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Earl of Aberdeen

Earl of Aberdeen Born: 28 January 1784 in Edinburgh, Scotland

First entered Parliament: 4 December 1806

Age he became PM: 68 years, 326 days

Maiden speech: 13 April 1807 in a debate on the change of administration

Total time as PM: Two years, 42 days

Died: 14 December 1860 at St James’s, London

Facts and figures

Education: Harrow and St. John’s College, Cambridge

Family: Aberdeen was the eldest son and the first of seven children. He was married twice, and had four sons and four daughters

Interests: Classical antiquities (he excavated famous reliefs in Athens), botany, agriculture, shooting


Managing strong personalites

George Hamilton Gordon, later the Earl of Aberdeen, had a short-lived term in the highest office.

While he managed to pass a number of reforms, he was brought down by his handling of the Crimean War and his failure to manage the strong personalities of his colleagues.

Gordon had an eventful early life. Orphaned as a child, he toured Europe as a young man, visiting many classical sites. Returning to his Scottish estates in 1805, he was shocked at their condition and the lives of his countrymen, in contrast to the life he had known in the south of England.

He came to parliamentary politics relatively late. At the age of 22, he entered the House of Lords and a few years later started a career in diplomacy which earned him his peerage.

His first government post was two periods as Foreign Secretary, 1828-30, under Wellington, and 1841-46, under Peel. He proved his convictions as a peacemaker, calming Britain’s external relations.

In 1852, when Derby’s government was defeated, Aberdeen became prime minister of a coalition government of Peelites, Whigs, radicals and Irish members.

Packed with talent

His Cabinet was packed with talent - Russell as Foreign Secretary, Palmerston as Home Secretary and Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer - but controlling such big personalities proved difficult for Aberdeen to handle.

William Gladstone Early in his time in office, Gordon managed to pass legislation concerning taxation, the Civil Service and legal matters, which showed his ability to reform.

But Gordon’s government was dominated by foreign affairs, as Britain drifted towards war with Russia.

Responsibility for failing to conduct the Crimean War efficiently was pinned on Aberdeen personally. Attempts to hold an inquiry into the conduct of the war led to Aberdeen’s resignation in 1855.

Quote unquote

“I do not know how I shall bear being out of office. I have many resources and many objects of interest; but after being occupied with great affairs, it is not easy to subside to the level of common occupations.”

Did you know?

He was the cousin of poet Lord Byron and as a young man closely resembled him with his mop of dark curly hair.

First wife - Catherine Elizabeth Hamilton

Married to Aberdeen at 21, Catherine was a noted beauty who was ‘charming, lively and spontaneous’. He fell deeply in love with her and never recovered from her early death aged just 28.

Second wife - Harriet Hamilton

Harriet was the widow of his first Wife’s brother. Aberdeen was still in mourning for Catherine and Harriet never captured his heart as she had done. Indeed Aberdeen once described her as ‘certainly one of the most stupid persons I ever met with’.

Harriet was said to be jealous of her husband’s close relationship with Catherine three daughters (who all died before reaching 20) and was often malicious to them. She also died young, aged just 41.

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