British Prime Ministers: Gladstone

Four times Prime Minister, Gladstone owes his great reputation, A.F. Thompson argues, less to his achievements in office than to his character and personality.

William GladstoneGladstone was prime minister for more than twelve years between 1868 and 1894, but the Gladstone legend owes little to his actual tenure of that office. The portraits of “the people’s William” hanging in front parlours, the distrust and denunciation of him in aristocratic drawing-rooms, were tributes to other Gladstones, seldom understood but neither ignored then nor forgotten now. For some he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who distributed the legacy of Peel, the impassioned advocate of Italian and Balkan liberties, the emancipator of the middle class, end the idol of the workers for whom he did so little; to others the democratic and demagogic reformer, upsetting the delicate balance of the constitution, the enemy of the Empire and of the Irish landlord, “the old, wild, and incomprehensible man of eighty-two and a half” relentlessly pursuing the mirage of Home Rule.

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