PEEL, William Yates (1789-1858), of Bonehill Cottage, Tamworth, Staffs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

12 June 1817 - 1818
1818 - 1830
1830 - 1831
1835 - 1837
1847 - 13 Dec. 1847

Family and Education

b. 3 Aug. 1789, 2nd 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 Edmund Peel*, Jonathan Peel*, Laurence Peel* and Robert Peel*. educ. Harrow 1802; St. John’s, Camb. 1806; L. Inn 1812, called 1816. m. 17 June 1819, Lady Jane Elizabeth Moore, da. of Stephen, 2nd earl of Mountcashell [I], 4s. 9da. d. 1 June 1858.

Offices Held

Commr. bd. of control June 1826-June 1827; under-sec. of state for home affairs Jan. 1828-July 1830; ld. of treasury July-Nov. 1830, Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; PC 20 Dec. 1834.

Maj. central Staffs. militia 1813.

Biography

Peel, a tall and strikingly handsome man, never fulfilled the promise of his boyhood or escaped from the shadow of his elder brother Robert.1 On his marriage in 1819 (when his hopes of a quiet honeymoon at Burford Bridge were dashed by an invasion of ‘a noisy crowd of their acquaintances’), his father settled £64,000 on him. On Sir Robert Peel’s death in 1830 he received a further £71,000.2 He was returned unopposed for Tamworth on the family interest in 1820 and 1826. He drew attention to himself by voting with opposition against the appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May 1820, when Robert stayed away.3 He supported the call for remission of the prison sentences imposed on the Members Masseh Lopes and Swann for electoral bribery, 11 July 1820. He again raised eyebrows as one of the ‘most remarkable’ of the ‘deserters’ who voted with opposition against the omission of Queen Caroline’s name from the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821. By doing so he gave the impression that Robert, who was once more absent, was of the same mind, though Huskisson reckoned that the latter was genuinely unwell and claimed to ‘have no influence’ over William.4 He endorsed a Birmingham merchants’ petition for inquiry into distress, 8 Feb., but this was the end of his rebellion, if such it was, against the Liverpool ministry. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and with government for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and against economical reform, 27 June. He favoured a large reduction in the compensation paid to Desfourneux, 28 June 1821.5

Five months later Robert Peel, out of office since 1818, agreed to enter the cabinet as home secretary. He made to William what he subsequently described as ‘an unequivocal offer’ of the under-secretaryship:

I said the mere official duties were light; that the parliamentary duties would be by far the heaviest, and also of the greatest importance to me. I dare say I said what I feel, that the parliamentary under-secretary would be like my right hand to me ... I said the performance of these duties must be difficult at first, that nothing but experience could render them less so, but that experience would. I declared my readiness to do anything in my power to make them easier.

William, who was under pressure from his father to better himself, took umbrage at the reference to his inexperience and peremptorily declined the post, to which Robert appointed his brother-in-law George Dawson*. As a result, William fell foul of his father who, as he told Robert

accused me of having broken my pledge to him, and went on to say that I had shuffled through life, that I had given up the church, the law and now politics; that I had lost one of the finest opportunities that ever was offered to a young man, and desired me to state my grounds for such conduct. There was one remark he made which I cannot omit, which was that ‘He thought my not being appointed to the office ... was so great a reflection upon me that I could not attend Parliament’.

His attempt to explain the reasons for his refusal led his father to round on Robert; and lengthy explanations were required before the hurt feelings on all sides were soothed.6

On 11 Feb. 1822 Peel opposed the opposition call for extensive tax reductions to relieve distress:

He believed that ministers were quite as anxious to relieve the distress of the country as those who dealt in nothing but assertion and complaint. He was glad that reductions were about to be made from the highest offices to the lowest, as he was convinced that such economical arrangements would tend to remove the evils complained of.

He voted silently to the same effect, 21 Feb., and divided against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June. He spoke and voted against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers, 10 May 1822. He voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 2 June, and inquiry into chancery delays, 5 June 1823. He ‘entirely approved’ government’s ‘neutrality’ on the French invasion of Spain, 30 Apr. He objected to Lord Cranbourne’s sale of game bill, 2 June, because it would concentrate game in the hands of large landowners. Like his brother, he supported Lord Nugent’s Catholic franchise bill, 30 June 1823, but he warned that he ‘would not go one iota beyond its provisions, in the way of concession’. He opposed inquiry into bear-baiting, 26 Feb. 1824, when he voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation. He presented a Tamworth petition for repeal of the duty on excise licenses, 5 Mar.,7 and welcomed the remission of duties on raw silk, 8 Mar. He opposed Stuart Wortley’s attempts to amend the game laws, 11 Mar., 31 May 1824, 7 Mar. 1825. He voted with government on the case of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the Liverpool and Manchester railway project, 2, 11 Mar. 1825,8 6 Apr. 1826. He favoured repeal of the usury laws, 8 Feb. 1825. He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May. When opposing the relief bill, 19 Apr., he declared that ‘the longer he lived the more danger he saw in granting to the Catholics emancipation’, and that ‘he would never consent to entrust them with political power’: the measure would not solve the problems of Ireland, which lay in ‘the want of a resident gentry, the want of capital, the want of commerce, and of moral and religious education’. He presented a petition against alteration of the corn laws and voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr.9 He was in the ministerial majorities for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 6, 10 June 1825. He presented and endorsed a Tamworth petition for the gradual abolition of slavery, 1 Mar. 1826.10 He supported Littleton’s proposals for reform of the ‘unjust and disgraceful’ regulations governing private bill committees, 19 Apr., 28 Nov. 1826.

In December 1825 Robert Peel sounded Lord Liverpool on the possibility of promoting Dawson to make room for William. Nothing came of this, but in June 1826 Robert secured his appointment as a commissioner of the board of control. Informing their father, he observed that ‘the duties are very important and may be made, by the exertion of the individual appointed, of great consequence’; and he professed to have ‘not the slightest doubt that William will be a most useful public servant’.11 Peel, who thought that the general election had ‘proceeded in a manner favourable to the Protestant cause’, had little chance to justify Robert’s faith. He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar., and was a government teller in the division against inquiry into the mutiny at Barrackpoor, 22 Mar. 1827. On 4 May he explained why he had ‘some reasons differing from those’ of Robert for resigning his office on Canning’s accession to power:

Independent of the feeling which they had in common upon the Catholic question, he saw no reason for confiding in the government ... He admired ... [Canning’s] talents ... and he had no fear, while he was assisted by the cooler heads and more regulated minds of the ministers who had now left him; but, when he saw him surrounded by a crowd of visionary theorists, of political economists, and the professors of what were called the liberal principles of the present day, he could not look without alarm at the dangers to which the country was exposed ... The government gave no sufficient security for the Protestant establishment.

He was at one with Robert in disclaiming any intention of offering ‘rancorous and factious opposition’, 11 May. He supported Wood’s bill to legalize the sale of game, 7 June 1827.12 He was privately contemptuous of the Goderich ministry, and in December 1827 played a part in the exchanges which presaged a reconciliation between his brother and the Huskissonites.13 When Robert returned to the home office under Wellington in January 1828 he took William with him as under-secretary.14

Peel voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He was a ministerial teller in the division on civil list pensions, 20 May. As his brother preferred personally to handle the bulk of departmental business in the House, there was little for him to do in that line. He opposed Rumbold’s proposal to institute coroners’ inquests on the deaths of confined lunatics, 1 Apr., and explained why the militia estimates could not be readily reduced, 30 Apr. He was outraged by Dawson’s Londonderry speech of 12 Aug. 1828 calling for a final settlement of the Catholic question. Unlike Robert, he had had no inkling that Dawson’s opinions on the issue had changed:

I know of no plea but insanity which can justify his conduct ... I would rather see my wife and children in a workhouse and break stones on the highway for the rest of my days than ... have been guilty of such mean, time-serving apostacy ... As George Dawson, ‘citizen of the world’ or ... Member for Londonderry he had a right to say what he pleased, but as secretary to the treasury he had in my opinion no right to make the speech he did, unless he received the sanction of the duke of Wellington. But if the government had come to the resolution that Catholic emancipation was to become a cabinet measure, was a Derry dinner the occasion upon which they wished their intentions to be proclaimed to the world? Objectionable as Dawson’s speech is as coming from the secretary to the treasury, I consider it as most unjustifiable as coming from your brother-in-law.15

Yet when, six months later, Robert told him that he had decided to stay in office to help carry emancipation, William pledged his support.16 The opponents of relief reckoned that he was in fact mortified by his brother’s conversion and, to make his point, ostentatiously absented himself from London; but he put his seat at Robert’s disposal in case he was turned out of Oxford University, and in the House, 12 Feb. 1829, announced his support for ‘concession accompanied by securities’ as the only means of averting civil war in Ireland, though he admitted to some misgivings.17 He presented a Staffordshire petition against relief, 19 Feb., and on 2 Mar. brought up one from Tamworth against any measure which endangered the church, but claimed to believe that the bill, ‘far from destroying, will tend to preserve our Protestant constitution’. He voted silently for it, 30 Mar. 1829.

Peel was in the government majorities against parliamentary reform proposals, 11, 18, 23 Feb. 1830. On 23 Mar. he spoke at unusual length against inquiry into distress, dismissing calls for a return to ‘a depreciated paper currency’ and arguing that ministers had ‘only to proceed in the good work of reduction and retrenchment, and the country will be finally righted’. He was now an enthusiast for Catholic emancipation, which he said had pacified Ireland and ‘exceeded even the most sanguine expectations’. He refuted allegations that the country was possessed by ‘a revolutionary spirit’ or had lost confidence in the ministry. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, divided with his brother against the Galway franchise bill, 24, 25 May, handled the second reading of the militia ballot suspension bill, 25 May, and replied to complaints of the increase in rates under the new Police Act, 15 June. Shortly before the general election of 1830, when he made way at Tamworth for Robert and came in for Yarmouth on the Holmes interest, Peel transferred to the treasury in order to ‘escape the confinement of the home office and see more of his family’.18 In October there was a fleeting notion of his standing for the Liverpool seat made vacant by Huskisson’s death.19

Peel was in the ministerial minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, and resigned with his colleagues. Soon afterwards he sought to dispel the idea that Robert wished to withdraw from politics and leave the new opposition to fend for itself.20 He took leave to attend to urgent private business, 30 Nov. 1830. He was in ‘high spirits’ at the Grey ministry’s discomfiture in the debate on the civil list, 4 Feb. 1831.21 He advocated repeal of the duty on printed calico, 11 Feb. On 7 Mar. he attacked the ministerial reform bill, which he said was ‘replete with danger in principle, and injustice in its operation’, and likened its authors to doctors practising a policy of ‘kill and cure’. Refusing to be cowed by the threat of a dissolution, he called on

every man who respects church property, who is opposed to the vote by ballot, annual parliaments, and universal suffrage ... to reject this unconstitutional measure, which, if carried into effect, must end in the overthrow of the monarchy, and the annihilation of existing rights and privileges.

He complained of the plan to preserve Lord Lansdowne’s borough of Calne as a two-Member constituency while depriving Tamworth of a seat, 14 Mar. He voted against the second reading of the measure, 22 Mar., but only paired for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. By the last week of March it was known that in the event of a dissolution he intended to stand for his university, among whose members, especially the rural clergy, there was widespread alarm over the bill, as Peel pointed out in the House to Lord Palmerston, one of the sitting Members, 22 Mar. 1831. At the general election, though initially handicapped by gout, he came forward with Goulburn, a fellow opponent of reform, against Palmerston and his colleague Cavendish. While he professed to be ‘not averse to the consideration of a comparative measure of reform’, he grounded his appeal for support on his conviction that

those classes of the community which are most distinguished for intelligence and capacity to form a sober and dispassionate judgement on public affairs are adverse to the extreme change in our representative system which has been proposed by ... government.

He and Goulburn were comfortably returned.22

Peel joined in the chorus of outrage at the offensive language of a Stockport workers’ petition against the reform bill presented by Hunt, 1 July 1831. He defended the grant for Oxford and Cambridge professors’ lecturing allowances, 8 July 1831 (and again, 13 Apr. 1832). He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and was in the opposition minorities for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. On 24 Aug. he condemned the £10 borough franchise as the ‘most objectionable’ feature of the bill: it would ‘give to the democratic influence of this country an unfair, unjust, and undue preponderance’. The ‘intelligent portion of the people’, he claimed, now recognized the measure as ‘the commencement of a series of revolutionary and democratic operations, the conclusion of which must be the overthrow of all the established institutions’. He voted against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. In a discussion on Irish tithe reform, 6 Oct. 1831, he argued that the Irish Protestant clergy were ‘well entitled’ to protection.

Peel voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, going into committee, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He spoke against the division of counties and the urban freeholders’ county vote, 27 Jan., and supported an unsuccessful attempt to raise the householder qualification in larger boroughs, 3 Feb. He approved the government’s proposal to advance money for the relief of Irish clergymen impoverished by the campaign to withhold payment of tithes, 13 Mar., but deplored their failure to act resolutely against this threat to the church. He advised them to abandon their scheme for mixed education in Ireland, 16 Mar.; but it is not clear whether it was he or Robert who voted against the Irish education grant, 23 July. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and was in the minority against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. He voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but on 13 June welcomed, on behalf of ‘the Protestant interest’, the proposal to give Dublin University an additional Member. He agreed with several Irish Catholic Members that a Glasgow petition against the Maynooth grant was too offensively worded to be printed, 10 July; but three days later he condemned their threat to withdraw support from the government in protest against their interim measure to deal with the problem of tithes. He acknowledged the Irish secretary Smith Stanley’s genuine concern for the integrity of the Protestant establishment but, prophetically, suggested that

his power is not equal to his wishes. It is well known that the government, for the last eighteen months, have been controlled by political unions and associations, and I know that those bodies have no very strong feeling in favour of the church. It is proposed that this subject should stand over until a reformed Parliament; but ... I have no confidence in a reformed Parliament; and I think that it is not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, that the question should at once be settled. I would appeal to any man, in or out of this House, who is possessed of property, whether landed or colonial, or embarked in manufacturing or commercial pursuits, if he feels that property equally secure now, as he did before the reform bill was introduced?

Peel had grown ‘more and more anxious to retire from Parliament’, and did so at the dissolution in December 1832.23 He re-entered the Commons as a junior member of his brother’s first ministry in 1835, but increasingly ‘dreadful’ attacks of gout compelled him to give up his seat in 1837.24 He made a brief reappearance in the House in July 1847, but the death of his wife the following September broke his heart and removed him from public life. He came through a serious illness in 1848 and led ‘a secluded life’ until his death at his then residence at Baginton Hall, Warwickshire, in June 1858.25

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 39, 81.
  • 2. Von Neumann Diary, i. 37-38; PROB 11/1772/396; IR26/1236/289; Gent. Mag. (1830), i. 557.
  • 3. Williams Wynn Corresp. 243.
  • 4. Broughton, Recollections, ii. 140; Add. 38742, f. 171; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 27 Jan.; Macpherson Grant mss 361, Macpherson Grant to Lady Stafford, 27 Jan. 1821.
  • 5. The Times, 29 June 1821.
  • 6. Gash, 296-7; Parker, Peel, i. 303-4; Add. 40605, ff. 121-31.
  • 7. The Times, 6 Mar. 1824.
  • 8. Ibid. 12 Mar. 1825.