Castlereagh: From Enlightenment to Tyranny

Published by Quercus on 22nd September 2011

No British statesman of the nineteenth century reached the same level of international fame as Lord Castlereagh, or won as much respect from the great powers of Europe or America.

His early political life was characterised by an enthusiastic engagement with the ideals of the Enlightenment and an adherence to Whig proposal for reform. Yet as blood spilled onto the streets of Paris and the shockwaves sent out by the French Revolution saw Ireland become ever more rebellious, he began to support the British government with increasing vigour. From there, his career would take him from the brutal suppression of an uprising in his home country to the splendour of Vienna and Pairs. It saw him imprison his former friends, abolish the Irish Parliament, create the biggest British army in history, and redraw the map of Europe.

Castlereagh was the dominant political personality in Regency Britain for over a decade and, with Nelson and Wellington, a key figure in Napoleon’s eventual defeat. But, for all this, he was abused in the theatre and the street, his home was stoned by the mob, and his coffin was hissed at during his funeral. His reputation as a tyrant and a reactionary followed him from Ireland to England and has never left him.

Neither his detractors, nor his defenders have truly understood this shy, inarticulate but passionate man, who fought a duel with George Canning in 1809 and slit his own throat in 1822. Rather than the tyrant of legend, Castlereagh was a man whose mind reflected the complexity of the Europeans Enlightenment, and Bew, one of Britain’s most exciting young historians, shows Castlereagh’s achievements and legacy in a striking new light.