Biography of Edmund Burke

Portrait of Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was an eighteenth century writer, philosopher and politician.

When and Where was he Born?

12th January 1729, Dublin, Ireland.

Family Background:

Edmund Burke was the son of a wealthy Protestant lawyer Richard Burke and a Catholic mother Mary Nagle who came from County Cork.

Education:

Abraham Shackleton’s Quaker school in Ballitore, Kildare. Trinity College, Dublin. Middle Temple, London.

Timeline of Edmund Burke:

1735: Burke goes to live with relatives of his mother in County Cork due to an illness.

1744: He attends Trinity College, Dublin.

1747: He establishes a debating society called the Edmund Burke’s Club.

1748: He graduates from Trinity but decides to stay on in Dublin contemplating becoming a writer.

1750: Burke goes to London to study law at the Middle Temple due to the wishes of his father but soon abandons it for a literary career.

1756: His first major work is published anonymously. “A Vindication of Natural Society” which is a satire on enlightenment politics and religion.

1757: Burke first finds fame as the author of a work on Aesthetics. “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”. It attracted the attention of such notable European philosophers as Immanuel Kan and Denis Diderot. He marries Jane Nugent, who was the daughter of an Irish Catholic doctor whom he had known from his literary club in Fleet Street. His father now disowns him and stops supporting him financially. He was commissioned to write the history of England from Julius Caesar to the end of the reign of Queen Anne, although he only completed it up until 1216, probably due to David Hume publishing his similar book in 1762 called “The History of England”.

1758: He is appointed first editor of the Annual Register which was originally known as “A View of the History, Politicks and Literature of the Year“. Birth of his first son Richard.

1761: He returns to Ireland as he is appointed secretary to William Gerard Hamilton who was the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He starts a work on “Popery in Ireland” but never completes it.

1764: Burke returns to London after an argument with his employer. He becomes a member of the Literary Club with other distinguished Charter Members such as Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith and Dr Johnson.

1765: He is appointed the Private Secretary to the Marquis of Rockingham who becomes Whig Prime Minister. Burke is elected to Parliament by the Borough of Wendover. He spent much time on reconciliation with the American colonies and persuaded the government to repeal the much-loathed Stamp Act. 

1766: Rockingham is dismissed by King George the Third as Prime Minister despite repealing the Stamp Act which had so upset the American Colonies.

1768: Burke buys land in Buckinghamshire.

1770: He publishes what is thought to be one of his best works, “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.”

1771: Edmund Burke becomes parliamentary agent for New York.

1772: He is major player in the passing of the Repeal of Certain Laws Act.

1773: He takes a tour around France.

1774: He is re-elected to Parliament this time as a member for the City of Bristol and makes his speech on the independence of parliamentary representatives. He also speaks about American taxation and criticises Britain’s stance on the taxation of its colonies.

1778: He supports a parliamentary motion for revising restrictions on Irish trade in spite of opposition from members in his constituency.

1780: Burke decides not to stand for re-election in Bristol due to fierce opposition but is elected for the borough of Maldon which was another pocket borough under the Marquess of Rockingham’s estate.

Statue of Edmund Burke in Bristol
Statue of Edmund Burke in Bristol 
where he was once an M.P. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1781: He is appointed Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on East Indian Affairs and is charged with investigating “alleged injustices in Bengal, the war with Hyder Ali, and other Indian difficulties.” From now on his prime focus was India rather than Irish Catholics.

1782: Rockingham again becomes Prime Minister in an attempt to end the American War of Independence. Burke is appointed Paymaster of the armed forces.

1783: The Rockingham group of Whigs then form a coalition government under Charles James Fox in association with Lord North. Burke attacks the East India Company’s government of India. The coalition collapses and is replaced by a Tory administration under William Pitt the Younger.

1786: Edmund Burke attacks Warren Hastings, the Governor of Bengal for the East India Company.

1788: The trial of Hastings begins with Burke prosecuting.

1790: Burke writes about the French revolution.

1791: He falls out with the Rockingham Whigs over his position on the French Revolution.

1793: War begins between Britain and France. Burke says that the war should be fought more strongly.

1794: The prosecution of Warren Hastings finishes. Burke steps down from Parliament. Death of his son Richard.

1795: Warren Hastings is acquitted.

1796: Hastings is impeached largely due to Burke’s persistance. Burke also protests against Britain’s willingness to make peace with revolutionary France.

When and Where did he Die?

9th July 1797, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England of complications from stomach ailments.

Age at Death:

68.

Written Works:

1756: ”A Vindication of Natural Society, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”.
1757: “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”, an essay in aesthetics. “An Account of the European Settlements”.
1769: “Observations on a Late State of the Nation”.
1770: “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”.
1774: “Speech on American Taxation”.
1775: “Speech on Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies”. “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol”.
1778: “Two Letters to Gentlemen of Bristol on the Bills relative to the Trade of Ireland”.
1780: “Speech on a plan for the better Security of the Independence of Parliament and Economic Reform”.
1784: “Speech on Mr. Fox’s India Bill”.
1785: “Speech on Nabob of Arcot’s Debts”.
1786: “Articles of Change against Warren Hastings.”
1790: “Reflections on the Revolution in France”.
1791: “Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs”.  “Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (of France)”.
1792: “Collected Works”.
1796: “Letter on a Regicide Peace”. “Letter to a Noble Lord”
1797: “Thoughts on the French Affairs”.

Marriage:

1757 to Jane Mary Nugent who was the daughter of an Irish Catholic doctor.

Site of Grave:

St. Mary and All Saints Church, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England.

Places of Interest:

AVON:

Took the waters at Bath.

BRISTOL:

Statue honouring him as a local Member of Parliament.