Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Bruffam: Henry , First Lord Brougham & Vaux 1778 – 1868 by David Crackanthorpe. Bookcase. £15.
The ruins of Brougham Hall, south of Penrith, stand as monument to one of the greatest politicians and lawyers of the early nineteenth century. Henry Brougham was born in Edinburgh on September 19th, 1778. His father was a Westmorland man who “had been content to pass his days in refined idleness” living a genteel life on the £800 a year income he received from his Westmorland estate.
His eldest son first visited his ancestral home when he was thirteen, when he spent a year with his brother and their tutor exploring the area and being impressed by “the beauty and sublimity” of the Lakes.
The old halls of the area, especially the ruins of Wharton Hall, south of Appleby, may have fired his youthful imagination. Forty years later, when, a rich man, he returned to the area, he chose to rebuild Brougham Hall as though it were a medieval fortress. One visitor was taken in completely and described the new hall as as a twelfth century fortress built to guard against the hostility of border neighbours.
In those intervening forty years, Henry Brougham had become one of the most famous reforming politicians of his day. His rhetorical skills made him a hugely successful and wealthy barrister. After he entered Parliament as a Whig MP in 1810, his first speech, on the slave trade, “won him immediately a dominant position”.
In 1820, he defended Queen Caroline, when George IV sought to divorce her. His two day speech in the House of Lords in which he dramatically defended the Queen against a charge of adultery was one of “the most celebrated ever delivered in Parliament” and made him a hugely popular national celebrity.
As the Lord Chancellor, he was a leading light in the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill. Brougham coined the slogan, “The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill”. Reinforced with tumblers of port wine, Brougham spoke on “this great and healing measure” from 9 pm until 12.30 am. The speech, “flaming with wit and irony and eloquence” was regarded by many “as the best ever made”.
Henry Brougham was also closely involved with much of the progressive legislation which was passed in those years. He spoke for the abolition of slavery in the West Indian colonies, was a leading activist in the movement for popular education, and the founder of London University. He did much for legal reform and furthered legislation on married women’s property rights.
Despite never having held the highest offices in the land, Henry Brougham was one of the most influential politicians of his day. Dickens thought him “the greatest speaker” he had ever heard. Greville found him “all life, spirit and gaiety”. He was certainly one of the most important of politicians with close ties to this county.
With this detailed and elegantly written biography, David Crackanthorpe hopes to restore Henry Brougham’s once considerable reputation.