Peel , Sir Robert (1822–95), chief secretary for Ireland (1861–5), was born 4 May 1822 at London, eldest son of Sir Robert Peel (qv), prime minister, and Julia Peel (née Floyd). Educated at Harrow, he entered Christ Church, Oxford, but left without taking a degree. Although he decided on a career in diplomacy, his dilettante tendencies were a source of some anxiety for his parents. He was handsome and intelligent but also weak-willed and lacking in judgement, discretion, and integrity. His volatile temper was a cause for concern and in 1846 his father asked Lord Aberdeen, the foreign secretary, to speak to him about his responsibilities and the family name. Refusing to heed the advice, Peel embarked on a fitful career that was notable for its capriciousness. Succeeding as 3rd baronet in 1850 on the death of his father, he also entered the house of commons as MP for Tamworth, but despite all his talents and advantages he never prospered in politics.
After a diplomatic mission to Russia in 1856 he caused much embarrassment and controversy by speaking critically about the Russian court at a public lecture in London the following year. Thanks to the patronage of Lord Palmerston and the prestige of his name, his rise continued and on 29 July 1861 he was appointed chief secretary for Ireland and a privy counsellor. Initially he was a success, impressing with his relaxed manner and innate charm, but it was not long before his failings became apparent. While his incognito expeditions into the Irish countryside gave him a certain insight into the mood of the people, he incorrectly assumed that he had solved the Irish question. He was an excellent but imprudent orator; his speeches in the house of commons became increasingly ill-judged. With the ever-present threat of Fenian violence, Peel was unable to gauge the correct course of action, and his incautious comments only exacerbated political tensions. He was replaced in December 1865 when a new ministry under Earl Russell succeeded Palmerston. He was made GCB in 1866.
Becoming increasingly conservative in his later years, he was a regular critic of Gladstone's policies for Ireland. He abstained on the home rule bill (1886) but then became one of the more exotic supporters of home rule when it was discussed again in 1889. He died 9 May 1895 of a brain haemorrhage at his home at 12 Stratton St., London. He married (17 January 1856) Lady Emily Hay, daughter of the marquess of Tweeddale; they had one son and three daughters. Possessing little of the ability and none of the judgement of his father, he is generally regarded as one of the weakest chief secretaries of the nineteenth century.