He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford.
In 1833 he became an attaché at the British embassy in Paris, under his father. In the general election of 1837 he was elected a Whig M.P. for Morpeth. In 1840 he became undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, but he resigned this post at the fall of the Melbourne government in 1841.
In 1841 he was elected to the House of Commons for Lichfield. He was raised to the House of Lords after the death of his father in 1846, and in Lord John Russell’s Whig government (1846-1852), he was appointed vice-president of the Board of Trade in 1848, and later paymaster of the forces, and was admitted to the cabinet in 1851.
On 26 December 1851, when Lord Palmerston left the Foreign Office, Granville was his successor as foreign secretary—but only for two months, until 21 February 1852, when the Russell ministry collapsed. Granville then accepted the posts of Lord President of the Council and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the succeeding Aberdeen coalition government. In 1855 he became leader of the House of Lords.
Granville was involved also with many other matters—most particularly, the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 (he was vice president of the commission organizing the exhibition). He also represented Queen Victoria at the coronation of Tsar Alexander II in Moscow on 7 September 1856. He was then so much in favor that upon the resignation of the Derby government in 1859, the queen called on him, rather than Palmerston and Lord John Russell, to form a government. In the end he failed in his efforts to do so and instead accepted the role of Lord President of the Council in Palmerston’s ministry. He was once again considered as a candidate for prime minister on the death of Palmerston in 1865 but was passed over.
After the death of Lord Clarendon in July 1870, Granville became foreign secretary for the second time. Holding the post for more than three and a half years.
Out of office from 1874 to 1880, Granville led the Liberal Party in the House of Lords. As Gladstone had retired from party leadership in 1874, many expected Granville to become prime minister after the defeat of the Conservatives in the 1880 general election. In the event, Gladstone came out of retirement, formed a new government, and made Granville foreign secretary.
He continued to lead the Liberal Party in the House of Lords until his death on 31 March 1891.
He was not one of the great foreign secretaries of the nineteenth century, but he was effective in the Gladstonian Liberal cause in the 1880s, although many believed that his commitment to peace at all costs would prejudice Britain’s international interests.
He was remembered as an influential politician who narrowly missed becoming prime minister on at least two occasions. Perhaps, as was said of R. A. Butler in the twentieth century, he lacked the final six inches of steel necessary to be the premier.
He was married to Maria Louise, the only child of Emeric Joseph, duc de Dalberg, on 25 July 1840. After she died in 1860, he married Castalia Rosalind, the youngest daughter of Walter Frederick Campbell, in 1865.