The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

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Top Job: Prime Minister of Britain

The Prime Minister is the leader of HM Government and is ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of the government. The Prime Minister also oversees the operation of the Civil Service and government agencies, chooses ministers and is the principal government figure in the House of Commons.

The origins of the position are found in constitutional changes that occurred during the Revolutionary Settlement (1688–1720) and the resulting shift of political power from the Sovereign to Parliament. Although the sovereign was not stripped of the ancient prerogative powers and legally remained the head of government politically, it gradually became necessary to govern through a Prime Minister who could command a majority in Parliament.

Sir Robert Walpole led the government of Great Britain for over twenty years from 1721 as the first Prime Minister, although that title was not used until much later (1905). He is also the longest-serving British Prime Minister.

Picture Credit/Attribution
: Public Domain, by Studio of Jean-Baptiste van Loo.

URL: File:Robert-Walpole-1st-Earl-of-Orford.jpg – Wikimedia Commons

The holders of the office of Prime Minister since 1721 are listed below with a short note about their premiership:

  • 1721-42: Sir Robert Walpole – restored confidence in the country after the 1720 South Sea Bubble financial crash and dominated the political scene during the reigns of King George I/George II. Walpole resigned due to his perceived mishandling in dealing with the War of Jenkins’ Ear[1].
  • 1742-43: Earl of Wilmington – unwell for most of the time, he died in office.
  • 1743-54: Henry Pelham – he also died in office, but after overseeing the British involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession[2] in 1744-48, the 1745 Jacobite Rising[3] and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.
  • 1754-56: Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle – became Prime Minister just ten days after the death of his brother Henry Pelham. While in office, he was blamed for the loss of Minorca to the French in 1756.
  • 1756-57: William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire – the government was effectively controlled by Pitt the Elder, Devonshire’s administration was ended after Pitt was dismissed by the King.
  • 1757-62: Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle – in his second term (with Pitt the Elder as Southern Secretary), his government helped steer Britain to ultimate victory over France and Spain in the Seven Years’ War[4].
  • 1762-63: John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute – the first Scotsman to hold the top office, he was not popular (e.g. his cider tax) and in the end, he resigned from office.
  • 1763-65: George Grenville – the Stamp Act of 1765 imposed a direct tax on British colonies and plantations in America, igniting the American War of Independence.
  • 1765-66: Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham – the unenforceable Stamp Act was repealed, and Bute’s cider tax was scrapped.
  • 1766-68: William Pitt ‘The Elder’, 1st Earl of Chatham (aka the ‘Great Commoner’), is credited with creating the British Empire. Although only Prime Minister for two years, he dominated British politics in the mid-18th century.
  • 1768-70: Augustus Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton – gained office after Pitt fell ill. He attempted to restore friendly relations with the American colonies.
  • 1770-82: Lord Fredrick North – he led Great Britain into the American War of Independence (1775) and was blamed for Britain’s subsequent defeat.
  • 1782: Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham – in his short second term in office (he died after three months) Britain acknowledged the independence of the United States.
  • 1782-83: William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne – he was Britain’s first Irish-born Prime Minister, a former general he was in office at the time of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American War of Independence.
  • 1783: William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland – headed the coalition government of Lord North’s Tories and Charles James Fox’s opposition Whigs.
  • 1783-1801: William Pitt ‘The Younger’(the son of Pitt the Elder – at 24, he became the youngest ever Prime Minister. His achievements helped define the modern role of the office, including introducing the first income tax.
  • 1801-04: Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth – the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 temporarily halted the hostilities between the French Republic and Great Britain, but the fragile truce ended in May 1803 when Britain again declared war on France.
  • 1804-06: William Pitt the Younger – following the outbreak of war with France, Pitt was returned to govern for a second term but died in office aged 46.
  • 1806-07: William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville, abolished the slave trade in the British Empire but, unable to control the coalition, he resigned.
  • 1807-09: William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland – despite his age and poor health, he served for the second time amidst disputes and died after only 23 days.
  • 1809-12: Spencer Perceval – faced with economic depression at home and the threat of Napoleon in Europe, his administration was divided and repressive. He has the distinction of being the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated (he was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons by a bankrupt who blamed the government for his misfortune).
  • 1812-27: Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool – after Perceval’s assassination, Jenkinson formed a new government. Following victory in the Napoleonic Wars, he helped guide the country through radicalism and unrest, including the Peterloo Massacre[5].
  • 1827: George Canning – to date, he was the shortest-serving Prime Minister. Canning died from pneumonia, barely five months after assuming office.
  • 1827-28: Fredrick John Robinson, Viscount Goderich – lacking support to maintain the frail coalition of Canningite Tories and aristocratic Whigs, he resigned after less than five months in office.
  • 1828-30: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington – he was the second Irish-born Prime Minister and second veteran general, perhaps more famous as a soldier of the Napoleonic Wars than a politician. He introduced the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 but resigned after a vote of no confidence.
  • 1830-34: Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey – the only Prime Minister with a blend of tea named after him. Credited with the 1832 Great Reform Act (the process of electoral change we have today). He resigned following disagreements over his Irish policies.
  • 1834: William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne – ‘famous’ for being the the last Prime Minister to be dismissed by a Sovereign, King William IV.
  • 1834-35: Sir Robert Peel 2nd Baronet – At the second time of asking, Peel accepted King William IV’s invitation to form a government, albeit a minority government, but resigned following several defeats in Parliament.
  • 1835-41: William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne – returning to office for the second time, Melbourne found the new Queen Victoria much more agreeable than William IV. He resigned after a series of parliamentary defeats.
  • 1841-46: Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet – Returning to office for the second time, Peel introduced important employment laws banning women and children from working underground in mines. In addition, The Factory Act of 1844 limited the hours of work for children and women. Unable to feed a starving Ireland, he finally succeeded in repealing the Corn Laws.
  • 1846-52: Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, was the last Whig Prime Minister. His Public Health Act of 1848 improved the sanitary conditions of towns and cities.
  • 1852: Edward Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby – considered by many to be the father of the modern Conservative party, his government collapsed when the budget of his Chancellor, Benjamin Disraeli, was rejected by the House.
  • 1852-55: George Hamilton Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen – his government was dominated by a war with Russia. He resigned after losing a vote of confidence in handling the Crimean War[6].
  • 1855-58: Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston – an Irish peer, his India Bill of 1858 transferred control of the East India Company to the Crown.
  • 1858-59: Edward Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby – returning to office for the second time, his Jews Relief Act of 1858, removed barriers to Jews entering Parliament[7].
  • 1859-65: Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston – returning to office for the second time, his premiership was dominated by the American Civil War and the resulting suffering caused by the Lancashire Cotton Famine[8]. He died in office.
  • 1865-66: Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell – Returned to office for the second time, after the untimely death of Henry Temple.
  • 1866-68: Edward Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby – back again for the third and final time, his 1867 Reform Act doubled the number of adult males that could vote.
  • 1868: Benjamin Disraeli – only ten years after the barriers to Jews entering Parliament had been removed, Britain had its first, and so far only, Jewish leader.
  • 1868-74: William Ewart Gladstone – Gladstone led the greatest reforming administrations of the 19th century with policies intended to improve individual liberty. His defeat at the 1874 general election allowed Disraeli to succeed him.
  • 1874-80: Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield – returned to office for the second time at the age of 70. His policies introduced a large amount of social legislation, including providing housing for the poor and improved sanitation.
  • 1880-85: William Ewart Gladstone – Gladstone’s second administration suffered several setbacks in foreign policy, including a humiliating defeat in the First Boer War and failure to rescue General Gordon in Sudan.
  • 1885-86: Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury – Salisbury became leader of the Conservative party following the death of Disraeli in 1881, he reluctantly became Prime Minister forming a minority government.
  • 1886: William Ewart Gladstone – back again as leader, but now aged 76, Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill for Ireland split the Liberal Party.
  • 1886-92: Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury – with the split in the Liberal Party, Salisbury attempted to contain the Irish problem by a combination of firm government and reform.
  • 1892-94: William Ewart Gladstone – he returned to office for a fourth term and once again introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill. Although passed by the House of Commons, the Bill was rejected by the Lords. Gladstone resigned for the fourth and last time.
  • 1894-95: Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery – after a short administration plagued by Cabinet disputes, he resigned having achieved his life’s three ambitions: to marry an heiress, own a Derby-winning horse and to be Prime Minister.
  • 1895-1902: Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury – returned to office for the third and final time. During his tenure, the Boer War broke out in 1899, ending in 1902. He retired in favour of his nephew Balfour.
  • 1902-05: Arthur James Balfour – his Education Act of 1902 standardised the educational system of England and Wales, handing powers from school boards to Local Education Authorities (LEAs). His cabinet split over free trade policies.
  • 1905-08: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman – Glasgow born Bannerman was the first in the top job to be given the official title of ‘Prime Minister’. Outspoken on the ‘barbarities’ of the Boer War[9], he restored independence to the Transvaal and Orange Free State in South Africa.
  • 1908-15: Herbert Henry Asquith – was appointed after Bannerman resigned. The 1908 Old Age Pension Act laid the foundation of the modern welfare state. This was followed by the National Insurance Act of 1911, providing an income for working people suffering illness or unemployment. He also led Britain into the First World War.
  • 1915-16: Herbert Henry Asquith – to gain maximum support for the war, Asquith formed a coalition government. The conflict, however, was not going well and with deadlock in the trenches, Asquith resigned.
  • 1916-22: David Lloyd George – The only Prime Minister to have spoken Welsh as his first language, Lloyd George formed a government following the resignation of fellow Liberal, Asquith. He was widely touted as the man who had won the war. The Anglo-Irish Treaty led to the establishment of the Irish Free State. The public outcry that followed his ‘cash for honours’ scandal saw him ousted from power.
  • 1922-23: Andrew Bonar Law – After Lloyd George had been removed from office by the Conservative members of his cabinet, the King invited the Canadian-born Bonar Law to form a new government. He lasted just 209 days in office before resigning due to ill health and died just six months later.
  • 1923-24: Stanley Baldwin – just a few months into office, and much to the surprise of all around him, Baldwin called an early general election over protectionist trade tariffs. The policy was an attempt to resolve Britain’s economic problems, but it let the Labour party into power for the first time.
  • 1924: James Ramsay MacDonald – he was the first Labour Prime Minister and came from a Scottish working-class background. As head of a minority government, he was reliant on the support of the Liberals in frustration over which he called an early election.
  • 1924-29: Stanley Baldwin – In his second term in office, Baldwin was responsible for the right to vote for women aged over 21. He invited Winston Churchill, who at that time was a Liberal MP, to be his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Baldwin successfully steered the country through the difficulties of the 1926 General Strike[10].
  • 1929-31: Ramsey MacDonald –in his second minority government, MacDonald appointed the first-ever female minister, Margaret Bondfield[11]. Just a few months into his term, however, the world was shaken by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.
  • 1931-35: Ramsey MacDonald – with his Labour government divided on how to resolve an economic crisis, MacDonald resigned but was reappointed at the head of a national coalition government (with support from the Conservative and Liberal parties), but he lost the support of his own party and he once again resigned.
  • 1935-37: Stanley Baldwin – he returned to office for the third time and steered the country through the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. Recognising the threat of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, Baldwin started a rearmament programme but was later criticised for not doing more to prepare for war.
  • 1937-40: Neville Chamberlain – when Baldwin retired after George VI’s coronation, Chamberlain became party leader. Famously returning from a 1938 meeting with Adolf Hitler, he declared, “I believe it is peace for our time”, but after the invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939, Chamberlain declared war on Germany two days later.

Neville Chamberlain muestra el Pacto de MunichNeville Chamberlain in 1938:  “I believe it is peace for our time”
Picture Credit
: “Neville Chamberlain muestra el Pacto de Munich” by Alfredo Grados is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

  • 1940-45: Sir Winston Churchill – following Chamberlain’s resignation, Churchill was appointed as Prime Minister of an all-party coalition government. The speeches he made and the subsequent military alliances he formed with the USA and the Soviet Union steered the Allies to victory in World War II. But Churchill was surprisingly defeated in the 1945 General Election.A person in a suit Description automatically generated with low confidence
    Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
    Attribution: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
    File URL:
  • 1945-51: Clement Attlee – after leading Labour to a landslide victory against Churchill, Attlee quickly implemented his parties manifesto pledges. Despite Britain’s near bankruptcy after the war, he managed the creation of the National Health Service in 1946. Many of Britain’s largest industries, such as coal mining (1946), electricity (1947) and the railways (1947), were brought under state control.
  • 1951-55: Sir Winston Churchill – his failing health greatly influenced Churchill’s second term in office. In matters abroad, the developing Cold War led him to authorise the manufacture of the British hydrogen bomb in 1955, but later that year, his deteriorating health forced him to resign, making way for Anthony Eden.
  • 1955-57: Sir Anthony Eden – Eden immediately called a general election and increased the Conservative majority on becoming prime minister. His success was to be short-lived. Eden is perhaps best-known for his controversial handling of the Suez crisis[12] in 1956, over which he eventually resigned.
  • 1957-63: Harold Macmillan –following Eden’s resignation, Macmillan emerged from the wreckage of the Suez crisis to lead the Conservative party and country. Macmillan quickly went on to restore the nation’s confidence/fortunes and was able to claim that the British public had “never had it so good”. He helped to negotiate the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and accelerated the decolonisation of the British Empire. By the end of his term, Britain’s economy was faltering, and he resigned after a series of scandals.
  • 1963-64: Sir Alec Douglas-Home – after Macmillan’s sudden resignation, Douglas-Home emerged as the new leader of the Conservative party. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain from 1937 to 1939, he attended the Munich Conference in 1938, though he was not tainted by the fallout. As Prime Minister for just 363 days, he holds the record as serving the second shortest premiership of the 20th century.
  • 1964-70: Harold Wilson – winning the October 1964 election with a majority of just four, he planned to modernise the country, aided by the “white heat of the technological revolution”. His government introduced liberalising laws in the fields of capital punishment, abortion, homosexuality and divorce. But the powerful trade unions refused to be controlled, resulting in a rise in unemployment and inflation.
    A person in a suit Description automatically generated with medium confidence
    Harold Wilson (in 1962)
    Picture Credit/Attribution
    : Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
    File URL:
  • 1970-74: Edward Heath – Heath’s premiership was one of the most problematic and controversial in recent history. It was a period of great industrial upheaval and economic decline. He led Britain into the European Common Market, but his attempts to weaken the power of the trade unions failed.
  • 1974-76: Harold Wilson – in his second term in office, income tax and surtax on top earners increased to 98%, and unemployment reached 1 million. By early 1976, Britain’s economic situation needed a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Just five days after his 60th birthday, Wilson suddenly resigned.
  • 1976-79: James Callaghan – with inflation running at 17% and 1.5 million unemployed, Callaghan made the controversial decision to ask the Internal Monetary Fund (IMF) for an emergency loan. In return for $3.9 billion of credits, he attempted to impose tighter monetary control through wage restrictions for public sector workers. The unions’ reaction to this was a wave of strikes – the winter of 1978-9 became known as the ‘Winter of Discontent’. Callaghan failed to win a vote of ‘no confidence’[13].
  • 1979-90: Margaret Thatcher – The industrial unrest brought about by the ‘Winter of Discontent’ saw Mrs Thatcher elected the first female British Prime Minister. Branded the ‘Iron Lady’, the defining moment of her premiership came in April 1982, when she led the country to war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands. The successful outcome of the campaign transformed her standing in the opinion polls.

A half-length portrait photograph of Thatcher in the mid-1990s
Margaret Thatcher (Studio Portrait circa 1995-1996)
Picture Credit/Attribution: Probably by Terence Donovan, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons.
File URL:

  • 1990-97: John Major – After spending billions trying to protect membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, his premiership would go on to see the UK’s longest period of continuous economic growth. His government started talks with the IRA, seeking a peaceful end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
  • 1997-2007: Tony Blair (now Sir Tony Blair after the New Year’s Honour announcement on 1st January 2022) – as Labour’s longest-serving Prime Minister, his government oversaw the Northern Ireland peace process. The Good Friday Agreement (10th April 1998) helped to end a period of conflict in the region known as the Troubles. His legacy on foreign affairs is more controversial.
  • 2007-10: Gordon Brown – became Prime Minister after Tony Blair left office. He was called upon to steer the country through the worldwide financial crisis of 2008. At the G20 Summit in 2009, he persuaded world leaders to make available $1.1 trillion to help the world economy through the crisis.
  • 2010-15: David Cameron – he headed Britain’s first coalition government since World War II, with the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as his deputy prime minister. He is the youngest Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. During his time as Prime Minister, he would oversee three national referendums. The first in 2011, asked whether the traditional method of electing MPs should be changed. The second, in 2014, asked whether Scotland should be an independent country. Cameron campaigned for Scotland to remain part of the UK, which he won.
  • 2015-16: David Cameron – the third referendum under David Cameron’s premiership concerned Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union (EU). He led the campaign to remain in the EU, but in June 2016, Britons voted to leave. Following this defeat, he resigned as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party.
  • 2016-19: Theresa May – after David Cameron resigned, May was elected leader of the Conservative Party and became the UK’s second female Prime Minister. In March 2017, she started the process of withdrawing the UK from the EU. Just one month later, she called a snap election, resulting in a hung parliament. During her premiership, unemployment in the UK fell to record lows. After draft versions of her EU withdrawal agreement were rejected on three occasions, she resigned.
  • 2019-19: (Alexander) Boris Johnson – Following the resignation of Theresa May, Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party and appointed prime minister. With no working majority in Parliament and with many members of his own party opposing his hardline Brexit stance, Johnson was forced to call a general election.
  • 2019 to date: Boris Johnson – in apparent approval of Johnson’s firm stance on Brexit, the Conservative Party won the December 2019 election with a parliamentary majority of 80 seats. After 47 years of membership, the UK left the EU on 31st January 2020. When I was writing this paper, Boris Johnson was under attack from all sides – his own party and the opposition – over alleged Covid breaches and other matters.

Boris Johnson Digital Covid-19 Presser 30/04
Picture Credit: “Boris Johnson Digital Covid-19 Presser 30/04” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How well do you know your Parliaments?
The political turmoil in England in the 17th century caused names to be given to the various Parliaments sitting (or not sitting, as the case may be) during that time. Take a look at the year 1604 (the Blessed Parliament) and stay with it until 1705 (the 2nd Parliament of Queen Anne).

The History of Parliament Online website[14] explains what was happening in 1603/4 and sets the scene for the next 100 years:

“Following the accession of Scotland’s King James VI as James I of England in March 1603, it was originally envisaged that Parliament would meet in the autumn, but widespread plague meant that Parliament did not assemble until March 1604. For [King] James, the chief purpose of this first meeting of the new reign was to bring about the statutory union of England and Scotland, for as he explained in his opening address to the Members of both Houses, he hoped ‘no man will be so unreasonable’ as to wish him to be ‘a husband to two wives’…”

The timeline from 1604 to 1705 is shown below, with explanatory text added for some of the entries:

  • Blessed Parliament, 1604: The 1st Parliament of King James I was summoned by King James I on 31st January 1604 and assembled on 19th March that year. It was known as the Blessed Parliament[15] and took place in five sessions, interrupted by Holy Days and the Gunpowder Plot.
  • Addled Parliament, 1614: The Parliament of 1614 was the second Parliament of England of the reign of James VI (of Scotland) and James I (of England), which sat between 5th April and 7th June 1614. Lasting only two months and two days, it saw no bills pass and was not even regarded as a Parliament by its contemporaries. However, for its failure, it has been known to posterity as the Addled Parliament[16].
  • 3rd Parliament of King James I, 1621
  • 4th Parliament of King James I, 1624
  • Useless Parliament, 1625: The Useless Parliament was the first Parliament of England of the reign of King Charles I, sitting only from June until August 1625. It gained its name because it transacted no significant business, making it ‘useless’ from the King’s point of view. Parliament adjourned to Oxford on 1st August and was dissolved 11 days later, having offended the King.
  • 2nd Parliament of King Charles I, 1626
  • 3rd Parliament of King Charles I, 1628
  • Short Parliament, April 1640: The Short Parliament was a Parliament of England summoned by King Charles I of England on 20th February 1640 and sat from 13th April to 5th May 1640. It was so-called because of its short life of only three weeks.
  • Long Parliament (1), November 1640: The Long Parliament was an English Parliament that lasted from 1640 until 1660. It followed the fiasco of the Short Parliament (convened for only three weeks during early 1640 after an 11-year parliamentary absence. In September 1640, King Charles I issued writs summoning a parliament to convene on 3rd November 1640. He intended it to pass financial bills, a step made necessary by the costs of the Bishops’ Wars in Scotland. The Long Parliament received its name because, by Act of Parliament, it stipulated it could be dissolved only with agreement of the members; and, those members did not agree to its dissolution until 16th March 1660, after the English Civil War and near the close of the Interregnum (the period so-called being between the execution of Charles I on 30th January 1649 and the arrival of his son Charles II in London on 29th May 1660 which marked the start of the Restoration).
  • Oxford Parliament, 1644[17].
  • Long Parliament (2), 1645: By 1645, a considerable proportion of the House had been removed, being expelled for various reasons, disabled for supporting the King, killed in the Civil War or lost through natural causes. Their seats were left vacant for several years and were filled by new elections after around 1645 so that new members of Parliament supplemented those that had survived since 1640.
  • Rump Parliament (1), 1648: The Rump Parliament was the English Parliament after Colonel Thomas Pride purged the Long Parliament on 6th December 1648, of those members hostile to the Grandees’ intention to try King Charles I for high treason.
  • Barebone’s Parliament, 1653: Barebone’s Parliament, also known as the Little Parliament, the Nominated Assembly and the Parliament of Saints, came into being on 4th July 1653 and was the last attempt of the English Commonwealth to find a stable political form before the installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. It was an assembly entirely nominated by Oliver Cromwell and the Army’s Council of Officers. It acquired its name from the nominee for the City of London, Praise-God Barebone[18]. After conflict and infighting, on 12th December 1653, the members of the assembly voted to dissolve it. It was preceded by the Rump Parliament and succeeded by the First Protectorate Parliament.
  • First Protectorate Parliament, 1654[19]
  • Second Protectorate Parliament, 1656
  • Third Protectorate Parliament; 1659
  • Rump Parliament (2), 1659
  • Long Parliament (3), 1660
  • Convention Parliament, 1660
  • Cavalier Parliament, 1661
  • Habeas Corpus Parliament, 1679
  • Exclusion Bill Parliament, 1680
  • Oxford Parliament, 1681
  • Loyal Parliament, 1685
  • Convention Parliament, 1689
  • 2nd Parliament of King William III and Queen Mary II, 1690
  • 3rd Parliament of King William III, 1695
  • 4th Parliament of King William III, 1698
  • 5th Parliament of King William III, 1701
  • 6th Parliament of King William III, Dec 1701
  • 1st Parliament of Queen Anne, 1702: The 1st Parliament of Queen Anne was summoned by Queen Anne of England on 2nd July 1702 and assembled on 20th August 1702 (but prorogued until 20th October 1702). Its composition was 298 Tories, 184 Whigs and 31 others, representing a large swing to the Tories since the previous election.
  • 2nd Parliament of Queen Anne, 1705: The 2nd Parliament of Queen Anne was summoned by Queen Anne of England on 2nd May 1705 and assembled on 14th July 1705. Its composition was 260 Tories, 233 Whigs and 20 others, but in practice, the House was evenly divided. One hundred and fifty-one (26 per cent) of the members had no previous parliamentary experience.

House of Lords Members debate EU Withdrawal Bill September 2019The House of Lords
Picture Credit: “House of Lords Members debate EU Withdrawal Bill September 2019” by UK Parliament is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


The House of Lords[21], the upper chamber of Great Britain’s bicameral legislature, originated in the 11th century when the Anglo-Saxon kings consulted witans (councils) composed of religious leaders and the monarch’s ministers. The House of Lords emerged as a distinct element of Parliament in the 13th and 14th centuries. It currently comprises the following elements:

  1. the Lords Spiritual, including the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of Durham, London, and Winchester, as well as 21 other bishops holding sees in England;
  2. from November 1999, 92 hereditary peers;
  3. from January 1980, all life peers and peeresses are created under the Life Peerages Act of 1958.

A fourth element, called the Law Lords consisting of the judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature (the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice), acted as Britain’s final court of appeal (except for Scottish criminal cases) until 2009 when the Law Lords were abolished, and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into being. The total number of persons qualified to sit in the House of Lords is over 670.

Membership and Functions[22]
Membership of the House of Lords was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but the House of Lords Act 1999 restricted it to 92 hereditary peers. Since the resignation of the Countess of Mar in May 2020 (who had been the only female hereditary peer since 2014), none of these 92 is female. Most hereditary peerages can only be inherited by men. Whilst the House of Commons has a defined number of members, the number of members in the House of Lords is not fixed. The House of Lords is the only upper House of any bicameral parliament in the world to be larger than its lower House and is the second-largest legislative chamber in the world behind the Chinese National People’s Congress.

The House of Lords scrutinises Bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends Bills from the Commons. While it cannot prevent Bills passing into law, except in certain limited circumstances, it can delay Bills and force the Commons to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the House of Lords acts as a check on the House of Commons independent from the electoral process. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. While members of the Lords may also take on roles as government ministers, high-ranking officials such as cabinet ministers are usually drawn from the Commons. The House of Lords has its own support services, separate from the Commons, including the House of Lords Library.

Elect the House of Lords, says Electoral Reform Society[23]
As part of the debate on electing or abolishing the House of Lords, The Electoral Reform Society waded in and said that “A smaller, fairly elected second chamber would be better for taxpayers.”, adding:

“For far too many of its members, the second chamber of our Parliament is a cosy club for the privileged few. But this is not just another private members’ club – it is one which has real powers over the law of the land. We’re basically alone in Europe for having a fully-unelected revising chamber. And no other country in the democratic world has a second chamber bigger than ours. Globally, only Communist China has a bigger body, and they merely meet to rubber-stamp government policies. France manages on 348 members. Spain with 265. India, with over a billion people, and Japan have just 245 members each.

“It’s time to abolish the bloated House of Lords and create a new chamber to revise our legislation – one where the public picks the members and can hold them accountable. It seems the only time the public is allowed into the House of Lords is to pay the Bill. The House of Lords isn’t just an affront to voters, it’s an unacceptable burden on the public purse. Peers are able to claim £323 a day tax-free each day they attend, plus some travel costs. Between April 2019 and March 2020, £17.7 million was spent on Lords allowances and expenses, with the average peer claiming £30,687.”

Sources and Further Information
  1. The War of Jenkins’ Ear was a conflict between Britain and Spain lasting from 1739 to 1748, mainly in New Granada and among the West Indies of the Caribbean Sea, with major operations largely ended by 1742. Its name, coined by British historian Thomas Carlyle in 1858, refers to Robert Jenkins, a captain of a British merchant ship, whose ear was cut off by sailors of the Spanish coast guard when they boarded his ship to search for contraband. Seven years later, in support of mongering for war, Jenkins was paraded before the British Parliament, without his ear.
  2. The War of the Austrian Succession was the last Great Power conflict with the Bourbon-Habsburg dynastic conflict at its heart. It occurred from 1740 to 1748 and marked the rise of Prussia as a major power.
  3. The Jacobite Rising of 1745, also known as the Forty-five Rebellion or simply the ’45, was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart.
  4. The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) is widely considered to be the first global conflict in history, and was a struggle for world supremacy between Great Britain and France. In Europe, the conflict arose from issues left unresolved by the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), with Prussia seeking greater dominance.
  5. The Peterloo Massacre took place at St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, Lancashire, on Monday 16th August 1819. Fifteen people died when cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.
  6. The Crimean War (1853–56) was fought mainly on the Crimean Peninsula between Russia and Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire. The immediate cause of the war involved the rights of Christian minorities in Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire.
  7. The Jews Relief Act 1858, also called the Jewish Disabilities Bill, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which removed previous barriers to Jews entering Parliament, a step in Jewish emancipation in the United Kingdom. Source: Wikipedia
  8. The Lancashire Cotton Famine, also known as the Cotton Famine or the Cotton Panic (1861–65), was a depression in the textile industry of North West England, brought about by overproduction in a time of contracting world markets. It coincided with the interruption of baled cotton imports caused by the American Civil War and speculators buying up new stock for storage in the shipping warehouses at the entrepôt – a centre to which goods are brought for import and export, and for collection and distribution.
  9. Also known as the Boer War, the Anglo–Boer War, or the South African War, the conflict was fought between the British Empire and the two Boer Republics over the Empire’s influence in Southern Africa from 1899 to 1902.
  10. The General Strike of 1926 was the largest industrial dispute in Britain’s history. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) called the strike to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for coal miners. It took place over nine days, from 4th May until 12th May 1926.
  11. Margaret Grace Bondfield CH PC was a British Labour politician, trade unionist and women’s rights activist. She became the first female cabinet minister, and the first woman to be a privy counsellor in the UK, when she was appointed Minister of Labour in the Labour government of 1929–31. She had earlier become the first woman to chair the General Council of the Trades Union Congress.
  12. The Suez Crisis began on October 29, 1956, when Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt toward the Suez Canal after Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-70) nationalized the canal, a valuable waterway that controlled two-thirds of the oil used by Europe. Source:
  13. The vote was brought by opposition leader Margaret Thatcher and was lost by the Labour government by one vote (311 votes to 310).
  14. © Crown copyright and The History of Parliament Trust 1964-2020 (see:
  15. The King’s patience had by now run out. Although initially intended that Parliament should reconvene on 9th February 1611, the King’s anger was so great that on 31 December he issued a Proclamation dissolving the assembly, therefore nicknamed “Blessed Parliament”.
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  17. The Oxford Parliament, (also known as the Mongrel Parliament, the Mad Parliament and the First English Parliament) was the Parliament assembled by Charles I of England for the first time on 22nd January 1644 and adjourned for the last time on 10th March 1645, with the purpose of being an instrument of the Royalist war campaign. It was proposed during the first year of the English Civil War by the King’s adviser Sir Edward Hyde as a means of challenging the legitimacy of the Westminster Parliament. King Charles was advised not to dissolve the Long Parliament as this would violate the statute of 1641 which said that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. So all members of the Long Parliament were summoned by King Charles to assemble for a session of Parliament to be held at Christ Church Hall, Oxford. See: for further information.
  18. Praise-God Barebone (last name also spelled Barbon or Barbone; c. 1598–1679) was an English leather-seller, preacher and Fifth Monarchist (of the extreme Puritan sect). He is best known for giving his name to the Barebone’s Parliament of the English Commonwealth of 1653.
  19. During the first nine months of the Protectorate, Oliver Cromwell with the aid of the Council of State, drew up a list of 84 bills to present to Parliament for ratification. But the members of Parliament had their own and their constituents’ interests to promote and in the end not enough of them would agree to work with Cromwell, or to sign a declaration of their acceptance of the Instrument of Government, to make the constitutional arrangements in the Instrument of Government work. Cromwell dissolved the Parliament as soon as it was allowed under the terms of the Instrument of Government, having failed to get any of the 84 bills passed. Source: Wikipedia, HERE.
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  21. Formally called The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. Membership of the House of Lords is by appointment, heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster.
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