Journal Article

William Wickham, the Christ Church Connection and the Rise and Fall of the Security Service in Britain, 1793–1801

Michael Durey

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXI, issue 492, pages 714-745
Published in print June 2006 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online June 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cel104
William Wickham, the Christ Church Connection and the Rise and Fall of the Security Service in Britain, 1793–1801

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The dangers arising from the French Revolution, an indigenous radical-republican movement and an Irish multi-faith nationalism persuaded the Pitt government from the outbreak of war in 1793 to consider new forms of state security. The process undertaken was pragmatic and the result was deliberately transitory. At the centre of developments was a phalanx of Christ Church-educated public servants, the most important of whom was William Wickham (1761-1840). Situated in a tiny sub-department of the Alien Office, Wickham's plan for an all-source centre of intelligence reached fruition during the great crisis of 1798-99. Contrary to received wisdom, this was not the result of a political policy that sought the development of a police state along French lines in Britain. Rather, it was a temporary wartime expedient which never lost sight of the values of traditional constitutional whiggism. With the Treaty of Amiens, the organisation was allowed to wither. The result was the unpreparedness of the Irish government for Robert Emmet's émeute of 1803. Wickham, ironically, as Chief Secretary for Ireland had to pick up the pieces. He resurrected his intelligence system in Dublin and, at the expense of his health and wellbeing, winkled out the last vestiges of revolutionary republicanism in Ireland. Wickham went into retirement and his vision of an all-source registry of intelligence was lost for another hundred years.

Journal Article.  15483 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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