William GladstonePortrait convener

Dr Joe Hardwick
Northumbria University

Audio recording of session introduction (mp3 file)


Background Readings and Modern Commentary

  • Perry Butler, Gladstone: Church, State and Tractarianism (Oxford, 1982), pp. 120-32.
  • H. C. G. Matthew, Gladstone, 1809-1898 (Oxford, 1997), pp. 59-73.

Primary Sources

Further Primary Sources

  • Gladstone’s 11 April 1845 speech on the Maynooth Bill can be found here.

* If you have difficulty getting hold of any of these readings, please contact us []

Introduction to readings

‘I know not how any man of conscience could become a politician, when that walk of life has become the only one in which a man may not avail himself of the opportunities placed within his hands for promoting the glory of God’.

W. E. Gladstone to Rev. H. E. Manning, 2 April 1837.

In January 1845 William Gladstone, then president of the Board of Trade, resigned from Robert Peel’s Conservative government over the question of whether the British government should pay for the training of Roman Catholic priests in Ireland. The Peel government’s decision to increase the state grant to the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth near Dublin clashed with Gladstone’s earlier thinking on the state’s relationship with religion. Throughout the later 1830s and early 40s Gladstone had preached that it was the duty of the British government to support a national religious establishment that represented the ‘conscience’ of the united nations of Britain and Ireland: this establishment was the Church of England. Curiously, however, Gladstone would actually vote in favour of the Maynooth grant when it came before the House of Commons three months later in April 1845. Contemporary politicians – among them Peel – could not understand his behaviour and Gladstone would later call his resignation an error brought on by ‘religious fanaticism’. But Gladstone’s actions are interesting as they raise questions about how politicians separate the realms of government and principle and seek to act with integrity; his subsequent career (Gladstone was back in government in December 1845) is also an important case study for how nineteenth-century politicians sought to reconcile their private interests and principles with the interests of ‘good government’.

Henry Manning, an Anglican minister who would later convert to Roman Catholicism, told Gladstone in April 1845 that ‘Happy is the man who with whatsoever cost & pain passes through such an epoch with a character of unsullied integrity’. This ‘epoch’ was an age of reform which had seen the dismantling of the old ‘Protestant constitution’ and the opening up of parliament to nonconformists and Catholics (but not yet Jews, atheists or Muslims). The period would see Gladstone reject his old conservatism and embrace ‘Gladstonian Liberalism’, a political ideology that was premised on achieving conservative ends through radical means (laissez-faire, the separation of Church and State, the expansion of the franchise). Manning thought his friend had passed through the turmoil and compromises of this period with his integrity intact, but for Gladstone the early 1840s was a traumatic period, for both political and personal reasons. The dismantling of the Protestant constitution and the march of religious liberalism meant that it was by no means clear whether an evangelising politician like himself could remain within politics or continue to serve an ‘infidel’ parliament. The readings for this week give us an insight into how Gladstone negotiated these political changes and how he tried to reconcile his political identity with his religious one: was it really the case that he managed to separate the two completely, or, by rejecting such a neat compartmentalisation, did he find a way of making politics a realm in which great religious crusades and missions could be realised? In addition to looking at how Gladstone carved out a politics of integrity for himself, we will also consider how later writers – here we concentrate on Gladstone’s biographer, the radical-Liberal MP John Morley – understood the place of compromise and principle in Victorian politics.



5 Responses to Gladstone

  1. R.Wiseman says:

    The primary source documents for the June Gladstone meeting are ready for download. Modern commentary available on request.

  2. R.Wiseman says:

    Hi all,
    It turns out that over half the Newcastle group aren’t able to make the meeting on Friday (20th June). With this in mind (and having spoken to the rest of the group), we’re going to meet a week on Friday (27th June) instead. I hope that this means more of us will make it. We’ll try not to move things around like this in the future — apologies for any inconvenience. Venue t.b.c. later this week.

  3. R.Wiseman says:

    Hi, Looking forward to Friday’s meeting — Morley’s ‘On Compromse’ is fascinating. We’re in Northumbria University this time, Lipman Building 032 (we met here for Tolstoy). You’ll find a map on the Gladstone page. Rachael

  4. Joe Hardwick says:

    I think connections can be drawn between the Gladstone and Arendt readings (I don’t think anyone has ever tried to put these two people together!). If I understood Arendt correctly, she was worried about what would happen if different realms – the political and the social – bled into one another. The social – the arena where one could discriminate as much as one wanted – had to be kept separate from the political world where equality ruled). I see in both Gladstone and Morley an interest in spheres and realms, as well as in the separation between the social and the political: both G and M, however, seem to have a much higher view of what could be achieved in the former rather than the latter (both seem to ask whether one could really be a person of integrity in the political world). Indeed for Gladstone, Maynooth might be seen as part of a process where he began to separate out the political and parliamentary world from the world of religion, public opinion and voluntary association. But these spheres would never entirely be separate for Gladstone: public opinion would guide what went on in parliament, and politics would be ennobled because it would be subservient to an educated, virtuous and religious public outside parliament. In this way the integrity of politics and parliament – a realm that Gladstone describes in the reading as purely ‘mechanical’ – would be maintained.

  5. ack77 says:

    The audio recording of Joseph introducing us to Gladstone at the reading group is now available.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s