Thursday 19 September 2013

From Queen Caroline to Cannes: Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux

Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (Edinburgh, Scotland, 19th September 1778 – Cannes, France, 7th May 1868)

Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Henry Brougham by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Today's post is unapologetically self-indulgent as I am marking the birthday of one of my favourite, if somewhat abrasive, characters, whom I first discovered whilst happily adding to my  Pinterest boards many moons since. Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux achieved fame as the advisor to Caroline of Brunswick, bought his way out of a scandal involving Harriette Wilson and enjoyed a long and successful political career before retiring to the sunshine of France!

Brougham was born into a wealthy and influential Edinburgh family, the son of Henry and Eleanora Brougham, who made their home at Brougham Hall. As befitted his station in life, the young Brougham enjoyed the best in education and in his mid teens found himself at the University of Edinburgh, splitting his studies between science and law. His academic career was dazzling and by the age of 25 he was a Fellow of his University; despite his illustrious family connections Brougham was determined to make a success on his own and financed his studies through journalism, eventually founding The Edinburgh Review in 1802, a publication for which he wrote a number of erudite, challenging pieces.

Henry Brougham by James Lonsdale, 1821

The following year Brougham left Scotland to pursue a career as a barrister in London, his fame as the founder of The Edinburgh Review opening the most fashionable society doors to him. The stylish, urbane Brougham became a leading light in Whig political salons and in 1806 joined a diplomatic mission to Portugal on behalf of Charles James Fox. Whilst on the mission he developed a staunch opposition to the slave trade and found his interests diverted away from law and journalism towards politics, eventually becoming Member of Parliament for Camelford in 1810. Just as he had made his mark at university, so to did he throw himself into his political career, speaking often and eloquently in the House of Commons and distinguishing himself in debate.  In fact, Brougham still holds the record for the longest Commons speech, clocking in at six unbroken hours; that's a figure that even we very chatty Gilflurts would find hard to beat!

Tiring of toiling in the rotten borough where he held his seat, Brougham stood in Liverpool in 1812 but found himself utterly trounced; this same year he took office as advisor to Caroline of Brunswick, estranged and loathed wife of the Prince Regent. He was out of the House of Commons until 1816, when he was returned as Member for Winchelsea. Just as he campaigned passionately for the abolition of slavery, now he added the cause of education to his interests, championing schools for the poor and disenfranchised.

Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux by James Lonsdale, 1821

His political career back on track, Brougham was to take a new office as Attorney-General to Caroline in 1820. With her husband now king, Caroline found herself in the throes of a messy and vitriolic divorce, the full power of the Tory Pains and Penalties Bill focused on her. Fuelled by accusations of adultery on Caroline's part, the Bill aimed to dissolve the marriage and strip her of her title and she employed Brougham to lead her defence in the Lords. In fact the bill did pass through the House but by a meagre nine votes; fearing an embarrassing defeat in the Commons, the bill was withdrawn and Brougham found himself famous throughout England. One year later the charming and highly eligible bachelor married Mary Spalding, with whom he had two daughters.

Brougham was not without his own scandals and in 1826 was one of the illustrious clients named in the Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, written by the titular courtesan. Invited to buy his anonymity by Wilson and her publisher, John Joseph Stockdale, our hero paid up, saving his name for the time-being at least. Not content with mixing with royals, avoiding scandal and championing reform, he even found time to develop the Brougham, a small horse-drawn carriage!

Harriette Wilson
Harriette Wilson

Happily ensconced in the twin worlds of politics and law, Brougham was not universally popular. Seen as ambitious, arrogant and overly-influential, Brougham's critics could do nothing to stop his still-rising star and in 1830 he was appointed Lord Chancellor and given the title Baron Brougham and Vaux. Whilst in office he passed the Representation of the People Act in 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, two causes for which he felt very strongly. However, his personal conflicts with his fellow Whigs began to become more prominent and when the government was reshuffled in 1834, Brougham was removed from office.

Statue of Brougham in Cannes
Statue of Brougham in Cannes

Although he continued to be a force to be reckoned with in the Lords, Brougham now returned to his early loves of journalism and academia and in 1835 visited Cannes whilst en route to Genoa, falling instantly in love with the picturesque surroundings. Just as he threw himself into politics, law and courtesans, the Baron became a pillar of the town, providing funds and leadership with which to improve and develop the burgeoning community where he would eventually die and be laid to rest. Today Baron Brougham and Vaux is still remembered in Cannes thanks to a very fine statue that commemorates this colourful, abrasive and very ambitious fellow.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Carol Cork said...

Your posts are always so superbly written and, no matter the subject, you always make them fascinating reading.

Catherine Curzon said...

Carol, that is so kind - thank you!

Regencyresearcher said...

I second Carol's comments. Thank you for your interesting and informative posts.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank *you* for insightful comments and conversation!