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5th Earl of Rosebery


The Hon. Archibald Philip Primrose, first called Lord Dalmeny and afterwards fifth Earl of Rosebery, was born at 20, Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London, on the 7th of May, 1847. He was the elder son of Archibald, Lord Dalmeny, and grandson of the fourth earl. His mother, Lady Catherine Stanhope, a daughter of Philip, fourth Earl Stanhope, had been one of the most beautiful women of her day. After the death of her husband she married the last Duke of Cleveland and to the end of her life was a famous figure in society.

The Primroses had been settled in Perthshire and Midlothian since the beginning of the sixteenth century. Cavaliers in the Great Rebellion, they had been raised to the Scottish peerage in 1700 and advanced to an earldom three years later, while in 1828 the fourth earl had received a barony of the United Kingdom. Rich landowners, they were connected with many of the leading families in the kingdom, and collaterally with those of Pitt and Grenville. The fourth earl, who lived to the great age of eighty-four, was a link with the French Revolution, the Regency and the Reform Bill, while his son had sat in Parliament for fourteen years. A political career was thus the heritage of their descendant.

#Archibald Primrose lost his father when he was only four years of age, and then took the courtesy title of Lord Dalmeny on becoming heir to his grandfather. He was brought up principally in Scotland until he went to Eton. There his tutor was Mr. William Johnson (afterwards known as Mr. Cory), a man of exceptional genius and attainments, whose chief recorded remarks of his pupil were that he wished for polmam sine pulvere, and that he was a budding bibliomaniac. In his company Lord Dalmeny travelled to France and Italy in his holidays and was early introduced to the delights of literature and art. In his school work he showed no remarkable industry, though plenty of talent, but he distinguished himself on the river, pulling an oar in the Monarch, and he was also elected a member of Pop. In 1866 he went on to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was one of the last of the gentlemen-commoners or "tufts." His University career, however, was prematurely cut short, for the College authorities did not take the same view that he did as to the necessity of racehorses as a part of the official curriculum, and he was compelled to go down without having taken his degree. Two years later he succeeded his grandfather and took his seat in the House of Lords.

In 1871 Lord Rosebery made his maiden speech on seconding the address. Subsequently he used to speak regularly once or twice every session, and he acquired a reputation for unusual eloquence and ability. In 1873 he was appointed lord-lieutenant of Linlithgow and sometime later on of Midlothian, He was also made a com missioner of Scottish Endowments.

At the age of thirty he married Hannah, only daughter and heiress of Baron Meyer de Rothschild, who brought him an immense fortune. In the same year he was elected Lord Rector of Aberdeen University and began to take an increasing interest in politics. Mr. Gladstone was then starting his famous Midlothian campaign, and in this Lord Rosebery played a prominent part. His influence and his means were employed with considerable efiect on behalf of the Liberal leader, and they contributed not a little to his success. It was Mr. Gladstone who called him "the man of the future."

#Lord Rosebery, by his abilities, his rank and his wealth, was thus marked out for high place. In 1880 the Liberals were returned to power, and a year later he was appointed Under-Secretary at the Home Office. This post, however, he only held until May 1883. He then resigned and made a long journey in Australia, where he occupied himself actively in imperial questions. A year later he brought forward one of his earliest motions on the reform of the House of Lords, a subject which has always been in the forefront of his programme.

In February 1885 he rejoined the government as Commissioner of Works and Lord Privy Seal, and in the short Liberal administration of 1886 he was promoted to the important position of Foreign Secretary. After the defeat of the government in that year he went off to travel in India, and during the ensuing long period of opposition he bore his share in the debates in the House of Lords, where his powers of oratory had by now won him a leading place. In 1890 he lost his wife, from whom he inherited Mentmore in Buckinghamshire.

On the resumption of office by Mr. Gladstone in 1892, Lord Rosebery again became Foreign Secretary and remained so until March 1894, when, on Mr. Gladstone's retirement, he succeeded as Prime Minister as the personal choice of Queen Victoria. He then became First Lord of the Treasury and Lord President, relinquishing the Foreign Office. A year later the government was defeated, and Lord Rosebery, whose Cabinet had not hung together very well, at once resigned.

In the meantime he had had many other activities. He had interested himself seriously in municipal government, and from 1889 to 1890 had acted as the first Chairman of the London County Council. His racing stable had brought him remarkable success and popularity, for he had won the Derby for two years running, 1894-1895, a feat never before accomplished by a Prime Minister. His taste in the arts and in letters and his wealth had enabled him to form large and important collections of books and pictures; and henceforward his pursuits lay as much in the direction of literature as of politics. In 1896 he determined to resign the leadership of the Liberal party. For some years he headed the Liberal League, an imperialist or right wing association, but he gradually found himself out of sympathy with the main body of the Liberals on Home Rule and other subjects to which he had never been much drawn.

About this time the late Mr. George Russell, a critic and colleague well qualified to speak, wrote of him: "In appearance, air and tastes Lord Rosebery is still young. In experience, knowledge and conduct he is already old. He has had a vivid and a varied experience. He is equally at home on Epsom. Downs and in the House of Lords. His life has been full of action, incident and interest. He has not only collected books, but has read them; and has found time, even amid the engrossing demands of the London County Council, the Turf and the Foreign Office, not only for study, but — what is much more remarkable — for thought." And he goes on to notice Lord Rosebery's brilliant gifts of observation, humour, conversation and sympathy.

After the death of Queen Victoria, Lord Rosebery made fewer incursions into party polemics, though he still retained a small but important following, which included such notable figures as Mr. Asquith, Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Haldane. But when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman announced his programme on the fall of the Conservative government in 1905, Lord Rosebery declined to serve under that flag, though his lieutenants were willing to do so. For many years now he has not spoken in the House of Lords, but his contributions to literature have been hardly less striking than his successes as an orator. His principal writings include studies on past rulers and statesmen - Cromwell, Napoleon, Chatham, Pitt, Peel and Churchill. They have established his claim to a high rank as an historian and a master of the English language.

Lord Rosebery, who is a K.G., A K.T., an F.R.S. and Chancellor of London University, was made Earl of Milothian, in the peerage of the United Kingdom, on the occasion of King George's coronation. He now lives a very retired life and rarely appears in public. He has lost his younger son, Mr. Neil Primrose, a promising politician, who died of wounds in the recent European War, but he has an elder son living, as well as two daughters, one of whom is married to Lord Crewe.

Source: The Prime Ministers of Britain, by the Hon. Clive Bigham, 1923
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