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Henry Richard Vassall Fox, third Baron Holland, only son of Stephen, second lord Holland, by Lady Mary Fitzpatrick, daughter of John, earl of Upper Ossory, was born at Winterslow House, Wiltshire, on 21 November 1773. He was saved by his mother at the risk of her own life in a fire which destroyed the house on 9 January 1774. His father died on 16 December 1774, his mother in 1778, and he was brought up by his maternal grandfather and his uncle, Charles James Fox. He was educated at Eton, whence he proceeded, 19 October 1790, to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was created M.A. on 20 June 1792. Among his friends at school and college were Lord Carlisle, Canning, Hookham Frere, and Robert (‘Bobus’) Smith.
During the long vacation of 1791 he visited Paris, was introduced to Lafayette and Talleyrand, and returned to England in 1792 after visiting Denmark and Prussia. His guardians, to quench a premature interest in politics, sent him abroad in March 1793. He travelled in Spain and in Italy, where he met Nelson (at Leghorn), and settled at Florence in the autumn of 1794. Early in 1796 he returned to England, through Germany, with the wife of Sir Godfrey Webster. She continued to reside with him in England, and then gave birth to a son, whom he acknowledged for his own. Sir Godfrey Webster obtained a decree for a separation in February 1797. Lord Holland took his seat in the house of peers on 5 October 1796, where, on 9 January 1798, he made his maiden speech in the debate on the Assessed Taxes Bill. In spite of an ungraceful action and hesitating delivery he showed himself a useful recruit to the whig party. A clear and terse protest against the bill, which he entered on the journals of the house, was the first of a long series of similar documents afterwards collected and published under the title of ‘Opinions of Lord Holland.’
He at once became the recognised exponent in the House of Lords of his uncle's policy, resisting in the most determined manner suspensions of the Habeas Corpus Act, openly countenancing the United Irishmen, denouncing the union with Ireland as both unjust and impolitic, and afterwards endeavouring to insert a clause for the admission of Roman catholics to seats in parliament. In 1800 a royal license was granted to Lord and Lady Holland jointly (18 June) to take ‘the name of Vassall only after their own respective christian names'. In 1807 they adopted the signature Vassall Holland, although Vassall was no part of the title.
In the summer of 1800 Lord Holland paid a short visit to North Germany, returning to England, under a passport obtained through Talleyrand, by way of the Netherlands and France in the autumn. On the conclusion of the peace of Amiens in 1802 the Hollands went to Paris, and were presented to the first consul. From Paris they travelled to Spain, where they remained, chiefly at Madrid, until the spring of 1805. They returned to England in time to permit of Lord Holland's speaking in support of Lord Grenville's motion for a committee to consider the petition of the Irish Roman catholics for the removal of their disabilities (10 May 1805). The United States having sent commissioners to England to complain of various alleged infringements of their rights as a neutral power committed by English naval commanders, Lord Holland was appointed (20 August 1806) with Lord Auckland to negotiate with Messrs. Monroe and Pinckney, the American plenipotentiaries, an adjustment of the dispute. A treaty was concluded on 31 December, making some concessions, but as the question of impressment was left unsettled, President Jefferson refused to submit it to the senate for ratifica