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Henry Campbell-Bannerman
PM Henry Campbell-Bannerman.jpg
Henry Campbell-Bannerman, c. 1890s
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
5 December 1905 – 3 April 1908
Monarch Edward VII
Preceded by Arthur Balfour
Succeeded by H. H. Asquith
Leader of the Opposition
In office
6 February 1899 – 5 December 1905
Monarch Victoria
Edward VII
Prime Minister The Marquess of Salisbury
Arthur Balfour
Preceded by Sir William Vernon Harcourt
Succeeded by Arthur Balfour
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
6 February 1899 – 22 April 1908
Preceded by Sir William Vernon Harcourt
Succeeded by H. H. Asquith
Secretary of State for War
In office
18 August 1892 – 21 June 1895
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by Edward Stanhope
Succeeded by The Marquess of Lansdowne
In office
6 February 1886 – 20 July 1886
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by The Earl of Cranbrook
Succeeded by William Henry Smith
Chief Secretary for Ireland
In office
23 October 1884 – 25 June 1885
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by George Otto Trevelyan
Succeeded by Sir William Hart Dyke
Additional positions
Personal details
Born Henry Campbell
7 September 1836
Kelvinside House, Glasgow, Scotland
Died 22 April 1908(1908-04-22) (aged 71)
10 Downing Street, London, England
Resting place Meigle Parish Church, Perthshire
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Charlotte Bruce
(m. 1860; died 1906)
Education University of Glasgow
Trinity College, Cambridge
Profession Merchant
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman GCB PC ( Campbell; 7 September 1836 – 22 April 1908) was a British statesman and Liberal politician. He served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1905 to 1908 and leader of the Liberal Party from 1899 to 1908. He also served as secretary of state for war twice, in the cabinets of Gladstone and Rosebery. He was the first first lord of the treasury to be officially called the "prime minister", the term only coming into official usage five days after he took office. He remains the only person to date to hold the positions of prime minister and Father of the House at the same time, and the last Liberal leader to gain a UK parliamentary majority.

Known colloquially as "CB", he firmly believed in free trade, Irish Home Rule and the improvement of social conditions, including reduced working hours. A. J. A. Morris, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, called him "Britain's first and only Radical prime minister". Following a general-election defeat in 1900, Campbell-Bannerman went on to lead the Liberal Party to a landslide victory over the Conservative Party at the 1906 general election – the last election in which the Liberals gained an overall majority in the House of Commons. The government he subsequently led passed legislation to ensure trade unions could not be liable for damages incurred during strike action, introduced free school meals for all children, and empowered local authorities to purchase agricultural land from private landlords. Campbell-Bannerman resigned as prime minister in April 1908 due to ill-health and was replaced by his chancellor, H. H. Asquith. He died 19 days later – the only prime minister to die in the official residence, 10 Downing Street.

Early life

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was born on 7 September 1836 at Kelvinside House in Glasgow as Henry Campbell, the second son and youngest of the six children born to Sir James Campbell of Stracathro (1790–1876) and his wife Janet Bannerman (1799–1873). James Campbell had started work at a young age in the clothing trade in Glasgow, before in 1817 going into partnership with his brother, William Campbell, to found J.& W. Campbell & Co., a warehousing, general wholesale and retail drapery business. In 1831 James Campbell was elected as a member of Glasgow Town Council and in the 1837 and 1841 general elections he stood as a Conservative candidate for the Glasgow constituency. He served as the Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1840 to 1843.

Campbell-Bannerman was educated at the High School of Glasgow (1845–1847), the University of Glasgow (1851–1853), and Trinity College, Cambridge (1854–1858), where he achieved a Third-Class Degree in the Classical Tripos. After graduating, he joined the family firm of J. & W. Campbell & Co., based in Glasgow's Ingram Street, and was made a partner in the firm in 1860. He was also commissioned as a lieutenant into the 53rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, which was recruited from employees of the firm, and in 1867 was promoted to captain.

In 1871, Henry Campbell became Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the addition of the surname Bannerman being a requirement of the will of his uncle, Henry Bannerman, from whom in that year he had inherited the estate of Hunton Lodge (now Hunton Court) in Hunton, Kent. He did not like the "horrid long name" that resulted and invited friends to call him "C.B." instead.

Henry Campbell-Bannerman had an older brother, James Alexander Campbell, who in 1876 inherited their father's 4000-acre Stracathro estate. He served as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities from 1880 to 1906.


In 1860, Campbell-Bannerman married Sarah Charlotte Bruce, and he and his new bride set up house at 6 Clairmont Gardens in the Park district of the West End of Glasgow. The couple never had any children.

C.B. and Charlotte were an exceptionally close couple throughout their marriage; in the words of one historian, they "shared every thought and possible moment". Charlotte may have been the person who mostly encouraged CB to stand for election, given his local profile.

For several years an aunt occupied the big house at Hunton which Campbell-Bannerman had inherited in 1871. For their country residence, Campbell-Bannerman and his wife lived elsewhere, including Gennings Park, which they did not leave until 1887. They first occupied Hunton Lodge in 1894.

Campbell-Bannerman spoke French, German and Italian fluently, and every summer he and his wife spent a couple of months in Europe, usually in France and at the spa town of Marienbad in Bohemia. C.B. had a deep appreciation for French culture, and particularly enjoyed the novels of Anatole France. They also had an occasional home at Belmont Castle, Meigle, in Scotland.

CB and his wife were both reported to be enormous eaters, and in their later years each weighed nearly 20 stone (130 kg; 280 lb). Charlotte died in 1906. After losing her, CB was said to 'never be the same'.

Member of Parliament

In April 1868, at the age of thirty-one, Campbell-Bannerman stood as a Liberal candidate in a by-election for the Stirling Burghs constituency, narrowly losing to fellow Liberal John Ramsay. However, at the general election in November of that year, Campbell-Bannerman defeated Ramsay and was elected to the House of Commons as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs, a constituency that he would go on to represent for almost forty years.

Campbell-Bannerman rose quickly through the ministerial ranks, being appointed as Financial Secretary to the War Office in Gladstone's first government in November 1871, serving in this position until 1874 under Edward Cardwell, the Secretary of State for War. When Cardwell was raised to the peerage, Campbell-Bannerman became the Liberal government's chief spokesman on defence matters in the House of Commons. He was appointed to the same position from 1880 to 1882 in Gladstone's second government, and after serving as Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty between 1882 and 1884, Campbell-Bannerman was promoted to the Cabinet as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1884, an important role with ongoing Home Rule debates.

In Gladstone's third and fourth governments, in 1886 and 1892 to 1894 respectively, as well as the Earl of Rosebery's government from 1894 to 1895, Campbell-Bannerman served as the Secretary of State for War. His only military experience was thirty years earlier with the 53rd Lanarkshire Rifles Volunteers. During his time in the War office, he introduced an experimental eight-hour day for the workers at the Woolwich Arsenal munitions factory. The results demonstrated that there was no loss in production. Therefore, Campbell-Bannerman extended the eight-hour day to the Army Clothing Department.

He persuaded the Duke of Cambridge, the Queen's cousin, to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces. This earned Campbell-Bannerman a knighthood. In 1895, Campbell unwittingly caused the fall of Rosebery's ministry, when the Earl's government lost a vote over C.B.'s handling of cordite reserves. Unionist MPs unexpectedly forced a successful motion of censure, and the failure led to Rosebery's resignation and the return to power of Lord Salisbury. In 1895, Campbell-Bannerman lobbied strongly to be appointed Speaker of the House of Commons, in part because he sought a less stressful role in public life. Rosebery, backed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer William Harcourt, refused since Campbell-Bannerman was viewed as indispensable to the Government's front-bench team in the lower House.

Leader of the Liberal Party

Henry Campbell-Bannerman Vanity Fair 10 August 1899
Campbell-Bannerman caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1899

On 6 February 1899, Campbell-Bannerman succeeded Sir William Vernon Harcourt as Leader of the Liberals in the House of Commons, and Leader of the Opposition. The Boer War of 1899 split the Liberal Party into Imperialist and Pro-Boer factions, with CB strongly critical of the use of concentration camps as ' methods of barbarism'. Campbell-Bannerman faced the difficult task of holding together the strongly divided party, which was subsequently and unsurprisingly defeated in the "khaki election" of 1900. Campbell-Bannerman caused particular friction within his own party when in a speech to the National Reform Union in June 1901 and shortly after meeting Emily Hobhouse, he described the concentration camps set up by the British in the Boer War as "methods of barbarism".

The Liberal Party was later able to unify over its opposition to the Education Act 1902 and the Brussels Sugar Convention of 1902, in which Britain and nine other nations attempted to stabilise world sugar prices by setting up a commission to investigate export bounties and decide on penalties. The Conservative Government of Arthur Balfour had threatened countervailing duties and subsidies of West Indian sugar producers as a negotiating tool. The convention's intent was to lead to the gradual phasing out of export bounties, and Britain would then forbid the importation of subsidised sugar. In a speech to the Cobden Club on 28 November 1902, Campbell-Bannerman denounced the convention as threatening the sovereignty of Britain.

Picture of Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Campbell-Bannerman in 1904

However, it was Joseph Chamberlain's proposals for Tariff Reform in May 1903 that provided the Liberals with a great and nationally resonating cause on which to campaign and unify, due to its protectionist nature. Chamberlain's proposals dominated politics through the rest of 1903 up until the general election of 1906. Campbell-Bannerman, like other Liberals, held an unshakeable belief in free trade. In a speech at Bolton on 15 October 1903, he explained in greater detail the reasoning behind Liberal support for free trade.

In 1903, the Liberal Party's Chief Whip Herbert Gladstone negotiated a pact with Ramsay MacDonald of the Labour Representation Committee to withdraw Liberal candidates to help LRC candidates in certain seats, in return for LRC withdrawal in other seats to help Liberal candidates. This attempt to undermine and outflank the Conservatives, which would prove to be successful, formed what became known as the "Gladstone–MacDonald pact". Campbell-Bannerman got on well with Labour leaders, and he said in 1903 "we are keenly in sympathy with the representatives of Labour. We have too few of them in the House of Commons". Despite this comment, and his sympathies with many elements of the Labour movement, he was not a socialist. One biographer has written that "he was deeply and genuinely concerned about the plight of the poor and so had readily adopted the rhetoric of progressivism, but he was not a progressive".

Prime minister

Sketch of Campbell-Bannerman

The Liberals found themselves suddenly returned to power in December 1905 when Arthur Balfour resigned as prime minister, prompting Edward VII to invite Campbell-Bannerman to form a minority government as the first Liberal prime minister of the 20th century. At 69, he was the oldest person to become prime minister for the first time in the 20th century, though Balfour had hoped that Campbell-Bannerman would not be able to form a strong government, ushering in a general election that he could win. Campbell-Bannerman also faced problems within his own party, through the so-called "Relugas Compact" between H. H. Asquith, Sir Edward Grey and Richard Haldane, who planned to force him into the House of Lords, weakening him as prime minister and effectively allowing Asquith to govern as Leader of the House of Commons. Campbell-Bannerman saw off both of these issues by offering the positions of chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and secretary of state for war to Asquith, Grey and Haldane respectively, which all three accepted, whilst immediately dissolving Parliament and calling a general election.

Helped by the Lib–Lab pact that he had negotiated, the splits in the Conservatives over free trade and the positive election campaign that he fought, the Liberals won by a landslide, gaining 216 seats. The Conservatives saw their number of seats more than halve, and Arthur Balfour, now as Leader of the Opposition, lost his Manchester East seat to the Liberals. Campbell-Bannerman was the last Liberal to lead his party to an absolute majority in the House of Commons. Now with a majority of 125, Campbell-Bannerman was returned to Downing Street as a considerably-strengthened Prime Minister. The defeat of the Relugas conspirators in the wake of this stunning victory was later referred to as "one of the most delicious comedies in British political history".

Whereas in the past it had never been used formally, Campbell-Bannerman was the first First Lord of the Treasury to be given official use of the title "Prime Minister", a standard that continues to the present day. In 1907, by virtue of being the member of Parliament with the longest continuous service, Campbell-Bannerman became the Father of the House, the only serving British prime minister to do so.

Social reforms

In his election address, Campbell-Bannerman spoke in favour of reforming the poor law, reducing unemployment and improving working conditions in sweated factories. The Liberal Imperialist Richard Haldane claimed that Campbell-Bannerman's government "was if anything, too conservative...with that dear old Tory, C.B., at the head of it, determined to do as little as a fiery majority will allow him". However the historian A. J. A. Morris disagreed with this judgment, stating that Campbell-Bannerman was in 1906 what he had always been: a Gladstonian Liberal who favoured retrenchment in public expenditure that was perhaps at odds with any ambitious scheme of social reform. Another biographer, John Wilson, called Campbell-Bannerman a moderate social reformer, stating that Campbell-Bannerman favoured a better deal for the poor and the workers but like Gladstone he was opposed to too much state interference. He was said to have commented on the futility of 'our wealth, and learning and the fine flower of our civilisation and our Constitution and our political theories' calling them 'but dust and ashes' if the people who labour, the workers on whom 'the whole social fabric is maintained', continued to 'live and die in darkness and misery' in what he called 'the recesses of our great cities'. CB said that 'sunshine must be allowed to stream in, the water and the food must be kept pure and unadulterated, the streets light and clean'.

The government of Campbell-Bannerman allowed local authorities to provide free school meals (though this was not compulsory) and also strengthened the power of the trade unions with their Trade Disputes Act 1906. The Workmen's Compensation Act 1906 gave some workers the right against their employer to a certain amount of compensation if they suffered an accident at work. The Probation of Offenders Act 1907 was passed, which established supervision within the community for young offenders as an alternative to prison. Under Campbell-Bannerman's successor, H. H. Asquith, many far-reaching reforms were implemented, but Campbell-Bannerman himself had, in 1906, received a deputation from representatives of 25 women's suffragist groups (representing 1,000 women) though he said that his cabinet would object to this change.

House of Lords reforms

In the matter of House of Lords reforms, which was to become the dominant issue of the 1910 elections, Campbell-Bannerman proposed on 26 June 1907 that the Lords enjoy purely ornamental ancient privileges, but be deprived of all real legislative power; and that the Commons after tolerating for a few months the futile criticisms of the Lords would be empowered by mere lapse of a brief fraction of a year to ignore the very existence of a Second Chamber, and to proceed to pass their statute on their own authority, like the ordinances of the Long Parliament during the English civil war. In essence, he maintained that the predominance of the Commons must prevail, without any appeal to the constituencies (i.e. a further General Election). William Sharp McKechnie characterised this as an "untried one-chambered legislature" and stated that "it could only be carried out by some revolutionary procedure."

Campbell-Bannerman and Lansdowne
Punch cartoon dated 19 February 1908, making fun of the relationship between House of Commons (Henry Campbell-Bannerman) and House of Lords (Lord Lansdowne).

Foreign affairs

Campbell-Bannerman's first speech as prime minister endorsed the intent of the Hague Convention of 1907 to limit armaments. In March 1907, he published "The Hague Conference and the Limitation of Armaments", an article in which he cited the growing popular and moral authority of the peace movement as reasons to freeze the status quo in the naval arms race between Germany and Britain. His effort was generally considered a failure; in the words of historian Barbara Tuchman, "the argument was narrow steering between the rocks of conscience and the shoals of political reality and it pleased nobody." The 1907 conference ultimately restricted only a few new classes of armaments, such as submarine mines and projectiles fired or dropped from hot air balloons, but placed no limitations on naval expenditures.

In 1906, Campbell-Bannerman created a minor diplomatic incident with the Russian government when he responded to Tsar Nicholas II's dissolution of the Duma with a speech in which he declared, "The Duma is dead; long live the Duma!" Nonetheless, his premiership saw the Entente with Russia in 1907, brought about principally by the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. In January 1906 Grey sanctioned staff talks between Britain and France's army and navy but without any binding commitment. These included the plan to send one hundred thousand British soldiers to France within two weeks of a Franco-German war. Campbell-Bannerman was not informed of these at first but when Grey told him about them he gave them his blessing. This was the origin of the British Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France in 1914 at the start of the Great War with Germany. Campbell-Bannerman did not inform the rest of the Cabinet of these staff talks because there was no binding commitment and because he wanted to preserve the unity of the government. The radical members of the Cabinet such as Lord Loreburn, Lord Morley and Lord Bryce would have opposed such co-operation with the French.

Campbell-Bannerman visited France in April 1907 and met the Radical prime minister, Georges Clemenceau. Clemenceau believed that the British would help France in a war with Germany but Campbell-Bannerman told him Britain was in no way committed. He may have been unaware that the staff talks were still ongoing.

Campbell-Bannerman's biographer John Wilson has described the meeting as "a clash between two fundamentally different philosophies". The Liberal journalist and friend of Campbell-Bannerman, F. W. Hirst, claimed that Campbell-Bannerman "had not a ghost of a notion that the French Entente was being converted into a...return to the old balance of power which had involved Great Britain in so many wars on the Continent. That...Grey and Haldane did not inform the Cabinet is astonishing; that a true-hearted apostle of peace like Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman should have known of the danger and yet concealed it from his colleagues is incredible, and I am happy to conclude...with an assurance that in the days of his triumph the Liberal leader, having fought a good fight, kept the faith to the end and was in no way responsible for the European tragedy that came to pass six years after his death".

Campbell-Bannerman's government granted the Boer states, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, self-government within the British Empire through an Order in Council so as to bypass the House of Lords. This led to the Union of South Africa in 1910. The first South African Prime Minister, General Louis Botha, believed that "Campbell-Bannerman's act [in giving self-government back to the Boers] had redressed the balance of the Anglo-Boer War, or had, at any rate, given full power to the South Africans themselves to redress it". The former Boer general, Jan Smuts, wrote to David Lloyd George in 1919: "My experience in South Africa has made me a firm believer in political magnanimity, and your and Campbell-Bannerman's great record still remains not only the noblest but also the most successful page in recent British statesmanship". However the Unionist politician Lord Milner opposed it, saying in August 1907: "People here – not only Liberals – seem delighted, and to think themselves wonderfully fine fellows for having given South Africa back to the Boers. I think it all sheer lunacy".

Campbell-Bannerman's government


  • January 1907 – Augustine Birrell succeeds Bryce as Irish Secretary. Reginald McKenna succeeds Birrell at the Board of Education.
  • March 1907 – Lewis Harcourt, the First Commissioner of Works, enters the Cabinet.

Retirement and death

Not long after he became Father of the House in 1907, Campbell-Bannerman's health took a turn for the worse. Following a series of heart attacks, the most serious in November 1907, he began to fear that he would not be able to survive to the end of his term. He eventually resigned as prime minister on 3 April 1908, and was succeeded by his Chancellor of the Exchequer, H. H. Asquith. Campbell-Bannerman remained both a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party, and continued to live at 10 Downing Street in the immediate aftermath of his resignation, intending to make other arrangements in the near future. However, his health began to decline at an even quicker pace than before, and he died on 22 April 1908, nineteen days after his resignation. His last words were "This is not the end of me". He remains to date the only former prime minister to die within 10 Downing Street. Campbell-Bannerman was buried in the churchyard of Meigle Parish Church, Perthshire, near Belmont Castle, his home since 1887. A relatively modest stone plaque set in the exterior wall of the church serves as a memorial.

St Mary's Church, Hunton (English Heritage Legacy ID: 432265) contains a marble tablet on the nave wall dedicated to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.


Henry Campbell-Bannerman by Paul Raphael Montford
Henry Campbell-Bannerman by Paul Raphael Montford

On the day of Campbell-Bannerman's death the flag of the National Liberal Club was lowered to half-mast, the blinds were drawn and his portrait was draped in black as a sign of mourning. John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, paid tribute to Campbell-Bannerman by saying that "We all feel that Ireland has lost a brave and considerate friend".

Robert Smillie, the trade unionist and Labour MP, said that, after Gladstone, Campbell-Bannerman was the greatest man he had ever met.

George Dangerfield said Campbell-Bannerman's death "was like the passing of true Liberalism. Sir Henry had believed in Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform, those amiable deities who presided so complacently over large portions of the Victorian era... And now almost the last true worshipper at those large, equivocal altars lay dead". Campbell-Bannerman held firmly to the Liberal principles of Richard Cobden and William Ewart Gladstone. It was not until Campbell-Bannerman's departure that the doctrines of New Liberalism came to be implemented. R. B. McCallum stated that "Campbell-Bannerman was of pure Gladstonian vintage and a hero to the Radicals". Friedrich Hayek said: "Perhaps the government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman... should be regarded as the last Liberal government of the old type, while under his successor, H. H. Asquith, new experiments in social policy were undertaken which were only doubtfully compatible with the older Liberal principles".

Other historical accounts, however, have portrayed Campbell-Bannerman as a genuine progressive figure. According to one study, Campbell-Bannerman's views "were broadly those of the party's centre-left: a belief in individual freedom, a desire to help the disadvantaged, an aversion to imperialism and support for Irish self-government." During his time as prime minister, Campbell-Bannerman supported such measures as safeguards for trade unions, old-age pensions, and urban planning to improve housing. As far back as 1903, Campbell-Bannerman had spoken of the intention of the Liberal Party to do something about the "twelve million people in England [who] were living on the verge of starvation," During the 1930s, one-time Labour Party leader George Lansbury wrote admiringly of Campbell-Bannerman, describing him as a man who "believed in peace and was not afraid of the word Socialism, and did believe unemployment was a national problem and the unemployed the care of the State."

SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN 1836-1908 Prime Minister lived here
Blue plaque at 6 Grosvenor Place, London

His bronze bust, sculpted by Paul Raphael Montford, is in Westminster Abbey. There is a blue plaque outside Campbell-Bannerman's house at 6 Grosvenor Place in London, unveiled in 2008. Campbell-Bannerman was the subject of several parody novels based on Alice in Wonderland, such as Caroline Lewis's Clara in Blunderland (1902) and Lost in Blunderland (1903).

See also

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