John Barnes, Historian

Captain The Hon. Ronald Greville (1864-1908)

There was a widespread opinion that it was because of the ambitions of his wife that Ronald Greville engaged upon a political career. After an unsuccessful attempt to win Barnsley in the 1895 General Election, he was elected in a by-election for Bradford East in the following year and held the seat until 1906, when he retired from the House of Commons. He spoke little in the House (only eleven occasions have been recorded) and when he did it was usually to ask a question. An effort to speak in defence of the provision made for the Royal family came to grief when the Speaker thought he was taking the issue beyond its proper scope and his first and last full speech in the House was made in seconding the Address to the Throne on 17 February 1903. Nevertheless he was sufficiently active in the Primrose League to be elected to its Grand Council, and when it came to tariff reform, he proved ready to rebel against the whips. Although he was not one of those present on 1 July 1903 when the “free fooders” got together for the first time, he was one of 26 to vote with Morley’s amendment to the Address in 1904. Thereafter he preferred to abstain rather than vote for the free trade amendments that Balfour chose to treat as motions of censure on the Government. His decision not to take part in the 1906 election therefore sprang from a reluctance to support his party on this critical issue, but unlike some of his colleagues, he was not prepared to break with it altogether.

Ronald Henry Fulke Greville was the eldest of four children born to Algernon Greville, 2nd Baron Greville (1841-1909) and his wife, Lady Beatrice Violet Graham, daughter of the 4th Duke of Montrose. He was born on 14 October 1864 and was educated at Rugby School. He joined the army, at first serving as a Lieutenant in the 3rd (militia) Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1884, but then joining the 1st Lifeguards as a Lieutenant two years later. He reached the rank of Captain in 1892, but left the army when elected to Parliament in 1896.

He had married Margaret Helen Anderson in St Mark’s Church, North Audley Street on 25 April 1891. She was described as the daughter of Mrs M’Ewan and stepdaughter of William M’Ewan, but was in fact the latter’s illegitimate daughter. She was to inherit his fortune when he died in 1913. Margaret Greville was presented at Court by the Duchess of Montrose on 16 May 1892 and the couple were part of the circle surrounding the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and frequent attendees at State Balls and other Royal occasions.

Although Greville’s father was a distinguished Liberal, who had served briefly in Gladstone’s second administration, Greville was a Unionist. He contested the Liberal held seat of Barnsley in the 1895 General Election and failed to take it, although he was held to have distinguished himself in a vigorous contest. Perhaps as a result, when the Conservative MP for Bradford East died in the following year, Greville was chosen to contest the seat at the subsequent by-election which was held to be a difficult contest. He was opposed by Sir A. Billson and by Keir Hardie and he retained the seat by a narrow majority in November 1896. His father-in-law had already been elected as a Liberal for Central Edinburgh and Ronald was present when he handed over the magnificent M’Ewan Hall to Balfour as Chancellor of Edinburgh University in December 1897.

Greville was a Knight Imperial of the Primrose League and seems to have been prominent in its affairs. He was a guest when Joseph Chamberlain was received by the City of London in 1902 and when the Imperial Chapter of the League dined the Colonial Prime Ministers on 7 July 1902. He was elected to the Grand Council on 4 May 1905. However, he was not a tariff reformer and chose to side with the small but active band of younger Unionists who remained loyal to free trade. He had held his seat at the 1900 General Election, but chose not to contest it in 1906. Nor did he seek another seat. His former seat was gained by the Liberal Party with a large majority. Greville continued to give his support to the Unionist Free Traders from outside the House until illness laid him low.

In June 1906 the King and Queen honoured the Grevilles by spending a weekend being entertained by them at Reigate Priory.[1] The king made a further private visit to them at Reigate Priory on the weekend 18-20 May 1907[2] and on the Saturday took tea at Polesden Lacey, which the Grevilles had purchased in 1906 from the executors of Sir Clinton Dawkins. There is every reason to believe that Edward VII enjoyed their company, but spiteful critics nicknamed the pair, ‘The Grovels’.

Nevertheless Margaret Greville’s parties at Reigate Priory and then at Polesden Lacey were regarded as features of the London season.

A Justice of the Peace and deputy lieutenant, Greville served as High Sheriff for County Westmeath 1899. He was a member of the Turf, the Naval and Military and the Carlton Clubs and played golf as his principal recreation.

Greville died on 5 April 1908 from pneumonia following an operation for throat cancer, predeceasing his father. He and his wife had no children and when his father died in 1909 the title was inherited by his brother Charles.

He was buried at Bookham on 9 April and a memorial service was held at St Margaret’s, Westminster on the same day. An obituary appeared in The Times on 6 April 1908.

[1] The Times Court Circulars for 22 and 25 June 1906

[2] The Times 20 May 1907