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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number qualified to vote:


Number of registered freeholders:

8,493 (1821); 9,189 (1831)


6 Feb. 1828GOULBURN re-elected after appointment to office
10 May 1831HENRY JOHN CHETWYND TALBOT, Visct. Ingestre
25 Aug. 1831SIR JOHN WILLIAM HEAD BRYDGES vice Ingestre, vacated his seat

Main Article

Armagh, the seat of the primate of Ireland, was dismissed as a ‘mere village’ in one radical source, but was, in fact, in ‘a very improving state’, partly owing to its linen market, which was rebuilt in 1829.1 In addition to the cathedral and archiepiscopal palace, it boasted a public library and observatory, and, according to Henry David Inglis, was

a thriving, respectable and agreeably situated town ... and in the appearance of the private houses and of the shops there are evidences, not merely of wealth, but of what some would call gentility, for want of a better word.2

The borough lay within the parish of Armagh and was controlled by a corporation which had long since wrested power from the inhabitants; there were only a handful of freemen and the franchise lay in the sovereign, who acted as returning officer, and 12 free burgesses. As had been the case throughout the eighteenth century, it was recognized that the archbishop of Armagh ‘reigns paramount’, and his influence was directed through his seneschal, Arthur Irwin Kelly, the long-serving sovereign. The primate met the £5 admission fee on the co-option of burgesses, who were nearly all clergymen of the diocese, while it was usual for the Member returned at parliamentary elections to pay a gratuity of 20 guineas to the town clerk.3

Since 1800 the archbishop had been William Stuart, a younger son of George III’s favourite, the 3rd earl of Bute, and he naturally returned anti-Catholic ministerialists. The general election caused by the king’s death in 1820 conveniently allowed the primate to complete the agreement made between him and Lord Liverpool’s government in 1818, whereby the sitting Member, John Leslie Foster*, was replaced by his son and namesake, who had recently come of age.4 On 25 Mar. 1820 the inhabitants agreed a congratulatory address to the primate, in reply to which he stated, of his son, that ‘whether he has parliamentary talents I know not, but I am persuaded he will ever remember his connection with Armagh with peculiar pleasure and omit no opportunity to promote the interests of the town’.5 Yet he had privately to lecture his son that, since he exercised the electoral patronage on behalf of the established church, he expected him to support the Protestant cause and administration.6 Stuart probably voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., as did his father in the Lords, 17 Apr. 1821, and thereafter sided with ministers. Petitions from the spirit merchants of Armagh for lower duties and cheaper licences were presented to the Commons, 22 Feb. 1822, 5 Mar. 1823, and another from the importers of earthenware against the Union duties was brought up, 19 Mar. 1823. Stuart presented the inhabitants’ anti-slavery petition, 9 May 1826.7

After the death of Archbishop Stuart by accidental poisoning in 1822, he was replaced by Lord John George de la Poer Beresford, the brother of the 2nd marquess of Waterford and a great benefactor of the town. The new patron brushed aside what he took to be an approach relating to the representation from the former Member Daniel Webb Webber (it was actually a request for ecclesiastical patronage for his son), but clearly intended to find another high Tory, and Sir Robert Inglis, Member for Dundalk, was briefly thought of in this light.8 It was noted in mid-1826 that Stuart ‘will be compelled to resign in favour of some saintly scion of the house of Waterford’ (he was later Member for Bedfordshire), but the primate surprisingly did not use the vacancy as a fallback for his other brother Lord George Thomas Beresford, who lost county Waterford at the general election that year.9 Instead he provided a seat for the anti-Catholic Irish secretary, Henry Goulburn, who was defeated at Cambridge University, as a ‘friend to the church of Ireland’.10 Goulburn, who was gratified not to have to use one of the government seats available at Harwich, informed his wife that the primate’s offer included ‘a perfect permission to give up whenever it suited my convenience to stand again for Cambridge’ and ‘was very handsomely made and was by me very readily accepted more on account of the manner in which it was made than any advantage which ... I can derive from it’.11

A petition from the corn millers of Armagh for a protecting duty on foreign flour was presented to the Commons by Brownlow, the county Member, 9 Mar. 1827, and one from the tanners for repeal of the leather duty was brought up by William Peel, Member for Tamworth, 20 Mar. 1828. The inhabitants’ petition for improving the state of employment in Ireland was presented by Brownlow, 10 June.12 The Protestants agreed a petition against Catholic relief, which was brought up in the Lords by Lord Eldon, 28 Apr., and in the Commons by Henry Maxwell, Member for Cavan, 29 Apr. The Catholics of the parish prepared petitions in favour of their emancipation, which were presented, 28 Apr. 1828 (by Caulfeild, the other county Member) and 12 Feb. 1829 (probably by Brownlow).13 In January 1829 Goulburn, who had been returned unopposed at a by-election in February 1828 on his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer in the duke of Wellington’s administration, privately offered to relinquish his seat after the government’s volte-face in favour of emancipation.14 This was evidently declined by the archbishop, who voted against emancipation in the Lords, 4, 10 Apr. The petition from the Catholics against the Subletting Act was presented to the Commons, 12 Feb., and the Lords, 20 Feb. 1829.15 Although a town meeting on 22 Feb. 1830 failed to agree a petition on the introduction of poor laws to Ireland, another on 26 Apr. led to a petition against the increased duty on Irish stamps being forwarded to Goulburn.16 He, the author of this tax rise, presented it on 11 May, when he was attacked by Brownlow on the subject. Different sectional interests in the town had their petitions brought up against the death penalty for forgery, 19 May, complaining of the higher stamp duties, 18 June, and to permit affirmation instead of oath-taking, 18, 24 June 1830.17

No defender of the Protestant interest in the end came forward to challenge Goulburn at the general election of 1830; but, being unpopular on religious and financial grounds with the inhabitants, his name (he was not present) ‘produced such a burst of furious indignation as effectively stopped the proceedings’, and there were disturbances in the borough.18 Despite being deliberately delayed, his return created difficulties for the Beresfords’ interests elsewhere, particularly in Coleraine, and one member of the family thought it was ‘a millstone about his [the primate’s] neck and no advantage’.19 A petition, presented on 5 Nov., alleged that the Member and burgesses should be resident inhabitants and that, as the mayor had illegally held office for more than one year at a time, the election of burgesses during that period was invalid and the corporation should therefore be reconstituted. A petition from the inhabitants, also brought up that day, recited similar abuses and called for an extension of the franchise. However, because the recognizances were not entered into in time, the order for an election committee was discharged, 22 Nov. 1830.20

The inhabitants agreed a petition for Jewish emancipation, which was presented to the Commons by Joseph Hume, 3 Nov., and to the Lords by Earl Spencer, 9 Nov. 1830. A petition calling for reform and the ballot, which was approved at a meeting on 11 Nov., was presented and endorsed by Brownlow, 6 Dec. 1830, when Daniel O’Connell stated that Armagh was ‘completely in the power of a few ecclesiastics’. Another reform meeting on 10 Jan. 1831 prepared a petition which was brought up, 26 Feb., by Brownlow, who presented (but dissented from) one from the tradesmen for repeal of the Union, 29 Mar. The inhabitants’ anti-slavery petition was presented to the Commons, 28 Mar., and to the Lords, 15 Apr. A town meeting on 4 May approved an address congratulating the king on dissolving Parliament and expressing support for the Grey ministry’s reform bill.21 Goulburn, who the previous year had left office with his colleagues and of course opposed the bill, successfully contested Cambridge University at the ensuing general election and so released the seat at Armagh, which the primate awarded to another anti-reformer, his niece’s husband Lord Ingestre, son of the former lord lieutenant Earl Talbot, who had been defeated at Hertford. His return, which involved customary payments of £30 to the officers and £100 to the town, was denounced during the county election as evidence of the thraldom in which the borough was held by Brownlow and Leonard Dobbin of Wood Park, a local gentleman with aspirations to the representation.22

In August 1831 Ingestre resigned in order to contest Dublin, where the election had been voided, and his success there allowed the archbishop to oblige another like-minded relation, his brother-in-law Sir John Brydges, who had been unseated for Coleraine.23 Orange and anti-reform celebrations, 19 Oct. 1831, after the defeat of the reform bill in the Lords, led to the death of one Dempsey in street fighting.24 Petitions from the inhabitants for the introduction of a system of Irish poor laws were presented to the Commons by Brownlow, 14 June, and to the Lords by Lord Charlemont, 9 Aug. 1832.25 By the Boundary Act, the borough was extended to include the rest of the town, and it was calculated that it would then contain 1,570 houses, of which 520 would be worth £10 or over, although Dobbin reckoned that 400 was a probable maximum.26 There were 444 registered electors at the general election of 1832, when the Liberal Dobbin (218 votes), described as ‘a respectable and moderate man’, defeated the Conservative Kelly (193), the primate’s nominee, after Brydges had retired.27 Archbishop Beresford had been hopeful of maintaining his interest and, although it subsequently declined, he still exerted some influence.28

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Peep at the Commons (1820), 20; PP (1831-2), xliii. 1; (1835), xxviii. 242; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 66-69.
  • 2. H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 273-9.
  • 3. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 182-4; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 220, and Key (1820), 323; Key to Both Houses (1832), 294; PP (1830), xxxi. 323; (1831-2), xliii. 1; (1835), xxviii. 227-9.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 628; Add. 40298, f. 3.
  • 5. Belfast News Letter, 18 Apr. 1820.
  • 6. Beds. RO, Wynne mss WY 997/1.
  • 7. CJ, lxxvii. 51; lxxviii. 92, 139; lxxxi. 337; The Times, 10 May 1826.
  • 8. PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss T2772/2/6/1-5; TCD, Jebb mss 6396/245.
  • 9. The Times, 31 May 1826.
  • 10. Add. 41387, f. 107; B. Jenkins, Henry Goulburn, 176.
  • 11. Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss Acc 304/67A.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxii. 301; lxxxiii. 185, 420; The Times, 10 Mar. 1827.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxiii. 277, 282; lxxxiv. 25; LJ, lx. 249.
  • 14. Primate Beresford mss 2/6/12A.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxiv. 25; LJ, lxi. 63.
  • 16. Belfast News Letter, 26 Feb., 30 Apr. 1830.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxv. 403, 446, 566, 567, 580.
  • 18. Belfast News Letter, 9 July, 13 Aug. 1830; Primate Beresford mss 2/6/20.
  • 19. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/160, 184, 192, 207, 208; PRO NI, Carr Beresford mss T3285/1/1.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 40, 42, 120; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 265, 266.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 20, 149, 310, 445, 461; LJ, lxiii. 34, 435; Belfast News Letter, 16 Nov. 1830, 4, 14, 25 Jan., 22 Mar., 13 May 1831.
  • 22. Pack-Beresford mss A/227, 252, 264; Belfast Guardian, 17, 20 May 1831.
  • 23. Belfast Guardian, 2 Sept. 1831.
  • 24. The Times, 22 Oct. 1831.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxvii. 399; LJ, lxiv. 440.
  • 26. PP (1831-2), xliii. 1-4; (1835), xxviii. 227, 242.
  • 27. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov.; Belfast News Letter, 18 Dec. 1832.
  • 28. Primate Beresford mss 2/6/21; K.T. Hoppen, Elections, Politics, and Society in Ireland, 64.