British Prime Minister: Jul 1885–Feb 1886; Aug 1886–Aug 1892; Jun 1895-Jul 1902

"English policy is to float lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boathook to avoid collisions"

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was born on Feb 3rd 1830, in Hatfield. As with many many other PMs he was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. It was at Oxford that took an interest in debate and was a member of the Union Debating Society.

Once graduated Lord Cecil did some travelling before, in 1853, going into politics and representing Stamford in the House of Commons . He went on to marry Georgina Alderson in 1857, despite protests from his father. Fortunately his father's protestations were without value: he was very happily married, fathering five sons and two daughters. It wasn't just politics that brought the money in for Lord Cecil, he also wrote for various newspapers: the Standard, the Saturday Review and also the Quarterly (on occasion).

"Can it be maintained that a person of any education can learn anything worth knowing from a penny paper? It may be said that people may learn what is said in Parliament. Well, will that contribute to their education?"

From title to title

His brother died in 1865 and he inherited the title Lord Cranbourne. Shortly afterwards, in 1866, he played a major role in crushing the Parliamentary Reform Bill proposed by William Gladstone. After Gladstone's resignation (and the subsequent fall of the Liberal Party), he became Secretary for India in Lord Derby's government. When Benjamin Disraeli proposed his own Parliamentary Reform Bill, Cranbourne tried to stop it but failed, resigning from Cabinet in 1867. A year later his father died and Cranbourne became the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury.

Salisbury returned to Government in 1874 as Disraeli's Secretary for India and four years later was appointed Foreign Secretary. He penned the 'Salisbury Circular' that tackled the Eastern Question (namely, what do we do about these Turks?) and this followed by a trip with Disraeli to the Congress of Berlin, which would decide the borders of the Balkan states. His work at the Congress Of Berlin assured him membership into the Order of the Garter

"The first object of a treaty of peace should be to make future war improbable"


In 1881 Disraeli died and Salisbury assumed the mantle of Leader of Conservatives. This was not quite as simple as it sounds. Whilst he was certainly the leader in the House of Lords, no overall leadership was formally decided. He was forced into a struggle with Sir Stafford Northcote for leadership. When the time came, he was accepted as being the leader and he was declared Prime Minister.

His premiership was initially short lived when Gladstone replaced him briefly in 1886. After Gladstone he resumed his leadership where he passed the Local Government Act, which decentralized power in 1888. Salisbury also secured free public education in 1891. The Liberals were now facing internal conflicts which served to strengthen the Conservative government. As a result his second term lasted 6 years, and then he had a third term which lasted a further 7 years (1895–1902). He maintained his anti-Irish Home Rule stance throughout. It was his policies that helped lead to the Partition of Africa and the inevitable Boer War. Most of Salisbury's concerns were colonial in nature. The Fashoda Incident (colonial bickering over Africa) brought us very close to war with France, fortunately France backed down.

For most of his office, Salisbury did not serve as First Lord Of the Treasury as is usual for a Prime Minister, but instead acted as his own Foreign Secretary. Salisbury retired from public life in 1902 and was suceeded by his nephew, Arthur Balfour before dying in 1903. He is the last peer to serve as Prime Minister, with the exception of the Sir Alec Douglas-Home who renounced his Earldom upon taking the office.

"The federated action of Europe is our sole hope of escaping the constant terror and calamity of war"


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