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Lord Courtney.

Leonard Henry Courtney, 1st Baron Courtney of Penwith PC (6 July 1832 – 11 May 1918) was a British politician and man of letters, eldest son of JS Courtney, a banker, was born at Penzance.

At Cambridge, Leonard Courtney was Second Wrangler and first Smith's prizeman, and was elected a fellow of his college, St John's.[1] He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1858, was professor of political economy at University College from 1872 to 1875, and in December 1876, after a previous unsuccessful attempt, was elected to parliament for Liskeard in the Liberal interest. He continued to represent the borough, and Bodmin into which it was merged by the Reform Act of 1885, until 1900, when his attitude towards the South African War — he was one of the foremost of the so-called Pro-Boer Party — compelled his retirement.

Until 1885 he was a devoted adherent of William Ewart Gladstone, particularly in finance and foreign affairs. In 1880 he was under-secretary of state for the home department, in 1881 for the colonies, and in 1882 secretary to the treasury; but he was always a stubborn fighter for principle, and upon finding that the government's Reform Bill in 1884 contained no recognition of the scheme for proportional representation, to which he was deeply committed, he resigned office. He refused to support Mr Gladstone's Home Rule Bill in 1885, and was one of those who chiefly contributed to its rejection, and whose reputation for unbending integrity and intellectual eminence gave solidity to the Liberal Unionist party.

In 1886 he was elected chairman of committees in the House of Commons, and was consequently made a Privy Counsellor in 1889, and his efficiency in this office seemed to mark him out for the speakership in 1895. A Liberal Unionist, however, could only be elected by Conservative votes, and he had made himself objectionable to a large section of the party by his independent attitude on various questions, on which his Liberalism outweighed his party loyalty. He would in any case have been incapacitated by an affection of the eyesight, which for a while threatened to withdraw him from public life altogether.

Leonard Henry Courtney, caricature by "Spy".

After 1895 Mr Courtney's divergences from the Unionist party on questions other than Irish politics became gradually more marked. He became known in the House of Commons principally for his candid criticism of the measures introduced by his nominal leaders, and he was rather to be ranked among the Opposition than as a Ministerialist; and when the crisis with the Transvaal came in 1899, Mr Courtney's views, which remained substantially what they were when he supported the settlement after Majuba in 1881, had plainly become incompatible with his position even as a nominal follower of Lord Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain.

He gradually reverted to formal membership of the Liberal party, and in January 1906 unsuccessfully contested a Edinburgh West as a supporter of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman at the general election. Among the birthday honours of 1906 he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Courtney of Penwith (Cornwall). He was a great friend of Norman Garstin the artist.

Courtney, who in 1883 married Miss Catherine Potter (an elder sister of Beatrice Webb), was a prominent supporter of the women's movement. In earlier years he was a regular contributor to The Times, and he wrote numerous essays in the principal reviews on political and economic subjects. In 1901 he published a book on The Working Constitution of the United Kingdom.

He was President of the Royal Statistical Society, 1897-9.

Two of his brothers, John Mortimer Courtney (b. 1838), and William Prideaux Courtney (b. 1845), also attained public distinction, the former in the government service in Canada (from 1869, retiring in 1906), rising to be deputy-minister of finance, and the latter in the British civil service (1865-1892), and as a prominent man of letters and bibliographer.

He died without issue in 1918, his peerage becoming extinct.


  1. ^ Courtney, Leonard Henry in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Edward Horsman
Member of Parliament for Liskeard
Succeeded by
Constituency merged into Bodmin
Preceded by
Edward Frederick Leveson-Gower
James Wyld
Member of Parliament for Bodmin
Succeeded by
Sir Lewis Molesworth
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Wellesley Peel
Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Succeeded by
The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by
Mountstuart Duff
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Evelyn Ashley
Preceded by
Lord Frederick Cavendish
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
John Hibbert
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
(new creation)
Baron Courtney of Penwith
Succeeded by
(title extinct)


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