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Andrew Bonar Law

Andrew Bonar Law Born: 16 September 1858 in New Brunswick, Canada

First entered Parliament: October 1900

Age he became PM: 64 years, 37 days

Maiden Speech: 19 February 1901 during the debate on the Address

Total time as PM: 209 days

Died: 30 October 1923 London

Facts and figures

Nickname: “The Unknown Prime Minister”

Education: Gilbertfield School, Hamilton and Glasgow High School

Family: Bonar Law was the youngest son of five children, and also had two younger half-sisters. He was married to Annie Pitcairn Robley, and had four sons and two daughters

Interests: Tennis, golf, darts


Son of a clergyman

Andrew Bonar Law was the Canadian-born son of a Scottish clergyman. He worked as a boy on his fathers smallholding. At 12 he went to live with his late mother’s cousins who were rich Glaswegian merchant bankers in Scotland.

He later worked in the family bank, while attending university night classes which gave him an interest in politics and debating. At 27 he was making his fortune as an iron merchant but did not live extravagantly, having simple tastes.

With an inheritance which gave him financial independence, Bonar Law entered politics. In 1900 he was elected Conservative MP for Glasgow Blackfriars. He had a reputation for honesty and fearlessness, and was well regarded as an effective speaker. These qualities promoted him to Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in 1902.

He lost his seat in the 1906 Liberal landslide General Election. But he returned to represent Dulwich following a by-election later in the same year. Though hit hard by the death of his wife, he continued his political career, and won the Conservative party leadership in 1911 as a compromise candidate.

Outbreak of war

At the outbreak of war he offered the government the support of the Conservatives in the coalition government.

Working closely with the Liberals caused Law to admire Lloyd George, to such a degree that he even declined the premiership in favour of Lloyd George’s appointment.

David Lloyd George He was given senior positions in Lloyd George’s new war cabinet. His promotion reflected the great mutual trust between both leaders and made for a well co-ordinated political partnership. Their coalition was re-elected by a landslide following the Armistice.

Law had lost his two eldest sons in the war and his health deteriorated. To recover he resigned as Leader of the House and leader of his party.

At the time many leading Conservatives were so enthralled by Lloyd George that they were considering leaving the Conservatives to join a new party Lloyd George was planning.

Changing minds

Law made a decisive rousing speech at the Conservative Carlton Club which changed their minds and saved the Conservative party. Law persuaded the Conservatives to end the coalition, and work as an independent party.

Conservative withdrawal forced Lloyd George to resign. The King then invited Law to form a new administration in 1922.

Law’s ‘Tranquility Manifesto’ was an attempt to allow Britain to recover from war damage. Though elected, he lasted just 209 days in office. He resigned in May 1923 due to ill health, and died of throat cancer six months later.

Quote unquote

“If I am a great man, then a good many great men of history are frauds”

Did you know?

A popular but now little-noted PM, Law’s funeral service took place in Westminster Abbey.


Annie Robley was the daughter of a ship broker and married Bonar Law when she was 24-years-old. She is described as a person of ’spontaneity, sweetness and charm’ to whom her husband was devoted. She brought up a family of six children but died from a gall-bladder operation aged just 43, delivered a shattering blow to her distraught husband.

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