To study the career of Robert Peel (1788–1850), who became Sir Robert in 1830 when he inherited his father’s baronetcy, is in effect to study the main developments in British political history between 1810 and 1850. Peel became a junior government minister at the age of only twenty-two, and he was appointed to the demanding post of Irish Chief Secretary two years later. Before reaching his 34th birthday he had entered the Cabinet as Home Secretary, and from 1828 until 1830 he combined this office with the Leadership of the House of Commons. Peel was thus an increasingly prominent figure in the Tory administrations of Spencer Perceval, Lord Liverpool and the Duke of Wellington, which virtually monopolised the government of Britain in the early decades of the nineteenth century; but he also played a key role in the acrimonious collapse of Toryism at the end of the 1820s. In opposition to the Whig governments of 1830–41, he seemed to enjoy considerable success in rebuilding the party which he now led, adopting the new name of ‘Conservative’, and as Prime Minister from 1841 to 1846 he embarked upon a revolution in commercial and fiscal policy, establishing Free Trade as the guiding principle followed by all subsequent governments until the 1930s. However, Peel moved much too quickly for the comfort of most members of the Conservative party, and his government was brought down in 1846 as the result of a rebellion by his own back-benchers.
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