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Charles Grey was send to a private school in Marylebone before attending Eton and then Cambridge. In 1786 he was elected to the House of Commons as member for the county of Northumberland and, contrary to family tradition, he became a member of the Whig party. He was extremely active in opposition.
In 1806, with the formation of the Ministry of All the Talents, Grey entered the Cabinet as the First Lord of the Admiralty, and swiftly succeeded to become Foreign Secretary. Following his move to the House of Lords in 1807, Grey struggled to keep control of the Whigs in the Commons and soon attempted to pass on the leadership of the Whig group to others, in favour of a more quiet domestic life.
When Grey later wished to return to public life, his admission to government was vetoed by George IV on account of the role Grey had played in the defeat of his parliamentary bill to divorce Queen Caroline. With the death of George IV however, Grey’s fortunes were immensely altered, and in 1830 William IV appointed him Prime Minister. It was from this position that he presided over the passing of the ‘Great’ Reform Act of 1832.
In spite of this important success, Grey’s government eventually fell, brought down by difficulties over Ireland. He resigned in 1834 and retired to his family home in Howick.