Carteret, John (1690–1763), 2nd Baron Carteret , lord lieutenant of Ireland (1724–30), was born 22 April 1690 at Hawnes, near Bedford, England, eldest of two sons of George, 1st Baron Carteret, and Lady Grace Granville, youngest daughter of John, 1st earl of Bath. He became 2nd baron on his father's death (22 September 1695). Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, he was an accomplished classical scholar. He entered the lords 25 May 1711, soon established himself as a prominent champion of the protestant succession, and was appointed gentleman of the bedchamber (1714–21). With his courtly manners, broad classical education, and knowledge of modern languages, he was highly successful as ambassador to Sweden (1719–20). With the backing of the earl of Sunderland, he became a secretary of state in March 1721. As the only German-speaking government minister, he wielded considerable influence with George I, and regularly acted as a lord justice in his absences. He and Prime Minister Walpole were bitter rivals and Walpole manoeuvred him into resigning in April 1724. To get him out of the way, he was appointed viceroy of Ireland (6 May 1724).
Since Ireland was in the throes of the Wood's halfpence controversy the appointment was something of a poisoned chalice, and Walpole clearly hoped that he would fail. In fact, in association with the powerful Brodrick family, Carteret had earlier encouraged Irish opposition to the patent to embarrass Walpole, and on his appointment Jonathan Swift (qv), an old friend, wrote to him of the widespread opposition to the patent and advised him to do his utmost to withdraw it. Carteret's arrival in Dublin (22 October 1724) coincided with the publication of Swift's fourth Drapier's letter, which stated Irish rights so strongly that many thought it advocated separation from Britain. Although Carteret believed that the coinage should be withdrawn, he could not be seen to submit too easily to Irish pressure, which would undermine him in the eyes of the king. To show his resolve, he summoned a meeting of the privy council (27 October 1724) and made clear his intention to uphold the royal prerogative: he persuaded the council to prosecute the printer of the Drapier's letter, offer a £300 reward for the discovery of the author, and condemn parts of the letter as seditious. After the printer John Harding (qv) was arrested, Carteret attempted to have the grand jury institute proceedings against Swift's Seasonable advice, an address to the Dublin grand jury supporting Harding, but they refused, and he was compelled to drop the case. Carteret, though, balanced firmness with tact, making it clear that in spite of the patent, nobody would be forced to accept the coinage. Although Swift's authorship was common knowledge, Carteret indirectly warned him against owning up, which would only have deepened the crisis. Under pressure to resolve the issue from the British government, which refused to give him instructions, and unable to build up a strong court party in the Irish parliament, Carteret prorogued parliament from 24 March to 6 August 1725. Faced with an impassioned and united opposition, he decided that the government must give way, and to Irish rejoicing announced the patent's suspension (21 September 1725).
Accessible, witty and sociable, Carteret spent much of his time in Dublin and was friendly with many of the city's leading figures, including Archbishop William King (qv), Patrick Delany (qv), Thomas Sheridan (qv), Francis Hutcheson (qv), and especially Swift. A poem in his honour, ‘The birth of manly virtue’, was probably written by either Swift or Delany, and Hutcheson dedicated some of his works to him. The cultured Carteret represented Swift's ideal of the heroic and virtuous statesman, and provided one of the models for the wise king of Brobdingnag in Gulliver's travels (1726). Believing his talents were wasted in Ireland, Swift noted: ‘He could govern a wiser nation better’ (Williams, iii, 115). Swift was also an old friend of Carteret's wife and wrote an affectionate poem, ‘An apology to the Lady Carteret’, to smooth over a misunderstanding between them. Swift advised Carteret on Irish affairs, but his advice was often disregarded and occasionally there was some tension between them. Carteret was more willing to dispense patronage to Irish-born candidates than most English statesmen, but given the dean's overt tory sympathies Carteret could not promote him. He did, however, favour some of Swift's friends, appointing Delany chancellor of St Patrick's, Sheridan a viceregal chaplain, and James Stopford (qv) provost of Tuam. Swift responded to whig complaints about such appointments with A vindication of Lord Carteret (1730), praising the viceroy's many talents and denying he had unduly favoured tories and Jacobites.
Energetic and efficient, in 1724–5 Carteret thoroughly investigated the workings of the administration, especially the treasury. This revealed a deficit of £80,000; he replaced several officials and arrested the deputy vice-treasurer, John Pratt (qv), in June 1725. Reappointed viceroy 29 July 1727 on the accession of George II, Carteret returned to Ireland in November and worked effectively with the former lords justices who had served in his absence, especially Hugh Boulter (qv) and William Conolly (qv), to manage parliament. In May 1728 catholics were explicitly deprived of the parliamentary franchise, probably at Boulter's instigation. To counter near-famine conditions in some parts of the country, caused by a run of bad harvests (1726–8), he introduced several measures to relieve distress, such as a bill for agricultural improvements, and he attempted to have British import duties on Irish wools and silks reduced. Economic distress, however, sharpened opposition grievances and after Conolly's death (October 1729) the opposition became increasingly troublesome. When an Irish bill to tax absentees was altered by the British privy council, Carteret struggled to carry it through the Irish parliament. The rest of the parliamentary session was relatively quiet, and before he left Ireland (April 1730) he complimented himself on leaving Irish affairs in order. Having skilfully defused the Wood's halfpence crisis and identified himself with Irish interests, Carteret was almost universally popular in Ireland, with tory and whig. He managed the difficult task of satisfying both Swift and Boulter, Swift conceding that he ‘had a genteeler manner of binding the chains of the kingdom than most of his predecessors’ (Williams, iii, 420).
Carteret refused to accept further office under Walpole, harrying his ministry and helping to force his resignation in January 1742. He again became secretary of state, but his preoccupation with the king's Hanoverian interests was unpopular and he resigned 24 November 1744. On his mother's death (18 October 1744) he became 2nd Earl Granville . Careless with money, he became an increasingly heavy drinker as he got older: Horace Walpole noted that it was ‘difficult to say whether he was oftener intoxicated with wine or ambition’ (G.E.C., 91n). Appointed president of the council (1751–63), he was a much admired figure, but one who failed to realise his great potential, possibly because of his impatience with political dealing and contempt for humouring voters and MPs.
He died at Bath 2 January 1763, and was buried in Westminster abbey. He married first (1710) Frances Worsley (d. 1743), with whom he had eight children; secondly (1744) Lady Sophia Fermor (d. 1745), with whom he had a daughter.