Eliot, Edward Granville (1798–1877), 3rd earl of St Germans , chief secretary and lord lieutenant of Ireland, was born 29 August 1798 in Plymouth, Devon, England, the only son of William Eliot (1767–1845), 2nd earl of St Germans, and his first wife, Lady Georgiana Augusta Leveson-Gower (d. 1806). He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, though he did not graduate. In January 1824 he was elected tory MP for Liskeard (1824–32), and was lord of the treasury 1827–30. His long connection with Sir Robert Peel (qv) began when the latter appointed him under-secretary at the home office in 1834, which led to his being sent that year to Spain as special envoy to negotiate between the opposing sides in the Carlist war. He concluded an agreement (known as the ‘Eliot convention’) with both forces, safeguarding the treatment of prisoners, which put an end to the sanguinary system of reprisals. On his return to England in 1837 he was elected for East Cornwall (1837–45).
On Peel's return to office in 1841, Eliot was appointed chief secretary for Ireland (6 September 1841) and held this post until he moved to the lords in 1845. A liberal-minded conservative who in 1839 had denounced the Rev. Tresham Gregg (qv) for describing the catholic religion as idolatrous, Eliot was frustrated in his reforming and conciliatory strategy by his under-secretary, Edward Lucas (1787–1871), and the lord lieutenant, Earl de Grey (qv), both of whom were staunch conservatives. The dissensions between the three weakened the Irish administration and grew so bitter that Eliot wrote to Peel in December 1842 that the post of chief secretary was redundant. The first major discord was over the national board of education, which Eliot, like the catholic hierarchy, supported; de Grey and the solicitor general, Joseph Devonsher Jackson (qv), favoured state support for Church of Ireland schools only. Jackson flared into open disagreement with Eliot in the commons in July 1842; however, the latter's reasoning ultimately prevailed. He was equally successful in counselling restraint when the repeal movement gathered force in early 1843. De Grey demanded immediate action on Daniel O'Connell's (qv) monster meetings, but Eliot advised against new coercive measures. His arguments were strengthened by the large parliamentary opposition to a fairly innocuous Irish arms bill which was only narrowly passed in June. However, de Grey's views held sway in October 1843 with the decisive banning of O'Connell's Clontarf meeting. The threat of repeal over, the government prepared to address catholic grievances.
Eliot had been agitating for land reform and for rapprochement with the catholic hierarchy, including endowing Maynooth College, since 1841. These ideas were now formalised with the Devon commission for land (November 1843), the charitable bequests act (1844), and the Maynooth bill (1845). Although most studies give the credit to Peel and his home secretary, Sir James Graham, the historians Donal Kerr and Kevin B. Nowlan have revealed Eliot's influence, which was unrestricted after June 1844, when de Grey resigned and was replaced by the more moderate Lord Heytesbury (qv). Eliot's instincts of conciliating the catholic clergy and so dividing them from their radical base, and his grasp of the political significance of the land question, indicate his astuteness and genuine interest in Ireland, rare among chief secretaries. However, this was marred by excessive sensitivity, a tendency to complicate rather than simplify, and a lack of administrative flair. Peel wrote of him later, with regard to his possible appointment as poor law commissioner in 1846: ‘I do not think he is the material of which you could construct a breakwater between the executive government and an unpopular poor law’ (Conacher, 37).
On the death of his father (19 January 1845), Eliot removed to the lords as 3rd earl of St Germans and held the position of postmaster general until Peel's defeat the following year. He remained attentive to Irish matters and led the unsuccessful opposition in the lords to Russell's notorious ecclesiastical titles bill (1851). His vociferous denunciation meant that his appointment as lord lieutenant (4 January 1853–28 February 1855) in Lord Aberdeen's 1852 coalition government was acceptable to the Irish liberals. He did not assume a strong political role in office, his most significant function being to arrange a lavish round of entertainment for Queen Victoria on her arrival to open the Great Exhibition in Dublin in 1853. His services were briefly retained by Lord Palmerston when he became prime minister in February 1855, but on the reconstruction of the ministry a few days later, Eliot retired from office. After several years as lord steward of the household (1857–8, 1859–66), he became the queen's confidential adviser, especially on family matters, and accompanied the prince of Wales on his tour through Canada and the US in 1860. He died at Port Eliot, St Germans, Cornwall, on 7 October 1877, leaving six sons and a daughter, having been predeceased in 1856 by his wife (m. 2 September 1824), Jemima, daughter of the 2nd Marquess Cornwallis.