Wednesday, July 16, 2008

That Tea Guy: Charles, 2nd Earl Grey and his Naughty Ways

Although I'm partial to Barry's Irish Tea myself, Earl Grey remains a classic. If you buy it from Tesco it even has Charles, 2nd Earl Grey's face on it. How he got a tea named after him is shadowed in legend but what remains a fact is he was the love of Georgiana's life.

I wanted to discuss Grey now because judging from The Duchess trailer, he seems to be taking up a lot of screen time (grumble...) and appearing in places he shouldn't be. He was eldest surviving son of the first Earl Grey and educated at the best of schools, Eton, Trinity, etc. At the tender age of 22 he was elected to parliament. This was in 1786, two years after Georgiana had canvassed for Charles Fox and subsequently "retired" from politics. The young Grey was actually, well, emo. He was a dark and brooding Pisces, whose raincloud only disappeared when got his way. Upon being welcomed into the Whigs and of course the Devonshire House circle, he immediately latched on to Georgiana, 7 years his senior. She was flirtatious and welcoming with everybody, but he took her actions too seriously and became her shadow. This made Georgiana both nervous and enticed. Eventually Grey's violent declarations of love worked, and Georgiana began an affair.

Love grew stronger and friends' well-meant advice was falling on deaf ears more and more frequently. Like a high school romance, he would argue with her if he felt she was paying more attention to other members of the circle. The lovebirds let their affair get out of hand when, Georgiana was staying in Bath by herself and Grey would be seen going in and out of her house with no discrepancy. When her mother, Lady Spencer heard this she furiously wrote and put a stop to their brashness. But it was too late, the damage was done. Georgiana was pregnant.

Now her Grace had to admit many awful things to her husband before. This usually involved her massive gambling debts. But this one was big. Someone tipped the Duke of Devonshire off and he arrived unexpected to his 6-month pregnant wife in Bath. Screaming, crying commenced, followed by Bess being called into the room, and then scolding, and more screaming and crying. Harriet, Georgiana's sister sat outside hearing everything and recorded that she had never been so frightened. Georgiana was forced to leave the country. The Duke was humiliated and he gave her a choice: give the child up for adoption and never see Grey again or be divorced and never see her 3 children again. It wasn't much of a choice, but Grey still resented her for not choosing a fallen life with him. The relationship disintegrated after that. "I have in leaving him for ever, left my heart and soul; but it is over now...he has one consolation that I have given him up to my children only." Georgiana wrote in her grief. On February 20, 1791 Eliza Courtney was born and immediately taken from her mother's arms. But Eliza's story is for another time.

Three years later Grey was engaged to Mary Ponsonby. The coward couldn't even bring himself to tell Georgiana himself, he waited until she read it in the papers. She was stricken speechless with grief. The married couple had 15 children in total but that didn't stop Grey from having an affair with Richard Sheridan's second wife Hecca. He went on to outlive Georgiana by many years and become Prime Minister under William IV. However he may want to be known, for his political or sexual conquerings; he will always be the tea guy.


  1. Thank you for this Heather. I had no idea that this Earl Grey was the tea guy. Dominic Cooper plays him in the film. I'm hoping I like him better playing Grey than I did Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility.

  2. I am suspicious as well, I am not sure how convincing he is going to be, but then again he just has to portray a bratty 20-something guy so that shouldn't be too complicated. He looks about 12 on the poster for The Duchess which bothers me too.

    The only thing I really remember from his portrayal of Willoughby was that he had nice hair...

  3. Now that I've seen The Duchess, and actually didn't like Dominic Cooper's portrayal in the least, I might have to give up my afternoon cup of Earl Grey tea. Is "Lady Grey" a bow to Georgiana or to the Earl's wife?

    I might drink that in spite!

  4. Hahahaha! I don't think Lady Grey is actually. But we can pretend!

  5. Interesting site, but I don't understand why Charles Grey gets so much flack whilst Georgiana's sister gets treated with kid gloves.
    At least Grey didn't knowingly marry his daughter to what was probably a too near relation.
    If Grey was horrible for allegedly having some affair with Hecca Sheridan, wasn't Harriet Cavendish horrible for messing around with Sheridan and making his first wife's short life a misery?
    No wonder Byron called her a hack whore.

  6. Well anonymous, it all depends on your point of view. Grey gets flack because he's a man in a man's world, which is not his fault; it's just the bitter reality of the double standard.

    The knowledge of inbreeding was limited in the 18th century, cousins were constantly marrying, so we can't hold that against Harriet if no one knew better.

    Yes, Harriet was horrible for messing around with Sheridan, and it was a guilt that tortured her for the rest of her life. She also had to pay for it with Sheridan's obsessive ways. Mrs Eliza Sheridan was a beautiful woman, but not without her own guilt-but that's a story for another time.

    So both Harriet and Grey are guilty parties for one sin or another, but it's not really a competition of who is "worse." I, personally, just sympathize with Harriet more because she was an abused wife in a society that accepted men's shortcomings, so to speak, and crucified women for far less.

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  8. Strange to say, I have never thought of Earl Grey as 'The Tea Guy', though I was aware of the plantation wealth connections. Networking took and still takes many forms. He was always, to me, 'the young Prime Minister'. That probably goes with my thinking on political history, rather than on the joys some people have in taking tea. Lady Grey is a more modern concoction of flavoured tea leaf; sounds dainty, better than 'Ponsonby'

    Many political animals have a high sexual drive to assuage, apart from the use and abuse of power.

  9. Lady Grey does sound dainty, but I sure wouldn't mind trying a sip of Ponsonby Tea!

  10. As a person who will only drink Earl Grey tea in a certain way, (I am not a tea lover as such) because it can have a pleasant and refreshing affect, I was rather surprised at the comparative, heavy and inelegant type of tea Lady Grey turned out to be. People who are a tea drinker, might gain some pleasure from it. I think the concoction rides on the back of a pleasant well-marketed product and has no redeeming factors in its own right.

    Poor wife....second best even as a tea leaf!

  11. I don't know how people find the time or energy to lead such complicated lives! I'm too busy drinking tea and having afternoon tea parties to get into trouble! Twinings Earl Grey (loose leaf) is my everyday tea. Love it.

  12. I think Lady Grey tea is from Lady Jane Grey. The young and executed queen.

  13. i know him more as the 'repeal slavery' guy, but there you go