Primrose, Archibald Philip, fifth Earl of Rosebery 1847-1929, statesman and author, was born at 20 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London, 7 May 1847, the elder son and third child of Archibald Primrose, Lord Dalmeny, and grandson of Archibald John Primrose, fourth Earl of Rosebery [qv.]. His mother was Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina, the only daughter of Philip Henry Stanhope, fourth Earl Stanhope, the sister of Philip Henry Stanhope, fifth Earl Stanhope, the historian [qv.]. Lord Dalmeny died in 1850. Fours years later his widow married Harry George Vane, fourth Duke of Cleveland.
Archibald Philip Primrose was educated first at Bayford, near Hertford, and then at Mr. Lee's school at Brighton. In 1860 he went to Eton. His tutor, William Johnson, better known as William Johnson Cory [qv.], formed a high opinion of his ability, writing of him as surely the wisest boy that ever lived. In 1862 a privately printed volume of verse indicated Lord Dalmeny's literary bent, and when in 1864 he was elected to Pop he showed exceptional gifts as a speaker. He made no mark as a scholar, but reading where his inclination led him and to no specified end, he acquired a wide general culture. In later years he declared that he owed whatever ambitions or aspirations I ever indulged in to Macaulay's Essays. In spite of a shade of constraint in his bearing and a precocious maturity which made him difficult of approach, he was popular at school. Among his contemporaries at Eton were Arthur James Balfour, Lord Randolph Churchill, and the fifth Marquess of Lansdowne.
In January 1866 Dalmeny matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford. In the following year, in reply to a suggestion that he should enter parliament, he declared that he had no politics, adding that in any case it is not the time for a young man to commit himself in any way on either side. A year later (March 1868) on the death of his grandfather he succeeded to the earldom and estates which included Dalmeny Park, near Edinburgh, and other properties in Scotland.
Before the opening of parliament in 1869 Rosebery was invited by Lord Granville to second the address in the House of Lords. In declining the offer he announced his adhesion to the liberal cause. In the same year he began his career as an owner of racehorses, buying and entering for the Derby a colt called Ladas. The university authorities took exception to an undergraduate figuring on the turf and, on his refusal to give up his stud, his name was removed from the books. Rosebery, therefore, left Oxford without a degree. In 1870 he was elected to the Jockey Club, and in February 1871, in seconding the address, made his first speech in the House of Lords. The encomiums which the speech evoked were more than customary. Rosebery himself noted in his diary: Great congratulations, very ill deserved. In November of the same year he read to the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution a striking paper on the Union of England and Scotland, which confirmed the opinions already formed of his talents. His speeches, which showed increasing study and reflection, his territorial possessions, his association with the most popular British sport, an established reputation for wit, and the charm of his personality, combined to make him at the age of twenty-four an outstanding figure among his contemporaries, with a future of great expectation.
In the House of Lords in the session of 1872 in committee on the Scottish Education Bill, Rosebery moved an amendment against denominationalism. At Queensferry in September, when presented with the freedom of the burgh, he spoke at length on the same topic. At this time Scottish interests were prominent in his speeches, and he was continually urging that they should receive fuller consideration by parliament. In the same year Mr. Gladstone offered him a household appointment with the duty of answering for the Poor Law Board in the House of Lords. The offer was declined, but refusal to accept the lord-lieutenancy of Linlithgow was withdrawn in deference to pressure from Lord Granville.
On 4 June 1872 Rosebery intervened for the first time in foreign affairs in a debate on the terms of the arbitration between the United States and Great Britain for damage done in the American Civil War. It was proposed as a condition precedent to arbitration that the United States should be invited to withdraw certain heads of claim. Rosebery urged that nothing should be done which could have the appearance of dictation to America or disturb the relations between the two countries. There was no division, and before the arbitration America withdrew the claims in question.
In the autumn of 1873 Rosebery paid his first visit to North America, including a flying visit to Canada. His notes written at the time record his close observation of the American outlook on home and foreign affairs. He returned to the United States in 1874 and 1876 and again in 1882 with Lady Rosebery on their way to Australia.
In parliament during these years Rosebery spoke seldom, but always with effect. A speech in the House of Lords against creating the title of Empress of India (1876), and speeches in Scotland in defence of liberal principles marked him out as a force in political life. But the Eastern question was now growing acute, and he became an active critic of Lord Beaconsfield's policy, attacking the government for failing to satisfy the claims of Greece and for undertaking to defend the Asiatic dominions of Turkey, as to which he declared that one may pay too great a price even for the preservation of India. He was opposed then, as he was opposed thirty years later in the case of France, to incurring obligations which might involve Great Britain in war, and in October 1878, at Aberdeen, he charged the government with having, by the Treaty of Berlin, incurred responsibilities of a vast and unknown kind without consulting the British parliament and the British people.
In the autumn of 1878 Rosebery was elected lord rector of Aberdeen University, delivering his inaugural address, a characteristic and powerful plea for the study of Scottish history, on 5 November 1880. On the day following his Aberdeen address he was elected lord rector of Edinburgh University, but it was not until 4 November 1882 that he delivered his rectorial address on patriotism.
In 1878 Rosebery married Hannah, only daughter and heiress of Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild [qv.], of Mentmore, Buckinghamshire. Baron Meyer having died in 1874 and his wife in 1877, Hannah de Rothschild had succeeded to the family fortune, which comprised Mentmore and its famous works of art. In 1879 Rosebery, who had risen to a position of eminence and authority in Scotland second only to that of the Duke of Argyll, and was now regarded as the future leader of the Scottish liberals, invited Mr. Gladstone to make Dalmeny the head-quarters for his Midlothian campaign. The course of the contest, which resulted in the return of Gladstone as member for Midlothian, brought Rosebery into spectacular prominence and bound him to Gladstonian liberalism. On the formation of his second ministry in 1880 Gladstone offered Rosebery the under-secretaryship of the India Office. In a letter of 25 April, acting on a characteristic scruple, Rosebery declined the offer, saying that in accepting he would lose the certainty that what I have done in the matter of the elections, however slight, has been disinterested. The offer was renewed in July, but again declined on account of the state of his health. In the new parliament he was active in pressing Scottish claims, and the desirability of appointing a minister for Scottish affairs.
In August 1881 Rosebery was offered and accepted the under-secretaryship of the Home Office with special charge of Scottish business in the House of Lords, thus coming into official relations with Sir William Harcourt [qv.], then home secretary. In Scotland, especially, the office was regarded as far from commensurate with the position which Rosebery had acquired in the country and in parliament. While generally supporting Gladstone's Irish measures Rosebery was by no means satisfied, and he wrote in his diary (6 May 1882): I am clear that I disagree with the policy of government, but am almost clear that I ought not to resign, adding an intention to ask Gladstone what is the exact position of a subordinate like myself with reference to Cabinet policy? The next day his doubts were resolved by the news of the assassinations of Lord Frederick Cavendish and T. H. Burke. The government must be supported. But the close of 1882 found him dissatisfied with the delay in dealing with Scottish affairs, and in the spring of 1883—nothing having been done in the meantime, notwithstanding his protests to Gladstone—he resigned. In July he was offered the Scottish Office, should the bill creating it be passed, but he declined, stating that his advocacy of the office debarred him from accepting.
In September 1883 Lord and Lady Rosebery visited New Zealand and Australia, where, in the course of a series of public speeches, Rosebery developed his view of Imperial relations. On 18 January 1884, speaking at Adelaide, he asked the question whether the fact of Australia being a nation implied separation from the Empire. God forbid, he continued, there is no need for any nation, however great, leaving the Empire, because the Empire is a Commonwealth of Nations. He returned to England (by way of Ceylon, March 1884) with the Imperial idea deeply rooted in his mind, and convinced of the need for a new outlook on the development of empire, broadly comprehended in the phrase commonwealth of nations, with mutual self-respect and mutual independence as basic conditions. In Scotland he was given the freedom of Dundee, his reception showing the commanding position which he now held in Scottish opinion.
On 20 June 1884 Rosebery took his first step towards reform of the House of Lords, moving ‘that a select committee be appointed to consider the best means of promoting the efficiency of this House’. In a speech praised for its eloquence and wit, he urged the necessity for increasing the representative character of the House, and enlarged on the danger of delay. The defeat of the motion was made decisive by Lord Granville and his colleagues walking out. Rosebery's speech in support of the second reading of the Representation Bill in July established his reputation as one of the best speakers of the day. The Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) wrote to express his admiration, and T. H. S. Escott described it as ‘incomparably the best speech in the whole debate’. In November Gladstone offered him the post of first commissioner of works with a seat in the Cabinet. The offer was less perhaps than that to which Rosebery's position entitled him, but it was declined on other grounds. In February 1885, however, the political situation was rendered critical by the fall of Khartoum. Rosebery at once informed Gladstone of his willingness to take office. ‘The question’, he wrote, ‘now is one less of policy than of patriotism’, and he was thereupon appointed to the Board of Works with a seat in the Cabinet as lord privy seal. The government early in April decided to abandon the Sudan. In reply to a letter from Sir Henry Ponsonby inviting his opinion, Rosebery wrote justifying government action: ‘It is a choice of great evils, I admit, but I am sure we chose the least.’ The situation had been altered in March by the Penjdeh incident, which brought Great Britain to the verge of war with Russia, and rendered imperative the suspension of military operations in the Sudan.
In May Rosebery visited Count Herbert Bismarck, a lifelong friend, in Berlin, and was introduced to his father, the chancellor, with whom he discussed informally the attitude of Germany with regard to the Egyptian loan, the Afghan frontier question, Turkey, and the African colonies, all which matters were causing friction between Great Britain and Germany. Meanwhile, the Irish question had reached an acute stage in the Cabinet. Joseph Chamberlain [q.v.], supported by Sir Charles Dilke [q.v.], was opposed to ‘coercion’ and in favour of a large measure of local government; Rosebery, while favouring local government, held that the lord-lieutenant, Lord Spencer, should be granted such powers as he claimed were essential for the maintenance of law and order. On 8 June the government was defeated on an amendment to the budget. Upon the resignation of Mr. Gladstone, Queen Victoria sent for Lord Salisbury, who consented to form a government pending the dissolution of parliament in November.
In the autumn, at Paisley, Rosebery, after an effective attack on the conservative policy of general conciliation towards Ireland and on the negotiations between the lord-lieutenant, Lord Carnarvon [q.v.], and Parnell, dealt with the Irish leader's recent demands. ‘What is proposed’, he continued, ‘is that Ireland should be treated as a colony. ¼ If I had the power and if I were convinced that Ireland were loyal to the connexion with this country, there would be no limits to the concessions that I would offer to Ireland.’ At Sheffield he dealt with social subjects, favouring shorter hours and state-aided emigration. At Slaithwaite (near Huddersfield) he outlined a land policy advocating the abolition of primogeniture, more equitable distribution of interests, simplification of transfer, and extension of allotments. In November, at a banquet given to him by the Scottish liberals, he returned to the Irish question and said: ‘If you can obtain from the representatives of Ireland a clear and constitutional demand which will represent the wishes of the people of Ireland, and which will not conflict with the unity or the supremacy of this country, then by satisfying that demand Ireland might see in this country her best ally.’
At the general election of November 1885 the conservatives and the followers of Parnell exactly balanced the liberals, but on 26 January 1886 the government was defeated on an amendment to the address, and Lord Salisbury resigned the next day. Mr. Gladstone was sent for by the queen, and in the new administration Rosebery accepted the foreign secretaryship. To the queen he said of his new office: ‘It was too much.’ But the queen herself described it as ‘the only good appointment’. At his official visit to Lord Salisbury, Rosebery expressed his intention of maintaining the continuity of policy in foreign affairs. The outlook had recently improved: danger of war with Russia had been removed by the protocol of 10 September 1885 which secured the Zulfikar pass to the ameer of Afghanistan; a better understanding with Germany had eased the situation in Egypt; and Lord Salisbury had given a warning that a threatened war between Greece and Turkey would not be tolerated by Great Britain. In April Rosebery, in continuation of his predecessor's policy, joined in an ultimatum addressed by the Powers to Greece. In May notice of blockade by the combined squadrons was presented, and Greece capitulated. Anticipations freely entertained that a liberal government would mean a new policy in South-Eastern Europe were thus falsified.
In his foreign policy Rosebery showed that he could be decided and firm. The attempt of the French to occupy the New Hebrides formed the subject of a strongly worded dispatch to Lord Lyons [q.v.], ambassador at Paris; a failure on the part of Sir Robert Morier [q.v.], ambassador at St. Petersburg, to adhere to his instructions called forth a severe reprimand; while later, a declaration by Russia that Batum was no longer to be a free port, was met by a dispatch from Rosebery in which he said: ‘H.M. government are compelled to place on record their view that this proceeding of the Russian government constitutes a violation of the Treaty of Berlin. ¼ In no case can H.M. government have any share in it. It must rest on the responsibility of its authors.’ The Tsar was painfully affected by the terms of the document, while the Russian chancellor, M. de Giers, described it as ‘the most wounding communication that has ever been addressed to one Power by another’. In Egypt Rosebery recognized that a respite was needed from ‘projects, reports, and conventions’, and gave whole-hearted support to Sir Evelyn Baring (afterwards first Earl of Cromer) [q.v.].
The defeat of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill in June 1886 resulted in another general election and the return of the conservatives and liberal-unionists to power with a majority of 113. Rosebery left the Foreign Office with his reputation as a statesman greatly strengthened. He had kept foreign affairs free of the fluctuations of domestic politics, and in distrusting Russia, in maintaining an attitude of firmness towards France, and in laying stress on the common interests of Germany and Great Britain, he had secured continuity with the policy of Lord Salisbury. Speaking at Manchester in August, Gladstone told the liberal party that in Rosebery they saw ‘the man of the future’.
In October 1886 Rosebery left England for a visit to India, returning in the spring of 1887. During his absence the Round Table Conference had shown that no agreement between Home Rulers and liberal-unionists was possible. Rosebery in speeches up and down the country declared his adherence to Gladstonian liberalism and to the general principle that ‘Ireland should be allowed to manage her own affairs in the way of domestic legislation’. To Lord Randolph Churchill he expressed his satisfaction with the state of the liberal party, ‘no longer a flabby disconnected majority but a compact minority united by a principle’. As chairman at this time of the Imperial Federation League, Rosebery was constantly bringing before the country the question of Imperial Federation, ‘the closest possible union of the various self-governing states ruled by the British Crown, consistently with the free national development which is the birthright of British subjects all over the world¾the closest union in sympathy, in external action, and in defence’. Describing it as ‘the dominant passion of his public life’, he probably did more than any statesman of his time to advance the cause of cohesion as against disintegration, to dissociate the idea of empire from aggrandizement, and to reconcile liberal opinion to a new conception of Imperial relations. While refraining from specifying the form of the relationship which should exist, he advocated recurrent colonial conferences and the admission to the Privy Council of colonial ministers and colonial judges.
In 1888 Rosebery again brought forward his motion for a select committee to inquire into the constitution of the House of Lords. His definite proposals included curtailment of the hereditary right to a seat in the House, election of peers by county councils and municipalities, representation of the colonies, and, in the event of disagreement, a joint meeting of both Houses with decisions dependent upon certain fixed majorities. The motion was defeated by 97 votes to 50. In 1889 Rosebery was returned for the City in the election for the new London County Council and was chosen as chairman by 104 votes to 17. He held the office for a year and threw himself into the work with devoted public spirit. His authority and experience gave distinction to the new body, and his aptitude for detail, by many unsuspected, proved invaluable in guiding the proceedings. Time, however, has not endorsed two items of his municipal programme, namely, the control of the police by the Council and the merging of the Corporation of the City and the London County Council. For a short period in 1892 he again accepted the chairmanship of the Council.
In November 1890 Rosebery's life was darkened by the death of his wife. This was a blow from which it is doubtful if he ever wholly recovered. Her wisdom and rare serenity of character had been invaluable elements both in his domestic and in his public life. For the next eighteen months he withdrew from politics and, with his health affected, spent much of his time on the continent.
In June 1892 parliament was dissolved. The election which followed showed a majority of forty for Home Rule, and Mr. Gladstone became prime minister for the fourth time. Rosebery was reluctant to take office: he had the gravest doubt if ‘his long loneliness and sleeplessness’ had not unfitted him for public life, and expressed to Gladstone his ‘loathing of politics’ [Lord Crewe, Life, ii, p. 402]. This attitude excited impatience among some of his colleagues. Harcourt regarded it as ‘pretty Fanny's way’; Morley wrote: ‘How tiresome all this sort of thing is.’ But it was only after a moving appeal from Mr. Gladstone and a strongly worded letter from the Prince of Wales indicating the wishes of the queen, that Rosebery's distaste for office was overcome. On 15 August he again became secretary for foreign affairs, and in October he was created K.G.
The question of British withdrawal from Uganda at once revealed differences in the Cabinet. Harcourt was in favour of immediate evacuation. To this Rosebery was opposed. A crisis was only averted by a compromise suspending withdrawal for three months, the question to be investigated by a commissioner on the spot. Some eighteen months later (June 1894), as the result of the mission of Sir Gerald Portal [q.v.], a British protectorate was declared, and Uganda, in accordance with Rosebery's policy, became part of the British Empire. In January 1893 there was again disagreement over Egypt. The dismissal by the young khedive Abbas of ministers friendly to England was objected to by Lord Cromer. Rosebery supported the action of Cromer, but Harcourt, who was in favour of withdrawal from Egypt, was strongly opposed to the interference involved. A protest by France against British action was met by instructions from Rosebery to the British ambassador in Paris to the effect that so long as the British flag was flying in Egypt such action on the part of the khedive would not be tolerated. Appointments were thereupon made in conformity with the wishes of Cromer, and in February, the British garrison having been reinforced, fear of a Mohammedan outbreak ended. In July a French ultimatum to Siam and a rumour that the French had ordered British gunboats to leave Bangkok, created a grave crisis. The rumour proved to be false, and the handling of the crisis by the foreign secretary resulted in a settlement of the differences between the two countries. In answer to a communication from the queen, Rosebery in a memorandum of 9 June dealt with his attitude towards Home Rule. He viewed it with guarded approval ‘as the most practicable or the least impracticable method of governing the country’. In the House of Lords he spoke at length on the second reading of the second Home Rule Bill, which was defeated on 8 September by 419 votes to 41.
On 17 November Rosebery intervened in the great coal strike of 1893 and, presiding at the Foreign Office over a meeting of owners and men's leaders, succeeded in bringing about a settlement. Towards the end of the year there was disagreement in the Cabinet over the naval estimates. The controversy dragged on; Rosebery supporting Lord Spencer, then first lord of the Admiralty, Gladstone and Harcourt protesting against the increase asked for. Harcourt finally accepted some minor amendments; but Gladstone was inflexible, and burdened with his weight of years and threatened with loss of sight, he resigned on 3 March 1894. On the same day, acting on her own initiative, the queen offered the premiership to Rosebery. Anticipating that the policy which he had inherited and intended to pursue might disturb his relations of confidence with the queen, he accepted with hesitation.
The Cabinet as a whole approved the appointment, but differences soon became apparent. Harcourt, whose claims to the succession had received strong support in the liberal party and in the radical press, was at variance with his chief on a number of questions. The foreign secretaryship, which a section of the Cabinet held should be in the House of Commons, was given to Lord Kimberley. On 11 March a pronouncement by Rosebery in his speech on the address ‘that before Irish Home Rule is concluded by the Imperial parliament, England as the predominant member of the partnership of the three kingdoms will have to be convinced of its justice and equity’, which was interpreted as meaning that Home Rule could only be passed by purely English votes, created consternation in the party and exasperated the Irish. Two days later an amendment to the address, abolishing the veto of the Lords, was carried by two votes. A new address had to be substituted. Friction in the Cabinet increased as the session advanced. Harcourt's famous death-duties budget evoked criticism from the premier and gave rise to an exchange of embittered memoranda between the two ministers. Further, an Anglo-Belgian agreement for the lease to the king of the Belgians of territory on the Upper Nile, negotiated by Rosebery and Kimberley, was bitterly opposed by Harcourt without whose knowledge the preliminaries had been adjusted. Protests to Belgium from Germany and France led to the abandonment of the lease by the king.
On 27 October 1894 Rosebery at Bradford opened his campaign for reform of the House of Lords, but beyond the audience of 4,500 whom he addressed, the proposals aroused little enthusiasm. The rejection of the Home Rule Bill had strengthened the position of the upper chamber in the country. The queen wrote (30 October) to protest against the policy which Rosebery had announced. In a letter in reply, Rosebery on 1 November justified his policy, claiming that it was conservative in its ultimate tendency and deprecating the suggestion put forward by the queen that she should have been consulted before the policy was announced [Letters of Queen Victoria, third series, vol. ii, pp. 432-444]. Before a large audience at Glasgow on 14 November, Rosebery again spoke on House of Lords reform, and declared himself in favour both of Welsh and of Scottish disestablishment. In the same month, by summoning a conference at Downing Street on the co-ordination of the fighting services, he may be said to have taken the first step towards the formation of the Committee of Imperial Defence. In January 1895 at a meeting of the National Liberal Federation he paid a generous tribute to the work done by Harcourt as leader of the House of Commons, and renewed his plea for reform of the House of Lords and disestablishment of the Welsh Church.
Early in 1895 Rosebery suffered from a severe attack of influenza which left him seriously weakened and a victim of insomnia. The strain of office, the difficulties which beset him within the Cabinet, and the attacks to which he was subjected in a portion of the radical press were undoubtedly at this time affecting his health. The session opened on 5 February. The party programme included plural voting, Welsh disestablishment, and a liquor control bill. But the Parnellite group under the leadership of John Redmond [q.v.] was hostile, and the government could only count on a majority of fifteen. Against the advice of Rosebery, the question of the House of Lords was relegated to the background. On 21 June the government was defeated by 132 votes against 125 in the House of Commons on the question of the supply of cordite, and Rosebery at once resigned, receiving from the queen as a mark of special favour the order of the Thistle. Cabinet differences were reflected in the election which followed, Rosebery, Harcourt, and Morley putting in the forefront respectively reform of the House of Lords, local option, and Home Rule. The unionists were returned with a majority of 152. On 12 August Rosebery wrote to Harcourt a formal intimation that their official connexion must be regarded as at an end.
In 1895-1896 the Armenian massacres drew Mr. Gladstone from his retirement. In a speech at Liverpool in August 1896 he suggested that the British ambassador should be recalled from Constantinople and the Turkish ambassador in London be given his passports. This policy was supported by a section of the liberals. To Rosebery, who saw in isolated action the likelihood of war, this proved the ‘last straw on his back’, and on 8 October he resigned the leadership of the liberal party. The following day at the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh, to a tense and crowded audience he made his farewell speech as leader. ‘Home to supper. What a relief’, is the entry in his diary for that evening. Inability to act in partnership with Harcourt, the fact that his lead had been disregarded at the general election, and lastly, the intervention of Mr. Gladstone with a policy to which he could not subscribe, combined to make a further continuance of his harassed term of leadership impossible. In 1897 by the purchase of the Villa Delahante at Posilipo, near Naples, a locality to which he was devoted, he secured a retreat remote from the arena of politics.
The death of Gladstone in 1898 brought Rosebery back to the House of Lords to deliver a fine panegyric on his chief. His retirement had failed to effect any semblance of unity in the liberal ranks, and in 1899, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman having succeeded Harcourt in the leadership of the party, Rosebery emerged from his seclusion, and in May, at the City Liberal Club, urged the party to return to liberalism as it had been before 1886, and to seek a combination of the old liberal spirit with the new Imperial spirit. In November he delivered an eloquent and memorable rectorial address on Imperial questions at Glasgow University.
The outbreak of the South African War in 1899 accentuated the cleavage in the liberal party. In 1901 a new organization, the Liberal Imperial Council, was formed of the followers of Rosebery with the object of supporting his leadership and promoting his Imperial policy. But on 17 July in a letter to The Times, while pointing out that there were now two schools of liberal statesmanship, the insular and the Imperial, pulling in opposite directions, Rosebery stated that he could never voluntarily return to the arena of party politics. Two days later (19 July) at the City Liberal Club, he referred to ‘ploughing his lonely furrow’. A speech at Chesterfield in December in which he called for ‘a clean slate’ and advocated discussion of peace terms with the Boers led to a visit from Campbell-Bannerman in search of agreement. But co-operation was not to be attained, and in February 1902 the formation of the Liberal League with Rosebery as president and H. H. Asquith, Sir Edward Grey, and Sir Henry Fowler as vice-presidents, denoted a definite split between the two wings of the party. But in May 1903 the opening of Chamberlain's tariff reform campaign brought about a change in the situation, and supplied the liberal party with a common ground in defence of free trade. Rosebery in the course of the year spoke at a number of meetings in opposition to Chamberlain's proposals, but mindful of the way in which his own policy had been received, he held aloof from formal co-operation with the official leader of the party.
In 1905 Rosebery spoke at the City Liberal Club and in the country in criticism of the Anglo-French agreement, anticipating that it was more likely to lead to complications than to peace, and in a speech at Bodmin he emphatically dissociated himself from Home Rule, which had once more been brought to the front by Campbell-Bannerman. But his independence brought with it an inevitable decline in influence, and when Campbell-Bannerman became prime minister in December and was joined by the vice-presidents of the Liberal League, Rosebery finally severed himself from official liberalism. In the years immediately following he was much at his house at Posilipo. At home he took little part in politics beyond presiding at the annual meetings of the Liberal League. In the House of Lords he thenceforward occupied a seat on the cross benches. In Scotland he spoke on a number of ceremonial occasions, and among his most notable utterances must be included his speech when unveiling a memorial to the Scots Greys at Edinburgh on 16 November 1906 and his address as chancellor of the university of Glasgow on 12 June 1908 on the influence of national universities on Scottish character.
In 1909 the budget introduced by Mr. Lloyd George recalled him once more into the political field, and in a letter to the press (21 June 1909) and at a meeting in Glasgow (10 September 1909) he denounced the financial provisions dealing with land as revolutionary and leading directly to socialism. In November the Finance Bill reached the House of Lords, and he again spoke in condemnation of its proposals, but warned the House against rejecting the measure. This attitude was much criticized, yet his Glasgow speech had indicated that he was not prepared to stake the existence of the House of Lords on such an issue. The rejection of the budget by the peers was followed by the general election of January 1910. In the Parliament which succeeded on 14 March Rosebery brought forward in the House of Lords resolutions in favour of reform and reconstitution. The resolutions were passed, but the death of King Edward VII on 6 May prevented their being further dealt with at the moment. On 15 November the conference dealing with the constitutional crisis between Lords and Commons having meanwhile broken down, Rosebery again brought forward his resolutions, which were again passed without a division. Before the general election of December 1910 he spoke at Manchester and Edinburgh, condemning the Parliament Bill as ‘ill-judged, revolutionary, and partisan’. On 9 August 1911 the Bill, which had been drastically amended by the Lords, was again returned from the House of Commons, and Rosebery, who had not supported the amendments, denounced the measure but declared that great as were its evils he considered them less disastrous than the creation of sufficient peers to ensure the passing of the Bill. He therefore voted with the government, afterwards drawing up a protest, signed by fourteen other peers, to be recorded in the journals of the House. It was the end of his work in the House of Lords. At the coronation of King George V in June he had been created Earl of Midlothian in the peerage of the United Kingdom. In September he delivered his rectorial address at St. Andrews University¾one of the happiest of all his notable non-political utterances.
The outbreak of the European War in 1914 led to Rosebery's appearance on many platforms, and in a series of stirring speeches he spoke on empire, the calls of patriotism, the need for recruits, and confidence in final victory. In December 1916 he was offered high office in the second Coalition government, but refused. The following year his younger son, Neil Primrose, was killed in action. Rosebery continued his war speeches from time to time, but he was a stricken man. In November 1918 he was prostrated by the circulation of an embolism, and thenceforward remained partially crippled, but maintaining his interest in current affairs, in books, and in the society of his friends. He died 21 May 1929 at his home, The Durdans, Epsom, and was buried in the church at Dalmeny. Since 1887 his town house had been 38 Berkeley Square.
In 1891 Rosebery published a small volume on William Pitt for the ‘Twelve English Statesmen’ series edited by John Morley. The work is a judicial exposition of the known facts of Pitt's career, written with consummate felicity and charm. It met with an instant success. It was followed in 1900 by Napoleon: the Last Phase, and in 1910 by Chatham: his Early Life and Connections. The reputation of the three books is based less on research or even revelation than on Rosebery's power to give life and colour to historical portraits. The volumes abound with evidence of this special gift, and although limited in scope, they reveal the loss suffered by literature and historical writing when their author gave himself to a political career. In 1906 Rosebery published a monograph on Lord Randolph Churchill, the most completely successful of his writings. The combination was unusual. Contemporaries at Eton and close friends at Oxford, and later occupying positions of eminence in the state, the two men, although differing in politics, retained to the end the sympathy and affection of their early days. The appreciation is written with lightness and charm and an intimate comprehension of Churchill's character and genius. In the same vein of portraiture Rosebery's sketches of Sir Robert Peel (1899), Oliver Cromwell (1899), and William Windham (1913) stand out among his numerous occasional essays and addresses.
Few men have had a more successful career as an owner of racehorses than Lord Rosebery. He won the principal classic events of the turf, including the Derby three times, with Ladas the second in 1894, with Sir Visto in 1895, and with Cicero in 1905. He was no amateur owner, but a highly versed student of breeding and form. The Durdans (which he purchased in 1874) is celebrated for its collection of pictures of famous horses of the past, and in the extensive library is included a section dealing with the horse in all its aspects. He was the last to use in London a cabriolet, driving a high-stepping horse with a ‘tiger’ standing on a platform at the back. In later years he made a habit of driving in the country at night after dinner in an open victoria with a pair of horses and a postilion.
Rosebery was of middle height, strongly built and of active habits. His head was massive, with a fine intellectual forehead and regular features. His eyes were light blue, and normally enigmatic in the quiescence of their expression, but readily breaking into animation and a smile of singular radiance which illuminated his whole countenance. His general appearance altered little with age. He found pleasure in long walks in the country, and in shooting, at which he was proficient. But yachting, regardless of weather, and racing were his principal pastimes. He disliked games, saying, ‘Balfour prefers any game to no game, I prefer no game to any game’. He was a born talker, varied, witty, and informed, master of ironic banter and humour, passing easily from light to shade, from gaiety to earnestness, and appearing always to give his best. In society he was liable to disconcerting moments of silence and was at little pains to disguise when he was bored. He was at his happiest when in company of his own choosing, at Dalmeny, or The Durdans, on his yacht, or at his villa at Posilipo.
Although Rosebery inherited works of art of the highest quality, his interest lay in the associations rather than in the beauty of his possessions. He was a noted collector of portraits and relics of historical characters. Every year his outlay on books for the libraries at Barnbougle, the castle adjoining Dalmeny, and The Durdans was considerable, and his gift (1927) to the National Library in Edinburgh of Scottish books and pamphlets is remarkable for the range and rarity of its contents. He was an omnivorous reader in the field of biography, history, and memoirs, and of these, with the aid of a strong and accurate memory, his knowledge was profound. But he eschewed science and philosophy, and, indeed, speculative writing of all kinds, and concerned himself little with modern literature save in so far as it threw light on aspects of the past.
As an orator Rosebery enjoyed a period of unequalled prestige. His speeches were studiously prepared, and the contrivance of his effects, if sometimes too elaborate, was often masterly. His voice was strong, flexible, and harmonious; his vocabulary authentic and direct rather than subtle or rare. In speaking he would emphasize a passage with an up and down movement of both arms bent, or sink his voice to a note so deep as to appear at times almost painfully mannered. He delighted in the exercise of his gift of oratory, and passages in his speech to the press of the Empire (5 June 1909), in his rectorial addresses at Glasgow (16 November 1900) and St. Andrews (14 September 1911), and in his address on Robert Burns (21 July 1896) have been ranked with the greatest masterpieces of British eloquence.
Rosebery held that he had been drawn into politics largely by force of circumstances and was wont to declare that they were hateful to him. But he was far from insensible to the gratifications of celebrity and high position. He wanted office on his own terms with freedom to carry out his own policy. As foreign minister he approached most nearly to the conditions which he required. As such he acted with judgement and distinction, showing firmness and restraint, brooking little interference from his colleagues, and winning a position of authority among the statesmen of Europe. As prime minister he was faced with the conditions which he was least qualified to control, by a powerful leader of the House of Commons definitely hostile to him, and a party of which a large section regarded Imperialism, and reform of the House of Lords as a means to the creation of a strong second chamber, with open disfavour. At the same time in Home Rule he was inheritor of a policy as to the expediency of which his doubts steadily increased. ‘I never did have power’, he said of himself as premier. He wrote of William Windham: ‘His self-conscious, self-tormenting nature was indeed wholly unsuited for public life.’ For similar reasons Rosebery was unsuited, not indeed for public life as such, but for public life as he had the misfortune to find it. Thus situated, his sensitiveness to criticism, his dislike of contradiction, his hatred of political intrigue, and, above all, a dread of failure tended to aggravate the difficulties of his position as leader. His name is not associated with any notable parliamentary measure, and he proved unequal to the desperate task of re-uniting a party shattered by Home Rule; but as a missionary of Imperial ideals he left a deep and lasting influence on the political thought of his time. His earliest and his latest parliamentary activities were directed to reform of the House of Lords, a cause which he did more to bring before the country than any other statesman of his time. Later years may be said to have completed his alienation from the party which he had led, while a growing fear of socialism drove him more and more to sympathize with other political views.
Lord Rosebery had two sons and two daughters. Of the sons the elder, Albert Edward Harry Mayer Archibald (born 1882), was M.P. for Midlothian in the liberal interest 1906-1910, and succeeded his father as sixth earl. The younger, Neil James Archibald, was under-secretary of state for foreign affairs in 1915 and joint parliamentary secretary to the Treasury 1916-1917.
A portrait of Rosebery by Sir John Millais and a bust by Sir Edgar Boehm are both in the possession of the sixth earl. A cartoon of him by ‘Spy’ appeared in Vanity Fair 14 March 1901.
The Times, 22 May 1929;
Marquess of Crewe, Lord Rosebery, 2 vols., 1931;
E. T. Raymond, The Man of Promise, Lord Rosebery; a critical study, 1923;
T. F. G. Coates, Lord Rosebery, his Life and Speeches, 2 vols., 1900;
John Buchan, Lord Rosebery, 1847-1930 in Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. xvi, 1930;
Lord Rosebery, Miscellanies Literary and Historical, 2 vols., 1921;
Contributor: E. Charteris.