Lord Palmerston and religion: a reappraisal

Wolffe, John (2005). Lord Palmerston and religion: a reappraisal. English Historical Review, 120(488) pp. 907–936.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cei240


Lord Palmerston's policies on religion have been variously portrayed as stemming from ignorance, manipulation by an evangelical clique, and mere political calculation. This article, however, argues that although Palmerston lacked the intense spiritual commitments of many of his contemporaries, he still had a serious agenda on religious issues. In particular he sought to maintain the establishment of the Church of England by providing it with effective leadership and conciliating its opponents. His religious policy as prime minister between 1855 and 1865 needs to be understood in the context of his earlier career, in which he was both at home and abroad a consistent advocate of toleration, especially for Roman Catholics, although hostile to clergy with ecclesiastical or political pretensions, whatever their denomination. In the mid-1850s he initially contemplated significant reform of the structure of the Anglican episcopate, but decided that the political climate was unpropitious. He therefore concentrated his efforts rather on securing good appointments in order to make the existing system work better. Lord Shaftesbury was certainly instrumental in causing Palmerston to promote several prominent evangelicals, but there were other significant influences on him, and overall his episcopal appointments achieved a balance between church parties. His legacy was in different ways appropriated by both Disraeli and Gladstone, and was important in maintaining the position of the Church of England as a central focus for national identity.

Viewing alternatives


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions
No digital document available to download for this item

Item Actions