Stewart, Robert (1769–1822), Viscount Castlereagh and 2nd marquess of Londonderry , chief secretary for Ireland, politician, was born 18 June 1769 at 28 Henry Street, Dublin, the second, but only surviving, child of Robert Stewart (qv), later 1st marquess of Londonderry, landowner and MP for Co. Down (1771–83), and his first wife, Lady Sarah Stewart (née Seymour-Conway), the daughter of the former lord lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Hertford (qv). Robert's brother, Alexander, died in infancy in June 1769. Following complications with her third pregnancy, his mother died on 17 July 1770 and his father married on 7 June 1775 Frances Pratt, the eldest daughter of the 1st Earl Camden; this was to prove an invaluable political connection for her stepson in the years ahead. Educated at the Royal School, Armagh, and then by the Rev. William Sturrock at Portaferry, Robert entered St John's College, Cambridge, in 1786, where he converted from presbyterianism to the Church of England. Returning home in 1790, he joined the Northern whig club and was returned for Co. Down in the general election as a liberal reformer, despite being legally under age when polling began. The campaign was notable for its expense: the Stewart family is believed to have spent £20,000 to secure victory. After the election his father sold a large collection of books and paintings to pay for the costs, and resisted an unsuccessful attempt by the Downshire family to declare the election invalid.
Early political career In parliament Stewart followed a careful line: he opposed the Irish administration at every turn, while at the same time emphasising his support for William Pitt and his government in Britain. In this way he balanced his commitments to the whig platform, which had helped to get him elected, with his own personal admiration for Pitt. Around six feet in height, Stewart possessed striking good looks, which won him much admiration throughout his career and provided some compensation for his lack of charisma. For example, William Drennan (qv) wrote in 1791 that he was one of the handsomest MPs in the house and predicted that he might one day prove the most gifted. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1791, Stewart was gazetted a lieutenant colonel of the Londonderry militia in April 1793 after the outbreak of war with France. On 9 June 1794 he married Lady Amelia (Emily) Hobart, the daughter of the late 2nd earl of Buckinghamshire (qv), a former lord lieutenant of Ireland (1776–80); they had no children and this was to become the inspiration for much abuse directed against him in later years. Offered a seat in the British house of commons by Pitt, he became MP for the borough of Tregony, in Cornwall (1794–6); he was later MP for Orford (1796–7).
In the aftermath of the Fitzwilliam viceroyalty an appointment was made which was to have enormous implications for Stewart's career: his step-uncle, the 2nd Earl Camden (qv), was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland. Immediately there was speculation that Stewart would be appointed chief secretary and, although the job went to Thomas Pelham (qv), it was soon clear that he was now a major figure in the administration; in November 1795 Camden requested that Stewart be allowed replace the ailing Pelham but this was rejected. When his father was created earl of Londonderry on 8 August 1796, Stewart took his previous (and now subsidiary) title of Viscount Castlereagh by courtesy, and it is as Lord Castlereagh that he is remembered. Concerned at the growing strength of the United Irishmen in east Ulster, in September 1796 he helped to plan the arrest of several United Irish leaders in Belfast.
With Ireland on the brink of open rebellion in 1798 the question of Pelham's health became urgent. Opposition to having an Irishman in the post was now weighed against the impending crisis, and in March Castlereagh was appointed acting chief secretary. The reputation he gained in dealing with the rebellion would stalk him for the rest of his life. For his role in directing severe security measures he became the ‘Bloody Castlereagh’ of popular legend, and he has never escaped blame for the repression and torture that took place in Ireland in the summer of 1798. Much of this criticism was misdirected: Castlereagh had pleaded for leniency in the house of commons and was instrumental in preventing the execution of United Irish prisoners. In his handling of the crisis he displayed a cool head and impressed with his organisation and efficiency. The crisis proved beyond Camden and he was replaced by Lord Cornwallis (qv) in June 1798, and it seemed that Castlereagh too would lose office. However, Cornwallis soon came to respect Castlereagh's abilities, despite finding him ‘so cold that nothing can touch him’ (Cornwallis corr., iii, 506) and he was appointed chief secretary formally on 3 November 1798.
Chief secretary for Ireland, 1798–1801 The passing of the Act of Union was to be the second defining event of Castlereagh's Irish career. It made his reputation in Britain, and destroyed it in Ireland. The first attempt to introduce a union failed miserably in January 1799. Much of the venom of the opposition was directed at Castlereagh, who as chief secretary was expected to pilot the measure through the commons. At the opening of parliament on 22 January Castlereagh was abused throughout the sitting, enduring snide references to his inability to have children and jokes about his youth and inexperience. Castlereagh's two great defects as a politician became apparent during the union negotiations: he was a poor speaker and awkward in dealing with people; both failings impeded the government's strategy. However, he brought a cold determination to the job and his political instincts proved invaluable when it came to devising a new strategy to pass the union in 1800.
From September until December 1799 Castlereagh resided in London, regularly discussing the catholic question with cabinet colleagues. The decision that full emancipation should follow the union enabled Castlereagh and Cornwallis to enlist the support of the catholic hierarchy and neutralise any attempt to raise an opposition among the peasantry. Castlereagh also proved efficient in directing the illegal slush fund which accompanied the legal use of patronage to secure a parliamentary majority. In 1800 Castlereagh performed more effectively as a speaker in the commons and was able to withstand the attacks of the opposition, some of which centred on his earlier espousal of whig principles. When provoked he proved to be a good debater, although he still disappointed on set-piece occasions. On 26 May he lost his temper in a heated exchange with Henry Grattan (qv) and accused him of encouraging future treason; each man considered challenging the other to a duel afterwards.
The union passed on 7 June 1800, but for Castlereagh there remained the challenge of honouring all of the union promises. The British government proved reluctant to stand over everything that had been done in Ireland and this risked undermining the entire Irish administration. It was only when Castlereagh and Cornwallis threatened to resign in the summer that the matter was resolved, but it gave the first hint that not everything promised would be secured. The status of the catholics now weighed heavily on Castlereagh's mind. He prepared a memorandum in an attempt to address the main objections to emancipation but his efforts were of no use and George III remained determined to resist any concessions. Pitt's government was becoming increasingly fractured and the catholic question proved to be the decisive issue that tore it apart at the beginning of 1801. At a levee on 28 January 1801 the king pointed directly at Castlereagh and announced that any man who proposed emancipation would become his personal enemy: Pitt's ministry was now effectively at an end. Castlereagh tendered his resignation and suffered a nervous breakdown in April, when it appeared that the union corruption would be exposed. He recovered gradually in the summer after his mind was eased when a fictitious set of accounts was approved, but the incident revealed an instability that would return in his final months.
Cabinet member, backbencher, and foreign secretary, 1802–1820 In the post-union parliament Castlereagh continued to represent Co. Down, and from the back benches impressed as a man of business. He became a cabinet minister in October 1802, three months after his appointment as president of the Board of Control, responsible for India. Throughout his time in the British commons he was regularly attacked for his conduct in Ireland, suffering accusations of brutality and corruption. But these charges did little to interrupt his steady rise: he succeeded his step-uncle as secretary of state for war in July 1805. At the by-election caused by this promotion the campaign was notable for the vicious attacks on his personal life and Castlereagh was defeated. The death of Pitt on 23 January 1806 led to a change of ministry and Castlereagh was excluded. He found a safe seat at Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire, in January 1806, and sat for the constituency until the general election in the summer, when he was returned for a borough at Plympton Erle. The collapse of the ministry in 1807 led to the creation of a new government and Castlereagh returned as war secretary. He sent Arthur Wellesley (qv), the future duke of Wellington, to Portugal, thus starting the Peninsular campaign, which was to be so important in undermining Napoleon. Unaware of intrigues against him closer to home, Castlereagh reacted with fury when he discovered in September 1809 that his rival George Canning, the foreign secretary, had been manoeuvring to have him dismissed. A duel followed on 21 September: they exchanged two shots on Putney Heath, Castlereagh wounding Canning in the thigh at the second attempt and losing a coat button in exchange. Both men retired from the field with honour satisfied and from the cabinet in disgrace.
Now out of office, Castlereagh continued to defend his reputation in parliament; he supported the catholic petition, though with reservations, in May 1810. Away from politics he became obsessed by sheep farming and won a prize for his wool in 1811. But his farming career was cut short after the formation of a new ministry, in which he accepted the office of foreign secretary on 4 March 1812, the job that would make his international reputation as a statesman. There was a change of prime minister in May when Spencer Perceval was assassinated; Castlereagh attempted to read a message from the regent to the commons but broke down in tears. In the new administration formed under Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh remained as foreign secretary and also became leader of the government in the commons, a job that highlighted his deficiencies as a speaker. Elected MP for Co. Down, he made a triumphant return to his old constituency (1812–21). He was the only cabinet minister to express unqualified support for Grattan's catholic relief bill in May 1813, and at a subsequent dinner in London those present avoided toasting the ‘protestant ascendancy’ so as not to give him offence.
As foreign secretary Castlereagh worked to coordinate the efforts of the fourth coalition against France, and he established a close relationship with the Austrian chancellor, Metternich. At Chaumont in March 1814 he negotiated a treaty pledging Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia to twenty years’ solidarity against France, an historic event that was his first attempt at constructing a European balance of power. Paris was taken on 31 March 1814 and Castlereagh arrived on 30 May to secure the treaty of Paris, which restored France to its 1792 borders. He returned to London acclaimed as a statesman and was awarded the order of the garter by the regent. The congress of Vienna (1814–15) further enhanced his reputation. He attempted to curb Russian expansion by making Poland a strong buffer state, but this failed when he discovered that there was little support for his actions in Britain. Over the next few weeks he acted almost independently of the cabinet as he pursued the policies he believed were best for Britain and a stable Europe. His brilliant diplomacy played a major part in shaping the final acts of the congress, which were signed on 9 June 1815. The 121 articles included a declaration condemning the slave trade, which was inserted at Castlereagh's request. Briefly back in London during Napoleon's ‘hundred days’, he returned to Paris in July to complete the negotiations; France was cut back to its 1790 borders and all looted treasures were confiscated. Tsar Alexander's attempts to create a ‘holy alliance’ of the great powers were famously dismissed by Castlereagh as ‘a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’ (Hinde, 233), and instead he set in place the congress system, which governed relations between European states for the next twenty years. Castlereagh's actions in this period have received much praise; Henry Kissinger lauded his ‘extraordinary ability’ as a diplomat for managing to secure a peace of equilibrium rather than of vengeance (Kissinger, 326).
His domestic reputation was never as impressive. As the leading government figure in the commons Castlereagh became increasingly identified with the harsh, repressive legislation passed at this time. In a debate in July 1817 Henry Brougham drew a link with the repression in Ireland in 1798, blaming Castlereagh for both. This provoked a furious response from Castlereagh and he delivered a powerful defence of his actions, which later led Brougham to recant his charges. By now Castlereagh was one of the most hated men in Britain and he was chased by a mob at Covent Garden during the general election in 1818. The Peterloo massacre of 16 August 1819, when the mounted yeomanry charged a crowd of protesters in Manchester, killing eleven and wounding hundreds, further damaged his reputation as he was forced to defend what had been done. Castlereagh was assailed in popular prints and poems, of which Percy Bysshe Shelley's The masque of anarchy (1819) was one of the most famous: ‘I met Murder on the way, He had a mask like Castlereagh.’ Lord Byron attempted a mock epitaph for Castlereagh: ‘Posterity shall ne'er survey, A nobler grave than this. Here lie the bones of Castlereagh: Stop, traveller, and piss’ (Geoghegan, Castlereagh, 57). In 1820 when the Cato Street conspirators plotted to assassinate the entire cabinet they almost came to blows over who would be the one to kill Castlereagh.
Last years Following the death of his father on 6 April 1821 Castlereagh succeeded as 2nd marquess of Londonderry. He remained in the commons as the title belonged to the peerage of Ireland, but was required to sit for a British constituency: he represented Orford until his death. He accompanied the new king, George IV, on a state visit to Ireland later in the year and was surprised to discover that he was now popular; he joked that this was due to his personal beauty rather than anything he had done. Depressed by the loss of his father, and worn out by his immense workload, Castlereagh became increasingly erratic and unstable in the summer of 1822. On 9 August he broke down in tears while talking to the king, after making wild allegations about his own misconduct. Later in the day he accused his close friend Wellington of being part of a conspiracy against him, before admitting that he had lost his mind. On 12 August 1822 he committed suicide at his farm at North Cray Place, in Kent, stabbing himself in the neck with a penknife; he died instantly. He was buried at Westminster Abbey and his funeral carriage was jeered loudly as it passed through the streets. Part of the inscription on his tomb reads: ‘Ireland will never forget the statesman of the legislative union.’ He was succeeded, as 3rd marquess of Londonderry, by his half-brother, Charles Stewart (qv), who published his correspondence in twelve volumes between 1848 and 1853.
Reputation When thinking about writing his memoirs towards the end of his life Castlereagh reflected wryly that whatever job he was given suddenly became the most important in the empire. He became chief secretary just in time for the 1798 rebellion and the passing of the Act of Union, he was war secretary when the decisive Peninsular campaign was being organised, and he was foreign secretary for the Congress of Vienna and the intensive negotiations that determined the shape of postwar Europe. It was a controversial career and the memory of his Irish activities cast a long shadow over his life. Daniel O'Connell (qv) once declared that Castlereagh was ‘the assassin of his country’, while the younger Henry Grattan (qv) (1789–1859) believed that for his role in the union ‘he undoubtedly deserved to die’ (Geoghegan, Castlereagh, 4–5). Others were inclined to be more generous. Long an opponent, Henry Grattan urged his son not to be too hard on Castlereagh because he loved Ireland, while Jonah Barrington (qv), the great chronicler of union corruption, believed that he was ‘friendly, though cold; and fair, though ambiguous’ (Barrington, i, 331). John O'Hagan's (qv) popular nineteenth-century nationalist poem ‘How did they pass the union?’ provided an easy caricature for subsequent generations: ‘And thus they passed the union, By Pitt and Castlereagh. Could Satan send for such an end, More worthy tools than they?’ Castlereagh was prepared for his posthumous reputation. In his famous defence in July 1817 he admitted that ‘with respect to Ireland, I know I shall never be forgiven’ (Geoghegan, Castlereagh, 54), but he defended his actions on the grounds that he had done what was best for Ireland and the empire. More than any other Irish politician, Castlereagh epitomised the opportunities provided by post-union politics. He became a leading – for a time the leading – politician in the British house of commons, and won a glittering reputation as an international statesman. As Metternich reflected upon hearing of his death: ‘The man is irreplaceable’ (Kissinger, 312).