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Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh

Robert Stewart, Viscount CastlereaghAKA Robert Stewart

Born: 18-Jun-1769
Birthplace: Dublin, Ireland
Died: 12-Aug-1822
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: Suicide

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Politician, Diplomat

Nationality: Ireland
Executive summary: Architected Napoleon's defeat

British statesman, the eldest son of Robert Stewart of Ballylawn Castle, in Donegal, and Mount Stewart in Down, an Ulster landowner, of kin to the Galloway Stewarts, who became baron, viscount, earl and marquess in the peerage of Ireland. The son, known in history as Lord Castlereagh, was born on the 18th of June in the same year as Napoleon and Wellington. His mother was Lady Sarah Seymour, daughter of the Earl of Hertford. He went from Armagh school to St. John's College, Cambridge, but left at the end of his first year. With Lord Downshire, then holding sway over the County Down, Lord Stewart had a standing feud, and he put forward his son, in July 1790, for one of the seats. Young Stewart was returned, but at a vast cost to his family, when he was barely twenty-one. He took his seat in the Irish House of Commons at the same time as his friend, Arthur Wellesley, M.P. for Trim, but sat later for two close boroughs in England, still remaining member for Down at College Green.

From 1796, when his father became an earl, he took the courtesy title of Viscount Castlereagh, and becoming keeper of the privy seal in Ireland, he acted as chief secretary, during the prolonged absence of Mr Pelham, from February 1797. Castlereagh's conviction was that, in presence of threatened invasion and rebellion, Ireland could only be made safe by union with Great Britain. In Lord Camden, as afterwards in Lord Cornwallis, Castlereagh found a congenial chief; though his favor with these statesmen was jealously viewed both by the Irish oligarchy and by the English politicians who wished to keep the machine of Irish administration in their own hands. Pitt himself was doubtful of the expediency of making an Irishman chief secretary, but his view was changed by the influence of Cornwallis. In suppressing Lord Edward Fitzgerald's conspiracy, and the rebellion which followed in 1798, Castlereagh's vigilance and firmness were invaluable. His administration was denounced by a faction as harsh and cruel -- a charge afterwards repudiated by Henry Grattan and Plunket -- but he was always on the side of lenity. The disloyal in Ireland, both Jacobins and priest-led, the Protestant zealots and others who feared the consequence of the Union, coalesced against him in Dublin. Even there Castlereagh, though defeated in a first campaign (1799), impressed Pitt with his ability and tact. With Cornwallis he joined in holding out, during the second Union campaign (1800), the prospect of emancipation to the Roman Catholics. They were aided by free expenditure of money and promises of honors, methods too familiar in Irish politics. When the Act of Union was carried through the Irish parliament, in the summer of 1800, Castlereagh's official connection with his native land practically ended. Before the Imperial Parliament met he urged upon Pitt the measures which he and Cornwallis thought requisite to make the Union effective. In spite of his services and of Pitt's support, disillusion awaited him. The king's reluctance to yield to the Roman Catholic claims was underestimated by Pitt, while Cornwallis imprudently permitted himself to use language which, though not amounting to a pledge, was construed as one. King George III resented the arguments brought forward by Castlereagh -- "this young man" who had come over to talk him out of his coronation oath. He peremptorily refused to sanction emancipation, and Pitt and his cabinet made way for the Addington administration. Thereupon Castlereigh resigned, with Cornwallis. He took his seat at Westminster for Down, the constituency he had represented for ten years in Dublin. The leadership of an Irish party was offered to him, but he declined so to limit his political activity. His father accepted, at Portland's request, an Irish marquessate, on the understanding that in the future he or his heirs might claim the same rank in the Imperial Legislature; so that Castlereagh was able to sit in the House of Commons as Marquess in 1821-22. William Wilberforce discussed with Pitt the possibility of sending out Castlereagh to India as governor-general, when the friction between Lord Wellesley and the directors became grave; but Pitt objected, as the plan would remove Castlereagh from the House of Commons, which should be the theater of his future fame.

In 1802, Castlereagh, at Pitt's suggestion, became president of the Board of Control in the Addington cabinet. He had, though not in office, taken charge of Irish measures under Addington, including the repression of the Rebellion Bill, and the temporary suspension of the Habeas Corpus in 1801, and continued to advocate Catholic relief, tithe reform, state payment of Catholic and dissenting clergy and "the steady application of authority in support of the laws." To Lord Wellesley's Indian policy he gave a staunch support, warmly recognized by the governor-general. On Pitt's return to office (May 1804), Castlereagh retained his post, and, next year, took over also the duties of secretary for war and the colonies. Socially and politically, the gifts of his wife, Lady Emily Hobart, daughter of a former Irish viceroy, whom he had married in 1794, assisted him to make his house a meeting-place of the party; and his influence in parliament grew notwithstanding his defects of style, spoken and written. As a manager of men he had no equal. After Pitt's death his surviving colleagues failed to form a cabinet strong enough to face the formidable combination known as "All the Talents", and Castlereagh acquiesced in the resignation. But to the foreign policy of the Fox-Greville ministry and its conduct of the war he was always opposed. His objections to the Whig doctrine of withdrawal from "Continental entanglements" and to the reduction of military expenditure were justified when Fox himself was compelled "to nail his country's colors to the mast."

The cabinet of "All the Talents", weakened by the death of Fox and the renewed quarrel with the king, went out in April 1807. Castlereagh returned to the War Office under Portland, but grave difficulties arose, though George Canning at the Foreign Office was then thoroughly at one with him. A priceless opportunity had been missed after Eylau. The Whigs had crippled the transport service, and the operations to avert the ruin of the coalition at Friedland came too late. The Tsar Alexander believed that England would no longer concern herself with the Continental struggle, and Friedland was followed by Tilsit. The secret articles of that compact, denied at the time by the Opposition and by French apologists, were later revealed from official records in Vandal's work, Napoléon et Alexandre. Castlereagh and Canning saw the vital importance of nullifying the aim of this project. The seizure of the Danish squadron at Copenhagen, and the measures taken to rescue the fleets of Portugal and Sweden from Napoleon, crushed a combination as menacing as that defeated at Trafalgar. The expedition to Portugal, though Castlereagh's influence was able only to secure Arthur Wellesley a secondary part at first, soon dwarfed other issues. In the debates on the Convention of Cintra, Castlereagh defended Wellesley against parliamentary attacks: "A brother", the latter wrote, "could not have done more." The depression produced by Moore's campaign in northern Spain, and the king's repugnance to the Peninsular operations, seemed to cut short Wellesley's career; but early in 1809, Castlereagh, with no little difficulty, secured his friend's appointment as commander-in-chief of the second Portuguese expedition. The merit has been claimed for Canning by Stapleton, but the evidence is all the other way.

Meanwhile, Castlereagh's policy led to a crisis that clouded his own fortunes. The breach between him and Canning was not due to his incompetence in the conduct of the Walcheren expedition. In fact, Castlereagh's ejection was decided by Canning's intrigues, though concealed from the victim, months before the armament was sent out to the Scheldt. In the selection of the Earl of Chatham as commander the king's personal preference was known, but there is evidence also that it was one of Canning's schemes, as he reckoned, if Chatham succeeded, on turning him into a convenient ministerial figurehead. Canning was not openly opposed to the Walcheren expedition, and on the Peninsular question he mainly differed from Castlereagh and Wellington in fixing his hopes on national enthusiasm and popular uprisings. Military opinion is generally agreed that the plan of striking from Walcheren at Antwerp, the French naval base, was sound. Napoleon heard the news with dismay; in principle Wellington approved the plan. Castlereagh's proposal was for a coup de main, under strict conditions of celerity and secrecy, as Antwerp was unable to make any adequate defense. But Chatham, the naval authorities and the cabinet proceeded with a deliberation explained by the fact that the war secretary had been condemned in secret. The expedition, planned at the end of March, did not reach Walcheren until the end of July 1809; and more time was lost in movements against Batz and Flushing, protracted until an unhealthy autumn prostrated the army, which was withdrawn, discredited and disabled, in September. Public opinion threw the whole blame upon Castlereagh, who then found that, in deference to Canning, his colleagues had decreed his removal half a year earlier, though they kept silence until the troops were brought back from Walcheren. When Castlereagh learned from Percival that the slur cast on him had its origin in a secret attack on him many months before, he was cruelly hurt. The main charge against him was, he says, that he would not throw over officers on whom unpopularity fell, at the first shadow of ill-fortune. His refusal to rush into censure of Moore, following Canning's sudden change from eulogy to denunciation, requires no defense. According to the ideas then prevailing Castlereagh held himself justified in sending a challenge to the original author, as he held, of a disloyal intrigue against a colleague. In the subsequent duel Canning was wounded and the rivals simultaneously resigned. In private letters to his father and brother, Castlereagh urged that he was bound to show that he "was not privy to his own disgrace." When Canning published a lengthy explanation of his conduct, many who had sided with him were convinced that Castlereagh had been much wronged. The excuse that the protest upon which the cabinet decided against Castlereagh did not mention the minister's name was regarded as a quibble. Men widely differing in character and opinions -- Sir Walter Scott, Sidney Smith, Brougham and Cobbett -- took this view. Castlereagh loyally supported the government in parliament, after Lord Wellesley's appointment to the Foreign Office. Though Wellington's retreat after Talavera had been included, with the disasters of the Corunna and Walcheren campaigns, in the censures on Castlereagh, and though ministers were often depressed and doubtful, Castlereagh never lost faith in Wellington's genius. Lord Wellesley's resignation in 1812, when the Whigs failed to come to terms with the regent, led to Castlereagh's return to office as foreign secretary in March 1812. The assassination of Percival soon threw upon him the leadership of the House of Commons, and this double burden he continued to bear during the rest of his life.

From March 1812 to July 1822 Castlereagh's biography is, in truth, the history of England. Though never technically prime minister, during these years he wielded a power such as few ministers have exercised. Political opponents and personal ill-wishers admitted that he was the ablest leader who ever controlled the House of Commons for so long a period. As a diplomatist, nobody save Marlborough had the same influence over men or was given equal freedom by his colleagues at home. Foreigners saw in him the living presence of England in the camp of the Allies. At the War Office he had been hampered by the lack of technical knowledge, while nature had not granted him, as an organizer, the powers of a Carnot or Roon. But in diplomacy his peculiar combination of strength and charm, of patience and conciliatory adroitness, was acknowledged by all. At the Foreign Office he set himself at once to meet Napoleon's designs in northern Europe, where Russia was preparing for her life-and-death struggle. Lord Wellesley paid a high tribute to Castlereagh's conduct in this situation, and Wellington declared that he had then "rendered to the world the most important service that ever fell to the lot of any individual to perform." Castlereagh wisely rejected Napoleon's insincere overtures for peace. After the Moscow debacle Napoleon's fate was affected not only by Wellington's progress in Spain, but by the attitude of the northern powers and by the action of Turkey, due to Castlereagh's opportune disclosure to the Porte of the scheme of partition at Tilsit. At home, the repeal of the Orders in Council was carried, the damage to British trade plainly outweighing the injury inflicted on France by the restrictive system. The British subsidies to the Allies were largely increased as the operations of 1813 developed, but all Castlereagh's skill was needed to keep the Coalition together. The Allied powers were willing, even after Leipzig, to treat with France on the basis of restoring her "natural frontiers" -- the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees; but Castlereagh protested. He would not allow the enemy to take ground for another tiger-spring. Before the Conference of Châtillon, where Napoleon sent Caulaincourt to negotiate for peace -- with the message scribbled on the margin of his instructions, "Ne signez rien" -- Aberdeen wrote to hasten Castlereagh's coming: "Everything which has been so long smothered is now bursting forth"; and again, "Your presence has done much and would, I have no doubt, continue to sustain them [the Allies] in misfortune." The Liverpool cabinet then and later were as urgent in pressing him to return to lead the House of Commons. He had lost his seat for Down in 1805, and afterwards sat for British boroughs; but in 1812 he was reelected by his old constituents; and again in 1818 and 1820, sitting, after he became Marquess of Londonderry in 1821, for Orford. Early in 1814 his colleagues reluctantly consented to his visit to the allied headquarters. The Great Alliance showed signs of weakness and division. Austria was holding back; Prussia had almost broken away; above all, the ambiguous conduct of Alexander bred alarm and doubt. This situation became increasingly serious while Napoleon was giving daily proofs that his military genius, confronting a hesitant and divided enemy, was at its best. Castlereagh strove to keep the Allies together, to give no excuse for those separate arrangements upon which Napoleon was reckoning, to assert no selfish policy for England, to be tied by no theoretical consistency. At the Châtillon conferences England was represented by others, but Castlereagh was present with supreme authority over all, and it was he who determined the result. He declined to commit his country either to a blank refusal to negotiate with Napoleon or to the advocacy of a Bourbon restoration. He was ready to give up almost the whole of England's conquests, but he insisted on the return of France within her ancient limits as the basis of a settlement. Caulaincourt's advice was to take advantage of these overtures; but his master was not to be advised. The counter-projects that he urged Caulaincourt to submit to were advanced after his victory at Montereau, when he boasted that he was nearer to Munich than the Allies were to Paris. Even before the Châtillon conference was dissolved (March 18th), Castlereagh saw that Caulaincourt's efforts would never bend Napoleon's will. The Allies adopted his view and signed the treaty of Chaumont (March 1st), "my treaty", as Castlereagh called it, with an unusual touch of personal pride; adding "Upon the face of the treaty this year our engagement is equivalent to theirs united." The power of England when she threw her purse into the scale had been just exhibited at Bar-sur-Aube, when at a council of all the representatives of the powers the retreat of the allied armies was discussed. Bernadotte, playing a waiting game in Holland, was unwilling to reinforce Blücher, then in a dangerous position, by the Russian and Prussian divisions of Winzingerode and Bülow, temporarily placed under his orders. Having asked for and received the assurance that the military leaders were agreed in holding the transfer necessary, Castlereagh declared that he took upon himself the responsibility of bringing the Swedish prince to reason. The withholding of the British subsidies was a vital matter, not only with Bernadotte but with all the powers. Castlereagh's avowed intention to take this step without waiting for sanction from his cabinet put an end to evasion and delay. Blücher was reinforced by the two divisions; the battle of Laon was fought and won, and the allies occupied the French capital. In April 1814 Castlereagh arrived in Paris. He did not disguise his discontent with Napoleon's position at Elba, close to the French coast, though he advised England not to separate herself at this crisis from her allies. His uneasiness led him to summon Wellington from the south to the Embassy in Paris. He hastened himself to London during the visit of the allied sovereigns, and met with a splendid reception. He was honored with the Garter, being one of the few commoners ever admitted to that order. When the House of Commons offered to the Crown its congratulations upon the treaty of peace, Castlereagh's triumph was signalized by a brilliantly eloquent panegyric from Canning, and by a recantation of his former doubts and denunciations from Whitbread. His own dignified language vindicated his country from the charge of selfish ambition.

His appointment as British representative at Vienna, where the congress was to meet in September, was foreseen; but meanwhile he was not idle. The war with the United States, originating in the non-intercourse dispute and the Orders in Council, did not cease with the repeal of the latter. It lasted through 1814 until the signing of the treaty of Ghent, soon before the flight from Elba. In parliament the ministry, during Castlereagh's absence, had been poorly championed. Canning had thrown away his chance by his unwise refusal of the Foreign Office. None of the ministers had any pretension to lead when Castlereagh was busy abroad and Canning was sulking at home, and Castlereagh's letters to Vansittart, the chancellor of the exchequer, show how these difficulties weighed upon him in facing the position at Vienna, where it was imperative for him to appear. At Vienna he realized at once that the ambition of Russia might be as formidable to Europe and to Great Britain as that of the fallen tyrant. His aim throughout had been to rescue Europe from military domination; and when he found that Russia and Prussia were pursuing ends incompatible with the general interest, he did not hesitate to take a new line. He brought about the secret treaty (January 3, 1815) between Great Britain, Austria and France, directed against the plans of Russia in Poland and of Prussia in Saxony. Through Castlereagh's efforts, the Polish and Saxon questions were settled on the basis of compromise. The threat of Russian interference in the Low Countries was dropped.

While the Congress was still unfinished, Napoleon's escape from Elba came like a thunderclap. Castlereagh had come home for a short visit (February 1815), at the urgent request of the cabinet, just before the flight was known. The shock revived the Great Alliance under the compact of Chaumont. All energies were directed to preparing for the campaign of Waterloo. Castlereagh's words in parliament were, "Whatever measures you adopt or decision you arrive at must rest on your own power and not on reliance on this man." Napoleon promptly published the secret treaty which Castlereagh had concluded with Metternich and Talleyrand, and the last left in the French archives. But Russia and Prussia, though much displeased, saw that, in the face of Bonaparte's return, they dared not weaken the Alliance. British subsidies were again poured out like water. After Napoleon's overthrow, Castlereagh successfully urged his removal to St. Helena, where his custodians were charged to treat him "with all the respect due to his rank, but under such precautions as should render his escape a matter of impossibility." Some of the continental powers demanded, after Waterloo, fines and cessions that would have crushed France; but in November a peace was finally concluded, mainly by Castlereagh's endeavors minimizing the penalties exacted, and abandoning on England's part the whole of her share of the indemnity. The war created an economic situation at home which strengthened the Whigs and Radicals, previously discredited by their hostility to a patriotic struggle. In 1816 the Income Tax was remitted despite Castlereagh's contention that something should first be done to reduce the Debt Charge. His policy, impressed upon kitish representatives abroad, was "to turn the confidence Great Britain inspired to the account of peace, by exercising a conciliatory influence in Europe." Brougham's action, at the end of 1815, denouncing the Holy Alliance, even in its early form, was calculated to embarrass England, though she was no party to what Castlereagh described as a "piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense."

While he saw no reason in this for breaking up the Grand Alliance, which he looked upon as a convenient organ of diplomatic intercourse and as essential for the maintenance of peace, regarded with alarm "the little spirit of German intrigue", and agreed with Wellington that to attempt to crush France, as the Prussians desired, or to keep her in a perpetual condition of tutelage under a European concert from which she herself should be excluded, would be to invite the very disaster which it was the object of the Alliance to avoid. It was not until Metternich's idea of extending the scope of the Alliance, by using it to crush "the revolution" wherever it should raise its head, began to take shape, from the conference of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818) onward, that Great Britain's separation from her continental allies became inevitable. Against this policy of the reactionary powers Castlereagh from the first vigorously protested. As little was he prepared to accept the visionary schemes of the emperor Alexander for founding an effective "confederation of Europe" upon the inclusive basis of the Holy Alliance.

Meanwhile financial troubles at home, complicated by the resumption of cash payments in 1819, led to acute social tension. "Peterloo" and the "Six Acts" were furiously denounced, though the bills introduced by Sidmouth and Castlereagh were carried in both Houses by overwhelming majorities. The danger that justified them was proved beyond contest by the Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820. It is now admitted by Liberal writers that the "Six Acts", in the circumstances, were reasonable and necessary. Throughout, Castlereagh maintained his tranquil ascendancy in the House of Commons, though he had few colleagues who were capable of standing up against Brougham. Canning, indeed, had returned to office and had defended the "Six Acts", but Castlereagh bore the whole burden of parliamentary leadership, as well as the enormous responsibilities of the Foreign Office. His appetite for work caused him to engage in debates and enquiries on financial and legal questions when he might have delegated the task to others. Althorp was struck with his unsleeping energy on the Agricultural Distress Committee; "His exertions, coupled with his other duties -- and unfortunately he was always obstinate in refusing assistance -- strained his constitution fearfully, as was shown by his careworn brow and increasing paleness." In 1821, on Sidmouth's retirement, he took upon himself the laborious functions of the Home Office. The diplomatic situation had become serious. The policy of "intervention", with which Great Britain had consistently refused to identify herself, had been proclaimed to the world by the famous Troppau Protocol, signed by Russia, Austria and Prussia. The immediate occasion was the revolution at Naples, where the egregious Spanish constitution of 1812 had been forced on the king by a military rising. With military revolts, as with paper constitutions of an unworkable type, Castlereagh had no sympathy; and in this particular case the revolution, in his opinion, was wholly without excuse or palliation. He was prepared to allow the intervention of Austria, if she considered her rights under the treaty of 1813 violated, or her position as an Italian Power imperilled. But he protested against the general claim, embodied in the Protocol, of the European powers to interfere, uninvited, in the internal concerns of sovereign states; he refused to make Great Britain, even tacitly, a party to such interference, and again insisted that her part in the Alliance was defined by the letter of the treaties, beyond which she was not prepared to go. In no case, he affirmed, would Great Britain "undertake the moral responsibility for administering a general European police", which she would never tolerate as applied to herself.

To Troppau, accordingly, no British plenipotentiary was sent, since the outcome of the conferences was a foregone conclusion; though Lord Stewart came from Vienna to watch the course of events. At Laibach an attempt to revive the Troppau proposals was defeated by the firm opposition of Stewart; but a renewal of the struggle at Verona in the autumn of 1822 was certain. Castlereagh, now Marquess of Londonderry, was again to be the British representative, and he drew up for himself instructions that were handed over unaltered by Canning, his successor at the Foreign Office, to the new plenipotentiary, Wellington. In the threatened intervention of the continental powers in Spain, as in their earlier action towards Naples and Sardinia, England refused to take part. The Spanish revolutionary movement, Castlereagh wrote, "was a matter with which, in the opinion of the English cabinet, no foreign power had the smallest right to interfere." Before, however, the question of intervention in Spain had reached its most critical stage the development of the Greek insurrection against the Ottoman government brought up the Eastern Question in an acute form, which profoundly modified the relations of the powers within the Alliance, and again drew Metternich and Castlereagh together in common dread of an isolated attack by Russia upon Turkey. A visit of King George IV to Hanover, in October 1821, was made the occasion of a meeting between Lord Londonderry and the Austrian chancellor. A meeting so liable to misinterpretation was in Castlereagh's opinion justified by the urgency of the crisis in the East, "a practical consideration of the greatest moment", which had nothing in common with the objectionable "theoretical" question with which the British government had refused to concern itself. Yet Castlereagh, on this occasion, showed that he could use the theories of others for his own practical ends; and he joined cordially with Metternich in taking advantage of the emperor Alexander's devotion to the principles of the Alliance to prevent his taking an independent line in the Eastern Question. It was, indeed, the belief that this question would be made the matter of common discussion at the congress that led Castlereagh to agree to be present at Verona; and in his Instructions he foreshadowed the policy afterwards carried out by Canning, pointing out that the development of the war had made the recognition of the belligerent rights of the Greeks inevitable, and quoting the precedent of the Spanish American colonies as exactly applicable. With regard to the Spanish colonies, moreover, though he was not as yet prepared to recognize their independence de jure, he was strongly of opinion that the Spanish government should do so since "other states would acknowledge them sooner or later, and it is to the interest of Spain herself to find the means of restoring an intercourse when she cannot succeed in restoring a dominion."

But the tragic ending of Castlereagh's strenuous life was near; and the credit of carrying out the policy foreshadowed in the Instructions was to fall to his rival Canning. Lord Londonderry's exhaustion became evident during the toilsome session of 1822. Both the king and Wellington were struck by his overwrought condition, which his family attributed to an attack of the gout and the lowering remedies employed. Wellington warned Dr. Bankhead that Castlereagh was unwell, and, perhaps, mentally disordered. Bankhead went down to North Cray and took due precautions. Castlereagh's razors were taken away, but a penknife was forgotten in a drawer, and with this he cut his throat (August 12, 1822). He had just before said, "My mind, my mind, is, as it were, gone"; and, when he saw his wife and Bankhead talking together, he moaned "there is a conspiracy laid against me." It was as clear a case of brain disease as any on record. But this did not prevent his enemies of the baser sort from asserting, without a shadow of proof, that the suicide was caused by terror at some hideous and undefined charge. The testimony of statesmen of the highest character and of all parties to Castlereagh's gifts and charm is in strong contrast with the flood of vituperation and calumny poured out upon his memory by those who knew him not.

Father: Robert Stewart, 1st Marquess of Londonderry
Mother: Sarah Seymour (dau. of the Earl of Hertford)
Wife: Emily Hobart (m. 1794)

    High School: Armagh School
    University: St. John's College, Cambridge University (one year)

    Nervous Breakdown 1822
    Risk Factors: Gout


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