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The outgoing Prime Minister and his replacement: Gladstone makes way for Rosebery

Updated Tuesday, 12 July 2016
As Downing Street changes hands again, we dip into the archives to find out what happened in 1894 when ill-health forced William Gladstone to quit in favour of his foreign secretary Lord Rosebery. This extract originally appeared in The Northern Echo.

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Gladstone addresses the House William Gladstone addressing the House earlier in his career

We are officially informed that the Queen has accepted the resignation of Mr Gladstone and has summoned the Earl of Rosebery, offering him the post of Prime Minister, vacated by Mr Gladstone

Lord Rosebery has accepted Her Majesty's offer.

[Press Association telegram]

London, Sunday Morning - The announcement published late on Saturday night by the Press Association that Mr Gladstone's resignation of the leadership of the Liberal party in the House of Commons had been accepted by Her Majesty the Queen, and that the Earl of Rosebery had been offered, and had accepted, the position of Prime Minister vacated by Mr Gladstone is confirmed by the Court Circular, which contains the following particulars:

Windsor Castle, Saturday - The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, MP, and Mrs Gladstone arrived at the Castle yesterday. The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone had an audience of the Queen on his arrival.


The Queen held a council today at half-past one o'clock.

[...] After the Council, the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone had an audience of the Queen, and tendered his resignation, which was graciously accepted by Her Majesty. The Queen has summoned Earl Rosebery, KG, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and offered him the post of Prime Minister, vacated by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, MP. Earl Rosebery has accepted Her Majesty's offer.

The Observer this morning says the Queen will travel from Windsor to London tomorrow, where Earl Rosebery will have an audience of Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace. Lord Rosebery reluctantly accepted the responsibility, yielding only to pressure brought to bear from many quarters. Had His Lordship consulted his own feelings he would have preferred to retain the position of Foreign Secretary under the Premiership of one of his present colleagues. Lord Rosebery has yielded thus only to avert a great crisis in the affairs of the party.

The New Premier

Changes of office

Sir William Harcourt to be leader of the House

London, Sunday - The Press Association states that since accepting the Queen's offer of the position of Prime Minister Lord Rosebery has been actively communicating with his leading colleagues, and has received satisfactory assurances of their support in his new office. As it is understood, His Lordship will vacate his present post as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, two or three further changes must consequently take place in the Ministry, but these, although they have been talked over by those more immediately concerned, have not yet been settled. Meantime, interest is mainly centred upon the circumstances attending the change in the leadership of the Liberal Party.

After the Privy Council on Saturday, Mr and Mrs Gladstone returned with the Ministers from Windsor, and arrived in London shortly before four o'clock, when he at once drove to Downing Street. At Paddington there were considerable groups of persons in waiting, whose salutations the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged; but at what has been his official residence there were few persons assembled, as the exact time of his arrival had not been announced.

Although the veteran statesman had tendered his resignation to the Queen, it is a fact that when he returned to London he still occupied the same official position as before, for the Queen had not at that time formally accepted his resignation. The demission of so high an office is not accomplished in such a summary matter. Court etiquette requires a certain amount of ceremonious procedure.

There was, however, little delay, and Mr Gladstone has since received in due form the intimation of Her Majesty's acceptance of his retirement.

Sir Henry Ponsonby came to London by an earlier train than the Ministers, and at once drove to Berkeley Square, where he communicated to Lord Rosebery Her Majesty's desire that he should accept the office of Prime Minister.

This mandate was not unexpected, and the noble Earl, as the result of previous consultation with his colleagues, felt justified in at once intimating his consent. Mr Majorbanks, the chief Liberal whip, was present during the interview. It is understood that as the Queen is coming to London tomorrow for the Drawing-Room Lord Rosebery will have an interview with Her Majesty in the afternoon, probably about three o'clock, to kiss hands on his appointment.

[...] The Prime Minister has already received congratulations from the Prince of Wales, who wired from Paris, the Princess of Wales, as well as from Lord Dufferin and others.

Concurrently with this welcome for the coming leader, politicians and other are occupied with not less unanimity in speeding the parting chief. A large number of callers have left their cards for Mr and Mrs Gladstone at Downing Street. The right hon. Gentleman, who looks exceedingly well, went to church twice today. Mrs Gladstone, however, has not entirely recovered from her recent indisposition and Dr Bond called upon her twice today.

The ex-Premier has already received a number of letters and telegrams expressing regret at his resignation and best wishes that he may long enjoy good health in his retirement.

The Irish Parliamentary party propose to present him with an address in recognition of his great services to the Irish cause, but its terms will not be settled until the members' return to London a week hence for the new session.

A requisition influentially signed has been sent by members of the National Liberal Club to the committee of that institution suggesting that a suitable address from the club should be presented Mr Gladstone on the occasion of his retirement from political life.

No arrangement have yet been made of a meeting of the Liberal party, but it is understood that such a meeting will be held probably at noon on Monday, the 12th inst., the day on which the new session is to open. The reorganised Ministry will then appear for the first time before their supporter.

The prorogation speech by Her Majesty, which was signed with the ordinary prorogation papers at the Council on Saturday, and which will be read at tomorrow's meeting of the two Houses of Parliament, is not a message of great length or significance. It is the last official document which Mr Gladstone prepared in his capacity of Prime Minister, and will, it is understood, briefly refer to the exceptionally protracted and laborious character of the session now closing.

Gladstone offers help

Mr Gladstone has written today to Lord Rosebery congratulating him upon his appointment as Prime Minister, and there is a promise that although retired from active politics Mr Gladstone will, when necessary and when called upon, give his aid.

Originally published by the Northern Echo, Monday March 5th, 1894


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