William, Lord Desborough

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Intercalated Games • Other • Administrator
Full nameWilliam Henry•Grenfell
Used nameWilliam, Lord•Desborough
Born30 October 1855 in Westminster, England (GBR)
Died9 January 1945 in Panshanger, England (GBR)
Measurements183 cm / 89 kg
AffiliationsAmateur Fencing Association
Title(s)6th Baron Desborough of Taplow
NOC Great Britain
Medals IG
Gold 0
Silver 1
Bronze 0
Total 1


William Henry Grenfell, Baron Desborough of Taplow, GCVO, was Chairman of the British Olympic Association in 1908, which was responsible for organizing the Olympic Games in London. A Renaissance man, he competed in many sports, served in sports administration, and was a politician who started in the Liberal Party, but later changed to the Conservatives.

Lord Desborough was an Olympic fencer, he both ran and rowed for Oxford against Cambridge University, stroked an eight across the English Channel, swam across Niagara twice, and climbed the Matterhorn three times by different routes. He was also a renowned big game hunter in India and the Rockies, and was a successful tarpon fisherman off the coast of Florida. There were few sporting pursuits at which he did not excel.

Educated at Harrow School, and Balliol College, Oxford, Lord Desborough was elected a Member of Parliament at the age of twenty-five, serving as a Liberal thru 1893, when he resigned. He returned to the House of Commons in 1900 as a Conservative. He was offered the Governor-Generalship of Canada, but declined, and at one time he served on as many as 115 sporting and civic committees, including serving as President of the Amateur Fencing Association, the Lawn Tennis Association, and the Marylebone Cricket Club. A tall, imposing man whose austere appearance hid a generous character, he sent flowers to Dorando Pietri wishing him a speedy recovery after his marathon ordeal and, after the gold medals of the American shooting team had been stolen, he personally paid for them to be replaced. By any standards his achievements were phenomenal and no man was better qualified, or better placed in society, to further the cause of Olympism in Britain. Lord Desborough brought an intellectual authority to the task and gathered an influential, efficient and enthusiastic Organizing Committee around him. Desborough served on the IOC for eight years, from 1905-13. He was appointed CVO in 1907, and advanced to KCVO in 1908, and GCVO in 1925, and in 1928 was admitted as a Knight of the Order of the Garter.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1906 Intercalated Games Fencing GBR William, Lord Desborough
Épée, Team, Men (Olympic) Great Britain 2 Silver

Organization roles

Role Organization Tenure NOC As
Chairman British Olympic Council, 1908 GBR William, Lord Desborough
Chairman British Olympic Association 1905—1913 GBR William, Lord Desborough
Member International Olympic Committee 1905—1913 GBR William, Lord Desborough

Other participations

Games Role NOC As
1906 Intercalated Games Flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony GBR William, Lord Desborough

Olympic family relations

Special Notes