1779 - 1848 (69 years)
Has more than 100 ancestors and one descendant in this family tree.
||William Lamb |
||Prime Minister |
||15 Mar 1779
||London, Middlesex, England
||24 Nov 1848
||Brocket, nr. Hatfield, Hertfordshire
||1 Jul 2006 |
- 2nd Viscount Melbourne
After being educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge he became a lawyer. As a young man, Lamb became a member of a group of Radicals that included Leigh Hunt, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Hazlitt, Henry Brougham, Lord Byron, and Thomas Barnes. Whereas Hunt, Shelley, Byron, Hazlitt and Barnes concentrated on writing, Brougham and Lamb went into politics. In 1805 Lamb became Whig MP for Leominster.
In the same year that he entered the House of Commons, Lamb married Lady Caroline Ponsonby. The marriage was not successful and 1812 Lady Lamb scandalized London society by having an affair with Lord Byron.
In 1827 George Canning, the Tory prime minister, offered William Lamb the post of chief secretary of Ireland. The following year he inherited his father's title and moved to the House of Lords. When Earl Grey and his Whig government took power in November, 1830, Lord Melbourne became home secretary. By this time Melbourne was a moderate Whig and had severe doubts about the wisdom of parliamentary reform. However, he decided to fight the case from within and did not resign from the government during the fight for the 1832 Reform Act. William IV resented the fact that Lord Grey had forced the Reform Act on him. However, Grey was so popular with the general public that he was unable to take action against him. After Grey resigned in 1834 Melbourne was asked to became prime minister. Melbourne was not an ambitious man and had to be persuaded to take the post. William IV was now in a much stronger position and after four months the king dismissed the Whig government and appointed the Tory, Sir Robert Peel as his new prime minister.
As there were more Whigs than Tories in the House of Commons, Sir Robert Peel found government very difficult. Peel was only able to pass legislation that was supported by the Whigs and on 8th April 1835 he resigned from office. William IV was forced to reappoint Melbourne as his prime minister.
The following year Melbourne was involved in a serious sexual scandal. For many years Melbourne had been friends with Caroline Norton, the wife of a former Tory MP. George Norton, who had serious financial problems, went to see Melbourne and asked for £1400. When Melbourne refused, Norton accused him of having an affair with his wife. For a while the Tories thought that the scandal would bring Melbourne's government down. However, Norton had no evidence that his wife and Melbourne were having an affair and he was eventually forced to abandon his court case.
William IV died in 1837. His replacement, the eighteen year old Queen Victoria, unlike William, was willing to listen to the advice of her prime minister. Melbourne, whose wife and only child had recently died, became her mentor. An apartment was made available for him at Windsor Castle and it was estimated that Melbourne spent six hours a day with Victoria. Her feelings for Melbourne were clearly expressed in her journal. On one occasion she wrote: "he is such an honest, good kind-hearted man and is my friend, I know it."
Some people objected to this close relationship. Melbourne's old friend, Thomas Barnes, the editor of The Times wrote "Is it for the Queen's service - is it for the Queen's dignity - is it becoming - is it commonly descent?" In the autumn of 1837 a rumour circulated that the 18 year old Victoria was considering marrying the 58 year old Melbourne. Queen Victoria wrote in her diary that she was growing very fond of Melbourne and loved listening to him talk: "Such stories of knowledge; such a wonderful memory; he knows about everybody and everything,; who they were and what they did. He has such a kind and agreeable manner; he does me the world of good."
Lord Melbourne was opposed to some of the measures being advocated by some of the more radical Whigs such as Lord John Russell and Henry Brougham. This included the proposal for the secret ballot and the idea of state education. Russell, the Home Secretary in Melbourne's government, did manage to introduce some progressive legislation. His first measure concerned the reform of local government. For many years most English towns had been under the control of a self-elected body of aldermen and councillors. Under the terms of the Municipal Corporations Act, these men now had to be elected by the whole body of ratepayers.
In 1836 Lord John Russell was responsible for several new reforms including the establishment of the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths, and the legislation of the marriage of dissenters in their own chapels.
The following year Russell proposed a bill that would reduce the number of offences to which capital punishment was applicable.
In 1839 Melbourne resigned after a defeat in the House of Commons. Sir Robert Peel, the Tory leader, now became prime minister. It was the custom for the Queen's ladies of the bedchamber should be of the some political party as the government. Peel asked Victoria to replace the Whig ladies with Tory ladies. When Victoria refused, Peel resigned and Melbourne and the Whigs returned to office.
Melbourne resigned as prime minister in 1841. Queen Victoria wrote in her diary that she was "deeply affected" by this event. They continued to exchange letters until pressure was applied on Queen Victoria to bring an end to the relationship.
Prime minister from July 16 to Nov. 14, 1834, and from April 18, 1835, to Aug. 30, 1841.
He was Queen Victoria's close friend and chief political adviser during the early years of her reign (from June 20, 1837). Although a Whig and an advocate of political rights for Roman Catholics, he was essentially conservative. Not believing that the world could be bettered through politics, he was always more interested in literature and theology.
Lamb's mother, Elizabeth (née Milbanke), was a confidante of the poet Lord Byron and an aunt of Byron's future wife Anne Isabella ("Annabella") Milbanke. It was widely believed that the 1st Viscount Melbourne was not Lamb's real father.
In June 1805 Lamb married Lady Caroline Ponsonby, the eccentric daughter of Frederic Ponsonby, 3rd earl of Bessborough. The marriage had failed even before Lady Caroline's affair with Byron in 1812-13, and, after several estrangements and reconciliations, it ended in separation in 1825, three years before her death. Subsequently, Lamb was named as corespondent in two unsuccessful divorce suits, the second, in 1836, involving the poet Caroline Norton.
Called to the bar in 1804, Lamb entered the House of Commons in 1806. From 1822 he was an avowed supporter of the conservatism of George Canning. From April 1827 to May 1828, in the governments of Canning and Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington, he served as chief secretary for Ireland. In 1829 he succeeded to the viscountcy. As home secretary in the 2nd Earl Grey's ministry (Nov. 16, 1830-July 8, 1834), he reluctantly supported the parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 but forcibly repressed agrarian and industrial radicals, notably the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834. Consistent with this, he opposed, while prime minister, the reduction of duties on imported grain.
Melbourne's brief first administration ended with his dismissal by King William IV, who was offended by Whig plans for church reform. But Sir Robert Peel's Conservatives failed to win a parliamentary majority, and Melbourne took office as prime minister once more. After Victoria's accession he also became her private secretary for a time. Their mutual affection led to Victoria's Whig partisanship. On May 7, 1839, during the crisis over the "bedchamber question" (the Queen insisted her attendants be Whig ladies), Melbourne resigned but soon resumed office when Peel could not form a government.
By early 1840, Great Britain was divided over industrial depression and Chartism (a working-class radical movement) and was fighting wars in China and Afghanistan. Later that year the firm stand of Melbourne and his foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, averted war with France over Syria. As his parliamentary support dwindled, Melbourne tried to prepare the Queen for dealing with a Conservative government unwelcome to her and wisely insisted that she permit her husband, Prince Albert, to assume state responsibilities. He left office after the Conservatives had won the general election of 1841 and was permanently weakened by a stroke on Oct. 23, 1842. He died without children, and the viscountcy went to his brother Frederick James Lamb.
Biographies include Bertram Newman's Lord Melbourne (1930) and Lord David Cecil's studies, The Young Melbourne (1939; 2nd ed., 1948) and Lord M (1954).