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The Right Honourable
 The Viscount Melbourne 
PC FRS


In office
18 April 1835 – 30 August 1841
Monarch William IV
Victoria
Preceded by Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Succeeded by Sir Robert Peel, Bt
In office
16 July 1834 – 14 November 1834
Monarch William IV
Preceded by The Earl Grey
Succeeded by The Duke of Wellington

Born 15 March 1779(1779-03-15)
London, England
Died 24 November 1848 (aged 69)
Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire
Political party Whig
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Signature

William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, PC, FRS (15 March 1779 – 24 November 1848) was a British Whig statesman who served as Home Secretary (1830–1834) and Prime Minister (1834 and 1835–1841), and was a mentor of Queen Victoria. The city of Melbourne in Australia was named after him.

Contents

Early life

Born in London to an aristocratic Whig family and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] he fell in with a group of Romantic Radicals that included Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. In 1805 he succeeded his elder brother as heir to his father's title and he married Lady Caroline Ponsonby. The next year he was elected to the British House of Commons as the Whig MP for Leominster. For the election in 1806 he was moved to the seat of Haddington burghs and for the 1807 election successfully stood for Portarlington (a seat he held until 1812).[2]

He first came to general notice for reasons he would rather have avoided: his wife had a public affair with Lord Byron — she coined the famous characterisation of him as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know". The resulting scandal was the talk of Britain in 1812. Eventually the two reconciled and though they separated in 1825, her death (1828) affected him considerably.

In 1816 Lamb was returned for Peterborough by Whig grandee Lord Fitzwilliam. He told Lord Holland that he was committed to the Whig principles of the Glorious Revolution but not to "a heap of modern additions, interpolations, facts and fictions".[2] He therefore spoke against parliamentary reform and voted for the suspending of habeas corpus in 1817 when sedition was rife.[2]

Lamb's hallmark was finding the middle ground. Though a Whig, he accepted the post of Irish Secretary (1827) in the moderate Tory governments of George Canning and Lord Goderich. Upon the death of his father in 1828 and his becoming Viscount Melbourne, he moved to the House of Lords.

Home Secretary: 1830–1834

When the Whigs came to power under Lord Grey in November 1830 he became Home Secretary in the new government. During the disturbances of 1830-32 Melbourne "acted both vigorously and sensitively, and it was for this function that his reforming brethren thanked him heartily".[2] In the aftermath of the Swing Riots of 1830-31 he countered the Tory magistrates' alarmism by refusing to resort to military force and instead he advocated magistrates' usual powers be fully enforced along with special constables and financial rewards for the arrest of rioters and rabble-rousers. He appointed a special commission to try approximately one thousand of those arrested and ensured that justice was strictly adhered to: one third were acquitted; and most of the one-fifth sentenced to death were instead transported.[2] The disturbances over reform in 1831-32 were countered with the enforcement of the usual laws and again Melbourne refused to pass emergency legislation against sedition.[2]

Prime Minister: 1834, 1835–1841

Compromise was the key to many of Melbourne's actions. He was opposed in theory to the radical governmental reforms proposed by the Whigs, but reluctantly believed that they were necessary to forestall the threat of revolution. While he was less radical than many, when Lord Grey resigned (July 1834), Melbourne was widely seen as the most acceptable replacement among the Whig leaders, and became Prime Minister.

King William IV's opposition to the Whigs' reforming ways led him to dismiss Melbourne in November. He then gave the Tories under Sir Robert Peel an opportunity to form a government. Peel's failure to win a House of Commons majority in the resulting general election (January 1835) made it impossible for him to govern, and the Whigs returned to power under Melbourne in April 1835. This was the last time a British monarch attempted to dismiss a prime minister; notwithstanding the dismissal after a constitutional crisis, of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General John Kerr on behalf of the British monarch Elizabeth II in 1975.

The next year, Melbourne was once again involved in a sex scandal. This time he was the victim of attempted blackmail from the husband of a close friend, society beauty and author Caroline Norton. The husband demanded £1400, and when he was turned down he accused Melbourne of having an affair with his wife. In the early 19th century even one sexual scandal (like the one two decades earlier involving Lord Byron) would be enough to finish off the career of most men, so it is a measure of the respect contemporaries had for his integrity that Melbourne's government did not fall. After Mr. Norton was unable to produce any evidence of an affair, the scandal died away.

Nonetheless, as Boyd Hilton records, "it is irrefutable that Melbourne's personal life was problematic. Spanking sessions with aristocratic ladies were harmless, not so the whippings administered to orphan girls taken into his household as objects of charity."[3]

Melbourne was Prime Minister when Queen Victoria came to the throne (June 1837). Barely eighteen, she was only just breaking free from the domineering influence of her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's advisor, John Conroy. Over the next four years Melbourne trained her in the art of politics and the two became friends: Victoria was quoted as saying she considered him like a father (her own had died when she was only eight months old), and Melbourne's daughter had died at a young age. Melbourne was given a private apartment at Windsor Castle, and unfounded rumours circulated for a time that Victoria would marry Melbourne, forty years her senior.

Lord Melbourne.

In May 1839 the Bedchamber Crisis occurred when Melbourne tried to resign and Victoria rejected the request of prospective Tory prime minister Robert Peel that she dismiss some of the wives and daughters of Whig MPs who made up her personal entourage. As monarch she was expected to avoid any hint of favouritism to a party out of power, so her action (which was supported by the Whigs) led to Peel's refusal to form a new government. Melbourne was eventually persuaded to stay on as Prime Minister. On 25 February 1841, he was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society.[4]

Melbourne left a considerable list of reforming legislation - not as long as that of Lord Grey, but worthy nonetheless. Among his administration's acts were a reduction in the number of capital offences, reforms of local government, and the reform of the Poor laws. This restricted the terms on which the poor were allowed relief and establishing compulsory admission to workhouses for the impoverished poor.

Later life: 1841–1848

Even after Melbourne resigned permanently in August 1841, Victoria continued writing to him. This too was forbidden, however, for the same reasons as before, and eventually the correspondence was forced to an end. Melbourne's role faded away as Victoria came to rely on her new husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as well as on herself.

Legacy

The city of Melbourne, Australia, was named in his honour in March 1837, as he was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time. (For further information see Melbourne.)

Another lasting memorial is his favourite, and most famous, dictum in politics: "Why not leave it alone?", quoted by those who object to change for change's sake.

Melbourne's Governments

Notes

  1. ^ Lamb, the Hon. Henry William in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Peter Mandler, ‘Lamb, William, second Viscount Melbourne (1779–1848)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 27 Dec 2009.
  3. ^ Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846 (Oxford 2006), p. 500.
  4. ^ "Lists of Royal Society Fellows". http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=1727. Retrieved 2006-12-15. 

References

  • Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846 (Oxford 2006).
  • Peter Mandler, ‘Lamb, William, second Viscount Melbourne (1779–1848)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 27 Dec 2009.
  • Philip Ziegler, Melbourne: A Life of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1976).

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Goulburn
Chief Secretary for Ireland
1827 – 1828
Succeeded by
The Lord Francis Leveson-Gower
Preceded by
Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Home Secretary
1830 – 1834
Succeeded by
Viscount Duncannon
Preceded by
The Earl Grey
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
16 July 1834 – 14 November 1834
Succeeded by
The Duke of Wellington
(caretaker, followed by)
Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Leader of the House of Lords
1834
Succeeded by
The Duke of Wellington
Preceded by
Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
18 April 1835 – 30 August 1841
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Preceded by
The Duke of Wellington
Leader of the House of Lords
1835 – 1841
Succeeded by
The Duke of Wellington
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Lubbock
Charles Kinnaird
Member of Parliament for Leominster
with John Lubbock

1806
Succeeded by
John Lubbock
Henry Bonham
Preceded by
Sir Oswald Mosley
Member of Parliament for Portarlington
18071812
Succeeded by
Arthur Shakespeare
Preceded by
William Elliot
George Ponsonby
Member of Parliament for Peterborough
with William Elliot 1816–1819
Sir James Scarlett 1819

1816 – 1819
Succeeded by
Sir James Scarlett
Sir Robert Heron
Preceded by
Thomas Brand
Sir John Saunders Sebright
Member of Parliament for Hertfordshire
with Sir John Saunders Sebright

1819 – 1826
Succeeded by
Sir John Saunders Sebright
Nicolson Calvert
Preceded by
George Canning
William Henry John Scott
Member of Parliament for
Newport (Isle of Wight)
with William Henry John Scott

1827
Succeeded by
William Henry John Scott
Spencer Perceval
Preceded by
William Russell
Charles Tennyson
Member of Parliament for Bletchingley
with Charles Tennyson

1827 – 1828
Succeeded by
Charles Tennyson
William Ewart
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Peniston Lamb
Baron Melbourne
1829 – 1848
Succeeded by
Frederick Lamb
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Peniston Lamb
Viscount Melbourne
1829 – 1848
Succeeded by
Frederick Lamb
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Simple English

The Viscount Melbourne
File:2nd V

In office
16 July 1834 – 14 November 1834
18 April 183530 August 1841
Preceded by The Earl Grey
Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Succeeded by The Duke of Wellington
Sir Robert Peel, Bt

Born 15 March 1779
London, England
Died 24 November 1848
Political party Whig

William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (March 15, 1779 - November 24, 1848) was a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Lamb was elected to Parliament in 1806 as a member of the Whig party. Lamb served as Irish Secretary in the government.

Lamb became Lord Melbourne when his father died. His family home was in Melbourne in Derbyshire. Melbourne in Australia is named after William Lamb.

Melbourne became Home Secretary during Lord Grey's government. Grey resigned in 1834 and Melbourne became Prime Minister.

Melbourne was dismissed by King William IV who wanted the Robert Peel's party. Melbourne came back when the Whigs won the next election.

Melbourne was Prime Minister when Queen Victoria became queen. He helped her learn about how the government worked.

Melbourne helped to reduce the number of people killed for doing crimes. Melbourne also made changes to local government.

Melbourne resigned in 1841. Melbourne died on November 24, 1848.


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