The fateful duel of 1809 between Lord Castlereagh and George Canning is one of the great puzzles of 19th-century British politics. What made these two titans of the political scene - close colleagues and highly effective members of the Cabinet - draw arms against each other? Canning was Foreign Secretary while Castlereagh was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies: what were they thinking on that ominous morning and what was important enough to provoke two Cabinet ministers to such extraordinary behaviour?This detailed history of the famous duel is the first to examine fully the careers of these two great men and the political conflicts that brought them to fire shots at each other on Putney Heath. Drawing on previously overlooked private papers, Giles Hunt traces what happened on that eventful day and the consequences for British politics. Castlereagh is traditionally depicted as an old-fashioned Tory reactionary, Canning as a brilliant but ambitious liberal. The trigger for Castlereagh's challenge came when Canning threatened to resign unless the Prime Minister made certain changes in the government - including removing Castlereagh from his ministerial position. Surely proof that Castlereagh was more than justified in challenging his villainous colleague. Yet Giles Hunt has uncovered evidence which casts a different light on Canning's character, revealing a man of honour and a politician of principle. Canning was also the only member of the Cabinet with no connection to a peerage and Hunt explores the part notions of class and snobbery have played in popular perceptions of both men. The Duel unpacks the complex characters of these influential men and examines the roots of the political and personal rivalry which led them to face each other with pistols early in the morning of 21st September 1809 for one of the strangest and most significant duels of history.
Castlereagh, Canning and Deadly Cabinet Rivalry