The House of Lords in the Age of Reform, 1784-1837: With an Epilogue on Aristocracy and the Advent of Democracy, 1837-1867

By A. S. Turberville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII1
The Spiritual Peers and the Crisis
of Reform

Out of the majority of forty-one members of the House of Lords who defeated the second Reform Bill at its second reading on 8 October, 1831, twenty-one were Bishops.2 If they had voted the other way, the Bill would have been passed by one vote. Thus it was easy to argue that the Bishops had defeated the Reform Bill. Grey had warned them of the danger they courted by their stubborn attitude,3 and in the mob rowdyism at the prorogation and in the weeks that followed they were the especial objects of popular venom. Hooted and hustled in public, many of them went in danger of their lives. At the end of October, the savage rioting that broke out in Bristol took a brutally anti-clerical turn, the Bishop's Palace being burned to the ground. On Guy Fawkes Day that year, the most popular effigy on the bonfires was not the Pope of Rome, but a mitred Bishop of the Anglican Establishment. Even before the bloody affray at Bristol, John Stuart Mill considered the fate of the Church in England as sealed. 'The first brunt of public indignation has fallen upon the Prelacy,' he wrote. 'Every voice is raised against allowing them to continue in the House of Lords, and if I did not express my conviction of their being excluded from it before this day five years, it is only because I doubt whether the House itself will last so long.'4

____________________
1
The opening paragraph of this chapter, and part of the second, are the work of the Editor.
2
Out of the thirty prelates in the House of Lords, two voted for the measure, seven abstained, and twenty-one voted against. There were four Irish Bishops among the twenty-one.
3
H. of L., 3 October, 1831 ( Parl. Debates, 3rd Series, Vol. VII, pp. 967-8).
4
Letters of J. S. Mill (ed. Hugh Elliott, 1910), Vol. I, pp. 4, 7. [Ed.]

-297-

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