PERSPECTIVE: Dizzy Life of Politics and Women; Robert Bullard Describes Shropshire's Forgotten Links with One of Britain's Most Colourful Ever Prime Ministers

The Birmingham Post (England), December 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

PERSPECTIVE: Dizzy Life of Politics and Women; Robert Bullard Describes Shropshire's Forgotten Links with One of Britain's Most Colourful Ever Prime Ministers


Byline: Robert Bullard

Shrewsbury - known for being the home of Charles Darwin - also had links with another illustrious nineteenth century figure.

It is sometimes forgotten that Benjamin Disraeli, the flamboyant politician, had strong links with the town, and was born 200 years ago this month, on December 21 1804.

Disraeli's links with Shropshire were three-fold.

First, he was Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury.

Second, it was from a public house in the town where he started to publicly criticise his own Prime Minister, and with it make a bid for future leadership of the Conservative Party.

And thirdly, it was to two sisters from Shropshire that, after the death of his own wife, he wrote over 1,500 letters, and pursued them for their hand in marriage.

After three unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament as an Independent Radical, Disraeli was elected as Conservative MP for Maidstone in 1837.

But when a disagreement over his election expenses threatened his re-election he looked for a new seat and - with the encouragement and help of Lord Forester, of Willey Park, Bridgnorth - he secured the nomination for Shrewsbury.

It was a close, four-horse race - 'sharp but never for a moment doubtful', he wrote to his wife - in which Disraeli and another Conservative, George Tomline, fought off two Liberals and were elected on June 30 1841.

But their election was not without opposition. The Liberals capitalised on Disraeli's reputation for having made some poor speculative investments in the Mexican mining industry and they distributed a broadsheet itemising his debts of pounds 22,000 (an accurate record and worth approximately pounds 6million today).

One of the main instigators behind this was a leading liberal and Claremont Hill barrister, Mr William Yardley, who even challenged Disraeli to a duel on the matter, but this was prevented after an intervention from the Mayor that both men should 'keep the peace'.

Not that the election result made the protesters give in. In October of that year a petition was sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons objecting to both Disraeli and Tomline's election on grounds of 'bribery and treating', and challenging Disraeli's qualifications to serve as a MP.

It was an uncomfortable time for Disraeli.

For the next six months he thought he might lose his seat, but the following April the petition was withdrawn when Disraeli's agent secured a deal in which the Conservatives dropped a similar petition against Liberal MPs that had been elected in Gloucester.

However, the objections to Disraeli, for a while at least, were not confined to the Liberals. Having seen Disraeli's political views waver from side to side as he sought to reflect the national mood of the time, fellow Conservative MPs were mistrustful of him and thought him an opportunist.

They were also concerned about his social credentials.

Disraeli had enjoyed three high profile affairs - one of which he used to blatant political gain; although baptised as a Christian he quite plainly had a Jewish background - and religious tolerance was still in its infancy; and his colleagues saw him as a dandy - with a taste for fine clothes and preference for female company. Quite plainly, he didn't fit in; and it probably didn't help that, unlike them, he had not gone to Eton or Harrow, and neither Oxford nor Cambridge University.

Disraeli did not make that many visits to Shrewsbury while the town's MP up until 1847 (after which he moved to the safer county seat and family home of Buckinghamshire). His political ambitions required his presence in the House of Commons and during this period he was busy writing a trilogy of political novels.

However, he is known to have stayed at The Lion Hotel on Wyle Cop, and the former The Bull inn, which used to stand at No.12 Abbey Foregate, and he attended events such as Prize Day at Shrewsbury School, The Bachelors Ball and Shrewsbury Races. …

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PERSPECTIVE: Dizzy Life of Politics and Women; Robert Bullard Describes Shropshire's Forgotten Links with One of Britain's Most Colourful Ever Prime Ministers
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