The Age of George III

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Assessments of Lord Castlereagh: contemporary and subsequent

Lord Byron made scathing attacks on Castlereagh following the Peterloo Massacre in 1819; other assessments are not so negative. These extracts were all written after Castlereagh's suicide in 1822.

He managed the foreign affairs of the country with a judgement and ability that will hand down his name with honour to posterity, when those of his pitiful revilers will be buried in oblivion. He had a natural slowness of constitution of which he was himself quite aware, for he has often told me he required the goading and violence of the House of Commons to rouse him, and that he was determined never to go into the House of Lords as they were too quiet and sleepy for him. The consequences of this temperament, and of his not having had a classical education, which rendered his language involved and often incorrect, were that, when he had to make a statement or an opening speech, he was generally flat and dull and scarcely commanded the attention of the House; but in reply, and particularly when the Opposition had been violent or ungentlemanlike, he was very powerful. Nothing, too, could exceed his tact and judgement in dwelling on the strong points of his own arguments or the weak ones of his antagonists; and his management was so good, and he was himself so gentlemanlike and so high minded, that he was one of the most popular leaders the Government ever had. [Francis Bamford and the Duke of Wellington (eds.), Mrs. Arbuthnot's Journal, Vol. 1 (Macmillan, 1950), pp.181-182]

Thomas Creevey, a Whig MP was grudging in his praise of Castlereagh:

Death settles a fellow's reputation in no time, and now that Castlereagh is dead, I defy any human being to discover a single feature of his character that can stand a moment's criticism. By experience, good manners and great courage, he managed a corrupt House of Commons pretty well, with some address. This is the whole of his intellectual merit. He had a limited understanding and no knowledge, and his whole life was spent in an avowed, cold-blooded contempt of every honest public principle. A worse, or, if he had had talent and ambition for it, a more dangerous, public man never existed. [Sir Herbert Maxwell (ed.) The Creevey Papers, Vol. 2 (Murray, 1903), p.42]

With the benefit of hindsight, JW Derry was able to make a more rational assessment of Castlereagh's career:

So dominant was Castlereagh's personality in the Commons that many Radical critics regarded Liverpool's Administration as in many ways Castlereagh's Government. This did scant justice to the skill and intelligence of Liverpool, but it helps to explain why Castlereagh became so hated. He had to defend measures such as the suspension of Habeas Corpus and the Six Acts, as well as damping down criticism of the magistrates after the Peterloo affair in 1819...

Castlereagh's attitudes to the issues of the day were not obscurantist... He was prepared to condone the cautious disfranchisement of boroughs which were guilty of excessive or notorious malpractices or corruption... Throughout his career Castlereagh was sympathetic to Catholic relief... In economic and financial matters he had always been identified with the more liberal section of Liverpool's Cabinet... Had he lived he might well have been associated more publicly and more prominently with the more liberal period of Tory rule in the 1820s...

Castlereagh's appeal was to all sections of the Tory party, and he would have been a good choice to succeed Liverpool as Prime Minister. [J.W. Derry, Castlereagh (Allen Lane, 1976), pp. 20-21; 24, 220-1]

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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