Castlereagh: A Life

John Bew, Author
John Bew. Oxford Univ, $39.95 (720p) ISBN 978-0-19-993159-0
Reviewed on: 04/30/2012
Release date: 09/01/2012
Viscount Castlereagh (1769–1822) is remembered as the arch-reactionary of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which assembled after Napoleon’s defeat. He supported the resulting agreement that strengthened European monarchies at the expense of rising nationalist and democratic movements. Historian Dew, lecturer at King’s College, London, insists that Castlereagh was subtle, sensible, and quintessentially English, a pioneer of realpolitik: diplomacy based on practicality rather than idealism. An Irish aristocrat, he entered Parliament at 25 and quickly impressed Prime Minister William Pitt. Although a reformer, Castlereagh detested the extremism of the French Revolution, which appealed to other Irish patriots who never forgave his suppression of the 1798 uprising and support of the 1801 union with Britain. As minister for war after 1804 and secretary of state after 1812, Castlereagh was a dominating figure during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Bew leans over backward to rehabilitate his subject, an aloof character unpopular during his lifetime even in England, despite his greatness as a statesman. Bew’s conclusions are convincing; most readers will welcome this thoughtful and lucidly written biography. 20 color illus.; maps. Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel & Land (U.K.). (Sept.)
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