Orsini and the Fall of Palmerston

Robert Woodall describes how Palmerston lost office in February 1858 during the Anglo-French controversy over Orsini’s bomb plot.

On February 18th, 1858, the Bill for the Better Government of India, a measure designed to transfer the authority of the East India Company formally and absolutely to the Crown, passed its third reading in the House of Commons by 318 votes to 173. The majority was larger than anyone had expected, and was regarded as a great personal success for the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.

Walking home with him that night, the Attorney-General, Sir Richard Bethell, told him that, like a Roman consul at triumph, he needed someone to remind him that he was, as a minister, not immortal. It is improbable that Bethell, whose sycophantic attitude towards his chief constantly exasperated his colleagues, and was the subject of waspish comments by Charles Greville, had any serious doubts about the strength of Palmerston’s position.

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