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Brougham, Lord Henry

Category: Business and political leaders

 cleaning away corruption

Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux PC QC FRS (19 September 1778– 7 May 1868), was a British statesman who became Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. 

He published several scientific papers through the Royal Society, notably on light and colours and on prisms, and at the age of only 25 was elected a Fellow.  In 1834, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.  He was also the designer of the brougham, a four-wheeled, horse-drawn style of carriage that bears his name.

But he is best known for his tireless work for reform of rotten, corrupt institutions and cruel practises.

Brougham took up the fight against the slave trade and opposed restrictions on trade with continental Europe.  He also worked especially in advocating a programme for the education of the poor, and on parliamentary and legal reform.  The highlights of Brougham's tenure was the passing of the 1832 Reform Act, of which he was a staunch supporter, and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, the cause to which he had been devoted to for so many years.

a 'brougham'

Needless to say, as a reformer, Brougham found little popularity amongst those he sought to reform and although he stood for Parliament as a ‘Whig’, he appears to have enjoyed an independent political standing, being regarded as something of a loose cannon as a result, taking pot shots at anyone he considered corrupt.  He was “considered a dangerous and unreliable colleague due to his tendency to interfere with every department of state.”  He was described as “one of the most forceful members of the House of Commons”, making impassioned speeches about all that was wrong with society.  In 1828 he made a six-hour speech, the longest ever made in the House of Commons.

Brougham deserves a place on the site for his tireless work in attempting to reform corrupt institutions, but he is actually on the site because he saw ‘one of the most remarkable apparitions of the collection which I have long been making’ [Camille Flammarion].  Flammarion (26 February 1842 – 3 June 1925) had actually met Lord Brougham, who was by this time an old man, in both Paris and Cannes [where Brougham died].  But the account of the apparition was published in Lord Brougham’s own autobiography.  His autobiography was his last work and was written in his 84th year and published in 1871.

The event took place in December 1799, when Lord Brougham was only 21 and was making a trip to Sweden.  The quote appears in The Life and Times of Lord Brougham and the same quotation appears in Phantasms of the Living, as well as Flammarion’s own book Death and its Mystery.
Brougham Hall in Westmorland


Brougham was born and grew up in Edinburgh, the eldest son of Henry Brougham (1742-1810), of Brougham Hall in Westmorland, and Eleanora, daughter of Reverend James Syme. The Broughams had been an influential Cumberland family for centuries.   As such he received a largely Christian upbringing. 

His beliefs, however, are interesting.  Brougham edited, in collaboration with Sir Charles Bell, William Paley's Natural Theology .  Natural theology aims to provide arguments for the existence of God based on reason and experiences of Nature as a manifestation of God and the spirit world.

Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) established a distinction between political theology (ethics and morals), natural theology (logic and philosophy/metaphysics) and mystical theology (revelation).  As such we see that Brougham embraced all three – he had had a revelation, he was intent on restoring ethics to public institutions and he had an interest in the existence of ‘heaven’ argued via logic and reason.

Brougham wrote a prodigious number of treatises on science, philosophy, and history, most of which sadly have appeared to have been forgotten.  There is a real possibility that now the world has started to take an interest in metaphysics, his works may be due for revival.

Electoral reform


Brougham was an avid supporter of Electoral Reform and after a struggle that lasted a large part of his political career, he eventually saw The Representation of the People Act 1832 passed in Parliament.  The Act introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. According to its preamble, the Act was designed to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament".

Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.

There had been calls for reform long before 1832, but without success. The Act that finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs, led by Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. It met with significant opposition. Nevertheless, the bill was eventually passed, mainly as a result of public pressure. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the "rotten boroughs": those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron.

The Act also increased the electorate from about 500,000 to 813,000, with about one in five adult males allowed to vote, from a total population (including women and children) of some 14 million.

Fight against the slave trade


Brougham was a tireless supporter of the movement for the abolition of slavery, a cause to which he was to be passionately devoted for most of his life.  Even after the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, he did not relax his vigil.  In 1838, news came of British colonies where emancipation of the slaves was being obstructed and where the ex-slaves were being badly treated and discriminated against.  Lord Brougham rose to their support and stated in the House of Lords:

"The slave … is as fit for his freedom as any English peasant, ay, or any Lord whom I now address. I demand his rights; I demand his liberty without stint… . I demand that your brother be no longer trampled upon as your slave!"

In 1860 Brougham was given a second peerage as Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the County of Westmorland and of Highhead Castle in the County of Cumberland [!] by Queen Victoria.  The second peerage was “in honour of the great services he had rendered, especially in promoting the abolition of slavery”.

Education reform

Brougham was a staunch supporter of education being available for all, but not compulsory education.   In 1834, as Lord Chancellor, he was asked "Do you consider that a compulsory education would be justified, either on principles of public utility or expediency?" Brougham replied:

I am decidedly of opinion that it is justifiable on neither; but, above all, I should regard anything of the kind as utterly destructive of the end it has in view. Suppose the people of England were taught to bear it, and to be forced to educate their children by means of penalties, education would be made absolutely hateful in their eyes, and would speedily cease to be endured. They who have argued in favour of such a scheme from the example of a military government like that of Prussia have betrayed, in my opinion, great ignorance of the nature of Englishmen. (Report of the Parliamentary Committee on the State of Education. 1834)

In effect, the moment you make education compulsory, children will no longer value it and furthermore may well hate the whole process and learn nothing.  As such his ideas were more in line with the concepts of home schooling, education for life based on need and desire on the part of an individual to learn something.  It is a subtle difference to get across to people that there should be no compulsion, but on the other hand every effort should be made to help people educate themselves  by providing educational institutions if they want to go to them, libraries, low cost education materials and so on. 


In 1837 Brougham presented a bill for public education, arguing that "it cannot be doubted that some legislative effort must at length be made to remove from this country the opprobrium of having done less for the education of the people than any of the more civilized nations on earth".

He not only proposed educational reforms in Parliament but also was one of the founders of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1825 and of University College London in 1826.   

Legal reform

As Lord Chancellor from 1830 to 1834, Brougham effected many legal reforms to speed procedure and established the Central Criminal Court.  However, for more than thirty years after he lost office, he continued to take an active part in the judicial business of the House of Lords, and in its debates, having now turned fiercely against his former political associates, he continuing his efforts on behalf of reform of various kinds.

Life and career


Brougham was educated at the Royal High School and the University of Edinburgh, where he chiefly studied natural science and mathematics, but also law. However, Brougham chose law as his profession, and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1800. He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1803 and in 1808 was called to the Bar.

Not a wealthy man, Brougham turned to journalism as a means of supporting himself financially through these years. He was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review and quickly became known as its foremost contributor, with articles on everything from science, politics, colonial policy, literature, poetry, surgery, mathematics and the fine arts.

In 1806 the Foreign Secretary, Charles James Fox, appointed him secretary to a diplomatic mission to Portugal, led by James St Clair-Erskine, 2nd Earl of Rosslyn and John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent. The aim of the mission was to counteract the anticipated French invasion of Portugal.

Despite being a well-known and popular figure, Brougham had to wait before being offered a parliamentary seat to contest. However, in 1810 he was elected for Camelford, a rotten borough controlled by the Duke of Bedford. He quickly gained a reputation in the House of Commons, where he was one of the most frequent speakers, and was regarded by some as a potential future leader of the Whig Party. However, Brougham's career was to take a downturn in 1812, when, standing as one of two Whig candidates for Liverpool, he was heavily defeated. He was to remain out of Parliament until 1816, when he was returned for Winchelsea.

The Trial of Queen Caroline 1820

In 1812 Brougham had become one of the chief advisers to Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George, Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent and future George IV. This was to prove a key development in his life. In April 1820 Caroline, then living abroad, appointed Brougham her Attorney-General. Earlier that year George IV had succeeded to the throne on the death of his long incapacitated father George III. Caroline was brought back to Britain in June for appearances only, but the king immediately began divorce proceedings against her.

The Pains and Penalties Bill, aimed at dissolving the marriage and stripping Caroline of her Royal title on the grounds of adultery. However, Brougham led a legal team (which also included Thomas Denman) that eloquently defended the Princess. The bill passed, but by the narrow margin of only nine votes. Lord Liverpool, aware of the unpopularity over the bill and afraid that it might be overturned in the House of Commons then withdrew the bill. The British public had mainly been on the Princess's side, and the outcome of the trial made Brougham one of the most famous men in the country. His legal practice on the Northern Circuit rose fivefold, although he had to wait until 1827 before being made a King's Counsel.

Brougham remained a member of Parliament for Winchelsea until February 1830 when he was returned for Knaresborough. However, he represented Knaresborough only until August the same year, when he became one of four representatives for Yorkshire. His support for abolitionism brought him enthusiastic support. The Reverend Benjamin Godwin of Bradford devised and funded posters that appealed to Yorkshire voters who had supported William Wilberforce to repeat their choice (and Godwin's) with the new candidate, Henry Brougham.


In November the Whigs came to power under Lord Grey. Grey initially offered him the post of Attorney General, which Brougham refused. He was then offered the Lord Chancellorship, which he accepted, and on 22 November he was raised to the peerage as Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the County of Westmorland. He was to remain in this post for exactly four years.

The government was reconstructed in July 1834 under Lord Melbourne, but the Tories came to power under Sir Robert Peel. This government lasted only until April 1835, when Lord Melbourne was again summoned to form a government. However, Brougham was now so unpopular within his own party that he was not offered to resume the post of Lord Chancellor.  Brougham was never to hold office again.


Brougham had married Mary Spalding (d. 1865) in 1821 and they had had two daughters, both of whom predeceased their parents, the latter one dying in 1839. Lord Brougham and Vaux died in May 1868 in Cannes, France, aged 89, and was buried in the Cimetière du Grand Jas.


  • Paley's Natural Theology; With Illustrative Notes, By Henry, Lord Brougham, F.R.S., And Sir C. Bell, K.G.H., &C. And An Introductory Discourse Of Natural Theology, By Lord Brougham: To Which Are Added, Supplementary Dissertations, And A Treatise On Animal Mechanics, By Sir Charles Bell.
  • The Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham, Written by Himself: Volumes 1 & 2 by Henry Peter Brougham
  • The Fallen Star, or, the History of a False Religion by E.L. Bulwer; And, A Dissertation on the Origin of Evil by Lord Brougham by Baron Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton and Lord Brougham


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