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Herbert Henry Asquith

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The Rt Hon. Herbert Henry Asquith
Image:HerbertHenryAsquithSmall.jpeg
Period in Office April, 1908December, 1916
PM Predecessor Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
PM Successor David Lloyd George
Date of Birth 12 September 1852
Place of Birth Morley, Yorkshire
Political Party Liberal
Retirement honour Earldom of Oxford and Asquith

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith (September 12, 1852February 15, 1928) served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916.

Contents

Biography

Born in Morley, Yorkshire and educated at Fulneck School, West Yorkshire and the City of London School, he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. After graduation he became a barrister and was called to the bar in 1876. He became prosperous in the early 1880s from practising law. He married Helen Kelsall Melland, daughter of a Manchester doctor, in 1877 and they had four sons and one daughter before she died from typhoid in 1891. In 1894, he remarried, his second wife being Margot Tennant, the daughter of Sir Charles Tennant, 1st Baronet. Several children were born to him by his second wife, but only a son and daughter survived past infancy. In his younger days he was called Herbert within the family, but his second wife called him Henry. However, in public he was invariably referred to only as H.H. Asquith. "There have been few major national figures whose Christian names were less well known to the public," writes his biographer, Roy Jenkins. Thus, references by historians to Asquith in his Prime Ministerial days as "Herbert Asquith" are doubly incorrect, and only in sources using full legal names should he be called by his.

Elected to Parliament in 1886 as the Liberal representative for East Fife, he achieved his first significant post in 1892 when he became Home Secretary under Gladstone. The Liberals went out of power for ten years from 1895, and he turned down an offer to lead the party in 1898.

The Liberal Party won a landslide victory in the 1906 general election, and Asquith became Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He demonstrated his staunch support of free trade in this post. Campbell-Bannerman resigned due to illness in April 1908 and Asquith succeeded him as Prime Minister.

Asquith's government

The Asquith government became involved in an expensive naval arms race with Germany and began an extensive social welfare programme, introducing government pensions in 1908. The social welfare programme proved controversial, and Asquith's government faced severe (and sometimes barely legal) resistance from the Conservative Party. This came to a head in 1909, when David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, produced a deliberately provocative "People's Budget". The Conservatives, determined to stop passage, used their majority in the House of Lords to reject the bill. The Lords did not traditionally interfere with finance bills and their actions thus provoked a constitutional crisis, forcing the country to a general election in January 1910. The Liberals were returned with a majority, though one much reduced from their 1906 landslide.

The nuclear option in this situation was to have King Edward VII threaten to pack the House of Lords with freshly-minted Liberal peers, who would override the Lords' veto. With the Conservatives remaining recalcitrant in spring of 1910, Asquith began contemplating such an option. King Edward VII agreed to do so, after another general election, but he avoided the whole situation by dying in May 1910. His son, King George V, was reluctant to have his first act in office be the carrying out of such a drastic attack on the aristocracy and it required all of Asquith's considerable powers to convince him to make the promise. This the King finally did before the second election of 1910, in December. The Liberals again won, though their majority was now dependent on peers from Ireland, who had their own price. Nonetheless, Asquith was able to curb the powers of the House of Lords through the Parliament Act 1911, which essentially broke the power of the House of Lords. The Lords could now delay, but not defeat outright, a bill passed by the Commons. The price of Irish support in this effort was the Third Irish Home Rule Bill, which Asquith delivered in legislation that was ultimately suspended owing to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Asquith's efforts over Irish Home Rule nearly provoked a civil war in Ireland over Northern Ireland, only averted by the outbreak of a European war.

Asquith headed the Liberal government into the war. However following a Cabinet split in May 1915, caused by the Shell Crisis, he became head of a new coalition government, bringing senior figures from the Opposition into the Cabinet. But his performance over the conduct of the war dissatisified certain Liberals and the Conservative Party. Opponents partially blamed a series of political and military disasters (including the failed offensives at the Somme and Gallipoli (1915–1916)) and the Easter Rising in Ireland (April 1916) on Asquith. Acting to displace the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George managed to split the Liberals and, on December 5, 1916, Asquith resigned. Lloyd George became head of the coalition two days later.

After his resignation

Missing image
H-H-Asquith-arms.PNG
Arms of H. H. Asquith

Asquith remained leader of the Liberal Party after 1916 and even after losing his seat in the 1918 elections. He returned to the House of Commons in a 1920 by-election. Asquith played a major role in putting the minority Labour government of 1924 into office, elevating Ramsay MacDonald to the Prime Ministership.

Raised to the peerage as Viscount Asquith, of Morley in the West Riding of the County of York, and Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925, Asquith retired to the House of Lords after losing his seat again in the 1924 election held after the fall of the Labour government. Lloyd George succeeded him as chairman of the Liberal Members of Parliament, but Asquith remained head of the party until 1926, when Lloyd George succeeded him in that position as well, healing the split in the Liberal Party.

Asquith's death and descendants

Asquith died in 1928. His second wife Margot outlived him, dying in 1945. His only daughter by his first wife, Violet (later Violet Bonham-Carter), became a well-regarded writer and a Life Peeress in her own right. His eldest son Raymond Asquith was killed at the Somme in 1916, and thus his peerage passed to the latter's only son Julian, now 2nd Earl of Oxford and Asquith (born 1916) a few months before his father's death. Another son Cyril became a Law Lord, and two other sons married well, one being the poet Herbert Asquith (who is often confused with his father). His two children by Margot were Elizabeth (later Princess Antoine Bibesco), a writer, and Anthony Asquith, a well-known film-maker whose productions include The Browning Version and The Winslow Boy.

Among his descendants are the actress Helena Bonham-Carter and the wife of former Liberal Party leader Jo Grimond.

First Government, April 1908 – May 1915

Changes

Second Government, May 1915 – December 1916

Changes

Miscellaneous

Asquith was one of a select group of historical persons who are numerologically interesting because their birth date and their death date are numerical anagrams of each other. 12 September 1852 = 12.9.1852; 15 February 1928 = 15.2.1928. These both contain the group of numbers 1122589. Other people who have a similar pattern in their dates are the soprano Tatiana Troyanos, the pianist Geoffrey Parsons, and the actor Victor Jory.

External links

Template:Wikisource author


Preceded by:
Henry Matthews
Home Secretary
1892–1895
Succeeded by:
Sir Matthew White Ridley
Preceded by:
Austen Chamberlain
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1905–1908
Succeeded by:
David Lloyd George

Template:Succession box one to three

Preceded by:
John Edward Seely
War Secretary
1914
Succeeded by:
The Earl Kitchener of Khartoum

Template:End box

Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Oxford and Asquith
1925–1928
Succeeded by:
Julian Asquith

Template:End boxde:Herbert Henry Asquith gl:Herbert Henry Asquith pl:Herbert Asquith sv:Herbert Henry Asquith

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