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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opens up the complexities of the time and brilliantly introduces a man of a great stature
I can remember at school feeling that history became far too complicated for mortal (and schoolboy minds) when it reached the early to middle of the Victorian era - one could more or less understand (if not necessarily approve of) the expansionist vision of a British globe - but mention things like the Corn laws and the battles between Whigs and Tories and how they...
Published on 22 Jun 2008 by Mark Meynell

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old fashioned Tory
Peel was a hero of mine at school many years ago and I was hoping that Douglas Hurd would find some new and interesting things to say. If he has I have largely missed them.

This is an adequate conventional history of an exceptionally interesting period in our constitutional history but in my view no more than that. Relating Peel and his contemporaries to...
Published 24 months ago by Oliver Griffiths


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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opens up the complexities of the time and brilliantly introduces a man of a great stature, 22 Jun 2008
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography (Hardcover)
I can remember at school feeling that history became far too complicated for mortal (and schoolboy minds) when it reached the early to middle of the Victorian era - one could more or less understand (if not necessarily approve of) the expansionist vision of a British globe - but mention things like the Corn laws and the battles between Whigs and Tories and how they transmuted into Liberal and Conservatives, and my eyes would glaze over with confusion and exhaustion.

Having felt the need to rectify this ignorance, I found that the process (through this book) brought both pleasure and insight. History is more than that of merely the stories of 'great men' (or women) - but like Pitt a few years before him, Peel had the most extraordinary impact on Britain and her allies and occasional foes (so much so that there was a unique adjournment of the French Assembly on the news of his death). Obsessive about factual detail and political argument, he was always prepared to change his mind (at huge political cost) if the arguments warranted it. This was a man of extraordinary political courage coupled with level-headed shrewdness.

Hurd's narrative trips along nicely - full (as many reviewers have rightly noted) of contemporary symmetries and allusions (as only a former politician can provide - cf Hague's Pitt the Younger and Jenkins' Churchill). A joy to read.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robert Peel, 25 July 2007
This review is from: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography (Hardcover)
I really enjoyed "Sir Robert Peel"--it's incredibly read-able, which is one of several factors that recommends it to a wide audience. One of its biggest successes is in illuminating the way the political system of the mid-nineteenth century actually worked (or didn't, at times). From the time when Peel enters government to when he leaves it, it's just a different world. The book has captured an age of transition, when people are in conflict over and changing their minds about what a government is supposed to do, and what its relationship should be to king and to country. Hurd identifies and describes these tensions well.

There's no question that the book is extremely present-minded, and there were pages that, although Hurd was writing about Peel, I thought were meant to explain his view for what the Conservative Party should be. I think present-mindedness has pros and cons, but insofar as I do think the book is in some ways a manifesto of political belief, it seems to me to be appropriate to tie it back into today. Crucially, while the book does keep one eye on the present, Hurd avoids the mistake of modernizing Peel himself. However much Peel's tenure as Prime Minister may have paved the way for what we recognize as modern British politics, he was a man of his time and he did not always enter into reforms willingly. The process of change was not inexorable, Peel did not have a telos, and if he did, it certainly was not "modernity" as we would know it. Hurd is wise to recognize this and to allow Peel to be a man of the nineteenth century rather than a man of the twentieth.

Ultimately, the book is extensively researched, well-written, and insightful. One comes away with a clear understanding of a complicated individual.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Douglas Hurd's elegantly-written masterpiece - I think!, 11 July 2007
By 
Geoffrey Woollard (South East Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography (Hardcover)
Others have written biographies of Sir Robert Peel and it is complained by some reviewers that (Lord) Douglas Hurd has cribbed much of his material from these earlier works. Quite frankly, I see nothing wrong in the practice, provided due credit is given, and I would have thought it beneficial in any case. When writing a life, one cannot read enough. And besides, it is plainly obvious that there is much fresh material in this elegantly-written masterpiece that has the advantage of being a political biography of one of the nineteenth century's all-time 'greats' by a very experienced and respected 'great' of the twentieth century. The only weakness that I could detect was the author's apparent inability or unwillingness to avoid occasional and unnecessarily sarcastic references to two of my all-time twentieth century 'greats' - Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Despite that, this work is educative, erudite and entertaining, as one might expect. What did I learn from it? Well, I suppose that the intricacies of the Great Reform Bill's arguments are now clearer to me; I am sure that Peel's changing attitudes to Ireland are much more understandable and it is very clear indeed that the Conservative Prime Minister's reaction to the Irish potato disaster was infinitely wiser and more helpful than that of the 'Liberal' Lord John Russell, a man whose memory is not honoured; and, though my own English farming ancestors must have held strong feelings against the repeal of The Corn Laws, again I have had it made clearer that it was the Conservative Peel who came to see that high food prices were against the national interest - and he was right, too. It is also proved, to my satisfaction at least, that Sir Robert Peel, despite his difficulties with his own kind and his own 'party,' was a man and a politician and a statesman way ahead of his contemporaries and of his peers. And, surprising as it is coming from a supposed 'One Nation' Tory, Douglas Hurd, the book's verdict on Benjamin Disraeli's early political career is damning: the fellow was obviously a cad and a bounder. Finally, I learned again that another great British hero, the Duke of Wellington, born in 1769, the victor of Waterloo in 1815, and Prime Minister in the 1830s, was still doing his patriotic duty as late as 1846: what a man! Maybe Lord Hurd or someone of equal eminence should bring out an up-to-date assessment of 'The Iron Duke' as his or her next project.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir Robert Peel, 4 July 2007
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B. J. Hickey - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography (Hardcover)
I have read lots,indeed most, of books relating to this period in history and the personalities involved.Douglas Hurd's book has to rate as one of the best I have read.Written in a concise clear elegant way it is so easy to follow and Mr Hurd seems to have an understanding of the reader as well as his subject.Thoroughly enjoyable.Could not put it down.First rate
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robert Peel: A Biography, 13 Dec 2013
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Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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Robert Peel, born in 1788, and who died in 1850 was a remarkable British politician. His father was a rich textile manufacturer at the time of the early industrial revolution, and was determined to give his son a proper education and the right start in life. Peel became Home Secretary in 1822 and spent some years in the unique environment at the time in Ireland. He was Prime Minister from 1834 to 1835, and again from 1841 to 1846. His reforms created a political system more like the one the British people live with today, somewhat removed from the aristocratic influence and royal nominations.

His political world seemed to be filled largely with issues of Ireland, Catholic Emancipation, electoral reform, Corn Law, tariffs, Chartists, police and law and order, currency and Bank reform, the blossoming British Empire, relations with America and France. In particular, the disaster of the Irish potato famine filled his last years as Prime Minister with difficult debates and decisions. Coupled with the looming threat in his later political years posed by Disraeli and in particular over the Corn Law repeals through 1845 and 1846, Peel retired from politics as a man who had largely fulfilled his political purpose, but was often nearly broken in body and spirit over the hard road he set for himself.

His family was always paramount and never far from his mind; a loving husband and father, he committed as much of his time and energies as he could to family life. Peel was considered by many to be a strange stand-offish man; described by the young Queen Victoria as a "cold, odd man" he was the master of detail, but never the master of wit and scathing oratory like his later political opponent Disraeli. His sad death when he was perhaps at the height of his personal happiness reflected the great good he had done to his country in the national mourning that followed it.

Robert Peel was a Conservative, a Christian and an English patriot who strove to do what he believed was right for the resolution of the "condition of England". A remarkable man, and this biography serves to offer him to a modern reader in a very empathetic and honest light. Peel was not without his faults, by any means, but he honestly strove to do what was right for his country according to his beliefs as they stood. This book is a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of Robert Peel, the man and his times.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Douglas Hurd on Sir Robert Peel, 5 Feb 2011
This review is from: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography (Hardcover)
Obviously a biography written by such a well-educated and diplomatic Conservative statesman as Hurd has to be of great value. His occasional allusions to his own experience (Thatcher, Northern Ireland) are sometimes more interesting than Peel!
It is elegantly written, though the author's inflexible rule of shorts sentences only does, in my view, make Peel and his times sound simpler than they were. It lacks little in research, though use of at least one research assistant does always grate with me.
The serious student should, I think, get Norman Gash's "Peel" and Blake's "Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher" as well, and compare. I am not too sure what Hurd makes of Boyd Hilton's contributions, which make Peel a dogmatist inclined to jump from one doctrinaire position to another, rather than the warm and pracical empathiser with ordinary folk one still imagines.
Has Douglas Hurd been swayed by his own background? Is his version too Tory and apologetic? Does it add a new position to the debate? Best to get his book and find out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ‘An appetite for detailed reform’, 14 Mar 2014
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‘Robert Peel’ (2007) by Douglas Hurd is an excellent example of a biography; I think, in this case but not universally, there are four reasons for such success.. He has mastered the sources, he is experienced in the world of politics, he writes well and he likes/respects Robert Peel. I should add the illustrations are most apt for conveying the picture of one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers in his surroundings.
Douglas Hurd has clearly read widely both secondary sources (especially N. Gash) and primary (e.g. personal letters between Peel and his wife). His judgements are sound, although I think he may under-value people who did not get on with Peel such as Canning, Russell and Disraeli. He clearly appreciates the contribution to History of the steady workers like his hero but re’ Canning he states: ‘A man... may fascinate and charm. He may draw to himself devoted followers and a great verdict from history; but he will find it more difficult to transact daily business than a man with fewer talents who has earned greater trust’ (94). A case of tortoise vs. hare, perhaps.
Douglas Hurd writes well with carefully constructed sentences and balanced arguments. His style is lively rather than ‘academic’ – perhaps because he’s written several thrillers. It is certainly a history book one can sit and enjoyably read for hours at a sitting. In his final paragraphs he argues for the subtle and anticipatory influence of Peel in the workings of the modern world: and yet he was last British Prime Minister NOT to be photographed. Perhaps our hearts may sometimes out-stretch our judgement.
Before starting this review I googled Douglas Hurd. It is clear that Hurd likes Peel, perhaps because they share certain traits – both made careful, balance judgements; both were Conservatives but open to ‘advanced policies’ such reform of the Anglican Church (Peel) or reducing the prison population (Hurd); both proved ready to change stances on certain issues – the author argues this potential requirement produces the calumny of politicians using ‘weasel-words’; both were prepared to work very hard and both did very well at university. The author is quite prepared to soft-pedal Peel’s use of ‘rotten boroughs’ to obtain a Parliamentary seat but trumpets his willingness to reform such as a matter of principle. He honours Peel’s idea of ‘constructive opposition’ – missing out one intriguing contrast between then and now: c. 1830 individuals could switch parties to support ideas whereas today the public find it hard to distinguish between policies of parties which retain a rigid membership. He may criticise some of Peel’s building ideas at Drayton but he admires his energy in tackling the construction of two homes during his marriage. Hurd was a Foreign Secretary but Peel was never that, although as PM, largely acting through his Foreign Secretary ((Lord Aberdeen), he sorted out disputes with the USA about boundaries and slave shipments and managed to preserve an ‘entente cordiale’ with France.
Hurd deals with the personal life of his subject in some detail – his relationship with his father, his love and devotion for his wife, Julia, and their family and His PERSONAL interaction with contemporaries such as Wellington and Croker. However, I consider this work could be aptly sub-titled a ‘Political Biography’ because Peel and Hurd served in Ireland and the Home Office, were involved in Commissions into the Church of England and have a close interest in the treatment of crime in our society. Of course there are differences – Peel was never Foreign Secretary and Hurd was never Prime Minister (though he tried to succeed Margaret Thatcher in 1990). Even so, what really fascinates me is how Douglas Hurd weaves into the book analogies / comparisons with recent history – remember Peel died in 1850. So in describing the continued terror inspired by the French Revolution decades before felt by several politicians he states how in McCarthy-dominated 50’s USA many had to be assured that ‘not all American problems could be blamed on Communism’ (P.67). A more trenchant comment is delivered when describing corruption in Irish politics c. 1820: ‘Politicians... are tempted to exchange something they have for something they want. In politics this is called corruption. In recent governments with low standards, such as those of Lloyd George and Blair, the focus has been on allegations that honours...... have been given in return for party funding’(P29). Occasionally he makes a very shrewd point such as that in 1841 less than half the constituencies were contested ‘but this was not a sign of apathy. Today parties aim to fight just about every seat. They are interested in the total number of votes cast.... in 1841 the parties were only interested in winnable seats...’ (P.220).
Perhaps the author’s attitude and treatment of his subject is summed up by his describing an ‘appetite for detailed reform’ (P. 252) as being behind the achievements of Peel. Certainly by ‘detailed’ Peel would have rested on his words in the Tamworth Manifesto issued in 1934 and considered a founding document of the Conservative Party); this stated an aim of ‘a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical undertaken in a friendly manner, combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances’. Even so, the devil may well lie in the words ‘friendly’, ‘proved’ and ‘real’.
Peel stayed true to his principles, even though it may have taken time for him to link them with ‘difficult decisions’. In Paisley in 1841 he was confronted by financial collapse and set about combating the resulting hardship and rebuilding financial security by PRIVATE intervention (even recruiting the Queen to help). A strong belief in the need for order led to his founding the Metropolitan Police (1829) and to his resisting the Chartists with their political demands for universal male suffrage etc. and O’Connell’s Repeal Association as steps too far, As a reformer he re-introduced income tax at 7d in the (2.92%) in 1842, organised much of the modern financial system by the Bank Charter Act (1844), tried unsuccessfully to conciliate the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland by the Maynooth Bill and first cut (1842) and then repealed (1846) the Corn Laws. By such activity he attracted Disraeli’s comment that ‘he caught the Whigs a-bathing and stole their clothes’ – a comment more usually applied now to Disraeli himself and the Second Reform Act (1867).Revengeful Protectionists joined Whigs to bring down the Government by rejecting on 26 June 1846 the Irish Life and Property and ‘the emperor was without his army’ (Disraeli qu. P.368)
Peel had his weaknesses. His prolonged reconsideration of position earned the barb of being a rat regarding Catholic Emancipation (1829)and much worse was hurled during the collapse of his ministry in 1846. ‘Compared with born orators like O’Connell or Disraeli, Peel was clumsy in his handling of general concepts’ (P.321) – almost a certain disaster in our age of sound-bite and media hype. ‘Peel was saved from his chilly self-righteousness by the relentless working of an honest mind; facts and figures were the fuel which drove it’(P. 389)
In sum, Robert Peel virtually created the modern Conservative Party out of Toryism, but by pushing for reform (so necessary in hindsight) almost destroyed it.
An excellent account, easily worth 6
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, 22 Jan 2014
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Enjoyable account of Peel's life from someone who is clearly an admirer. A nice easy read as well. Good book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars "...He Founded The Modern Conservative Party..", 5 Jan 2014
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"...He Founded The Modern Conservative Party.."

Which is why reading about him is so important of course, particularly if one likes politics and law and like me Administrative Law.

I must say that if one wants to know about early Conservative Party History then this is the book. Due to the fact that it covers the modern state's relationship with the Tories and vice versa I would advise one to read it as a preferred text if one really wants to know how our modern society was forged. For example, how often have we heard that the Tories are still as divided on Europe as they were on The Corn Laws. I knew very little about the Corn Laws until I read this text let alone how to put them in their historical context and that repealing them effectively brought about Peel's downfall'.

From the book:

"Peel was strongly moved by concern for what was called 'the condition of the people'.... The Chartists looked for an answer in radical political change, Lord Shaftesbury pressed for social legislation to improve working conditions. Marx and Engels out of their research hatched the theories of Communism. Disraeli toyed with the romantic notions of Young England. But Peel was the man who acted. "

But it was not just the Corn Laws that moved Peel to act upon. It was Criminal Law in general (among a long list of other concerns)

Now what modern politician would have such principles... Errrm yes I like you am still awaiting the answer.

Not By Accident Is This So Well Written by Douglas Hurd a master in my opinion of Political Biography.

Read it an enjoy it. I did.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed and thorough, 29 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Sir Robert Peel: A Biography (Hardcover)
An excellent biography and a substantial analysis of the period. Hurd gives, as one would expect, a sophisticated reading of party machinations, and his frequent asides reflecting on contemporay political practice are always enlightening.
Concerning such events as the 1932 Reform Act and the Repeal of the Corn Laws, Hurd does not stray too far from the Westminster action (he is not a sociologist, thankfully): however this means that there isn't much analysis of the forces at play in the wider socitety ( read, the working classes) which played a part in these changes.
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Sir Robert Peel: A Biography
Sir Robert Peel: A Biography by The Rt Hon Lord Douglas Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC (Hardcover - 14 Jun 2007)
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