Derby, Edward Stanley, 14th earl of

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Derby, Edward Stanley, 14th earl of (1799–1869). The longest-serving of Conservative leaders. Heir to an ancient title and vast properties (the main estates were in south Lancashire around the family seat Knowsley), Stanley, after Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, was a Whig MP by 1822. After minor office under Canning, he served in Grey's cabinet and negotiated with Tory ‘waverers’ over the Reform Bill. As chief secretary for Ireland he introduced the Irish Church Temporalities Bill and a measure for popular education and as colonial secretary the abolition of colonial slavery, all in 1833. Alienated by O'Connell and his Irish and by his Whig rival Russell, Stanley, often spoken of as a future Whig leader, led the resigners from the cabinet in 1834 (the Derby Dilly) and briefly commanded a following of over 20 MPs, though he declined to join a coalition under Peel later that year. Over the next few years he and most of his followers moved into the Conservative Party. Colonial secretary in Peel's government of 1841, he had won considerable standing with his party's backbenchers by the time he opted for a peerage and moved to the Lords in 1844. Lytton saw him as ‘frank, haughty, rash, the Rupert of debate’. In 1845 Stanley was the only cabinet minister to hold out against Peel's policy of Corn Law repeal and left the government. He resented surrender to the Anti-Corn Law League (active in his own territory of Lancashire), any weakening of the aristocratic position and of the interests of land, and also the breaking of party commitments on protection. He saw it as an issue of honour and integrity. Though his efforts to stop repeal failed, he became leader of the protectionist rump of the divided party in July 1846. He attempted to reunite the Conservatives (he resumed the old party name in 1848) and the Peelites, largely unsuccessfully, but he was also cautious about abandoning protection without due cause. He defended the Navigation Acts in 1849 and finally dropped protection only after the election defeat of 1852. By 1849 Stanley had appointed Disraeli as his subordinate leader in the Commons.

Derby (he inherited the earldom in 1851) was prime minister of three governments (1852, 1858–9, and 1866–8) and twice, in 1851 and 1855, declined to form an administration. Throughout that period the Conservatives remained a minority party in the Commons. In the second ministry Derby attempted a measure of parliamentary reform and displayed a more progressive stance than previously. After the defeat of 1859 he decided to prop up Palmerston's moderate Liberal government against radical challenges and settled for opposition. He declined to overthrow the government over Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 despite his own caution in foreign policy and doubts about Palmerstonian interventionism. Derby, who voiced concern about the impact of railway developments on working-class housing in London, became chairman of the Lancashire relief fund during the cotton famine and contributed significantly to the success of the period's greatest voluntary relief effort. In 1866 after Palmerston's death the Conservatives overturned Russell's Liberal government over parliamentary reform and Derby became premier again. He determined to pre-empt any further Liberal measure by passing a reform measure of his own; the second Reform Act (he called it ‘a leap in the dark’) was his initiative, though handled and modified by Disraeli in the Commons. Derby was the only man to have served in the reform cabinets of both 1832 and 1867. He retired because of ill-health in 1868, Disraeli succeeding as premier, but he made a dramatic though unavailing attempt to stop Irish church Disestablishment passing the Lords in 1869. Chancellor of Oxford University since 1852, he had always upheld established churches; his relations with Roman catholicism, particularly in Ireland, had often been uneasy.

A politician of flair and dash and, when roused by the occasion, an impressive parliamentary speaker, Derby never realized the early promise of his career. A great aristocratic figure—shooting and the turf (until he sold his stud in 1863) were among his passions and he was an accomplished classical scholar—he mixed great political talents with a frequent disdain for the drudgery and frustrations of ordinary political life. The restabilizer of Conservative politics after the damage done by Peel, he recognized the importance of party and of reciprocal loyalty between leaders and followers. No ideologue but a pragmatist capable of moving with ‘the Spirit of the Age’, he also looked to hold the line against destructive change and mixed caution with boldness; like Palmerston he was among the balance-holders of early Victorian politics. Disarmingly (sometimes disconcertingly) open in manner, especially in sporting contexts, he was also acutely aware of his social standing, and aristocratic stiffness handicapped his dealings with middle-class politicians, including the ‘fourth estate’ of the press and the extra-parliamentary party organization. Resplendent as a political grandee, he was representative of a high point of aristocratic parliamentarianism before later developments undermined it.

Bruce Coleman

Derby, Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of

views updated May 14 2018

Derby, Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of (1799–1869) British statesman, three times prime minister (1852, 1858–59, 1866–68). He entered Parliament as a Whig in 1827, and acted as chief secretary for Ireland (1830–33). He resigned shortly after becoming colonial secretary (1833), and joined the Conservative Party. He was colonial secretary under Peel (1841–45), but resigned over the repeal of the Corn Laws. From 1846 to 1868, Derby led the Tory protectionists, briefly heading two administrations. In 1866, he became prime minister for the last time, introducing the Reform Act (1867). Benjamin Disraeli succeeded him.

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Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley 14th earl of Derby

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