Co. Armagh


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of registered freeholders:

8,746 in 1829; 1,361 in 1830

Number of voters:

about 4,800 in 1826


29 June 1826HON. HENRY CAULFEILD2897
 William Vernet1894
 John Ynyr Burges730

Main Article

County Armagh, which, despite being the home of the Catholic church in Ireland, prided itself on being the ‘Protestant Queen of the North’, suffered the indignity of seeing its representation monopolized by pro-Catholics between 1826 and 1832. An increasingly populous county of about 200,000 inhabitants, who mostly farmed small holdings, its prosperity was based on agricultural improvements, a thriving linen trade and the presence of several market towns, including Omagh, Portadown and the disfranchised borough of Charlemont.1 Divided roughly equally between Catholics and Protestants, the county was a frontier region of conflict between the two sects, particularly after the ‘battle of the diamond’ in 1795, soon after which the Orange order was formed as a self-protection force against violent Catholic Defenderism.2 The one remaining parliamentary borough, Armagh, where the county elections were held, was controlled by the archbishop, who from 1822 was an influential member of the Beresford clan. The primate’s attempts, largely ineffectual, to promote the Tory interest in the county were assisted by the dean of Armagh, the 2nd Viscount Lifford.

The Catholic issue had dominated the contest at the general election of 1818, when the late Member William Brownlow’s nephew, Charles junior, who inherited substantial estates at Lurgan in 1822, was returned with another anti-Catholic supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration, William Richardson of Rich Hill, who had sat from 1794-1800 (in the Dublin Parliament) and since 1807.3 This marked a signal victory, not to be repeated, for the small landowners over two other long-standing territorial interests, both of which were now in the hands of representative peers. The 2nd earl of Gosford of Gosford Castle, who had previously allied himself with the Brownlows, but was now, because of his pro-Catholic sympathies, moving towards the Whigs, was very active in the county, of which he was the sole governor. By contrast, the Whig 2nd earl of Charlemont of Castle Caulfeild, county Tyrone, and Marino, near Dublin, resided for long periods on the continent because of illness in his family.4 His brother, Henry Caulfeild of Hockley Lodge, who had represented the county, 1802-7, and again from 1815, was the defeated pro-Catholic candidate in 1818. The suppression of the disturbances attendant on Brownlow’s chairing on that occasion created a legacy of ‘discord, envy and party spirit’, which was ‘left to rankle for a future occasion’.5 Richardson was forced to retire by ill health at the dissolution of 1820; his three unmarried daughters continued to exercise a minor interest after his death two years later. Caulfeild immediately came forward again, presumably with the understanding of the leading patrons that he would be returned with Brownlow. The Waterloo veteran Lieutenant-Colonel William Verner† of Churchhill, son of the former Dungannon Member James Verner, belatedly offered. He was the youngest brother of Thomas Verner, the first grand master of the Irish Orange order, and took over from Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker of Carrickblacker as grand master of the county Armagh Orange order the following year. However, he soon withdrew, complaining of the ‘defective state’ of the registries, but declaring to the freeholders that the

unexpected and unmerited coalition formed against you - reluctantly admitted by some, avowed by others, denied by a few, but believed to exist by all - cannot, will not, be submitted to by this county, always proud of its independence.

Caulfeild and Brownlow were elected without having to undergo the expected contest.6 Pursuant to a requisition, the county meeting on 10 Jan. 1821 approved the loyal address to George IV proposed by Gosford, although Caulfeild censured ministers for their conduct towards Queen Caroline.7 Petitions from the manufacturers of linen cloth for continued protection of their trade were presented to the Commons, 30 Apr. 1823, 15 Apr. 1825, 9 Mar. 1826.8 The petitions of the freemasons of the city and county for exemption from the terms of the Irish Secret Societies Act were brought up in the Commons, 13 Apr., and in the Lords, 28 Apr. 1824.9

Ill-informed newspaper speculation in late 1824 foresaw the prospect of Brownlow, an Orangeman, being threatened by a supposed ‘liberal’, Lord Mandeville*, the son of the 5th duke of Manchester, who had first visited his wife’s Irish estates at Tanderagee the previous year.10 By September 1825, when a dissolution was expected, Brownlow, who had that year converted to the Catholic cause and been ostracized by ‘Ascendancy’ society, did indeed face an opponent, and many hundreds of freeholders were registered by the main proprietors in anticipation of a fierce struggle.11 However, the challenger was not Mandeville (in fact, a rabid anti-Catholic), who was elected for Huntingdonshire, but Verner. Henry Goulburn*, the Irish secretary, commented that the success of this venture would

depend upon whether Colonel Verner will consent to stand upon the support offered to him by the Protestant tenantry against their (as they are called) liberal landlords. I object to bringing these two orders into collision and therefore have no wish that the attempt should be made. As Colonel Verner is stated to be fond of his money I presume it will not.12

Verner did offer at the general election of 1826, perhaps partly because his expenses were underwritten by the Protestant corporation of Dublin, apparently leaving him with only £2,000 to pay.13 He certainly had the full weight of the Orange party behind him, and as Gosford and Caulfeild, whose position was secure, initially declined a juncture with Brownlow, his chances were reckoned to be good. Yet Charlemont was ‘so beset by the Catholic body’ that he overruled his brother and declared in favour of Brownlow, who duly received many of the second votes of Charlemont’s tenants.14 What another of the Verners described as ‘a bitter and wicked contest’ then ensued, and the military failed to prevent disturbances between the rival supporters, who denounced each other with derisory cries of ‘Judas Brownlow’ and ‘Vermin for ever’.15 On the hustings, 21 June 1826, Caulfeild and Brownlow (in green colours) both took issue on the Catholic question with Verner (‘true’ blue colours), who was introduced by Blacker, but had even less success than Brownlow in making himself heard. On the 22nd, when another anti-Catholic, John Ynyr Burges of Wood Park, was nominated in order to capture Verner’s second votes, a poll began. Assuming that most freeholders who voted for Brownlow and Burges gave their first votes to Caulfeild and Verner respectively, there would have been about 4,800 actually polled. The order of the candidates remained unchanged during the six days of polling, and the result was never in serious doubt given the resuscitation of the Brownlow-Gosford connection.16 The victory of two pro-Catholics was hailed as decisive for the future of Ireland by Brownlow, who was treated to several celebratory dinners, notably in Newry on 2 Aug., when he and Caulfeild committed themselves to working for the cause of emancipation.17 For their part, the opponents of relief, who Sir George Hill, Member for Londonderry, considered to include almost all ‘the property and respectability’ of the county, signed an address of thanks to Verner and attended dinners in his honour in Portadown, 8 Sept., and Armagh, 5 Oct. 1826.18

The Protestant inhabitants, headed by Verner, met again in Armagh on 24 Jan. 1827 to approve an anti-Catholic petition.19 This, with 23,000 signatures, was presented to the Commons by Goulburn, who now sat for Armagh, 2 Mar., when he also brought up a similar petition from the archbishop and clergy of the diocese. The latter was presented to the Lords by the bishop of Cashel, 26 Feb., and the former by Lord Farnham on 17 May. In the Commons Caulfeild brought up pro-Catholic petitions from the city and county, 26 Feb., and the Protestant proprietors and £50 freeholders, 2 Mar., and these were presented to the Lords by Gosford, 13 Mar., 20 June 1827.20 Other anti-Catholic petitions from the inhabitants and landowners were brought up in the Lords, 8, 16 May 1828.21 That autumn the attempt by Daniel O’Connell’s* lieutenant John Lawless to lead a mass Catholic procession into Protestant strongholds in Ulster created the danger of sectarian outrages. However, partly as a result of the proclamation against engaging in disorders issued to the inhabitants of counties Armagh and Down by the magistrates, as decided at a meeting in Newry chaired by Gosford, 29 Sept., the stand-off outside Armagh city, into which Lawless was attempting to march, was ended without bloodshed on the 30th. The anti-Catholics remained active and several Brunswick Clubs were formed, including those at Portadown (under Blacker’s presidency), 25 Sept., and Armagh (under Mandeville’s), 9 Oct. 1828.22

The sheriff, who favoured emancipation, refused a requisition for a county meeting on the subject, but the Protestant landowners arranged their own gathering, chaired by Lieutenant-Colonel Maxwell Close of Drumbanagher, in Armagh, 10 Jan. 1829, when anti-Catholic petitions were agreed.23 On 2 Mar. these were brought up in the Commons by Mandeville and in the Lords by the duke of Cumberland. Other hostile petitions were presented to the two Houses from the ministers and congregations of the presbytery, 9, 17 Mar., the archbishop and clergy of the diocese, 16, 17 Mar., and the Orange Institution of the county, 26, 30 Mar. 1829.24 Resentment at the passage of the Wellington administration’s emancipation bill, for which of course Gosford, Charlemont (by proxy) and both Members voted, led to increased Orange activity in the county after the traditional 12th of July parades that year.25 The accompanying alteration of the franchise did not change the balance of power in county Armagh, although, as was intended, the number of electors fell substantially. According to one account of the registry in 1828, there were then 8,215 freeholders, of whom 1,483 (18 per cent) were allocated to Charlemont, 1,030 (13 per cent) to Mandeville, 993 (12 per cent) to Brownlow and 607 (seven per cent) to Gosford. Brownlow plainly exaggerated when he said that his ‘six or seven hundred registered forty shilling freeholders’ would be reduced to fewer than 30 £10 voters, but in fact he could only count on 126 of the 693 electors registered by June 1829. The total registry, in which the four principal landlords retained much the same proportions of support, had risen to about 1,500 the following year.26

A county meeting on 10 May agreed a petition complaining of the higher duties on newspaper stamps and spirits, which was presented to the Commons by Brownlow, 15 June 1830.27 At the general election that summer, Caulfeild retired on the pretext of ill health, but this was probably engineered in order to smooth the way for Gosford’s only son Lord Acheson, who had come of age since the previous dissolution. Verner, who had to abandon another attempt on the representation, addressed the electors to complain that

circumstances have arisen to induce some of those to whom I was formerly indebted for their interest, and upon which I had just grounds to calculate, to withhold it now, and (notwithstanding the declaration of neutrality again made at the commencement of the canvass) you are aware that measures have been taken to ensure the continuance of the representation of the county in the hands of persons professing principles to which I have ever been opposed.

Brownlow and Acheson were elected unopposed and celebrated at a joint election dinner.28 Acheson’s success, which his father described as being ‘as gratifying and satisfactory as possible’, was achieved at a cost of only £200.29 He was considered an acquisition to ministers in Charles Ross’s* summary of the results,30 but he soon turned against them and, like his father, Brownlow and Charlemont, supported the Grey ministry’s reform bill the following year.

There was no opposition to the return of the sitting Members as reformers at the general election of 1831, when criticisms of the Armagh magistrates’ handling of disturbances led to a successful prosecution against the Newry Examiner.31 Yet their opponents were not cowed. Mandeville presented two petitions from the landowners and inhabitants of the county against the Maynooth grant, 23 June.32 In September a false report circulated that Acheson, whose father had recently obtained a household appointment, would receive a United Kingdom peerage. This encouraged Verner to canvass and it was related that since 1826 the coalition of the two biggest interests had ‘been reduced, by the abolition of the "forties", to about a fifth of their then strength’.33 Mandeville, Verner and other Tories were out in force at the county meeting on 28 Dec. 1831, when the Whigs absented themselves. The resulting address to the king, which expressed their alarm at the state of the Protestant interest in Ireland, was entrusted to the leading Orangeman Lord Roden, who had been present.34 A petition from the Protestants of the county for relief from tithes was brought up in the Lords by Charlemont, 9 Aug. 1832.35

As the ailing Brownlow felt unable to offer again at the dissolution later that year, when there were 3,342 registered freeholders, Acheson was left as the only Liberal candidate. His election was secured, as Lord Beresford put it, ‘with the personal active exertions of Lord Charlemont and the lord lieutenant of the county [as Gosford had become the previous year], two of the least scrupulous and out and outs of the Whigs’; he sat until 1847, when he received a peerage. Verner, who, as Gosford admitted, had ‘had the field to himself for such a length of time’ as to be unassailable among the Conservatives, was returned unopposed in 1832 with the support of the ‘greatest part of the gentry and squireens’ and represented the county until 1868, being created a baronet in 1846.36 The result was, therefore, effectively a compromise, and as Henry David Inglis wrote in 1834:

Armagh is much divided in its political and religious opinions. There is supposed to be a pretty equal division of Catholics and Protestants [and] of Conservatives and Liberals ... The great landowners are, for the most part, liberal. The middle ranks and shopkeepers of the town [of Armagh] are divided, but the majority, being Presbyterians, are Liberals. The farmers are generally Orangemen, and the lowest orders, who are mostly Catholics, are repealers. Armagh is not certainly so Conservative, as might be expected in a place where the primate [Lord John George de la Poer Beresford] resides, especially when, to the influence of wealth and rank, is added that which character commands.37

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 61-65; New Hist. Ireland, v. 91, 117.
  • 2. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 178, 179, 182.
  • 3. Add. 40298, ff. 2, 3; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 627, 628.
  • 4. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 175-82; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 220; Key to Both Houses (1832), 293; Belfast Commercial Chron. 25 Jan. 1832.
  • 5. Late Elections (1818), 459.
  • 6. Belfast News Letter, 22 Feb., 7, 14 Mar. 1820, 12 Mar. 1822; PRO NI, Paterson mss D236/534/1.
  • 7. Belfast News Letter, 16 Jan. 1821.
  • 8. CJ, lxxviii. 267; lxxx. 309; lxxxi. 145.
  • 9. CJ, lxxix. 282; LJ, lvi. 183.
  • 10. TCD, Courtown mss P/33/14/11; Belfast News Letter, 26 Aug. 1823.
  • 11. PRO NI, Brownlow mss D1928/F/30; Add. 40380, f. 320.
  • 12. Add. 40331, f. 147.
  • 13. Belfast Commercial Chron. 1 July 1826.
  • 14. PRO NI, Londonderry mss T1536/3C; Add. 40387, f. 212; Belfast Commercial Chron. 26 June 1826.
  • 15. PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/7/14/106; Paterson mss 534/4, 5; Belfast Commercial Chron. 21 June 1826; H. Senior, Orangeism in Ireland and Britain, 220.
  • 16. Belfast Commercial Chron. 24, 26, 28 June, 1 July 1826; PP (1825), xxii. 93.
  • 17. Belfast Commercial Chron. 5 July, 19 Aug., 9, 11 Sept.; Dublin Evening Post, 10 Aug.; The Times, 14 Aug. 1826.
  • 18. PRO NI, Hill mss D642/208; Paterson mss 534/2; Belfast Commercial Chron. 13 Sept., 11 Oct. 1826; Report of Speeches at Meeting of Protestant Gentlemen of Co. Armagh on 5 Oct. 1826 (1826).
  • 19. Belfast News Letter, 26, 30 Jan. 1827; Report of Meeting of Protestant Inhabitants of Co. Armagh (1827).
  • 20. CJ, lxxxii. 231, 259, 261, 262, 265; LJ, lix. 106, 158, 314, 430; The Times, 27 Feb., 3, 14 Mar., 18 May, 21 June 1827.
  • 21. LJ, lx. 364, 455.
  • 22. Belfast News Letter, 3, 14 Oct. 1828; Senior, 228, 229.
  • 23. Belfast News Letter, 16, 27 Jan. 1829.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxiv. 94, 115, 141, 182; LJ, lxi. 90, 207, 208, 291.
  • 25. Senior, 240, 241.
  • 26. Brownlow mss F/30, 81; Add. 40399, f. 90; Belfast News Letter, 26 June 1829, 23 Mar. 1830; PP (1830), xxix. 462, 463.
  • 27. Belfast News Letter, 14 May 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 553.
  • 28. Belfast News Letter, 4 June, 13, 20 July, 13 Aug.; Belfast Guardian, 25 June, 6, 13, 20 July 1830.
  • 29. PRO NI, Gosford mss D1606/1/1/250; 14/2.
  • 30. Add. 40401, f. 132.
  • 31. Belfast Guardian, 29 Apr., 13, 17, 20 May; Newry Examiner, 4 June 1831, 2 May 1832.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxvi. 549.
  • 33. Belfast News Letter, 6, 16 Sept. 1831.
  • 34. Ibid. 27, 30 Dec. 1831, 3 Jan.; The Times, 3 Jan. 1832.
  • 35. LJ, lxiv. 440.
  • 36. Belfast Guardian, 28, 31 Aug., 24 Dec.; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 120/3, Gosford to Smith Stanley, 2 Nov. 1832; Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 10; K.T. Hoppen, Elections, Politics, and Society in Ireland, 305.
  • 37. H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 276, 277.