Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool

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The Earl of Liverpool

Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (cropped).jpg
Detail of painting by Thomas Lawrence
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
8 June 1812 9 April 1827
Regent George, Prince Regent (1812–1820)
Preceded by Spencer Perceval
Succeeded by George Canning
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
In office
1 November 1809 11 June 1812
Prime Minister Spencer Perceval
Preceded by The Viscount Castlereagh
Succeeded by The Earl Bathurst
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
25 March 1807 9 April 1827
Prime Minister
Preceded by The Lord Grenville
Succeeded by The Viscount Goderich
In office
17 August 1803 5 February 1806
Prime Minister
Preceded by The Lord Pelham
Succeeded by The Lord Grenville
Home Secretary
In office
25 March 1807 1 November 1809
Prime Minister The Duke of Portland
Preceded by The Earl Spencer
Succeeded by Richard Ryder
In office
12 May 1804 5 February 1806
Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger
Preceded by Charles Philip Yorke
Succeeded by The Earl Spencer
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
20 February 1801 14 May 1804
Prime Minister Henry Addington
Preceded by The Lord Greenville
Succeeded by The Lord Harrowby
Personal details
Robert Banks Jenkinson

(1770-06-07)7 June 1770
London, England
Died4 December 1828(1828-12-04) (aged 58)
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England
Resting placeHawkesbury Parish Church, Gloucestershire, England
Political party Tory
Louisa Hervey
(m. 1795;died 1821)
Mary Chester
(m. 1822)
Parents Charles Jenkinson (father)
Education Charterhouse School
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Signature Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool Signature.svg

Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, KG , PC , FRS (7 June 1770 4 December 1828) was a British statesman and Prime Minister (1812–1827).


As Prime Minister, Liverpool called for repressive measures at domestic level to maintain order after the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. He dealt smoothly with the Prince Regent when King George III was incapacitated. He also steered the country through the period of radicalism and unrest that followed the Napoleonic Wars. He favoured commercial and manufacturing interests as well as the landed interest. He sought a compromise of the heated issue of Catholic emancipation. The revival of the economy strengthened his political position. By the 1820s he was the leader of a reform faction of "Liberal Tories" who lowered the tariff, abolished the death penalty for many offences, and reformed the criminal law. By the time of his death, however, the Tory Party was ripping itself apart.

Historian John Derry says he was:

[A] capable and intelligent statesman, whose skill in building up his party, leading the country to victory in the war against Napoleon, and laying the foundations for prosperity outweighed his unpopularity in the immediate post-Waterloo years. [1]

Important events during his tenure as Prime Minister included the War of 1812 with the United States, the Sixth and Seventh Coalitions against the French Empire, the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars at the Congress of Vienna, the Corn Laws, the Peterloo Massacre, the Trinitarian Act 1812 and the emerging issue of Catholic emancipation. Scholars rank him highly among all British prime ministers. [2]

Early life

Jenkinson by Lawrence, 1790s 2nd Earl of Liverpool 1790s.jpg
Jenkinson by Lawrence, 1790s

Jenkinson was baptised on 29 June 1770 at St. Margaret's, Westminster, the son of George III's close adviser Charles Jenkinson, later the first Earl of Liverpool, and his first wife, Amelia Watts. Jenkinson's 19-year-old mother, who was the daughter of a senior East India Company official, William Watts, and of his wife Begum Johnson, died from the effects of childbirth one month after his birth. [3]

Jenkinson was educated at Charterhouse School and Christ Church, Oxford. [4] In the summer of 1789, Jenkinson spent four months in Paris to perfect his French and enlarge his social experience. He returned to Oxford for three months to complete his terms of residence, and in May 1790 was created Master of Arts.

He won election to the House of Commons in 1790 for Rye, a seat he would hold until 1803; at the time, however, he was below the age of assent to Parliament, so he refrained from taking his seat and spent the following winter and early spring in an extended tour of the continent. This tour took in the Netherlands and Italy; at its conclusion he was old enough to take his seat in Parliament. It is not clear exactly when he entered the Commons, but as his twenty-first birthday was not reached until almost the end of the 1791 session, it is possible that he waited until the following year.

With the help of his father's influence and his political talent, he rose relatively fast in the Tory government. In February 1792, he gave the reply to Samuel Whitbread's critical motion on the government's Russian policy. He delivered several other speeches during the session, including one against the abolition of the slave trade, which reflected his father's strong opposition to William Wilberforce's campaign. He served as a member of the Board of Control for India from 1793 to 1796.

In the defence movement that followed the outbreak of hostilities with France, Jenkinson, was one of the first of the ministers of the government to enlist in the militia. He became a Colonel in the Cinque Ports Fencibles in 1794, and his military duties led to frequent absences from the Commons. His regiment was sent to Scotland in 1796, and he was quartered for a time in Dumfries.

Massacre of Tranent, 1797

In 1797, the then Lord Hawkesbury was the cavalry commander of the Cinque Ports Light Dragoons who ran amok following a protest against the Militia Act at Tranent in East Lothian; twelve civilians were killed. It was reported[ by whom? ] that "His lordship was blamed for remaining at Haddington, as his presence might have prevented the outrages of the soldiery." [5]

He was appointed a Colonel of militia in 1810. [6]

His parliamentary attendance also suffered from his reaction when his father angrily opposed his projected marriage with Lady Louisa Hervey, daughter of the Earl of Bristol. After Pitt and the King had intervened on his behalf, the wedding finally took place at Wimbledon on 25 March 1795. In May 1796, when his father was created Earl of Liverpool, he took the courtesy title of Lord Hawkesbury and remained in the Commons. He became Baron Hawkesbury in his own right and was elevated to the House of Lords in November 1803, as recognition of his work as Foreign Secretary.[ citation needed ] He also served as Master of the Mint (1799–1801). [4]


Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Secretary

In Henry Addington's government, he entered the cabinet in 1801 as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in which capacity he negotiated the Treaty of Amiens with France. [7] Most of his time as Foreign secretary was spent dealing with the nations of France and the United States. He continued to serve in the cabinet as Home Secretary in Pitt the Younger's second government. While Pitt was seriously ill, Liverpool was in charge of the cabinet and drew up the King's Speech for the official opening of Parliament. When William Pitt died in 1806, the King asked Liverpool to accept the post of Prime Minister, but he refused, as he believed he lacked a governing majority. He was then made leader of the Opposition during Lord Grenville's ministry (the only time that Liverpool did not hold government office between 1793 and after his retirement). In 1807, he resumed office as Home Secretary in the Duke of Portland's ministry. [4]

Secretary of State for War and the Colonies

Lord Liverpool (as Hawkesbury had now become by the death of his father in December 1808) accepted the position of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in Spencer Perceval's government in 1809. Liverpool's first step on taking up his new post was to elicit from the Duke of Wellington a strong enough statement of his ability to resist a French attack to persuade the cabinet to commit themselves to the maintenance of his small force in Portugal.

Prime Minister

Liverpool by Lawrence Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool by Sir Thomas Lawrence.jpg
Liverpool by Lawrence

When Perceval was assassinated in May 1812, Lord Liverpool succeeded him as Prime Minister. [4] The cabinet proposed Liverpool as his successor with Lord Castlereagh as leader in the Commons. But after an adverse vote in the Lower House, they subsequently gave both their resignations. The Prince Regent, however, found it impossible to form a different coalition and confirmed Liverpool as prime minister on 8 June. Liverpool's government contained some of the future great leaders of Britain, such as Lord Castlereagh, George Canning, the Duke of Wellington, Robert Peel, and William Huskisson. Liverpool is considered a skilled politician, and held together the liberal and reactionary wings of the Tory party, which his successors, Canning, Goderich and Wellington, had great difficulty with.

Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1819 CongressVienna.jpg
The Congress of Vienna by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1819

Liverpool's ministry was a long and eventful one. The War of 1812 with the United States and the final campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars were fought during Liverpool's premiership. It was during his ministry that the Peninsular Campaigns were fought by the Duke of Wellington. France was defeated in the Napoleonic Wars, and Liverpool was appointed to the Order of the Garter. At the peace negotiations that followed, Liverpool's main concern was to obtain a European settlement that would ensure the independence of the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, and confine France inside her pre-war frontiers without damaging her national integrity. To achieve this, he was ready to return all British colonial conquests. Within this broad framework, he gave Castlereagh a discretion at the Congress of Vienna, the next most important event of his ministry. At the congress, he gave prompt approval for Castlereagh's bold initiative in making the defensive alliance with Austria and France in January 1815. In the aftermath, many years of peace followed.

The Corn Laws and trouble at home

Agriculture remained a problem because good harvests between 1819 and 1822 had brought down prices and evoked a cry for greater protection. When the powerful agricultural lobby in Parliament demanded protection in the aftermath, Liverpool gave in to political necessity. Under governmental supervision the notorious Corn Laws of 1815 were passed prohibiting the import of foreign wheat until the domestic price reached a minimum accepted level. Liverpool, however, was in principle a free-trader, but had to accept the bill as a temporary measure to ease the transition to peacetime conditions. His chief economic problem during his time as Prime Minister was that of the nation's finances. The interest on the national debt, massively swollen by the enormous expenditure of the final war years, together with the war pensions, absorbed the greater part of normal government revenue. The refusal of the House of Commons in 1816 to continue the wartime income tax left ministers with no immediate alternative but to go on with the ruinous system of borrowing to meet necessary annual expenditure. Liverpool eventually facilitated a return to the gold standard in 1819.

Inevitably taxes rose to compensate for borrowing and to pay off the debt, which led to widespread disturbance between 1812 and 1822. Around this time, the group known as Luddites began industrial action, by smashing industrial machines developed for use in the textile industries of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Throughout the period 1811–16, there were a series of incidents of machine-breaking and many of those convicted faced execution. [7]

Print of the Peterloo massacre published by Richard Carlile Peterloo carlile.JPG
Print of the Peterloo massacre published by Richard Carlile

The reports of the secret committees he obtained in 1817 pointed to the existence of an organised network of disaffected political societies, especially in the manufacturing areas. Liverpool told Peel that the disaffection in the country seemed even worse than in 1794. Because of a largely perceived threat to the government, temporary legislation was introduced. He suspended Habeas Corpus in both Great Britain (1817) and Ireland (1822). Following the Peterloo massacre in 1819, his government imposed the repressive Six Acts legislation which limited, among other things, free speech and the right to gather for peaceful demonstration. In 1820, as a result of these measures, Liverpool and other cabinet ministers were targeted for assassination. They escaped harm when the Cato Street conspiracy was foiled. [8]

Lord Liverpool argued for the abolition of the slave trade at the Congress of Vienna, and at home he supported the repeal of the Combination Laws banning workers from combining into trade unions in 1824. [9]

Catholic emancipation

During the 19th century, and, in particular, during Liverpool's time in office, Catholic emancipation was a source of great conflict. In 1805, in his first important statement of his views on the subject, Liverpool had argued that the special relationship of the monarch with the Church of England, and the refusal of Roman Catholics to take the oath of supremacy, justified their exclusion from political power. Throughout his career, he remained opposed to the idea of Catholic emancipation, though did see marginal concessions as important to the stability of the nation.

The decision of 1812 to remove the issue from collective cabinet policy, followed in 1813 by the defeat of Grattan's Roman Catholic Relief Bill, brought a period of calm. Liverpool supported marginal concessions such as the admittance of English Roman Catholics to the higher ranks of the armed forces, the magistracy, and the parliamentary franchise; but he remained opposed to their participation in parliament itself. In the 1820s, pressure from the liberal wing of the Commons and the rise of the Catholic Association in Ireland revived the controversy.

By the date of Sir Francis Burdett's Catholic Relief Bill in 1825, emancipation looked a likely success. Indeed, the success of the bill in the Commons in April, followed by Robert Peel's tender of resignation, finally persuaded Liverpool that he should retire. When Canning made a formal proposal that the cabinet should back the bill, Liverpool was convinced that his administration had come to its end. George Canning then succeeded him as Prime Minister. Catholic emancipation however was not fully implemented until the major changes of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 under the leadership of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, and with the work of the Catholic Association established in 1823. [10]

Final years

Liverpool by George Hayter, 1823 2nd Earl of Liverpool.jpg
Liverpool by George Hayter, 1823

Liverpool's first wife, Louisa, died at 54. He soon married again, on 24 September 1822, to Lady Mary Chester, a long-time friend of Louisa. [11] Liverpool finally retired on 9 April 1827 after suffering a severe cerebral hemorrhage at his Fife House residence in Whitehall two months earlier, [12] and asked the King to seek a successor. He suffered another minor stroke in July, after which he lingered on at Coombe until a third attack on 4 December 1828 from which he died. Having died childless, he was succeeded as Earl of Liverpool by his younger half-brother Charles. He was buried in Hawkesbury parish church, Gloucestershire, beside his father and his first wife. His personal estate was registered at under £120,000.


Historian R. W. Seton-Watson sums up Liverpool's strengths and weaknesses:

No one would claim Liverpool as a man of genius, but he had qualities of tact, firmness and endurance to which historians have rarely done full justice: and thus it came about that he held the office of Premier over a period more than twice as long as any other successor of Pitt, long after peace had been restored to Europe. One reason for his ascendancy was that he had an unrivaled insight into the whole machinery of government, having filled successively every Secretaryship of State, and tested the efficiency and mutual relations of politicians and officials alike.... He had a much wider acquaintance with foreign affairs than many who have held his high office. [13]

Liverpool was the first British Prime Minister to regularly wear long trousers instead of knee breeches. He also became the first Prime Minister to adopt a short haircut instead of long hair tied in a queue. He entered office at the age of 42 years, and 1 day, making him younger than all of his successors. He was also the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 19th century.

In London Liverpool Street Station and Liverpool Road, Islington, are named for Lord Liverpool. The Canadian town of Hawkesbury, Ontario, the Hawkesbury River and the Liverpool Plains, New South Wales, Australia, Liverpool, New South Wales and the Liverpool River in the Northern Territory of Australia were also named after Lord Liverpool. [14]

Lord Liverpool's ministry (1812–1827)


Arms of the Earls of Liverpool Baron of Hawesbury coa.png
Arms of the Earls of Liverpool

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  1. John Derry in John Cannon, ed. The Oxford Companion to British History (2009) p 582
  2. Paul Strangio; Paul 't Hart; James Walter (2013). Understanding Prime-Ministerial Performance: Comparative Perspectives. Oxford UP. p. 225.
  3. D. Leonard 2008 Nineteenth-Century British Premiers: Pitt to Rosebery. Palgrave Macmillan: p. 82.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm 1911.
  5. Tranent Massacre Scottish Mining Site.
  6. History of Parliament article by R.G. Thorne.
  7. 1 2 "Lord Liverpool". Victorian Web. 4 March 2002.
  8. Ann Lyon (2003). Constitutional History of the UK. Routledge. p. 319. ISBN   9781135337001.
  9. W. R. Brock (1967). Lord Liverpool and Liberal Toryism 1820 to 1827. CUP Archive. p. 3.
  10. Richard W. Davis, "Wellington and the 'Open Question': The Issue of Catholic Emancipation, 1821–1829," Albion, (1997) 29#1 pp 39–55. doi : 10.2307/4051594
  11. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 29. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 988. ISBN   978-0-19-861379-4.Article by Norman Gash.
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 March 2015. Retrieved 14 September 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Spartacus Educational article.
  13. R. W. Seton-Watson, Britain in Europe (1789–1914): A Survey of Foreign Policy (1937) (1937), p. 29.
  14. "Place Names Register Extract – Liverpool River". NT Place Names Register. Northern Territory Government . Retrieved 2 May 2015.

Further reading

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Hon. John Leveson Gower
Richard Penn
Member of Parliament for Appleby
With: Richard Ford
Succeeded by
Hon. William Grimston
Richard Ford
Preceded by
William Dickinson
Charles Long
Member of Parliament for Rye
With: Charles Long 1790–1796
Robert Dundas 1796–1801
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Member of Parliament for Rye
With: Sir John Blaquiere 1801–1802
Thomas Davis Lamb 1802–1803
Succeeded by
Thomas Davis Lamb
Sir Charles Talbot
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir George Yonge, Bt
Master of the Mint
Succeeded by
Charles Perceval
Preceded by
The Lord Grenville
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by
The Lord Harrowby
Preceded by
The Lord Pelham of Stanmer
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Lord Grenville
Preceded by
Charles Philip Yorke
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
The Earl Spencer
Preceded by
The Earl Spencer
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Richard Ryder
Preceded by
The Lord Grenville
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Viscount Goderich
Preceded by
Viscount Castlereagh
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
Succeeded by
The Earl Bathurst
Preceded by
Spencer Perceval
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
8 June 1812 9 April 1827
Succeeded by
George Canning
Honorary titles
Preceded by
William Pitt the Younger
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
The Duke of Wellington
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Jenkinson
Earl of Liverpool
Succeeded by
Charles Jenkinson
Baron Hawkesbury
(writ of acceleration)