|Administrative / biographical background:
Sir Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, 1713-1794
Charles Pratt was the third son of Lord Chief Justice Sir John Pratt and Elizabeth Wilson, his second wife. He was only eleven when his father died in 1724. He was educated at Eton, and King's College, Cambridge, became a fellow of King's in 1734 but resigned just before his marriage in 1749, M.A. 1740 and a barrister of the Middle Temple in 1738. His letters to his future wife during the period 1747-1749 give a very vivid account of his poverty and life on the circuit, but he finally, with help from his fellow men on the circuit, managed to gain a reputation at the bar. He became Attorney General under Pitt in 1757, sat in Parliament as a whig for Downton, and in 1761 was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. As Lord Chief Justice he acquitted John Wilkes on the grounds that general warrants were illegal, and became almost as great a popular idol as Wilkes himself, though he earned the hatred of George III, for many years. In 1761 he was Knighted, and in 1765 created Baron Camden of Camden Place, in Kent, a house of which he became very fond.
In the House of Lords he opposed the taxation of the American colonies and the Stamp Act. He was appointed Lord Chancellor in Lord Chatham's administration, 1766, and although opposed to the ministry's American policy retained the Great Seal until it was taken from him in 1770. He then threw himself into opposition, where he admitted he was happiest since he could there keep an open countenance and speak freely, until Chatham's death in 1778. Chatham and he had grown up together at Eton and when his friend died he lost heart and retired from public life.
In 1782 however, he entered the Rockingham ministry as Lord President of the Council, but resigned during the negotiations for the formation of what was later known as the Fox-North coalition. The younger Pitt persuaded him however to resume the Presidency of the Council in 1784 and although it was never his intention to do so, he retained the post until his death in April 1794.
He was created Viscount Bayham and Earl Camden in 1786, an honour which he considered a bribe but which he accepted as it pleased his children.
The letters written by him to his daughters Frances Stewart and Elizabeth Pratt, and to his son in law Robert Stewart, later Marquess of Londonderry, between 1766 and 1790 are some of the most interesting in this collection.
He married in 1749 Elizabeth, daughter and coheir of Nicholas Jeffreys of the Priory, Brecon, by whom he had one son John (Jeffreys), 2nd Earl and 1st Marquess Camden, and four daughters Frances, Elizabeth, Sarah and Jane.
Sir John Jeffreys Pratt, 2nd Earl and 1st Marquess Camden, 1759-1840
John Pratt was the only son of Sir Charles Pratt, Earl Camden and Elizabeth Jeffreys. He assumed the additional surname of Jeffreys in 1799. Like his father he was educated at Eton and Cambridge, but he was, according to those who knew him, diffident and shy, and remained so to the end of his life. His actions throughout show a lack of confidence, he was forever trying to cover up by self justification on paper. Every action was written down; once even 'for the benefit of those into whose hands it shall hereafter fall'.
He filled several minor posts in the government until in 1795 he was persuaded by Pitt to accept the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland. There he was at first unpopular, but his courage soon won respect, despite the fact that the Irish saw in him the frustration of all their hopes, bouyed up by Earl FitzWilliam his predecessor. His term as Lord Lieutenant was not brilliant or effective. He was not the type of man to deal with the situation. His pleas for help were disregarded and when the rebellion broke out in Ireland in 1798 he requested to be replaced.
He became Secretary at War 1804-1805, and President of the Council 1805-1806, 1807-1812. He was a minister without portfolio during the second period of William Pitt's first administration which he joined on his return from Ireland in 1798. He resigned in 1801 over the peace preliminaries with France but agreed to serve again under Pitt as Lord President in 1805 after a somewhat unsuccessful period as Secretary of State for War and Colonies. He served in the Portland Administration 1807-1809, the Perceval Administration 1809-1812 and joined the Liverpool Administration formed in 1812. He resigned in 1812 in dissatisfaction of the government's policy towards the prosecution of the war, and did not again hold office in the government although he made a feeble effort to return in 1819. He was made a Marquess on his resignation.
From then onwards he devoted himself to county affairs until his death in 1840.
He married in 1786, after a courtship of only three weeks, Frances Molesworth, daughter of William Molesworth of Wembury, Co. Devon, and by her had one son, George Charles, 2nd Marquess Camden and three daughters Caroline, Frances and Georgiana.
England profited by draining Ireland of the vast incomes spent here from that country, according to Lord Chatham; it was a policy grounded on fear, fear of competition in industry and trade, fear of opposition and fear of invasion. It was perhaps the blackest period of suppression for Ireland. The English government was itself divided on how Ireland should be governed and though bombarded with suggestions and demands from Ireland for more freedom and independance from England, there was never a large enough pro-Irish party in the government to force or persuade through any measures with any speed which would satisfy the Irish. There was always hesitation which usually aroused irritation, and even when measures were put through, they generally failed to satisfy for the simple reason that having attained their demands, the Irish then imagined they could have obtained more, and complained of the English government's meanness. This last was as a general rule justified because despite any willingness the government might have to give the Irish what they wanted, there was always the anti-Irish party at home to be pacified with concessions, which in the end militated against the Irish and usually nullified concessions made to them.
The population of Ireland in the late eighteenth century was about five and a half million, of these about one fifth were presbyterians and protestants who were concentrated in the north, a small proportion were anglicans, and the remainder were Roman Catholics. There was no unity between these sections of the population, no attempt to unify them, and moreover, no attempt to use this disunity to pacify the country. There were savage penal laws against the Roman Catholics; until 1793 they could not vote, and until 1829 they were allowed no voice in the government of Ireland. Only presbyterians, protestants and anglicans sat in the Parliament as established by William III and even the powers of this Parliament were severely restricted. Poyning's law forbidding it to deal with any legislation which had not been sanctioned by the English Privy Council had been in force since 1494 and remained in force until 1782, and it was rigidly adhered to; from 1719 onwards the Irish were denied their right of appeal to English courts, and the situation was further aggravated by the fact that from this date also decisions made in the Irish courts could be reversed by writ of error to the King's bench. In 1751 the Irish House of Commons was denied the right to manage its own finances.
The Irish economy was subordinated to the supposed industrial interests of England. Ireland was one of England's most lucrative markets. Three quarters of Irish land belonged to Englishmen or Anglo-Irish protestant families; and by the middle of the eighteenth century three quarters of a million pounds in rent was leaving the country each year for the pockets of these absentee landlords. Woollen manufacture was forbidden; all raw wool had to be exported to England, and England alone. Irish ships were not allowed to trade with the colonies, although Ireland was economically dependant on America in that she imported both flax seed and potash for bleaching linen from there. In consequence of being allowed to raise only sheep for wool and cattle for beef for export, there was greater demand for pastureland; this led to depopulation, and forced the rapidly increasing population of peasant farmers to seek a precarious existence 'on a potato patch'. Famine resulted, and during the very severe famines of 1726-29 and 1739-41 many thousands of Irish emigrated to the West Indies. Smuggling prospered and was brutally punished. No industry was given any incentive and none prospered. The country raged for three years against the introduction of Wood's halfpence, but when it was withdrawn in 1725 it brought no peace.
There had been constant demands from the Irish to allow free trade between the two countries but nothing came of the idea until 1779 when it was actually granted, but so hedged round with concessions to the English as to be unworkable. Six years later William Pitt attempted to introduce either a system of free trade or a system of identical duties; the latter system proved more acceptable to the Irish but the outcry in England, led by Josiah Wedgewood was so fierce and incessant that Pitt was forced to accommodate Parliament by offering concessions such as the protection of the West Indies against foreign sugar in Irish ships, the re-affirmation of the East India Company monopoly, the enactment of navigation laws to bind England and Ireland, with a contribution to the British navy from Ireland even when her budget showed a loss, and a definite ruling that no duty should be lower than 10½ per cent. These concessions nullified the agreement. The Irish Parliament rose in fury and the project was abandoned.
Pitt continued to search for a permanent settlement for Ireland and often reiterated the need for this rather than the permanent and persistent feud between the two countries. Lord Rockingham had in 1782 attempted to win Irish goodwill by repealing Poynings law, the perpetual mutiny act and the right of the English Privy Council to alter Irish laws but the fact remained that the only true link between the two countries was the Crown, and the Crown's representative in Ireland was the Lord Lieutenant. Between 1700 and 1724 there were twelve Lords Lieutenant appointed; many were non-resident and many removed for entirely frivolous reasons. There was therefore little continuity in the government from Dublin Castle. The Lord Lieutenant was always an Englishman; the government persistently refused to appoint an Irishman and it is small wonder the Irish had little respect for the King's representative.
The government made a fatal mistake in sending Earl FitzWilliam out as Lord Lieutenant in 1795 for he apparently without leave offered supposedly government supported concessions to the Catholics to win their support. There is no doubt that Pitt had this in mind for he well knew that this was practically the only means by which the Irish could be pacified; he had passed the Catholic Relief Act in 1793 giving Roman Catholics the right to vote on the same basis as non-Catholics; and the idea of a union between the two countries had already been suggested. The removal of Earl FitzWilliam after only three months in office did nothing to silence English opinion at his premature disclosures, or Irish fury at their withdrawal. They greeted Earl Camden, their new Lord Lieutenant with boos and jeers. Rebellion was inevitable. The Irish contact with America had emphasised their own problem. The Americans' fight for independance had inspired them. 1791 had seen the forming of the Society of United Irishmen; other clubs and groups followed; England was forced to withdraw all her troops from Ireland to deal with the threatened invasion from France and to defend her colonies in the West Indies; and was forced to allow yeomanry corps to be raised in Ireland. English control was weak and Ireland had the advantage. In 1797 the French threatened to invade Ireland and use it as a base for activities against England. This was England's greatest fear and her greatest problem; she had not the troops or ships to prevent a landing nor did she trust the Irish; but despite pleas from Earl Camden for troops, money and assistance the English government apparently turned a deaf ear to his pleading. Nothing was done. The French fleet was destroyed in a storm but civil war broke out in Ireland early in 1798. Earl Camden could not cope and requested to be released from his post. He was replaced by Charles, Marquess Cornwallis who very gradually suppressed the rebellion during the next two years, as French assistance was withdrawn.
Between the years 1795 and 1800 the idea of a union between England and Ireland gradually took root and grew. The prime movers in Ireland were the Earl of Clare and Viscount Castlereagh both of whom indulged in persuasion, corruption and bribery to make the idea a reality and win for it the support of all the catholics in Ireland. Pitt's idea of the Union was far broader than that which was finally effected; he envisaged a complete union with free trade operating between the two countries and complete religious emancipation, but when the Act of Union was finally pushed through the Irish Parliament on 1st January 1801, the Irish Catholics found themselves the greatest losers, for though they had gained an enormous number of peerages, they still had no representation even in the Union Parliament, and had none until 1829. This was in the main the fault of George III whose violently anti-Catholic feelings had forced Pitt to abandon his own ideas.