1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rosebery, Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of
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Rosebery, Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of
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ROSEBERY, ARCHIBALD PHILIP PRIMROSE, 5th Earl of (1847- ), British statesman, born in London on the 7th of May 1847, was the grandson and successor to the title of Archibald John Primrose, 4th earl of Rosebery (1783-1868), a representative peer of Scotland, who was in 1828 created a peer of the United Kingdom as Baron Rosebery, and was an active supporter of the Reform Bill. The Scottish earldom was first conferred in 1703 upon the 4th earl's great-grandfather, Archibald Primrose of Dalmeny (1664-1723), a staunch Whig and a commissioner for the Union. The 5th earl's mother was Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina, only daughter of Philip Henry, 4th Earl Stanhope; she was thus a sister of Earl Stanhope, the historian, and a niece of Lady Hester Stanhope, who was the niece of William Pitt. A celebrated beauty, a maid of honour and bridesmaid of Queen Victoria, she married, on the 20th of December 1843, Archibald, Lord Dalmeny (1809-1851), member for the Stirling Burghs, who became a lord of the admiralty under Melbourne. After his death she became the wife of Harry George Vane, 4th duke of Cleveland, and died in 1901.
The young Lord Dalmeny was educated at Brighton and at Eton, where he had as slightly junior contemporaries Mr A. J. Balfour and Lord Randolph Churchill. He was described by the most brilliant Eton tutor of his day, William Johnson Cory (author of Ionica), as a “portentously wise youth, not, however, deficient in fun.” He added that Dalmeny “desired the palm without the dust.” In 1866 he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, but went down in 1868, by the request of the dean, rather than abandon the possession of a small racing stud. In the same year he succeeded to the earldom and to the family estates. In February 1871 he seconded the Address in the House of Lords; a more original effort followed in November 1871, when he delivered a remarkable essay on the Union of Scotland and England at the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution. Three years later he was elected president of the Social Science Congress at Glasgow, where, on the 30th of September, he gave a striking address upon the discovery of means for raising the condition of the working class as the “true leverage of empire.” In the meantime he travelled in the south of Europe and in North America. On his return he acquired an English country house called The Durdans, Epsom, which he largely rebuilt and adorned with some of the finest turf portraits of George Stubbs. Following the example, as he declared, of Oliver Cromwell (for whom he showed an admiration in other respects — culminating in 1900 in the erection of a statue outside Westminster Hall, which was not appreciated either by the Irish Nationalist party or by others among his political associates), he took a pride in owning racehorses, and afterwards won the Derby three times, in 1894, 1895 and 1905. He was the first man to enjoy the distinction of winning the Derby while prime minister; but though this was popular enough among many classes, it did not please the Liberal Nonconformists so much, who considered a racehorse a mere gambling-machine. On the 20th of March 1878 Lord Rosebery married Hannah, only child of Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild, of Mentmore, Bucks. The newly married couple took a lease of Lansdowne House, which for several years was a salon for the Liberal party and a centre of hospitality for a much wider circle.
Though impeded in his political career by his exclusion from the House of Commons, Lord Rosebery's reputation as a social reformer and orator was steadily growing. In 1878 he was elected Lord Rector of Aberdeen and in 1880 of Edinburgh University, where he gave an eloquent address upon Patriotism. In 1880 he entertained Mr Gladstone at Dalmeny, and during the “Mid Lothian campaign” he had much to do with the stage-management of the demonstrations. As was shown later, he imported into his view of politics a warm sentiment and an imaginative outlook; and he was an enthusiastic student of Lord Beaconsfield's political novels, more particularly of Sybil, after the heroine in which he named one of his daughters. In August 1881 he became under-secretary at the Home Office, his immediate chief being Sir William Harcourt. His work was practically confined to the direction of the Scottish department of the Office. A clamour was nevertheless raised in regard to the incompatibility of the under-secretaryship with a position in the House of Lords, and Lord Rosebery resigned the post in June 1883. He and his wife utilized the interval to make a trip round the world, being most warmly received in Australia, and returning by way of India. At the close of 1884 he resumed office as first commissioner of works with a seat in the cabinet, and his adherence carried with it a distinct accession of strength to the Liberal ministry, which was much discredited by the tragedy attached to the fate of Gordon. The attitude of the government on the Afghan question and generally in regard to Russia was held by many to have been perceptibly stiffened owing to Lord Rosebery's influence.
In June 1885 the Liberal administration broke up, but Lord Salisbury's ministry, which succeeded, was beaten early in February 1886, and when Mr Gladstone adopted Home Rule, Lord Rosebery threw in his lot with the old leader, and was made secretary of state for foreign affairs during the brief Liberal ministry which followed. He rather distinguished himself in the Lucia Bay negotiations then being carried on with Germany. If Busch is to be believed, Prince Bismarck's view was that Lord Rosebery had “quite mesmerized” Count Herbert Bismarck; and the latter, from his father's standpoint, conceded too much to Lord Rosebery, who proved himself to be, in Bismarck's language, “very sharp.” His views on foreign policy differed materially from those of Granville and Gladstone. His mind was dwelling constantly upon the political legacy of the two Pitts; he was a reader of Sir John Seeley; he had himself visited the colonies; had predicted that a war would not, as was commonly said, disintegrate the empire, but rather the reverse; had magnified the importance of taking colonial opinion; and had always been a convinced advocate of some form of Imperial Federation. He was already taunted with being an Imperialist, but his independent attitude won public approval. Cambridge gave him the degree of LL.D. in 1888; in January 1889 he was elected a member of the first county council of London, and on the 12th of February he was elected chairman of that body by 104 votes to 17. The tact, assiduity and dignity with which he guided the deliberations of the council made him exceedingly popular with its members. In the spring of 1890 he presided over the Co-operative Congress, but with a view to the impending political campaign he found it necessary to resign the chairmanship of the county council in June. In November of this year, however, Lady Rosebery died, and he withdrew for a period from public business. In 1891 he made some brief continental visits, one to Madrid, and in October he saw through the press his little monograph upon William Pitt, in the Twelve English Statesmen Series, of which it may be said that it competes in interest with Viscount Morley's Walpole. In January 1892, upon a new election, he again for a few months became chairman of the county council. It was already recognized that in him the country possessed not only a public man of exceptionally attractive personality, but one whose literary tastes were combined with a gift for expression which was at once original and fluent. In October the Garter was conferred upon him by Queen Victoria.
Meanwhile, in August, upon the return of Gladstone to power, he was induced with some difficulty (for he was suffering at the time from insomnia) to resume his position as foreign minister. His acceptance was construed as a security against the suspicion of weakness abroad which the Liberal party had incurred by their foreign policy during the 'eighties. He strongly opposed the evacuation of Egypt; he insisted upon the exclusive control by Great Britain of the Upper Nile Valley, and also upon the retention of Uganda. In 1893 the question of Siam came near to causing serious trouble with France, but by the exercise of a combination of firmness and forbearance on Lord Rosebery's part the crisis was averted, and the lines were laid down for preserving Siam, if possible, as a buffer state between the English and French frontiers in Indo-China. In the spring of 1895 he was clear-sighted enough to refuse to join the anti-Japanese League of Russia, France and Germany at the end of the China-Japan War.
Lord Rosebery's personal popularity had been increased at home by his successful intervention in the coal strike of December 1893, and when in March 1894 the resignation of Gladstone was announced, his selection by Queen Victoria for the premiership was welcomed by the public at large and by the majority of his own party. On all hands he was then considered dignus imperio — it was only as the new administration went to pieces that people began to add nisi imperasset. The conditions he had to face were by no means hopeful. The Liberal majority of 44 was already dwindling away, and the malcontents, who considered that Sir William Harcourt should have been the prime minister, or who were perpetually intriguing against a leader who did not satisfy their idea of Radicalism, made Lord Rosebery's personal position no easy one. A systematic policy of detraction was pursued by the small section of the Radical party who objected to a peer premier as such, and a great deal of adverse criticism was also aroused by a speech in which the prime minister, taunted for not again bringing forward a Home Rule measure, insisted upon the truism that the conversion of England, the “predominant partner,” was a necessary condition of success. The support of the Irish Nationalists was by no means secure. Lord Rosebery's foreign policy, moreover, was too Tory for his Radical followers; he insisted upon “continuity of policy in foreign affairs,” which meant carrying on the Conservative policy and not upsetting it. The premier was thought to have shown a restlessness and a rawness at the touch of censure which did not increase his reputation for reserve power or strength, but this was undoubtedly due in large measure to the recrudescence of the insomnia from which he had suffered in 1891. The government effected little. In Mr Asquith's phrase, it was “ploughing the sands.” The Parish Councils Act was only passed by compromising with the Opposition. Local Veto and Disestablishment of the Welsh Church were put in the forefront of the party programme, but the government was already to all appearances riding for a fall, when on the 24th of June 1895 it was beaten upon an adverse vote in the Commons in regard to a question of the supply and reserve of small arms ammunition.
The general election which followed after Lord Salisbury had formed his new ministry was remarkable for the undisciplined state of the Liberal party. At the Eighty Club and the Albert Hall Lord Rosebery advised them to concentrate upon the reform of the House of Lords, that assembly being, as he said, a foremost obstacle to the passing of legislation on the lines of the Newcastle programme; but he was unable to suggest in what direction it should be reformed. Sir William Harcourt and Mr John Morley, on the other hand, concentrated respectively upon Local Option and Home Rule. The Liberals were quarrelling among themselves, and the result was an overwhelming defeat. In Opposition Lord Rosebery was now at a serious disadvantage as head of a parliamentary party; for in any case he could not rally them as a loyally followed leader in the House of Commons might have done. But his followers were not all loyal, and his rivals in leadership were themselves in the House of Commons. Added to this there was still in the background the veteran statesman to whom Liberalism owed an unequalled obligation. When the “Armenian atrocities” became a burning question in the country in 1896, and Mr Gladstone himself emerged from his retirement to advocate intervention, Lord Rosebery's difficulties had taken their final form. He declined to support this demand at the risk of a European war, and on the 8th of October 1896 he announced to the Liberal whip, Mr Thomas Ellis, his resignation of the Liberal leadership. On the following day he made a farewell speech at the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, to over four thousand people, and for some time he held aloof from party politics, “ploughing his furrow alone,” as he afterwards phrased it.
In 1898, on the death of Mr Gladstone, he paid a noble and eloquent tribute in the House of Lords to the life and public services of his old leader. He was a pall-bearer at his funeral on the 28th of May, as he had previously been at the burials of Tennyson and Millais. His influence in the country was still a strong one on personal grounds, and he came forward now and again to give expression independently to popular feeling. In the autumn of 1898 he gave valuable support to the attitude taken up by Lord Salisbury upon the Fashoda question. He was indeed bound by consistency to withstand what his own government, by the words of Sir Edward Grey, had declared would be an unfriendly act on the part of France. Again, after Mr Kruger's ultimatum in October 1899, Lord Rosebery spoke upon the necessity of the nation closing its ranks and supporting the government in the prosecution of war in South Africa. After Nicholson's Nek he reiterated the resolution of the country “to see this thing through.” Nevertheless, in a letter to Captain Lambton, an unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Newcastle, in September 1900, he condemned the general conduct of affairs by Lord Salisbury's government, while in several speeches in the House of Lords he strongly urged the necessity of army reform. Since his abandonment of the leadership in 1896, the lack of coherence in the Liberal party had become more and more manifest. The war had brought to the front a pro-Boer section, who seemed gradually to be compromising the whole party, and had apparently succeeded in winning the support of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the leader in the House of Commons. Lord Rosebery maintained for the most part a sphinx-like seclusion, but in July 1901 he at last came forward strongly as the champion of the Liberal Imperialist section.
In deference to the wishes of supporters such as Mr Asquith, Sir Henry Fowler and Sir Edward Grey he determined to “put his views into the common stock” at a representative meeting of Liberals held at Chesterfield in December 1901. There he advised the Liberal party that “its slate must be cleaned,” and, as he subsequently explained, this cleansing must involve the elimination of Home Rule for Ireland. His appeal for “spade work” resulted in the formation of the Liberal League, inside the Liberal Opposition; and what Lord Rosebery himself described as his “definite separation” from Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's “tabernacle” took place. This announcement, however, was no sooner made than it was explained away by the supporters of both, and early in 1902 Lord Rosebery spoke at the National Liberal Club in a way which indicated that an understanding might still be arrived at. But though Mr Asquith and Sir Edward Grey adhered to the Liberal League, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman retained the loyalty of the majority of the Liberal party, and Lord Spencer threw his weight on the same side; and in a speech at the Liberal League dinner on the 31st of July Lord Rosebery had to admit that their principles had not yet prevailed, and that, until they did, a reconciliation between the two wings of the party would be impossible. In January 1903 he addressed a Liberal meeting at Plymouth, and appeared to be attempting to concentrate Opposition criticism upon the points in the government policy which did not involve the Imperialist difference; and in discussing War Office reform he advocated the appointment of Lord Kitchener as secretary of state for war.
When Mr Chamberlain started his new fiscal programme, combining Tariff Reform with Colonial Preference, Lord Rosebery at first seemed inclined to treat it as non-political, and on the 19th of May 1903 he declared in an address to the Burnley Chamber of Commerce that he was not one of those who regarded Free Trade as part of the Sermon on the Mount. This utterance led to an idea that he was inclined to consider favourably the proposal for a preferential tariff, his earlier enthusiasm for Imperial Federation making his support an interesting political possibility. But this idea was quickly dispelled; on the 22nd he expressed his surprise that anybody should have thought he intended to approve of Mr Chamberlain's plan; he was not prepared to dismiss in advance a proposal for the consolidation of the empire made by the responsible government, but he believed that the objections to a policy of preference were insurmountable. The fact, no doubt, was that Mr Asquith, Lord Rosebery's chief lieutenant in the Liberal League, made himself from the outset a determined champion of free trade in opposition to Mr Chamberlain; and Lord Rosebery quickly came into line with the rest of the Liberal party on this question. On the 12th of June, addressing the Liberal League, he admitted that as a lifelong Imperialist it was with pain and grief that he could not support Mr Chamberlain's scheme, but the empire had been built upon free trade, and he only saw danger to the empire in these new proposals. Speaking at Sheffield on the 13th of October he criticized the scheme in more detail, and, as an Imperialist, warned the country against it, emphasizing his own ideal of the future of the empire — “a strong mother with strong children, each working out his own political and fiscal salvation.” His attitude on the new issue undoubtedly affected public opinion, and helped to draw him closer to the great body of the Liberal party, who saw that their identification with the cause of free trade was doing much to remove the public distrust associated with their support of Home Rule. On the 7th of November at Leicester Lord Rosebery insisted that what the country wanted was not fiscal reform but commercial reform, and he appealed to the free-trade section of the Unionist party to join the Liberals in a united defence, — an appeal incidentally for Liberal unity which was warmly seconded ten days later by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. On the 26th of November Lord Rosebery's speech on the same lines at a meeting in South London resulted in a powerful demonstration in favour of his resuming the Liberal leadership, but he made no public response. On the 10th of June 1904 he addressed a meeting of the Liberal League at the Queen's Hall, London, and sketched a programme of “sane and practical Imperialism”; but he irritated the Home Rulers by again repudiating a parliament in Dublin, and he perplexed the public generally by his adverse criticism on the popular Anglo-French Agreement, which he was the only English statesman to oppose, on the ground of its handing over Morocco to France.
At Glasgow on the sth of December he again outlined a Liberal programme, this and other speeches all leading to the assumption that his return to active co-operation with the Liberal party in the general election — which could not be long delayed — was fairly certain. Early in 1005 this impression gained such strength and such polite references were made to one another in public by Lord Rosebery and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, that his assumption of office in a Liberal ministry, possibly presided over by Earl Spencer, was confidently anticipated. But these forecasts were ultimately upset, not only by Lord Spencer's illness and his removal from the list of possible Liberal prime ministers, but by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's pronouncement at Stirling in November on the subject of Irish Home Rule. Lord Rosebery had just gone down to Cornwall to make a series of speeches in support of the Liberal programme, now fairly well mapped out as regards those items which represented the strong public opposition to what had been done by the Unionist government. It was believed that an understanding had been come to between his Liberal League henchmen (Mr Asquith, Sir E. Grey and Mr Haldane) and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and that Lord Rosebery's co-operation was to be secured by the adoption of some formula which would temporarily take Home Rule out of the official programme as a question of practical politics. But to the general surprise and Lord Rosebery's own very evident mortification Sir Henry went a long way in his Stirling speech to nail the Home Rule colour to the mast; he did not indeed propose to introduce a Home Rule Bill, but he declared his determination to proceed in Irish legislation on lines which would lead up to the same result. Lord Rosebery abruptly broke off his campaign, declaring at Bodmin (26th of November) that he would never “fight under that banner.” From the moment the apparent recrudescence of the Liberal split over this question seemed to have misled Mr Balfour, who resigned office on the 4th of December, into thinking that difficulties would arise over the formation of a Liberal cabinet; but, whether or not the rumour was correct that a blunder had been made at Stirling and that explanations had ensued which satisfied Mr Asquith and Sir Edward Grey, this anticipation proved unjustified. Lord Rosebery himself, it is true, held aloof; his protest had been publicly made and he adhered to it in the absence of any public withdrawal by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman; but he encouraged his Liberal League supporters to be loyal to the new prime minister, and Mr Asquith, Sir E. Grey and Mr Haldane were included in the Liberal cabinet. The overwhelming Liberal and Labour victory at the general election of 1906 began a new era in the fortunes of the party, and Lord Rosebery's individuality once more sank back from any position of prominence in regard to its new programme. He remained outside party politics, emerging only in 1909, first to attack Mr Lloyd George's budget in the country as a “revolution,” and then — to the general surprise — to condemn the House of Lords in debate for rejecting it; and in 1910 (see Parliament) he appeared once more to be coming to the front, by the resolutions he carried in regard to the remodelling of the Upper Chamber, when the death of King Edward VII. caused a temporary postponement of the constitutional crisis. In September 1910 he acted as head of the special mission sent to the Austrian court by George V. to announce his accession to the throne, — a selection peculiarly appropriate, and cordially welcomed as such, because of his well-known Austrian sympathies. Indeed, in the East European crisis of 1909 Lord Rosebery had taken a somewhat isolated part in vindicating the attitude of Austria and her right to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina, in opposition to the criticisms generally passed in the English press.
After his retirement from active politics Lord Rosebery continually displayed his great qualities as a public speaker by eloquent and witty addresses on miscellaneous subjects. No public man of his time was more fitted to act as unofficial national orator; none more happy in the touches with which he could adorn a social or literary topic and charm a non-political audience; and on occasion he wrote as well as he spoke. His Pitt has already been mentioned; his Appreciations and Addresses and his Peel (containing a remarkable comment on the position of an English prime minister) were published in 1899; his Napoleon: the Last Phase — an ingenious, if paradoxical, attempt to justify Napoleon's conduct in exile at St Helena — in 1900; his Cromwell in the same year. In 1906 he published an appreciation of his old friend Lord Randolph Churchill, inspired by the publication of Mr Winston Churchill's Life of his father. In its detached yet intimate way, this is a model of the art by which a good judge of men, possessed at the same time of a just historical sense, may, from the point of view of a contemporary on the opposite side in politics, correct the perspective of an official biography written under the limitations of filial obligation, and give tone and value to the picture of an interesting personality.
Lord Rosebery's family consisted of two sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Lord Dalmeny (b. Jan. 1882), who in 1909 married a daughter of Lord Henry Grosvenor, 3rd son of the 1st duke of Westminster, entered parliament in 1906 as Liberal member for Mid Lothian, but retired in 1910; he was well known as a cricketer, captaining the Surrey eleven in 1905 and 1906. The younger son, the Hon. Neil Primrose (b. Dec. 1882), took more actively than his brother to a political career, and in January 1910 was returned as a Liberal for the Wisbech division of Cambridgeshire. The elder daughter, Lady Sybil, in 1903 married Captain Charles Grant; the younger, Lady Margaret, in 1899 married the 1st earl of Crewe.
- (H. Ch.)