chapter  1
17 Pages

To ‘purchase union thus cheaply’

The controversial statue of an Irish Archbishop in the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament
WithJames E.H. Ford

In 1846, the royal commission responsible for the decoration of the New Palace of Westminster set out a scheme to place eighteen statues of the barons and prelates who enforced Magna Carta in the House of Lords Chamber. Excluded from the Fine Arts Commission’s list because ‘he did not hold an English see’ was Henry de Londres, Archbishop of Dublin (d.1228). This decision caused consternation in Ireland and a bitter debate ensued. Daniel O’Connell and the Young Ireland writers of The Nation newspaper led the nationalist criticism, while the poet Samuel Ferguson presented the disaffected unionist case. Sections of the English press and the distinguished historian and Fine Arts Commissioner Henry Hallam mounted the defence. To appease the ‘truly loyal Irish’ like Ferguson, Hallam ultimately relented, and a statue of de Londres was installed in 1852. However, not all of Hallam’s fellow commissioners agreed to the concession, with English Tory MP Sir Robert Harry Inglis deploring that they should have to ‘purchase union thus cheaply’. This chapter examines this largely forgotten controversy, which saw an obscure thirteenth-century figure thrust into the centre of mid-nineteenth-century debates about ‘British’ national identity and the position of Ireland within the United Kingdom.