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Chapter Five

[Ireland 1800-1850 Copyright © 2001 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Perceval and the Prince Regent 

(October 1809 to May 1812)

Summary. The Government was chiefly concerned with pursuing the war against Napoleon who was still all-powerful on the Continent. British participation was largely confined to the navy, the Mediterranean, and the Spanish Peninsula. Wellington established a secure base at Torres Vedras outside Lisbon from which the French could be attacked. The Irish Government under Wellington's brother William Wellesley-Pole pursued a programme of practical reforms. The Catholics, attempting to broaden the base of the Catholic Committee fell foul of the Convention Act and had to settle for a Catholic Board. a short-lived attempt was made to secure the repeal of the Act of Union. At this point began the rise of Daniel O'Connell, the stormy petrel of Irish politics. Whenever he appeared strife followed.As the king became finally incurably mad, the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent, and leaving the Whigs, the friends of his youth, retained his father's ministers.


Perceval’s Ministry

The Catholic Committee

Progress of the War

The Rise of O’Connell

Government Administration


Perceval’s Ministry 

[October 1809] After the ministry of the dying Duke of Portland collapsed following the duel of Castlereagh and Canning, Spencer Perceval stitched together another ministry. The Marquis Wellesley, (Lord Wellington’s elder brother) an Irishman with views similar to Castlereagh's, replaced Canning as Foreign Secretary, while the Earl of Liverpool became Secretary for War. A younger brother of the marquis, William Wellesley-Pole, became Irish Secretary. Another brother, Henry Wellesley, replaced the marquis as ambassador to the Spanish Cortes. On the resignation of the Marquis Wellesley as Foreign Secretary in February 1812 Castlereagh succeeded him, and held that post until his death in 1822. Apart from a period at the Board of Control in charge of British affairs in India Canning was out of office until he succeeded Castlereagh in 1822, though he was employed on other missions. He was therefore out of office during one of the most important decades in British history, forever associated with the names of Wellington and Castlereagh. He and Castlereagh however co-operated on the question of Catholic Emancipation which both of them favoured. Canning, being out of office and not constrained by cabinet responsibilities took the leading part in the campaign for emancipation. 

George Canning’s father was from Garvagh, county Londonderry, Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, was from county Down, and the Wellesley brothers were from county Meath. The eldest brother was Richard Colley Wellesley, second Earl of Mornington, raised to the Irish peerage as Marquis Wellesley. The second brother was William who changed his named to Wellesley-Pole and was raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom as Baron Maryborough. The third boy was Arthur was raised to the peerage as Viscount Wellington, Marquis of Douro, and Duke of Wellington. The fourth boy was Gerald who took Holy Orders and became rector of the enormous new fashionable church of St. Luke, Chelsea, near London. The youngest boy was Henry, raised to the peerage as Baron Cowley; he had a distinguished career in the diplomatic service but did not work in Ireland. As Castlereagh’s titles were in the peerage of Ireland he was eligible for election to the House of Commons. (So too later was Lord Palmerston.) The Marquis Wellesley had been created Baron Wellesley in the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1797, and sat in the House of Lords from that date, having previously sat in the House of Commons and the Irish House of Lords. He had been to Eton and Oxford with Lord Grenville, and had known Addington at Oxford. 

It was believed in Dublin that the Lord Lieutenant, Richmond, objected to Wellesley-Pole on the grounds that he might offend the Catholics. But he proved an able and energetic administrator, and followed the guidelines given to Hardwicke and Richmond. Like Castlereagh he was often attacked by the Press, but he was able to counterattack. 

[1810] Among his very first actions on coming to Dublin was to institute a review of prison conditions, and to undertake penal reform. This was the result of various adverse Reports of the Inspector General of Gaols in Ireland tabled in the House of Commons (DEP 9 July 1808) He brought in an Irish Gaol Act (1810) to commence his reforms. He provided for the payment of chaplains, including Catholic chaplains, out of public funds. He gathered the women prisoners in Dublin together and gave them their own chaplain. He favoured penitentiaries where the prisoners were taught a trade and given work to do. He provided ‘uniform suits of comfortable apparel’ for sixty poor female prisoners sentenced to three years transportation.  He began the removal of lunatics from common gaols and established special asylums for them. The Richmond General Asylum for Lunatics was established, and the Richmond Institute for the Industrious Blind. He allowed the Insurrection Act to lapse, and contented himself with a modest Arms Act (1810) for the control of firearms and a restricted Insurrection Act (1810). The new Act removed the right of the Government to search houses for arms. He suspended the Townlands Fines Act (1781) with regard to illicit distillation, preferring to use extra patrols of troops. With the ever-increasing excises placed on spirits to help pay for the War illicit distillation flourished with all the crimes associated with the Prohibition era in America. (Under the 1781 Act all the people in a townland - a section of a parish - were fined if a still was found in it.) He passed an Act allowing the licensing of stills of a size of at least forty four gallons. He passed an Irish Lighthouse Regulation Act (1810) and commissioned Thomas Telford to survey the proposed new route from Holyhead to London. A lightship was placed on the Kish Bank that lay across the approaches to Dublin harbour. He pushed forward the construction of the new packet harbour at Howth and it came into use in July 1810. (In October 1809 a Dublin newspaper gave an account of Fulton’s paddleboat on the Hudson SNL 31 Oct 1809.) He kept the Board of Inland Navigation in being though the original sum of half a million pounds was now expended, and it was instructed to advise on any new projects. In 1810 he followed Spencer Perceval in opposing a motion of Sir Henry Parnell for a select committee to consider the commutation of tithes, giving the same reasons as Perceval. A Commission for Irish Public Records was appointed which was eventually to carry out a work of national importance. 

William Wellesley-Pole was the first of a long line of capable administrators sent to Ireland after the Union. There can be little doubt that some at least of his impressive record stemmed from the fact that his short-lived predecessors failed to bring their ideas to fruition, and the his brother Arthur was more interested in the war than in the administration of Ireland. But it showed what could be done when an able person put his mind steadily to the job. The Secretary’s office ceased to be an appendage of that of the Lord Lieutenant and became the chief administrative office in Ireland. The Irish Secretary began to be called Chief Secretary. (See also below on the abolition of sinecures.) The office of the Lord Lieutenant became more and more one of dignity. Ireland gradually ceased to be a bit of a backwater, but was kept up with developments in Britain and at times anticipated developments there. The office of Lord Lieutenant was an expensive one. The Duke of Richmond’s official salary was £20,000 a year, but he was obliged to spend £38,000 on maintaining the dignity of the office. In 1810 an additional £10,000 was voted for him for a single year until the Civil List could be revised. An ability and willingness to pay part of the costs of the office became conditions for being offered the post. 

In 1810, Spencer Perceval, John Foster, William Wellesley-Pole, and others were appointed Irish Treasury Commissioners. In the same year, a young man named Robert Peel, shortly after finishing university where he had a double first class degree in classics and mathematics, was elected MP for the borough of Cashel. His father purchased the seat for him. Also in 1810, Sir John Newport, while attacking the increased spending and taxes in Foster’s budget noted the increased prosperity brought to Ireland by his own Corn Importation Act. 

The Bog Commissioners presented their reports, and they claimed that about three million acre were recoverable. The obstacles were immense. For example, many Irish estates were encumbered, with creditors having first claim on any capital. The Report was never used. The Irish Government considered the reports for several years but not until 1819 was it decided to leave bog reclamation to private enterprise. 

            About this time Lord Cloncurry and other magistrates began holding regular petty sessions of the magistrates’ courts.

               The local penny post in Dublin was extended, and four posts a day were delivered to each sub-post office. A Militia Interchange Act (1811) was passed to enable militia regiments to serve in other parts of the British Isles without having to depend on volunteers from each regiment. Irish militia regiments in England were forbidden to wear Orange emblems when in uniform.

The English educationalist, Joseph Lancaster visited Ireland spreading his views on education, and he received a warm welcome. In December some gentlemen met in Dublin to see if there was some way of putting his views into practice. At this time in England there were two gentlemen putting forward their sharply contrasting views regarding the education of working-class children. By education was largely meant teaching the three Rs, reading, writing and religion. By teaching religion was meant teaching the Bible. This was common ground. But with regard to teaching and the management of schools there were two rival theories, one promoted by Joseph Lancaster and the other by Andrew Bell. The contest between them became known as ‘The Struggle between Bel and the Dragon’ (See Book of Daniel, Chapter 14). Andrew Bell was a strong supporter of the Established Church. He wished to see all education controlled by members of that Church, and considered that all education was to be for the benefit of religion. His idea of education was to fill a child’s mind with facts, chiefly facts about the Bible, and relied on rote learning. Later he followed Lancaster’s teaching methods. Joseph Lancaster, also believed in religious education, but not under the control of the clergy of any particular Church. He thought that children of all denominations should be taught together, and taught those elements which were common to all branches of Christianity. The clergy of the individual denominations could then separately impart their particular tenets. Schools he considered as the equivalent of factories for imparting education, and devised a regimented system where older children helped to teach the younger ones. The struggle between these two systems was to be-devil efforts at improving education in Ireland for the next century. Most of the clergy of the major Churches preferred Bell’s theories, with the proviso however that they should have exclusive control over the education of their own adherents. The Government, mindful of the dire effects of separate education in producing a spirit of sectarian division, preferred Lancaster’s system. Even Peel supported Lancaster. 

The policy of treating the Catholics fairly within existing law was (officially at least) continued. The Minister for War, Lord Liverpool, hearing that there were Orange lodges in the army forbade such, and also forbade the wearing of Orange badges by any military units. (The Orange Order promptly changed its constitution, dropping the secret articles.) Another circular was sent out from the Adjutant General's office making clear that Catholic soldiers were not to be paraded to church services but were to be allowed to attend mass privately.                     

In 1810 Irish industry was beginning to feel the effects of the Continental System. Several merchants, especially among those engaged in the linen trade became bankrupt. (In accordance with the then existing laws the first persons to file suits of bankruptcy against a merchant who failed to pay a bill had the best chance of being paid.) The Lord Lieutenant authorized the advancing of loans from public funds to merchants in temporary distress. The opening of new markets especially in the Spanish colonies soon relieved the distress. 

The distress had an unexpected side-effect, namely, an increase in the number of demands for repeal of the Act of Union (1800) on the part of the merchants and tradesmen of Dublin. Trade was not prospering very well in Dublin at the time for a variety of reasons. Those with capital preferred to invest outside Dublin where waterpower was available, where the trade guilds of merchants did not restrict development, and where trade unions or combinations did not make excessive demands. Those merchants in Dublin connected with the carriage trade lost some business when members of the Irish Parliament no longer came to Dublin to reside for some months each year. It was easy to blame all problems on the Act of Union. The merchants and journeymen who objected to the Union were mostly Protestants, and of a decidedly Orange complexion. For them restoration of a native Parliament meant the continuance of the policy of 'ascendancy'.  (After Emancipation O'Connell was to get most of his early support from Catholic tradesmen in Dublin and deluded himself that Protestant tradesmen would advocate the establishment of a Catholic Parliament.) 

            On the 18th September 1810 a meeting was held in Dublin with the High Sheriff in the chair and a young journalist named Frederick William Conway as secretary to the meeting. Daniel O'Connell was among the speakers. It was resolved to petition Parliament for the restoration of an Irish Parliament. Interest died down as quickly as it arose, and the petition was left in the hands of young Mr. Conway with nobody prepared to pay the expenses. [Top] 

The Catholic Committee 

In November 1809 the newly reconstituted Catholic Committee assembled with 58 members present, and with the Earl of Fingall in the chair. The petition was revised and transmitted to Grattan. The War was going badly in Spain and the Whig leaders felt that they would soon return to office as people got tired of the war. Wellington had a habit of weeding out incapable officers and sending them home. The Whigs (and Napoleon) relied over-much on their reports printed in English newspapers about conditions in Spain. They were anxious that the Catholics should not present their petition before that, and when they did, that they would modify their stance somewhat with regard to securities. Lord Grenville contacted the Earl of Fingall while Lord Grey contacted the leaders of the English Catholics. The English Catholics met on the 1st February 1810 and passed various resolutions. In one, the 'Fifth Resolution', they agreed in general terms to some form of security. In Ireland however both the Catholic laity and the Catholic bishops refused to change their stance. In addition the Irish bishops stated that only bishops could discuss matters of Church discipline. (This latter point seems to have been directed at the English Catholic lawyer, Charles Butler, with whom Milner had an everlasting feud. The Irish bishops always accepted Milner's version of events even when he was in a minority of one among the English Vicars Apostolic.) The Irish bishops' pastoral (1810) was then issued. They bound themselves not to accept any bull, brief, rescript, or any other communication from the Pope while he was a prisoner of the French. 

At a public meeting in Tipperary it was suggested that those concerned with selecting an Irish bishop should bind themselves to choose only from among those priests whose loyalty to the crown was incontestable. This became known as Domestic Nomination. This issue became confused later as various clerical factions struggled for modifications in the manner of appointing Irish Catholic bishops. When rights conceded to the crown lapsed with the last of the Stuarts, and most of the chapters of canons that had the right to elect were non-existent, the matter was regulated in Ireland by local custom. The Holy See was not opposed in principle to granting a negative role to a Protestant monarch in the selection of Catholic bishops in places like Canada, Ireland, or Gibraltar, where Catholic dioceses came under a Protestant monarch. A Protestant ruler could not be allowed to nominate officially a bishop for a diocese, but would be allowed officially to lodge an objection. This power would be granted by means of a Concordat like the one the Holy See made with Napoleon, and was called a veto, from the Latin veto I forbid. (Unofficially, the Protestant monarch could suggest, or favour, or object to a particular candidate.) A candidate could also request the support of a particular king or minister, and we know that Dr. Curtis in Armagh asked for the support of the Duke of Wellington. The essential role of the Pope was to confirm a choice sent to him, or make a selection from a list sent to him. There was no reason why a candidate could not send his own name to Rome, and St Oliver Plunket in Armagh in fact did this over a century earlier. When making his decision, the Pope, or the cardinals appointed for that purpose, took into account recommendations or warnings sent to them by interested parties. The Pope was not opposed to a veto. In considering the dispute between the Vetoists and Anti-vetoists we must remember that neither side was right or wrong, but the Anti-vetoists were opposing the express will of the Pope in the matter. The Anti-vetoists at first could claim that the Pope was then a prisoner of the French, and could not be regarded as a free agent. In the event the Pope delayed making a final decision in principle until 1829 when the Government abandoned any demand for securities. 

In May 1810 Grattan put forward the Catholic petition offering Domestic Nomination as security. In the Lords, Lord Grenville refused to put forward the petition but the Earl of Donoughmore, an Irish peer, a brother of Lord Hutchinson, stepped in. Lord Castlereagh supported the Catholics for the first time since 1801, and in future all cabinets, which hoped for any credibility, had to accept ministers who wished to support the Catholics. Castlereagh, in addition, as Leader of the House of Commons, always ensured that Catholic petitions or motions received parliamentary time. A person less favourable to their cause could have been obstructive. (He was succeeded in the office in 1822 by Canning who followed the same line.) [Top] 

Progress of the War 

In 1810 matters continued to go badly for Perceval's ministry and support for it could not be guaranteed in the House. But Perceval was a tough little fighter, and nobody could think of any better policies, or suggest a more able leader. In Parliament a Committee was appointed to study the state of the currency. It is known to history as the 'Bullion Committee'. It was impressed by the inflation and depreciation of value of the coinage that occurred in Ireland when the circulation of gold was stopped. Accordingly it recommended the resumption of a coinage based solidly on gold.  Nicholas Vansittart, who had briefly been Irish Secretary under Lord Hardwicke, with Castlereagh’s assistance in the House of Commons, had the resumption deferred until after the War.  

Austria had been defeated at Wagram (5 July 1809) and forced to join the Continental System.  Napoleon divorced his barren wife Josephine and married, Marie-Louise, the daughter of the Austrian emperor in April 1810.  In May 1810 Napoleon handed over command of the 350,000 French troops in Spain to Massena. Wellington’s problem was that he was faced with vastly greater numbers of French troops. He could only advance into Spain when the French troops were dispersed. After Talavera, Marshal Soult had concentrated the French army. Wellington withdrew towards the lines he had constructed at Torres Vedras, where he knew he could hold the French in an advanced position indefinitely. He cleared all food from the country as he went. He fought and won a defensive battle at Busaco (27 September 1810) to bring relief to the hard-pressed cabinet. Just before the winter rains arrived he had his army under cover behind the lines.  The lines stretched across a narrow peninsula between the lower Tagus and the sea. Massena, pursuing closely, walked into the trap set for him. For some incredible months he kept his starving troops in the open under the rains before the lines until he was forced to withdraw to feed his army. Massena gave the order to withdraw on 5 March 1811. The initiative passed to Wellington. During the next five years of the Regency Wellington was to bring military glory to Britain and Castlereagh was to match them with diplomatic triumphs. The policies of William Pitt were beginning to pay off, and fittingly it was his most loyal supporters who reaped the glory. It was a tragedy that Spencer Perceval, the courageous politician who did so much to bring about victory, was not there to enjoy it. 

In December 1810, when Wellington was seemingly penned in at Torres Vedras, the king's physicians reported that he no longer had possession of his faculties. A regency was inevitable. Perceval made no concessions to the Prince of Wales. He proposed a limited regency for one year, strict economy for the Prince, a continuation of the War, and no concessions to the Catholics. After searching around to see what better terms he could get, Prince George kept Perceval in office. In doing this he was abandoning the Irish friends of his youth, Lord Moira, Lord Hutchinson, the Earl of Donoughmore, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. But now he was falling more under the influence of the Countess of Hertford and her circle. [Top] 

The Rise of O’Connell 

 Meanwhile in Ireland, O'Connell began that curious struggle with the Government with regard to the Convention Act (Irish Parliament 1793) which was to last until his death. He wanted a forum for agitation, and the Catholic Committee had two drawbacks. Firstly, it could do nothing but petition Parliament for the redress of grievances (and collect money only for that purpose), and secondly the aristocracy too heavily influenced it for his liking. To get round this latter point O'Connell sought  'delegates' from those parts of Ireland (and only those) where his own views were strongly supported. Without the support of these delegates people could say O’Connell was speaking only for himself. Apart from that, the rows among the Catholics continued more fiercely than ever with Keogh now listening to nobody. 

The Convention Act (1793) was aimed at preventing the recurrence of events like the Convention of the Volunteers in 1782 where armed groups (of Protestants) from various parts of Ireland assembled in Dublin and were able to overawe the Government at a time when there were few troops in the country. Contrary to what has been sometimes stated, this Act was not aimed at delegates to the Catholic Committee in 1793 but at delegates to meetings of the newly-formed United Irishmen, in particular a proposed National Assembly of United Irishmen at Athlone. It was carefully crafted solely to prevent assemblies composed of elected delegates from other more local bodies with political agendas, such that it could be regarded as a rival democratic parliament. Under the law private groups could assemble for any lawful purpose in Ireland, such as for the promotion of education or agriculture. Such societies, and even the Orange Order, could federate with each other so long as each remained distinct, and were not ruled by a convention of delegates. Public assemblies could be held for one purpose only, to bring before Parliament petitions for the redress of grievances or to promote the public good. 

These conditions O'Connell found constricting. He wanted a forum that he could claim represented the views  'the Catholics of Ireland'. What he was looking for was something like a modern political party. But there was one very good reason, if no others, why no Irish Government would meet his wishes, and this was the existence of the Orange Order. Anything conceded to O'Connell would be instantly taken up by the extremists in the 'ascendancy' faction, so all legislation dealing with O'Connell's societies was equally aimed at the Orange Order to the mutual disgust of both parties. Yet there seems an element of the irrational in O'Connell's behaviour resulting in a determination never to be bested by the Government. 

In the summer of 1810 he succeeded in getting a resolution passed at a general meeting of Catholics authorizing the Committee to deal with all their affairs, and not merely with petitioning parliament. In December he raised the question of an alleged grievance of a Catholic soldier. He then went on to propose that the Catholic Committee should broaden its base by co-opting new members who had been nominated by rural county groups to conduct their affairs. A letter was sent out by the Catholic Secretary Edward Hay inviting nominations. O'Connell claimed that he was keeping within the letter of the law. 

[1811] Richmond was not inclined to intervene, but Wellesley-Pole sent a circular to all the Irish magistrates warning them of intended breaches of the Convention Act. On the 23rd February 1811 he sent the Dublin police to suppress an attempted meeting of the expanded Catholic Committee. In accordance with previous form the Catholics indulged in angry recriminations among themselves. At a general meeting of the Dublin Catholics on the 9th July it was decided to reconstitute the Catholic Committee. (Apparently these meetings were made into private gatherings by the payment of a subscription at the door.) It was announced that the Committee would have one sole purpose, to petition Parliament for Emancipation, but each county was invited to choose delegates to sit on the Committee. (It was quite feasible to do, as the Dissenters did, and those opposed to the Slave Trade did, to organize local petitions in cities, towns, counties, and parishes, but that was obviously what O’Connell did not want.) Though the Lord Lieutenant issued a proclamation suppressing this new Committee very many eminent people considered that O’Connell had found a loophole. County Louth chose Lord Southwell and Sir Edward Bellew as delegates, while Meath chose Lords Fingall, Netterville, Gormanston, and Killeen. (Wellesley-Pole was also incidentally a Meathman.) Clare elected the banker Nicholas Mahon, who had been a delegate to the Catholic Convention in 1793. Summonses were issued against the noble lords and other delegates. It was agreed between the parties that a few cases would be brought to trial as test cases. In both cases the judges gave the construction of the law desired by the Government, and both sides desisted from further action. [Top] 

Government Administration 

The Irish Government, like the Government in Britain, began a campaign in the courts to curtail the excesses of language used in the Press. It was an age when men used quite vitriolic language in the newspapers about their opponents. The Irish Chief Justice of Common Pleas (Lord Norbury) about this time ruled that a particular libel did not contain 'the grossness of invective' necessary for the attention of the court, nor were the inaccuracies or falsehoods so considerable as to merit its attention either. It was a time of industrial unrest in England and agrarian disturbances in Ireland, and the Government was concerned that violent language might lead to sedition, i.e. popular disturbances. In one trial in Dublin for 'seditious libel' the author was found guilty of using the words 'They insulted, they oppressed, they murdered and they deceived' of the Duke of Richmond's administration. The cases would in fact be of little interest if O'Connell had not managed to involve one unfortunate defendant in his personal feud with the Attorney General, Saurin. 

Wellesley-Pole continued dealing with the routine of government. The Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into publicly-funded education in Ireland were to hand. He introduced an Irish Education Act in 1811 to set up a Board of Education to supervise these schools, chiefly grammar schools, established by grants from public funds. It was passed as the Endowed Schools (Ireland) Act (1813). (This was not the same as the later Board of National Education established in 1831.) He had to procure the survival of the Royal Canal that had debts of over three-quarters of a million pounds and was still uncompleted. The Government took over the canal, completed it to the Shannon, as it was a matter of national interest, and later handed it over to the creditors of the old company. In 1811, John Foster abruptly retired so Wellesley-Pole took over his duties. An Irish Freeholders Act (1811) clarified the law of freehold in Ireland and the rules for registering voters. Each man registering was to testify on oath the number of acres he held by freehold and the income derived from them. A Parliamentary Committee on the Holyhead Road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead made several recommendations, and endorsed the proposal of Mr. Telford for a suspension bridge over the Menai Straits as ‘a very ingenious contrivance’. In 1811 too there was a serious outbreak of agrarian crime in Louth and Meath by groups calling themselves the 'Carders'. In Munster they were called ‘Caravats’ and ‘Shanavests’ seemingly from distinctive articles of dress cravats and old vests. (There was at times a confusion between faction fighters who used these names and secret societies, but the same people may have been involved in both activities.) The Carders may have been named after a carding implement used as a means of torture. Later these groups were generally known as Ribbonmen and were to trouble Ireland for the next half century. The Solicitor General (Kendal Bushe) addressing the jury at a Special Commission in Clonmel said that some people regretted the lapse of the old Insurrection Act but it had not been used since 1803. Nor was the Whiteboy Act (1776) part of the ordinary law of the land, but only applied in proclaimed counties of which there were only seven at present in Ireland where it applied.  

[1812] In 1812, a rather minor fiscal Bill was introduced to end sinecures in Ireland. The term sinecure (sine cura, without care of souls) was derived from medieval papal practice of appointing prelates engaged in special tasks for the Pope as abbots of wealthy monasteries whose superfluous revenues they drew as a salary when engaged in such duties. The monks then elected a prior to carry out the duties of the absent abbot. The system was liable to abuse, and was widely abused, especially by the kings of France who also claimed feudal rights to dispose of Church lands. The same principle was applied to various offices to which a fixed salary or fees were attached. For example, a person could be appointed to a parish, from which he could draw the tithes, while appointing a vicar to carry out the pastoral duties. In time, in some places, the right to draw the tithes became almost completely separated from the pastoral duties, so that a layman could become the owner of the right to the tithes, but he was still obliged to employ a vicar to discharge the pastoral duties. Over the centuries there grew up a number of offices like Master of the Revels, the official employed to provide entertainment to the Lord Lieutenant. The duties had vanished, but the salary remained and was awarded to some court favourite or other. Another was the Chief Remembrancer of the Court of Exchequer, whose duties were discharged by a clerk. The salary in this case went to the Marquis Wellesley. The measure proposed however did not deprive him of his revenue. It merely provided that whenever he ceased to be Chief Remembrancer, the next official appointed would have to undertake the duties in person. As is well-known, the Marquis Wellesley, when he became Lord Lieutenant in 1821, gave up the office, and appointed a Catholic, Anthony Blake as his successor. Blake was thus the first Catholic to be appointed to a high public office since the time of James II. 

But the office of Irish Secretary had itself become a sinecure. The various duties of the office were discharged by the Under-secretaries, one for civil and one for military affairs. The term secretary is itself ambiguous. It is derived from the Latin verb secernere, past participle secretum, to set aside, and meaning those matters the king set aside to deal with personally. It can mean a principle officer of state, or a private secretary. At the time of the Act of Union 1800, the sinecure office of Irish Secretary was merged with the office of the Lord Lieutenant’s Secretary, while the offices of Under-secretaries remained unchanged. When there was a succession of transient Irish Secretaries this did not matter. Nor would it matter if the Under-secretaries were nonentities, or themselves transient figures. As it happened, there were four Under-secretaries between 1800 and 1812, none of them memorable. 

But in 1812, there was appointed an able, and very anti-Catholic Under-secretary named William Gregory, who was determined that none of the rights of his office should be whittled away. He had a very good relationship with Robert Peel, and as Peel was happy to accept his advice, there was no conflict between the Secretary and Under-secretary. After the strongly pro-Catholic Marquis Wellesley was appointed Lord Lieutenant in 1821 he became very obstructive. Finally, in 1827, Lord Anglesey determined to get rid of him, but he managed to cling to office until Anglesey’s re-appointment in 1831. He had the strong support of Peel, the Home Secretary, until Peel’s belated conversion to the Catholic cause in 1828. Thereafter, there was no doubt that the Irish Secretary, or Chief Secretary was in sole charge. Eventually, the office of Under-secretary was removed from the political sphere into that of the civil service, and the Under-secretary became permanent head of the Irish Civil Service. Under-secretaries sat in the Irish Parliament, but never it would seem in the United Kingdom Parliament after 1800 when the Irish Secretary represented the Government in the House of Commons. 

It was unfortunate, to say the least, that three men, with opinions strongly opposed to Catholic claims, should have remained at the heart of the administration of Irish affairs for so long. These were Baron Manners, Lord Chancellor from 1807 to 1827, William Saurin, Attorney General 1807 to 1822, and William Gregory, Under-secretary from 1812 until 1831. Though all three of them were in office together for only ten years, and the youthful Peel, who was strongly who was strongly influenced by them, was Irish Secretary for only six years, yet together they gave the impression that ‘ascendancy’ was a permanent part of the constitution. None of the three were reformers or innovators, nor did they try to turn back the clock. Their chief aim was to prevent the appointment to any public office, not merely of any Catholics, but of any Protestants who favoured the Catholics. Peel however continued to give them his powerful support until 1828. Many Irish Protestants in positions of authority tried to integrate Catholics into public life. But the influence of these three men was out of proportion to their numbers. They set the tone for much of the period. 

In January l812 the year of the restricted regency came to an end, and the Prince Regent assumed full powers. He retained Perceval as Prime Minister. The Marquis Wellesley resigned from the cabinet on the issue of Emancipation, but Castlereagh returned, this time as Foreign Secretary, on the understanding that he could support measures favourable to the Catholics. Napoleon assisted Wellington by withdrawing troops from Spain in order to invade Russia. 

In 1812 there was a partial failure of the potato crop, but it was felt best to continue distilling. 

The Irish Catholics established a Catholic Board similar to the undoubtedly legal English one. Though any gentleman could join it was essentially a Dublin board, which again did not suit O’Connell, whose support was greatest in Munster. A loyal address to the Regent on his accession was drawn up, signed, presented, and graciously received. A Catholic petition and an Irish Protestant petition signed by most of the Irish MP's in favour of Emancipation were presented to Parliament. 

    On the 15th May 1812, the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, was assassinated.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.