Douglas Hurd, has written the first major biography for over thirty years of Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) one of the most controversial and effective Prime Ministers of the 19th century.
A politician born and bred, Peel entered the Commons aged only twenty-one. He became Home Secretary in 1822 and in 1829 was responsible for creating the modern police force (known as the Peelers or Bobbies). He overhauled the antiquated system of law and order which had existed for over a century, cutting the death penalty for a huge range of offences, laid the bones of the present penal system and inspired changes in the running of the Church. In Ireland he sponsored far reaching reforms, including the 1829 Catholic Emancipation bill allowing Catholics into Parliament for the first time.
In 1834 he became Prime Minister issuing his Tamworth manifesto, seen by historians as the basis of enlightened Conservatism. However, Peel was an outsider amongst the aristocratic governing class. Born the son of a Lancashire industrialist, he never quite lost his northern accent, his manners were awkward and his bourgeois Victorian morals, his loyal devotion to his beautiful wife, his love of his family, brought him into constant tension with the grandees amongst whom he moved. He also became the first Conservative Prime Minister who saw it as his task to improve the lot of the labouring poor. He introduced income tax and the extremely controversial repeal of the Corn Laws, as much an issue as Europe is today, and it eventually forced Peel to resign in 1846. He died four years later after being thrown from his horse.
Hurd, who is a first hand-witness of conflict in the Conservative Party says about Peel,
"When I was Foreign Secretary it looked as if the Tory Party might split in two over Europe. The last time that happened was when the Party split over Peel's repeal of the Corn Laws. That set me thinking again about this extraordinary man, who first created the modern Conservative Party and then broke it as he changed his mind over the Corn Laws.
The founder of our modern police service, the father of free trade and the original driving force behind globalisation, Peel was immensely hard working but found time to build two great houses and buy a massive collection of pictures – long winded, yet until the final catastrophe, he held the House of Commons in his hand and passed every measure he ever proposed – stiff with those whom he met, yet when he died mourned in an extraordinary way by countless thousands who knew he had done his best to help them. There was no revolution in Britain when the rest of Europe exploded in 1848 – thanks largely to what Peel had achieved. In each generation the controversy swings to and fro about this strange man who decisively shaped our nation."
In this authoritative and compelling new life of one of the greatest British Prime Ministers, Hurd, with one eye on the present, charts Peel's remarkable life and work through the dramas of 19th century politics. Douglas Hurd, like Peel, has lived through a time of conflict in the Conservative Party and has watched its defeat and rebirth. He was private secretary to Edward Heath (as leader of the opposition and as Prime Minister), and an MP between 1974 and 1997. He served Margaret Thatcher as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Home Secretary (where he argued for Peel's One Nation philosophy) and Foreign Secretary. As an author he has written thrillers and in 2002 his autobiography, MEMOIRS. ROBERT PEEL is his first biography. He is married and lives in Oxfordshire.
For further information or to arrange an interview with Douglas Hurd please contact Katie Hambly (Orion publishing) by email at the following address ...