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George Rice (1724-1779)

Politician, Cabinet Minister
and country gentleman

Introduction

George Rice of Newton House, Llandeilo, was an important political figure of the late-18th century. He was related through his mother to the prime minister of the day, Lord Newcastle, and his marriage to the daughter of an earl would result in the creation of the Dynevor peerage which has survived down to our time. Although never created a peer of he realm himself (he died before the Dynevor peerage was conferred on his father-in-law in 1780), he would be a father of peers right down to today's ninth Baron Dynevor of Dynevor.

He was not only fortunate in his family connections but knew exactly how to take advantage of them, which he did whenever the opportunities arose. His marriage to the daughter of the influential Earl Talbot gained him high ministerial office in the Whig governments from 1760 and he was a government spokesman on America during the years when the American colonies declared independence from Britain to create the United States of America. Although he recognised early on that British hard-line policies on taxation of the colonies, without a corresponding right to representation in the British parliament, would lead to trouble, he also supported the imposition of these taxes. Yet he also warned that British policies on taxation would give the colonists the excuse they needed to sever political rule from Britain. His warnings went unheeded and the break with Britain he predicted came true in the 1776 Declaration of Independence and subsequent revolutionary war.

Summary of life and career

Rice, George (1724?-1779), politician , was the only son of the three children of Edward Rice (d. 1727), politician, of Newton, Carmarthenshire, and his wife, Lucy, the daughter of John Morley Trevor of Glynde, Sussex. George Rice was the tenth in the male line in direct descent from Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Newton, Llandeilo, who had accompanied the Welshman Henry Tudor at Bosworth in 1485 and, if tradition is correct, had killed Richard III that day thereby clearing the way for Henry Tudor of Wales to become King Henry VII of England.

After matriculating, but not graduating, from Christ Church, Oxford, in 1742 he devoted his life to politics and the management of the family estate at Newton, Llandeilo, which he had inherited from his paternal grandfather Griffith Rice, in 1728. The Rices were a leading Whig family in Carmarthenshire, though their 19th century descendents would sit in parliament as Tories. Both George's father and grandfather had held the parliamentary seat for Carmarthenshire before George himself won the seat in 1754, a seat he held unopposed until his death. His mother was a relative of the then prime minister, the duke of Newcastle, and young Rice, whom the duke had known since infancy, was assimilated into the ruling Whig oligarchy. He acted as the duke's south Wales manager for the general election of 1761.

When George III came to the throne in 1760 George Rice avoided the political changes that inevitably come with a new regime, once again due to a fortunate family connection. His marriage in 1756 to Cecil (1735-1793), the only daughter of William Talbot (1710-1782), second Baron Talbot of Hensol, was a farsighted match that would prove highly advantageous in the future. Talbot's star in the new regime was so high that in 1761 he was elevated to the earl of Talbot and appointed lord steward of the king's household. (The current holder of the titles of Earl Talbot and Baron Talbot is a gentleman bearing the full, resplendent name of (are you ready for this?): Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot, Premier Earl of both England and Ireland - 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford, 7th Earl Talbot, Viscount Ingestre and Baron Talbot. (Source: Burke's Peerage.)

The same year of Talbot's earldom George Rice was appointed a lord of trade at £1,000 a year and the recommendation of the king's favourite Lord Bute clearly did no harm to his cause. He managed to hold this office until 1770 through all the ministerial changes of that decade. He was then given the even more lucrative position of treasurer of the chamber by Lord North, an office that included an appointment to the privy council.

Rice was no servile time-server however and he was perfectly capable of rebelling against his own party in parliament at times; as a country gentlemen he opposed the ruling Whig government on such popular issues as the land tax in 1767, and other measure which affected the landed gentry.

But Rice's place in 18 th century history is secured by his role as a ministerial spokesman on America, for he had become a colonial expert when at the Board of Trade and, as the colonial crisis that finally led to the declaration of independence in 1776 deepened, Rice emerged as a hardliner. The American Currency Act of 1764 was masterminded by Rice ; he opposed repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 even when in office. In 1769 he reminded the Commons that the economic advantages of the empire to Britain, which was the American argument against taxation, depended on enforcement of the trade laws which the colonists were also resisting. They were trying to have it both ways. After the Boston 'Tea Party' of 16th December 1773 it was Rice who, on 7th March 1774, moved the ministerial address. The question, he declared, was whether 'the colonies of America are, or are not, the colonies of Great Britain'. He argued that their retention was essential to Britain's role as a great power. 'The station we hold in Europe, so much beyond our natural power, we hold by means of our commercial advantages'. In a debate on 19th April 1774 on the American tea tax, he asserted that the colonists had 'a system to gain step by step, to clear themselves from the control of this country'. After denial of Britain's right to tax the American colonies, he said, 'the next step to be taken is you have no right to make laws binding upon them in any case whatever'.

Rice spoke less often after war followed his prediction of events, and he died during the conflict, on 2 August 1779. He was buried at Llandeilo , Carmarthenshire. In 1775 he had brought the 18th century's most prestigious landscape designer, Capability Brown, to Llandeilo to lay out the Newton House gardens we still see today. In 1780 his father-in-law Lord Talbot secured the title of Baron Dinevor of Dinevor (as it was then spelled), with special remainder to his daughter. On his death in 1782, Rice's widow therefore became a peeress in her own right, the second Baroness Dynevor, and their eldest son, George, succeeded as third Baron Dynevor when she died on 14 March 1793, leaving two sons and two daughters.

Sources

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  • Burke's Peerage.
  • A brief history of the Rice/Dynevor family, along with an index of surviving records are held by the Carmarthenshire Archive Services