Canning Place, W8

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George Canning (April 11, 1770 – August 8, 1827) was a Tory statesman – whose principle claim to fame in political history was (until Liz Truss in 2022) as the shortest serving incumbent as Prime Minister, with a term lasting just 119 days, from April to August 1827. The son of an actress and a failed businessman and lawyer, Canning was supported financially by his uncle, Stratford Canning, which allowed him to attend Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford. His political advancement was swift and in 1807 he was made Foreign Secretary for the first time. He was a dominant figure in the cabinet and directed the seizure of the Danish fleet in 1807 to assure Britain’s naval supremacy over Napoleon. In 1809, he was wounded in a duel with his rival Lord Castlereagh, when the two men clashed over the failure of the Walcheren Campaign, a bid to open up a new Dutch front against the French commander. The military disaster saw more than 4,000 British troops die during the expedition, only 106 died in combat. It was around this time that Canning bought Villa Maria (later renamed Orford Lodge and most recently Gloucester Lodge). Shortly after his face-off, he was passed over as a successor to the Duke of Portland in favour of Spencer Perceval. He rejected overtures to serve as Foreign Secretary again because of Castlereagh’s presence in Perceval’s Cabinet, and he remained out of high office until after Perceval was assassinated in 1812. The new Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, offered Canning the position of Foreign Secretary once more but Canning refused, as he remained reluctant to serve in any government with Castlereagh. Castlereagh accepted the job instead. Canning finally took up the position for a second time when his long-time rival committed suicide. In 1827 Liverpool was forced to stand down as Prime Minister after suffering a severe stroke (he died the following year). Canning, as Liverpool’s right-hand man, was then chosen by George IV to succeed him, in preference to both the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. Neither man agreed to serve under Canning, and they were followed by five other members of Liverpool’s Cabinet as well as 40 junior members of the government. The Tory party was heavily split between the extreme right-wing High Tories and the moderates supporting Canning, often called Canningites. As a result, Canning found it difficult to form a coalition Government with a number of Whigs. The government agreed not to discuss the difficult question of parliamentary reform, which Canning opposed but the Whigs supported. However, Canning’s health by this time was in steep decline: at the funeral of Frederick, Duke of York, which was held during a January night at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, he became so ill that it was thought he might not recover. He died from tuberculosis later that year in the very same room where Charles James Fox met his own end, 21 years earlier. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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