PEEL, Edmund (1791-1850), of Bonehill House, Tamworth and Hednesford Lodge, Cannock Chase, Staffs.
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Family and Educationb. 8 Aug. 1791, 3rd s. of Sir Robert Peel†, 1st bt. (d. 1830), of Drayton Manor, Staffs. and 1st w. Ellen, da. of William Yates, calico printer, of Springside, Bury, Lancs.; bro. of Jonathan Peel*, Laurence Peel*, Robert Peel* and William Yates Peel*. educ. Harrow 1805. m. 2 Jan. 1812, Emily, da. of John Swinfen of Swinfen, Staffs., 3s. d. 1 Nov. 1850.
Peel briefly held a junior commission in the navy before he married and settled at Bonehill, which he initially leased from his father but subsequently bought outright. By 1825 his father had advanced him £60,000 of his personal fortune, and he received an additional £75,000 on Sir Robert Peel’s death in 1830.1 He was the only one of the six Peel brothers to show any taste for the business on which the family’s wealth was founded, and he operated calico printing mills at Fazeley, Staffordshire and in Lancashire.2 In October 1824 he declined to become involved in a scheme to put up one of the younger Peels for Newcastle-under-Lyme, having at that time ‘particular reasons for not wishing to have any parliamentary connection’ with the borough.3 There was a notion of his standing for Leicester on the corporation interest in 1826, when it seemed possible that he might obtain a seat, ‘perhaps for life’, at a modest cost; but it came to nothing.4 His support for Catholic relief, which was unique in his family, ruled him out as a candidate for Norwich on ‘the Tory interest’ at the same election; and when his eldest brother Robert, the home secretary, asked the premier Lord Liverpool if a government seat could be provided for Edmund, it proved to be too late.5
Peel took Robert’s side over his rift with Canning in 1827, when he wrote:
It has been my misfortune to differ from you in opinion on one subject. I feel at this moment that on every other there is no sacrifice I would not make, nor any exertion I would not employ to meet your wishes and advance your views.6
He was reported in November 1827 to have been invited to stand for Newcastle at the next election, but when he was ‘sounded’ on this by a local man, ‘like a discreet politician he maintained the most impenetrable silence’.7 At the general election of 1830 he did intervene at Newcastle, where the Huskissonite John Evelyn Denison* was up against two candidates on the ‘Blue’ or independent interest. Peel, who declared his support for free trade, relaxation of the corn laws and an end to the East India Company’s monopoly, had high hopes of success, and was surprised to find himself bottom of the poll after the first day. He refused Denison’s offer of ‘terms of accommodation’ and persevered, but his alleged heavy expenditure in ‘buying votes’ only secured him third place behind the ‘Blue’ candidates. Both Denison and William Huskisson* suspected that he had been instructed by ministers to ensure that Denison was defeated, even if he could not win himself. They consoled themselves with the reflection that Peel, who they thought had been ‘infamously imposed upon’, would ‘have leisure to reflect on the folly of such a game, when he comes to pay his bills’. He was reckoned to have spent between £7,000 and £8,000, though in 1834 he himself admitted to a total outlay of about £9,500 at that and the next two Newcastle elections.8 He continued to cultivate the borough and came forward in 1831, despite being in an ‘infirm state of health’ as a result of ‘a serious accident’. He again espoused free trade ‘as opposed to the dark and secret workings of base monopolies’. He claimed to have ‘ever been an advocate for the reform of abuses, and the reduction of the public burthens’; and he welcomed the Grey ministry’s reform bill’s proposed extinction of rotten boroughs, enfranchisement of large industrial towns and extension of the franchise to £10 householders. At the same time, in harmony with the widespread feeling of resentment in Newcastle, he condemned its intended denial of the freeman franchise to future generations. He topped the poll, with the greatest number of votes ever obtained in the borough.9
Ministers may have expected Peel to support reform.10 If so, they were disappointed, for on 5 July 1831 he delivered his maiden speech against the reintroduced bill, which he said could not be ‘carried without the greatest injustice to those who have long enjoyed the elective franchise, and without some danger of disturbing too suddenly the existing and well-tried institutions of the country’. He voted against the second reading the following day, and was in the opposition minorities for use of the 1831 census as a basis for disfranchisement, 19 July, and against Chippenham’s loss of a Member, 27 July. On 4 Aug., however, he voiced his ‘approbation of the plan of giving representatives to populous towns and districts’, as embodied in schedule C, though he thought that Stoke-upon-Trent was entitled to an additional Member. He opposed the exemption of Scottish factories from the limitation of children’s working hours, 27 July. He presented the petition of Newcastle apprentices for preservation of their franchise, 17 Aug., was in the minority of 17 for the retention of existing voting rights, 27 Aug., and on 31 Aug. vainly proposed an amendment to preserve the vote in perpetuity for resident freemen by birth, servitude and marriage. When the Irish secretary Smith Stanley remarked that he had stood at Newcastle ‘with an assurance that he was a reformer’, Peel retorted that ‘I did directly the reverse; for I was returned for Newcastle after giving the most distinct declaration that I would oppose this bill’. He voted against its third reading and passage, 19, 21 Sept. 1831. Thereafter his attendance and his resistance to reform lapsed. He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and was credited with having paired in favour of its third, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided with the ministerial majority for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May, and was voted thanks for this action at a meeting of Newcastle reformers, 16 May.11 When he presented their petition for supplies to be withheld until the reform bill was carried, 22 May, he explained:
I ... have no hesitation in stating, that if the reform bill should pass into a law, it ought to be carried by its original promoters, rather than by those who have been its opponents; for in the one case I think it very possible that a satisfactory arrangement may take place, while on the other, there can be no arrangement whatever.
He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.
Peel was easily beaten at Newcastle at the 1832 general election, but he was successful there under the auspices of his brother’s first ministry in 1835. He remained an advocate of free trade, but was alarmed by Chartism and the movement to reduce factory working hours, and by 1844 was ‘getting out of his own trading concerns as fast as he could’.12 For most of his adult life he was ‘miserably afflicted with the gout’, mainly as a result of ‘partaking to excess of the luxuries of the table’.13 He died in November 1850, four months after Robert.14
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. PROB 11/1772/396.
- 2. N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 63; Add. 40401, f. 238; 40513, f. 359; 40605, f. 382; VCH Staffs. ii. 219.
- 3. Add. 40605, f. 277.
- 4. Add. 40381, ff. 342, 345; 40386, f. 276; Gash, 404.
- 5. Add. 40305, ff. 176, 178; 40385, f. 333; 40386, f. 241.
- 6. Add. 40393, f. 258.
- 7. Add. 52447, f. 119; Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/36/5.
- 8. Add. 38758, f. 222; 40393, f. 258; 40408, f. 67; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 75, 76; Gash, 636; Staffs. Mercury, 17, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 9. Staffs. Mercury, 23, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 10. See Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham, Wed. [?4 May 1831].
- 11. Staffs. Mercury, 19 May 1832.
- 12. Add. 40408, f. 67; 40409, ff. 144, 306; 40426, ff. 387, 429; 40427, f. 41; 40513, f. 359; Peel Letters, 254-5.
- 13. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 229, 288.
- 14. PROB 8/244 (21 Jan. 1851); 11/2126/61.