Herbert Henry Asquith: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 The Earl of Oxford and Asquith 

In office
5 April 1908 – 5 December 1916
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Preceded by Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Succeeded by David Lloyd George

In office
12 February 1920 – 21 November 1922
Monarch George V
Prime Minister David Lloyd George
Andrew Bonar Law
Preceded by Sir Donald Maclean
Succeeded by Ramsay MacDonald
In office
6 December 1916 – December 1918
Monarch George V
Prime Minister David Lloyd George
Preceded by Sir Edward Carson
Succeeded by Sir Donald Maclean

In office
10 December 1905 – 12 April 1908
Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded by Austen Chamberlain
Succeeded by David Lloyd George

In office
18 August 1892 – 25 June 1895
Prime Minister William Gladstone
Preceded by Henry Matthews
Succeeded by Matthew Ridley

In office
30 March 1914 – 5 August 1914
Prime Minister Himself
Preceded by J. E. B. Seely
Succeeded by The Earl Kitchener

Member of Parliament
for Paisley
In office
12 February 1920 – 4 November 1924
Preceded by John Mills McCallum
Succeeded by Edward Rosslyn Mitchell

Member of Parliament
for East Fife
In office
27 July 1886 – 14 December 1918
Preceded by John Boyd Kinnear
Succeeded by Alexander Sprot

Born 12 September 1852(1852-09-12)
Morley, Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Died 15 February 1928 (aged 75)
Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, England
Nationality English
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Helen Melland (desc.)
Margot Tennant
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford, England
Profession Lawyer
Religion Congregationalist
H.H. Asquith by Spy

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC, KC (12 September 1852 – 15 February 1928) served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916.[1] He was the longest continuously serving Prime Minister in the twentieth century until early 1988, when his record was surpassed by Margaret Thatcher.[2]

As Prime Minister, he led his Liberal party to a series of domestic reforms, including social insurance and the reduction of the power of the House of Lords. He led the nation into The First World War, but a series of military and political crises led to his replacement in late 1916 by David Lloyd George. His falling out with Lloyd George played a major part in the downfall of the Liberal Party.

Before his term as Prime Minister he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1905 to 1908 and as Home Secretary from 1892 to 1895. During his lifetime he was known as H. H. Asquith before his accession to the peerage and as Lord Oxford afterwards.

Asquith's achievements in peacetime have been overshadowed by his weaknesses in wartime. Many historians portray a vacillating prime minister, unable to present the necessary image of action and dynamism to the public.[3] Others[4] stress his continued high administrative ability. The dominant historical verdict is that there were two Asquiths: the urbane and conciliatory Asquith who was a successful peacetime leader and the hesitant and increasingly exhausted Asquith who practiced the politics of muddle and delay during the World War.[5]


Childhood, education and legal career

He was born in Morley, West Yorkshire, England to Joseph Dixon Asquith (10 February 1825 - 29 March 1860) and his wife Emily Willans (4 May 1828 - 12 December 1888). The Asquiths were a middle class family and members of the Congregational church. Joseph was a wool merchant and came to own his own woolens mill.

Herbert was seven years old when his father died. Emily and her children moved to the house of her father William Willans, a wool-stapler of Huddersfield. Herbert received schooling there and was later sent to a Moravian Church boarding school at Fulneck, near Leeds. In 1863, Herbert was sent to live with an uncle in London, where he entered the City of London School. He was educated there until 1870 and mentored by its headmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott.

In 1870, Asquith won a classical scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. In 1874, Asquith was awarded the Craven scholarship. Despite the unpopularity of the Liberals during the dying days of Gladstone's First Government, he became president of the Oxford Union in the Trinity (summer) term of his fourth year. He graduated that year and soon was elected a fellow at Balliol. Meanwhile he entered Lincoln's Inn as a pupil barrister and for a year served a pupillage under Charles Bowen.

He was called to the bar in 1876 and became prosperous in the early 1880s from practising at the chancery bar. Among other cases he appeared for the defence in the famous case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co.[6] Asquith took silk and was appointed QC in 1890. It was at Lincoln's Inn that in 1882 Asquith met R.B. Haldane, whom he would appoint as Lord Chancellor in 1912.



In his younger days he was called Herbert within the family, but his second wife called him Henry; his biographer Stephen Koss entitled the first chapter of his biography "From Herbert to Henry", referring to upward social mobility and his abandonment of his Yorkshire Nonconformist roots with his second marriage. However, in public he was invariably referred to only as H. H. Asquith. "There have been few major national figures whose Christian names were less well known to the public," writes his biographer, Roy Jenkins.[7] His opponents gave him the nickname "Squiff" or "Squiffy", a derogatory reference to his fondness for drink.[8]

When raised to the peerage in 1925, he proposed to take the title "Earl of Oxford" for the city near which he lived and the university he had attended. Objections were raised, especially by descendants of Earls of Oxford of previous creations (titles by then extinct, eg. Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, a leading Tory statesman of Queen Anne's reign), and his title was given in the form Earl of Oxford and Asquith. In practice, however, he was known as Lord Oxford, which some wags said was "like a suburban villa calling itself 'Versailles'."


He married Helen Kelsall Melland, daughter of a Manchester doctor, in 1877, and they had four sons and one daughter before she died from typhoid fever in 1891. These children were Raymond (1878-1916), Herbert (1881-1947), Arthur (1883–1939), Violet (1887-1969), and Cyril (1890-1954). Of these children, Violet and Cyril became life peers in their own right, Cyril becoming a law lord.

In 1894, he married Margot Tennant, a daughter of Sir Charles Tennant, 1st Bt.. They had two children, Elizabeth Charlotte Lucy (later Princess Antoine Bibesco) (1897-1945) and the film director Anthony (1902-1968).

In 1912, Asquith fell in love with Venetia Stanley, and his romantic obsession with her continued into 1915, when she married Edwin Montagu, a Liberal Cabinet Minister; a volume of Asquith's letters to Venetia, often written during Cabinet meetings and describing political business in some detail, has been published, but it is not known whether or not their relationship was sexually consummated.

All his children, except Anthony, married and left issue. His best-known descendant today is the actress Helena Bonham Carter, a granddaughter of Violet.

Early political career (1886-1908)

Asquith was elected to Parliament in 1886 as the Liberal representative for East Fife, in Scotland. He never served as a junior minister, but achieved his first significant post in 1892 when he became Home Secretary in the fourth cabinet of Gladstone. He retained his position when Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery took over in 1894. The Liberals lost power in the 1895 general election and for ten years were in opposition. In 1898 he was offered and turned down the opportunity to lead the Liberal Party, then deeply divided and unpopular, preferring to use the opportunity to earn money as a barrister.

During Asquith's period as deputy to the new leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, "C. B." was known to request his presence in parliamentary debate by saying, "Send for the sledge-hammer," referring to Asquith's reliable command of facts and his ability to dominate verbal exchange. Asquith toured the country refuting the arguments of Joseph Chamberlain, who had resigned from the Cabinet to campaign for tariffs against imported goods.

After the Conservative government of Arthur Balfour fell in December 1905 there was some speculation that Asquith and his allies Haldane and Sir Edward Grey would refuse to serve unless Campbell-Bannerman accepted a peerage, which would have left Asquith as the real leader in the House of Commons. However, the plot (called the "Relugas Compact" after the Scottish lodge where the men met) collapsed when Asquith agreed to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Grey became Foreign Secretary and Haldane Secretary of State for War). The party won a landslide victory in the 1906 general election.

Asquith demonstrated his staunch support of free trade at the Exchequer. He also introduced the first of the so-called Liberal reforms, including the first old age pensions, but was not as successful as his successor David Lloyd George in getting reforms through Parliament as the House of Lords still had a veto over legislation at that stage.

Campbell-Bannerman resigned due to illness on 3 April 1908 (dying at 10 Downing Street soon afterwards, as he was too sick to move) and Asquith succeeded him as Prime Minister. The King, Edward VII, was holidaying in Biarritz, and refused to return to London, citing health grounds.[9] Asquith was forced to travel to Biarritz for the official "kissing of hands" of the Monarch, the only time a British Prime Minister has formally taken office on foreign soil.

Prime Minister (1908-1916)

In the 1906 election the Liberals won their greatest landslide in history. In 1908 Asquith became prime minister with a stellar cabinet of leaders from all factions of the Liberal party. Working with David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill he passed the "New Liberalism" legislation setting up unemployment insurance and ending sweatshop conditions; he set the stage for the welfare state in Britain. In 1908 he introduced old age pensions.[10]

Liberal reforms

The Asquith government became involved in an expensive naval arms race with the German Empire and began an extensive social welfare programme (See Liberal reforms). The social welfare programme proved controversial, and Asquith's government faced severe (and sometimes barely legal) resistance from the Conservative Party. This came to a head in 1909, when David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, produced a deliberately provocative "People's Budget". Among the most controversial in British history, it systematically raised taxes on the rich, especially the landowners, to pay for the welfare programs (and for new battleships). The Conservatives, determined to stop passage, used their majority in the House of Lords to reject the bill. The Lords did not traditionally interfere with finance bills and their actions thus provoked a constitutional crisis, forcing the country to a general election in January 1910.

Asquith in 1908

The election resulted in a hung parliament, with the Liberals having two more seats than the Conservatives, but lacking an overall majority. The Liberals formed a minority government with the support of the Irish Nationalists.

At this point the Lords now allowed the budget — for which the Liberals had obtained an electoral mandate — to pass, but the argument had moved on. The radical solution in this situation was to threaten to have King Edward VII pack the House of Lords with freshly-minted Liberal peers, who would override the Lords' veto. With the Conservatives remaining recalcitrant in spring of 1910 (as the Lords' veto had prevented the Liberals from granting Irish Home Rule in 1893), Asquith began contemplating such an option. King Edward VII agreed to do so, after another general election, but died on 6 May 1910 (so heated had passions become that Asquith was accused of having "Killed the King" through stress). His son, King George V, was reluctant to have his first act in office be the carrying out of such a drastic attack on the aristocracy and it required all of Asquith's considerable powers to convince him to make the promise. This the King finally did before the second election of 1910, in December, although Asquith did not make this promise public at the time.

The Liberals again won, though their majority in the Commons was now dependent on MPs from Ireland, who had their own price (at the election the Liberal and Conservative parties were exactly equal in size; by 1914 the Conservative Party was actually larger owing to by-election victories). Nonetheless, Asquith was able to curb the powers of the House of Lords through the Parliament Act 1911, which essentially broke the power of the House of Lords. The Lords could now delay for two years, but with some exceptions not defeat outright, a bill passed by the Commons (this would later be reduced further by the Attlee government in the late 1940s, so the Lords would be obliged to accept a bill which had been passed three times in the same parliamentary session, with some exceptions).


The price of Irish support in this effort was the Third Irish Home Rule Bill, which Asquith delivered in legislation in 1912. Asquith's efforts over Irish Home Rule nearly provoked a civil war in Ireland over Ulster, only averted by the outbreak of a European war. Ulster Protestants, who wanted no part of a semi-independent Ireland, formed armed volunteer bands. British army officers (the so-called Curragh Mutiny) threatened to resign rather than move against Ulstermen whom they saw as loyal British subjects; Asquith was forced to take on the job of Secretary of State for War himself on the resignation of the incumbent, Seeley. The legislation for Irish Home Rule was due to come into effect, allowing for the two-year delay under the Parliament Act, in 1914 - by which time the Cabinet were discussing allowing the six predominantly Protestant counties of Ulster to opt out of the arrangement, which was ultimately suspended owing to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

World War

Although the Liberals had traditionally been the pacifistic party, the German invasion of Belgium in violation of treaties angered the Liberals, and raised the spectre of German control of the entire continent, which was intolerable. Asquith led the nation to war in alliance with France.

Asquith declared war on the German Empire on 4 August 1914 in response to the German invasion of Belgium, as the 1839 Treaty of London had committed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to guard Belgium's neutrality in the event of invasion, and secret talks since 1905, to which most of the Cabinet were not privy, had committed Britain to sending an Expeditionary Force to help France.


Asquith headed the Liberal government going into the war. Only two Cabinet Ministers (John Morley and John Burns) resigned. At first the dominant figures in the management of the war were Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) and the eminent Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener, who had taken over the War Office from Asquith himself.

However following a Cabinet split on 25 May 1915, caused by the Shell Crisis (or sometimes dubbed 'The Great Shell Shortage') and the failed offensive at the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, Asquith became head of a new coalition government, bringing senior figures from the Opposition into the Cabinet. At first the Coalition was seen as a political masterstroke, as the Conservative leader Bonar Law was given a relatively minor job (Secretary for the Colonies), whilst former Conservative leader A.J.Balfour was given the Admiralty (replacing Churchill, who was detested as a renegade by most Conservatives) and Kitchener, popular with the public, was stripped of his powers over munitions (given to a new ministry under Lloyd George) and strategy (given to the Generals Haig and Robertson, a move which stored up trouble for the future as they were now under little political control).

Asquith's perceived lack of vigour over the conduct of the war dissatisfied certain Liberals and the Conservative Party. On Whit Monday 1916 Bonar Law travelled to Asquith's home — the Wharf, at Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire — to discuss the succession to the job of Secretary of State for War (Kitchener had just drowned on a trip to Russia — Asquith offered the job to Bonar Law, who declined as he had already agreed with Lloyd George that the latter should have the job), and later told Max Aitken that he had been kept waiting while Asquith finished playing bridge with three ladies, although Asquith's daughter Violet later denied that this had been so. Women's Rights activists also turned against him when he adopted the 'Business as Usual' policy at the beginning of the war, while the introduction of conscription was unpopular with mainstream Liberals. Opponents partly blamed Asquith for a series of political and military disasters, including the 1916 Battle of the Somme, at which Asquith's son Raymond was killed, and the Easter Rising in Ireland (April 1916).

David Lloyd George, who had become Secretary of State for War but found himself frustrated by the reduced powers of that role, now campaigned with the support of the press baron Lord Northcliffe, to be made chairman of a small committee to manage the war. Asquith at first accepted, on condition that the committee reported to him daily and that he was allowed to attend if he chose, but then — furious at a "Times" editorial which made it clear that he was being sidelined — withdrew his consent unless he were allowed to chair the committee personally.

At this point Lloyd George resigned, and on 5 December 1916, no longer enjoying the support of the press or of leading Conservatives, Asquith himself resigned, declining to serve under any other Prime Minister (Balfour or Bonar Law having been mooted as potential new leaders of the coalition), possibly (although his motives are unclear) in the mistaken belief that nobody else would be able to form a government. After Bonar Law declined to form a government, citing Asquith's refusal to serve under him as a reason, Lloyd George became head of the coalition two days later — in accordance with his recent demands, heading a much smaller War Cabinet.

Later life (1916-1928)

Portrait of Asquith by Sir James Guthrie, circa 1924-1930

Asquith, along with most leading Liberals, refused to serve in the new government. He remained leader of the Liberal Party after 1916, but found it hard to conduct an official opposition in wartime. The Liberal Party finally split openly at The Maurice Debate in 1918, at which Lloyd George was accused (almost certainly correctly[citation needed] ) of hoarding manpower in the UK to prevent Haig from launching any fresh offensives (eg. Passchendaele, 1917), thus avoiding heavy British casualties but also contributing to the general Allied weakness during the resultant successful German offensives of spring 1918. Lloyd George survived the debate.

In 1918 Asquith declined an offer of the job of Lord Chancellor as this would have meant retiring from active politics in the House of Commons. By this time Asquith had become very unpopular with the public (as Lloyd George was perceived to have "won the war" by displacing him) and, along with most leading Liberals lost his seat in the 1918 elections, at which the Liberals split into Asquith and Lloyd George factions. Asquith was not opposed by a Coalition candidate, but the local Conservative Association eventually put up a candidate against him, who despite being refused the "Coupon" - the official endorsement given by Lloyd George and Bonar Law to Coalition candidates - defeated Asquith. Asquith returned to the House of Commons in a 1920 by-election in Paisley.

After Lloyd George ceased to be Prime Minister in late 1922 the two Liberal factions enjoyed an uneasy truce, which was deepened in late 1923 when Stanley Baldwin called an election on the issue of tariffs, which had been a major cause of the Liberal landslide of 1906. The election resulted in a hung Parliament, with the Liberals in third place behind Labour. Asquith played a major role in putting the minority Labour government of January 1924 into office, elevating Ramsay MacDonald to the Prime Ministership.

Asquith again lost his seat in the 1924 election held after the fall of the Labour government — at which the Liberals were reduced to the status of a minor party with only 40 or so MPs. In 1925 he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Asquith of Morley in the West Riding of the County of York and Earl of Oxford and Asquith. Lloyd George succeeded him as chairman of the Liberal Members of Parliament, but Asquith remained head of the party until 1926, when Lloyd George, who had quarrelled with Asquith once again over whether or not to support the General Strike (Asquith supported the government), succeeded him in that position as well.

In 1894 Asquith was elected a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn, and in served as Treasurer in 1920. In 1925 Asquith was nominated for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford, but lost to Viscount Cave in a contest dominated by party political feeling, and despite the support of his former political enemy the Earl of Birkenhead. On 6 November 1925 he was made a Freeman of Huddersfield.

Asquith's death and descendants

Asquith's Grave at All Saints' Church, Sutton Courtenay

Towards the end of his life Asquith was confined to a wheelchair by a stroke. He died at his country home The Wharf, Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire[11] in 1928. Margot died in 1945. They are both buried at All Saints' Church, Sutton Courtenay (now in Oxfordshire); Asquith requested that there should be no public funeral.

Asquith's estate was probated at £9,345 on 9 June 1928 (about £420 thousand today),[12] a modest amount for so prominent a man. In the 1880s and 1890s he had earned a handsome income as a barrister, but in later years had found it increasingly difficult to sustain his lavish lifestyle, and his mansion at Cavendish Square had had to be sold in the 1920s.

Asquith had five children by his first wife Helen, and five by his second wife Margot, but only his elder five children and two of his five younger children survived birth and infancy.

His eldest son Raymond Asquith was killed at the Somme in 1916, and thus the peerage passed to Raymond's only son Julian, now 2nd Earl of Oxford and Asquith (born in 1916, only a few months before his grandfather's resignation as Prime Minister).

His only daughter by his first wife, Violet (later Violet Bonham-Carter), became a well-regarded writer and a life peeress (as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury in her own right). His fourth son Sir Cyril, Baron Asquith of Bishopstone (1890-1954) became a Law Lord. His second and third sons married well, the poet Herbert Asquith (1881-1947) (who is often confused with his father) married the daughter of an Earl and Brigadier-General Arthur Asquith (1883-1939) married the daughter of a baron.

His two children by Margot were Elizabeth (later Princess Antoine Bibesco), a writer, and Anthony Asquith, a film-maker whose productions included The Browning Version and The Winslow Boy.

Among his living descendants are his great-granddaughter, the actress Helena Bonham Carter (b. 1966); and his great-grandson, Dominic Asquith, British Ambassador to Egypt since December 2007. Another leading British actress, Anna Chancellor (b. 1965), is also a descendant, being Herbert Asquith's great-great-granddaughter on her mother's side.

Asquith's Governments


  1. ^ "HH Asquith (1852 - 1928)". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/asquith_herbert.shtml. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  2. ^ Winston Churchill served longer as Prime Minister, but served two non-consecutive terms in office
  3. ^ Hazlehurst (1970); Koss (1976); Taylor (1965)
  4. ^ Cassar (1994)
  5. ^ Woodward notes that Cassar agrees with most of Asquith's contemporaries that Asquith was an exhausted leader who had lost his grip during the last half of 1916. David R. Woodward, review of Cassar, Albion Vol. 27, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), p. 529
  6. ^ Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company [1892] EWCA Civ 1; [1893] 1 QB 256
  7. ^ Roy Jenkins, Asquith (New York: Dutton, 1966), p. 13
  8. ^ "The politics of drinking in power". BBC News. 2006-01-06. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4587382.stm. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  9. ^ It is now known he was enjoying the company of his mistress Alice Keppel
  10. ^ The pensions were small sums given to some people over age 70 who passed a means (poverty) test. The goal was to reduce poverty among the elderly.
  11. ^ A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe
  12. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Measuring Worth: UK CPI.


  • Bates, Stephen. Asquith (2006) 176pp excerpt online
  • Blewett, Neal. The Peers, the Parties, and the People: The British General Elections of 1910 (1971)
  • Cassar, George H. Asquith as War Leader. 1994. 295 pp.
  • Clifford, Colin. The Asquiths (John Murray, 2002)* Cregier, Don M. "The Murder of the British Liberal Party," The History Teacher Vol. 3, No. 4 (May, 1970), pp. 27-36 online edition, blames Asquith, Lloyd George and the voters
  • Fair, John D. "Politicians, Historians, and the War: A Reassessment of the Political Crisis of December 1916," The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 49, No. 3, On Demand Supplement. (Sep., 1977), pp. D1329-D1343. in JSTOR
  • Fry, Michael. "Political Change in Britain, August 1914 to December 1916: Lloyd George Replaces Asquith: The Issues Underlying the Drama," The Historical Journal Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sep., 1988), pp. 609-627 in JSTOR
  • Hankey, Lord. The Supreme Command, 1914-1918. 2 vols. 1961.
  • Havighurst, Alfred F. Twentieth-Century Britain. 1966. standard survey online edition
  • Hazlehurst, Cameron. "Asquith as Prime Minister, 1908-1916," The English Historical Review Vol. 85, No. 336 (Jul., 1970), pp. 502-531 in JSTOR
  • Jenkins, Roy. Asquith: Portrait of a man and an era (1978), a standard biography
  • Koss, Stephen. Asquith (1976), a standard biography
  • Little, John Gordon. "H. H. Asquith and Britain's Manpower Problem, 1914-1915." History 1997 82(267): 397-409. Issn: 0018-2648; admits the problem was bad but exonerates Asquith Fulltext: in Ebsco
  • Matthew, H. C. G. "Asquith, Herbert Henry, first earl of Oxford and Asquith (1852–1928)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online
  • Powell, David. British Politics, 1910-1935: The Crisis of the Party System (2004)
  • Rowland, Peter. The Last Liberal Governments: The Promised Land, 1905-1910 (1969) 404pp, highly detailed narrative
  • Rowland, Peter. The Last Liberal Governments: Unfinished Business, 1911-1914 (1971) 405pp
  • Spender, J.A., and Cyril Asquith, Life of Lord Oxford and Asquith (2 vols) (Hutchinson, 1932)* Taylor, A. J. P. English History, 1914-1945. 1965, standard political history of the era
  • Turner, John. British Politics and the Great War: Coalition and Conflict, 1915-1918 (1992)
  • Wilson, Trevor. The Downfall of the Liberal Party 1914-1935. 1966.
  • Woodward, Sir Llewellyn. Great Britain and the War of 1914-1918. 1967.

Primary sources

  • H.H. Asquith, H.H.A.: Letters of the Earl of Oxford and Asquith to a Friend (2 vols) (Geoffrey Bles, 1933-4)
  • H.H. Asquith, ed. Michael and Eleanor Brock, Letters to Venetia Stanley (Oxford University Press, 1982)
  • Margot Asquith, Autobiography (2 vols) (Thornton Butterworth, 1920-2)
  • Lord Oxford and Asquith, Fifty Years in Parliament (2 vols) (Cassell, 1926)
  • Lord Oxford and Asquith, Memories and Recollections (2 vols) (Cassell, 1928)

See also

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Matthews
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir Matthew Ridley
Preceded by
Austen Chamberlain
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
David Lloyd George
Preceded by
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
5 April 1908 – 5 December 1916
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Andrew Bonar Law
Preceded by
John Edward Seely
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
The Earl Kitchener of Khartoum
Preceded by
Sir Edward Carson
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Sir Donald Maclean
Preceded by
Sir Donald Maclean
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Ramsay MacDonald
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Boyd Kinnear
Member of Parliament for East Fife
Succeeded by
Alexander Sprot
Preceded by
John Mills McCallum
Member of Parliament for Paisley
Succeeded by
Edward Rosslyn Mitchell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Leader of the British Liberal Party
Succeeded by
David Lloyd George
Preceded by
President of the Scottish Liberal Federation
Succeeded by
Marquess of Aberdeen
Preceded by
President of the Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Post vacant
Academic offices
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George Wyndham
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Baron Curzon of Kedleston
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Treves
Rector of the University of Aberdeen
1908 – bef. 1914
Next known title holder:
Winston Churchill
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl of Oxford and Asquith
Succeeded by
Julian Asquith
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Samuel Gompers
Cover of Time Magazine
8 October 1923
Succeeded by
Frank O. Lowden

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HERBERT HENRY ASQUITH (1852-), English statesman, son of Joseph Dixon Asquith, was born at Morley, Yorkshire, on the 12th of September 1852. He came of a middle-class Yorkshire family of pronounced Liberal and Nonconformist views, and was educated under Dr Edwin Abbott at the City of London school, from which he went as a scholar to Balliol, Oxford; there he had a distinguished career, taking a first-class in classics, winning the Craven scholarship and being elected a fellow of his college. He was president of the Union, and impressed all his contemporaries with his intellectual ability, Dr Jowett himself confidently predicting his signal success in any career he adopted. On leaving Oxford he went to the bar, and as early as 1890 became a K.C. In 1887 he unsuccessfully defended Mr R. B. Cunninghame Graham and Mr John Burns for their share in the riot in Trafalgar Square; and in 1889 he was junior to Sir Charles (afterwards Lord) Russell as counsel for the Irish Nationalists before the Parnell Commission - an association afterwards bitterly commented upon by Mr T. Healy in the House of Commons (March 30, 1908). But though he attained a fair practice at the bar, and was recognized as a lawyer of unusual mental distinction and clarity, his forensic success was not nearly so conspicuous as that of some of his contemporaries. His ambitions lay rather in the direction of the House of Commons. He had taken a prominent part in politics as a Liberal since his university days, especially in work for the Eighty Club, and in 1886 was elected member of parliament for East Fife, a seat which he retained in subsequent elections. Mr Gladstone was attracted by his vigorous ability as a speaker, and his evidence of sound political judgment; and in August 1892, though comparatively unknown to the general public, he was selected to move the vote of want of confidence which overthrew Lord Salisbury's government, and was made home secretary in the new Liberal ministry. At the Home Office he proved his capacity as an administrator; he was the first to appoint women as factory inspectors, and he was responsible for opening Trafalgar Square to Labour demonstrations; but he firmly refused to sanction the proposed amnesty for the dynamiters, and he was violently abused by extremists on account of the shooting of two men by the military at the strike riot at Featherstone in August 1893. It was he who coined the phrase (Birmingham, 1894) as to the government's "ploughing the sands" in their endeavour to pass Liberal legislation with a hostile House of Lords. His Employers' Liability Bill 1893 was lost because the government refused to accept the Lords' amendment as to "contracting-out." His suspensory bill, with a view to the disestablishment of the church in Wales, was abortive (1895), but it served to recommend him to the Welsh Nationalists as well as to the disestablishment party in England and Scotland. During his three years of office he more than confirmed the high opinion formed of his abilities.

The Liberal defeat in 1895 left him out of office for eleven years. He had married Miss Helen Melland in 1877, and was left with a family when she died in 1891; in 1894, however, he had married again, his second wife being the accomplished Miss Margaret ("Margot") Tennant, daughter of the wealthy ironmaster, Sir Charles Tennant, Bart., a lady well known in London society as a member of the coterie known as "Souls," and commonly identified as the original of Mr E. F. Benson's Dodo (1893). On leaving the Home Office in 1895, Mr Asquith decided to return to his work at the bar, a course which excited much comment, since it was unprecedented that a minister who had exercised judicial functions in that capacity should take up again the position of an advocate; but it was obvious that to maintain the tradition was difficult in the case of a man who had no sufficient independent means. During the years of Unionist ascendancy Mr Asquith divided his energies between his legal work and politics; but his adhesion to Lord Rosebery (q.v.) as a Liberal Imperialist at the time of the Boer War, while it strengthened his position in the eyes of the public, put him in some difficulty with his own party, led as it was by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was identified with the "proBoer" policy. He was one of the founders of the Liberal League, and his courageous definiteness of view and intellectual vigour marked him out as Lord Rosebery's chief lieutenant if that statesman should ever return to power. He thus became identified with the Roseberyite attitude towards Irish Home Rule; and, while he continued to uphold the Gladstonian policy in theory, in practice the Irish Nationalists felt_ that very little could be expected from his advocacy. In spite of his Imperialist views, however, he did much to smooth over the party difficulties, and when the tariff-reform movement began in 1903, he seized the opportunity for rallying the Liberals to the banner of freetrade and championing the "orthodox" English political economy, on which indeed he had been a lecturer in his younger days. During the critical years of Mr Chamberlain's crusade (1903-1906) he made himself the chief spokesman of the Liberal party, delivering a series of speeches in answer to those of the tariff-reform leader; and his persistent following and answering of Mr Chamberlain had undoubted effect. He also made useful party capital out of the necessity for financial retrenchment, owing to the large increase in public expenditure, maintained by the Unionist government even after the Boer War was over; II. 25 and his mastery of statistical detail and argument made his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer part of the natural order of things when in December 1905 Mr Balfour resigned and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (q.v.) became prime minister.

During Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's premiership, Mr Asquith gradually rose in political importance, and in 1907 the prime minister's ill-health resulted in much of the leadership in the Commons devolving on the chancellor of the exchequer. At first the party as a whole had regarded him somewhat coldly. And his unbending common-sense, and sobriety of criticism in matters which deeply interested the less academic Radicals who were enthusiasts for extreme courses, would have made the parliamentary situation difficult but for the exceptional popularity of the prime minister. In the autumn of 1907, however, as the latter's retention of office became more and more improbable, it became evident that no other possible successor had equal qualifications. The session of 1908 opened with Mr Asquith acting avowedly as the prime minister's deputy, and the course of business was itself of a nature to emphasize his claims. After two rather humdrum budgets he was pledged to inaugurate a system of old-age pensions (forming the chief feature of the budget of 1908, personally introduced by him at the beginning of May), and his speech in April on the Licensing Bill was a triumph of clear exposition, though later in the year, after passing the Commons, it was thrown out by the Lords. On the 5th of April it was announced that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had resigned and Mr Asquith been sent for by the king. As the latter was staying at Biarritz, the unprecedented course was followed of Mr Asquith journeying there for the purpose, and on the 8th he resigned the chancellorship of the exchequer and kissed hands as prime minister. The names of the new cabinet were announced on the 13th. The new appointments were: Lord Tweedmouth as lord president of the council (instead of the admiralty); Lord Crewe as colonial secretary (instead of lord president of the council); Mr D. Lloyd George, chancellor of the exchequer (transferred from the Board of Trade); Mr R. McKenna, first lord of the admiralty (instead of minister of education); Mr Winston Churchill, president of the Board of Trade; and Mr Walter Runciman, minister of education. Lord Elgin ceased to be colonial secretary, but Lord Loreburn (lord chancellor), Lord Ripon (lord privy seal), Mr H. Gladstone (Home Office), Sir E. Grey (foreign affairs), Mr Haldane (War Office), Mr Sinclair (secretary for Scotland; created in 1909 Lord Pentland), Mr Burns (Local Government Board), Lord Carrington (Board of Agriculture), Mr Birrell (Irish secretary), Mr S. Buxton (postmaster-general), Mr L. Harcourt (commissioner of works), Mr John Morley (India) and Sir Henry Fowler (duchy of Lancaster) retained their offices, the two latter being created peers. The Budget (see Lloyd George) was the sole feature of political interest in 5909, and its rejection in December by the Lords led to the general election of January 1910, which left the Liberals and Unionists practically equal, with the Labour and Irish parties dominating the situation (L. 275, U. 273, Lab. 40, I. 82). Mr Asquith was in a difficult position, but the ministry remained in office; and he had developed a concentration of forces with a view to attacking the veto of the House of Lords (see Parliament), when the death of the king in May caused a suspension of hostilities. A conference between the leaders on both sides was arranged, to discuss whether any compromise was possible, and controversy was postponed to an autumn session. (H. CH.) ASS (O.E. assa; Lat. asinus), a common name (the synonym "donkey" is supposed to be derived either by analogy from "monkey," or from the Christian name Duncan; cf. Neddy, Jack, Dicky, &c.) for different varieties of the sub-genus Asinus, belonging to the horse tribe, and especially for the domestic ass; it differs from the' horse in its smaller size, long ears, the character of its tail, fur and markings, and its proverbial dulness and obstinacy. The ancient Egyptians symbolized an ignorant person by the head and ears of an ass, and the Romans thought it a bad omen to meet one. In the middle ages the Germans of Westphalia made the ass the symbol of St Thomas, the incredulous apostle; the boy who was last to enter school on St Thomas' day was called the "Ass Thomas" (Gubernatis's Zoological Mythology, i. 362). The foolishness and obstinacy of the ass has caused the name to be transferred metaphorically to human beings; and the fifth proposition of Book i. of Euclid is known as the Pons Asinorum, bridge of asses.

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