by David Williams
Earl Grey was Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. He was reputedly given a blend of tea with bergamot oil which bears his name. According to the family archives, the blend was made by a Chinese mandarin to counteract the lime in the water of Howick Hall the families Northumberland seat. The Earl gave the blend to Jacksons of Piccadilly for a constant supply of the tea while Lady Grey gave the details to Twinings after many of her London friends wished to buy the tea.
There are many different variations. Lady Grey is Earl Grey blended with either orange and lemon peel, lavender or Seville oranges depending on the blender. French Earl Grey has the addition of rose petals. Russian Earl Grey has added citrus peels and lemon grass. London Fog is a mixture of Earl Grey with steamed milk and vanilla syrup.
Earl Grey entered parliament in 1786 as a member for Northumberland. Soon after entering Parliament he had an affair with the Duchess of Devonshire with whom he had a daughter before marrying Mary Ponsonby with whom he had 15 children. Mary was from an Irish Whig family who influenced the Earl to push for Catholic emancipation. She was the only daughter of the first Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly. The Ponsonbys had good connections within the party which would help Grey's political career. She remained loyal despite his many affairs while away in London.
It took four days to travel from Howick Hall on the Northumberland coast to London. This journey became more arduous as politics became increasingly difficult. The Earl spent as much time at the Hall as he could without ignoring the demands of Parliament.
He was tipped to be the next leader of the Whigs from very early on. But when he committed himself to parliamentary reform by joining the Friends of the People in 1792, he split the party. Before inheriting the peerage in 1807 he held the posts of first lord of the Admiralty and foreign secretary.
Parliamentary reform was again brought to the fore on the death of George IV. It was an influence of French policies after the Paris Revolution. As Wellington wouldn't consider reform, William IV called Grey to form a government. During his time as Prime Minister he made the Great Reform Act law. It was a way of quelling any extremism which could have led to revolution as in France and gave lower and middle class citizens more of a voice. The public were supportive of the Act but it took a general election and the formation of new peers to get it passed.
His downfall and retirement from politics came through the Irish question. His cabinet disintegrated on the question of continuing the union. Grey supported the union but not all members of his government did. The split resulted in him leaving Parliament.
Both Earl Grey and Lady Grey are thought of as afternoon teas. Afternoon tea itself was started by the Duchess of Bedford who introduced the meal in the 1830s as the gap between breakfast and the evening meal grew. It consisted of small cakes along with the tea. Occasionally savoury sandwiches would be offered. Scones, Madeline cakes and shortbread go well with the Grey blends.
So next time you drink a cup of Earl Grey or its variations you know a little bit more about the man and lady behind the tea.