EDWARD HENRY CARSON, BARON CARSON, PC , PC (Ire) , KC (9 February
1854 – 22 October 1935), from 1900 to 1921 known as SIR EDWARD
CARSON, was an Irish unionist politician, barrister and judge.
Although he was from Dublin, he became the leader of the Irish
Unionist Alliance and
Ulster Unionist Party between 1910 and 1921,
held numerous positions in the Cabinet of the
United Kingdom and
served as a
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary . He was one of the few people
not a monarch to receive a British state funeral . Historian John
Brown says that "His larger than life-size statue, erected in his own
lifetime in front of the
Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont,
symbolizes the widely held perception that
Northern Ireland is
Carson's creation." Lord
Edward Carson was born in this house, 4
* 1 Early life
* 2 As a barrister
* 2.2 Cadbury Bros.
* 2.3 Archer-Shee case
* 3 Politics
* 4 Unionism
* 5 Cabinet member
* 6 Judge
* 7 Private life
* 8 Later years
* 9 Styles of address
* 10 References
* 11 Further reading
* 12 External links
Edward Carson was born at 4 Harcourt Street, in
Dublin , into a
wealthy Anglican family; His father was an architect . The Carsons
were of Scottish origin, Edward's grandfather having originally moved
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 .
He later received an honorary doctorate (
LL.D. ) from the University
Dublin in June 1901.
AS A BARRISTER
Carson's ceremonial dress uniform, worn on his appointment as
Solicitor General for England in 1900.
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, one of the leading ones
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.
Oscar Wilde trials Mr. Edward H. Carson (as he
then was) addresses Parliament. From Vanity Fair , 1893.
In 1895, he was engaged by the Marquess of Queensberry to lead his
Oscar Wilde 's action for criminal libel . The
Marquess, angry at Wilde's ongoing homosexual relationship with his
Lord Alfred Douglas , had left his calling card at Wilde's club
with an inscription accusing Wilde of being a "posing somdomite " .
Wilde retaliated with a libel action, as homosexuality was, at the
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 had known each other when they were students at
Dublin , and, 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 went
out of his way to make his case and destroy Wilde, portraying 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 considerable 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
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 their cocoa for 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 the derisory sum of one farthing in damages
in a case described as one of Carson's triumphs.
Carson was also the victorious counsel in the 1910 Archer-Shee Case ,
Terence Rattigan based his play
The Winslow Boy . The
fictional barrister, Morton, is a somewhat different character from
Carson, younger and more lively (at least as played by
Robert Donat in
the 1948 film version, although other actors may have played the part
differently). 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
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 usual ex officio knighthood . He served
in this position until the Conservative government resigned in
December 1905, when he was rewarded with membership of the Privy
In September 1911 a huge crowd of over 50,000 people gathered to
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
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
stated that their speeches reminded him of "the unrolling of a mummy.
All old bones and rotten rags." Sir
Edward Carson signing the
Ulster Covenant .
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
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.
Home Rule Bill was passed by the Commons on 25 May 1914 by a
majority of 77 and due to the
Parliament Act 1911
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
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
Belfast that an Ulster Division would be formed from the
U.V.F., and the
36th (Ulster) Division
36th (Ulster) Division was swiftly organised.
Brown examines why Carson's role in 1914 made him a highly
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 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 "What a fool
I was! I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in
the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into Power."
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.
Edward Carson's statue at Stormont
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 . 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
When Asquith resigned as Prime Minister, Carson returned to office on
10 December 1916 as First Lord of the Admiralty , becoming a Minister
without Portfolio on 17 July 1917.
Carson was hostile to the foundation of the
League of Nations
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
Lord Justice Sir James O\'Connor to try to find a
mutual agreement that would end the
Anglo-Irish war , but without
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.”
Lord Carson's statue at Stormont
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
Edward Carson mural in
Belfast in 2006
Carson married twice. His first wife was
Annette Kirwan from County
Galway , daughter of H. Persse Kirwan, a retired County Inspector of
Royal Irish Constabulary . 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
* The Hon. Aileen 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, a Yorkshirewoman , the daughter of Lt.-Col. Stephen 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
St Anne\'s Cathedral ; Carson's final resting place
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
Lord Carson lived at Cleve Court, a Queen Anne house near Minster in
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.
STYLES OF ADDRESS
* 1854–1889: Mr Edward Carson
* 1889–1892: Mr
Edward Carson QC
* 1892–1896: Mr
Edward Carson QC MP
* 1896–1900: The Rt Hon.
Edward Carson QC MP
* 1900–1901: The Rt Hon. Sir
Edward Carson QC MP
* 1901–1921: The Rt Hon. Sir
Edward Carson KC MP
* 1921–1935: The Rt Hon. The Lord Carson PC PC (Ire) KC
* ^ John Brown, "Carson, Sir Edward, Baron Carson 1854-1935" in
David Loades, ed., Reader's Guide to British History (2003) 1:227
* ^ Marjoribanks, Volume One: The Life of Lord Carson, London,
1932, p. 5
* ^ Marjoribanks, Volume One: The Life of Lord Carson, London,
1932, p. 6
* ^ Dickson, Brice Drewry, Gavin The Judicial House of Lords
1876-2009 Oxford University Press page 755
* ^ "University intelligence". The Times (36493). London. 28 June
1901. p. 10.
* ^ ::History Learning Site::
* ^ "Law Library".
* ^ "
Edward Carson and
Oscar Wilde - mythic rewriting of history
drives me wild".
Oscar Wilde by
Richard Ellmann , published in 1987
* ^ Kevin Grant (2005). A civilised savagery: Britain and the new
slaveries in Africa, 1884–1926. Routledge. p. 110. ISBN
Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of
Business, by Lowell J. Satre ISBN 0-8214-1626-X
* ^ "No. 26311".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette . 29 July 1892. p. 4314.
* ^ "leighrayment.com Privy Counsellors – Ireland".
* ^ "No. 27192".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette . 15 May 1900. p. 3070.
* ^ "No. 27862".
The London Gazette