Castlereagh pp 162-198 | Cite as

Leader of the House of Commons 1812–22



The Leadership of the House of Commons is the least explored aspect of Castlereagh’s career; it is also one of the most criticised. It coincided with one of the greatest eras of popular distress and discontent in British history. Yet even this phase of his career has its admirers. Sir Charles Webster has described him as the best manager of the Commons since Walpole,1 and indeed once one has cut through party prejudice, a remarkable degree of unanimity is to be found among contemporary opinion. Creevey, one of his arch-critics, thought party management his only talent. ‘[He] managed a corrupt House of Commons pretty well, with some address. This is the whole of his intellectual merit.’ Greville, who confessed to little personal knowledge of Castlereagh, made a determined effort to sum up his career from the opinions of others. He concluded, ‘I believe he was considered one of the best managers of the House of Commons who ever sat in it, and he was eminently possessed of the good taste, good humour, and agreeable manners which are more requisite to make a good leader than eloquence, however brilliant.’ Lord John Russell, looking back over his vast experience of parliamentary life, remarked, ‘yet I never knew two men who had more influence in the House of Commons than Lord Castlereagh and Lord Althorp’.


East India Company Independent Member Fiscal Reform Habeas Corpus Intellectual Merit 
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  1. 1.
    It will be noted in this chapter that I continue to exclude the word ‘Tory’ to describe the government. As late as 1812 the ministry rejected Opposition claims to the exclusive use of the title ‘Whig’, and it was not until about 1818 that the Grey-Grenville claims were widely accepted. Even then, the description ‘Tory’ was mainly used by writers and some backbenchers, and only very slowly by members of the government. A. S. Foord, His Majesty’s Opposition, 1714–1830 (1964), pp. 443 ff.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    N. Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel (1953), passim. A. S. Foord, English Historical Review, lxii. 484–507.Google Scholar
  3. C. J. Bartlett, Great Britain and Sea Power, 1815–53 (1963), pp. 7–8, 45–46, 297,Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    C. R. Fay, Huskisson and his Age (1951), p. 196. Aspinall, Arbuthnot, pp. 13–18.Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    See especially Е. P. Thompson, English Working Class (and the extensive review of this book in the Historical Journal, 1965, pp. 271–81),Google Scholar
  6. D. Read, Peterloo (1958), White, From Waterloo to Peterloo, Gash, Peel, and H. P. Bridges, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, v. 49–51. The case for Sidmouth and the Home Office has recently been restated very effectively by Ziegler, especially pp. 312ff.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Sir J. Clapham, Economic History of Modern Britain, (1926) i. 336.Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    Hansard, XXVV. 1069, new series, vi. 354. See also E. P. Thompson, pp. 356 ff., and S. G. Checkland, The Rise of Industrial Society in England, 1815–85 (1964), pp. 232–3.Google Scholar
  9. For the long continuance of this attitude, see S. Nowell-Smith, Edwardian England (1964), pp. 57–58.Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    D. Southgate, The Passing of the Whigs (1962), p. 41. The government’s efforts to control the press separated them most sharply from the Whigs’ later conduct, see W. H. Wickwar, ‘The Struggle for the Freedom of the Press, 1819–32’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, v. 51–53.Google Scholar
  11. See also A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press (1949), p. 60. Brougham, after Peterloo, expected many on his side of the House to welcome measures against the Radicals, especially ‘their vile press’ (see his Life and Times (1871), ii. 348).Google Scholar
  12. For Grey’s hostility to the Radicals, see G. M. Trevelyan, Lord Grey of the Reform Bill (1920), pp. 182–8.Google Scholar
  13. 4.
    J. L. and B. Hammond, The Village Labourer (Guild Books, 1948), ii. 114–17.Google Scholar
  14. 2.
    H. Martineau, History of the Thirty Years’ Peace (1849), i. 286–7.Google Scholar
  15. W. Harris, History of the Radical Party in Parliament (1885), pp. 163–5. Spencer Walpole (History of England from 1815 (1890), ii. 53) thought the effects of Castlereagh’s death ‘revolutionary’; he believed this ‘gave the deathblow to a system’.Google Scholar
  16. See also Sir E. L. Woodward, The Age of Reform (1946), p. 67. Ziegler, p. 404, makes the more valid point that Castlereagh’s death made the infusion of new blood into the cabinet necessary, and by this indirect means the liberal element was strengthened.Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    The government’s financial policy at this time is a highly controversial subject; see Checkland, pp. 327–8, and H. C. Acworth, Financial Reconstruction in England, 1815–22 (1925).Google Scholar
  18. 1.
    English Historical Documents, 1783–1832, p. 19. Feiling, p. 279. W. R. Brock, Liverpool and Liberal Toryism (1941), p. 104.Google Scholar

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© C. J. Bertlett 1966

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