Robert Banks Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool, served as Prime Minister from 8 June 1815 to 9 April 1827. He was born in London on 7 June 1770, he was the only child born to Charles Jenkinson, first Earl of Liverpool and his first wife Amelia Watts. She died a month after the baby was born. Liverpool had a half-brother and half-sister from his father's second marriage. His maternal grandmother was part-Indian.
Liverpool was educated initially at Albion House, Fulham; he was at Charterhouse between and 1783 and 1787 and then he was admitted to Christ Church College, Oxford. He was there between 1787 and 1789 and again in 1790: in that year he was awarded his MA. During his 'year out' he travelled in France and witnessed the fall of the Bastille in Paris. After gaining his MA he returned to Europe, visiting Rome, Naples and Florence. Liverpool spoke fluent Latin and French
He was elected as MP for Rye on 18 June 1790 but was unable to take his seat until he was 21; he made his maiden speech on 29 February 1792. A week later he was invited to attend a ministerial meeting conducted by Pitt the Younger, the PM. Following that, he resumed his continental travels, making very detailed observations on the political situation; this was done as a private citizen, not as part of his official duties. In June 1793 he was appointed to the Board of Control for India that was set up by Pitt's India Act. In June 1796 Liverpool's father was elevated to the peerage as Earl of Liverpool; his son took the courtesy title of Lord Hawkesbury and was known as such until he inherited the title in 1808. However, in 1803 he was elevated to the peerage in his own right at Baron Hawkesbury and became the Leader of the House of Lords. Liverpool held a number of government posts prior to becoming Prime Minister in 1812: he was
- a member of the Board of Control for India (1793-96)
- Master of the Royal Mint (1799-1801)
- Foreign Secretary (1801-04)
- Home Secretary (1804-06, 1807-09)
- Secretary for War and the Colonies (1809-12)
It was as Foreign Secretary in Addington's ministry that Liverpool negotiated the short-lived Treaty of Amiens, which was signed with Napoleonic France on 27 March 1802 . While Pitt was seriously ill, Liverpool was in charge of the government and drew up the King's Speech for the official opening of parliament; when Pitt died in 1806, the king pressed Liverpool to accept the post of PM but he refused. He was leader of the Opposition during Lord Grenville's ministry: this was the only time that Liverpool did not hold government office from 1793 until 1827 when he resigned because of ill health. In 1807, he resumed office as Home Secretary in Portland's ministry, succeeding to his father's title the following year.
On 31 October 1809 Lord Liverpool accepted the post of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in the new ministry headed by Spencer Perceval, taking a major part in the establishment of the regency that was needed because of the illness of George III. The Prime Minister, was assassinated on 11 May 1812 and George, the Prince Regent, sought a new PM. The first four men whom he attempted to appoint were unable to form ministries. Liverpool was the Prince Regent's fifth choice for the post. Liverpool reluctantly accepted office on 8 June 1812, hoping to find and train a more brilliant successor. He served until 17 February 1827. During his long tenure of office, he allowed his Cabinet ministers to conduct their duties without overdue interference. Consequently, Liverpool's role has been minimised by historians although the mediatory role of Liverpool was crucial in holding together his ministry.
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. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Liverpool was created a Knight of the Garter at a special ceremony at Carlton House. Thereafter, a peace treaty was concluded with France and Liverpool decided to end the war against America: the Treaty of Ghent was signed on 24 December 1814.
In March 1815, Lord Liverpool made his first important speech as Prime Minister: he introduced new Corn Laws to improve the agricultural situation in the post-war period. However, Napoleon escaped from Elba immediately prior to the speech and the French Wars recommenced, ending only after the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Napoleon surrendered to the British and was exiled to St. Helena where he died in 1821.
The period of Liverpool's ministry between 1815 and 1822 saw great changes take place in England. The government was obliged to repeal the Income Tax imposed by Pitt the Younger as a wartime measure; at the same time there was a stagnation of manufacturing industry leading to unemployment and also a series of bad harvests that led to food riots. Although the government was able to secure £1 million of public funds to finance the building of more Anglican churches, he did little to alleviate the distress felt by workers. There was a number of manifestations of discontent and distress in the period 1811 to 1820:
The Luddites (1811-16)
Luddites were men who took the name of a (perhaps) mythical individual, Ned Ludd who was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest. The Luddites were trying to save their livelihoods by smashing industrial machines developed for use in the textile industries of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Some Luddites were active in Lancashire also. Throughout the period 1811-16 there was a series of incidents of machine-breaking, invariably followed by executions of the culprits.
The Spa Fields Riots
These took place on 2 December 1816. The radical meeting on 15 November had been reconvened and Arthur Thistlewood and the Watsons led a mob to Clerkenwell where they robbed a gunsmith's shop; they planned to seize the Tower of London and establish a Committee of Public Safety. The mob was dispersed and the leaders were imprisoned. Thistlewood was executed later.
The attack on the Prince Regent's carriage (28 January 1817)
The Prince Regent's carriage was mobbed after the State opening of parliament; its windows were smashed either by stones or the pellet from an air-gun. Parliament believed that a revolution, organised by the numerous Hampden Clubs, was imminent: therefore
- Habeas Corpus was suspended on 3 March (until 1 July initially)
- Seditious meetings were prohibited (Pitt's 1795 Act)
- On 27 March, Sidmouth ordered the Lords Lieutenant to apprehend all printers, writers and demagogues responsible for seditious and blasphemous material.
The government had little success with this latter because juries refused to risk the freedom of the press. Fox's 1792 Libel Act again came into its own and the government managed to have only one printer convicted. There is a clear parallel here to the 1794 Treason Trials.
March of the Blanketeers (March 1817)
This protest was partly against the government£s measures and partly a demonstration and attempt to petition the Prince Regent to do something to relieve the economic depression. It was a peaceful march by hundreds of depressed Manchester cotton operatives, who carried blankets to sleep in - hence the name 'Blanketeers'. It rained violently on the day the march began; the leaders were arrested at Stockport and the protest had fizzled out by Macclesfield. However, the Manchester pattern of discontent in times of hardship created the greatest fears of revolution.The Derbyshire Insurrection (the Pentrich Rising: June 1817)
The Government was worried because there was so much discontent but thought it was caused by the £poison£ of the French Revolution. Consequently the ruling classes feared a revolution in England. Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, had to rely on spies and informers whom he sent out to tour Britain and investigate centres of discontent. Unfortunately, these spies were paid by results and so became agents provocateurs — they stirred up rebellions if they could not find them, so they would be paid.
"Oliver the Spy" went to Pentrich disguised as a depressed worker, found discontent and incited the villagers to rebellion. He made arrangements for an armed march to air their discontents, then informed the local militia of an £armed rising£. Arrests were made of armed men a £revolution in the making£ had been discovered. Six men were hanged (including Jeremiah Brandreth) and Oliver went on to Leeds. Edward Baines proprietor of the Leeds Mercury followed the activities of Oliver, then exposed him. The government was embarrassed; Oliver disappeared. The government£s unwise use of spies and lack of adequate communications actually caused discontent, because spies stirred things up.
The Peterloo Massacre (16 August 1819)
A meeting in Manchester was planned for 9 August to elect Henry Hunt as the working man's popular representative for Lancashire; it had to be cancelled because it was declared to be an illegal gathering. The meeting was reorganised for 16 August and it was held on St. Peter's Field, Manchester to demand parliamentary reform. The meeting was to be addressed by Hunt. The main aim was to demand the reform of parliament as a step towards socio--economic betterment: ordinary people wanted government by the people for the people. The organisers of the meeting were moderate men who wanted a peaceful event that would show that they were respectable working men, worthy of responsibility. The local magistrates brought in the Cheshire Yeomanry to control the crowd of between 50,000 and 60,000 people. The Justices of the Peace decided to arrest Hunt: they also tried to disperse crowd, but did not read the Riot Act. As the Yeomanry moved on Hunt, people crowded on them. The Yeomanry drew their sabres and a troop of hussars, trying to rescue them, caused a panic. The result was eleven dead including two women, and about 400 wounded.
In December 1819 the Government decided that a revolution was afoot and applied repressive policies without enquiring why conditions were as they were. The Six Acts were passed in 1819.
The Cato Street Conspiracy, February 1820
This was the only clear-cut example in the post-war years of extreme, violent republicanism. Thistlewood — now out of gaol — and the Watsons thought up the scheme with the help of George Edwards, another of the Spenceans. They adopted as their headquarters a stable in Cato Street (off the Edgeware Road). An advertisement appeared, saying that the entire Cabinet was to attend a dinner held by the Lord President of the Council. The plan was to
- break into the house of Lord Harrowby in Grosvenor Square and murder the entire Cabinet
- kill the new king, George IV (George III had died on 31 January 1820)
- seize the Tower of London, which was the great arsenal for the army
- seize the Bank of England and
- set up a Provisional Government
The idea was cleverly worked out even though it was quite mad. The only snag was that the whole event was set up by the government and Edwards, who was one of Lord Sidmouth's spies. Edwards helped to organise the plot and then informed the authorities about what was going on. Many of the conspirators were arrested; Thistlewood and four others were hanged; five more were transported.
The Queen Caroline affair, 1820
George, Prince of Wales, married Princess Caroline of Brunswick in 1795. The couple was ill-matched and after consummating the marriage and producing a daughter, they lived separate lives. Caroline eventually went to Europe where she travelled widely, settling in Italy. Her behaviour was questionable; however, it was common knowledge that her husband kept a variety of mistresses. When the Prince of Wales succeeded to the throne on 1820, Caroline returned to claim her rights as Queen Consort. George IV attempted to divorce her but failed. Radicals rallied to her cause as a means of attacking the government and king. It did not take long for Caroline to lose public support; she died shortly after her impolitic attempts to force an entrance to Westminster Abbey at the coronation of George IV.
At the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), Liverpool urged the international abolition of the slave trade; within a few years the other European powers accepted this view. In 1819 he strengthened the British monetary system by restoring the gold standard. Throughout his tenure he insisted that ecclesiastical and other appointments be justified by merit rather than by influence. His attitude toward civil disturbances following industrial and agricultural failures was less enlightened: he suspended Habeas Corpus for in 1817 and imposed other repressive measures such as the Gag Acts of 1817 and the Six Acts in 1819 following the Peterloo Massacre. Later in his ministry, his position on proposals to repeal the Corn Laws and to grant political rights to Roman Catholics was equivocal.
Liverpool was a conscientious and capable PM who succeeded in uniting the old Pittite forces and bringing together well-established and experienced men such as George Canning, Viscount Castlereagh and the Duke of Wellington. In 1822, following the suicide of Castlereagh, Liverpool undertook a Cabinet reshuffle and appointed a number of young men whom he thought had a bright political future: men like Palmerston, Peel and Huskisson. For his Foreign Secretary, Liverpool appointed George Canning.
By coincidence after 1822, there was a period of economic prosperity in Britain and Lord Liverpool tried to reduce taxation to ease the distress being experienced by landowners. Unfortunately, indirect taxes were left at a high rate and this adversely affected the poor who paid premium prices for their bread. In 1825 the prosperity led to speculation on stocks and shares that drained the reserves of the Bank of England and brought about a fiscal crisis. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Frederick Robinson, authorised the issue of Exchequer bills that calmed the situation. Liverpool planned to retire that year when a Bill for Catholic Emancipation passed the House of Commons but was persuaded to stay in office when the Lords rejected the legislation. In 1826 the economy entered another period of depression with the onset of poor harvests; Liverpool was able to secure parliamentary support for the introduction of a sliding scale on corn but he was unable to see through the measure. On 17 February 1827 he suffered a stroke; he resigned from office on 9 April and died at Coombe House, Kingston upon Thames on 4 December 1828.
Gash, N. Lord Liverpool: The Life and Political Career of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool 1770-1828. London 1984.
Petrie, C. Lord Liverpool and His Times. London, 1954.
Last modified 4 March 2002