Rosebery: Office and Eclipse

On March 8th, 1894, Lord Rosebery took office as Prime Minister. John Raymond describes his fifteen difficult months in power.

When Mr. Gladstone formed his second Government in April 1880, everyone expected that Rosebery, who had seconded him so ably in the Midlothian campaign, would inevitably receive high office—a Viceroyalty, an embassy, a seat in the Cabinet even. But this was not Mr. Gladstone’s way. He adhered to “Peel’s rule against admitting anybody straight into the Cabinet without having held previous office”—a rule he had been forced to break only in the case of John Bright (1868) and Chamberlain (1880).

Rosebery was accordingly offered the Under-Secretaryship of State for India—an offer he declined, declaring, with his usual parade of scruple, that “if I take this appointment, I lose the certainty that what I have done in the matter of the elections, however slight, has been disinterested.” “Lord Rosebery would accept nothing,” noted Queen Victoria, “as he said it would look as though Mr. Gladstone had paid him for what he had done.”

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