Charles Townshend succeeded to the peerage in December 1687, and was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. He had Tory sympathies when he took his seat in the House of Lords, but his views changed, and he began to take an active part in politics as a Whig. For a few years after the accession of Queen Anne he remained without office, but in November 1708 he was appointed Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, having in the previous year been summoned to the Privy Council. He was ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the States-General from 1709 to 1711, taking part during these years in the negotiations which preceded the conclusion of the treaty of Utrecht. After his recall to England he was busily occupied in attacking the proceedings of the new Tory ministry. Townshend quickly won the favour of George I, and in September 1714, the new king selected him as Secretary of State for the Northern Department. The policy of Townshend and his colleagues, after they had crushed the Jacobite rising of 1715, both at home and abroad, was one of peace. The secretary disliked the interference of England in the war between Sweden and Denmark, and he promoted the conclusion of defensive alliances between England and the emperor and England and France. In spite of these successes the influence of the Whigs was gradually undermined by the intrigues of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and by the discontent of the Hanoverian favourites. In October 1716, Townshend's colleague, James Stanhope afterwards 1st Earl Stanhope, accompanied the king on his visit to Hanover, and while there he was seduced from his allegiance to his fellow ministers by Sunderland, George being led to believe that Townshend and his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Walpole, were caballing with the Prince of Wales, their intention being that the prince should supplant his father on the throne. Consequently in December 1716 the secretary was dismissed and was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but he only retained this post until the following April.
Early in 1720 a partial reconciliation took place between the parties of Stanhope and Townshend, and in June of this year the latter became Lord President of the Council, a post which he held until February 1721, when, after the death of Stanhope and the forced retirement of Sunderland, a result of the South Sea Bubble, he was again appointed secretary of state for the northern department, with Walpole as First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. The two remained in power during the remainder of the reign of George I the chief domestic events of the time being the impeachment of Bishop Atterbury, the pardon and partial restoration of Lord Bolingbroke, and the troubles in Ireland caused by the patent permitting Wood to coin halfpence. Townshend secured the dismissal of his rival, John Carteret, afterwards Earl Granville, but soon differences arose between himself and Walpole, and he had some difficulty in steering a course through the troubled sea of European politics. Although disliking him, George II retained him in office, but the predominance in the ministry passed gradually but surely from him to Walpole. Townshend could not brook this. So long, to use Walpole's witty remark, as the firm was Townshend and Walpole all went well with it, but when the positions were reversed jealousies arose between the partners. Serious differences of opinion concerning the policy to be adopted towards Prussia and in foreign politics generally led to a final rupture in 1730. Failing, owing to Walpole's interference, in his efforts to procure the dismissal of a colleague and his replacement by a personal friend, Townshend retired on 15 May 1730. His remaining years were passed at Raynham, where he interested himself in agriculture and was responsible for introducing into England the cultivation of turnips on a large scale and for other improvements of the kind. He died at Raynham on 21 June 1738
Townshend was twice married--first to Elizabeth (d. 1711), daughter of Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham of Laughton, and secondly to Dorothy (d. 1726), sister of Sir Robert Walpole. He had eight sons. The eldest son, Charles, the 3rd viscount (1700-1764), was called to the House of Lords in 1723. The second son, Thomas Townshend (1701-1780), was member of parliament for the university of Cambridge from 1727 to 1774; his only son, Thomas Townshend (1733-1800), who was created Baron Sydney in 1783 and Viscount Sydney in 1789, was a secretary of state and leader of the House of Commons from July 1782 to April 1783, and from December 1783 to June 1789 again a secretary of state, Sydney in New South Wales being named after him; his grandson, John Robert Townshend (1805-1890), the 3rd viscount, was created Earl Sydney in 1874, the titles becoming extinct at his death. Charles Townshend's eldest son by his second wife was George Townshend (1715-1769), who after serving for many years in the navy, became an admiral in 1765. The third viscount had two sons, George, 1st Marquess Townshend, and Charles Townshend.
Article originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.