The son of wealthy textile-manufacturer and politician Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet, making Robert the first future Prime Minister from an industrial business background, he was educated at Bury Grammar School, Hipperholme Grammar School and Harrow School, subsequently earning a double first in classics and mathematics from Christ Church, Oxford. He entered the House of Commons in 1809 under the tutelage of his father and of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. Peel was widely seen as a "rising star" in the Conservative Party and served in various junior ministerial offices, becoming (for example) Chief Secretary for Ireland (1812–1818) and Chairman of the Bullion Committee.
Peel entered the Cabinet for the first time as Home Secretary (1822–1827), where he reformed and liberalised the criminal law and created the modern police force, leading to a new type of officer known in tribute to him as "bobbies" and "peelers". He cut tariffs to stimulate trade; to replace the lost revenue he pushed through a 3% income tax (1842). He played a central role in making free trade a reality (1840s) and set up a modern banking system. After the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson, the Earl of Liverpool, Peel resigned as Home Secretary, but after a brief period out of office he returned as Home Secretary under his political mentor the Duke of Wellington (1828–1830), also serving as Leader of the House of Commons. Initially a supporter of legal discrimination against Catholics, Peel eventually supported the repeal of the Test Act (1828) and the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, claiming that "though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger".
In 1830 the Whigs finally returned to power and Peel became a member of the Opposition for the first time. After successive election defeats, leadership of the Conservative Party gradually passed from Wellington to Peel, and when King William IV asked Wellington to become Prime Minister in November 1834, he declined and Peel was selected instead, with Wellington serving as caretaker until Peel took office. Peel then issued the Tamworth Manifesto (December 1834), laying down the principles upon which the modern British Conservative Party is based. His first ministry was a minority government, dependent on Whig support and with Peel serving as his own Chancellor of the Exchequer. After only four months, his government collapsed and he served as Leader of the Opposition during the second government of the Viscount Melbourne (1835–1841). Peel declined to head another minority government in May 1839, prompting the Bedchamber crisis. He finally became Prime Minister again after the 1841 general election. His second government ruled for five years – its major legislation included the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, the Income Tax Act 1842, the Factories Act 1844 and the Railway Regulation Act 1844.
Peel's government was weakened by anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment following the controversial Maynooth Grant of 1845. After the outbreak of the Great Irish Potato Famine, his decision to join with Whigs and Radicals to repeal the Corn Laws led to his resignation as Prime Minister in 1846. Peel remained an influential backbench MP and leader of the Peelite faction until his death in 1850.
Peel often started from a traditional Tory position in opposition to a measure, then reversed his stance and became the leader in supporting liberal legislation. This happened with the Test Act, Catholic Emancipation, the Reform Act, income tax and, most notably, the repeal of the Corn Laws as the first two years of the Irish famine forced this resolution because of the urgent need for new food supplies. Peel, a Conservative, achieved repeal with the support of the Whigs in Parliament, overcoming the opposition of most of his own party. Many critics accordingly saw him as a traitor to the Tory cause, or as "a Liberal wolf in sheep's clothing", because his final position reflected liberal ideas. Historian A.J.P. Taylor says: "Peel was in the first rank of 19th century statesmen. He carried Catholic Emancipation; he repealed the Corn Laws; he created the modern Conservative Party on the ruins of the old Toryism."
Peel was born at Chamber Hall, Bury, Lancashire, to the industrialist and parliamentarian Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet and his wife Ellen Yates. His father was one of the richest textile manufacturers of the early Industrial Revolution. Peel was educated briefly at Bury Grammar School, at Hipperholme Grammar School, then at Harrow School and finally Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a double first in Classics and Mathematics. He was a law student at Lincoln's Inn in 1809 before entering Parliament.
Peel saw part-time military service as a Captain in the Manchester Regiment of Militia in 1808, and later as Lieutenant in the Staffordshire Yeomanry Cavalry in 1820.
Peel entered politics in 1809 at the age of 21, as MP for the Irish rotten borough of Cashel, Tipperary. With a scant 24 electors on the rolls, he was elected unopposed. His sponsor for the election (besides his father) was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, with whom Peel's political career would be entwined for the next 25 years. Peel made his maiden speech at the start of the 1810 session, when he was chosen by Prime Minister Spencer Perceval to second the reply to the king's speech. His speech was a sensation, famously described by the Speaker, Charles Abbot, as "the best first speech since that of William Pitt."
As chief secretary in Dublin in 1813, he proposed the setting up of a specialist police force, later called "peelers". In 1814 the Royal Irish Constabulary was founded under Peel.
For the next decade he occupied a series of relatively minor positions in the Tory governments: Undersecretary for War, Chief Secretary for Ireland, and chairman of the Bullion Committee (charged with stabilising British finances after the end of the Napoleonic Wars). He also changed constituency twice: first picking up another constituency, Chippenham, then becoming MP for Oxford University in 1817.
He later became an MP for Tamworth from 1830 until his death. His home of Drayton Manor has since been demolished.
Peel was considered one of the rising stars of the Tory party, first entering the cabinet in 1822 as Home Secretary. As Home Secretary, he introduced a number of important reforms of British criminal law: most memorably establishing the Metropolitan Police Force (Metropolitan Police Act 1829) for London. It was the enabling legislation for the first English police force, the "bobbies" (in England) or "peelers" (in Ireland), which served as the model for modern urban police departments throughout England. He also reformed the criminal law, reducing the number of crimes punishable by death, and simplified it by repealing a large number of criminal statutes and consolidating their provisions into what are known as Peel's Acts. He reformed the gaol system, introducing payment for gaolers and education for the inmates.
He resigned as home secretary after the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool became incapacitated and was replaced by George Canning.
He helped in the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in May 1828. They required many officials to be communicants in the Anglican Church and penalised both nonconformists and Catholics. They were no longer enforced but were a matter of humiliation. Peel at first opposed the repeal but reversed himself and led the repeal, after consultation with Anglican Church leaders. In future religious issues he made it a point to consult with church leaders from the major denominations.
Canning favoured Catholic Emancipation, while Peel had been one of its most outspoken opponents (earning the nickname "Orange Peel", with Orange the colour of the anti-Catholic Irish Unionists). George Canning himself died less than four months later and, after the brief premiership of Lord Goderich, Peel returned to the post of Home Secretary under the premiership of his long-time ally the Duke of Wellington. During this time he was widely perceived as the number-two in the Tory Party, after Wellington himself.
However, the pressure on the new ministry from advocates of Catholic Emancipation was too great and an Emancipation Bill was passed the next year. The government threatened to resign if the king opposed the bill; he finally relented. Peel reversed himself and took charge of passing Catholic Emancipation. However his action caused many Tories to have doubts about his sincerity; they never fully trusted him again.
Peel felt compelled to stand for re-election of his seat in Oxford, as he was representing the graduates of Oxford University (many of whom were Anglican clergymen), and had previously stood on a platform of opposition to Catholic Emancipation. Peel lost his seat, and was found another seat, moving to a rotten borough, Westbury, retaining his Cabinet position.
It was in 1829 that Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force for London based at Scotland Yard. The 1,000 constables employed were affectionately nicknamed 'bobbies' or, somewhat less affectionately, 'peelers'. Although unpopular at first, they proved very successful in cutting crime in London, and by 1857 all cities in the UK were obliged to form their own police forces. Known as the father of modern policing, Peel developed the Peelian Principles which defined the ethical requirements police officers must follow to be effective. In 1829, when setting forth the principles of policing a democracy, Sir Robert Peel declared: "The police are the public and the public are the police."
The middle and working classes in England at that time, however, were clamouring for reform, and Catholic Emancipation was only one of the ideas in the air. The Tory ministry refused to bend on other issues and were swept out of office in 1830 in favour of the Whigs. The following few years were extremely turbulent, but eventually enough reforms were passed that King William IV felt confident enough to invite the Tories to form a ministry again in succession to those of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne in 1834. Peel was selected as prime minister but was in Italy at the time, so Wellington acted as a caretaker for three weeks until Peel's return.
The Tory Ministry was a minority government and depended on Whig goodwill for its continued existence. Parliament was dissolved in December 1834 and a general election called. Voting took place in January and February 1835 and Peel's supporters gained around 100 seats, but this was not enough to give them a majority.
As his statement of policy at the general election of January 1835, Peel issued the Tamworth Manifesto. This document is often seen as the basis on which the modern Conservative Party was founded. In it Peel pledged that the Conservatives would endorse modest reform.
The Whigs formed a compact with Daniel O'Connell's Irish Radical members to repeatedly defeat the government on various bills. Eventually after only about 100 days in government Peel's ministry resigned out of frustration and the Whigs under Lord Melbourne returned to power. The only real achievement of Peel's first administration was a commission to review the governance of the Church of England. This ecclesiastical commission was the forerunner of the Church Commissioners.
In May 1839, he was offered another chance to form a government, this time by the new monarch, Queen Victoria. However, this too would have been a minority government, and Peel felt he needed a further sign of confidence from his Queen. Lord Melbourne had been Victoria's confidant since her accession in 1837, and many of the higher posts in Victoria's household were held by the wives and female relatives of Whigs; there was some feeling that Victoria had allowed herself to be too closely associated with the Whig party. Peel therefore asked that some of this entourage be dismissed and replaced with their Conservative counterparts, provoking the so-called Bedchamber Crisis. Victoria refused to change her household, and despite pleadings from the Duke of Wellington, relied on assurances of support from Whig leaders. Peel refused to form a government, and the Whigs returned to power.
Peel came to office during an economic recession which had seen a slump in world trade and a budget deficit of £7.5 million run up by the Whigs. Confidence in banks and businesses was low, and a trade deficit existed.
To raise revenue Peel's 1842 budget saw the re-introduction of the income tax, removed previously at the end of the Napoleonic War. The rate was 7d in the pound, or just under 3 per cent. The money raised was more than expected and allowed for the removal and reduction of over 1,200 tariffs on imports including the controversial sugar duties. It was also in the 1842 budget that the repeal of the corn laws was first proposed. It was defeated in a Commons vote by a margin of 4:1.
Peel finally had a chance to head a majority government following the election of July 1841. His promise of modest reform was held to, and the second most famous bill of this ministry, while "reforming" in 21st-century eyes, was in fact aimed at the reformers themselves, with their constituency among the new industrial rich. The Factory Act 1844 acted more against these industrialists than it did against the traditional stronghold of the Conservatives, the landed gentry, by restricting the number of hours that children and women could work in a factory and setting rudimentary safety standards for machinery. Interestingly, this was a continuation of his own father's work as an MP, as the elder Robert Peel was most noted for reform of working conditions during the first part of the 19th century. Helping him was Lord Shaftesbury, a British MP who also established the coal mines act.
In 1843 Peel was the target of a failed assassination attempt; a criminally-insane Scottish wood turner named Daniel M'Naghten stalked him for several days before accidentally killing Peel's personal secretary Edward Drummond instead.
The most notable act of Peel's second ministry, however, was the one that would bring it down. Peel moved against the landholders by repealing the Corn Laws, which supported agricultural revenues by restricting grain imports. This radical break with Conservative protectionism was triggered by the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849). Tory agriculturalists were sceptical of the extent of the problem, and Peel reacted slowly to the famine, famously stating in October 1846 (already in opposition): "There is such a tendency to exaggeration and inaccuracy in Irish reports that delay in acting on them is always desirable".
His own party failed to support the bill, but it passed with Whig and Radical support. On the third reading of Peel's Bill of Repeal (Importation Act 1846) on 15 May, MPs voted 327 votes to 229 (a majority of 98) to repeal the Corn Laws. On 25 June the Duke of Wellington persuaded the House of Lords to pass it. On that same night Peel's Irish Coercion Bill was defeated in the Commons by 292 to 219 by "a combination of Whigs, Radicals, and Tory protectionists". Following this, on 29 June 1846, Peel resigned as prime minister.
Though he knew repealing the laws would mean the end of his ministry, Peel decided to do so. It is possible that Peel merely used the Irish Famine as an excuse to repeal the Corn Laws as he had been an intellectual convert to free trade since the 1820s. Blake points out that if Peel were convinced that total repeal was necessary to stave off the famine, he would have enacted a bill that brought about immediate temporary repeal, not permanent repeal over a three-year period of gradual tapering-off of duties.
The historian Boyd Hilton argues Peel knew from 1844 he was going to be deposed as the Conservative leader. Many of his MPs had taken to voting against him, and the rupture within the party between liberals and paternalists which had been so damaging in the 1820s, but masked by the issue of parliamentary reform in the 1830s, was brought to the surface over the Corn Laws. Hilton's hypothesis is that Peel wished to actually be deposed on a liberal issue so that he might later lead a Peelite/Whig/Liberal alliance.
As an aside in reference to the repeal of the Corn Laws, Peel did make some moves to subsidise the purchase of food for the Irish, but this attempt was small and had little tangible effect. In the age of laissez-faire, government taxes were small, and subsidies or direct economic interference were almost nonexistent. That subsidies were actually given was very much out of character for the political times; Peel's successor, Lord John Russell, received more criticism than Peel on Irish policy. The repeal of the Corn Laws was more political than humanitarian. Peel's support for free trade could already be seen in his 1842 and 1845 budgets; in late 1842 Graham wrote to Peel that "the next change in the Corn Laws must be to an open trade" while arguing that the government should not tackle the issue. Speaking to the cabinet in 1844, Peel argued that the choice was maintenance of the 1842 Corn Law or total repeal. Despite all of Peel's efforts, his reform programs had little effect on the situation in Ireland.
Peel did retain a hard core of supporters however, known as Peelites, and at one point in 1849 was actively courted by the Whig/Radical coalition. He continued to stand on his conservative principles, however, and refused. Nevertheless, he was influential on several important issues, including the furtherance of British free trade with the repeal of the Navigation Acts. Peel was a member of the committee which controlled the House of Commons Library, and on 16 April 1850 was responsible for passing the motion that controlled its scope and collection policy for the rest of the century.
Peel was thrown from his horse while riding on Constitution Hill in London on 29 June 1850. The horse stumbled on top of him, and he died three days later on 2 July at the age of 62 due to a clavicular fracture rupturing his subclavian vessels.
His Peelite followers, led by Lord Aberdeen and William Gladstone, went on to fuse with the Whigs as the Liberal Party.
Peel was the first serving British Prime Minister to have his photograph taken.
Peel married Julia, youngest daughter of General Sir John Floyd, 1st Baronet, in 1820. They had five sons and two daughters. Four of his sons gained distinction in their own right. His eldest son Sir Robert Peel, 3rd Baronet, served as Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1861 to 1865. His second son Sir Frederick Peel was a politician and railway commissioner. His third son Sir William Peel was a naval commander and recipient of the Victoria Cross. His fifth son Arthur Wellesley Peel was Speaker of the House of Commons and created Viscount Peel in 1895. His daughter Julia married the 6th Earl of Jersey. Julia, Lady Peel, died in 1859. Some of his direct descendants now reside in South Africa, the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, and in various parts of the United States and Canada.
Statues of Sir Robert Peel are found in the following British and Australian locations.
The following public houses, bars or hotels are named after Peel.Robert Peel public house in Bury town centre, his birthplace
Sir Robert Peel public house, Tamworth
Peel Hotel, Tamworth
Sir Robert Peel public house, Edgeley, Stockport, Cheshire
Sir Robert Peel public house Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire
Sir Robert Peel public house, Leicester
Sir Robert Peel public house, Malden Road, London NW5
Sir Robert Peel public house, Peel Precinct, Kilburn, London NW6
Sir Robert Peel public house, London SE17
Sir Robert Peel Hotel, Preston
Sir Robert Peel public house Rowley Regis
Sir Robert Peel public house, Southsea
Sir Robert Peel public house, Stoke-on-Trent
Sir Robert Peel public house Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Sir Robert Peel public house, Bloxwich, Walsall
The Sir Robert Peel Hotel (colloquially known as "The Peel"), a gay bar and nightclub located at the corner of Peel and Wellington Streets in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, in Australia.
The Sir Robert Peel Motor Lodge Hotel, Alexandria Bay, New York.
Mostly in the United Kingdom, numerous streets feature the name Peel.
Peel Street, Hong Kong a small street in Hong Kong
The Regional Municipality of Peel (originally Peel County) in Ontario, Canada
10 Peel Centre Drive and Peel Centre
Peel Regional Police
Peel Regional Paramedic Services
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board
Peel District School Board
former Peel Memorial Hospital (closed 2007) in Brampton, Ontario
New Zealand pioneer Francis Jollie settled in Canterbury in 1853 and named Peel Forest after the former prime minister, as he had died in the year that Canterbury was founded. The adjacent mountain and the settlement that formed also took Peel's name.
Peel Park, Bradford is named after Sir Robert Peel. It is one of the largest parks in the city, and indeed Yorkshire.
Peel Tower Monument, this tower was built on top of Holcombe Hill in Ramsbottom, Bury.
The Sir Robert Peel Hospital in Tamworth.
A small monument in the centre of the town of Dronfield in Derbyshire. Nearby is the Peel Centre, a community centre in a former Methodist church.
Peel Streets in the CBD, Melbourne and in Collingwood, Victoria Melbourne Australia.
Peel Street in the CBD, Adelaide, South Australia.
Peel Street, Montreal and its Peel Metro station. The street also features a high-rise residential building called Sir-Robert-Peel.
The Peel River in Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia.
Peel High School in Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia.
Robert Peel Lower School in Sandy, Bedfordshire.
A British steamer named SS Sir Robert Peel, based in Canada, was burned by American forces on 29 May 1838, at the height of American-Canadian tensions over the Caroline Affair.
Tamworth-raised musician Julian Cope sings "the king and queen have offered me the estate of Robert Peel" on the song 'Laughing Boy', from his 1984 LP Fried.
The right wing of the Trafford Centre is called Peel Avenue, named after Robert Peel.
The official mascot of Bury Football Club is Robbie the Bobby, in honour of Sir Robert Peel.
One of the buildings which make up the Home Office headquarters, 2 Marsham St, is named Peel.
The Peel building, situated on Peel Campus of the University of Salford
The Sir Robert Peel monument, Cnr George & High Streets, Montrose, Scotland