The first viceroyalty of Henry Paget, marquess of Anglesey (1768–1854), lasted for less than a year (February 1828–January 1829), but it was a pivotal point in Anglo-Irish politics as the campaign for Catholic emancipation approached its climax. Throughout 1828, the prime minister, the duke of Wellington, at whose side Anglesey had fought at Waterloo, was faced with the increasing necessity to solve the Catholic question and to persuade George IV, who was implacably opposed, of the exigency of the measure.
While there has been much in-depth analysis of the period, particularly from the perspectives of Daniel O’Connell, Wellington, and Robert Peel, the home secretary, there has been little exploration of the way in which Anglesey, the lord lieutenant, handled the volatile situation in Ireland, particularly following the Clare by-election and the tumultuous phase that preceded the granting of emancipation in February 1829. Nor has he been credited with the part he played in progressing the cause of Catholic emancipation. Inexperienced in political manoeuvring, and feeling ignored by his London counterparts, Anglesey soon lost the confidence of Wellington, and like his predecessor, William Wentworth, 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, he was ultimately recalled.
In this article, Anglesey’s viceroyalty during the period leading up to the granting of Catholic emancipation is explored using correspondence between himself, Wellington and Peel. It is argued that while his intentions towards Ireland were honourable, his tactics were sometimes faulty, which resulted in misunderstandings, resentment and frustration on both sides of the Irish Sea.