|Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1809-10|
There are some names that echo through the ages, men and women who will always be remembered for their philanthropy, heroics, or perhaps their infamy. These are the names that seem to sum up their era for better or worse and for me, one of these names is undoubtedly Castlereagh, a man who is perhaps less well known now than he once was though for me, he is a figure of endless fascination. Today marks the anniversary of his death and it is this story that I will tell, a bleak end to a troubled existence.
Castlereagh lived a life among the highest political spheres, serving in a number of high profile government offices in which he found himself increasingly at odds with public opinion. Associated with wildly unpopular policies and broken political promises, as he was attacked by the people, so too did his mental health become increasingly frail. In the year of his death, increasing stress saw Castlereagh's behaviour becoming increasingly erratic as he descended into paranoia.
As summer drew on, Castlereagh returned to the sanctuary of Loring Hall in North Cray, Kent, where his friends and family remarked that he cut a most unsettled and unhappy figure. With his physician, Doctor Bankhead, in constant attendance and all razors and other dangerous implements removed from his reach, the once influential man passed long and unhappy days in mental distress until, somehow, he managed to come by a penknife.
|The Suicide of Lord Castlereagh by George Cruikshank, 1822|
Perhaps in deference to his widow, the inquest found that Castlereagh had taken his own life whilst insane. Accordingly, he was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey on 20th August. Even in this, the final act of Castlereagh's story, the unpopular politician's funeral procession was heckled and jeered on its way to the Abbey. Though his political opponents and colleagues alike were quick to sing the praises of Castlereagh, it is Byron's verse that has caught in the public memory, a savage memorial to a troubled man.
Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.