Category Archives: British Prime Ministers

A king that changed England

Anne became Queen of England on Wednesday 8th March 1702 and, on Sunday 1st May 1707, under the Acts of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England and Scotland, united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain.  Seven years later, on Wednesday 1st August 1714, she died in Kensington Palace in London.

Let us roll forward now to Saturday 20st October 1714.  By the terms of the Act of Settlement, at her death Queen Anne, who had no surviving children, was to be succeeded by her second cousin; George, Elector of Hanover who was to be crowned King George I on this day in Westminster Abbey.  However, the service was less than smooth!

George could not speak much English so the ceremonies had to be conducted mostly in Latin as his ministers could speak no German!

He was also not a choice of most people in the country and, on the Coronation day, banners mocking the new king were displayed throughout the country. When loyalists celebrated the Coronation they were disrupted by rioters in over twenty towns in the south and west of England. In addition to this, the Tory aristocrats and gentry absented themselves from the Coronation, and in some towns they arrived with their supporters to disrupt the Hanoverian proceedings.

Things were happening across parts of Britain on the night before the coronation.

In Taunton one Francis Sherry said that “on the morrow we must take up Arms against the King”.

In Birmingham a local rioter, John Hargrave, said they must “pull down this King and Sett up a King of our own”.

In Dorchester rioters attempted to rescue an effigy of the Catholic James Stuart, who had a strong claim to the throne, that was to be burnt by Dissenters and asked: “Who dares disown the Pretender?”.

The Anglican clergy mainly kept a low profile but at Newton Abbot the minister removed the bell-clappers so that the bells could not be rung in celebration of the Coronation.  All in all it was a very unusual Coronation.

During George’s reign however, the powers of the monarchy diminished and Britain began a transition to the modern system of cabinet government led by a prime minister. Towards the end of his reign, actual political power was held by Robert Walpole, now recognised as Britain’s first de facto prime minister.

George died of a stroke on a trip to his native Hanover, where he was buried.

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A Snippet from 11th May

How often have you had your own thoughts on the actions and performance of parliamentarians at large and ministers in particular?  Fortunately this particular story has never been repeated!

It was on this day – Monday 11th May 1812 – that Spencer Perceval, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons.  The assassin was John Bellingham, a merchant and broker who bore a grudge against the British government for failing to help him when he was in severe legal and financial difficulties abroad.

Spencer Perceval is the only British prime minister to have been killed while in office.

The whole story of John Bellingham’s life and death is told on:
wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bellingham
and
http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng550.htm

The Sunday after

The Sunday papers all told of the story – this one is from the Sunday Express – it says:

‘Sometimes a baby’s cry broke the stillness’: Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, Princes and Chancellors from 111 nations joined a countless throng of humble people yesterday in the final massive act of homage to Sir Winston Churchill.  It was an occasion of pomp and pageantry, pride and sorry, which will not be equalled in the lifetime of any who saw it.

And yet what there was to say could be said simply.

The thoughts of those who stood in the windswept streets and the millions who watched on television were summed up in one message.  It was from the Queen, and was in the circular wreath of white flowers – freesias, arum lilies, gladioli, and lilies of the valley – which she sent to the interment at Bladon Church.  It was written in her own hand and said:

“From the nation and the Commonwealth:
In grateful remembrance.
Elizabeth R”

No one can say with certainty how many people stood and shivered in the bitter east wind to honour Sir Winston. Probably there were around half a million.

A day when Britain stood still

This Saturday, 30th January 1965, saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history when Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held – regarded by many as a day when Britain ‘stood still’.

The following is based mainly on BBC reports with personal memories included:

‘Thousands of people had paid their last respects to Britain’s greatest wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill who was buried today after a full state funeral. A total of 321,360 people filed past the catafalque during the three days of his lying-in-state.

Silent crowds lined the streets to watch the gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s coffin leave Westminster Hall as Big Ben struck 09.45. The procession travelled slowly through central London to St Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral service.

Many millions around the world watched the funeral procession at home and abroad as television pictures were beamed from 40 BBC cameras placed along the route.

The mourners were led by Sir Winston’s wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, his son Randolph and daughters Mary Soames and Lady Sarah Audley. The Queen and other members of the Royal family; the Prime Minister Mr Harold Wilson and representatives of 112 countries packed into the Cathedral for the service.

The funeral cortege was accompanied by a 19-gun salute and an RAF fly-past as it began the journey to Sir Winston’s final resting place. At Tower Hill the coffin was piped aboard the launch ‘Havengore‘ for the voyage up the Thames and then toWaterloo Station where the coffin was placed onto a train drawn by a Battle of Britain locomotive named Winston Churchill.  Thousands gathered to pay tribute at wayside stations as the coffin passed while, at many football matches, a two-minute silence was observed.

Sir Winston was finally laid to rest in the Oxfordshire parish churchyard of Bladon, close to Blenheim Palace where he was born 90 years before.  Only family members were present at his internment.

 

 

A late Friday night/Saturday morning

The night of Friday, 29th January 1965, was one of bitter rain and snow but that didn’t stop many men and women from taking up their positions for the following day’s state funeral.

While they were taking their places in the cold and wet the the Earl Marshal, Duke of Norfolk, was rehearsing the pallbearers duties inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Throughout that day and night there was a steady drumbeat, beating out the minutes in that day-long final flurry of rehearsals for the nation’s last tribute to Sir Winston Churchill.

The sound of 65 beats to the minute on a black-draped drum started in the pre-dawn darkness and echoed eerily through empty streets as 5,000 Servicemen escorted the heavy gun carriage and a lead-weighted coffin in a ghostly parade along the funeral route.  Come the morning daylight that will carry Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in the first stage of his final resting place.

The troops left Westminster as Big Ben struck 04.45 a.m.

The death of a great man

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was one of of the great men of British politics in the 20th century.  Over the coming days I’ll tell more about his very varied life but today is the day his life ended.

He had been involved in two world wars – being Prime Minister in the second of these conflicts.  After the British general election of October 1951 he had become Prime Minister of Britain for the second time.  In 1953 he suffered a serious stroke but remained in the role of Prime Minister until 1955 when he retired from that role.  However, he didn’t leave his place in Parliament – remaining a Member of Parliament until 1964.

On 15th January 1965 he suffered a severe stroke and died at his London home nine days later, aged 90, on the morning of Sunday 24th January 1965, 70 years to the day after his own father’s death.

Following his death Queen Elizabeth II granted him the honour of a state funeral.