In the United Kingdom the prime minister is the leader of the executive arm of the British Government and the first minister of the Crown, since the United Kingdom remains a constitutional monarchy and the executive formally governs in the name of the sovereign. It remains the constitutional convention that the prime minister is nominated by the sovereign, although in practice he or she now simply accepts the verdict of the electorate in this matter.

The first formal reference to the existence of the prime minister was in the opening clause of the treaty of Berlin of 1878 when Benjamin Disraeli was referred to as "First Lord of Her Majesty's Treasury and Prime Minister", and remained entirely unrecognised in law until a royal warrant of the 2nd December 1905 granted the holder of the office precedence after the Archbishop of York. The first Act of Parliament to mention the prime minister was the Chequers Estate Act 1917 and the position was only fully recognised in the Salaries of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937 which made provision for paying "the First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister" and made a distinction between the former as an 'office' and the latter as a 'position'.

Generally speaking most prime ministers have also held the office of First Lord of the Treasury, although not exclusively so, but this has been the convention since 1783 despite specific exceptions in the years 1885, 1887, 1891 and 1895.

The First British Prime Minister

Exactly who first coined the term 'prime minister' and whom it should first be applied has always been a matter of debate. The term was certainly in use during the reign of Queen Anne, but gained greater popularity during the reign of George II and was in particular applied to Robert Walpole (although not necessarily intended as a compliment) as regards his position of leadership in the government from the year 1730.

The general consensus is that "Robert Walpole must be regarded as the first prime minister that is, a minister who imposed harmonious action upon his colleagues in the cabinet", although this judgement is by no means universal. Some of his predecessors in the period are also often referred to as 'prime' or 'chief ministers' and are therefore also listed below.

Naming conventions applied

Prime Ministers are listed under their 'ordinary names' when members of the House of Commons and under their peerage titles when members of the House of Lords. Where individuals subsequently received new or additional peerage titles these are have been noted.

The party designation given below refers to the generally accepted designation of the administration in power as opposed to that of the Prime Minister himself. (Or herself in the case of Margaret Thatcher.) Both Tory and Whig were official party designations until the formation of the modern Conservative and Liberal Parties in the nineteenth century.

A: Pre Prime Ministerial First Lords of the Treasury

B: Prime Ministers


1. Later created Earl of Godolphin
2. Some accounts argue that William Pitt the Elder as leader of the House of Commons was really prime minister in the period between December 1756 and April 1757 and again between July 1757 to October 1761.
3. universally known under his courtesy title of Lord North as he didn't succeed his father as Earl of Guildford until the 4 th August 1790.
4. Later Marquess of Lansdowne
5. Later Earl of Beaconfield
6. Later Earl of Ripon
7. Later Earl of Beaconfield
8. Later Earl of Balfour
9. Later Earl of Oxford
10. Later Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor
11. Later Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
12. Later Earl of Avon
13. Later Earl of Stockton
13. To be precise was the Earl of Home when he became prime minister but disclaimed that title on the 23 Oct 1963, and became plain Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Later a life peer as Baron Home of the Hirsel
15. Later a life peer as Baron Wilson of Rievaulx
16. Later a life peer as Baron Callaghan of Cardiff.
17. Later a life peer as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven

SOURCES - complied from and together with The Companion to British History by Charles Arnold Baker, Longross Press 1996

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