Robert Gascoyne-Cecil

25/07/188611/08/1892View on timeline

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil

Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (3 February 1830 – 22 August 1903) was a British statesman. He was styled Lord Robert Cecil before the death of his elder brother in 1865, Viscount Cranborne from June 1865 until his father died in April 1868, and then the Marquess of Salisbury. He served as prime minister three times for a total of over thirteen years. He acted as his own foreign minister. He avoided alignments or alliances, maintaining the policy of "splendid isolation".

Lord Robert Cecil was first elected to the House of Commons in 1854 and served as Secretary of State for India in Lord Derby's Conservative government 1866–1867. In 1874, under Disraeli, Salisbury returned as Secretary of State for India, and, in 1878, was appointed foreign secretary, and played a leading part in the Congress of Berlin. After Disraeli's death in 1881, Salisbury emerged as Conservative leader in the House of Lords, with Sir Stafford Northcote leading the party in the Commons. He succeeded William Ewart Gladstone as prime minister in June 1885, and held the office until January 1886. When Gladstone came out in favour of Home Rule for Ireland, Salisbury opposed him and formed an alliance with the breakaway Liberal Unionists, winning the subsequent general election. His great achievement in this term was obtaining the lion's share of new territory in Africa during the imperialistic Scramble for Africa, avoiding a war or serious confrontation with the other powers. He remained as prime minister until Gladstone's Liberals formed a government with the support of the Irish Nationalists at the 1892 general election. The Liberals, however, lost the 1895 general election, and Salisbury for the third and last time became prime minister. He led Britain to victory in a bitter, unpopular war against the Boers, and led the Unionists to another electoral victory in 1900. He relinquished the premiership to his nephew Arthur Balfour in 1902 and died in 1903. He was the last prime minister to serve from the House of Lords.

Historians agree that Salisbury was a strong and effective leader in foreign affairs, with a wide grasp of the issues. Paul Smith characterises his personality as "deeply neurotic, depressive, agitated, introverted, fearful of change and loss of control, and self-effacing but capable of extraordinary competitiveness". A representative of the landed aristocracy, he held the reactionary credo, "Whatever happens will be for the worse, and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible". Searle says that instead of seeing his party's victory in 1886 as a harbinger of a new and more popular Conservatism, he longed to return to the stability of the past, when his party's main function was to restrain demagogic liberalism and democratic excess.


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Published in 10/09/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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