Edited by Stephen Roberts and Mark Acton
The Edward Mellen Press, Ltd.
Unhappy Reactionary : Political Selections from the Diaries of the Fourth Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, 1822-1850
Edited and with an Introduction by Richard A. Gaunt
Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire
He was a landowner and practical farmer who sowed turnips, reared sheep, and planted trees, a keen sportsman who hunted, coursed, shot and fished; a sociable man who...went the rounds of great country houses and entertained lavishly himself, a magistrate who sat in judgement on drunkards, wife-beaters and prostitutes, a litigious man who threw himself into lawsuits and wrote argumentative letters to the press, a traveller who went all over Britain and occasionally penetrated into Europe; a monied man who bought shares in banking and insurance and invested in canals and railways; a man who had a tragic family history.
Professor Norman Gash (Oxon) on the Yorkshire Tory squire W.B. Ferrand
In particular, the figure of Colonel Charles De Laet Sibthrop (1783-1855) deserves greater historical analysis than that previously undertaken before Roberts and Acton’s study. Sibthorp served as a Nineteenth century liberal caricature of Tory gentry squires both during his own lifetime and after his demise. His antiquarian reactionary politics, distrust of modern technology and suspicions of the Prince Consort all created ample material for Punch illustrations. In these amusing and deprecating depictions, Sibthorp appeared as a hilarious, Colonel Blimp figure haranguing both Gladstone and Peel from the Right. However, this obscures his biographical details and longstanding presence within Tory and latterly Conservative parliamentary delegations. Descending from the Lincolnshire gentry, he received a commission with the Royal Scots Greys in 1803 at the age of twenty. Serving as a lieutenant in that regiment, as a Captain with the 4th Dragoon Guards and as Colonel of the South Lincoln Militia, Sibthorp absorbed the rigid discipline and devotion to King and Country that military service inculcated. Elected to Parliament in 1826, Sibthorp soon became recognized as a country Tory squire opposed to Liberal political statecraft. His Lincoln constituents supported Sibthorp because of his constant attention to their needs and generous gifts of liquor at election hustings. Frequently sporting a rosette of Tory pink, he delighted in constituency meetings and engaged in occasional verbal duels with Liberal supporters.
Sibthorp’s loquacity also expressed itself in Parliament, where he regularly filibustered late into the night in order to delay or halt opposing legislation. Described by Dickens in Sketches of Boz (1836) as ‘ferocious-looking’ with ‘eyes rolling like those of a Turk’s head in a cheap Dutch clock’, he always made a memorable impression. What proves so commendable about Roberts and Acton’s study of Sibthorp is its convincing evidence of the Colonel’s intelligence and political capabilities. Accompanied by detailed commentary by both of these Lincolnshire historians, Sibthorp’s speeches demonstrated a sophisticated mind and keen use of rhetoric. Reading Hansard records from the time, the reader comes across Sibthorp’s speeches repeatedly denouncing the Great Reform Act, the repeal of the Corn Laws, Catholic Emancipation, the Crystal Palace, public libraries and even railways. His speeches on 26 February 1829 and 24 March 1829 opposing Catholic Emancipation overflowed with anger at perceived attempts to dilute Great Britain’s Protestant Church and Throne. Ever watchful against papal influence, Sibthorp also argued against the incorporation of Catholics into voluntary associations in Ireland. Above all else, they were to be kept at arms’ length in order to preserve the Protestant Ascendency’s control over ‘John Bull’s other island’.
Similarly to Sibthorp in the House of Commons, the Fourth Duke of Newcastle carried the torch of Toryism in the Lords during this tumultuous period. Born Henry Pelham Fiennes Pelham-Clinton in 1785, his family educated him at Eton in preparation for his adult role. The experience proved to be a formative one and the Fourth Duke insisted on similar classical education and Anglican catechistic instruction for his own son while at Eton. While an intelligent man, he suffered from a distinct lack of rhetorical skill and this led to his Lords speeches being satirized by his opponents. Criticism did not deter him from political engagement and the Duke became known as a staunch Tory aristocrat in his twenties. Based at his seat at Nottingham Castle, he cultivated a widening circle of like-minded aristocrats and successful businessmen who stood as Tories for Parliament. Bitterly opposed to Catholic Emancipation based on the same apprehensions shared by Colonel Sibthorp, the Duke put increasing energies into his political struggle. This led to increasing animosity by reformists and caused the burning of his castle by an angry mob in 1831 after the first rejection of the Great Reform Act. Recorded in his diaries, this wrenching experience hardened the Duke’s politics and convinced him of a need for stern authority channeled via tradition to prevent civil disorder.
As Dr. Richard Gaunt (University of Nottingham) ably demonstrates in his accurate examination of the Duke’s diaries, His Grace must be understood as a key organizer of Ultra-Tory efforts. However, the Duke’s landowning responsibilities meant that he could not expend all of his efforts on political engagements. He also regularly frequented auctions at Christie’s and Bonham’s in London in order to augment his impressive painting collection. The entry recorded on 15 October 1823 describes the Duke’s presence at the auction of Fonthill Abbey’s holdings. A keen connoisseur, he purchased Holbein’s portrait of Sir Thomas More in addition to a number of antiquarian manuscripts and books. While pursuing aristocratic pastimes expected of a man from his background, he nevertheless evinced a deep concern over his country’s direction and future. Cultivating a national network of supporters and friends, his diaries overflow with references to major and minor political figures of his age. Occasionally touching as when mourning his deceased infant son, the Duke’s unswerving Anglicanism and support for the Church of England also shines forth in his diary entries as well. Always uncensored and fascinating, they display the inner thoughts of a deeply traditionalist peer. What proves so admirable about Professor Gaunt’s research is that he delineates the systematic patterns of the Duke’s thoughts and actions. Gaunt also astutely notes that because of His Grace’s reactionary politics, he was not bestowed with the usual ‘triple-decker’ biography written by Victorian historians. Left for later generations to rediscover, it is only recently that his profound influence became recognized by academics. Through his patronage and friendships with like-minded statesmen in the Commons and Lords, he assisted in perpetuating Toryism in his lifetime. For his efforts, he ought to be remembered for his historical importance. His Grace’s diary entries are perspectival, critical and occasionally amusing for their readers.
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