Howard, George William Frederick (1802–64), Viscount Morpeth, 7th earl of Carlisle, chief secretary (1835–41) and lord lieutenant of Ireland (1855–8; 1859–64), was born 18 April 1802 in London, first of twelve children (six sons and six daughters) of George William Frederick Howard (1773–1848), 6th earl of Carlisle, and his wife Georgina Dorothy, eldest daughter of William Cavendish, 5th duke of Devonshire. His six years spent at Eton stimulated an interest in literature, poetry, and classical studies, his love of which would later serve as a welcome refuge from public life. In 1819 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an able scholar: he won two prizes for his poetry (1821), graduated with first-class honours for his BA in classics (1823), and in 1827 received an MA. He has been described as someone who was ‘born to the service of the state’ (Annual Reg., 1864, 183), and his public career began in 1826 when, as Lord Morpeth, he was elected whig MP for the family seat of Morpeth. He was later returned for the West Riding of Yorkshire (1830–41), a seat he held until the fall of the whig government. As an MP he was an ardent supporter of religious and civil liberties and was prominent in the passage of the catholic emancipation act (1829) and the great reform act (1832).
During the early 1830s the whigs had a somewhat difficult relationship with Daniel O'Connell (qv) and his parliamentary supporters, but they soon realised that he would have to be conciliated in order to maintain a ministry. In February 1835 the ‘Lichfield House compact’, an entente between O'Connell and the whigs, was established, whereby O'Connell tacitly promised to support Melbourne's (qv) government in return for improved Irish measures and increased patronage for his supporters. When enlisting the new administration in Dublin Castle, every effort was made not to appoint anyone that met with O'Connell's disapproval, and as a result, a new, enlightened, and impartial governing body was formed that included Morpeth (who had proven himself an articulate and compassionate liberal) as chief secretary (22 April 1835–12 September 1841).
Along with Thomas Drummond (qv) as under-secretary, and Lord Mulgrave (qv) as lord lieutenant, Morpeth took part in a successful and popular Irish government that abandoned past efforts to rule Ireland indirectly through the protestant ascendancy, and instead strove to mollify the catholic majority and to limit the influence of the Orange order. Drummond spearheaded these endeavours, but the troika were unanimous in their governing policies and worked uncommonly well as a team. During their tenure (1835–41), they centralised the Irish constabulary, consolidated the stipendiary magistracy, and ensured that most of the judges, magistrates, assistant barristers, law officers, and police inspectors appointed were either liberal protestants or catholics.
As chief secretary, Morpeth proved himself an excellent choice: he had an impressive breadth of knowledge, was extremely efficient and organised, and was a pleasant and genial associate. He was determined to quash the influence of the Orange order, and demonstrated his willingness to make unpopular decisions by dismissing Col. Verner from his post of deputy lieutenant of Tyrone for making an ‘Orange’ toast at an election dinner (August 1837). Morpeth was an exceptional orator and debater, and defended the Irish government's policy in parliament where, despite many impressive speeches, success was limited: although the realisation of Drummond's Irish constabulary bill (1836) was an important achievement, the Irish tithe act (1838) was a disappointment, the poor law act (1838) was ill-conceived and unpopular in Ireland, and the Irish municipal reform act (1840) was an emasculated version of its British counterpart. More successful was his suggestion that the imperial government provide £2.5 million in order to finance the Board of Works in constructing the trunk lines of a national railway; this measure passed through the house of commons but was later dropped by the government. One of Morpeth's most important contributions to Ireland was his 1841 franchise bill that proposed the extension of the franchise to all occupants of property with a fourteen-year lease rated at £5 on the poor law valuation; although it was defeated, it served as the model for the 1851 Irish franchise act. When the tories under Robert Peel (qv) (1788–1850) came to power in 1841, Morpeth left Ireland. His popularity was highlighted by the fact that on his departure he was presented with a farewell address (known as the Morpeth roll) signed by 257,000 Irishmen of all religions; he was later remembered as one of the first people to give practical effect to emancipation and as a fair-minded administrator who had made catholics feel equal to their protestant countrymen.
With the loss of his parliamentary seat in the general election of 1841, Morpeth decided to spend a year travelling through the United States, Canada, Cuba, and the West Indies, where he confirmed his commitment to anti-slavery, befriended many important abolitionists, and participated in an anti-slavery assembly in Boston. In his absence he was chosen to represent Dublin city in an 1842 by-election, but lost. In 1846 the liberals regained the government and Morpeth again sat for the West Riding (1846–8), and was appointed chief commissioner of woods and forests (1846–50) in the cabinet of Lord John Russell. When his father died he inherited the earldom of Carlisle (1848), and in 1849 entered the house of lords. Carlisle was appointed lord lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire in 1847, served as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (1850–52), was appointed lord rector of Aberdeen University in 1853, and in 1855 was created a KG.
He was lord lieutenant of Ireland twice (28 February 1855–February 1858; 18 June 1859–October 1864), appointed under Lord Palmerston's government because of his well-known partiality for the Irish, his popularity within Ireland, and his experience as chief secretary. Between posts, he travelled through Greece and Turkey. By this time, Carlisle was considered past his prime, and his former political energies were laid aside in favour of a ‘kindly’ and ‘agreeable’ viceregal court (FJ, 6 December 1864) dominated by eloquent speeches and grand social events. Although he was not as active as he had been as chief secretary, it did not detract from his popularity, and he was fondly remembered as one of Ireland's most genial viceroys. After suffering from a stroke in the summer of 1864, he could no longer speak or write and had to resign his post. He retired to Castle Howard, his family home in Yorkshire, where he died 5 December 1864, and he was buried in the castle's ancestral mausoleum. He never married, and was succeeded by his brother, the Hon. and Rev. William George Howard, rector of Londesborough, Yorkshire.
A memorial column in honour of Carlisle was erected on Bulmer Hill, at the edge of the Castle Howard grounds (1869), and two bronze statues by Irish artist J. H. Foley (qv) were erected (1870) by public subscription, one in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and the other in Carlisle town. (The former was blown off its pedestal by a republican splinter group on 28 July 1958). Foley also created a bust of Carlisle that was placed in Morpeth town hall (1871). Carlisle frequently contributed to popular Victorian annuals and also published several volumes of literary work, including The last of the Greeks; or the fall of Constantinople (1828), his observations of his trip to the US (1850), the preface to the British edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's cabin (1853), and a Diary in Turkish and Greek waters (1854). A collection of his poetry was posthumously published by his sister in 1869. His private papers are held in Castle Howard; the Morpeth roll is on loan to NUI Maynooth.