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THE LEGACY OF CHARLES LENNOX, LORD LIEUTENANT

Kildare Voice August 24 2007
 
The legacy of Lennox
by
EOGHAN CORRY
 
 
 
Two hundred years since the visit of Charles Lennox we take a look back at the events of 1807 
 
The August of 1807, exactly 200 years ago this month, was a time of betrayal for Kildare’s people. A summer that had started with hope was to lead to despair.
Things had gone wrong dramatically when the London government had fallen apart. The so-called “Ministry of All the Talents”, which included liberal interests for the first time wince the 1770s, had been dismissed by George III, the king who went into history for his practice of talking to trees. He put a new hardline regime in place.
A new government had been sworn in and a new Lord Lieutenant arrived in Dublin. He was an unlikely hard-liner.
Charles Lennox had so many Kildare connections he could have counted as a local – three of his aunts were married to county grandees.
Louisa and Emily Lennox were two of the most powerful women in the country and the subject of a lively pseudo-historical biography by Stella Tillyard, Aristocrats.
Sarah, who married George Napier of Oakley Park, was a fancy of George IV when he before he came king. Another aunt, Caroline, was father of the whig revolutionary, Charles Fox. Tillyard’s account, much deprecated by serious historians like Roy Foster, theorises that it was Caroline who was the networking genius in the soap opera that was 18th century English high society.
The family lineage also made him an unlikely conservative. As well as Fox, whose vendetta against George II prevented him getting the political advancement he deserved, Lennox was a first cousin of Lord Edward FitzGerald.
He was Duke of Richmond by virtue of the fact he was descended from Charles II of England by his mistress Louise de Kéroualle.
His grandfather had managed to return to England after fleeing with James II and converting to Catholicism, convert back to Protestantism and get his titles back.
His father had advocated a policy of concession in Ireland, with reference to which he originated the phrase “a union of hearts,” which sounds suspiciously like John Hume and which long afterward became famous when his use of it had been forgotten. 
 
But here he was in Straffan in the summer of 1807, outlining a hard line policy by a new regime at the home of Joseph Henry. We cannot be sure what was going on, but it is likely that he was checking out the local disaffected gentry of Kildare, the liberal friends of his cousin the Duke of Leinster, because among the group at that meeting was Valentine Lawless, Lord Cloncurry, twice imprisoned as a United Irishman and a man whose revolutionary politics are still the subject of speculation.
“In 1807, the Duke of Bedford was succeeded in the viceroyalty by the Duke of Richmond, at whose court I did not present myself,” Cloncurry’s memoir recalled, “but who, notwithstanding, with that unaffected bonhommie for which he was noted, insisted upon making my acquaintance.”
“I met his Grace at Straffan (the seat of Mr. Henry), and he did me the honour of visiting me at Lyons. During that period, however, I had few relations with the government, and passed my time entirely in the ordinary employments of a magistrate and country gentleman.”
We never shall know whether Lennox and his rebel contacts talked about revolution or repression at that dinner party in Straffan, in the predecessor of the K club, two hundred years ago. All we know is that it was an unhappy time for Kildare.
 
The new insurrection act that was posted in the towns of Kildare on August 1st 1807 was a draconian law even by the standards of the time.
Kildare was ostensibly peaceful. It had been four years since Maynooth was captured and held for two days during Emmet’s rebellion, nine years since most of the county been captured by the 1798 rebels for two days and Prosperous held for four weeks.
After nine years of repression, there was hope that a new act would bring to an end the excesses of the yeomanry and the obstruction of liberties, trade and commerce of local people.
The people were to be disappointed. A late frost had destroyed the potato crop, starvation stalked the countryside, and there were fears of renewed rebellion. Over in London from where the laws emanated, it was the hawks who were winning the arguments.
On August 1st 1807 the Dublin Castle regime sent word that the new Insurrection Act had been passed which suspended trial by jury.
Seven years transportation became the penalty for anyone who broke a sunset to sunrise curfew, administered illegal oaths or possessed arms.
It was pretty grim news for the country at a time when they were anticipating a more liberal regime, Catholic emancipation and the modicum of democracy they had been promised in return for the abolition of Ireland’s protestant-only parliament.
 
Key dates
24 Mar 1807 Fall of England’s first cross-party government for 40 years, Lord Grenville’s Ministry of All the Talents which includes Charles James Fox, cousin of Charles Lennox and of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
19 Apr. Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, sworn in as Lord Lieutenant, Sir Arthur Wellesley appointed Chief Secretary
13 May - 6 June General election. Duke of Portland continues as Prime Minister. Henry Fitzgerald replaces his brother Robert Fitzgerald as Kildare MP at Westminster.
1 Aug. Insurrection Act promulgated in Kildare
August Charles Lennox visits Straffan

Eoghan Corry examines the policies of the new Lord Lieutenant in 1807, Charles Lennox, who had many Kildare connections - The Kildare Voice 24 August 2007. Our thanks to Eoghan


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