Sir Robert Peel, Third Baronet - 1722 -1895

You could say being born the son of a great man certainly has its drawbacks, but the third Sir Robert did not seem to have the same qualities as his father. Sir Robert inherited the vast estate and fortune that the Peels had amassed, but certainly did not inherit the brains, ideals, pride and dignity of his father.

Unfortunately for Tamworth and the family he showed a vain and foolhardy nature which was to become the ruin of the family. Educated at Harrow, he then went on to Oxford before embarking into the Diplomatic Service where he became an attaché to the British Legation in Madrid and then later in Switzerland and Rome. Whilst in Rome he heard the news of his father’s death. The new Baronet entered Parliament as a Liberal-Conservative and he became noted at once for his fine presence and resonant voice. But unfortunately for him, what he had to say was often unwise and irrational. He very soon built a reputation for a volatile temperament and did not take kindly to advice and criticism, often dashing into print with hot headed letters to The Times, which were speedily condemned as disgusting and degrading.

In 1855 Palmerston appointed Peel to be the Junior Lord of The Admiralty and sent him on a mission to Russia before the coronation of the new Czar Alexander II. On his return Peel made a speech in Birmingham, which almost caused a diplomatic crisis, making foolhardy remarks about the Russian Court. The same year saw a happier event when Sir Robert married the beautiful Lady Emily Hay, daughter of the Marquess of Tweeddale. The couple shared a tremendous interest in horse racing and began their own stud farm at Bonehill near Drayton. The stud was fully equipped with gas lighting, heating and the latest sanitation. A race-course was built and house parties of socialites were lavishly entertained. With this strong horse-racing connection in the family, General Jonathan Peel, younger brother of the late Prime Minister, became one of the founder members of the Jockey Club with a successful string of horses, including Orlando, a Derby winner.

Sir Robert was not as lucky as his uncle on the race-course and was soon losing money fast and furiously. More and more was spent on breeding stock and sadly still more was lost on betting. Sir Robert’s losing streak did not deter him and his social life went on with more race meetings, extravagant parties at Drayton Manor, in London and his villa in Geneva. The fortune that had been made by his industrialist grandfather was being wantonly frittered away by the spendthrift grandson.

Palmerston sent Peel to Ireland and there his love for horse-racing made him popular. However on his return to England he caused more problems for the Government with a swinging loyalty which showed itself in erratic and tactless criticism. A son and heir was born who was toasted by the locals at the Old Kings Arms Hotel, but across the road at The Castle Hotel, a distant relative of the Peel family, Mr. John Peel who lived at Middleton Hall, was holding a rival political meeting. Sir Robert brought in the elderly respected Baronet Bulwer Lytton to Tamworth to contest the second Tamworth seat against his kinsman and an Observer wrote to the Tamworth Herald that “Although there were hopes for a fight on principles, there were fears that drink would turn what might be a peaceful contest into a saturnalia.” They were proved right, when at election time fierce fights broke out between rival supporters and there was much sneering at “The Brace of Baronets at their Beer and Baccy meetings.” After the election, Sir Robert and his agents were indicted on charges of bribery and corruption. It was claimed that a hundred supporters had been employed on the Baronet’s behalf to keep the peace.

With more entertainment, litigation and horse-racing, the money was still continuing to pour out. Sir Robert’s father the second Baronet had invested in a fine collection of art, but by 1871 his son, desperate for money, sold part of it to the National Gallery for £75,000 to try to resolve his financial troubles. He was the sole trustee of the Peel School Charity, but refused to account to the Charity Commissionaires, and as a result was threatened with prison. The rot had now well and truly set in. By 1884 the Peel estates, which had extended to over 10,000 acres, were being broken up and sold to defray the ever-increasing debts. Lady Emily disposed of the stud farm but by now it was too late, the fortune had gone.

Sir Robert died on 9th May 1895 at 12, Stratton Street, his London home and was buried at Drayton Bassett Church, leaving probate effects of £9569.

Sir Robert's Memorial - inside Drayton Bassett Church >>