Edward Henry Carson, Baron Carson, PC, PC (Ire) (9 February 1854 – 22 October 1935), from 1900 to 1921 known as Sir Edward Carson, was an Irish unionist politician, barrister and judge. From 1905 Carson was both the Irish Unionist Alliance MP for Trinity College Dublin and leader of the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast. In 1915 he entered the war cabinet of Herbert Asquith as Attorney-General. Carson was defeated in his ambition to maintain Ireland as a whole in union with Great Britain. His leadership, however, was celebrated for securing a continued place in the United Kingdom for the six north-east counties, albeit under a devolved Northern Ireland Parliament that neither he nor his fellow unionists had sought. He is also remembered for his open ended cross examination of Oscar Wilde in a legal action that Wilde had brought, but led to him being gaoled and ruined. Carson unsuccessfully attempted to intercede for Wilde after the case.
The Lord Carson
|Leader of the Opposition|
19 October 1915 – 6 December 1916
|Prime Minister||H. H. Asquith|
last held by Bonar Law in May 1915
|Succeeded by||H. H. Asquith|
|Attorney General for England and Wales|
25 May 1915 – 19 October 1915
|Prime Minister||H. H. Asquith|
|Preceded by||Sir John Simon|
|Succeeded by||Sir F. E. Smith|
|Solicitor General for England and Wales|
11 May 1900 – 4 December 1905
|Preceded by||Sir Robert Finlay|
|Succeeded by||Sir William Robson|
|Solicitor General for Ireland|
20 June 1892 – 11 August 1892
|Prime Minister||The Marquess of Salisbury|
|Preceded by||John Atkinson|
|Succeeded by||Charles Hemphill|
|First Lord of the Admiralty|
10 December 1916 – 17 July 1917
|Prime Minister||David Lloyd George|
|Preceded by||Arthur Balfour|
|Succeeded by||Sir Eric Geddes|
|Minister without Portfolio and member of the War Cabinet|
17 July 1917 – 20 January 1918
|Prime Minister||David Lloyd George|
|Leader of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party|
|Preceded by||Walter Long|
|Succeeded by||The Earl of Midleton|
|Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party|
|Preceded by||Walter Long|
|Succeeded by||James Craig|
|Born||9 February 1854|
|Died||22 October 1935 (aged 81)|
Minster-in-Thanet, Kent, England
|Political party||Irish Unionist (UUP)|
|Alma mater||Trinity College, Dublin|
Edward Carson, the 2nd son of Edward Henry Carson, architect, was born at 4 Harcourt Street, in Dublin, into a wealthy Anglican family. The Carsons were of Scottish origin, Edward's grandfather having originally moved to Dublin from Dumfries in 1815. Carson's mother was Isabella Lambert, the daughter of Captain Peter Lambert, part of an old Anglo-Irish family, the Lamberts of Castle Ellen, County Galway. Carson spent holidays at Castle Ellen, which was owned by his uncle. He was one of six children (four boys and two girls). Edward was educated at Portarlington School, Wesley College, Dublin and Trinity College, Dublin, where he read law and was an active member of the College Historical Society. He also played with the college hurling team. Carson graduated BA and MA.
As a barristerEdit
In 1877 Carson was called to the Irish Bar at King's Inns. He gained a reputation for fearsome advocacy and supreme legal ability and became regarded as a brilliant barrister, among the most prominent in Ireland at the time. He was also an acknowledged master of the appeal to the jury by his legal wit and oratory. He was appointed Queen's Counsel (Ireland) in 1889 and was Called to the English Bar at Middle Temple on 26 April 1893. He was twice admitted to the Inn, once on 1 November 1875 and then again on 21 April 1893, and was made a Bencher on 15 June 1900.
In 1895, he was engaged by the Marquess of Queensberry to lead his defence against Oscar Wilde's action for criminal libel. The Marquess, angry at Wilde's ongoing homosexual relationship with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas, had left his calling card at Wilde's club with an inscription accusing Wilde of being a "posing somdomite" [sic]. Wilde retaliated with a libel action, as homosexuality was, at the time, illegal.
Kevin Myers states that Carson's initial response was to refuse to take the case. Later, he discovered that Queensberry had been telling the truth about Wilde's activity and was therefore not guilty of the libel of which Wilde accused him.
Carson and Wilde met as children playing in the summer along the seashore at Dungarvan, County Waterford, and they knew each other when they were students at Trinity College, Dublin. When he heard that Carson was to lead the defence, Wilde is quoted as saying that "No doubt he will pursue his case with all the added bitterness of an old friend." Carson portrayed the playwright as a morally depraved hedonist who seduced naïve young men into a life of homosexuality with lavish gifts and promises of a glamorous artistic lifestyle. He impugned Wilde's works as morally repugnant and designed to corrupt the upbringing of the youth. Queensberry spent a large amount of money on private detectives who investigated Wilde's activity in the London underworld of homosexual clubs and procurers.
Wilde abandoned the case when Carson announced in his opening speech for the defence that he planned to call several male prostitutes who would testify that they had had sex with Wilde, which would have rendered the libel charge unsupportable as the accusation would have been proven true. Wilde was bankrupted when he was then ordered to pay the considerable legal and detective bills Queensberry had incurred in his defence.
Based on the evidence of Queensberry's detectives and Carson's cross-examinations of Wilde at the trial, Wilde was subsequently prosecuted for gross indecency in a second trial. He was eventually found guilty and sentenced to two years' hard labour, after which he moved to France, where he died penniless.
In 1908 Carson appeared for the London Evening Standard in a libel action brought by George Cadbury. The Standard was controlled by Unionist interests which supported Joseph Chamberlain's Imperial Preference views. The Cadbury family were Liberal supporters of free trade and had, in 1901, purchased The Daily News. The Standard articles alleged that Cadbury Bros Ltd., which claimed to be model employers having created the village of Bournville outside Birmingham, knew of the slave labour conditions on São Tomé, the Portuguese island colony from which Cadbury purchased most of the cocoa used in the production of their chocolate.
The articles alleged that George's son William had gone to São Tomé in 1901 and observed for himself the slave conditions, and that the Cadbury family had decided to continue purchasing the cocoa grown there because it was cheaper than that grown in the British colony of the Gold Coast, where labour conditions were much better, being regulated by the Colonial Office. The Standard alleged that the Cadbury family knew that the reason cocoa from São Tomé was cheaper was because it was grown by slave labour. This case was regarded at the time as an important political case as Carson and the Unionists maintained that it showed the fundamental immorality of free trade. George Cadbury recovered contemptuous damages of one farthing in a case described as one of Carson's triumphs.
Carson was also the victorious counsel in the 1910 Archer-Shee Case, exonerating a Royal Naval College, Osborne cadet of the charge of theft. The cadet was from a quite prominent Roman Catholic banking family, and educated at Stonyhurst. On this case, Terence Rattigan based his play The Winslow Boy. The fictional barrister, Morton, is a somewhat different character from Carson. There is, however, one interesting detail. At the end of the play Morton indicates he may take a continued interest in the boy’s sister, who had played a key role in the fictional case. In his account of the case, which was the last chapter of his book before his suicide, Edward Marjoribanks said that Carson’s first marriage was strained and his wife died around this time. He then married a much younger woman, Lucy Frewen, and Marjoribanks, who had help from the Carson family, says her interest in him was aroused by the Archer-Shee case. They had a son (also Edward) born when Carson was over 60, who in 1945 became the youngest Member of Parliament but resigned after eight years for health reasons.
Carson's political career began on 20 June 1892, when he was appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, although he was not then a member of the House of Commons. He was elected as Member of Parliament for the University of Dublin in the 1892 general election as a Liberal Unionist, although as a whole the party lost the election to the Liberals.
Carson maintained his career as a barrister and was admitted to the English Bar by The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1893 and from then on mainly practised in London. In 1896 he was sworn of the Irish Privy Council. He was appointed Solicitor-General for England on 7 May 1900, receiving the customary knighthood. He served in this position until the Conservative government resigned in December 1905, when he was rewarded with membership of the Privy Council.
In the 1918 general election, Sinn Féin won 73 out of the 105 Irish seats in the House of Commons. In 25 constituencies, Sinn Féin won the seats unopposed. Unionists (including Ulster Unionist Labour Association) won 26 seats, all but three of which were in the six counties that today form Northern Ireland, and the Irish Parliamentary Party won only six (down from 84), all but one in Ulster. The Labour Party did not stand in the election, allowing the electorate to decide between home rule or a republic by having a clear choice between the two nationalist parties. Irish Republicans regarded these elections as the mandate to establish the First Dáil. As such, all persons in Ireland elected to Westminster were considered to have been elected to Dáil Éireann. Had he chosen to do so, Carson could have exercised the option of attending the meeting of the First Dáil in the Mansion House on 21 January 1919. Like all of those elected to Irish seats in December 1918 he received an invitation, written as gaeilge, to attend. He kept the invitation as a souvenir. When his name was called out in the first roll call of the new Dáil, it was met by silence, and then laughter, from the Sinn Féin delegates and the audience in the Mansion House. He was listed as “as láthair”, or absent.
In September 1911 a huge crowd of over 50,000 people gathered to rally near Belfast to hear Carson speaking to urge his party take on the governance of Ulster. With the passage of the Parliament Act 1911, the Unionists faced the loss of the House of Lords' ability to thwart the passage of the new Home Rule Bill. Carson disliked many of Ulster's local characteristics and, in particular, the culture of Orangeism (although he had become an Orangeman at nineteen he left the institution shortly afterwards). He stated that their speeches reminded him of "the unrolling of a mummy. All old bones and rotten rags."
Carson campaigned against Home Rule. He spoke against the Bill in the House of Commons and organised rallies in Ireland promoting a provisional government for "the Protestant province of Ulster" to be ready, should a third Home Rule Bill come into law.
On Sunday 28 September 1912, 'Ulster Day', he was the first signatory on the Ulster Covenant, which bound 447,197 signatories to resist Home Rule with the threat that they would use "all means necessary" after Carson had established the Ulster Volunteers, the first loyalist paramilitary group. From it the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed in January 1913 to undergo military training and purchase arms. In Parliament Carson rejected any olive branch for compromise demanding Ulster "be given a resolution rather than a stay of execution". The UVF received a large arms cache from Germany on the night of 24 April 1914. Historian Felician Prill says Germany was not trying to start a civil war, for the Ulster cause was not popular in Berlin. Later that year, a further shipment of arms from Germany was delivered to the pro-Home Rule and IRB-influenced Irish Volunteers at Howth near Dublin.
The Home Rule Bill was passed by the Commons on 25 May 1914 by a majority of 77 and due to the Parliament Act 1911, it did not need the Lords' consent, so the bill was awaiting royal assent. To enforce the legislation, given the activities of the Unionists, H. H. Asquith's Liberal government had prepared to send troops to Ulster. This sparked the Curragh Incident on 20 March. Together with the arming of the Irish Volunteers, Ireland was on the brink of civil war when the outbreak of the First World War led to the suspension of the Home Rule Act's operation until the end of the war. By this time Carson had announced in Belfast that an Ulster Division would be formed from the U.V.F., and the 36th (Ulster) Division was swiftly organised.
Brown examines why Carson's role in 1914 made him a highly controversial figure:
But his commitment was unqualified, both to Ulster unionism and to its increasing extremism. Under Carson's leadership, with Craig as his lieutenant, discipline and organization were imposed on their supporters; proposed compromises were rejected; and plans were drawn up for a provisional government in the north, if the bill was passed, with its implementation to be resisted by the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, which had been armed by illegal gun-running. It is this apparent willingness to carry resistance to virtually any length, even to risk civil war, that makes Carson so controversial.
In 1914, suffragettes Flora Drummond and Norah Dacre Fox (later known as Norah Elam) besieged Carson's home, arguing that his form of Ulster 'incitement to militancy' passed without notice whilst suffragettes were charged and imprisoned for same action. In a 1921 speech opposing the pending Anglo-Irish Treaty, Carson attacked the "Tory intrigues" that had led him on the course that would partition Ireland, an outcome he opposed almost as strongly as Home Rule itself. In the course of the speech Carson said:
Later in the speech, Carson said:
But I say to my Ulster friends, and I say it with all sincerity and solemnity: Do not be led into any such false line. Stick to your old ideals of closer and closer connection with this country. The Coalition Government, after all, is not the British nation, and the British nation will certainly see you righted. Your interests lie with Great Britain. You have helped her, and you have helped her Empire, and her Empire belongs just as much to you as it does to England. Stick to it, and trust the British people.
On 25 May 1915, Asquith appointed Carson Attorney-General when the Coalition Government was formed after the Liberal government was brought down by the Shell Crisis and the resignation of Admiral Fisher. He resigned on 19 October, however, citing his opposition to Government policy on war in the Balkans. During Asquith's coalition government of 1915–1916, there was no formal opposition in either the Commons or the Lords. The only party not in Asquith's Liberal, Conservative, Labour Coalition was the Irish Nationalist Party led by John Redmond. However, this party supported the government and did not function as an Opposition. After Carson, the leading figure among the Irish Unionist allies of the Conservative Party, resigned from the coalition ministry on 19 October 1915, he then became the de facto leader of those Unionists who were not members of the government, effectively Leader of the Opposition in the Commons.
He played a major role in forcing the resignation of Asquith as Prime Minister, returning to office on 10 December 1916 as First Lord of the Admiralty, and elevated to the powerful British War Cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio on 17 July 1917.
Carson was hostile to the foundation of the League of Nations as he believed that this institution would be ineffectual against war. In a speech on 7 December 1917 he said:
Talk to me of treaties! Talk to me of the League of Nations! Every Great Power in Europe was pledged by treaty to preserve Belgium. That was a League of Nations, but it failed.
Early in 1918, the government decided to extend conscription to Ireland, and that Ireland would have to be given home rule in order to make it acceptable. Carson disagreed in principle and again resigned on 21 January. He gave up his seat at the University of Dublin in the 1918 general election and was instead elected for Belfast Duncairn.
He continued to lead the Unionists, but when the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was introduced, advised his party to work for the exemption of six Ulster counties from Home Rule as the best compromise (a compromise he had previously rejected). This proposal passed and as a result the Parliament of Northern Ireland was established.
In January 1921 he met in London over three days with Father O'Flanagan and Lord Justice Sir James O'Connor to try to find a mutual agreement that would end the Anglo-Irish war, but without result.
After the partition of Ireland, Carson repeatedly warned Ulster Unionist leaders not to alienate northern Catholics, as he foresaw this would make Northern Ireland unstable. In 1921 he stated: "We used to say that we could not trust an Irish parliament in Dublin to do justice to the Protestant minority. Let us take care that that reproach can no longer be made against your parliament, and from the outset let them see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from a Protestant majority." In old age, while at London's Carlton Club, he confided to the Anglo-Irish (and Catholic) historian Sir Charles Petrie his disillusionment with Belfast politics: "I fought to keep Ulster part of the United Kingdom, but Stormont is turning her into a second-class Dominion."
Carson was asked to lead the Unionists during the election to become the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. He declined due to his lack of connections with any Northern Ireland constituency (an opponent once taunted him saying: "He has no country, he has no caste"), and resigned the leadership of the party on 4 February 1921. Carson was appointed one of seven Lords of Appeal in Ordinary on 24 May 1921 and was created a life peer under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 on 1 June 1921 as Baron Carson, of Duncairn in the County of Antrim.
Carson married twice. His first wife was Annette Kirwan from County Galway, daughter of Henry Persse Kirwan, a retired County Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary. They were married on 19 December 1879. He had two sons and two daughters by his first wife (he described them as a "rum lot"), namely:
- The Hon. William Henry Lambert Carson, born 2 October 1880 (d. 1930)
- The Hon. Aileen Seymour Carson, born 13 November 1881
- The Hon. Gladys Isobel Carson, born 1885
- The Hon. Walter Seymour Carson, born 1890
The first Lady Carson died on 6 April 1913. His second wife was Ruby Frewen (1881–1966), a Yorkshirewoman, the daughter of Lt.-Col. Stephen Frewen, later Frewen-Laton MP (1857–1933) and Emily Augusta (Peacocke) Frewen. They were married on 17 September 1914; she was 29 and he was 60. They had one son:
- The Hon. Edward Carson MP, born 17 February 1920
Carson retired in October 1929. In July 1932, he had witnessed the unveiling of a large statue (sculpted by L. S. Merrifield) of himself in front of Parliament Buildings at Stormont. The statue was unveiled by Lord Craigavon in the presence of more than 40,000 people. The statue was cast in bronze and placed upon a plinth. The inscription on the base read "By the loyalists of Ulster as an expression of their love and admiration for its subject". This was the final time he visited Belfast.
Lord Carson lived at Cleve Court, a Queen Anne house near Minster in the Isle of Thanet, Kent, bought in 1921. It was here that Carson died peacefully on 22 October 1935. Britain gave him a state funeral, which took place in Belfast at St Anne's Cathedral; he is still the only person to have been buried there. From a silver bowl, soil from each of the six counties of Northern Ireland was scattered on to his coffin, which had earlier been covered by the Union Flag, which however was removed during the service. At his funeral service the choir sang his own favourite hymn, "I Vow to Thee, My Country". A warship had brought his body to Belfast and the funeral took place on Saturday 26 October 1935. Thousands of shipworkers stopped work and bowed their heads as HMS Broke steamed slowly up Belfast Lough, with Carson's flag-draped coffin sat on the quarterdeck.
Even before his death, there was an organized effort to portray Carson as the heroic embodiment of the militant unionist spirit. In November 1932 the new Stormont Parliament became the greatest Carson monument, giving his admirers the symbolic endorsement of their state. His statue was unveiled as the speakers excited the audience with triumphalist images of Protestant deliverance from Catholic tyranny. Carson's funeral in 1935 was attended with pomp and unionist symbolism, as happened again with the dedication of a plaque in his memory in 1938. Calling for unity with Britain, numerous ceremonial rituals, memorials, and anniversaries affirmed the legitimacy of the state, and the Protestant ascendancy. The media enthusiastically participated, paying much less attention to such mundane issues as massive unemployment, poor housing, and rising religious tensions. James Craig, celebrated as the hero of the 1912–1914 counterrevolution, often joined Carson in Protestant Ireland's memory.
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- known as Operation Lion. Stewart, The Ulster Crisis, p.88.
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- Asgard (yacht)#cite note-ring95-99-1
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- Jackson, Alvin, Judging Redmond and Carson, Royal Irish Academy (2018)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Edward Carson, Baron Carson.|
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|Wikisource has the text of a 1922 Encyclopædia Britannica article about "Edward Carson, Baron Carson".|
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Edward Carson
- "Archival material relating to Edward Carson". UK National Archives.
- Image: Sir Edward Carson inspecting the U.V.F, 1913
- Image: Sir Edward Carson at U.V.F rally, 1913
- on YouTube
- Newspaper clippings about Edward Carson in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW