1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Primrose League, The

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PRIMROSE LEAGUE, THE, an organization for spreading Conservative principles amongst the British democracy. The primrose is associated with the name of Lord Beaconsfield (q.v.), is being preferred by him to other flowers. On a card aflixed to the wreath of primroses sent by Queen Victoria to be placed upon his coffin was written in Her Majesty’s own handwriting: “His favourite flowers: from Osborne: a tribute of affectionate regard from Queen Victoria.” On the day of the unveiling of Lord Beaconsf1eld’s statue all the members of the Conservative party in the House of Commons were decorated with the primrose. A small group had for some time discussed the means for obtaining for Conservative principles the support of the people. Sir H. D. Wolff therefore said to Lord Randolph Churchill, “Let us found a primrose league.” The idea was accepted by several gentlemen in the habit of working together, and a meeting was held at the Carlton Club shortly afterwards, consisting Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir H. Drummond Wolff, Mr (afterwards Sir John) Gorst, Mr Percy Mitford, Colonel Fred Burnaby and some others, to whom were subsequently added Mr Satchell Hopkins, Mr J. B. Stone, Mr Rowlands and some Birmingham supporters of Colonel Fred Burnaby, who also wished to return Lord Randolph Churchill as a Conservative member for that city. These gentlemen were of great service in remodelling the original statutes first drawn up by Sir H. Drummond Wolff. The latter had for some years perceived the influence exercised in benefit societies by badges and titular appellations, and he further endeavoured to devise some quaint phraseology which would be attractive to the working classes. The title of Knight Harbinger was taken from an office no longer existing in the Royal Household, and a regular gradation was instituted for the honorific titles and decorations assigned to members. This idea, though at first ridiculed, has been greatly developed since the foundation of the order; and new distinctions and decorations have been founded, also contributing to the attractions of the league. The League was partially copied from the organization of the Orange Society in Ireland. In lieu of calling the different subsidiary associations by the ordinary term “Lodges,” the name was given of “Habitations,” which could be constituted with thirteen members. These were intended as a substitute for the paid canvassers, about to be abolished by Mr Gladstone’s Reform Bill. The principles of the League are best explained in the declaration which every member is asked to sign: “I declare on my honour and faith that I will devote my best ability to the maintenance of religion, of the estates of the realm, and of the imperial ascendancy of the British Empire; and that, consistently with my allegiance to the sovereign of these realms, I will promote with discretion and fidelity the above objects, being those of the Primrose League.” The motto was “Imperium et libertas ”; the seal, three primroses; and the badge, a monogram containing the letters PL, surrounded by primroses. Many other badges and various articles of jewellery have since been designed, with this flower as an emblem.

A small office was first taken on a second floor in Essex Street, Strand; but this had soon to be abandoned, as the dimensions of the League rapidly increased. Ladies were generally included in the first organization of the League, but subsequently a separate Ladies’ Branch and Grand Council were formed. The founder of the Ladies’ Grand Council was Lady Borthwick (afterwards Lady Glenesk), and the first meeting of the committee took. place at her house in Piccadilly on the 2nd of March 1885. The ladies who formed the first committee were: Lady Borthwick, the dowager-duchess of Marlborough (first lady president), Lady Wimborne, Lady Randolph Churchill, Lady Charles Beresford, the dowager-marchioness of Waterford, Julia marchioness of Tweeddale, Julia Countess of Jersey, Mrs (subsequently Lady) Hardman, Lady Dorothy Nevill, the Honourable Lady Campbell (later Lady Blythswood), the Honourable Mrs Armitage, Mrs Bischoffsheim, Miss Meresia Nevill (the first secretary of the Ladies’ Council).

When the League had become a success, it was joined by Lord Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote, who were elected Grand Masters. Its numbers gradually increased to a marvellous extent, as may be seen by the following figures:—

Year. Knights. Dames. Associates. Total. Habitations.
1884 747 153 57 957 46
1885 8071 1381 1914 11,366 169
1886 32,645 23,381 181,257 237,283 1200
1887 50,258 39,215 476,333 565,561 1724
1888 54,580 42,791 575,235 672,606 1877
1889 58,180 46,216 705,832 810,228 1986
1890 60,795 48,796 801,261 910,852 2081
1891 63,251 50,973 887,068 1,001,292 2143
1901 75,260 64,905 1,415,473 1,556,639 2392
1910 87,235 80,038 1,835,746  2,053,019 2645

See an article in the Albemarle of January 1892, written by Miss Meresia Nevill; and the Primrose League Manual, published at the offices at Westminster. The latter publication is interesting as a history of the organization.  (H. D. W.)