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Earl of Rosebery

Earl of Roseberry Born: 7 May 1847 in Berkeley Square, London

First entered Parliament: 22 May 1868

Age he became PM: 46 years, 302 days

Maiden speech: 9 February 1871, seconding the Address to Her Majesty in the House of Lords following the opening of Parliament

Total time as PM: One year, 109 days

Died: 21 May 1929 at Epsom, Surrey

Facts and figures

Education: Eton and Christ Church, Oxford

Family: Rosebery was the eldest son and the third of four children. He was married to Hannah de Rothschild, and had two sons and two daughters

Interests: Horseracing (he won the Derby three times), shooting, sailing, collecting books

Biography

Staunch upholder

The Earl of Rosebery did not enjoy the success in office of his Liberal predecessor Gladstone. His 15-month term as prime minister suffered from divisions within his party and Cabinet. He is best known today as a staunch upholder of the British Empire.

Born Archibald Primrose into a Scottish aristocratic family, Rosebery attended Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he developed an interest in both politics and horseracing.

The Earl of Roseberry was a passionate fan of horse racing While at Oxford, Primrose succeeded to his grandfather’s title as 5th Earl of Rosebery in 1868, and took up his seat in the House of Lords. A year later Rosebery bought his first racehorse, Ladas, against university rules.

Offered a choice by the university authorities between selling his horse or abandoning his studies, he chose the racehorse.

Rosebery first became a public figure when he managed Gladstone’s successful Midlothian Campaign in 1879.

In 1881 Gladstone persuaded him to take up the post of Under Secretary at the Home Office, with special responsibility for Scotland.

Travelled the world

But Rosebery was not convinced that Gladstone was interested in Scottish affairs and resigned after two years. He then travelled the world, promoting his imperialist ideas.

In Australia he made a celebrated speech announcing: “The British Empire is a Commonwealth of Nations.”

In 1885 Rosebery joined Gladstone’s Cabinet as Commissioner of the Board of Works and Lord Privy Seal. A year later, he became Foreign Secretary in Gladstone’s third administration. Queen Victoria, an admirer, described it as the ‘only really good appointment’ in the whole government.

The death of his wife Hannah in 1890 kept Rosebery out of politics for some time, but he was eventually persuaded, by Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, to return. In 1892 he became Foreign Secretary again in Gladstone’s last administration.

When Gladstone resigned in March 1894, Rosebery accepted the post of PM, although he did so reluctantly, regarding it as a dangerously poisoned chalice. He would have preferred to spend his time on horseracing and literature.

It was a short-lived administration. Rosebery inherited a divided Cabinet and faced an obstructive, Tory-dominated House of Lords. He was heavily attacked in the Commons for opposing Irish Home Rule.

Imperialist designs

His imperialist designs in foreign policy, such as expansion of the fleet, were defeated by disagreements within the Liberal Party, while the House of Lords stopped the Liberals’ domestic legislation.

Rosebery’s government lasted only 15 months, falling over in June 1895 a vote of censure on military supplies. In the following year, Rosebery resigned as leader of the Liberal Party in the interests of party unity.

He became the leader of the Liberal Imperialist division of the party, but retired from politics altogether in 1905 when Henry Campbell-Bannerman was chosen as Liberal prime minister. In his later years, he turned to writing political biographies.

He died in 1929, requesting to hear the Eton Boating Song before he passed away.

Quote unquote

“There are two supreme pleasures in life. One is ideal, the other real. The ideal is when a man receives the seals of office from his Sovereign. The real pleasure comes when he hands them back.”

Did you know?

While at university he set three aims for his life: 1) to marry an heiress; 2) to own a racehorse that won the Derby; 3) be the Prime Minister. He managed to achieve all three.

Wife

Hannah de Rothschild Hannah de Rothschild was a wealthy heiress, born into the powerful de Rothschild family. She was said at one time to be the richest woman in Britain, inheriting £2,000,000 in cash on the death of her father in 1874.

At the time of her marriage she was distressed by criticism levelled at her in the Jewish press, but there was never any suggestion that she would give up her religion.

They had two marriage ceremonies – a civil one conducted by the registrar of the Board of Guardians and a second one at Christ Church in Piccadilly.

At the second, much more flamboyant ceremony, Disraeli (by then PM himself) gave the bride away and signed the register.

Shy and kind, Hannah was devoted to her husband. She was a great philanthropist, building many model cottages and three schools in and around the Roseberys’ Mentmore estate in Buckinghamshire.

Roseberry took her death badly, using black-bordered stationery in all his correspondence, and never remarried. He was particularly saddened that his wife’s family arranged a Jewish funeral that he felt little connection with.

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