Conservative or Tory?

I had an email exchange today with a university student looking into and exploring the origins of words within the English language.

I was asked the following:

  • Are you able to tell me what the word 'Tory' means? I am interested in the meaning in terms of it being a word in the English language, rather than in terms of it being an abbreviation for the word ‘Conservative'.

  • Secondly, and in relation to the first question, do you refer to yourself as a ‘Tory’?

This got me thinking...

As I understand it, the word 'Tory' was a derogatory term to denote people who were poor, Irish and Catholic in the 17th century. It was coined as a slang term for supporters of King James II who was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 because of his adherence to Catholicism.

James was removed by 'whigs' who would have described themselves as parliamentarians but were seen by 'Tories' as wealthy aristocrats who wanted a share of the power wielded by the Monarch who absolutely did not want that power shared with non-aristocrats.

Standard explanations of history will tell you that 'Tories' eventually became 'Conservatives' and 'whigs' became 'Liberals' in the mid-19th century. However, this is far too simplistic since both parties underwent major splits in the 19th century which led to many 'Tory' MPs (like Gladstone) becoming Liberals. Later, many Liberals (such as Joseph Chamberlain) left over the issue of Irish Home Rule and eventually became the 'unionists' of what is now still officially called the 'Conservative and Unionist' Party.

One could argue that the ideas which inspired Brexit can be traced back to the politics of Corn Law reform and free trade, which were a cornerstone of Liberal thinking from the 1830s to the 1920s. Deficit reduction is also something that the great Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone would have championed.

Therefore, in answer to the questions, I would consider myself a Conservative. But from an historical standpoint, I could accurately describe myself as a Liberal.

Much as I enjoy history I must leave things at that!