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Edward Smith Stanley 14th Earl of Derby

Whig / Tory | 1852 - 1852 | 1858 - 1859 | 1866 - 1868

Earl of Derby


Scorpion Stanley” and “The Rupert of Debate”


29 March 1799, Knowsley Hall, Prescot, Lancashire


23 October 1869, Knowsley Hall, Prescot, Lancashire

Dates in office

23 February 1852 - 17 December 1852

Dates in office (Second term)

20 February 1858 - 11 June 1859

Dates in office (Third term)

28 June 1866 - 25 February 1868

Political party

Whig / Tory

Major acts

India Bill 1858 - transferring control of the East India Company to the Crown

Jews Relief Act 1858 - ending the disablement for Jews to sit in Parliament

“My Lords, I am now an old man, and like many of your lordships, I have already passed the three score years and ten. My official life is entirely closed; my political life is nearly so; and, in the course of nature, my natural life cannot now be long.”

The Earl of Derby was unusual for serving in both Whig and Tory administrations.  Heir to an aristocratic family, the Earl of Derby followed the traditional route into politics.

He began his career a Whig, becoming Member of Parliament first for Stockbridge and then for Preston. He was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in Lord Grey’s administration, bringing in the Irish Education Act in 1831.

In 1833 he became Colonial Secretary under Grey, introducing measures for the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire. He resigned over proposals to appropriate surplus revenues from the Irish Church.

Having argued with members of the Whig party, gradually Derby grew closer to Robert Peel, and in 1837 he joined the Tory party. In 1841 he was appointed Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in Peel’s second administration.

Opium Wars

During his time in the post Derby had responsibility for issues such as the ‘Opium Wars’ with China.

But Derby resigned from Peel’s government when he disagreed with Peel over repealing the Corn Laws. He became a focus for the protectionists in government.

In February 1852, Derby became the PM himself. Peel’s supporters refused to back him, forcing Derby to form his Cabinet with loyal but inexperienced Conservatives.

The ministry became known as the ‘Who? Who? Cabinet’.

By the end of the year his government had collapsed, when Chancellor Disraeli’s Budget was defeated.

Derby’s second administration, 1858-59, achieved more, although it was still dependent on divisions among the opposition for survival. One action was the India Bill of 1858, which transferred control of the East India Company to the Crown. Around the same time, the Jews Relief Act ended the disability of Jews from sitting in Parliament.

But in 1859 Derby’s attempt to widen the franchise led to his government’s downfall. Derby returned to government as PM for a third time in 1866. His final government was responsible for the landmark Second Reform Bill of 1867, a milestone in the democratisation of Britain.

Ill health forced Derby’s resignation the following year, and led to his death in 1869.

There is a monument to him in London’s Parliament Square. His last words, when asked how he was, were ‘bored to utter extinction’.