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How did Edmund Burke deal with the regency crisis and the issues it raised?

How did Edmund Burke deal with the regency crisis and the issues it raised?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Anthony McDonnell. Originally submitted for Ireland in the age of Daniel O'Connell, 1775-1847 at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Patrick Geoghegan in the category of Historical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Anthony McDonnell. Originally submitted for Ireland in the age of Daniel O'Connell, 1775-1847 at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Patrick Geoghegan in the category of Historical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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01/01/2014

 
‘How did Edmund Burke deal with the regency crisis and the issues it raised?’In November 1788 George the Third, King of Britain, Ireland and the BritishEmpire, went insane after contracting what is now believed to have been the rare blood disease porphyria.
1
This created a three month long constitutional crisis in bothhis Kingdoms of Ireland and Particularly Great Britain, leaving both countriesHouses of Parliament to debate and decides how to replace the his royal authority andwhether limitations should be placed on his successor’s power. This was a very partisan issue in Great Britain, because it was widely known that the King’s son thePrince of Wales become regent he would remove the Tory Prime Minister WilliamPitt’s governing administration in favour of the Whig leader of the opposition CharlesFox. The crisis centred around whether or not limitations should be placed on thePrince of Wales’s royal authority as regent, which would stop him taking actions likecalling an election or possibly even changing the Prime Minister. Edmund Burke, aWhig member of the British Parliament at the time, is remembered as a politicalgenius and brilliant thinker, which he certainly was. However recent history has cometo forget the man that was prone to bouts of very poor political judgement andunusual obsession that many knew Burke as at the time. This was particularly relevantduring the regency crisis, which was a career low in terms of public opinion for Burke.
2
This essay will explore the brilliance that was Burke’s political thinking before looking at how the regency crisis as an example of where he took his ideas toofar and became obsessed, and too outspoken for his own good. It will then go on tolook at his role in Ireland at this time; a place that was close to Burke’s heartthroughout his entire career.
3
 While it is undoubtedly true that Ireland was importantto Burke, we see that the influences of the regency crisis in England massivelyaffected his views on Ireland to the extent that he was
 
willing to support what waseffectively a separatist movement by the Irish Parliament, something he wouldnormally have been very opposed to. This essay will examine his views on Irelandand more importantly the reason for his change in attitude.At the time of the Regency Crisis Burke was one of the most senior oppositionmembers of Parliament
4
and was inevitably going to be a key player in the events thatfollowed it. From the beginning of the crisis Burke identified many often brilliant
1
Stanley Ayling,
 Edmund Burke; his life and opinions
, (London 1988) P.182.
2
Paul Langford,
 Burke, Ed 
mund (1729/30- 1797) Politician and Author, Oxford Dictionary of NationalBiography.
3
Thomas Mahoney,
 Edmund Burke and Ireland 
(London 1960) P.310.
4
 
The World,
21
st
of November 1788, London.
1
 
‘How did Edmund Burke deal with the regency crisis and the issues it raised?’strategies by which his party could address the crisis. However, he was generallyunable to convince his party to listen to him or follow his lead too the extent that hewanted them to; this was mainly because he was becoming increasingly isolatedwithin the party and had been doing so since the death of former Prime Minister Rockingham six years earlier.
5
Writing to Fox, shortly after Fox’s arrival back in London (he had been in Northern Italy when the King became ill), Burke discusses what he felt were the keyareas of the regency crisis. He first argued that the Whigs should not ‘let Ministerstake the lead in the settlement,’ which was something he felt the party was already beginning to do.
6
 In Burke’s view, now that the King was no longer capable of  bestowing his confidence on anyone, the ministers could no longer be considered ‘theconfidential servants of the King,’ and should be treated on a par with everyone elsein Parliament’.
7
Burke was trying to remove the prestige and legitimacy associatedwith those who were Ministers at the time of the crisis. During this period theMajority of MPs had no strong political allegiances to a particular party, but insteaddecided on issues as they came along, but with a tendency to lean towards the policiesof the King and Government. If the Whigs could remove the Governments’ precievedlegitimacy then Parliament would be more likely to come to a settlement favourableto the Whigs.
8
However, unfortunately for Burke, Fox chose to ignore this advice ashe was happy to let Pitt take the lead during the early days of the crisis because of hisown personal ill health.
9
In the same letter to Fox, Burke both identified theimportance of the King’s physicians in the crisis (something this essay will addresslater on) and talked of the value of having the Prince send a letter to the two Housesof Parliament ‘communicating the King’s melancholy state and asking for counsel.’
10 
He believed that if the Prince was able to become a strong and trustworthy figure then both the public and Parliament would be more comfortable with and supportive of theidea of him as regent. Again this was very astute as there was a need to change people’s perception of the Prince’s character and make him seem more kingly and
5
John W Derry,
the regency crisis and the Whigs
1788-9 (London 1963) P.155.
6
Edmund Burke to Charles James Fox, 24
th
-30
th
November 1788 Thomas W Copeland (ed.),
theCorrespondence of Edmund Burke
(8 vol. Cambridge University Press, London 1958-78) Vol. VP.428.
7
Ibid., P.428-9
8
John W Derry,
the regency crisis and the Whigs
P.27.
9
F.P. Lock,
 Edmund Burke II (1784-97),
(Oxford 2006) P.208.
10
Edmund Burke to Charles James Fox, 24
th
-30
th
November 1788 Thomas W Copeland (ed.), Vol. VP.429.
2
 
‘How did Edmund Burke deal with the regency crisis and the issues it raised?’leader-like. The public, and most Whigs (including Burke), regarded the Prince withdistaste up until the crisis began because of his gambling problems, massive debts andmarriage to the catholic Mrs Fitzherbert (which arguably should have excluded himfrom ever taking the throne).
If this policy had worked to change perception of thePrince, it may also have had the advantage of reducing Pitt’s role as leader, a role hehad expanded during the political vacuum the crisis created. However, once againBurke was ignored.As the regency crisis developed Burke became annoyed at the Whigs for their in-fighting and lukewarm response to his policies.
He, along with the rest of theWhigs, was also disheartened by the fact that the King’s illness hadn’t led them to power as easily as they had hoped. As a consequence of this Burke began to use personal attacks on people in Parliament which often took away from what he saidand made it easier for both his political foes and the media to vilify him. At a timewhen political loyalties were at a low and votes could be won through speeches moreeasily than ever, this was a poor course of action.
An example of this was on 8
th
December 1788 when he needlessly attacked Pitt’s policy of not getting a House of Commons committee to questioning the King’s physicians (a policy Pitt had alreadydropped by the time Burke came to speak). Even though Burke supported the PrimeMinisters current position he viciously attacked the policy that Pitt had announcedfour days earlier.
This simply alienated MPs who saw him as wasting their time, andled Pitt to snub Burke by excluding him from the committee despite his name beingon a list put forward by the opposition.
 This snub made Burke more determined toend Pitt’s ministry and also more enraged and prone to needless outburst.
 
Burke went on to become overly concerned with two issues, that of thePrince’s hereditary right to the regency and his belief that the King would probablynever truly recover from his insanity. On 10 December the idea of the hereditary rightof the Prince to assume the regency came to the fore in the House of Commons.During his speech, Fox (probably on the advice of Burke) said that the House shouldwaste not a moment in giving the Prince the power to exercise royal authority, as he
11
F.P. Lock,
Edmund Burke II. P.206.
12
John W Derry,
the regency crisis and the Whigs
P.157
13
F.P. Lock 
Edmund Burke II 
P.210.
14
House of Commons, 20
th
Of February 1881,
Cobbett’s Parliamentary History XXVII,
P687-90
15
Ibid., P, 691.
The World,
9
th
of December 1788, London.
16
F.P. Lock 
Edmund Burke II 
P.208-9
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