British Prime Minister: 1908-1916

"Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life."

Herbert Henry Asquith (he preferred to be called 'Henry') was born on the 12th of September, 1852 in Morley, Yorkshire. After graduating from Balliol college, Oxford, he became a lawyer in 1876 and a decade later Asquith became the Liberal MP for East Fife. When the Liberal Party came to power six years later under William Gladstone, Asquith was appointed Home Secretary, a role he kept until the Liberals lost their power to Robert Cecil in 1895.

Asquith married twice: the first was Hellen Kelsall, and the second was Margot Tennant, countess of Oxford and Asquith. He had two sons, Raymond and Gilbert Asquith. When the Liberals came into power again in 1906, the new leader, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman gave Asquith the important role of Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had several run-ins with the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and the Women's Social & Political Union who were angry with his reluctance (or rather refusal) to give women political representation. He made up for this unpopularity with hie pro-Boer war stance and his competetence in reducing national debt.

When Campbell-Bannerman resigned in 1908, Asquith became Prime Minister. Asquith worked alongside David Lloyd George, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and help lay the foundations for a welfare state. In an attempt to appease the WSPU that were hounding his political meets, his 1910 election campaign promised that measures would be put into place for women. In 1911, after no moves were made to make good on this deal, he once again got on the bad side of them; he had the windows in his house broken.

Asquith turned his attentions to Ireland, where he made a policy that would establish an Irish home rule. This infuriated the Ulster Protestants, and Ireland was thrown onto the brink of civil war. This was only averted by the outbreak of another war, the First World War.

"If I am asked what we are fighting for, I can reply in two sentences. In the first place, to fulfil a solemn international obligation . . . an obligation of honor which no self-respecting man could possibly have repudiated. I say, secondly, we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed in defiance of international good faith at the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering Power."

World War I was a tough time politically, and Asquith struggled desperately to form a coalition government. He achieved this in 1915. The coalition government was far from a paragon of solidarity, and the Conservatives worked to replace him with David Lloyd George. The 1916 Easter Rising created some serious political turmoil that was to damage Asquith's reputation and later that year, Asquith lost his son, Raymond, in the Battle of the Somme which understandably devastated him. Following a harsh media campaign, Asquith resigned (5 December 1916) and he lost his seat in East Fife less than two years later.

Asquith returned to the House of Commons, representing Paisley in 1923. In spite of his dramatic fall from the top he remained leader of the Liberal party until 1926. He was awarded the title of Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925 and was made a knight of the order of the garter before he died on the 15th February, 1928.

Facts About the British Prime Ministers, By Dermot Englefield, Janet Seaton, and Isobel White

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