|Activity||Eldest son of Horatio, first viscount Townshend, of Rainham, Norfolk, by his second wife, born in 1674. Both Charles II and the Duke of York were his godfathers, and he was bred in the strictest tory principles. He succeeded to the peerage in December 1687. With Sir Robert Walpole, his junior by two years, he was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge.|
He left the university with a reputation for learning. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 3 Dec. 1697 (Lords' Journals, xvi. 174). He early seceded to the whigs.
In the early years of the reign of Queen Anne Townshend was one of the junto who maintained the cause of religious liberty in the struggle against the occasional conformity bill, the rights of the electorate in the conflict between the two Houses of Parliament on the Aylesbury election case, defeated (1706) the factious proposal of the Jacobites to invite the Princess Sophia to England, and carried the Regency Act. He took an active part in arranging the terms of alliance between the junto and Godolphin in 1705, was one of the negotiators of the treaty of union with Scotland in 1706, and was sworn of the privy council on 20 Nov. 1707. On 18 Aug. following he was sworn of the privy council on its reconstitution under the Act of Union, and on 14 Nov. the same year he was appointed captain of the yeomen of the guard. Accredited ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the States-General on 2 May 1709, he arrived at The Hague with Marlborough on 18 May (N.S.) (London Gazette; Tatler, No. 18). He was one of the signatories of the preliminaries to the abortive treaty with France, on the negotiation of which the greater part of the summer was spent.
Townshend did not scruple to countenance the movement for the repeal of the union with Scotland elicited by the introduction of the malt tax (24 May 1713). He also sought to harass the government by raising a debate (8 April 1714) on the practice of pensioning the highland clans, which, though designed only to keep them quiet, it was then convenient to represent as a covert fostering of Jacobitism. He signed the protests against the restraining order under which Ormonde had suspended operations in Flanders, opposed the schism bill, and, in concert with the other leading whig lords, lent his aid in committee to the remodelling of Bolingbroke's bill declaring enlisting and recruiting for the pretender to be high treason (28 May, 4 and 24 June 1714). Through John Robethon, whose acquaintance he had made at The Hague, he was in touch with Hanoverian politics, and was thus able to act as intermediary between the electoral court and the whig junto. He was one of the regents nominated by the elector, and took an important though not a prominent part in concerting the arrangements preliminary to his accession. On that event he was appointed secretary of state for the northern department (17 Sept. 1714), and sworn of the privy council (1 Oct.) (Addit. MS. 22207, f. 325). At the coronation he was offered but declined an earldom.
He was very active in European diplomacy and in securing the Hanoverian succession.
Townshend died at Rainham on 21 June 1738 (Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary, 1738, p. 24). He was custos rotulorum and lord-lieutenant of Norfolk 1701-13 and 1714-30, and a governor of the Charterhouse (appointed 31 Oct. 1723)