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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 Receives Royal Assent

coat-of-arms-of-the-united-kingdomThe Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, the culmination of the process of Catholic emancipation throughout the United Kingdom, receives royal assent on April 13, 1829. In Ireland it repeals the Test Act 1673 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Parliament of Ireland of 1728. Its passage follows a vigorous campaign that threatens insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime MinisterArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,  and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, give in to avoid civil strife. Ireland is quiet after the passage.

In 1778, English Catholics are relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produces the Gordon Riots of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repeals most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics take an oath of loyalty. In 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary are opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices are still denied. These reforms are sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who hopes thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt’s attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws is thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consents to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws are repealed, but the move fails. In Ireland the repeal of Poynings’ Law in 1782 is followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 permits members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster and to hold all but a handful of public offices. O’Connell had won a seat in a by-election for Clare in 1828 against an Anglican. Under the then extant penal law, O’Connell as a Catholic, is forbidden to take his seat in Parliament. Peel, the Home Secretary, until then is called “Orange Peel” because he always supports the Orange (anti-Catholic) position. Peel now concludes, “Though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger.” Fearing a revolution in Ireland, Peel draws up the Catholic Relief Bill and guides it through the House of Commons. To overcome the vehement opposition of both the House of Lords and King George IV, the Duke of Wellington works tirelessly to ensure passage in the House of Lords, and threatens to resign as Prime Minister if the King does not give Royal Assent.

With the Universities Tests Act 1871, which opens the universities to Roman Catholics, Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom is virtually complete.

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Death of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, dies on September 14, 1852. His defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain’s military heroes.

Wellesley is born in Dublin, into the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. He is commissioned as an ensign in the British Army in 1787, serving in Ireland as aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. He is also elected as a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons. He is a colonel by 1796, and sees action in the Netherlands and in India, where he fights in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the Siege of Seringapatam. He is appointed governor of Seringapatam and Mysore in 1799 and, as a newly appointed major-general, wins a decisive victory over the Maratha Confederacy at the Battle of Assaye in 1803.

Wellesley rises to prominence as a general during the Peninsular War of the Napoleonic Wars, and is promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the First French Empire at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon’s exile in 1814, he serves as the ambassador to France and is granted a dukedom. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he commands the allied army which, together with a Prussian army under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, defeats Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellesley’s battle record is exemplary and he ultimately participates in some 60 battles during the course of his military career.

Wellesley is famous for his adaptive defensive style of warfare, resulting in several victories against numerically superior forces while minimising his own losses. He is regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time, and many of his tactics and battle plans are still studied in military academies around the world.

After the end of his active military career, Wellesley returns to politics. He is British prime minister as part of the Tory party from 1828 to 1830, and for a little less than a month in 1834. He oversees the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, but opposes the Reform Act 1832. He continues as one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement and remains Commander-in-Chief of the British Army until his death.

Wellesley dies at Walmer Castle in Deal, Kent, his residence as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, on September 14, 1852. He is found to be unwell on that morning and is aided from his military campaign bed, the same one he used throughout his historic military career, and seated in his chair where he dies. His death is recorded as being due to the aftereffects of a stroke culminating in a series of seizures.

Although in life Wellesley hates travelling by rail, his body is taken by train to London, where he is given a state funeral, one of only a handful of British subjects to be honoured in that way, and the last heraldic state funeral to be held in Britain. The funeral takes place on November 18, 1852. He is buried in a sarcophagus of luxulyanite in St. Paul’s Cathedral next to Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson.