Day dawned when Foreign Secretary fought a duel . . .

SEAFORD MP George Canning was born in Marylebone in 1770 and had a difficult start to life.

His father died a month after he was born and his mother promptly joined the stage. However, he was supported by his uncle who ensured that he was well educated. He attended Eton and Oxford, where he won the Chancellor's prize for Latin verse. In 1790 he qualified as a lawyer but it was in politics that he was to make his name. His uncle, Stratford Canning, introduced him to Charles Fox, the leading Whig politician who in turn introduced him to William Pitt, the younger. Pitt thought highly of Canning as he was quick-witted, a splendid orator and even wrote poetry; contributing to several journals.

Pitt helped Canning become the MP for Newton, on the Isle of Wight when he was just 23 years old and when Pitt became Prime Minister in 1804 he appointed Canning as his Foreign Secretary. He continued to be Foreign Secretary when the Duke of Portland became Prime Minister and played a key role in the war against France, being particularly involved with the Battle of Copenhagen and saving the Portuguese navy from the French. However Canning certainly did not get on with the Secretary of War, Lord Castlereagh and, following an argument about where to deploy troops, the two fought a duel on Putney Heath at dawn on September 21, 1809. Both missed with their first shots but Canning was hit in the leg when Castlereagh reloaded. During this duel Canning (who had never before even handled a gun) was assisted by Charles Rose Ellis who was later to become the first Lord Seaford.

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Canning served under a number of premiers including Spencer Percival, the only Prime Minister to have been murdered in office. He also represented more constituencies then any other politician I know, including Wendover, Tralee (Ireland) Newton (for a second term), Hastings, Liverpool, Harwich and Newport. In 1816 Canning became the president of the India Board and six years later became the Governor-General of India. He was also Ambassador to Portugal.

Following the resignation of the Prime Minister, The Earl of Liverpool in February 1827, King George IV chose Canning to lead the country having rejected Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington. Canning was elected as MP for Seaford replacing the existing member, Augustus Ellis who was the son of his friend Charles. It is likely that Ellis stood down for Canning but was to be re-elected on his death. As Seaford MP, Canning became Prime Minister on April 10, 1827.

Canning visited Seaford on several occasions, staying at Seaford House in Crouch Lane, but his term as Seaford MP and Prime Minister was to be short lived. He died in office on August 8, 1827. He is Britain's shortest serving Prime Minister having been in office for just 119 days. Canning was married to Joan Scott and had four children. She was created Viscountess Canning on his death. Lord Byron said that Canning was a 'genius, almost a universal one, an orator, a wit, a poet, and a statesman'. He is buried in Westminster Abbey and is one of only a handful of Prime Ministers to have had his statue erected in Parliament Square opposite the House of Commons.


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