From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Succeeded byConservative Party
International affiliationNone

The Ultra-Tories were an Anglican faction of British and Irish politics that appeared in the 1820s in opposition to Catholic emancipation. They were later called the "extreme right-wing" of British and Irish politics.[1] They broke away from the governing party in 1829 after the passing of the Catholic Relief Act 1829. Many of those labelled Ultra-Tory rejected the label and saw themselves as upholders of the Whig Revolution settlement of 1689.[2] The Ultras were defending "a doctrine essentially similar to that which ministerial Whigs had held since the days of Burnet, Wake, Gibson and Potter".[3]


A faction that was never formally organised, the Ultra-Tories were united in their antipathy towards the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel for what they saw as a betrayal of Tory political and religious principle on the issue of Catholic Emancipation. They took their opposition to Peel to the extent of running a candidate against Peel when he had to resign his Oxford University seat when taking up political office (a requirement for all MPs when taking a ministerial office then). Though Peel was able to get back to Parliament via another parliamentary seat, this battle between Tory factions further embittered internal relations in the party.

The Ultra-Tory faction was informally led in the House of Commons by Member of Parliament Sir Edward Knatchbull and Sir Richard Vyvyan. In the House of Lords they enjoyed the support of many ex-cabinet ministers and leading peers like the Duke of Cumberland, the Earl of Winchilsea and the Duke of Newcastle. Their general viewpoint could be described as extreme on the matter of defending the established Anglican ascendancy and barring Catholics from political office or influence. However, on the issue of electoral reform they were split; a large group came to a view that it could strengthen the appeal of pro-Protestantism.

The inability of the Tories to reunite led to losses in the 1830 General election following the death of King George IV. Combined also with the news of the July Revolution in France and a series of bad harvests in England which saw a great increase in political agitation, some Ultras returned to the party. However, there were sufficient Ultra-Tories left who were able to combine with the Whigs and the Canningite grouping (who had previously split from the main Tory party back in 1827–1828 over the issue of Catholic Emancipation which they had supported) to defeat Wellington who finally resigned in November 1830.

This led to the creation of a government with Lord Grey as Prime Minister and the leading Canningites like Lord Palmerston and Lord Melbourne. One leading Ultra-Tory, the Duke of Richmond, joined the Grey Cabinet and a few others appointed in more junior ministerial positions. However the scope of the subsequent reforms proved too much for many of the pro-government Ultras who then moved back into opposition. Eventually also Richmond left the Whig led coalition and returned to the Tory party (or the Conservative Party as it was generally now known) after 1834.

Except for a few irreconcilables the vast bulk of the Ultra-Tories would eventually move over to the Conservatives, with some like Knatchbull, enjoying political office in Peel's first government in 1834. However, when the party split again in 1846 over the issue of abolishing the Corn Laws – the remaining Ultra-Tories quickly rallied to the 'Protectionist' banner and helped to vote Peel out from office once again – this time for good.[4]

The ultra-Tories were civilian politicians. In practice they had the overwhelming support of the Anglican clergy and bishops, many of whom came under severe verbal attack in their home parishes and dioceses for opposition to the Reform Act of 1832.[5]


Clark (1985) depicts England before 1828 as a nation in which the vast majority of the people believed in the divine right of kings, and the legitimacy of a hereditary nobility, and in the rights and privileges of the Anglican Church. In Clark's interpretation, the system remained virtually intact until it suddenly collapsed in 1828, because Catholic emancipation undermined its central symbolic prop, Anglican supremacy. Clark argues that the consequences were enormous: "The shattering of a whole social order ... What was lost at that point ... was not merely a constitutional arrangement, but the intellectual ascendancy of a worldview, the cultural hegemony of the old elite."[6] Clark's interpretation has been widely debated in the scholarly literature[7] and almost every singly historian who has examined the issue has highlighted the substantial amount of continuity between the periods before and after 1828–1832.[8]

Evans (1996) emphasizes that the political importance of Catholic emancipation in 1829 was that it split the anti-reformers beyond repair and diminished their ability to block future reform laws, especially the great Reform Act of 1832. Paradoxically, Wellington's success in forcing through emancipation converted many Ultra-Tories to demand reform of Parliament. They saw that the votes of the rotten boroughs had given the government its majority. Therefore, it was an ultra-Tory the Marquess of Blandford who in February 1830 introduced the first major reform bill, calling for the transfer of rotten borough seats to the counties and large towns, the disfranchisement of non-resident voters, preventing Crown office-holders from sitting in Parliament, the payment of a salary to MPs, and the general franchise for men who owned property. Such ultras believed that somewhat more open elections would be relied upon to oppose Catholic equality.[9]

In the next few decades the Oxford Movement, moving a swathe of the Anglican church into common understandings with Catholicism, immense building for the newly invented fast locomotives, innovative and widespread industry and infrastructure across the Empire and especially Britain, much with the assistance of Irish labour, and education of freedom of religion would render anti-catholicism a marginalised political view, in all but Ireland. There the unexpected Irish potato famine, continued Protestant Ascendancy and more muted investment in industry led to decades of heightened British-Irish tension. This discontent was ceded a large political platform in a decade of major democratic improvement and the founding of what rapidly became a highly numerous permitted party, the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, itself the product of earlier movements named after the growing calls for Home Rule, devolution short of actual independence. Its growing cause was anathema to the defunct Ultra-Tories (so appalled by the Irish Rebellion of 1798) yet so pervasive was the Ultra-Tories' legacy in church and highest echolons of state. The cause was denied the support of later political natural allies such as the First Asquith Ministry and many other Liberals preferring to garner British votes and echo nationalism across the main global empires, a key cause of the Easter Rising, 1916. At the same time ardent nationalism in economically depressed countries would lead to the birth of fascism. It would take the Holocaust and World War II finally to proscribe discrimination on the basis of religion across thus civilised and educated peoples and countries, those party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Many of those on the enlightened, no longer minority "radical" cause but newly controlling left wing of British politics already espoused or would come to embrace self-determination and freedom of religion across the empire. Prominent Ultra-Tories in the church and Parliament were vehemently in the anti-Home Rule camp and whose exegis towards losing Ireland from the British Empire was repeated or alluded to so often in subsequent decades in Parliament across both main parties that it would result in the early 19th century and 20th century frequent sub-splitting and partial reuniting of the Liberal Party (UK) and no single party dominating the left of British politics, save for the 1930s to 1970s.


  1. ^ James J. Sack, ‘Ultra tories (act. 1827–1834)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 19 Sept 2011.
  2. ^ J. J. Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative. Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 69.
  3. ^ J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1688-1832. Ideology, social structure and political practice during the ancien regime (Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 408.
  4. ^ Pearce and Stern, Government and Reform: Britain 1815-1918 (Second Edition), page 35. Hodder Murray, 2000
  5. ^ Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church (1966) vol 1 pp 24-47.
  6. ^ J. C. D. Clark, pp 90, 409.
  7. ^ Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England, 1783-1846 (Clarendon Press, 2006) pp. 668–671
  8. ^ Professor Frank O'Gorman, review of English Society 1688-1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime (review no. 41b), accessed 25 July 2012.
  9. ^ Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783–1870 (2nd ed. 1990), p. 216

Further reading[edit]

  • Gaunt, R. A. "The fourth duke of Newcastle, the ultra-tories and the opposition to Canning's administration" History 88 (2003), 568–86 ·
  • Jaggard, Edwin. "Lord Falmouth and the Parallel Political Worlds of Ultra-Toryism, 1826–32" Parliamentary History (2014) 33: 300–320. doi:10.1111/1750-0206.12099