New College of the Humanities

Mr. Gladstone's Last Cabinet

The memories of Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, of the political crisis that Gladstone's final resignation caused at the heart of the British government in 1894.

The 5th Earl of Rosebery became Prime Minister in March, 1894, at the age of forty-seven. Sixteenth months later his Government was defeated in the House of Commons and, at the General Election that followed, the Conservatives won a sweeping majority. Though he lived until 1929, a revered elder statesman, the master of great properties, an historian of distinction and a celebrated sportsman—much to the distress of the Nonconformist conscience, while he was Prime Minister one of his horses won the Derby—Lord Rosebery never again held office. It would be too much to claim that he was not disappointed by the shortness of his period in power—of his Prime Ministership he once said, “I never did have power”. But, in a sense, he had a mind above politics; or, at least, above the shifts and compromises entailed by an active political life. Carried into the problems of government by the enthusiasm of Mr. Gladstone’s great Midlothian campaign, in. the day-to-day conduct of affairs he found much to disgust him. In later life, when his passionate imperialism had brought about his severance from the leaders of the Liberal Party—and, at the same time, his radical principles and his loyalty to the shade of Mr. Gladstone prohibited him from changing his political allegiance—he is reported to have said of politics, “When I found myself in this evil-smelling bog, I was always trying to extricate myself. That is the secret of what people used to call my lost opportunities”.

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