Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Duke of Omnium?

Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Duke of Omnium?

Article excerpt

The real Duke of Omnium? Andrew Roberts THE DIARIES OF EDWARD HENRY STANLEY, 15TH EARL OF DERBY (1826-93): BETWEEN 1878 AND 1893 edited by John Vincent Leopard's Head Press, L40, pp. 954, ISBN 0904920453

Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby, was the son of one prime minister (the 14th Earl of Derby), intimate friend of another (Disraeli), colonial secretary to a third (Gladstone), personal enemy of a fourth (Salisbury), and was always talked of as being perfect material for the premiership himself, not least by Anthony Trollope, who is thought to have based the character of Plantagenet Palliser upon him.

A bona fide intellectual, Derby was the only man to serve in both Disraeli's and Gladstone's cabinets, was foreign secretary during the Eastern Question crisis, and kept an extensive daily diary from soon after becoming an MP in 1848 right up to three days before his death in 1893. He has therefore long been an excellent source for historians of Victorian politics. The publication of this final volume of his diaries - covering the period from his sensational resignation as foreign secretary in 1878 until his death 15 years later - now allows the general reader to clamber inside the elevated mind of the real Duke of Omnium.

As virtual monarch of Lancashire and the owner of 80,000 acres, Derby had interests and responsibilities that stretched far beyond politics. Heir to one of the richest men in Europe, he is said to have turned down the offer of the throne of Greece with the words: 'Don't they know I'm going to be the Earl of Derby?' On the first page of these diaries he is turning down Disraeli's offer of the Garter, partly because it would bestow 'no added social or political importance' upon him. (He accepted it from Gladstone six years later, on the grounds that 'I believe all my predecessors have been decorated after this same fashion').

Yet it is mainly for its political insights that this superbly edited book will be regarded as required reading for anyone interested in late-Victorian and imperial history. This volume opens with Derby returning the seals of office to Queen Victoria, having resigned from Disraeli's government in protest at what he sees as an inevitable war with Russia over the integrity of Turkey. Like Gladstone whom he slowly warmed to and eventually served under - Derby was essentially anti-Turk and pro-Russian, whereas Disraeli and the new foreign secretary who takes his place, Lord Salisbury, were the opposite.

Far from being simply the Olympian figure of Trollopian mythology, these diaries show Derby also to have had an agreeably waspish - even bitchy - side. …

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