Prime Ministers of Great Britain

The Prime Minister is the political leader of the United Kingdom and is the head of the Government. So far there have been 15 Prime Ministers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Harold Wilson serving twice, in 1964 and again in 1974). The official residence of the Prime Minister of Britain is 10 Downing Street, London.

term name political party
1721-42 Sir Robert Walpole – Restored confidence in the country following the South Sea Bubble financial crash of 1720. Dominated the political scene during the reigns of George I and George II. George II made Walpole a gift of 10 Downing Street. Walpole resigned as a consequence of his perceived mis-handling in dealing with the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Whig
1742-43 Earl of Wilmington – Suffering poor health for most of his time as Prime Minister, he died in office. Whig
1743-54 Henry Pelham – During his time in the post he oversaw the the British involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession in 1744-48, the 1745 Jacobite Rising and the adoption of the Gregorian calender. He died in office. Whig
1754-56 Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle – Assumed the office of Prime Minister just 10 days after the death of his brother Henry Pelham. During the Seven Years’ War, he was blamed for the loss of Minorca and was replaced by the Duke of Devonshire. Whig
1756-57 William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire – In a government effectively controlled by Pitt the Elder, Devonshire’s administration was brought to end following the dismissal of Pitt by the king, it was replaced by the Second Newcastle Ministry. Whig
1757-62 Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle – Returning to office with Pitt the Elder as Southern Secretary, this government helped steer Britain to ultimate victory over France and Spain during the Seven Years’ War. Whig
1762-63 John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute – A favourite of George III, he was the first Scot to hold the top office. Unpopular with the ‘great unwashed’, he introduced a tax on cider in order to help pay for the Seven Years’ War. He resigned following fierce criticism of his handling of the peace negotiations. Tory

Sir Robert WalpoleLord NorthWilliam Pitt the Younger

Sir Robert Walpole, Lord North, William Pitt The Younger

1763-65 George Grenville – The introduction of the Stamp Act of 1765 imposed a direct tax on the British colonies and plantations in America, one of the sparks that would help ignite the American War of Independence. Whig
1765-66 Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham – Bowing to public pressure from disaffected American colonists and British manufacturers, the unenforceable Stamp Act was repealed. He also appeased the ‘great unwashed’ by scrapping Bute’s cider tax. Whig
1766-68 William Pitt ‘The Elder’, 1st Earl of Chatham – Known as the ‘Great Commoner’, Pitt is credited with creating the British Empire. Although only Prime Minister for 2 years, he dominated British politics in the mid-18th century. His military campaigns in Canada, India, the West Indies and West Africa created a highly lucrative trading empire. Whig
1768-70 Augustus Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton – Assumed the top job after Pitt fell ill, his short time in charge mainly involved attempting to restore friendly relations with the American colonies. Better remembered at the time for his colourful private life. Whig
1770-82 Lord Fredrick North – Led Great Britain into the American War of Independence (1775). Although blamed for Britain’s subsequent defeat, many of the military operations were hampered by infighting within the British high command in North America. Tory
1782 Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham – During his second ministry Britain acknowledged the indepence of the United States. He died suddenly, just three months after assuming the top job. Whig
1782-83 William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne – 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. The treaty also defined new borders for the United States, including all land from the northern Great Lakes to Florida in the south. Whig
1783 William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland – As head of a coalition government composed of Lord North’s Tories and Charles James Fox’s opposition Whigs, Portland was instrumental in ensuring Tory party dominance in the decades that followed. coalition
1783-1801 William Pitt ‘The Younger’ – Son of Pitt the Elder, he became the youngest ever Prime Minister, aged just 24. Dedicated to sound government, his many achievements helped define the modern role of the office, including introducing the first income tax! He resigned when the king refused to accept Catholic emancipation. Tory
1801-04 Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth – Although the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 temporarily halted the hostilities between the French Republic and Great Britain, the uneasy truce ended in May 1803 when Britain again declared war on France. Tory
1804-06 William Pitt the Younger – With the renewed outbreak of war with France, Pitt was returned to office. Exhausted by the demands of the top job, he died in office aged just 46 Tory
1806-07 William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville – The youngest son of George Grenville, during his ministry the Slave Trade Act 1807: abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. Unable to control the coalition, he resigned the office. coalition
1807-09 William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland – Although aged and in poor health, Portland assumed the top job for the second time. His short time in office was beset by disputes between warring factions within his ministry. He died 23 days after resigning his post. Tory
1809-12 Spencer Perceval – With economic depression and Luddite agitation at home, and the threat of Napoleon in Europe, his administration was divided and repressive. The only British Prime Minister ever to be assassinated, he was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons by a bankrupt who blamed the government for his misfortune. Tory
1812-27 Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool – With the assassination of Perceval, Liverpool was asked to form a government. Following victory in the Napoleonic Wars, he helped guide the country through a period of radicalism and unrest, including the Peterloo Massacre. Tory
1827 George Canning – To date the shortest serving Prime Minister, Canning died suddenly from pneumonia, barely 5 months after assuming office. coalition
1827-28 Fredrick John Robinson, Viscount Goderich – Lacking support to hold together the frail coalition of Canningite Tories and aristocratic Whigs, he resigned after less than 5 months in office. Tory

Duke of Wellington PMSir Robert PeelViscount Melbourne

The Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, Viscount Melbourne

1828-30 Arthur Welleslley, 1st Duke of Wellington – The second Irish-born Prime Minister and second veteran general, perhaps more famous as a soldier of the Napoleonic Wars than a politician. Is said to have commented after his first Cabinet meeting: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.” He introduced the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, removing many of the restrictions on Catholics in the UK. Resigned after a vote of no confidence. Tory
1830-34 Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey – Famous for the blend of tea named after him, his political achievements included the Reform Act of 1832, which started the process of electoral change that we recognise today. His other legacies included the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire and restrictions concerning the employment of children. He resigned after disagreements over his Irish policies. Whig
1834 William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne – The last Prime Minister to be dismissed by a Sovereign, King William IV. Whig
1834-35 Sir Robert Peel 2nd Baronet – At the second time of asking, Peel accepted King William IV’s invitation to form a government. Head of a minority government, he resigned following a number of defeats in Parliament. Whig
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. Tutoring the young queen in the ways of politics, they formed a close relationship. He resigned after a series of parliamentary defeats. Whig
1841-46 Sir Robert Peel 2nd Baronet – Returning to office for the second time, Peel introduced important employment laws that banned 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. Conservative
1846-52 Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell – Russell was the last Whig Prime Minister. His Public Health Act of 1848 improved the sanitary conditions of towns and cities. He was in office at the time of The Great Exhibition of 1851. Whig
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. Conservative
1852-55 George Hamilton Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen – A cousin of the poet Lord Byron, his government was dominated by a war with Russia. He resigned after losing a vote of confidence into his handling of the Crimean War. Peelite
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. Liberal
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. Conservative
1859-65 Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston – Returning to office for the second time, his ministry was dominated by the American Civil War and the resulting suffering caused by the Lancashire Cotton Famine. Hale and hearty to the end, he died in office at the tender age of just 81. Liberal
1865-66 Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell – Returning to office for the second time, after the untimely death of Palmerston. Liberal
1866-68 Edward Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby – Returning to office for the third and final time, his Reform Act of 1867 doubled the number of adult males that could vote in England and Wales. Conservative

Lord PalmerstonBenjamin DisraeliW E Gladstone

Lord Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli, W E Gladstone

1868 Benjamin Disraeli – Just 10 years after the barriers to Jews entering Parliament had been removed, Britain has its first, and so far only, Jewish Prime Minister. In accepting the post, ‘Dizzy’ is said to have declared, “I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”. Conservative
1868-74 William Ewart Gladstone – Gladstone led the greatest reforming administrations of the 19th century. His policies were intended to improve individual liberty by scrapping barriers to freedom and personal advancement. A heavy defeat at the 1874 general election allowed his arch-rival Disraeli to once again reach the top of the greasy pole. Liberal
1874-80 Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield – Returning 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 greatly improved sanitation. His relationship with Queen Victoria helped to return her to public life, proclaiming her Empress of India. Anglo-Zulu Wars. Conservative
1880-85 William Ewart Gladstone – Gadstone’s second administration suffered a number of set-backs in foreign policy, including a humiliating defeat in the First Boer War and failing to rescue General Gordon in Sudan. Liberal
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 and formed a minority government. Conservative
1886 William Ewart Gladstone – Now aged 76, Gladstone’s introduction of a Home Rule Bill for Ireland split the Liberal Party. Liberal
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. Creation of Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe, with its capital city named Salisbury. Conservative
1892-94 William Ewart Gladstone – Now well into his 80s, this ‘Grand Old Man’ of British politics was 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 submitted his fourth and final resignation. Liberal
1894-95 Archibold Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery – Reluctantly accepted the post of Prime Minister following the resignation of Gladstone. In a short lived administration plagued by Cabinet disputes, he resigned having achieved his lifes three ambitions… to marry an heiress, own a Derby winning horse and to be Prime Minister. Liberal
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. Conservative

Lord SalisburyArthur James BalfourH H Asquith

Lord Salisbury, Arthur James Balfour, H H Asquith

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 on the issue of free trade policies. Conservative
1905-08 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman – Glasgow born ‘C-B’ was the first in the top job to be given the official title of ‘Prime Minister’. Outspoken on the ‘barbarities’ of the Boer War, he restored independence to the Transvaal and Orange Free State in South Africa. Liberal
1908-15 Herbert Henry Asquith – Asquith became Prime Minister following the resignation of ‘CB’. He took charge in troubled times, with Irish Home Rule and Women’s Suffrage the burning issues of the day. The Old Age Pension Act of 1908 laid the foundation of the modern welfare state. This was followed by the National Insurance Act of 1911, that provided an income for working people suffering illness or unemployment. He also led Britain into the First World War. Liberal
1915-16 Herbert Henry Asquith – In order to gain maximum support for the ongoing war Asquith formed a coalition government. The conflict however, was not going well and so with deadlock in the trenches, Asquith resigned. coalition
1916-22 David Lloyd George – The only Prime Minister to have spoken Welsh as his first language, Lloyd George accepted an invitation to form a government following the resignation of his fellow Liberal, Asquith. A man of great energy and dynamism, he was widely touted as the man who had won the war and promised… ‘a land fit for heroes’. 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. coalition
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 6 months later. Conservative
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 on the issue of protectionist trade tariffs. The policy was an attempt to resolve Britain’s economic problems, it achieved however, the remarkable feat of reuniting the Liberals and letting Labour into power for the first time. Conservative
1924 James Ramsay MacDonald – The very first Labour Prime Minister, MacDonald came from a Scottish working class background. As head of a minority government, he was reliant on the support of the Liberals. Frustrated by his inability to introduce meaningful legislation he called an early election. Labour
1924-29 Stanley Baldwin – In his second term in office, Baldwin was responsible for several notable social achievements including extending the right to vote to women aged over 21. He amazed the political world by inviting Winston Churchill, who at that time was a Liberal MP, to be his Chancellor of the Exchequer. He successfully steered the country through the rocky waters of the General Strike of 1926. Conservative
1929-31 Ramsey MacDonald – In his second minority government, MacDonald appointed the first ever female minister, Margaret Bondfield. Just a few months into his term however, the world was shaken by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Labour
1931-35 Ramsey MacDonald – With his Labour government divided on how to resolve an economic crisis that included the doubling of unemployment levels; MacDonald resigned but was reappointed at the head of a national coalition government (with support from the Conservative and Liberal parties). This move cost him the support of his own party and he once again resigned national coalition
1935-37 Stanley Baldwin – Returning to office for the third time, his major achievement in this last phase of his career was to steer the country through the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. Recognising the threat of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, Baldwin started a programme of re-arming the country. He was later criticised for not doing more to prepare. Conservative

Lloyd GeorgeStanley BaldwinSir Winston Churchill

Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, Sir Winston Churchill

1937-40 Neville Chamberlain – When Baldwin retired after the coronation of George VI, Chamberlain was the obvious choice for leader of the party. Following a meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich 1938, he famously returned declaring “I believe it is peace for our time”. Following the invasion of Poland, Chamberlain declared war on Germany on 3 September, 1939. Conservative
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 through his first summer in charge established a policy of ‘no surrender’, and the subsequent military alliances that he formed with both the USA and Soviet Union steered the Allies to victory in World War II. Shortly after VE Day, Churchill was surprisingly defeated in a General Election. coalition
1945-51 Clement Attlee – After leading Labour to a landslide victory, Attlee quickly set about implementing his parties manifesto pledges. With the country effectively bankrupt, he Labour
1951-55 Sir Winston Churchill Conservative
1955-57 Sir Anthony Eden Conservative
1957-63 Harold Macmillan Conservative
1963-64 Sir Alec Douglas-Home Conservative
1964-70 Harold Wilson – Winning the October election which a majority of just 4, Wilson’s plan was to modernise the country, aided by the “white heat of the technological revolution”. His government introduced liberising laws in the fields of capital punishment, abortion, homosexuality and divorce. On the issue of the economy; the powerful trade-union bosses refused to be controlled, resulting in a rise in unemployment and inflation. Labour

Sir Anthony EdenHarold WilsonEdward Heath

Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath

1970-74 Edward Heath – Heath’s premiership was one of the most traumatic and controversial in recent history. A period of great industrial upheaval and economic decline, his major achievement was leading Britain into the European Common Market. Heath’s attempts to weaken the power of the trade unions failed, the resulting strikes led to the lights going out across country for three days each week. Conservative
1974-76 Harold Wilson -During his second term in office income tax on top earners increased to 83% and unemployment reached 1 million. By early 1976 Britain’s economic situation was so dire that a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was considered to be the governments only option. To the surprise of all concerned and just 5 days after his 60th birthday, Wilson resigned suddenly, making way for the older James Callaghan. Labour
1976-79 James Callaghan – With inflation running at 17% and 1.5 million unemployed, Callaghan made the controversial decision to ask the 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 that saw the dead not buried and rubbish lining the streets of Britain, uncollected. The winter of 1978-9 become known as the ‘Winter of Discontent’. Callaghan failed to win a vote of ‘no confidence’. Labour
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’, her early years in power resulted in only a marginal improvement in the economy. 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. Conservative
1990-97 John Major Conservative
1997-2007 Tony Blair Labour
2007-2010 Gordon Brown Labour
2010 – 2015 David Cameron Con / Lib coalition
2015 – 2016 David Cameron Conservative
2016 – Theresa May Conservative

James CallaghanMargaret ThatcherJohn Major

James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major

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Christmas Gift Guide for History Buffs