Lord Melbourne, 1779-1848

Lord Melbourne, 1779-1848

Lord Melbourne, 1779-1848

Lord Melbourne, 1779-1848


Lord Melbourne was Prime Minister of England from 1834-1841. As mentor and father-figure to the young Queen Victoria, he exerted considerable influence over the first few years of her reign. He was a man to whom career success came rather late - he was forty-eight years old before he held any major governmental office. In a profound way, his character and thinking had already been determined by experiences outside politics - particularly by his Whig social background and his disastrous marriage to Lady Caroline Lamb. In this, the first biography for twenty years, Leslie Mitchell uses the Melbourne family papers to explore the man behind a politician at the heart of early Victorian politics. William Lamb, the second Viscount Melbourne, might have held office earlier had it not been for his marriage to Lady Caroline Ponsonby, whose scandalous public affaires (including one with Byron), preceded a descent into madness and separation from her husband. Her death in 1828 freed Melbourne to take up the career which was almost his birthright. His views and subsequent political rise and survival in high office (almost by accident rather than design), reveal much about the nature of Whig politics - operating as an extension of family relationships and the expression of the shared values of an ¿lite. As Prime Minister, Melbourne became the closest adviser and father figure to the new queen, who was only eighteen years old at her accession in 1837. Her rejection of Melbourne on her marriage to Prince Albert was abrupt and devastating, and Melbourne never really recovered from it. He became a marginalized figure, out of step with the demands of a fast-changing, newly industrialized world. In this fascinating account, Leslie Mitchell fully explores the private and public life of a man destined for high office and greatly influenced by the women in his life.


My debts are many. I acknowledge with gratitude the kindness of the following owners of manuscript collections in allowing me access to their materials: Her Majesty the Queen for access to the Royal Archives and the Melbourne papers held at Windsor; the Controller of HMSO and the Trustees of the Broadlands Archive for the Wellington, Palmerston, and Melbourne papers held in Southampton; the Duke of Devonshire and the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees for the Chatsworth manuscripts; the Earl of Derby for the Derby manuscripts; the Earl of Harewood for the Canning papers; the Earl of Clarendon for the Clarendon papers; the kind permission of the Howard family in allowing access to the Castle Howard papers; Lord Cobbold for the Lytton manuscripts; Lord Lytton for the Lovelace papers; the Keeper of the Bodleian Library for the Bruce manuscripts. The papers of the Dukes of Richmond are reproduced by the courtesy of the Trustees of the Goodwood Collections and the good offices of the County Archivist and staff of the West Sussex Record Office. The Petworth archive was made available by the courtesy of the Rt. Hon. Lord Egremont and the assistance of Dr A. McCann. The Bessborough collection was consulted by the courtesy of the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Bessborough and the good offices of Dr T. McCann. I was able to make use of the archive at Woburn Abbey by kind permission of the Marquess of Tavistock and the Trustees of the Bedford Estate. The Provost and Fellows of Oriel College, Oxford, generously allowed me access to the Hampden papers, and Dr H. Cecilto the Palmerston papers at Hatfield House. I am grateful to the Marquess of Anglesey and the Deputy Keeper of the Records of Northern Ireland for permission to use the Anglesey papers.

As usual, the archivists and staff of county record offices have been unfailingly helpful. I would particularly like to make mention of those at Hertfordshire, who gave me invaluable assistance with the Panshanger collection; and, those in Devon, Staffordshire, Norfolk, and the Centre for Kentish Studies. The Keeper of Manuscripts at the University of Nottingham gave invaluable assistance with the Newcastle and Denison manuscripts, and University College London Library helped materially with the Parkes and Brougham collections. Copies of records in the Nottinghamshire Archives Office are reproduced by permission of the Principal Archivist.

I would like to recognize the generosity of the British Academy in funding certain sections of the research for this book, which would otherwise have been impossible.

Above all, I would like to thank certain individuals for their encouragement . . .

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