The Prime Ministers of Britain, 1721-1921

The Prime Ministers of Britain, 1721-1921

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The Prime Ministers of Britain, 1721-1921

The Prime Ministers of Britain, 1721-1921

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Excerpt

In England Prime Ministers are a comparatively modern institution. In the days of the Norman and Plantagenet monarchs the King himself directed and carried on the government of the country by the advice of his Council. This he did through his own officers and largely from his own revenues. Usually he chose these officers himself, though at times they were forced upon him. For the most part they were priests, the medieval ecclesiastics possessing considerable advantages over laymen in the way of education and of freedom from family ties. They often rose to great power and rivalled the King himself. Such were Flambard, Becket, Beaufort and Wolsey. Soldiers like de Montfort and Warwick were rarer and less permanent, while courtiers of the Gaveston or Despencer type had the least success. Most of these ministers, except occasionally the prelates, belonged to the nobility.

But after the Wars of the Roses nearly all the old families had disappeared. When Henry VII. came to the throne the lay peers only totalled twenty-nine, one-third of what their numbers had been a hundred and fifty years earlier. The influence of the Church was also diminishing, whilst two new classes, the landed gentry and the city merchants, were rapidly becoming literate and acquiring importance. The names of Howard, Seymour, Cecil, Cavendish and Russell now first rise into prominence, and the House of Commons is really beginning to count. After the commencement of Queen Elizabeth's reign there are . . .

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