William Ewart Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone, the fourth son of Sir John Gladstone, was born in Liverpool on 29th December, 1809. Gladstone was a MP and a successful merchant. The Gladstones were a rich family, their fortune based on transatlantic corn and tobacco trade and on the slave-labour sugar plantations they owned in the West Indies. (1)

John Gladstone was a devout Presbyterian, but there was no Scottish church in Liverpool and in 1792 he and other Scots living in the city organised the building of a Scottish chapel and the Caledonian School opposite it for the education of their children. (2)

Gladstone was therefore born into an evangelical family who held strong religious beliefs. He later wrote: "The Evangelical movement... did not ally itself with literature, art and general cultivation; but it harmonized well with the money-getting pursuits." (3)

William was educated at Eton and Christ College. At the Oxford Union Debating Society Gladstone developed a reputation as a fine orator. After one speech he made on 14th November 1830, a fellow student, Charles Wordsworth, described it as "the most splendid speech, out and out, that was ever heard in our Society." Francis Doyle added: "When he sat down, we all of us felt that an epoch in our lives had occurred." (4)

At that time the Tories were the dominant force in the House of Commons and they were strongly opposed to increasing the number of people who could vote. However, in November, 1830, Earl Grey, a Whig, became Prime Minister. Grey explained to William IV that he wanted to introduce proposals that would get rid of some of the rotten boroughs. Grey also planned to give Britain's fast growing industrial towns such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds, representation in the House of Commons. (5)

Gladstone denounced Whig proposals for parliamentary reform. "My youthful mind and imagination were impressed with some idle and futile fears which still bewilder and distract the mature mind". (6) The 1832 Reform Act was eventually passed. "The overall effect of the Reform Act was to increase the number of voters by about 50 per cent as it added some 217,000 to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. But 650,000 electors in a population of 14 million were a small minority." (7) Gladstone was disappointed by this legislation. He later pointed out that "while I do not think that the general tendencies of my mind were, in the time of my youth, illiberal, there was to my eyes an element of the anti-Christ in the Reform Act." (8)

William Gladstone in Parliament

In 1832, the Duke of Newcastle was looking for a Tory candidate for his Newark constituency. Although a nomination borough, Newark had been spared in the 1832 Reform Act. Sir John Gladstone was a friend of the Duke and suggested his son would make a good MP. Gladstone was selected as a candidate and although he lost some votes because his father was a wealthy slave-owner, he won the seat in the 1832 General Election. (9)

Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. This act gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. Gladstone's father, who owned several large plantations in Jamaica and Guyana, expelled most African workers from his estates and imported large numbers of indebted Indian indentured-servants. They were paid no wages, the repayment of their debts being deemed sufficient, and worked under conditions that continued to resemble slavery in everything except name. Gladstone eventually received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m), in compensation. (10)

Robert Peel and the Corn Laws

Two years after entering the House of Commons as MP for Newark, Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, appointed William Gladstone as his junior lord of the Treasury. The following year he was promoted to under-secretary for the colonies. Gladstone lost office when Peel resigned in 1835 but returned to the government when the Whigs were forced out of power in August, 1841. (11)

Peel appointed Gladstone as vice-president of the board of trade. Although he was only just over 30 years of age, he was bitterly disappointed as he expected a place in the Cabinet. However, he was praised by the way he carried out his duties. James Graham, the Home Secretary, noted that "Gladstone could do in four hours what it took any other man sixteen to do and that he nonetheless worked sixteen hours a day". (12)

William Gladstone
William Gladstone

In 1843 was promoted to the post of president. In 1844 Gladstone was responsible for the Railway Bill that introduced what became known as parliamentary trains. As a result of this legislation railway companies had to transport third-class travellers for fares that did not exceed a penny a mile. These parliamentary trains had to stop at every station and had to travel at not less than 12 miles an hour. All the carriages had to have seats and be protected from the weather. (13)

Peel attempted to overcome the religious conflict in Ireland by setting up the Devon Commission to inquire into the "state of the law and practice in respect to the occupation of land in Ireland." However, Peel's attempts to improve the situation in Ireland was severely damaged by the 1845 potato blight. The Irish crop failed, therefore depriving the people of their staple food. Peel was informed that three million poor people in Ireland who had previously lived on potatoes would require cheap imported corn. Peel realised that they only way to avert starvation was to remove the duties on imported corn. (14)

The first months of 1846 were dominated by a battle in Parliament between the free traders and the protectionists over the repeal of the Corn Laws. William Gladstone gave Peel his loyal support. Benjamin Disraeli became the leader of the group that opposed Peel. He was accused of using this difficult situation to undermine the Prime Minister. However, he later told a fellow MP that he did this "because, from my earliest years, my sympathies had been with the landed interest of England". (15) Disraeli made a stinging attack on Peel when he accusing him of betraying "the independence of party" and thus "the integrity of public men, and the power and influence of Parliament itself". (16)

An alliance of free-trade Conservatives (Peelites), Radicals, and Whigs assured the repeal of the Corn Laws. However, it caused a split in the Conservative Party. "It was not a straight division of landed gentry against the rest. It was a division between those who considered that the retention of the corn laws was an essential bulwark of the order of society in which they believed and those who considered that the Irish famine and the Anti-Corn Law League had made retention even more dangerous to that order than abandonment." (17)

Ladies of the Night

Throughout his career Gladstone had problems dealing with a strong sex-drive. He wrote in his diary about the "temptation and guilt... of reading pornography". On 13th May 1848 he described buying an Italian book: "I began to read it, and found in some parts of it impure passages, concealed beneath the veil of a quite foreign idiom: so I drank the poison, sinfully, because understanding was thus hidden by a cloud - I have stained my memory and my soul - which may it please God to cleanse for me, as I have need. Have set down a black mark against this day." (18)

Five days later he was reading the book again: "It seems to me necessary to shut up these volumes for good, having falling yet again among impurities: how strong and subtle are the evils of that age, and of this. I read sinfully, although with disgust, under the pretext of hunting soberly for what was innocent; but - criminal that I am - with a prurient curiosity against all the rules of pious prudence, and inflaming the war between the better qualities of man and the worse." (19)

On certain days in his diaries he drew a whip. It has been suggested that "Gladstone had... adopted a policy of scourging or self-flagellation. Exactly how he applied it, and to which part of his anatomy, bearing in mind that the most obvious part must surely have been excluded by the fact that the discipline was self-administered, or exactly what form the instrument took, is not clear. What seems certain, however, is that the chastisement was solitary and that there was never any other person, male or female, involving in administering it." (20)

In May 1849, Gladstone began seeking out the company of prostitutes. He recorded in his diary conversations he had with prostitutes on the streets of London. Several of the women he saw many times and occasionally accompanying them back to their rooms for long conversations. He seemed to want to persuade them to stop being "ladies of the night".

Gladstone was very keen to discover why these women had resorted to prostitution. For example, he wrote that he had a "conversation with an unhappy woman" and two days later he returned and "found the same poor creature at night" and pointed out that her needle-work during the day did not earn her enough to support her son and therefore had to resort to prostitution. (21)

Gladstone became especially concerned about a prostitute called Emma Clifton. He first met her on Tuesday 23rd July, 1850. He also had conversations with her on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: "Saw Emma Clifton and made I hope some way - but alas my unworthiness". On 1st August he went out looking for her again: "Before nine I went out to find E.C., but failed... after an hour came home... went out again at 11.15... and again failed... Resolved to go to E.C.'s lodgings: I found her there." (22)

According to Philip Magnus, the author of Gladstone: A Biography (1963): "Gladstone had schooled himself early in life to sublimate absolutely the tensions which seethed inside him. The rescue work was an important aspect of that process of sublimation. He had nursed the ideal of a sacred union between Church and State, and he had watched it dissolve into air. In his rescue work he found a priestly office which he could fulfill as a layman, and in which his duty to God and man could be discharged together." (23)

Gladstone also became obsessed with a prostitute named Elizabeth Collins. He found her very attractive and described her as "beautiful beyond measure". (24) He had long meetings with her where it is assumed he tried to persuade her to give up her job. After these visits he drew a whip in the margin. On one occasion he recorded a meeting of more than two hours: "Whether or not I have been deluded in the notion of doing good by such means, or whether I have sought it through what was unlawful I am not clear. God grant however not for my sake that the good may be done." (25)

Gladstone later wrote that over a five year period he had contact with between eighty and ninety prostitutes of whom "there is but one of whom I know that the miserable life has been abandoned and that I can fairly join that fact with influence of mine". One of his biographers, Roy Jenkins, has pointed out that Gladstone "was perfectly aware that his motives were mixed and that his obsession must be explained by temptation and could not be justified by results." (26)

Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Duke of Newcastle, who was a virulent protectionist, refused to support Gladstone candidature for Newark. Sir Robert Peel resigned as Prime Minister in June 1846. The Tories were so divided that they were unable to form a government. Queen Victoria sent for Lord John Russell, the Whig leader. In the 1847 General Election, Gladstone was elected the Conservative MP for Oxford University. The new House of Commons had more Conservatives (325) than Whigs (292), but the depth of the Tory schism enabled Russell to continue to govern. (27)

William Gladstone remained on the opposition benches until George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, formed a coalition government in December, 1852. Queen Victoria suggested that Gladstone should become Chancellor of the Exchequer. Aberdeen was content to accept her wish and Gladstone was sworn in on the day before his forty-third birthday. (28)

When Lord Palmerston, the leader of the Whigs, became Prime Minister in June, 1859, he offered Gladstone the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. This resulted in him leaving the Conservative Party. His biographer, John Morley, has pointed out: "It seems a mistake to treat the acceptance of office under Lord Palmerston as a chief landmark of Mr. Gladstone's protracted journey from tory to liberal … I am far from denying the enormous significance of the party wrench, but it was not a conversion. Mr. Gladstone was at this time in his politics a liberal reformer of Turgot's type, a born lover of government." (29)

One of his most important reforms was the abolition of the paper duty which enabled publishers to produce cheap newspapers. Gladstone had always opposed parliamentary reform but when Edward Baines introduced a reform bill he spoke in favour of the measure. In his speech Gladstone pointed out that only one fiftieth of the working classes had the vote. He argued that this was unfair and that the law should be changed to increase this number. However, this was very much a minority view and Baines's proposal was defeated by 272 votes to 56.

William Gladstone had been totally opposed to parliamentary reform in the early part of his career. However, his views changed during a tour of the cotton districts and had been "favourably impressed by working-class qualities". Encouraged by the veteran radical John Bright, he became convinced that large numbers of working-class men could be trusted to exercise the franchise responsibility. (30)

On 11th May 1864, Gladstone argued in the House of Commons that it was a scandal that only one-tenth of those with a vote were "working men" and that "every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or of political danger, is morally entitled to come within the pale of the constitution". He went on to say that "I do not recede from the protest I have previously made against sudden, or violent, or excessive or intoxicating change.... Hearts should be bound together by a reasonable extension, at fitting times and among selected portions of the people, of every benefit and every privilege that can be justly conferred upon them." (31)

Lord Palmerston (starter): "Hi! Gladstone! Democracy!Too soon, Too soon! You mustn't go yet!" John Tenniel, Punch Magazine, 28th May, 1864
Lord Palmerston (starter): "Hi! Gladstone! Democracy!
Too soon, Too soon! You mustn't go yet!"
John Tenniel, Punch Magazine (28th May, 1864)

This speech upset Lord Palmerston and Gladstone was forced to apologize. "I have never exhorted the working men to agitate for the franchise, and I am at a loss to conceive what report of my speech can have been construed by you in such a sense. I argued as strongly as I could against the withdrawal of the Reform Bill in 1860. I think the party which supports your Government has suffered and is suffering and will much more seriously suffer from the part which is a party it has played within these recent years, in regard to the franchise". (32)

In the general election of July 1865, the voters at Oxford University had been upset by Gladstone's move from the Conservative Party and he lost his seat. Gladstone now moved to the constituency of South Lancashire. The new Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, asked Gladstone to become leader of the House of Commons as well as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

1867 Reform Act

On the death of Lord Palmerston in July 1865, Earl Russell became prime minister. On 12th March 1866, William Gladstone introduced the government's new reform bill with the vote going to occupiers of proper in the boroughs worth £7 in rent a year. Gladstone had calculated that while increasing the number of working-class voters, it would still have left them a minority of the total electorate. Probably about one in four men would have been able to vote, instead of the existing one in five. (33)

Gladstone argued: "The £7 franchise will certainly work in a different manner... The wages of a man occupying such a house would be a little under 26s a week. That sum is undoubtedly unattainable by the peasantry, and by mere hand labour, except in very rare circumstances, but it is generally attainable by artisans and skilled labourers... To give the vote to £6 householders... would be to transfer the balance of political power in the boroughs to the working classes... We cannot consent to look upon this addition - considerable though it may be - of the working classes, as if it were
an addition fraught with nothing but danger; we cannot look upon it as a Trojan Horse... filled with armed men bent on ruin, plunder and conflagration." (34)

Several Liberal MPs objected to this measure. Robert Lowe complained: "Is it not certain that in a few years from this the working men will be in a majority? Is it not certain that causes are at work which will have a tendency to multiply the franchise - that the £6 houses will become £7 ones, and that £9 houses will expand to £10? There is no doubt an immense power of expansion; and therefore... it is certain that sooner or later we shall see the working classes in majority in the constituencies. Look at what that implies... If you want venality, if you want ignorance, if you want drunkenness, and facility for being intimidated; or if, on the other hand, you want impulsive, unreflecting, and violent people, where do you look for them in the constituencies? We know what those people are who live in small houses... The first stage, I have no doubt will be an increase of corruption, intimidation, and disorder... The second will be that the working men of England, finding themselves in a full majority of the whole constituency, will awake to a full sense of their power." (35)

With Conservative opposition to the measure, Russell's government found it impossible to get the bill passed by the House of Commons. On 19th June 1866, Russell's administration resigned. Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, became the new Prime Minister. The Conservative Party were once again in power.

Lord Russell retired in 1867 and Gladstone became leader of the Liberal Party. Gladstone made it clear that he was in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote. Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, Lord Derby's new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Disraeli "feared that merely negative and confrontational responses to the new forces in the political nation would drive them into the arms of the Liberals and promote further radicalism" and decided that the Conservative Party had to change its policy on parliamentary reform. (36)

Benjamin Disraeli, the leader of the House of Commons, argued that the Conservatives were in danger of being seen as an anti-reform party. In 1867 Disraeli proposed a new Reform Act. Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, resigned in protest against this extension of democracy. However, as he explained this had nothing to do with democracy: "We do not live - and I trust it will never be the fate of this country to live - under a democracy." (37)

John Tenniel, Punch Magazine (3rd August, 1867)
Fun Magazine (1867)

On 21st March, 1867, Gladstone made a two hour speech in the House of Commons, exposing in detail the inconsistencies of the bill. On 11th April Gladstone proposed an amendment which would allow a tenant to vote whether or not he paid his own rates. Forty-three members of his own party voted with the Conservatives and the amendment was defeated. Gladstone was so angry that apparently he contemplated retirement to the backbenches. (38)

Members of the Reform League still advocated the need for universal suffrage. At a large rally in Birmingham, George Nuttall attacked both the Conservatives and Liberals for preventing the introduction of democracy: "The House of Commons hated reform and would never grant it until they could not withhold it. The landlords, army lords, navy lords and law lords, who looked eagerly for a share of taxes for themselves and their dependants, would never let the people's nose from the grindstone if they could help it. But the people had the power in their hands if only they knew how to use it. Let them set their backs up, and show their bristles, and they would get the Reform Bill they wanted. They must show they are prepared to burst open the doors of the House of Commons should they be kept persistently closed against them. He hoped they were not coming to an end of a peaceful agitation... but when an aristocracy declared that the people should not be heard in the councils of the nation... that was a very dangerous and criminal thing. The people should rise in their might and majesty. If like the raging sea they should sweep on in their righteous indignation, every barrier set up against them - the aristocracy itself - might be swept into oblivion for ever. (39)

On 18th April, 1867, the Reform League's executive council met in London and unanimously condemned Disraeli's Bill as "partial and oppressive" and reaffirmed their commitment to "a vote for a man because he is a man". Charles Bradlaugh called for a national demonstration to take place in Hyde Park. It was pointed out that this would be breaking the law but Bradlaugh's motion was passed by five votes to three. The following day placards started to go up all over the country announcing a mass demonstration for universal manhood suffrage on 6th May. (40)

Spencer Walpole, the Home Secretary, announced that attending such a meeting would be illegal and that "all persons are hereby warned and admonished that they will attend any such meeting at their peril, and all her Majesty's loyal and faithful subjects are required to abstain from attending, aiding or taking part in any such meeting, or from entering the Park with a view to attend, aid or take part in any such meeting." (41)

The Government arranged for troops of Hussars to be deployed in the park and thousands of special constables were sworn in. However, so many demonstrators turned up it was decided to back down. "As always with such demonstrations, versions of the numbers varied hugely - from 20,000 in some Tory papers to 500,000 in the League accounts. Some proof that the latter figure was closer to the reality came from the 14 separate platforms from which the most accomplished speakers could not make themselves heard." (42)

It was the first time that any political organization representing the working class had openly and successfully defied the law. Bradlaugh commented that the reformers who had been killed at Peterloo were now at last victorious. The newspapers called for the arrests of the leaders of the Reform League. The government decided that this would be too dangerous and instead, Walpole, the Home Secretary, resigned.

Benjamin Disraeli realised that he had to make his Reform Bill more popular with the working class. On 20th May he accepted an amendment from Grosvenor Hodgkinson, which added nearly half a million voters to the electoral rolls, therefore doubling the effect of the bill. Gladstone commented: "Never have I undergone a stronger emotion of surprise than when, as I was entering the House, our Whip met me and stated that Disraeli was about to support Hodgkinson's motion." (43)

On 20th May 1867, John Stuart Mill, the Radical MP for Westminster, and the leading male supporter in favour of women's suffrage, proposed that women should be granted the same rights as men. "We talk of political revolutions, but we do not sufficiently attend to the fact that there has taken place around us a silent domestic revolution: women and men are, for the first time in history, really each other's companions... when men and women are really companions, if women are frivolous men will be frivolous... the two sexes must rise or sink together." (44)

During the debate on the issue, Edward Kent Karslake, the Conservative MP for Colchester, said in the debate that the main reason he opposed the measure was that he had not met one woman in Essex who agreed with women's suffrage. Lydia Becker, Helen Taylor and Frances Power Cobbe, decided to take up this challenge and devised the idea of collecting signatures in Colchester for a petition that Karslake could then present to parliament. They found 129 women resident in the town willing to sign the petition and on 25th July, 1867, Karslake presented the list to parliament. Despite this petition the Mill amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73. Gladstone voted against the amendment. (45)

"The Derby, 1867, Dizzy wins with Reform Bill"John Tenniel, Punch Magazine (25th May, 1867)
"The Derby, 1867, Dizzy wins with Reform Bill"
John Tenniel, Punch Magazine (25th May, 1867)

Gladstone decided not to take part in the debate on the third reading of the bill as he feared it would have a negative reaction: "A remarkable night. Determined at the last moment not to take part in the debate: for fear of doing mischief on our own side." (46) Without provocation from Gladstone the bill was passed without division. The House of Lords also agreed to pass the 1867 Reform Act. (47)

The act gave the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency. Male lodgers paying £10 for unfurnished rooms were also granted the vote. This gave the vote to about 1,500,000 men. The Reform Act also dealt with constituencies and boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants lost one of their MPs. The forty-five seats left available were distributed by: (i) giving fifteen to towns which had never had an MP; (ii) giving one extra seat to some larger towns - Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds; (iii) creating a seat for the University of London; (iv) giving twenty-five seats to counties whose population had increased since 1832. (48)

Prime Minister: 1868-1874

In December, 1867, Lord John Russell resigned and William Gladstone became the leader of the Liberal Party. He was deeply unpopular with some of the older members of the party. George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, described Gladstone as "an audacious innovator with an insatiable desire of popularity... his ungratified personal vanity makes him wish to subvert the institutions and classes that stand in the way of his ambition." It was accepted that during the 1860s he had made a "steady move to the left". (49)

He became a very active leader and according to his biographer, Roy Jenkins, "Gladstone spoke with great frequency and on almost every subject under the sun... As his days were full with many other engagements and occupations his diaries give the impression of his blowing in to the House of Commons, sounding off on whatever subject was under discussion." In this way he gained authority within his party and appeared "very much a Prime Minister in waiting". (50)

Dishing the Whigs, Fun Magazine (24th August, 1867)
Dishing the Whigs, Fun Magazine (24th August, 1867)

On 27th February, Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, retired as prime minister on medical advice, and was replaced by Benjamin Disraeli. A few days later Gladstone moved and carried a bill to abolish compulsory church rates, an issue which united radicals, libertarians, nonconformists and those Anglicans unwilling to defend the status-quo. Gladstone followed this by carrying with a majority of sixty-five votes the first of three resolutions to abolish the Anglican establishment in Ireland. By taking this action Gladstone was able to heal the divisions in the Liberal Party, that had been divided over the issue of parliamentary reform. (51)

Gladstone later argued that the decision publicly to advocate Irish disestablishment was an example of "a striking gift" endowed on him by Providence, which enabled him to identify a question whose moment for public discussion and action had come. Henry Labouchere, a fellow Liberal MP, responded by saying that he "did not object to the old man always having a card up his sleeve, but he did object to his insinuating that the Almighty had placed it there." (52)

More than a million votes were cast in the 1868 General Election. This was nearly three times the number of people who voted in the previous election. The Liberals won 387 seats against the 271 of the Conservatives. Robert Blake believes the Irish issue was an important factor in Gladstone's victory. "Gladstone could not have selected a better issue on which to unify his own party and divide his opponents". The Liberals did especially well in the cities because of the "existence of a large Irish immigrant population". (53)

Gladstone decided to make changes in the law which said that all Irishmen had to pay tithes to the Established Church. As he pointed out, as around 90% of the population were Catholics, it was unfair that this money went to the Protestant Church. He announced that in future the Protestant Church of Ireland would have to pay for itself out of what its members gave it. Protestants held protest meetings and Gladstone was described as "a traitor to his Queen, his country and his God". (54)

The Conservatives in the House of Lords resisted the Irish Church Bill, forcing a compromise on the financial terms but without rejecting it in principle. This was followed by an Irish Land Bill in 1870. "The fact of the passing of the bill was important, but its complexity bewildered as much as appealed; it alarmed the propertied classes but did not gain the sort of enthusiastic Irish response of the church bill a year earlier". (55)

After the passing of the 1867 Reform Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Robert Lowe, remarked that the government would now "have to educate our masters." Gladstone favoured the maintenance of the existing church schools, with the state providing ancillary board schools. He wanted to end church schools but realised that he would never get the legislation past the House of Lords.

The 1870 Education Act, drafted by William Forster stated: (a) the country would be divided into about 2,500 school districts; (b) School Boards were to be elected by ratepayers in each district; (c) the School Boards were to examine the provision of elementary education in their district, provided then by Voluntary Societies, and if there were not enough school places, they could build and maintain schools out of the rates; (d) the school Boards could make their own by-laws which would allow them to charge fees or, if they wanted, to let children in free. As a consequence of this legislation, spending by the state on education more than doubled. (56)

William Gladstone
William Gladstone (c.1870)

William Gladstone had a difficult relationship with Queen Victoria, who objected to some of the choices for membership of his cabinet. Worried by the growth in republicanism in Britain, he urged the near-reclusive Victoria to resume official duties. The queen resented Gladstone's tone, and apparently said that "He speaks to me as if I was a public meeting". (57)

In 1871 the government decided to impose a tax on matches. When she heard the news the Queen wrote a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Above all it seems certain that this tax will seriously affect the manufacture and sale of matches which is said to be the sole means of support of a vast number of the very poorest people and little children, especially in London... The Queen trusts that the government will consider this proposal, and try and substitute some other which will not press upon the poor." Three days later the government decided to increase income tax instead. (58)

The previous Conservative government had established a Royal Commission on Trade Unions. Three members of the commission, Frederic Harrison, Thomas Hughes and Thomas Anson, 2nd Earl of Lichfield, refused to sign the Majority Report as they considered it hostile to trade unions. They therefore published a Minority Report where he argued that trade unions should be given privileged legal status.

The Trade Union Congress campaigned to have the Minority Report accepted by the new Liberal government. Gladstone eventually agreed and the 1871 Trade Union Act was based largely on the Minority Report. This act secured the legal status of trade unions. As a result of this legislation no trade union could be regarded as criminal because "in restraint of trade"; trade union funds were protected. Although trade unions were pleased with this act, they were less happy with the Criminal Law Amendment Act passed the same day that made picketing illegal. (59)

Gladstone also proposed an Army Regulation Bill, which attempted to abolish the purchase of commissions. Members of the House of Commons used obstructive tactics to prevent the bill being passed. Gladstone wrote to the Queen complaining that "at the morning sitting today the House went into Committee for the tenth time on the Army Bill... the obstruction, which it is difficult to characterize by the epithets it deserves, but of which there is little doubt that it is without precedent in the present generation". (60)

Working class males now formed the majority in most borough constituencies. However, employers were still able to use their influence in some constituencies because of the open system of voting. In parliamentary elections people still had to mount a platform and announce their choice of candidate to the officer who then recorded it in the poll book. Employers and local landlords therefore knew how people voted and could punish them if they did not support their preferred candidate.

In 1872 William Gladstone removed this intimidation when his government brought in the Ballot Act which introduced a secret system of voting. Paul Foot points out: "At once, the hooliganism, drunkenness and blatant bribery which had marred all previous elections vanished. employers' and landlords' influence was still brought to bear on elections, but politely, lawfully, beneath the surface." (61)

Gladstone became very unpopular with the working-classes when his government passed the 1872 Licensing Act. This restricted the closing times in public houses to midnight in towns and 11 o'clock in country areas. Local authorities now had the power to control opening times or to become completely "dry" (banning all alcohol in the area). This led to near riots in some towns as people complained that the legislation interfered with their personal liberty.

Benjamin Disraeli, the leader of the Conservative Party, made constant attacks on Gladstone and his government. In one speech in Manchester that lasted three and quarter hours he said that the government was losing its energy. He was suggesting that Gladstone, now aged 62, was too old for the job. "As I sat opposite the ministers reminded me of one of those marine landscapes not very uncommon on the coasts of South America. You behold a row of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers from a single pallid crest". (62)

On 9th August 1873, Gladstone replaced Robert Lowe and became his own chancellor of the exchequer. Gladstone sought to regain the political initiative by a daring and dramatic financial plan: "abolition of Income Tax and Sugar Duties with partial compensation from Spirits and Death Duties". To balance the books he also needed some defence savings. However, the army and navy cabinet ministers refused. (63)

Gladstone became very disillusioned with politics and considered resigning. Gladstone wrote in his diary on 18th January, 1874: "On this day I thought of dissolution". He told some of his senior ministers, John Bright, George Leveson-Gower and George Carr Glyn of his decision. "They all seemed to approve. My first thought of it was an escape from a difficulty. I soon saw on reflection that it was the best thing in itself." (64)

In the 1874 General Election the Conservative Party won with a majority of forty-six seats. Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister. It was the first Conservative victory in a General Election for over 30 years. According to his biographer, Roy Jenkins, "What Gladstone greatly minded was not so much the loss of office as the sense of rejection". Gladstone wrote in his diary: "I am confident that the Conservative Party will never arrive at a stable superiority while Disraeli is at their head". (65)

William Gladstone confided in John Spencer, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, that the 1872 Licensing Act was the main cause of his defeat. "We have been swept away, literally, by a torrent of beer and gin. Next to this comes Education: that has denuded us on both sides for reasons dramatically opposite; with the Nonconformists, and with the Irish voters." (66)

Gladstone in the Wilderness

William Gladstone, had been in high office for over fifteen years and he decided to retire from leading the Liberal Party. It was with some relief when he shocked his ex-cabinet colleagues that he would "no longer retain the leadership of the liberal party, nor resume it, unless the party had settled its difficulties". (67)

Although he was sixty-four years old he was in very good health: "He was fit, spare, and sprightly. He stood 5 feet 10½ inches and had an abnormally large head, with eagle-like eyes. He had accidentally shot off his left forefinger while shooting in September 1842 and always wore a fingerstall. A trim 11 stone 11 pounds, he ate and drank moderately, and did not smoke. Remarkable physical resilience made him... one of the fittest of prime ministers. Tree-felling... was a demanding and invigorating activity; it kept him fit and spry. In September 1873 he walked 33 miles in the rain through the Cairngorm mountains from Balmoral to Kingussie." (68)

Gladstone retained his seat in the House of Commons but spent most of his spare time writing. In November 1874, he published the pamphlet The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, attacking the idea of Papal infallibility that had been confirmed by Pius IX in 1870. Gladstone claimed that this placed Catholics in Britain in a dilemma over conflicts of loyalty to the Crown. He urged them to reject papal infallibility as they had opposed the Spanish Armada of 1588. The pamphlet was very popular and sold 150,000 copies in a couple of months. (69)

In another pamphlet Vaticanism: an Answer to Reproofs and Replies (February, 1875) he described the Catholic Church as "an Asian monarchy: nothing but one giddy height of despotism, and one dead level of religious subservience". He further claimed that the Pope wanted to destroy the rule of law and replace it with arbitrary tyranny, and then to hide these "crimes against liberty beneath a suffocating cloud of incense". (70)

During this period he became very friendly with Laura Thistlethwayte. The daughter of Captain R. H. Bell in Newry, was rumoured to have been a prostitute in Dublin before marrying the wealthy Augustus Frederick Thistlethwayte, a retired army captain and son of Thomas Thistlethwayte, the former M.P. for Hampshire. At their first meeting he knew enough about her to admit later that he had been drawn to her as a "sheep or lamb that had been astray... that had come back to the Shepherd's Fold, and to the Father's arms". (71)

Colin Matthew, one of Gladstone's main biographers, has pointed out: "Unlike the prostitutes whom Gladstone energetically continued throughout his premiership to attempt to redeem, Laura Thistlethwayte was already saved from sin and was converted. Gladstone was at first intrigued and soon obsessed with her tale... This was in effect a platonic extra-marital affair... On the third finger of his right hand he often wore a ring given him by Laura Thistlethwayte." (72)

There was considerable amount of gossip about Gladstone's behaviour. Queen Victoria told Disraeli that Gladstone was mad in dining with the "notorious" Mrs. Thistlethwayte. (73) Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby, wrote: "Strange story of Gladstone frequenting the company of a Mrs. Thistlethwayte, a kept woman in her youth, who induced a foolish person with a large fortune to marry her... her beauty is her attraction to Gladstone and it is characteristic of him to be indifferent to scandal. I can scarcely believe the report that he is going to pass a week with her and her husband at their country house - she not being visited or received in society. (74)

As the prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli now had the opportunity to the develop the ideas that he had expressed when he was leader of the Young England group in the 1840s. Social reforms passed by the Disraeli government included: the Factory Act (1874) and the Climbing Boys Act (1875), Artisans Dwellings Act (1875), the Public Health Act (1875), the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1875). Disraeli also kept his promise to improve the legal position of trade unions. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) allowed peaceful picketing and the Employers and Workmen Act (1878) enabled workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legally agreed contracts. (75)

Early in his career Benjamin Disraeli was not a strong enthusiast for building up the British Empire and had described colonies as "millstones around our neck" and had argued that the Canadians should "defend themselves" and that British troops should be withdrawn from Africa. However, once he became prime-minister he changed his view on the subject. He was especially interested in India, with its population of over 170 million. It was also an outlet for British goods and a source of valuable imports such as raw cotton, tea and wheat. It is possible that he saw the Empire as an "issue on which to damage his opponents by impugning their patriotism". (76)

In one speech Disraeli attacked Liberals as being people who were not committed to the British Empire: "Gentlemen, there is another and second great object of the Tory party. If the first is to maintain the institutions of the country, the second is, in my opinion, to uphold the empire of England. If you look to the history of this country since the advent of Liberalism - forty years ago - you will find that there has been no effort so continuous, so subtle, supported by so much energy, and carried on with so much ability and acumen, as the attempts of Liberalism to effect the disintegration of the empire of England." (77)

John Tenniel, Disraeli and Queen Victoria Exchanging Gifts (Punch Magazine, 1876)
John Tenniel, Disraeli and Queen Victoria
Exchanging Gifts
, Punch Magazine (1876)

Benjamin Disraeli got on very well with Queen Victoria. She approved of Disraeli's imperialist views and his desire to make Britain the most powerful nation in the world. In May, 1876 Victoria agreed to his suggestion that she should accept the title of Empress of India. The title was said to be un-English and the proposal of the measure also seemed to suggest an unhealthily close political relationship between Disraeli and the Queen. The idea was rejected by Gladstone and other leading figures in the Liberal Party. (78)

Bulgarian Horrors

In May 1876 it was reported that Turkish troops had murdered up to 7,000, Orthodox Christians in the Balkans. Gladstone was appalled by these events and on 6th September he published Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (1876). He sent a copy to Benjamin Disraeli who described the pamphlet as "vindictive and ill-written... indeed in that respect of all the Bulgarian horrors perhaps the greatest." (79)

The initial print run of 2,000 sold out in two days. Several reprints took place and eventually over 200,000 copies of the pamphlet were sold. On 9th September, Gladstone addressed an audience of 10,000 at Blackheath on the subject and became the leader of the "popular front of moral outrage". Gladstone stated that "never again shall the hand of violence be raised by you, never again shall the flood-gates of lust be open to you, never again shall the dire refinements of cruelty be devised by you for the sake of making mankind miserable." (80)

William Gladstone's approach was in stark contrast to what has been called "Disraeli's sardonic cynicism". Robert Blake has argued that the conflict between Gladstone and Disraeli "injected a bitterness into British politics which had not been seen since the Corn Law debates". (81) It has been claimed that "Gladstone developed a new form of evangelical mass politics" over this issue. (82)

Gladstone once again became a popular politician. Historians have been unsure if this was a calculated response or an aspect of his moral convictions. "The genesis of Gladstone's fervour on the issue is difficult to analyse. Was he, perhaps semi-consciously, looking for a cause for which... he could re-emerge as the dominating central figure of politics... Or was he spontaneously seized with a passionate sympathy for the sufferings of the Balkan Christian communities which left him to alternative but to erupt with his full and extraordinary force?" (83)

Benjamin Disraeli definitely believed William Gladstone was using the massacre to further his political career. He told a friend: "Posterity will do justice to that unprincipled maniac Gladstone - extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition; and with one commanding characteristic - whether preaching, praying, speechifying, or scribbling - never a gentleman!" (84)

Gladstone began to attack the foreign policy of the Conservative government. He attacked imperialism and warned of the dangers of a bloated empire with worldwide responsibilities which in the long run would become unsustainable. He pointed out that military spending had turned an inherited surplus of £6 million into a deficit of £8 million. As a result of these views, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (the commander-in-chief) refused to shake Gladstone's hand when he met him. When his house was attacked by a Jingo mob on a Sunday evening, Gladstone wrote in his diary: "This is not very sabbatical". (85)

1880 General Election

In the 1880 General Election he contested the seat of Midlothian. He made eighteen important speeches. "The verbatim reporting of Gladstone's speeches ensured that they were available to every newspaper-reading household the next morning". Gladstone defeated his conservative opponent, William Montagu Douglas Scott, on 5th April 1880 by 1,579 votes to 1,368. (86)

It was a great victory for the Liberal Party who won 352 seats with 54.7% of the vote. Benjamin Disraeli resigned and Queen Victoria invited Spencer Cavendish, Lord Hartington, the official leader of the party, to become her new prime minister. He replied that the Liberal majority appeared to the nation as being a "Gladstone-created one" and that Gladstone had already told other senior figures in the party he was unwilling to serve under anybody else.

Victoria explained to Hartington that "there was one great difficulty, which was that I could not give Mr. Gladstone my confidence." She told her private secretary, Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby: "She will sooner abdicate than send for or have any communication with that half mad firebrand who would soon ruin everything and be a dictator. Others but herself may submit to his democratic rule but not the Queen." (87)

Victoria now asked to see Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville. He also refused to be prime minister, explaining that Gladstone had a "great amount of popularity at the present moment amongst the people". He also suggested that Gladstone, now aged 70, would probably retire by 1881. Victoria now agreed to appoint Gladstone as her prime minister. That night he recorded in his diary that the Queen received him "with the perfect courtesy from which she never deviates". (88)

Queen Victoria attempted to select Gladstone's cabinet ministers. He rejected this idea and appointed those who he felt would remain loyal to him. Gladstone who was described as looking "very ill and haggard, and his voice feeble" surprised the Queen by telling her that he intended to be his own Chancellor of the Exchequer. Joseph Chamberlain, the only member of the left-wing group within the Liberal Party, who was given a senior post in the government. (89)

The Liberal Party's victory owed a great deal to the increase in the number of working-class male voters. As Paul Foot has pointed out, this was not reflected in the newly formed government: "In the Cabinet of fourteen members, there were six earls (Selborne, Granville, Derby, Kimberley, Northbrook and Spencer), a marquis (Hartington), a baron (Carlingford), two baronets (Harcourt and Dilke) and only four commoners (Gladstone, Childers, Dodson and Joseph Chamberlain)." Only one working man, the trade union leader, Henry Broadhurst, joined the government as a junior minister for trade. (90)

Gladstone spent more time in the House of Commons than any other prime minister in the history of Parliament except for Stanley Baldwin: "But he (Gladstone) devoted his long hours there to the chamber, always listening, often intervening, whereas Baldwin was much more in the corridors, dining room and smoking room, alien territories to Gladstone, gossiping and absorbing atmosphere rather than directing business." (91)

Charles Bradlaugh and Ireland

Gladstone's first problem was to deal with the problem created by the election of the Liberal MP, Charles Bradlaugh, to represent Northampton. Bradlaugh, an outspoken republican, had helped to establish the National Secular Society, an organisation opposed to Christian dogma and the way that atheists were treated. At this time the law required in the courts and oath from all witnesses. "Atheists were held to be incapable of taking a meaningful oath, and were therefore treated as outlaws." (92)

In 1877 Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant published The Fruits of Philosophy, written by Charles Knowlton, a book that advocated birth control. Besant and Bradlaugh were charged with publishing material that was "likely to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influences". Besant and Bradlaugh were both found guilty of publishing an "obscene libel" and sentenced to six months in prison. At the Court of Appeal the sentence was quashed. (93)

Bradlaugh was not a Christian and argued that the 1869 Evidence Amendment Act gave him a right he asked for permission to affirm rather than take the oath of allegiance. The Speaker of the House of Commons refused this request and Bradlaugh was expelled from Parliament. William Gladstone supported Bradlaugh's right to affirm, but as he had upset a lot of people with his views on Christianity, the monarchy and birth control and when the issue was put before Parliament, MPs voted to support the Speaker's decision to expel him. (94)

Bradlaugh now mounted a national campaign in favour of atheists being allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Bradlaugh gained some support from some Nonconformists but he was strongly opposed by the Conservative Party and the leaders of the Anglican and Catholic clergy. When Bradlaugh attempted to take his seat in Parliament in June 1880, he was arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party, warned that Bradlaugh would become a martyr and it was decided to release him. (95)

Charles Bradlaugh, St Stephen's Review (3rd August, 1881)
Charles Bradlaugh, St Stephen's Review (3rd August, 1881)

On 26th April, 1881, Charles Bradlaugh was once again refused permission to affirm. William Gladstone promised to bring in legislation to enable Bradlaugh to do this, but this would take time. Bradlaugh was unwilling to wait and when he attempted to take his seat on 2nd August he was once forcibly removed from the House of Commons. Bradlaugh and his supporters organised a national petition and on 7th February, 1882, he presented a list of 241,970 signatures calling for him to be allowed to take his seat. However, when he tried to take the Parliamentary oath, he was once again removed from Parliament. (96)

Irish Land Act

Gladstone's first Irish Land Act had been a failure. He was now coming under pressure from the Land League that had been taking the law into their own hands and in the last three months of 1880, 1,696 crimes against Irish landlords took place. In February 1881 Gladstone asked Parliament to pass a Coercion Act, which meant that people suspected of crimes could be arrested and kept in jail without trial. (97)

Strangling the Monster, Punch Magazine (5th February, 1881)
Strangling the Monster, Punch Magazine (5th February, 1881)

In April 1881 Gladstone introduced his Second Land Bill in the House of Commons. It included three of the demands advocated by the Land League: (a) Fair Rents: To be decided by a court if the landlord and the tenant could not agree on what was fair. (b) Fixture of Tenure: The Tenant could stay in his farm as long as he wished, provided he paid the rent. (c) Free Sale: If a tenant left his farm he would be paid for any improvements he had made to it. Despite opposition from the House of Lords the bill became law in August 1881. (98)

Historians have been highly critical of this measure. Paul Adelman, the author of Great Britain and the Irish Question (1996) has pointed out: "Despite his masterly performance in pushing the complicated Land bill through the Commons in the summer of 1881, recent historians have argued that Gladstone again failed to face up to the economic realities of rural Ireland. For in the west of Ireland particularly, it was the lack of cultivable land rather than the problem of rents that was the fundamental problem for the smallholders." (99)

The Rivals, Punch Magazine (13th August 1881)
The Rivals, Punch Magazine (13th August 1881)

Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Irish Land League, criticised several aspects of the Act (such as the exclusion of tenants in arrears from its provisions). In a speech in October 1881, Gladstone warned Parnell of taking direct action. "If there is to be fought a final conflict in Ireland between law on the one side and sheer lawlessness on the other... then I say... the resources of civilisation are not exhausted." (100) Parnell responded by denouncing the Liberal leader as "a masquerading knight errant, the pretending champion of the rights of every other nation except those of the Irish nation". (101)

Queen Victoria and William Gladstone

Queen Victoria and Gladstone were in constant conflict during his premiership. She often wrote to him complaining about his progressive policies. When he became prime minister in 1880 she warned him about the appointment of advance Radicals such as Joseph Chamberlain, Charles Wentworth Dilke, Henry Fawcett, James Stuart and Anthony Mundella, The Queen was also disappointed that Gladstone had not found a place for George Goschen, in his government, a man who she knew was strongly against parliamentary reform. (102)

In November, 1880, Queen Victoria she told him that he should be careful about making statements about future political policy: "The Queen is extremely anxious to point out to Mr. Gladstone the immense importance of the utmost caution on the part of all the Ministers but especially of himself, at the coming dinner in the City. There is such danger in every direction that a word too much might do irreparable mischief." (103) The following year she made a similar comment: "I see you are to attend a great banquet at Leeds. Let me express a hope that you will be very cautious not to say anything which could bind you to any particular measures." (104)

Gladstone's private secretary, Edward Walter Hamilton, claimed that he wrote to the Queen over a thousand times, and his letters were frequently in reply to hers. Victoria often complained about the speeches made by his most progressive cabinet ministers, Joseph Chamberlain and Charles Wentworth Dilke. Hamilton wrote to the Queen pointing out: "Your Majesty will readily believe that he (William Gladstone) has neither the time nor the eyesight to make himself acquainted by careful perusal with all the speeches of his colleagues". (105)

Hamilton believed that Victoria was jealous of Gladstone's popularity: "She (Victoria) feels, as he (Gladstone) puts it, aggrieved at the undue reverence shown to an old man of whom the public are being constantly reminded, and who goes on working for them beyond the allotted time, while H.M. is, owing to the life she leads, withdrawn from view... What he wraps up in guarded and considerate language is (to put it bluntly) jealously. She can't bear to see the large type which heads the columns in newspapers by 'Mr Gladstone's movements', while down below is in small type the Court Circular." (106)

1884 Reform Act

Gladstone's wife found the duties associated with managing a political household onerous and uninteresting and his daughter, Mary Gladstone, now aged 33 years old, played the main role as the hostess at the family residences. Susan K. Harris, the author of The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth-Century Hostess (2004) has pointed out: "Once Gladstone resumed office his daughter's influence would be a major attraction for many people, who saw her as a way to reach her powerful father." (107)

Mary was extremely interested in political ideas. In August 1883 she began reading Progress and Poverty, a book by Henry George. Mary wrote in her diary that the book is "supposed to be the most upsetting, revolutionary book of the age. At present Maggie and I both agree with it, and most brilliantly written it is. We had long discussions. He (her father) is reading it too." Gladstone later remarked "it is well-written but a wild book". (108)

Gladstone continued to enjoy good health. In 1884, when he was approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, he climbed Ben Macdui, at 4300 feet the highest point in the Cairngorms, taking seven hours forty minutes to do the twenty-mile round trip. Gladstone's wife never urged him to retire from politics. One of his biographer's, Roy Jenkins, has speculated that "she probably sensed that responsibility was a better shield to his body than was rest". (109)

In 1884 Gladstone introduced his proposals that would give working class males the same voting rights as those living in the boroughs. The bill faced serious opposition in the House of Commons. The Tory MP, William Ansell Day, argued: "The men who demand it are not the working classes... It is the men who hope to use the masses who urge that the suffrage should be conferred upon a numerous and ignorant class." (110)

George Goschen had been one of the leading Liberal opponents to the 1867 Reform Act. However, he supported the 1884 Reform Act: "The argument against the enfranchisement of the working class was this - and no doubt it is a very strong argument - the power they would have in any election if they combined together on questions of class interest. We are bound not to put that risk out of sight. Well, at the last election, I carefully watched the various contests that were taking place and I am bound to admit that I saw no tendency on the part of the working classes to combine on any special question where their pecuniary interests were concerned. On the contrary, they seemed to me to take a genuine political interest in public questions ... The working classes have given proofs that they are deeply desirous to do what is right." (111)

The bill was passed by the Commons on 26th June, with the opposition did not divide the House. The Conservatives were hesitant about recording themselves in direct hostility to franchise enlargement. However, Gladstone knew he would have more trouble with the House of Lords. Gladstone wrote to twelve of the leading bishops and asked for their support in passing this legislation. Ten of the twelve agreed to do this. However, when the vote was taken the Lords rejected the bill by 205 votes to 146.

Queen Victoria thought that the Lords had every right to reject the bill and she told Gladstone that they represented "the true feeling of the country" better than the House of Commons. Gladstone told his private secretary, Edward Walter Hamilton, that if the Queen had her way she would abolish the Commons. Over the next two months the Queen wrote sixteen letters to Gladstone complaining about speeches made by left-wing Liberal MPs. (112)

The London Trades Council quickly organized a mass demonstration in Hyde Park. On 21st July, an estimated 30,000 people marched through the city to merge with at least that many already assembled in the park. Thorold Rogers, compared the House of Lords to "Sodom and Gomorrah" and Joseph Chamberlain told the crowd: "We will never, never, never be the only race in the civilized world subservient to the insolent pretensions of a hereditary caste". (113)

Queen Victoria was especially angry about the speech made by Chamberlain, who was President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone's government. She sent letters to Gladstone complaining about Chamberlain on 6th, 8th and 10th August, 1884. (114) Edward Walter Hamilton, Gladstone's private secretary replied to the Queen explaining that the Prime Minister "has neither the time nor the eyesight to make himself acquainted by careful perusal with all the speeches of his colleagues." (115)

In August 1884, William Gladstone sent a long and threatening memorandum to the Queen: "The House of Lords has for a long period been the habitual and vigilant enemy of every Liberal Government... It cannot be supposed that to any Liberal this is a satisfactory subject of contemplation. Nevertheless some Liberals, of whom I am one, would rather choose to bear all this for the future as it has been borne in the past, than raise the question of an organic reform of the House of Lords... I wish (an hereditary House of Lords) to continue, for the avoidance of greater evils... Further; organic change of this kind in the House of Lords may strip and lay bare, and in laying bare may weaken, the foundations even of the Throne." (116)

Other politicians began putting pressure on Victoria and the House of Lords. One of Gladstone's MPs advised him to "Mend them or end them." However, Gladstone liked "the hereditary principle, notwithstanding its defects, to be maintained, for I think it in certain respects an element of good, a barrier against mischief". Gladstone was also secretly opposed to a mass creation of peers to give it a Liberal majority. However, these threats did result in conservative leaders being willing to negotiate over this issue. Hamilton wrote in his diary that "the atmosphere is full of compromise". (117)

Other moderate Liberal MPs feared that if the 1884 Reform Act was not passed Britain was in danger of a violent revolution. Samuel Smith feared the development of socialist parties such as the Social Democratic Party in Germany: "In the country, the agitation has reached a point which might be described as alarming. I have no desire to see the agitation assume a revolutionary character which it would certainly assume if it continued much longer.... I am afraid that there would emerge from out of the strife a new party like the social democrats of Germany and that the guidance of parties would pass from the hands of wise statesmen into that of extreme and violent men". (118)

John Morley was one of the MPs who led the fight against the House of Lords. The Spectator reported "He (John Morley) was himself, be said, convinced that compromise was the life of politics; but the Franchise Bill was a compromise, and if the Lords threw it out again, that would mean that the minority were to govern... The English people were a patient and a Conservative people, but they would not endure a stoppage of legislation by a House which had long been as injurious in practice as indefensible in theory. If the struggle once began, it was inevitable that the days of privilege should be numbered." (119)

Left-wing members of the Liberal Party, such as James Stuart, urged Gladstone to give the vote to women. Stuart wrote to Gladstone's daughter, Mary: "To make women more independent of men is, I am convinced, one of the great fundamental means of bringing about justice, morality, and happiness both for married and unmarried men and women. If all Parliament were like the three men you mention, would there be no need for women's votes? Yes, I think there would. There is only one perfectly just, perfectly understanding Being - and that is God.... No man is all-wise enough to select rightly - it is the people's voice thrust upon us, not elicited by us, that guides us rightly." (120)

A total of 79 Liberal MPs urged Gladstone to recognize the claim of women's householders to the vote. Gladstone replied that if votes for women was included Parliament would reject the proposed bill: "The question with what subjects... we can afford to deal in and by the Franchise Bill is a question in regard to which the undivided responsibility rests with the Government, and cannot be devolved by them upon any section, however respected , of the House of Commons. They have introduced into the Bill as much as, in their opinion, it can safely carry." (121)

The bill was passed by the Commons but was rejected by the Conservative dominated House of Lords. Gladstone refused to accept defeat and reintroduced the measure. This time the Conservative members of the Lords agreed to pass Gladstone's proposals in return for the promise that it would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Gladstone accepted their terms and the 1884 Reform Act was allowed to become law. This measure gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs - adult male householders and £10 lodgers - and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections. (122)

However, this legislation meant that all women and 40% of adult men were still without the vote. According to Lisa Tickner: "The Act allowed seven franchise qualifications, of which the most important was that of being a male householder with twelve months' continuous residence at one address... About seven million men were enfranchised under this heading, and a further million by virtue of one of the other six types of qualification. This eight million - weighted towards the middle classes but with a substantial proportion of working-class voters - represented about 60 per cent of adult males. But of the remainder only a third were excluded from the register of legal provision; the others were left off because of the complexity of the registration system or because they were temporarily unable to fulfil the residency qualifications... Of greater concern to Liberal and Labour reformers... was the issue of plural voting (half a million men had two or more votes) and the question of constituency boundaries." (123)

Women's Rights

Mary Gladstone married Harry Drew, the curate of Hawarden in Westminster Abbey on 2nd February 1886. In August 1886 she miscarried a son and was dangerously ill for five months. Mary now became involved in a debate with her father on the subject of birth-control. Her biographer, Susan K. Harris, has argued: "Still mindful of her father's high moral standards, Mary was negotiating not so much the issue as the propriety of discussing such sensitive material across generational and gender lines.... Knowing that her stance was embattled even among the clergy, she sought as much ammunition as possible to continue her fight. The irony was that her father's feelings about the issue were so strong that broaching it took considerable courage even when they were on the same side. Mary's argument here is that she must know the details of the debate in order to counsel friends and parishioners, but she must continually reassure W. G. Gladstone that she has not gone over to what he saw as an anti-life campaign." (124)

Mary discovered that her father had been sent a copy of The Ethics of Marriage by Hiram Sterling Pomeroy. She wrote to her father about the book: "Dearest Father: I saw that a book called Ethics of Marriage was sent to you, & I am writing this to ask you to lend it me. You may think it an unfitting book to lend, but perhaps you do not know of the great battle we of this generation have to fight, on behalf of morality in marriage. If I did not know that this book deals with what I am referring to, I should not open the subject at all, as I think it sad & useless for any one to know of these horrors unless the, are obliged to try & counteract them. For when one once knows of an evil in our midst, one is partly responsible for it. I do not wish to speak to Mama about it, because when I did, she in her innocence, thought that by ignoring it, the evil would cease to exist."

In the letter Mary pointed out that it was becoming clear that society was changing. "What is called the American sin is now almost universally practised in the upper classes; one sign of it easily seen is the Peerage, where you will see that among those married in the last 15 years, the children of the large majority are under 5 in number, & it is spreading even among the clergy, & from them to the poorer classes. The Church of England Purity Society has been driven to take up the question, & it was openly dealt with at tile Church Congress. As a clergyman's wife, I have been a good deal consulted, & have found myself almost alone amongst my friends & contemporaries, in the line I have taken ... everything that hacks up this line strengthens this line, is of inestimable value to me, & therefore this book will be a help to me ... It is almost impossible to make people see it is a sin against nature as well as against God." (125)

Gladstone read the book, The Emancipation of Women and Its Probable Consequences, that had been published in Leipzig. Written by Adele Crepaz it was a strong attack on those calling for reform. Susan K. Harris has pointed out: "If women take the jobs, Crepaz argues, men won't be able to support wives and families. Hence marriage rates will decrease. And if marriage rates decrease, culture will fail. Additionally, women who work won't be able to serve their husbands as they should, with the consequence that woman's nature will be prevented. Even women doctors ultimately undermine women's sacred role. Rather than trying to serve in more than one capacity, women should remember that the greatest civic role is to bring up their children well, and that the highest moral role is to serve their husbands." (126)

Gladstone read the book in German and urged Crepaz to have it published in English. He wrote to Crepaz to say that "it seems to me by far the most comprehensive, luminous, and penetrating work on this question that I have yet met with." Gladstone sent copies of the book to female members of the Liberal Party who supported women being given the vote. Margaret Cowell Stepney, the wife of Arthur Cowell-Stepney MP, was one of those who sent her comments on the book to the prime-minister: "I feel fearfully presumptuous in venturing, in any way, to criticize a book which you have commended - but as you were good enough to tell me to say what I thought, I must answer truly.... I cannot believe, that there is more danger in mothers making their daughters self-supporting, than in mothers who look upon marriage as the only aim of existence - and, there seems to me to be possibly some weak point in the suggestion that when the husband dies, the widow who cannot work, may always look for help, with confidence, from relations, friends, and charitable institutions - surely in their cases at least - widows - girls who cannot marry - or who can only marry, as a means of livelihood - there may be reason for wishing that women should have independence of a profession?" (127)

William Gladstone: 1886-1892

In June 1885 Gladstone resigned after supporters of Irish Home Rule and the Conservative Party joined forces to defeat his Liberal government's Finance Bill. Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, accepted office and formed a minority Conservative government. Gladstone continued as leader of the Liberal Party, and was confident that a general election on the new franchise and distribution being imminent, would give him back power.

Gladstone and the Liberals won the 1885 General Election, with a majority of seventy-two over the Tories. However, the Irish Nationalists could cause problems because they won 86 seats. On 8th April 1886, Gladstone announced his plan for Irish Home Rule. Mary Gladstone Drew wrote: "The air tingled with excitement and emotion, and when he began his speech we wondered to see that it was really the same familiar face - familiar voice. For 3 hours and a half he spoke - the most quiet earnest pleading, explaining, analysing, showing a mastery of detail and a grip and grasp such as has never been surpassed. Not a sound was heard, not a cough even, only cheers breaking out here and there - a tremendous feat at his age... I think really the scheme goes further than people thought." (128)

The Home Rule Bill said that there should be a separate parliament for Ireland in Dublin and that there would be no Irish MPs in the House of Commons. The Irish Parliament would manage affairs inside Ireland, such as education, transport and agriculture. However, it would not be allowed to have a separate army or navy, nor would it be able to make separate treaties or trade agreements with foreign countries. (129)

The Conservative Party opposed the measure. So did some members of the Liberal Party, led by Joseph Chamberlain, also disagreed with Gladstone's plan. Chamberlain main objection to Gladstone's Home Rule Bill was that as there would be no Irish MPs at Westminster, Britain and Ireland would drift apart. He added that this would be amounting to the start of the break-up of the British Empire. When a vote was taken, there were 313 MPs in favour, but 343 against. Of those voting against, 93 were Liberals. They became known as Liberal Unionists. (130)

Drawing of Charles Bradlaugh beingevicted from the House of Commons in 1880
Illustrated London News (8th April 1886)

Gladstone responded to the vote by dissolving parliament rather than resign. During the 1886 General Election he had great difficultly leading a divided party. According to Colin Matthew: "So dedicated was Gladstone to the campaign that he agreed to break the habit of the previous forty years and cease his attempts to convert prostitutes, for fear, for the first time, of causing a scandal (Liberal agents had heard that the Unionists were monitoring Gladstone's nocturnal movements in London with a view to a press exposé)". (131)

In the election the number of Liberal MPs fell from 333 in 1885 to 196, though no party gained an overall majority. Gladstone resigned on 30th July. Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, once again became prime minister. Queen Victoria wrote him a letter where she said she always thought that his Irish policy was bound to fail and "that a period of silence from him on this issue would now be most welcome, as well as his clear patriotic duty." (132)

William Gladstone refused to retire and continued as leader of the opposition. He wrote several articles on the subject of Home Rule and questioned the idea that the House of Lords should be able to block government legislation. Although he remained active in politics, a decline in his hearing and eyesight made life difficult. "His memory, particularly for names but also for recent events, although not for more distant ones, showed signs of fading... On the other hand his physical stamina remained formidable. He felled his last tree a few weeks before his eighty-second birthday." (133)

Gladstone had always rejected the philosophy of socialism but he became much more sympathetic to the trade union movement and supported the workers during the London Dock Strike. After their victory he gave a speech at Hawarden on 23rd September, 1889, in which he said: "In the common interests of humanity, this remarkable strike and the results of this strike, which have tended somewhat to strengthen the condition of labour in the face of capital, is the record of what we ought to regard as satisfactory, as a real social advance that tends to a fair principle of division of the fruits of industry". (134) Eugenio Biagini, in his book, Liberty, Retrenchment and Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone (2008) has argued that this speech has "no parallel in the rest of Europe except in the rhetoric of the toughest socialist leaders". (135)

Prime Minister: 1892-1894

The Liberals enjoyed twelve by-election victories during the period 1886 and 1891 and Gladstone was expected to win the next election. William Stead interviewed Gladstone in April, 1892 and was surprised by the energy of the veteran politician: "Mr. Gladstone is old enough to be the grandfather of the younger race of politicians, but his courage, his faith, and his versatility, put the youngest of them to shame. It is this ebullience of youthful energy, this inexhaustible vitality, which is the admiration and the despair of his contemporaries. Surely when a schoolboy at Eton he must somewhere have discovered the elixir of life or have been bathed by some beneficent fairy in the well of perpetual youth. Gladly would many a man of fifty exchange physique with this hale and hearty octogenarian.... A splendid physical frame, carefully preserved, gives every promise of a continuance of his green old age." (136)

Self-portrait by Phil May
William Ewart Gladstone (c. 1892)

In the 1892 General Election held in July, Gladstone's Liberal Party won the most seats (272) but he did not have an overall majority and the opposition was divided into three groups: Conservatives (268), Irish Nationalists (85) and Liberal Unionists (77). Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, refused to resign on hearing the election results and waited to be defeated in a vote of no confidence on 11th August. Gladstone, now 84 years old, formed a minority government dependent on Irish Nationalist support. (137)

A Second Home Rule Bill was introduced on 13th February 1893. Gladstone personally took the bill through the "committee stage in a remarkable feat of physical and mental endurance". (138) After eighty-two days of debate it was passed in the House of Commons on 1st September by 43 votes (347 to 304). Gladstone wrote in his diary, "This is a great step. Thanks be to God." (139)

On 8th September, 1893, after four short days of debate, the House of Lords rejected the bill, by a vote of 419 to 41. "It was a division without precedent, both for the size of the majority and the strength of the vote. There were only 560 entitled to vote, and 82 per cent of them did did so, even though there was no incentive of uncertainty to bring remote peers to London." (140)

Self-portrait by Phil May
Phil May, William Ewart Gladstone (1893)

It is alleged that Gladstone considered resigning and calling a new general election on the issue. However, he suspected that he could not mount a successful electoral indictment of the House of Lords on Irish Home Rule. He therefore pushed ahead with the Workmen's Compensation Act, a measure that was extremely unpopular with employers. The act dealt with the right of workers for compensation for personal injury. It replaced the Employer's Liability Act 1880, which required the injured worker the right to sue the employer and put the burden of proof on the employee. Gladstone thought that when the Lords blocked the bill he could call an election and win.

However, in December 1893, Gladstone came into conflict with his own party over the issue of defence spending. The Conservative Party began arguing for an expansion of the Royal Navy. Gladstone made it clear that he was opposed to this policy. William Harcourt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was willing to increase naval expenditure by £3 million. John Poyntz Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, agreed with Harcourt. Gladstone refused to budge on the issue and wrote that he would not "break to pieces the continuous action of my political life, nor trample on the tradition received from every colleague who has ever been my teacher" by supporting naval rearmament. (141)

Conservatives continued to block the government's legislation. After accepting the Lords' amendments to the Local Government Bill "under protest" he decided to resign. In his last speech to the House of Commons on 1st March, 1894, he suggested that the time had come to change the rules of the British Parliament so that the House of Lords would no longer have the power to refuse to pass Bills which had been passed by the House of Commons. (142)

William Gladstone died aged 88 after suffering a heart-attack at Hawarden Castle on 19th May, 1898.

Primary Sources

(1) William Gladstone, letter to Lord Palmerston (11th May, 1864)

I am warmly in favour of an extension of the Borough Franchise, I hope I did not commit the Government to anything: nor myself to a particular form of franchise. I stated that I wished to leave the form and figure open; that I was for a sensible and considerable, but not excessive enlargement.

(2) William Gladstone, letter to Lord Palmerston (13th May, 1864)

I have never exhorted the working men to agitate for the franchise, and I am at a loss to conceive what report of my speech can have been construed by you in such a sense. I argued as strongly as I could against the withdrawal of the Reform Bill in 1860. I think the party which supports your Government has suffered and is suffering and will much more seriously suffer from the part which is a party it has played within these recent years, in regard to the franchise.

(3) William Gladstone, letter to Lord Palmerston (23rd May, 1864)

My speech cannot I admit be taken for less than a declaration that, when a favourable state of opinion and circumstances shall arise, the working class ought to be enfranchised to some extent as was contemplated in the Reform Bill of 1860.

(4) In his autobiography, Fate Has Been Kind (1942), Frederick Pethick-Lawrence described meeting Gladstone while studying at Eton College.

Another illustrious visitor to whom I was presented was the Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone. He came to Eton to lecture on Homer, a relaxation-subject in which he took great interest, though his views on it were considered by the orthodox to be unsound. The headmaster invited me to dine with him and I remember, talked a great deal throughout the meal about the merits of sliding seats in the school boats. He was already in advanced years and was evidently rather deaf, as he occasionally made asides to his wife in audible tones which we were not intended to overhear. But his eye was still keen and his face bespoke a personality accustomed to make decisions and to be obeyed.

(5) William Stead, Darlington Northern Echo (24th June, 1876)

It will be bad news for England if, while the respite it has procured for Turkey endures, the smouldering sparks of rebellion sown broadcast throughout the Empire should suddenly blaze up, and bring to pass a general conflagration. We shall not be able to plead that there were no warnings of such an eventuality.

It is true that we have Ministerial cries of "Peace, peace;" but the telegraph contradicts them, and a crowd of witnesses attest the contrary. Never since the Herzogovinese took up arms to avenge their wrongs and enforce redress has the aspect of affairs been so ominous. These rebels are still in the field. Servia and Montenegro are but waiting for permission from their patron, Russia, to raise the standard of revolt. On the fringe of the Empire, if we may so speak, the Slav population is profoundly disquieted. Both men and money are freely offered to assist the insurgents in their attempts to break the chains of an intolerable servitude. While such is the state of things in these localities, a war of extermination is being carried on against the Christians in Bulgaria! Upon the provocation of an insurrection the dimensions of which cannot have been great, a company of Bashi-Bazouks, the off-scourings of Turkish society, which sufficiently describes their character, were let loose upon the people, and never did dogs pursue their game more mercilessly. A wide region of central Bulgaria has been laid waste. The names of thirty-seven villages are given that have been utterly destroyed. Men, women, and children have been ruthlessly murdered. Among the incidents mentioned is the burning of a stable with forty or fifty young women within its walls; and a massacre of innocents, to the number of a hundred, found in a school house. The details are sickening. The total slaughter can only be guessed at. The effect of these atrocities is not pacificatory. As the story becomes known through the disaffected provinces a new impulse will be given to the wish for deliverance. The precise relation of Russia to the Christian subjects of the Sultan is questionable. It may, as suspected, or may not, as it pretends, be fermenting discontent; but this much is certain that it is to Russia that these unhappy people are looking for sympathy and aid. Not to Christian England.

England is Turkey's friend. The Mussulmans (sic) are going about saying that England will not see the Empire broken up - that, if necessary, it will help to put down insurrections; and that every indication of vigour in this direction, as in Bulgaria, is sure of it warmest approbation. Is all this a delusion? or has England been committed to the course of action thus defined? It is high time that we had an authoritative explanation of our position in relation to Turkey. We are held accountable for the lack of energy displayed in applying the reforms which might give satisfaction to the insurgents. It is to England that Continental critics ascribe the "days of grace" the Treaty Powers have granted; and which, as we learn, are slipping away unimproved, witnessing as they pass a constant aggravation of circumstances, and a heaping up of obstacles to a satisfactory settlement. How and by what means have we been made responsible for these things? The country is too much in the dark respecting transactions that nearly affects its character, and which may be tending to issues it would deeply deplore. If the "sage forbearance" and "patriotic reserve," as Mr. Disraeli phrases the extreme moderation of the Liberal leaders, continue much longer, we trust some independent member of Parliament will force from ministers a more particular declaration of their policy, and a more detailed statement of their proceedings than they seem disposed to give. The aspect of affairs is decidedly alarming; and it will be little consolation should our fears be fulfilled, that we exhibited a "sage forbearance," a "patriotic reserve," while the several atoms of discord were drifting into collision, repressing with exemplary patience and marvellous self-command, the curiosity which might have framed embarrassing questions, but questions that, if asked, and asked in time, might have kept us from trouble, and averted from Europe a sanguinary war.

(6) William Stead, journal entry (14th January, 1877)

I am apparently more useful than ever. The Bulgarian atrocity agitation was in a great measure my work. I have received the highest compliments from Gladstone, Freeman, W. E. Forster, John Bright and Lord Hartington. I have been praised beyond my utmost expectation. I believe that in God's hands I have been instrumental in doing much to prevent a great national crime, a war with Russia on the side of the Turks. New possibilities of usefulness open out. Life is once more brilliant as in the heroic days. Our time is as capable of Divine service as Puritan times. The agitation of this Recess has rekindled my faith in my countrymen, renewed my faith in Liberalism, strengthened my trust in God. For the Bulgarian agitation was due to a Divine voice. I felt the clear call of God's voice, "Arouse the nation or be damned". If I did not do all I could, I would deserve damnation.

I had a terrible afternoon. It was like a Divine possession that shook me almost to pieces, wrung me and left me shuddering and weak in an agony of tears. I went out determined to do this and nothing else until such time as my mission was revoked. I knew not how it would he taken. Bell fortunately was away in Switzer­land and I threw myself heart and soul, and the paper heart and soul, into the movement. I knew I might perish by overstrained excitement. I felt that like Jacob I had met the angel of God and I did not know but that I might have a lifelong limp in consequence of the meeting. There were minor considerations. It was with fear and trembling that I went to the first meeting at Darlington, but it was a great success. Others followed and, when Mr. Gladstone published his pamphlet, I felt that my work was crowned and assumed by other hands, more able than mine. I had written to Mr. Gladstone on the night of the meeting expressing my hope that he would justify the confidence reposed in him by all of us. I felt his pamphlet to be an answer to my letter. I am inclined to attribute some of Mr. Gladstone's evident desire to please me to his consciousness that I was the first to sound in his ears the summons which God had already spoken to his soul. I look back with un­feigned joy to the strain and exertion of that exciting time. I wrote dozens of letters a day, appealing, exhorting, entreating and at last I roused the North. I felt that I was called to preach a new crusade. Not against Islam, which I reverenced, but against the Turks who disgraced Humanity. I realised the feelings of Peter the Hermit. God was with me.

(7) William Ewart Gladstone, Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (1876)

Let the Turks now carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Blmhashis and Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned. This thorough riddance, this most blessed deliverance, is the only reparation we can make to those heaps and heaps of dead, the violated purity alike of matron and of maiden and of child; to the civilization which has been affronted and shamed; to the laws of God, or, if you like, of Allah; to the moral sense of mankind at large. There is not a criminal in an European jail, there is not a criminal in the South Sea Islands, whose indignation would not rise and over-boil at the recital of that which has been done, which has too late been examined, but which remains unavenged, which has left behind all the foul and all the fierce passions which produced it and which may again spring up in another murderous harvest from the soil soaked and reeking with blood and in the air tainted with every imaginable deed of crime and shame. That such things should be done once is a damning disgrace to the portion of our race which did them; that the door should be left open to the ever so barely possible repetition would spread that shame over the world.

We may ransack the annals of the world, but I know not what research can furnish us with so portentous an example of the fiendish misuse of the powers established by God for the punishment of evil doers and the encouragement of them that do well. No government ever has so sinned, none has proved itself so incorrigible in sin, or which is the same, so impotent in reformation.

(8) Mary Gladstone Drew, letter of William Ewart Gladstone (27th October, 1886)

Dearest Father: I saw that a book called Ethics of Marriage was sent to you, & I am writing this to ask you to lend it me. You may think it an unfitting book to lend, but perhaps you do not know of the great battle we of this generation have to fight, on behalf of morality in marriage. If I did not know that this book deals with what I am referring to, I should not open the subject at all, as I think it sad & useless for any one to know of these horrors unless the, are obliged to try & counteract them.

For when one once knows of an evil in our midst, one is partly responsible for it. I do not wish to speak to Mama about it, because when I did, she in her innocence, thought that by ignoring it, the evil would cease to exist. What is called the 'American sin' is now almost universally practised in the upper classes; one sign of it easily seen is the Peerage, where you will see that among those married in the last 15 years, the children of the large majority are under 5 in number, & it is spreading even among the clergy, & from them to the poorer classes. The Church of England Purity Society has been driven to take up the question, & it was openly dealt with at tile Church Congress. As a clergyman's wife, I have been a good deal consulted, & have found myself almost alone amongst my friends & contemporaries, in the line I have taken ... everything that hacks up this line strengthens this line, is of inestimable value to me, & therefore this book will be a help to me ... It is almost impossible to make people see it is a sin against nature as well as against God. But it is possible to impress them on the physical side. Dr. Matthews Duncan, Sir Andrew Clark & Sir James Paget utterly condemn the practice, & declare the physical consequences to be extremely bad. But they have little influence. If you quote them, the answer always is "They belong to the past generation. They cannot judge of the difficulties of this one."

I would not have dreamed of opening the subject, only that as you are reading the book, you cannot help becoming aware of the present sad state of things. It is what frightens me about England's future.

(9) Margaret Cowell Stepney, letter to William Ewart Gladstone (17th March, 1892)

It seems to me to be written with immense thought - the ideas (so far as I can judge) are beautifully expressed - and the tracing of the very roots of the question, in all times and countries, is most deeply interesting - and makes one think over the whole great problem in quite a fresh way. With all Mme Crepaz's views as to the Blessedness of Motherhood, and the Supreme duty of women to their husbands and children...

I cannot believe, that there is more danger in mothers making their daughters self-supporting, than in mothers who look upon marriage as the only aim of existence - and, there seems to me to be possibly some weak point in the suggestion that when the husband dies, the widow who cannot work, may always look for help, with confidence, from relations, friends, and charitable institutions - surely in their cases at least - widows - girls who cannot marry - or who can only marry, as a means of livelihood - there may be reason for wishing that women should have independence of a profession?

I wish that Mme Crepaz had said a little more about woman's suffrage. My own earnest hope is, that someday - some way may be found, for women to give their votes (or to send them by proxy or by post) without themselves entering any further into political life - and without disturbing the sacred quietness of home - but, if your decision is eventually against this hope - of course I shall feel that you must be right - and that I must be wrong. I feel fearfully presumptuous in venturing, in any way, to criticize a book which you have commended - but as you were good enough to tell me to say what I thought, I must answer truly.

(10) William Stead, The Review of Reviews (April, 1892)

So much has been written about Mr. Gladstone that it was with some sinking of heart I ventured to select him as a subject for my next character sketch. But I took heart of grace when I remembered that the object of these sketches is to describe their subject as he appears to himself at his best, and not as he appears to his enemies at his worst. So I surrender myself to the full luxury of painting what may be described as the heroic Mr. Gladstone, the Mr. Gladstone who for a quarter of a century has excited the almost idolatrous devotion of millions of his countrymen. There are plenty of other people ready to fill in the shadows. This paper is merely an attempt to catch, as it were, the outline of the heroic figure which has dominated English politics for the lifetime of this generation, and thereby to explain something of the fascination which his personality has exercised and still exercises over the men and women of his time. If his enemies, and they are many, say that I have idealised a wily old opportunist out of all recognition, I answer that to the majority of his fellow subjects my portrait is not over drawn. The real Gladstone may be other than this, but this is probably more like the Gladstone for whom the electors believe they are voting than a picture of Gladstone "warts and all " would be. And when I am abused, as I know I shall be, for printing such a sketch, I shall reply that there is at least one thing to be said in its favour. To those who know him best in his own household, and to those who only know him as a great name in history, my sketch will only appear faulty because it does not do full justice to the character and the genius of this extraordinary man.

Mr. Gladstone appeals to the men of to-day from the vantage-point of extreme old age. Age is so frequently dotage, that when a veteran appears who preserves the heart of a boy and the happy audacity of youth under the "lyart haffets wearing thin and bare" of aged manhood, it seems as if there is something supernatural about it, and all men feel the fascination and the charm. Mr. Gladstone, as he gleefully remarked the other day, has broken the record...

Mr. Gladstone is old enough to be the grandfather of the younger race of politicians, but his courage, his faith, and his versatility, put the youngest of them to shame. It is this ebullience of youthful energy, this inexhaustible vitality, which is the admiration and the despair of his contemporaries. Surely when a schoolboy at Eton he must somewhere have discovered the elixir of life or have been bathed by some beneficent fairy in the well of perpetual youth. Gladly would many a man of fifty exchange physique with this hale and hearty octogenarian. Only in one respect does he show any trace of advancing years. His hearing is not quite so good as it was, but still it is far better than that of Cardinal Manning, who became very deaf in the closing years. Otherwise Mr. Gladstone is hale and hearty. His eye is not dim, neither is his natural force abated. A splendid physical frame, carefully preserved, gives every promise of a continuance of his green old age.

Student Activities

Child Labour Simulation (Teacher Notes)

1832 Reform Act and the House of Lords (Answer Commentary)

The Chartists (Answer Commentary)

Women and the Chartist Movement (Answer Commentary)

Benjamin Disraeli and the 1867 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

William Gladstone and the 1884 Reform Act (Answer Commentary)

Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Answer Commentary)

Robert Owen and New Lanark (Answer Commentary)

James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)

Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Canal Mania (Answer Commentary)

Early Development of the Railways (Answer Commentary)

The Domestic System (Answer Commentary)

The Luddites: 1775-1825 (Answer Commentary)

The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Answer Commentary)

Health Problems in Industrial Towns (Answer Commentary)

Public Health Reform in the 19th century (Answer Commentary)


(1) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Sydney Checkland, The Gladstones: A Family Biography, 1764–1851 (1971) page 31

(3) William Ewart Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years (1879) page 219

(4) John Morley, Life of Gladstone (1903) page 74

(5) Stanley Harrison, Poor Men's Guardians (1974) page 77

(6) William Ewart Gladstone, speech in the House of Commons (22nd April, 1866)

(7) J. F. C. Harrison, The Common People (1984) page 259

(8) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 24

(9) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(10) Richard B. Sheridan, The Condition of Slaves on the Sugar Plantations of Sir John Gladstone (2002) pages 243–269

(11) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(12) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 67

(13) Roger Osborne, Iron, Steam and Money: The Making of the Industrial Revolution (2013) pages 280-281

(14) A. L. Morton, A People's History of England (1938) pages 344-346

(15) Benjamin Disraeli, letter to Sir William Miles (11th June 1860)

(16) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (22nd January, 1846)

(17) Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) page 58

(18) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (13th May, 1848)

(19) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (18th May, 1848)

(20) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 103

(21) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entries (2nd and 4th May, 1850)

(22) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (1st August, 1850)

(23) Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (1963) page 107

(24) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (1st July, 1852)

(25) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (23rd July, 1852)

(26) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 115

(27) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 97

(28) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) pages 144-145

(29) John Morley, Life of Gladstone (1903) page 631

(30) Robert Pearce and Roger Stearn, Government and Reform: 1815-1918 (1994) page 54

(31) William Gladstone, speech in the House of Commons (11th May, 1864)

(32) William Gladstone, letter to Lord Palmerston (13th May, 1864)

(33) Robert Pearce and Roger Stearn, Government and Reform: 1815-1918 (1994) page 55

(34) William Gladstone, speech in the House of Commons (12th March 1866)

(35) Robert Lowe, speech in the House of Commons (12th March 1866)

(36) Bruce Coleman, Modern History Review (April 1990)

(37) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (18th March, 1867)

(38) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 272

(39) George Nuttall, speech in Birmingham (16th April, 1867)

(40) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 154

(41) Spencer Walpole, speech (1st May, 1867)

(42) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 155

(43) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (May, 1867)

(44) John Stuart Mill, speech in the House of Commons (20th May, 1867)

(45) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 176

(46) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (15th July, 1867)

(47) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 273

(48) Annette Mayer, The Growth of Democracy in Britain (1999) page 48

(49) Paul Adelman, Gladstone, Disraeli and Later Victorian Politics (1970) page 5

(50) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 286

(51) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(52) George Curzon, speech at the University of Cambridge (6th November, 1913)

(53) Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) page 111

(54) E. G. Power, Gladstone and Irish Home Rule (1983) page 14

(55) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(56) George M. Trevelyan, English Social History (1942) page 593

(57) Roger Mason, The Struggle for Democracy: Parliamentary Reform, from the Rotten Boroughs to Today (2015) page 72

(58) Philip Guedalla, The Queen and Mr. Gladstonee: The Correspondence (1934) page 315

(59) Henry Pelling, Origins of the Labour Party (1965) page 4

(60) William Ewart Gladstone, letter to Queen Victoria (14th June, 1871)

(61) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 161

(62) Benjamin Disraeli, speech in Manchester (3rd April, 1872)

(63) Colin Matthew, Gladstone, 1809–1874 (1993) page 220

(64) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (18th January, 1874)

(65) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 379

(66) Martin Roberts, Britain: 1846-1964: The Challenge of Change (2001) page 332

(67) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (16th February 1874)

(68) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(69) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 385

(70) Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (1963) pages 235-36

(71) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (19th October, 1869)

(72) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(73) Sarah Bradford, Disraeli (1983) page 338

(74) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 312

(75) Jonathan Parry, Benjamin Disraeli : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(76) Duncan Watts, Tories, Conservatives and Unionists (1994) page 101

(77) Benjamin Disraeli, speech at Crystal Palace (24th June, 1872)

(78) Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History (2000) page 361

(79) William Flavelle Monypenny and George Earle Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield: Volume I (1929) page 60

(80) William Ewart Gladstone, speech (9th September, 1876)

(81) Robert Blake, Disraeli (1967) page 603

(82) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(83) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 401

(84) Philip Magnus, Gladstone: A Biography (1963) pages 245

(85) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (24th Febuary, 1878)

(86) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(87) Queen Victoria, letter to Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby (4th April, 1880)

(88) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry ( 23rd April, 1880)

(89) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 443

(90) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 162

(91) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 457

(92) Edward Royle, Radical Politics 1790-1900 (1971) page 62

(93) Edward Royle, Charles Bradlaugh : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(94) Ian C. Bradley, The Optimists: Themes and Personalities in Victorian Liberalism (1980) page 98

(95) Walter L. Arnstein, The Bradlaugh Case: a Study in late Victorian Opinion and Politics (1965) pages 34-35

(96) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) pages 450-452

(97) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(98) E. G. Power, Gladstone and Irish Home Rule (1983) pages 24-25

(99) Paul Adelman, Great Britain and the Irish Question (1996) page 89

(100) William Ewart Gladstone, speech at Leeds (7th October, 1881)

(101) Charles Stewart Parnell, speech at Wexford (9th October, 1881)

(102) Philip Guedalla, The Queen and Mr. Gladstone (1958) page 135

(103) Queen Victoria, letter to William Ewart Gladstone (7th November, 1880)

(104) Queen Victoria, letter to William Ewart Gladstone (October, 1881)

(105) Philip Guedalla, The Queen and Mr. Gladstonee: The Correspondence (1934) page 617

(106) Edward Walter Hamilton, diary entry (27th September 1883)

(107) Susan K. Harris, The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth-Century Hostess (2004) page 22

(108) Mary Gladstone, diary entry (17th August, 1883)

(109) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 460

(110) William Ansell Day, The Conservative Party and the County Franchise (1883) page 5

(111) George Goschen, speech in the House of Commons (3rd March, 1884)

(112) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 493

(113) Joseph Chamberlain, speech in Hyde Park (21st July, 1884)

(114) Paul Foot, The Vote (2005) page 166

(115) Edward Walter Hamilton, letter to Queen Victoria (July, 1884)

(116) William Ewart Gladstone, memorandum on the House of Lords sent to Queen Victoria (August, 1884)

(117) Edward Walter Hamilton, diary entry (30th October, 1884)

(118) Samuel Smith, speech in the House of Commons (6th November, 1884)

(119) The Spectator (13th September, 1884)

(120) James Stuart, letter to Mary Gladstone Drew (March, 1884)

(121) Roger Fulford, Votes for Women (1957) page 92

(122) Annette Mayer, The Growth of Democracy in Britain (1999) page 57

(123) Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign (1988) page 5

(124) Susan K. Harris, The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth-Century Hostess (2004) page 70

(125) Mary Gladstone Drew, letter of William Ewart Gladstone (27th October, 1886)

(126) Susan K. Harris, The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth-Century Hostess (2004) page 92

(127) Margaret Cowell Stepney, letter to William Gladstone (17th March, 1892)

(128) Mary Gladstone Drew, diary entry (8th April, 1886)

(129) E. G. Power, Gladstone and Irish Home Rule (1983) page 33

(130) Paul Adelman, Gladstone, Disraeli and Later Victorian Politics (1970) page 61

(131) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(132) Queen Victoria, letter to William Ewart Gladstone (1st August, 1885)

(133) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 564

(134) William Ewart Gladstone, speech (23rd September, 1889)

(135) Eugenio Biagini, Liberty, Retrenchment and Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone (2008) page 424

(136) William Stead, The Review of Reviews (April, 1892)

(137) Paul Adelman, Great Britain and the Irish Question (1996) page 106

(138) Colin Matthew, William Ewart Gladstone : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(139) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (1st September, 1893)

(140) Roy Jenkins, Gladstone (1995) page 606

(141) William Ewart Gladstone, diary entry (January, 1894)

(142) William Ewart Gladstone, speech in the House of Commons (1st March, 1894)