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Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh
Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, (June 18, 1769 – August 12, 1822), known until 1821 by his courtesy title of Viscount Castlereagh, was an Anglo-Irish politician born in Dublin who represented the United Kingdom at the Congress of Vienna. He was also intimately involved in securing the passage of the Irish Act of Union. He was the son of Robert Stewart, 1st Marquess of Londonderry, a landowner who was created an earl and subsequently a marquess by King George III of the United Kingdom. Additionally, the elder Robert Stewart was also known as The Viscount Castlereagh for about one year.
Robert Stewart acquired the courtesy title Viscount Castlereagh in 1796 when his father was created Earl of Londonderry, and is generally known to history by that title. He became briefly 2nd Marquess of Londonderry in the Peerage of Ireland on the death of his father in 1821.
After serving in various junior positions in the Pitt and Addington governments, Castlereagh became Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in the Duke of Portland's administration in 1807. In that role he became involved in disputes with Foreign Secretary George Canning over the failure of the Walcheren Expedition, and the two fought a duel late in 1809. This forced both of their resignations from the government.
Three years later, in 1812, Castlereagh returned to the government, this time as Foreign Secretary, a role in which he served for the next ten years, He also became leader of the House of Commons in the wake of Spencer Perceval's assassination in 1812. In his role of Foreign Secretary he was instrumental in negotiating what has become known as a quadruple alliance between the United Kingdom, Austria, Russia and Prussia at Chaumont in March 1814, in the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris that brought peace with France, and at the Congress of Vienna. At the Congress of Vienna, Castlereagh designed and proposed a form of collective and collaborative security for Europe, then called a Congress system. According to the Congress system the main signatory powers were to meet periodically (every two years or so) and collectively manage European Affairs. The following ten years saw 5 European Congresses where disputes were resolved with a diminishing degree of effectiveness. Finally, by 1822, the whole system had collapsed because of the unreconcilable differences of opinion between the United Kingdom, Austria and Russia, and because of the lack of support for the Congress system in British public opinion.
In the years 1812 to 1822, Castlereagh continued to competently manage Britain's foreign policy, generally pursuing a policy of continental engagement uncharacteristic of British foreign policy in the nineteenth century.
Castlereagh was not known to be an effective public speaker and his diplomatic presentation style was a times abstruse. He did however enjoyed a great reputation for integrity, consistency and good will, which was perhaps unmatched by any diplomat of his time. His view on foreign policy were, unfortunately, ahead of his time and his country's insular world view.
Despite his many achievements, Castlereagh was extremely unpopular within the country due to his supposed reactionism abroad, and his support at home for the repressive measures of Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth. For this reason, Castlereagh is (among other from Lord Liverpool's cabinet) immortalised in Shelley's poem The Mask of Anarchy, a poem heavily critical of, and inspired by the Peterloo massacre:
- I met murder on the way -
- He had a face like Castlereagh -
- Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
- Seven bloodhounds followed him
Sometime after Castlereagh's death, Lord Byron wrote a damning sarcastic quip about his grave:
- Posterity will ne'er survey
- A nobler grave than this:
- Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
- Stop, traveller, and piss.
In the year before his death, Castlereagh appeared to be suffering from a form of paranoia. On 9 August 1822 he had an audience with King George IV where he revealed to the King that he was being blackmailed. He said "I am accused of the same crime as the Bishop of Clogher.". The Bishop of Clogher had been caught in the backroom of a public house with his trousers down accompanied by a young soldier. The King is said to have advised Castlereagh to "consult a physician". Castlereagh returned his country seat at Loring Hall in Water Lane North Cray in Kent, and on 12 August committed suicide by cutting his throat with a letter opener .
An inquest believed that the act had been committed whilst insane, avoiding the harsh strictures of the 'felo de se' verdict that would have seen a suicide victim buried with a stake in his heart at a crossroads - an action that last occurred in 1823 before the law was amended in the same year. Some radicals, notably William Cobbett construed this to be indicative of a 'cover up' within the ministry and a damning indictment of the elitism and privilege of the unreformed electoral system. His funeral on 20 August was greeted with jeering and insults along the processional route, although not to the level of unanimity projected in the radical press. A final cheer was raised as the coffin entered into Westminster Abbey, departing from the public eye for the last time. Buried in the Abbey in the shadow of his mentor, William Pitt the Younger, a funeral monument was not erected until 1850 by his half-brother and successor, Charles Vane.
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Charles William Vane
- Harold Nicolson, 'The Congress of Vienna' (1946)
- H. Montgomery Hyde, 'The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh'
- John Derry, 'Castlereagh' (London 1976)
- Wendy Hinde, 'Castlereagh' (London 1981)
- Henry Kissinger, 'A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22'
- Charles Webster
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