Lords of Parliament: Studies, 1714-1914

Lords of Parliament: Studies, 1714-1914

Lords of Parliament: Studies, 1714-1914

Lords of Parliament: Studies, 1714-1914

Synopsis

This book provides a series of case studies illuminating the role and character of the House of Lords over two centuries, from 1714 to 1914. The figures treated in the essays are Edmund Gibson (Bishop of Lincoln and later London), the first Earl Cowper, the Sixth Earl of Denbigh, Lord Thurlow, the second Earl Grey, the Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Bedforda nd Earls Spencer and Fitzwilliam, Lord Derby, and Lord Selborne and Bonar Law. These figures are all selected for the ways in which their careers shed light in one way or another on key moments and key issues in British political history, with particular reference to the evolution of the House of Lords. Overall, the nine studies show that the role of the House of Lords was much more complicated and much less reactionary than conventional wisdom has allowed.

Excerpt

The common perception is of a House of Lords in thralldom to the king's government before 1832, and to the House of Commons and the party governments that came to control the Commons, after 1832. In recent years it has become increasingly evident that such a picture is a serious distortion. Never much studied, and almost entirely neglected for several decades, since the 1980s the history of the House of Lords has benefited from a blossoming of scholarly interest. The resulting reinterpretation has been, and continues to be, broad and extensive. Far from having been a mere pawn of ministers such as Sir Robert Walpole, the Lords in the eighteenth century saw opposition as persistent and sometimes better organized and more dangerous than that in the Commons. Though the Lords as a body were usually inclined to support the king's government, this attitude cannot fully be understood in terms of the once standard explanations: the traditional loyalty of the aristocracy to the Crown; the Lords' community of interest, both as a House and as an order, with the monarchy; governmet's skillful manipulation of patronage in church and state, which included much that might catch the fancy of any peer or bishop; the large creations of the younger Pitt. Neither by themselves nor taken together are these considerations sufficient to explain the Lords' behavior.

Successful management of the upper House also required taking account of strongly held opinions within that body. The famous pun was inapt: the bishops never forgot, their heavenly Maker, at least; and on matters of religion and morals they were not responsive to government pressure. Peers too were likely to have personal or party principles from which it was difficult to budge them. Loyalty to the Crown was undoubtedly prominent among those principles, but it was a different kind of loy-

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