hostess. He was educated at Harrow School from 1770 to 1775 and he won the school's Silver Arrow (an archery prize) in 1771. He then attended Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1776 to 1778 and graduated with a Master of Arts. He acceded to the earldom upon the death of his father in 1783.
Lord Althorp, portrait in oil by [[Thomas Gainsborough, ca. 1775]]
Lord Spencer was Whig Member of Parliament for Northampton from 1780 to 1782 and Whig MP for Surrey from 1782 to 1783. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1794 and served under William Pitt the Younger as Lord Privy Seal in 1794 and as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1794 to 1801. He was later Home Secretary from 1806 to 1807 under Lord Grenville in the Ministry of All the Talents.
Lord Spencer married Lady Lavinia Bingham (1762–1831), daughter of Charles Bingham, 1st Earl of Lucan, on 6 March 1781. They had nine children:
- John Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl Spencer (1782–1845)
- Lady Sarah Spencer (1787–1870), married William Lyttelton, 3rd Baron Lyttelton, and had issue.
- Hon. Richard Spencer (1789–1791), died in infancy.
- Captain Hon. Sir Robert Cavendish Spencer (1791–1830), died unmarried.
- Hon. William Spencer (b. & d. 1792), died in infancy.
- Lady Harriet Spencer (b. & d. 1793), died in infancy.
- Lady Georgiana Charlotte Spencer (1794–1823), married George Quin, son of Thomas Taylour, 1st Marquess of Headfort, and had issue.
- Vice-Admiral Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer (1798–1857)
- The Very Reverend Hon. George Spencer (later known as Father Ignatius Spencer (1799–1864), died unmarried.
Lady Spencer died in June 1831, aged 68. Lord Spencer survived her by three years and died in November 1834, aged 76, at Althorp, and was buried in the nearby village of Great Brington on 19 November of that year.
Spencer was noted for his interest in literature and particularly in early examples of printing. He was the instigator and first President of the Roxburghe Club (an exclusive bibliophilic club), founded in 1812. When Napoleon instigated the secularization of religious houses in south Germany, Spencer used local British agent and Benedictine monk, Alexander Horn to acquire many of their rare books and manuscripts.Mark Dilworth, ‘Horn, Alexander (1762–1820)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
His collection of some 40,000 volumes was put up for sale in 1892 and acquired by Mrs Rylands for the John Rylands Library.Lister, Anthony (1989) The Althorp Library ... its Formation and Growth. In: Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 71, no. 2, pp. 67-86
Other public positions
Lord Spencer was also High Steward of St Albans from 1783 to 1807, Mayor of St Albans in 1790, President of the Royal Institution from 1813 to 1825 and Commissioner of the Public Records in 1831. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1790 and was made a Knight of the Garter in 1799.
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