It was not so long ago that I discussed with a regular contributor to the Conservative History Journal the paucity of Robert Peel biographies. Well, sometimes you wait for ages and then several come at once.

In 2007 we had Douglas Hurd's Sir Robert Peel: A Biography and today the postman delivered Richard Gaunt's new book that I have mentioned in a previous posting. More about it as I read it but as a taster, here is a quotation from Richard Gaunt's musings about Peel's reputation:

At the start of the twenty-first century, we remember Peel for breaking down what he built up (notably his 1842 Corn Law and, more controversially, the Conservative Party itself) or amending what he found (for example, in Ireland and at the Home Office) as well as for the unintended consequences of some of his achievements (not least in respect of the Income Tax and Bank Charter Act). from his youth, Peel was offered up on the altar of Pittite pieties to the future service of the nation. To that extent he has become party of the heroic genealogy of politcal leaders stretching thenceforth from the Younger Pitt by way of Canning down to Gladstone and the triumph of a progressive strand of Conservatism, and/or conservative strand of Liberalism. To designate him a false 'Tory', a renegade 'Conservative', a 'Liberal Tory', a 'Liberal Conservative' or a proto-Gladstonian Liberal, is to play, semantically, with the career of a shrewd, ambitious and complex political operator and try and give it helpful characterisation within a sometimes limited politicla vocabulary. Peel's own outlook and views combined a rigid adherence to certain fixed principles - his Protestantism, his executive outlook, his attachment to Bullionist theory and his growing commitment to the tenets of Free Trade - within an overall process of self-education as to the means of furthering them.
As they used to say in examination papers: discuss.


  1. Simon Harley Says:
  2. My 40-year old copy of "Cabinet Government" by Sir Ivor Jennings is adamant that by his method of business Peel was the best Prime Minister we've ever had. Unfortunately I don't know enough to confirm or deny his suggestion!

  3. Helen Says:
  4. I shall see what Richard Gaunt has to say on the subject.

  5. It may be a bit late in commentating buy maybe the reason that there is a paucity of Peel biographies was that Norman Gash's work was so enjoyable and comprehesive that it killed any need for them for forty years.

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