Edmund Burke

Becky Field

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was born in Dublin to a wealthy protestant lawyer, and educated at Trinity College before moving to London to study Law at Middle Temple. However he did not take to the legal profession and after a visit to Europe in 1756 he concentrated on a literary and political career, becoming friends with the leading society figures of the day such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, David Garrick, and David Hume. He became an MP in 1765 and served for over 30 years as an MP for the Whig Party. By the end of his life he was a reputable author, orator, political theorist and philosopher.

He is remembered mainly for his support for the cause of the American War of Independence, Catholic emancipation, the impeachment of Warren Hastings from the East India Company, and for his revulsion with the French Revolution; the latter leading to his becoming the leading figure within the traditional conservative faction of the Whig Party, as opposed to the pro–French Revolution “New Whigs”, led by Charles Fox. His “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) became a best seller.

In recent years he has become widely regarded as the philosophical founder of Conservatism, even though he might today be more properly considered as a “wet, and a Eurosceptic”. There are many books written about his life and works and he is undoubtedly one of the country’s leading politicians of the 18th Century.

On 12 March 1757, Burke married Jane Mary Nugent (1734–1812), daughter of Dr Christopher Nugent, a Catholic physician who had provided him with medical treatment at Bath. Their son Richard was born on 9 February 1758; an elder son, Christopher, died in infancy. Burke also helped raise a ward, Edmund Nagle (later Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle), the son of a maternal cousin orphaned in 1763.

In 1769, with mostly borrowed money, Burke purchased Gregories, a 600-acre estate in Beaconsfield, from Edmund Waller, for £20,000. Although the estate included saleable assets Gregories proved a heavy financial burden in the following decades and Burke was never able to repay its purchase price in full. After his death in 1797 his wife Jane continued to live in the house until she sold the estate to James Du Pre of Wilton Park for £38,500, substantially more than the then debts. As a condition of the sale she was allowed to live there for the remainder of her life and her retainers for one year thereafter.

Jane died in April 1812 and the house was subsequently leased to Reverend Jones who had plans to use it as a school for the sons of local gentry. However at the start of renovations in April 1813 the house caught fire and was razed to the ground. It was not rebuilt and only a mound of earth is visible today on land in Walkwood.

At Gregories, Burke became a farmer and even used his own coaching horses for cultivation. He was able to produce meat, fruit and vegetables from his land, and improved his life style to something akin to his more wealthy neighbours, the Wallers. He applied newly emerging scientific principles to the cultivation of the land, and personally supervised the drainage of fields and deep ploughing. He was one of the earliest exponents of the scientific breeding of beef cattle and pigs.

He is a fascinating historical figure and there are many books about him and his writings He is documented as the first person to coin the word “Diplomacy” in 1796. He set up a school in Penn (in a mansion opposite the pond) for the sons of French gentry who had escaped the Revolution and this continued to exist until the Monarchy in France was restored in 1820. In his later years he upset the Jacobins and he was reluctant to allow his burial place (in Beaconsfield Church) to be marked for fear that his opponents would desecrate the site; there are, so it seems, four separate places recorded for his burial.

Comments about this page

  • Burke owned a mill which was sited near the existing Butler’s Court school building; the old path that led to it was called Mill Lane and until a few years ago ran at the back of the gardens in Station Road from No 2 Wattleton Road. You can still see evidence of it on old OS maps. The current Mill Lane is the entrance to the primary school.

    By Becky Field (08/05/2016)
  • By Becky Field (08/05/2016)

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