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Spencer, John Poyntz, 5th Earl

Spencer, John Poyntz, 5th Earl (1835–1910). A prominent Whig/Liberal politician. He was lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1868–74 and again in 1882–5, years when the Irish question was of central importance, as social and religious protest led to political nationalism. Spencer fully supported the Liberal Irish reforms of 1868–74, though not playing a great part in promoting them. In 1882–5 he played a more direct role, combining coercion with political concession. Spencer strongly supported Irish Home Rule in 1885–6—the most prominent Whig aristocrat to do so enthusiastically. In 1892–5 he was 1st lord of the Admiralty, in 1894 promoting naval expansion against the wishes of Gladstone (even so, Gladstone thought Spencer should succeed him as prime minister). He led the Liberals in the Lords in 1902–5, but illness spoilt his chances of the premiership in 1905. His library (sold to cover losses from the agricultural depression) forms the basis of the John Rylands library (Manchester). Spencer was known as the Red Earl from the colour of his beard (not his politics); he was a great-great uncle of Diana, princess of Wales.

H. C. G. Matthew

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