Castlereagh: A Life. BY JOHN BEW. Oxford University Press, 2012, 752 pp. $39.95.
"The past," the novelist L. P. Hartley wrote, "is a foreign country; they do things differently there." There is certainly much that is alien about the world of Robert Stewart, better known as Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822), who helped usher in a new European order as British foreign secretary during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Nowadays, for example, one would not expect two senior politicians from the same party, both cabinet ministers, to fight a duel in the middle of a war, as Castlereagh and then Foreign Secretary George Canning did in 1809. And of course, there were some more fundamental differences: the British government of Castlereagh's day was elected by a narrow, all-male franchise determined by property ownership, and King George III, in his saner moments, was no mere constitutional figurehead but a power in his own right. Outside Great Britain, continental Europe would seem stranger still, with systems ranging from the Napoleonic tyranny in France to absolute monarchies in Austria, Prussia, and Russia. In international politics, wars of aggression and territorial annexation were still the norm...
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