Britain’s first proper Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, formerly held the post of First Lord of the Treasury. He became George I Chief Minister because the German born King had little interest in British affairs, and since he spoke no English, he was unable to follow Cabinet discussions.
Unfortunately, Walpole spoke no German, either, so the two were forced to converse in Latin.
Prior to Walpole’s appointment, British monarchs had themselves been ‘prime’ ministers, selecting and directing the government as they saw fit.
However, since Walpole, the influence of the monarchs has steadily waned, and from the time of Queen Victoria the Prime Minister has normally been the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons.
The title of Britain’s top political office was originally a term of abuse, and was used to describe the chief minister of a despotic monarch.
It also carried overtones that the politician was merely a lackey of the Crown. Robert Walpole, George Grenville and Lord North all hotly denied that they were prime ministers.
The title was finally given official recognition in 1937, when the Salaries of the Ministers of the Crown Act made provision for paying ‘the First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister’ – the two offices that since the 18th century, have usually been held by the Prime Minister.
Nevertheless, in spite of this recognition, the brass plate outside the PMs front door still bears the title of First Lord of the Treasury.
|Start of Office||End of Office||Name|
|1990||1997||Sir John Major|
|1970||1974||Sir Edward Heath|
|1963||1964||Sir Alec Douglas-Home|
|1955||1957||Sir Anthony Eden|
|1951||1955||Sir Winston Churchill|
|1940||1945||Sir Winston Churchill|
|1929||1935||James Ramsay MacDonald|
|1924||1924||James Ramsay MacDonald|
|1922||1923||Andrew Bonar Law|
|1916||1922||David Lloyd George|
|1908||1916||Herbert Henry Asquith|
|1905||1908||Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman|
|1902||1905||Arthur James Balfour|
|1892||1894||William Ewart Gladstone|
|1886||1886||William Ewart Gladstone|
|1880||1885||William Ewart Gladstone|
|1868||1874||William Ewart Gladstone|
|1866||1868||Edward Smith Stanley|
|1865||1866||Lord John Russell|
|1859||1865||Henry John Temple|
|1858||1859||Edward Smith Stanley|
|1855||1858||Henry John Temple|
|1852||1855||George Hamilton Gordon|
|1852||1852||Edward Smith Stanley|
|1846||1852||Lord John Russell|
|1841||1846||Sir Robert Peel|
|1834||1835||Sir Robert Peel|
|1812||1827||Robert Banks Jenkinson|
|1806||1807||William Wyndham Grenville|
|1804||1806||William Pitt (the Younger)|
|1783||1801||William Pitt (the Younger)|
|1770||1782||Lord Frederick North|
|1768||1770||Augustus Henry Fitzroy|
|1766||1768||William Pitt (The Elder)|
|1721||1742||Sir Robert Walpole|
The official residence of the British Prime Ministers – Number 10 Downing Street, London – was built in about 1680 by Sir George Downing, a diplomat, spy and traitor, whom the diarist, Samuel Pepys called “a perfidious rogue”.
After the English Civil War (1642-1649), Downing supported Oliver Cromwell, but after the Restoration of the Monarchy (1660), he entered the service of Charles II and betrayed a number of his former associates to execution.
In 1738, George II offered Number 10 to Robert Walpole, as a gift. However, Walpole declined it as a personal residence but accepted it as an official home of the premiership.
Britain’s youngest Prime Minister was William Pitt the Younger, who took office at the age of 24.
The oldest was William Gladstone, who started his fourth term of office at 83.
The longest ruling was Robert Walpole, who held office without a break for nearly 21 years, from 3rd April 1721 to 2nd February 1742.
The shortest ruling Prime Minister was George Canning who became premier on 10th April 1827, and died of pneumonia just under four months later, on 8th August.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "List of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom (1721 – 2022)" https://englishhistory.net/list-of-prime-ministers/, January 16, 2022