The Emancipation of William Wyndham Grenville (1759-1834)
: The Life of Lord Grenville in the English Landscape

  • William Guy Martin Wood

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


William Wyndham Grenville, an important political figure in the late eighteenth century, has been largely forgotten. Historians have never lifted the veil over his private life. This thesis examines for the first time one aspect of his character, his passion for landscape improvement, based on the unpublished sources of his manuscripts, correspondence and Essays, principally those held in the Dropmore Papers at the British Library. The warm and engaging side of his character which emerges is in sharp contrast to his cold and austere public reputation. Together with his wife, Anne Pitt, he showed a command of the practical aspects of landscape improvement as well as versatility in dealing with the very different geographical, social and aesthetic challenges of Boconnoc in Cornwall, and Dropmore, in Buckinghamshire. The research re-evaluates propositions advanced by Uvedale Price, Richard Payne Knight and Humphry Repton during the ‘picturesque’ debate, and the usefulness of that term in categorising landscapes. The Grenvilles’ dislike of the bare and bald designs of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, which they described as 'Modern Gardening' was rooted in their opinion that they displayed few occurrences of interest, and failed to engage their sense of fun, something which was revealed by their innovative horticulture, plant collections and garden structures at Dropmore. Grenville, rejecting an equivalence between painting and landscape gardening, described how the appreciation of landscape was subjective and driven by personal associations. Therefore, the separate but complementary tasks of making physical improvements and super-adding associative features needed to be brought to bear in making improvements. Their improvements are considered against the background of the opportunities and limitations facing them as landowners. It is shown that the Grenvilles pursued the enhancement of beauty rather than picture making; harnessing the forces of nature rather than displacing them by design in an organic process described by the author as ‘naturesque’. The meaning of ‘nature’ in this context is defined.
Date of Award3 Apr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMarion Harney (Supervisor) & Michael Forsyth (Supervisor)

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