Peel was not only Gladstone’s leader but his political mentor. He and Gladstone had a similar social provenance, and even more strikingly, with a gap of a short generation (twenty-one years) between them, did their careers follow similar courses. They were both the sons of rich first-generation baronets who had made their money in Lancashire. Peel’s father was more a manufacturer than a merchant, and somewhat richer even than John Gladstone. The sons both retained distinct accent traces of their county of origin. Peel was one of Harrow’s seven Prime Ministers rather than one of Eton’s eighteen, but he was as naturally a Christ Church man as was Gladstone, and there produced as notable an academic result as Gladstone was to do.

Within a year of Oxford, again as with Gladstone, Peel was in the House of Commons, in his case as member for Cashel, a Couny Tipperary borough which made Gladstone’s election for Newark look positivel) democratic. They were later both members for Oxford University over sizeable spells, and were both eventually turned out by the electorate of graduates (a high proportion of whom were then country clergy) for liberal sins, Peel for promoting Catholic emancipation, which he had hitherto strongly opposed, and Gladstone for a cumulative list of similar offences. As a young MP Peel’s career prospered even more tha Gladstone’s was to do. He became Chief Secretary for Ireland (the post which Gladstone coveted in 1841) for a six-year period at the age of twenty-four, and Home Secretary for five years at the age of thirty four.

They both began their effective premierships in their fifties, having each fashioned a new-style political grouping to sustain him in that role Peel at fifty-three became in 1841 the first Conservative Prime Minister with a majority (there had previously been Tories), and Gladstone fifty-eight became in 1868 the first Liberal Prime Minister who had nothing of Whiggery about him, except for some of the followers by whom he was sustained. And towards the end of their lives they both caused considerable mayhem in the parties they themselves had created. They both had phenomena! energy, and were by any standards towering statesmen, Peel the most effective between Pitt and Gladstone himself and Gladstone still more pre-eminent, dominating both the third and fourth quarters of the nineteenth century at least as completely as Peel had dominated the second quarter.

Beyond this, however, there were very substantial differences. In the first place Peel had no old age and no possibility of return to Downing Street after 1846, whereas Gladstone had the longest twilight and greatest number of encores in the history of politics. Peel was cut down at the age of sixty-two, falling off his horse on Constitution Hill; dying dramatically in his Whitehall Gardens house three days later needed the nature of his death to infuse his end with drama. [60-61]


Jenkins, Roy. Gladstone: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997.

Last modified 28 April 2018