Brougham, Henry Peter, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux

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Brougham, Henry Peter, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778–1868). A member of a minor gentry family in Westmorland, educated at Edinburgh University, Brougham was one of the most eminent lawyers and intellectuals of his time, renowned for the breadth of his interests. He helped to found the Edinburgh Review and his contributions made it the leading political journal of the day. He qualified for the English bar in 1802 and entered the House of Commons in 1810. He was a brilliant if too frequent speaker, supporting the liberal wing of the Whig Party and espousing the causes of anti-slavery, popular education, and legal reform. He played a leading part in forming the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1825 and in founding the University of London in 1828, both established on utilitarian and secular principles.

Brougham was mistrusted by his party leaders who considered his support of Queen Caroline, whose adviser he became in 1819–20, to be motivated by desire for personal advancement. His support of popular causes, particularly anti-slavery, gained him election as MP for Yorkshire in 1830, though he had no property in the county, and when the Whigs came to power he expected high office. He reluctantly accepted the post of lord chancellor with a peerage because it meant giving up the House of Commons and a lucrative income at the bar. He carried through a series of important legal reforms but repeated disagreements with his colleagues led Melbourne not to reappoint him in 1834. He never returned to office and became markedly eccentric in later life.

E. A. Smith