Lord Palmerston: a biography

  • Brown, David, (Principal Investigator)

    Project: Research

    Description

    Palmerston's public career was a long and dramatic one. He first entered Parliament in 1807 and served in a number of important public offices, as a Junior Lord of the Admiralty (1807-09) and Secretary at War (1809-28) before entering into the highest offices of government as Foreign Secretary (three times, 1830-34, 1835-41, 1846-51), Home Secretary (1852-55) and Prime Minister (twice: 1855-58, 1859-65). It is a career important not just for its longevity but for its impact: Palmerston dominated Whig and Liberal politics during these years and his influence extended over foreign affairs and also domestic life. With good reason did William Gladstone observe when Palmerston died that, 'Death has indeed laid low the most Towering Antlers in all the forest'. Palmerston's life spanned a long chronological period (1784-1865) and dramatic social and cultural change. Born before the French Revolution and living to see if not the age of 'mass urban democracy' of the later nineteenth century, at least its inception; witnessing and indeed presiding over the rise and arguably also the fall of the 'pax Britannica'; living through a period of intense social and economic change; Palmerston's life is a prism through which to view some of the most important developments and processes in the fashioning of modern Britain and Europe. Yet it is a life that has proved difficult to explain. Palmerston spanned the political spectrum, from Tory to Whig to Liberal and he has been presented as both a reactionary figure and a progressive democratic politician. He is described frequently as a paradoxical figure: simultaneously elitist and populist; liberal and conservative; reckless war-monger and careful, moderate, diplomat. There is currently no fully rounded study of Palmerston which takes account of current work on nineteenth century British history or which explores the way Palmerston manipulated his environment and circumstances, indeed even fashioned a new approach to politics (in taking politics beyond Westminster, for example). Earlier studies are all limited by focusing upon a particular aspect or period of his life or career. A new biography, which will consider Palmerston's personal affairs and habits, as well as the cultural history of Victorian aristocratic life, offers an opportunity to explore important themes in nineteenth century British political culture. Within this, for example, it will consider the problematic, yet highly significant, debates about liberalism and whiggery and about political representation, national identity and popular politics, while also giving due weight and attention to the more familiar aspects of Palmerston's career and activities as a leading foreign minister of the period. The book will be a political biography examining Palmerston's place in nineteenth century British and international history. This will be the first study to offer a coherent examination of the evolution, meaning and impact of Palmerstonian politics, looking at Palmerston as more than simply the embodiment of a bellicose, blustering, school of foreign policy. Significantly, and in the light of recent work, it will take account of Palmerston's standing with the public and representations of Palmerstonism. It will go beyond a straight-forward narrative of the life by examining Palmerston's interaction with movements in political culture; to consider not only what Palmerston did, but what this meant to contemporaries, how he fashioned an image and how this was used and manipulated. The methodology and approach to this book are outlined further in the 'Objectives' section and in the Case for Support.

    Key findings

    The research and published biography of Palmerston has significantly advanced understanding of this key political figure and added to historical work on liberalism, democracy and diplomacy in the 19th century
    StatusNot started