Robert Stewart

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Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, was born in Dublin to an aristocratic father who owned a vast amount of land in Ulster. It was inevitable the son should enter politics.

His lordship had a distinguished career both in Ireland and Great Britain but is chiefly remembered now for having shot the Foreign Secretary, Mr Canning, during a duel occasioned by a disagreement over foreign policy. (Mr Canning was luckily shot only in the thigh. Both men however afterwards resigned, so great was public indignation at this method of conducting government affairs.[28])

Castlereagh's end was a sad one. Overworked, and worn down by his intense unpopularity, he had a nervous crisis from which he never fully recovered, confiding once "My mind, is, as it were, gone." He suffered from a general lowness of spirits and in 1822, despite the care of his wife and attendants to remove all methods of self-harm from his vicinity, he managed to lay hands on a letter-opener and with it slit his throat.

In better times Lord Castlereagh had a keen and original mind. It is unsurprising that he should come up with his own version of the Meraudian heresy.

Like most British politicians his lordship did not enjoy the love and esteem of his countrymen, who expressed their dislike even as his unhappy remains were borne along to the grave (for a considerate coroner's jury had brought in a verdict that he died while insane, thus obviating the usual method of burying a suicide.*) Lord Byron's savage epitaph is often quoted:

"Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and p--s."

  • Those unfortunates judged to have committed self-slaughter are condemned to be buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart.