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Edward Smith Stanley 14th Earl of Derby Tory and Whig 1852 to 1852, 1858 to 1859, 1866 to 1868
29 March 1799, Knowsley Hall, Prescot, Lancashire
23 October 1869, Knowsley Hall, Prescot, Lancashire
Dates in office
1852 to 1852, 1858 to 1859, 1866 to 1868
Tory and Whig
India Bill 1858: transferring control of the East India Company to the Crown.
Jews Relief Act 1858: ending the disablement for Jews to sit in Parliament.
“My Lords, I am now an old man, and like many of your lordships, I have already passed the 3 score years and 10. My official life is entirely closed; my political life is nearly so; and, in the course of nature, my natural life cannot now be long.”
The Earl of Derby was unusual for serving in both Whig and Tory administrations. He was heir to an aristocratic family, and followed the traditional route into politics.
He began his career a Whig, becoming Member of Parliament first for Stockbridge and then for Preston. He was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in Lord Grey’s administration, bringing in the Irish Education Act in 1831.
In 1833 he became Colonial Secretary under Lord Grey, introducing measures for the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire. He resigned over proposals to take surplus revenues from the Irish Church.
Having argued with members of the Whig party, gradually the Earl of Derby grew closer to Robert Peel, and in 1837 he joined the Tory party.
In 1841 he was appointed Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in Peel’s second administration. During his time in the post he had responsibility for issues such as the ‘Opium Wars’ with China, but he resigned when he disagreed with Peel over repealing the Corn Laws, becoming a focus for the protectionists in government.
In February 1852, the Earl of Derby became Prime Minister. Peel’s supporters refused to back him, forcing him to form his Cabinet with loyal but inexperienced Conservatives. His ministry became known as the ‘Who? Who? Cabinet’. By the end of the year his government had collapsed - when Chancellor Disraeli’s Budget was defeated.
His second administration, 1858 to 1859, achieved more, although it was still dependent on divisions among the opposition for survival. One action was the India Bill of 1858, which transferred control of the East India Company to the Crown. Around the same time, the Jews Relief Act ended the exclusion of Jews from sitting in Parliament. In 1859 his attempt to widen the franchise led to his government’s downfall.
He returned to government as Prime Minister for a third time in 1866. His final government was responsible for the landmark Second Reform Bill of 1867, a milestone in the democratisation of Britain. Ill health forced Derby’s resignation the following year.
The same ill heath that forced Derby’s resignation also led to his death in 1869. His last words, when asked how he was, were “bored to utter extinction”.
There is a monument to him in London’s Parliament Square.