County of Down Election, 1805. The Patriotic Miscellany: or Mirror of Wit, Genius and Truth, being a Collection of all the Publications during the late contested Election between The Hon. Colonel J. Meade and the Right Hon. Lord Viscount Castlereagh.


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London: Printed for the Editor, [1805]. Octavo. pp. 104. Contemporary full diced russia, spine professionally rebacked, title in gilt direct. Some minor wear to extremities. A very good copy. Bradshaw 4909. British Museum Catalogue suggests Dublin as place of printing. Names of persons identified captioned in ink.
The 1805 by-election for one of the parliamentary seats for County Down was precipitated by the promotion of Lord Castlereagh, one of the sitting members, to become Secretary of State for War in William Pitt’s last administration. This required him to resign and stand again for parliament. Castlereagh’s family, the Stewarts of Mount Stewart, were bitter political rivals of the Hills of Hillsborough, locally and nationally, and 1805 presented a novel opportunity to the latter for revenge against the former.
The rivalry had stretched back to Irish general election of 1790, which saw the first of the titanic contests between the Hills and the Stewarts. That had been a hugely costly campaign, with each side mobilizing an army of minor gentry and freeholders across the populous, prosperous and very Protestant county of Down, yet it had in the end been something of a draw. But the far greater wealth and local power of Arthur Hill, who succeeded to the marquessate of Downshire in 1793, became increasingly evident, and he played a critical role during the 1790s in keeping the lid on political radicalism both in the county and in Belfast. After the suppression of the 1798 Rebellion the marquis emerged as a dominant opponent of the proposed parliamentary union (primarily on the grounds that it would likely bring about full Catholic emancipation), at a time when the Union as a political project was being choreographed nationally by none other than Lord Castlereagh, in his role as Chief Secretary for Ireland.
As a result of his active opposition to Union, the marquess of Downshire was stripped of civil and military office by Dublin Castle in what in his eyes was a deeply unmerited humiliation. He fell ill and died shortly after the Union. Lady Downshire, his independently wealthy widow, held Castlereagh as a major contributor to her husband’s demise, and she proved a formidable enemy - thus her determination in 1805 to invest vast resources to defeat Castlereagh’s re-election and promote a rival candidate, Col. John Meade. The prolonged contest included the funding by Lady Downshire of a flood of squibs, poems, songs and mock chapters from Scripture, all of them attacking Castlereagh as the quondam independent turned corrupt pillar of government and ridiculing the base motives of his supporters. There was a huge expenditure by both sides on campaign entertainment.
The legacy of it all is represented in this remarkable collection of electoral ephemera. It was published in London, not Belfast, and appeared shortly after Castlereagh’s ignominious withdrawal from the contest (a safe seat was found for him in Yorkshire). The high production values here suggest a further motive beyond a mere celebration of Downshire success: the desire to damage and humiliate Castlereagh in the parliamentary world of Westminster (even though a small number of pieces supportive of Castlereagh were included, perhaps to suggest faux editorial neutrality). As a collection, it presents a superb gallery of the varieties of printed weaponry that could be used in Irish election contests before the era of reform, in those instances where the candidates had deep pockets.
In this copy the plates have been hand-coloured by a contemporary and the characters depicted have been identified in MS by a former owner. Some of the identifications are obvious (e.g. Castlereagh’s three supportive Presbyterian ministers on the initial triptych), some are not. But such identifications are unusual in extant copies and they add greatly to the interest here.


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