A few weeks after the close of the rebellion nine hundred French soldiers under General Humbert landed in Mayo, broke a force of thrice their number in a battle at Castlebar, and only surrendered when the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Cornwallis, faced them with thirty thousand men. Pitt's disgust at " the bigoted fury of Irish Protestants" backed Lord Cornwallis in checking the reprisals of his troops and of the Orangemen; but the hideous cruelty which he was forced to witness brought about a firm resolve to put an end to the farce of "Independence," which left Ireland helpless in such hands. The political necessity for a union of the two islands had been brought home to every English statesman by the course of the Irish Parliament during the disputes over the Regency; for while England repelled the claims of the Prince of Wales to the Regency as of right, the legislature of Ireland admitted them. As the only union left between the two peoples was their obedience to a common ruler, such an act might conceivably have ended in their entire severance; and the sense of this danger secured a welcome in England for Pitt's proposal to unite the two Parliaments. The opposition of the Irish boroughmongers was naturally stubborn and determined.
But with them it was a sheer question of gold; and their assent was bought with a million in money, and with a liberal distribution of pensions and peerages. Base and shameless as were such means, Pitt may fairly plead that they were the only means by which the bill for the Union could have been passed. As the matter was finally arranged in June 1800, one hundred Irish members became part of the House of Commons at Westminster, and twenty-eight temporal with four spiritual peers, chosen for each Parliament by their fellows, took their seats in the House of Lords. Commerce between the two countries was freed from all restrictions, and every trading privilege of the one thrown open to the other; while taxation was proportionately distributed between the two peoples.
The lavish creation of peers which formed a part of the price paid for the Union of Ireland brought about a practical change in our constitution. Few bodies have varied more in the number of their members than the House of Lords. At the close of the Wars of the Roses the lay lords who remained numbered fifty-two; in Elizabeth's reign they numbered only sixty; the prodigal creations of the Stuarts raised them to one hundred and seventy-six. At this point, however, lhey practically remained stationary during the reigns of the first two Georges; and, as we have seen, only the dogged opposition of Wal-pole prevented Lord Stanhope from limiting the peerage to the number it had at that time reached. Mischievous as such a measure would have been, it would at any rate have prevented the lavish creation of peerages on which George the Third relied in the early days of his reign as one of his means of breaking up the party government which restrained him. But what was with the King a mere means of corruption became with Pitt a settled purpose of bringing the peerage into closer relations with the landowning and opulent classes, and rendering the Crown independent of factious combinations among the existing peers.
While himself disdainful of hereditary honours, he lavished them as no Minister had lavished them before. In his first five years of rule he created forty-eight new peers. In two later years alone, 1796-7, he created thirty-five. By 1801 the peerages which were the price of the Union with Ireland had helped to raise his creations to upwards of one hundred and forty. So busily was his example followed by his successors that at the end of George the Third's reign the number of hereditary peers had become double what it was at his accession. The whole character of the House of Lords was changed. Up to this time it had been a small assembly of great nobles, bound together by family or party ties into a distinct power in the State. From this time it became the stronghold of property, the representative of the great estates and great fortunes which the vast increase of English wealth was building up. For the first time, too, in our history it became the distinctly conservative element in our constitution. The full import of Pitt's changes has still to be revealed, but in some ways their results have been clearly marked.
The larger number of the peerage, though due to the will of the Crown, has practically freed the House from any influence which the Crown can exert by the distribution of honours. This change, since the power of the Crown has been practically wielded by the House of Commons, has rendered it far harder to reconcile the free action of the Lords with the regular working of constitutional government. On the other hand, the increased number of its members has tendered the House more responsive to public opinion, when public opinion is strongly pronounced; and the political tact which is inherent in great aristocratic assemblies has hitherto prevented any collision with the Lower House from being pushed to an irreconcilable quarrel.
But the legislative union of the two countries was only part of the plan which Pitt had conceived for the conciliation of Ireland. With the conclusion of the Union his projects of free trade between the countries, which had been defeated a few years back, came into play; and in spite of insufficient capital and social disturbance the growth of the trade, shipping, and manufactures of Ireland has gone steadily on from that time to this. The change which brought Ireland directly under the common Parliament was followed too by a gradual revision of its oppressive laws, and an amendment in their administration; taxation was lightened, and a faint beginning made of public instruction. But in Pitt's mind the great means of conciliation was the concession of religious equality. In proposing to the English Parliament the union of the two countries he pointed out that when thus joined to a Protestant country like England all danger of a Catholic supremacy in Ireland, should Catholic disabilities be removed, would be practically at an end; and had suggested that in such a case " an effectual and adequate provision for the Catholic clergy" would be a security for their loyalty.