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Reference group
Ultra tories (act. 1827–1834) were a floating group of what a later age, though not their own, would characterize as the ‘extreme right wing’ of British and Irish politics. They were politicians, intellectuals, and journalists who, in general, rejected the changes in British life loosely associated with the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, and urbanization. Staunch defenders of the protestant constitution enshrined in 1689, they displayed a consummate hatred for their political opponents that often verged on obsession. As opponents of economic liberalism they shared with some of their counterparts in French, Iberian, or German politics a willingness to challenge the nostrums of classical political economists, and to support measures that would tend to mitigate the hardships of the poor during the early industrial age.

A tenuous source for the movement may exist in the resignation in 1822 of Charles William Vane, third marquess of Londonderry, as ambassador to Vienna, inspired by detestation for the liberal toryism of the new foreign secretary, George Canning. There is stronger evidence that ultra toryism incubated in the mid-1820s within circles loyal to the heir presumptive to the throne of the United Kingdom, Prince Frederick, duke of York and Albany, former grand master of the Orange Order of Great Britain, and as stalwart as his late father George III in opposition to Catholic emancipation. On Frederick's death, in January 1827, he was succeeded as the ultras' royal sponsor by his younger and less admirable brother, Prince Ernest Augustus, duke of Cumberland, grand master of the Orange Order in Great Britain and Ireland, and, after 1837, king of Hanover.

During the early months of 1827 political events made the previously inchoate ultras a power in the land. In February the long-serving prime minister, Lord Liverpool, was permanently incapacitated by a stroke, leading to a year of political instability favourable to the influence of previously marginalized groups. Already enraged by proposals from Liverpool's ministers to reduce the protective duties on corn imports, a group of ultras led by the borough-monger and evangelical protestant Henry Pelham Fiennes Pelham-Clinton, fourth duke of Newcastle, and including Edward Boscawen, first earl of Falmouth, David William Murray, third earl of Mansfield (1777–1840), Philip Henry Stanhope, fourth Earl Stanhope [see under Stanhope, Philip Henry, fifth Earl Stanhope] and Sir Edward Knatchbull, coalesced as self-styled ‘king's friends’ in an attempt to prevent George Canning, who was known to favour Catholic emancipation, succeeding as prime minister.

Though unsuccessful in these court manoeuvres, the ultras were able to promote their views more widely as a result of the establishment, in May 1827, of the daily Standard newspaper. Part of the press empire of Charles Baldwin [see under Baldwin family], The Standard was edited by a brilliant Irish protestant, Stanley Lees Giffard, who was aided by the Irish protestant wit and leader-writer of genius William Maginn. The ultras also put on a public show of force at a county meeting of Kent freeholders at Penenden Heath, in October 1828, addressed by Knatchbull and George William Finch-Hatton, tenth earl of Winchilsea and fifth earl of Nottingham, which carried resolutions in favour of upholding the protestant establishment in church and state.

The formal surrender on the Catholic question by Wellington and Peel in early 1829, when the Roman Catholic Relief Act was introduced, engendered in ultra tory circles an orgy of hatred and recrimination at what they viewed as the destruction of the protestant constitution. The dowager duchess of Richmond decorated her drawing room with stuffed rats named after the ministerial apostates; the duke of Wellington fought a duel with Winchilsea, who had accused him of insidious designs to promote Catholicism; and in virulent verse published in the newly ultra Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Maginn likened Peel to Judas Iscariot.

Much of the important tory press had become ultra in 1829 and 1830: the newly minted Fraser's Magazine, in which Maginn played a commanding role, wanted Wellington to resign and allow Charles Grey, second Earl Grey, ‘a man of unimpeachable honour, and first-rate understanding’, to succeed him (Fraser's Magazine, July 1830, 737). The weekly newspaper Age, edited by the ultra tory blackmailer Charles Molloy Westmacott, also encouraged Grey to overthrow the duke (Age, 6 June 1830, 180). Some ultra tories even drew the conclusion from the passage of Catholic relief that a House of Commons more responsible to a presumably anti-Catholic electorate would be susceptible to their causes. Hence such prominent ultras as Knatchbull advocated moderate parliamentary reform, George Spencer-Churchill, marquess of Blandford, proposed suppressing rotten boroughs, and Charles Gordon-Lennox, fifth duke of Richmond and Lennox, actually joined Grey's reforming whig administration late in 1830.

In 1830, the annus mirabilis of ultra toryism, the movement achieved its aim of bringing down Wellington's administration, though in doing so it broke up the loyalist, Burkeian, Pittite, tory, and, latterly, Conservative coalition that had, save for one year, ruled Britain since 1783. Ultra tories provided thirty-two votes against the ministry in the crucial House of Commons vote on 15 November 1830, which led to Wellington's resignation and the formation of Grey's administration. Richmond and his connections aside, the actual whig Reform Bill, with its mass disfranchisement of aristocratic rotten boroughs, was not what most ultras defined as reform: Newcastle headed the twenty-two ‘stalwarts’ in the House of Lords who voted against the third reading of the whig Reform Bill on 4 June 1832. The years 1831 to 1834, therefore, saw the gradual reconciliation of most ultras and the Wellingtonian tories.

Estimates of ultra tory strength as a parliamentary force vary, but one account has identified nineteen ultra peers and up to seventy-six MPs during 1829–30 (Jupp, 287, 314–15). The leading ultras in the House of Lords, besides Cumberland, Newcastle, Richmond, Stanhope, and Winchilsea, were the deputy grand master of the Orange Order for England and Wales, George Kenyon, second Baron Kenyon, and the old Pittite lawyer, John Scott, first earl of Eldon. In the Commons, besides Knatchbull, the chief ultras were Henry Bankes (1757–1834); the evangelical protestant Sir Robert Harry Inglis; the philanthropic Christian paternalist Michael Thomas Sadler; the political eccentric Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan; and the Eldonian lawyer Sir Charles Wetherell.

Although the tory man-of-affairs John Wilson Croker thought in 1833 that the ultras were ‘the silliest and wildest party’ he had ever seen (L. J. Jennings, ed., Correspondence and Diaries of John Wilson Croker, 1884, 2.210), it is possible to identify them as coherent proponents of a particular mentality, which went beyond a narrow defence of protestant privilege. They can be seen as critics of the power of the executive, and the erosion of provincial authority, as well as offering a ‘country party’ critique of the economic policies of free trade and dear money. The latter explains the adherence of figures like Sadler, who took up the cause of limiting factory hours, and opposed the rigours of the new poor law, and the MP Matthias Attwood (d. 1851), a member of the Birmingham banking family who were prominent critics of the return to the gold standard.

When the term ultra tory was used after the failure of Peel's first administration of 1834–5 it tended to mean those Conservatives, especially in the Lords, who opposed the Peelite policy of sustaining Lord Melbourne's whig ministry in power and protecting it from the radicals. The then ultra leaders, besides Londonderry included Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, first duke of Buckingham, Edward Law, first earl of Ellenborough, and John Singleton Copley, first Baron Lyndhurst. While the ultras of the late 1830s had some personal and ideological connections with the 1827–34 ultras, they were in general a pale reflection of the earlier group, as far at least as political ferocity is concerned. The more respectable ultras of 1836 or 1841 would have had little resonance with the crazed Vyvyan, suspecting Wellington of attempting to poison him, and plotting with Metternich in Vienna in 1834, or with Cumberland and Kenyon's protégé William Blennerhasset Fairman, deputy grand secretary of the Orange Order for Great Britain, fantasizing, in Cumberland's interest, some sort of coup against the accession to the throne of the young Princess Victoria of Kent.

James J. Sack


M. Brock, The Great Reform Act (1973) · B. T. Bradfield, ‘Sir Richard Vyvyan and tory politics’, PhD diss., U. Lond., 1965, 258 · B. T. Bradfield, ‘Sir Richard Vyvyan and the fall of Wellington's government’, University of Birmingham Historical Journal, 11/2 (1968) · C. H. Driver, Tory radical: the life of Richard Oastler (1946) · N. Gash, Reaction and reconstruction in English politics, 1832–1852 (1965) · R. A. Gaunt, ‘The fourth duke of Newcastle, the ultra-tories and the opposition to Canning's administration’, History, 88 (2003), 568–86 · R. A. Gaunt, ed., Unhappy reactionary: the diaries of the fourth duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, 1822–50 (2003) · R. A. Gaunt, ed., Unrepentant Tory: political selections from the diaries of the fourth duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, 1827–38 (2006) · R. L. Hill, Toryism and the people, 1832–1846 (1929) · B. Hilton, A mad, bad, and dangerous people? England 1783–1846 (2006) · P. Jupp, British politics on the eve of reform: the duke of Wellington's administration, 1828–30 (1998) · H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, Kentish family [1960], 219 · J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative: reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c.1760–1832 (1993) · D. G. S. Simes, ‘Ultra tories in British politics, 1824–1834’, D.Phil. diss., U. Oxf, 1974 · J. Wolffe, The protestant crusade in Great Britain, 1829–1860 (1991)