The ‘Mask’ of Castlereagh



Of all British statesmen Castlereagh remains one of the most anonymous. To outward appearance his career should have proved attractive to at least one type of biographer. One, possibly two duels, a narrow escape from drowning in his youth, an active part in the suppression of an Irish rebellion, an intimate relationship with British and European royalty, attendance at some of the most glittering social occasions of the age, and the whole crowned by suicide — the most famous instance in all British history — the material for the romantic writer seems abundant. But just as Castlereagh repelled contemporary poets, so he has never attracted the imaginative writer to any great extent since that time.1 His slowly growing band of admirers has numbered diplomats, or those interested in diplomacy, rather than any other readily identifiable group. Castlereagh, indeed, is frequently portrayed as the epitome of the nineteenth-century diplomatic profession — secretive, passionless, polished and aloof. When Shelley wrote, ‘He had a mask like Castlereagh’, was there not a second meaning behind the obvious one? Byron stressed Castlereagh’s coldness even in the heat of his worst reputed crimes.


Outward Appearance Identifiable Group British History British Politics Romantic Writer 
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© C. J. Bertlett 1966

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