Fox's "History of the Reign of James II.," which begins with his view of the reign of Charles II. and breaks off at the execution of Monmouth, was the beginning of a History of England from the Revolution, upon which he worked in the last years of his life, for which he collected materials in Paris after the Peace of Amiens, in 1802 - he died in September, 1806 - and which was first published in 1808.
The grandfather of Charles James Fox was Stephen, son of William Fox, of Farley, in Wiltshire. Stephen Fox was a young royalist under Charles I. He was twenty-two at the time of the king's execution, went into exile during the Commonwealth, came back at the Restoration, was appointed paymaster of the first two regiments of guards that were raised, and afterwards Paymaster of all the Forces. In that office he made much money, but rebuilt the church at Farley, and earned lasting honour as the actual founder of Chelsea Hospital, which was opened in 1682 for wounded and superannuated soldiers. The ground and buildings had been appointed by James I., in 1609, as Chelsea College, for the training of disputants against the Roman Catholics. Sir Stephen Fox himself contributed thirteen thousand pounds to the carrying out of this design. Fox's History dealt, therefore, with times in which his grandfather had played a part.
In 1703, when his age was seventy-six, Stephen Fox took a second wife, by whom he had two sons, who became founders of two families; Stephen, the elder, became first Earl of Ilchester; Henry, the younger, who married Georgina, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and was himself created, in 1763, Baron Holland of Farley. Of the children of that marriage Charles James Fox was the third son, born on the 24th of January, 1749. The second son had died in infancy.
Henry Fox inherited Tory opinions. He was regarded by George II. as a good man of business, and was made Secretary of War in 1754, when Charles James, whose cleverness made him a favoured child, was five years old. In the next year Henry Fox was Secretary of State for the Southern Department. The outbreak of the Seven Years' War bred discontent and change of Ministry. The elder Fox had then to give place to the elder Pitt. But Henry Fox was compensated by the office of Paymaster of the Forces, from which he knew even better than his father had known how to extract profit. He rapidly acquired the wealth which he joined to his title as Lord Holland of Farley, and for which he was attacked vigorously, until two hundred thousand pounds - some part of the money that stayed by him - had been refunded.
Henry Fox, Lord Holland, found his boy, Charles James, brilliant and lively, made him a companion, and indulged him to the utmost. Once he expressed a strong desire to break a watch that his father was winding up: his father gave it him to dash upon the floor. Once his father had promised that when an old garden wall at Holland House was blown down with gunpowder before replacing it with iron railings, he should see the explosion. The workmen blew it down in the boy's absence: his father had the wall rebuilt in its old form that it might be blown down again in his presence, and his promise kept. He was sent first to Westminster School, and then to Eton. At home he was his father's companion, joined in the talk of men at his father's dinner-parties, travelled at fourteen with his father to the Continent, and is said to have been allowed five guineas a night for gambling-money. He grew up reckless of the worth of money, and for many years the excitement of gambling was to him as one of the necessaries of life. His immense energy at school and college made him work as hard as the most diligent man who did nothing else, and devote himself to gambling, horse-racing, and convivial pleasures as vigorously as if he were the weak man capable of nothing else. The Eton boys all prophesied his future fame. At Oxford, where he entered Hertford College, he was one of the best men of his time, and one of the wildest. A clergyman, strong in Greek, was arguing with young Fox against the genuineness of a verse of the Iliad because its measure was unusual. Fox at once quoted from memory some twenty parallels.
From college he went on the usual tour of Europe, spending lavishly, incurring heavy debts, and sending home large bills for his father to pay. One bill alone, paid by his father to a creditor at Naples, was for sixteen thousand pounds. He came back in raiment of the highest fashion, and was put into Parliament in 1768, not yet twenty years old, as member for Midhurst. He began his political life with the family opinions, defended the Ministry against John Wilkes, and was provided promptly with a place as Paymaster of the Pensions to the Widows of Land Officers, and then, when he had reached the age of twenty-one, there was a seat found for him at the Board of Admiralty.
At once Fox made his mark in the House as a brilliant debater with an intellectual power and an industry that made him master of the subjects he discussed. Still also he was scattering money, and incurring debt, training race-horses, and staking heavily at gambling tables. When a noble friend, who was not a gambler, offered to bet fifty pounds upon a throw, Fox declined, saying, "I never play for pence."