Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby

(1799—1869) prime minister

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The longest serving of Conservative leaders. Heir to an ancient title (the main estates in south Lancashire around Knowsley), Stanley, after Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, was a Whig MP by 1822. After minor office under Canning, he served in Grey's cabinet. As chief secretary for Ireland he introduced the Irish Church Temporalities Bill and a measure for popular education and as colonial secretary the abolition of colonial slavery, all in 1833. Alienated by O'Connell and his Irish and by his Whig rival Russell, Stanley led the resigners from the cabinet in 1834 (the Derby Dilly). He and most of his followers moved into the Conservative Party. Colonial secretary in Peel's government of 1841, he opted for a peerage in 1844. Lytton saw him as ‘frank, haughty, rash, the Rupert of debate’. In 1845 Stanley was the only cabinet minister to hold out against Peel's policy of Corn Law repeal and left the government, seeing it as an issue of honour. Though his efforts to stop repeal failed, he became leader of the protectionist rump of the divided party in July 1846. By 1849 Stanley had appointed Disraeli leader in the Commons.

Derby (he inherited the earldom in 1851) was prime minister of three governments (1852, 1858–9, and 1866–8). Throughout that period the Conservatives remained a minority party in the Commons. In the second ministry Derby attempted a measure of parliamentary reform and displayed a more progressive stance than previously. After the defeat of 1859 he decided to prop up Palmerston's moderate Liberal government against radical challenges and settled for opposition. In 1866 after Palmerston's death the Conservatives overturned Russell's Liberal government over parliamentary reform and Derby became premier again. He determined to pre‐empt any further Liberal measure with a reform measure of his own; the second Reform Act (he called it ‘a leap in the dark’) was his initiative, though handled by Disraeli in the Commons. He retired because of ill‐health in 1868, Disraeli succeeding as premier.

Derby never realized the early promise of his career. Disarmingly open in manner, especially in sporting contexts, he was also acutely aware of his social standing, and aristocratic stiffness handicapped his dealings with middle‐class politicians.

Subjects: British History.

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