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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Kings of England


Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom

While the Anglo-Saxon kings of England had the Witenagemot (or Witan) council to advise them on major decisions, the old system was swept away by the Norman conquerors of 1066. With the level of bureaucracy rising in the medieval court (a traditional feature of all Anglo-Saxon governments), around 1126 the king split away control of the treasury from all other duties.

The new head of the king's treasury, the Lord High Treasurer, held the third-highest position in the land. This was the post in the early Anglo-Norman Parliament which later became the 'First Lord of the Treasury' and then 'Prime Minister'. The other duties came to be controlled by the 'Lord Great Chamberlain'.

The Hanoverian George I came to the throne in 1714. His poor English and his desire to concentrate more on his European dominions meant he entrusted power in Britain to his ministers, and by 1721 one of the foremost of these was Robert Walpole.

In that year he obtained the posts of 'First Lord of the Treasury' (the first, or prime, ministerial post), 'Chancellor of the Exchequer', and 'Leader of the House of Commons', and effectively governed from that date (along with Lord Townsend until 1730). However, while he is rightly recognised as the country's first prime minister, it is not a title he would have recognised at the time. In fact it was regarded as a term of abuse, and would not be a fully accepted title until 1905.

Each prime minister was asked by the reigning monarch to form a government, usually once it became clear that they were the most popular choice (following victory in a general election, for example). The Whigs were the strongest party (more of a grouping than an organised party in the 1700s). They stood for a constitutional monarchy and were opposed to absolutist rule, which the Tories supported.

The Whigs gradually transformed in the nineteenth century in the Liberals when mixed with free trade-supporting Peelites. They went on to supply several governments in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, before tumbling from favour as the socialist Labour Party assumed dominance.

Formed in 1900 out of the burgeoning trade union movement, Labour became the main opposition when not in government itself. An especially successful period for Labour at the start of the twenty-first century in the form of a reinvented centre-left party preceded a wilderness period in which Tory absolutist tendencies were renewed with a vengeance. This became especially apparent following the far-right, pro-Brexit, libertarian-led general election victory of 2019.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Constitutional History of England Since the Accession of George the Third, 1760-1860 (Vol 1), Thomas Erskine May (Armstrong, 1895), from Indian Frontier Policy, John Ayde (2010), from An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empire, James Stuart Olson, Lee Brigance Pappas, and Nicholas Charles Pappas (1994), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 7: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, Gavin R G Hambly (1991), from The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688-1788, Daniel Szechi (Manchester University Press, 1994), from The Hanoverian Succession: Dynastic Politics and Monarchical Culture, Andreas Gestrich & Michael Schaich (Routledge, 2016), from English Political Institutions, J A R Marriott (Oxford University Press, 1925), from The General Strike of 1926, Keith Laybourn (1993), from The Foundations of the British Labour Party: Identities, Cultures and Perspectives, 1900-39, Matthew Worley (Ashgate Publishing, 2009), and from External Links: On this day: 1 January 1973, and Discover Canada - Canada's History (Government of Canada), and Conservatives turn on Boris Johnson over handling of UK Covid crisis (The Guardian), and Government plans to restrict the right to protest (The Guardian), and Theresa May is still the most liked living PM (YouGov), and Boris Johnson defies calls to quit (The Guardian), and Liz Truss kickstarts leadership race (The Guardian), and Boris Johnson humiliated (The Guardian), and UK Election Results 2024 (The Guardian).)

1721 - 1742

Sir Robert Walpole

Whig. 'First Lord of the Treasury'. Resigned.


Walpole, now the favourite of George II of the House of Hanover after many years of hard work, is gifted the new building at 10 Downing Street as his official residence as 'First Lord of the Treasury'.

He donates the residence to all future first lords (rather than prime ministers). Similarly, 11 Downing Street is the residence of the Second Lord of the Treasury (rather than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although the two posts are always held by the same individual).

10 Downing Street, London
No 10 Downing Street was a new-build when offered by the king to Robert Walpole in 1735, with him in turn gifting it to all successive first lords

A poor showing in a war against Spain in 1739 and a general election in 1741 forces Walpole to resign and move up to the House of Lords. His twenty year term of office is the longest of any 'prime minister', although that specific title is a long way off being acceptable to any first lord.

1742 - 1743

Earl of Wilmington

Whig. A 'stop-gap' PM. Died in office.

1743 - 1754

Henry Pelham

Whig. Died in office.


The War of the Austrian Succession is a wide-ranging conflict which encompasses the North American King George's War, two Silesian Wars, the War of Jenkins' Ear, and involves most of the crowned heads of Europe in deciding the question of whether Maria Theresa can succeed as archduke of Austria and, perhaps even more importantly, as Holy Roman Emperor.

Austria is supported by Britain, the Netherlands, the Savoyard kingdom of Sardinia, and Saxony (after an early switchover), but opposed by an opportunistic Prussia and France, who had raised the question in the first place to disrupt Habsburg control of Central Europe, backed up by Bavaria and Sweden (briefly). Spain joins the war in an unsuccessful attempt to restore possessions lost to Austria in 1715.

War of the Austrian Succession
The War of the Austrian Succession saw Europe go to war to decide whether Maria Theresa would secure the throne left to her by her father, but several other issues were also decided as a wide range of wars were involved in the overall conflict

The War of Jenkins' Ear pitches Britain against Spain between 1739-1748, while King George's War is fought between Britain and France in the French Colonies in 1744-1748, and the First Carnatic War of 1746-1748 involves the struggle for dominance in India by France and Britain.

Taking office after a fifty-six day gap following the resignation of Sir Robert Walpole, Pelham is successful in ending the war, achieving peace with France, and renewed trade with Spain through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Austria is ultimately successful, losing only Silesia to Prussia.

1754 - 1756

Thomas Pelham-Holles

Whig. Duke of Newcastle. Henry Pelham's brother. Resigned.

1756 - 1757

William Cavendish

Whig. Duke of Devonshire. Influenced by Pelham.

1756 - 1763

The Seven Years' War - the first truly 'global' conflict - erupts as Britain declares war on France. At the end of it, under the terms of the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau of 1762, France cedes the vast and wild Louisiana Territory from New France to Spain, while Britain gains the colony of Florida as part of the subsequent Treaty of Paris of 1763.

General James Wolfe
General James Wolfe completed his victory over the French - giving the British nominal control of the vast and still largely unexplored northern territories - but paid for it with his life in 1759

1757 - 1762

Thomas Pelham-Holles

Whig. Formed power-sharing coalition. Resigned.

1757 - 1761

Earl of Chatham, Pitt 'the Elder'

Whig. Part of a power-sharing coalition. Resigned.


William Cavendish

Whig. Lacklustre PM dominated by Pitt. Resigned.

1762 - 1763

Earl of Bute

Tory. Resigned.


The first Tory and first Scottish-born MP to hold office, Bute's eleven month term of office ends the Seven Years' War against France. Unpopular because he is a Scot at a time in which the Jacobite Rebellion is still fresh in people's minds, he resigns after a spate of verbal and physical attacks upon his person and in the face of the king's clear animosity towards him.

Proclamation of 1763
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 has long been debated by historians in reference to its influence on the later revolutionary war, but it was a genuine attempt to respect the territorial rights of the native Americans following the conclusion of the French-American War (part of the Seven Years' War)

1763 - 1765

George Grenville

Whig. Sacked by George III of Hanover.


Grenville, unpopular at home with the king and the people, attempts to regain favour by lowering domestic taxes at the expense of the British Colonies, introducing the Stamp Act. The laws give rise to widespread protests in North America which eventually boil over into the War for Independence, or Revolutionary War.

In fact, a great amount of time over the subsequent decade is given over to the discussion of just how to treat the colonies, none of it entirely effective.

1765 - 1766

Marquess of Rockingham

Whig. Sacked by George III of Hanover.

1766 - 1768

Earl of Chatham, Pitt 'the Elder'

Whig. Resigned due to poor health.

1768 - 1770

Duke of Grafton

Whig. Resigned.

1770 - 1782

Lord North

Tory. Resigned.

1770 - 1782

Best known as the man who loses [some of] the British Colonies in North America, Lord North serves for a disastrous twelve years in office. Entering into the war with the king's support, and the king's direction as to the military campaigns in the colonies, he makes tactical errors which lead to heavy British losses, including defeats to US forces at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781.

Siege of Yorktown 1781
French forces were present in large numbers at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, around 11,800 of them, added to 8,800 Continental troops to face 9,000 British and Hessian troops

At home in 1780, anti-Catholic unrest known as the Gordon Riots breaks out in London, with rioters agitating for the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act. North watches the riots from his home at 10 Downing Street.


Marquess of Rockingham

Whig. Died in office.

1782 - 1783

Earl of Shelburne

Whig. Forced by the Opposition to resign.


Duke of Portland

Tory. Resigned over the king's interference.


During both of his two brief terms of office, the duke of Portland insists he is a Whig, despite heading a Tory coalition government. In December his government falls when George III announces that anyone who votes for reform of the East India Company will be considered his personal enemy.

Clive of India
The statue of Robert Clive (1725-1774), founder of the British presidency of Bengal for the East India Company, can be found today on Horse Guards Parade in London

1783 - 1801

William Pitt 'the Younger'

Tory. Son of Pitt 'the Elder'. Youngest PM. Resigned.


Despite the king's wishes, the India Act establishes dual control of the East India Company, and centralises British rule in India by reducing the power of the governors of Bombay and Madras and increasing that of the position of governor-general.

FeatureJohn Palmer of Bristol sees his suggestion for the establishment of a mail coach system being taken up by William Pitt at the suggestion of Lord Camden. These provide a more speedy and cost-effective system of transport for the post than with the previous system (see feature link for details).


FeatureThe country is placed on a semi-war footing following the French Revolution. Britain finds itself at war with France almost continuously for the next three decades (see feature link), and real fears soon emerge that the 563-kilometre Essex coastline is being earmarked for invasion.

The French Revolution's 'Terror'
The French revolutionary 'Reign of Terror' reached its peak between 5 September 1793 and 27 July 1794, with civil war mixing into desperate armed conflict with several hostile states, forcing the Revolutionary government to make terror the mainstay of its rule


The Act of Union with Ireland is passed on 1 January, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Irish parliament is dissolved (until 1923). A hundred Irish MPs enter the House of Commons, and Irish peers elect representatives from among their number to sit in the Lords.

1801 - 1804

Henry Addington

Tory. The first middle class PM. Resigned.

1804 - 1806

William Pitt 'the Younger'

Tory. Died in office due to increasing ill health.

1806 - 1807

Lord Grenville

Whig. Son of George Grenville (1763). Resigned.

1806 - 1807

Charles Fox

Whig. Coalition partner. Died in office.

1806 - 1807

Grenville reluctantly forms a cross-party alliance of MPs which becomes known as the 'Ministry of all The Talents'. It is a coalition between Grenville's supporters, the Foxite Whigs, and the supporters of former Prime Minister Henry Addington (now Lord Sidmouth). Grenville, as First Lord of the Treasury, and Fox, as Foreign Secretary, are joint leaders.

Napoleon and Josephine feast upon England
Napoleon and Josephine feast upon England, from plates containing the Bank of England, St James', and the Tower, whilst the hand of God declares judgement on the French forces: you have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting (LC-USZC4-8790)

Grenville's ministry is mostly unsuccessful, failing to make peace with France or to accomplish Catholic emancipation. It does, though, result in one momentous achievement - the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Aside from its positive effects, this also has negative effects, notably in the African kingdom of Asante.

1807 - 1809

Duke of Portland

Tory. Resigned.

1809 - 1812

Spenser Perceval

Tory. Assassinated.


Spenser Perceval becomes the only serving British PM to be assassinated when he is shot in the House of Commons by businessman John Bellingham, a merchant who has incurred business debts in Russia. Attempts to recover compensation from the government for his losses have already been refused, so he seeks revenge.

1812 - 1827

Earl of Liverpool

Tory. One of the youngest leaders. Resigned through ill health.


A crackdown on civil liberty following the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 prompts an attempt by radicals to murder Liverpool and his cabinet and start a radical revolution. However, the Cato Street Conspiracy, as it becomes known, proves unsuccessful, and the conspirators are hanged or transported.

Peterloo Massacre, 1819
The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 began as a peaceful appeal for political reform, and ended with eighteen dead and hundreds injured


Britain abolishes the African Company of Merchants and seizes privately held land along the West African coast, incorporating it into the Gold Coast colony. Suddenly the regional power, Asante, is forced to recognise that it is not the only major power in the region and the two begin an unspoken struggle for superiority.

As far as Britain is concerned, the formalisation of the Gold Coast colony not only helps to keep the competing French and their Ivory Coast territory from expanding eastwards, but also gives Britain a foothold in influencing Asante's affairs.

Only grass and bush separates the French West Africa territories to the north from Asante, while the kingdom of Dahomey borders Asante to the east, so the French focus their attentions here instead.

British and Asante leaders
The British probably met up with the Asante leaders at an early point in the expansion of Gold Coast, although this 1819 illustrates a meeting of its own time, as confirmed by the headgear worn by the British soldiers


George Canning

Tory. Died in office after the shortest term as PM.


Lord Lansdowne

Whig. Coalition partner. Son of PM Earl Shelburne (1782).

1827 - 1828

Viscount Goderich

Tory. Resigned.

1828 - 1830

Duke of Wellington

Tory. Resigned.


Sir Arthur Wellesley, brother of Richard, once governor-general of British-administered India, is the hero of the Battle of Waterloo and the Peninsula War in Spain against imperial France, for which he had been created duke of Wellington in 1815. Now, also known as the 'Iron Duke', he succeeds in passing the Catholic Emancipation Bill.


FeatureSir Arthur Wellesley shakes the hand of MP William Husskisson as the two heal a long-standing rift during the very first run of the Manchester to Liverpool railway service. Seconds later, Husskisson becomes the world's first victim of a railway accident (see feature link).

Railway accident 1830
The remarkable inaugural day of running on the Manchester to Liverpool railway line (only the second passenger-carrying railway in the entire country after the Canterbury and Whitstable) was marred by a dreadful tragedy

FeatureIn the same year, the first passenger-carrying railway in the south of England opens. The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway consists of several innovations, including the world's first passenger-carrying railway bridge (demolished 1969) and footpath tunnel (which still survives, only recently in a fully preserved and protected condition - see feature link for full details).

IndexIt is the first of a torrent of new railway lines to be built over the next thirty years or so, heralding the golden age of railways (see index link for details of some of these which have since been dismantled).

1830 - 1834

Earl Grey

Whig. Resigned.

1832 - 1833

FeatureEarl Grey's most remarkable achievement is the Reform Act, which sets in train a gradual process of electoral change. Around one hundred and thirty years of parliamentary reform begin with this act and they culminate in universal suffrage for men and women over the age of eighteen, plus secret ballots in parliament, and legitimate constituencies. The history of Greater London's modern mayoral position also begins here (see feature link).

Canterbury & Whitstable Railway remains in Canterbury
The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway opened on 3 May 1830, six months before its better-known rival in the north, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which holds the honour of being the very first double-track mainline railway (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page)

Grey also introduces restrictions against the employment of children, and sees the abolition of slavery in the British empire in 1833. Today he is more famous for the mixture of tea flavoured with bergamot oil which is named after him (he is also featured heavily in the 2008 film, The Duchess).


Viscount Melbourne

Whig. Dismissed by William IV Hanover.


FeatureFire destroys most of the parliament buildings, although St Stephen's Chapel survives (see feature link). The rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, within the Palace of Westminster, in the design known today is completed by 1870.

It lasts remarkably well, despite the increasingly acidic air pollution of London, but by the beginning of the twenty-first century it is in need of major repair and large-scale updating.

In the very same year, slavery, one of the key institutions in the economy of colonies such as Jamaica, is abolished in parliament by the 'Slavery Abolition Act'. The colonial plantation system collapses. Unemployment and heavy taxation follow, bringing calamity to several overseas economies.

Jamaica's Blue Mountains
Jamaica's Blue Mountains form the longest mountain range along the eastern edge of Jamaica and feature majestic scenery while also being the source of the world-famous and highly fragrant Blue Mountain Coffee

The Conservative Party is founded as the heir - and in some measure a continuation - of the Tory Party. Members have already began forming 'conservative associations' in the wake of the Reform Bill of 1832 extending electoral rights to the newly-emergent middle class.


Duke of Wellington

Tory. Listed, although he refused the invitation to become PM.

1834 - 1835

Sir Robert Peel

Tory. PM for five months. Government collapsed.

1835 - 1841

Viscount Melbourne

Whig. Resigned.

1837 - 1841

Melbourne is Victoria of Saxe-Coburg's first prime minister, and she trusts him greatly. Their close relationship is founded in his responsibility for tutoring her in the world of politics and instructing her in her role.

1841 - 1846

Sir Robert Peel

Tory. Resigned.

1841 - 1846

Peel's period in government - as prime minister and in other offices - is a milestone for social reform. Landmark legislation cuts working hours for women and children, creates cheap and regular rail services, and reorganises the policing of London, changing society in radical ways.

The Palace of Westminster
The rebuilt Palace of Westminster, completed in 1870 by Sir Charles Barry but still containing, at its heart, St Stephen's Chapel in which Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I held their parliaments

His other major achievement - repealing the Corn Laws in 1846 - splits his party, but earns him lasting popular fame for his humanitarian gesture.


George Maclean's time in office as governor of the Gold Coast territory for the British African Company of Merchants has been so successful for peaceful relations and trade that a parliamentary committee has recommended that the British government permanently administer its settlements and negotiate treaties with the coastal chiefs which will define Britain's relations with them.

The government does this now, reinstating crown government. Commander Henry Worsley Hill is appointed the first 'proper' governor of the Gold Coast.

Asante (bordering the Gold Coast) was growing rapidly by the early 1800s, both its empire and its capital at Kumasi which is shown here in a late nineteenth century depiction

1846 - 1851

Lord John Russell

Whig. Resigned. Returned in 1865.


Earl of Derby

Conservative. Resigned.


The Conservative party is an evolution of the Tories, although it is a term which is not universally used at first. The earl of Derby is regarded as the father of the modern Conservative Party, and the term 'Tory' is still interchangeable with 'Conservative' today.

1852 - 1855

Earl of Aberdeen

Tory. Resigned.

1854 - 1856

Aberdeen is effectively blamed for failings when Britain and France join the Ottoman empire in the Crimean War against Russia. The war ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, a severe setback to Russian ambitions.

1855 - 1858

Viscount Palmerston

Tory. Once out of office he forms the Liberal Party in 1859.


Responding successfully to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Palmerston supports a lenient approach in the face of British calls for hard treatment. In February 1858 he introduces the 'Government of India Bill' to transfer the administration of India from the East India Company to the Crown.

William Moorecroft of the East India Company
William Moorecroft of the British East India Company is seen here on the road to Lake Mansarowar in Tibet, dressed in native style

FeatureLater the same year, the Great Stink seeps into the Palace of Westminster and forces Benjamin Disraeli to run from the chamber. A program of sewer building is instigated right away, being completed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1869 (see feature link for more).

1858 - 1859

Earl of Derby

Conservative. Resigned.


A coalition of Whigs has been evolving into the Liberal party since 1852 under Lord Aberdeen, but Viscount Palmerston formalises the arrangement, creating the Liberal party. As its leader he returns to office just a few days later as the first Liberal PM. The term 'Liberal' is first used to describe the party in 1868. He is succeeded by the last of the old Whigs not to be part of the coalition.

1859 - 1865

Viscount Palmerston

Liberal. Died in office.

1865 - 1866

The fallout from the failed Morant Bay Rebellion on Jamaica sees Governor Eyre recalled, but Jamaica is quickly established (in 1866) as a crown colony, with the governor assuming almost the entire executive and legislative power.

1865 - 1866

Earl Russell

Last Whig. Formerly Lord John Russell (1846). Resigned.

1866 - 1868

Earl of Derby

Conservative. Resigned.


The United States senate purchases Russian America from Russia for just US$7.2 million. Czar Alexander of Russia allows this because he fears that the British will invade and seize it. On the other side of the fence the act is seen somewhat differently, as a threat to Britain's Pacific coast colony.

The act of Confederation in Canada
The British North America Act of 1867 created Canadian confederation out of the various British-governed territories in North America, uniting all of them into a single body

As a reaction, and also as a result of the three years of planning which had preceded this moment, three months later Upper Canada and Lower Canada are united with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on 1 July under the 'British North America Act', creating the 'Dominion of Canada'.

1867 - 1868

Derby's third term in office is responsible for the landmark 'Second Reform Bill of 1867', a milestone in the democratisation of Britain. His successor, Disraeli, strikes up a remarkable rapport with Victoria of the House of Saxe-Coburg, while in parliament he faces William Gladstone across the Dispatch Box, a match which becomes Britain's most famous parliamentary rivalry.

The queen dislikes Gladstone as much as she likes Disraeli. The contrast in their physical appearances and their styles is stark, and the animosity between them is strong.


Benjamin Disraeli

Conservative. Lost general election.

1868 - 1874

William Ewart Gladstone

Liberal. Lost general election.

1874 - 1880

Benjamin Disraeli

Conservative. Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876.

1880 - 1885

William Ewart Gladstone

Liberal. Resigned.


Gladstone's Liberal government passes the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881, which bans the sale of alcohol in Welsh pubs on the Sabbath. It is an act which will change the culture, politics, and even the architecture of Wales for over a century.

Irish Republican Brotherhood
By the 1860s, the Fenian movement had largely been destroyed, many of its surviving members imprisoned, so it was replaced by the Irish Republican Brotherhood

Sponsored by prominent Welsh nonconformists in the Liberal party, such as future Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the act is not repealed until 1961. It is also the first piece of Wales-only legislation passed by Westminster since the 1542 Act of Union, and is the first recognition in law of a distinct Welsh identity.

1881 - 1885

The Irish Republican Brotherhood launches a bombing campaign in mainland Britain, known as the Fenian Dynamite Campaign. It is aimed mainly at military, governmental, and police targets but one attack on London's underground railway network on 30 October 1883 injures seventy people at Praed Street Station (now Paddington).

1885 - 1886

Marquess of Salisbury

Conservative. Government fell due to the 'Irish' question.


William Ewart Gladstone

Liberal. Goverment fell due to the 'Irish' question.


Gladstone returns to power in coalition with Irish Nationalists with 'Home Rule' (devolution) for Ireland still the dominant issue. The bill splits the Liberals and Gladstone resigns.

Victoria discovers she is queen
The moment when young Victoria discovered she was queen, as Lord Conyngham (left) and William Howley, archbishop of Canterbury, kneel before her

He loses the resulting general election when the 'Liberal Unionists' - those who want Ireland to be ruled from Westminster - break away from Gladstone's Liberals to fight as a separate party. Most Liberal Unionists are of the 'Whig' or propertied faction of the party, so when they go they take most of the money with them.

1886 - 1892

Marquess of Salisbury

Conservative. Remained leader when in Opposition.

1892 - 1894

William Ewart Gladstone

Liberal. Resigned.

1894 - 1895

Earl of Rosebery

Liberal. Resigned.

1895 - 1902

Marquess of Salisbury

Conservative. Resigned. Last serving PM to sit in the Lords.

1899 - 1902

The Second Boer War breaks out in South Africa in 1899, splitting the Cabinet and leading to Salisbury's resignation. It is fought between Britain, two independent Boer republics, the Orange Free State, and the South Africa republic.

1902 - 1905

Arthur James Balfour

Conservative. Nephew of Salisbury. Resigned.


The term 'prime minister' is first used in a royal warrant, being used in the order of precedence. The result is that the term is now officially recognised to describe the leader of the government. The position is outranked only by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the moderator of the 'General Assembly of the Church of Scotland', and the lord chancellor.

Arthur James Balfour, prime minister, 1902-1905
Arthur Balfour's 'Balfour Declaration' was Britain's First World War commitment to support the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine

1905 - 1908

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman

Liberal. Resigned but died in 10 Downing Street.

1908 - 1916

Herbert Henry Asquith

Liberal. Resigned.

1908 - 1910

At the start of his ministry, Asquith's government ushers in some of the predecessors of the Welfare State. Old Age Pensions are introduced and Unemployment Exchanges (job centres) are set up.

David Lloyd George's attempt in 1909 to introduce a budget which taxes the rich is blocked by the House of Lords, leading to two general elections in 1910. The Liberals win with a 'peers against the people' campaign slogan.

The budget is passed and, in 1911, the Parliament Act becomes law. The act states that the Lords can only veto a Commons bill twice, and institutes five-yearly general elections.


Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Britain and all its territories and colonies (including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), France, and Russia are forced to declare war against Germany and Austria at midnight on 4 August.

The First World War (variously called World War I, or the Great War), has begun. Japan joins Britain against Germany, as does China, both keen on reducing the German presence in their region.

Mrs Emily Pankhurst
The suffragette movement before the First World War had played a vital role in creating a growing awareness of the campaign to give the vote to women

1916 - 1922

David Lloyd George

Liberal. 'The Welsh Wizard,' or 'The Goat'.

1916 - 1918

The Arab Revolt is triggered, nominally under British direction and with British support. It begins the liberation from Ottoman hands of much of the Near East, with Britain and the Hashemite Arabs taking control in Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, and Syria. One of the best-known figures of this conflict is, of course, T E Lawrence, as shown dramatically in David Lean's film, Lawrence of Arabia.

In 1917, Palestine, the ancient land of the Philistines, is taken by the British from the crumbling Ottomans. In 1917 parliament's 'Balfour Declaration' gives backing for 'a national home for Jewish people' in Palestine, which would allow millions of members of the Jewish Diaspora a restored homeland to which they can return.


Lloyd George wins the election by a huge majority in 1918, following his successful handling of the last years of the First World War. It is the first election in which any women are allowed to vote, thanks to the 1918 Representation Act.

FeatureIt is also the first to return a woman as a member of parliament: Constance Markiewicz, elected for Dublin St Patrick as one of seventy-three Sinn Fein MPs who all refuse to take up their seats in the Commons (see feature link for more on suffragettes).

Suffragette meeting
A suffragette meeting in London in the early nineteen hundreds, one of many which helped the cause to victory by the end of the First World War

1919 - 1922

On 29 November 1919 the first female member of parliament to take up her seat is American-born Lady Nancy Astor. However, the later years of the Lloyd George government are beset by problems.

The Liberal party never runs the government again outside of a coalition, being demoted to the country's third party behind the Conservatives and the new Labour party which has been born out of the trade union movement.

1922 - 1923

Andrew Bonar Law

Conservative. Canadian-born son of a Scottish clergyman.


Stanley Baldwin

Conservative. Resigned after losing the subsequent election.


James Ramsay MacDonald



Ramsay MacDonald's first ever Labour government has a small majority in the House but it is destroyed during the subsequent election campaign when a newspaper publishes the notorious 'Zinoviev' letter. Although later accepted to be a fraud, the letter ruins MacDonald's anti-communist credentials.

1924 - 1929

Stanley Baldwin



Faced by the General Strike in May 1926, the only one in British history, Baldwin's combination of firmness and conciliation ensures its defeat after nine days. However, workers have discovered that their collective voice has power, and government-union relations will not be the same again.

The General Strike of 1926 in Britain
The General Strike was the only one to take place in Britain, being called on 3 May 1926 and lasting nine days

1929 - 1935

James Ramsay MacDonald

Labour. Resigned.

1935 - 1937

Stanley Baldwin

Conservative. Retired.

1937 - 1940

Arthur Neville Chamberlain

Conservative. Resigned.

1938 - 1939

Famous for just one political act, Chamberlain meets German chancellor Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938. The result of the meeting is an agreement that Britain and Germany will never again go to war. 'I believe,' he declares on his return to Britain, 'it is peace for our time.'

However, the success of 'appeasement' is short-lived. Hitler occupies the Czechoslovakian capital of Prague in the following year. The subsequent invasion of Poland forces Chamberlain's hand. Alongside his French counterpart he is forced to declare war on 3 September 1939.

German troops enter Poland on 1 September 1939
Nazi-led German troops are shown here progressing in good order through a Polish town on the first day of the invasion of that country, 1 September 1939

1939 - 1940

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) conducts the S-Plan (Sabotage Campaign, otherwise known as the England Campaign). They carry out bombings and acts of sabotage against the United Kingdom's civil, economic, and military infrastructure, beginning in January 1939. The introduction of wartime restrictions and increased security serve to dilute the Irish efforts, and they peter out after March 1940.

1940 - 1945

Winston Churchill

Conservative, leading a wartime coalition government.

1943 - 1944

The sitting governor-general of Canada, the earl of Athlone and his wife, Princess Alice, host Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and United States President Franklin D Roosevelt at La Citadelle in Québec on two separate occasions in 1943 and 1944.

These meetings, known as the Quebec Conferences, help to decide the strategies of the Western Allies, which eventually lead to victory over Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945.

Berlin 1945
Poet Yevgeny Dolmatovski recites his works on Berlin's Pariser Platz just a few days after the German surrender - a remarkable poetry recital with the bullet-riddled Brandenburg Gate flanked by ruins and two tank barrels hovering above the heads of soldiers

1945 - 1951

Clement Attlee



The Attlee government institutes a remarkable social and economic programme which is characterised by radicalism: the foundation of the National Health Service; the nationalisation of heavy industries and the Bank of England; a huge building programme; and a new national insurance scheme.

In international affairs, the government oversees the dismantling of empire, the Berlin airlift during the Russian blockade of the city in 1948-1949, and the formation of Nato.

1951 - 1955

Sir Winston Churchill

Conservative. Resigned due to ill health.


Some elements of Scottish society takes umbrage at one specific detail of the impending coronation of Elizabeth Windsor. As there had never been an Elizabeth I of Scotland, there could hardly be an Elizabeth II now. The rector of the University of Glasgow, John MacCormick launches a legal challenge against Elizabeth's right to use 'the second' in Scotland, but this fails.

It is Winston Churchill who comes up with a compromise. Any future monarch of England and Scotland should use the highest applicable numbering in both countries combined, so that a King James would be James VIII (following on from Scotland's James VII) and a Henry would be Henry IX (following on from England's Henry VIII).

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is still overlooked by the Castle Rock upon which sits Edinburgh Castle, a fortress which has existed in this form since the sixteenth century

1955 - 1957

Sir Anthony Eden

Conservative. Resigned.

1957 - 1963

Harold Macmillan

Conservative. Half-American. Resigned.


Macmillan, known for his quote, 'you've never had it so good', finds his government fatally tainted by the 'Profumo Affair' which links showgirl Christine Keeler to Secretary of State for War John Profumo and the Soviet naval attaché to London (as depicted in the film, Scandal).

1963 - 1964

Sir Alec Douglas-Home



Douglas-Home is the only peer to take advantage of a recent change in the law which allows hereditary peers to disclaim (or 'drop') their titles, which in turn means they are able to become members of parliament.

Formerly the fourteenth earl of Home, Douglas-Home assumes office when Harold Macmillan retires due to ill health. He is also the last PM to be 'selected' as leader of the Conservatives by the monarch (therefore giving her a say in who becomes prime minister). From this point on, the Conservative Party chooses its leaders through internal voting.

1964 - 1970

Harold Wilson


1970 - 1974

Edward Heath



The United Kingdom becomes a fully-fledged member of the European Economic Community. Ireland and Denmark also join Britain in becoming the newest members of the community, bringing the total number of member states to nine. Prime Minister Edward Heath is optimistic that Britain's membership of the community will bring prosperity to the country.

Edward Heath, prime minister, 1970-1974
Edward Heath, Britain's Conservative prime minister between 1970-1974, made gaining membership in the European Economic Community a key objective

Membership applications by the UK to join the EEC have been refused in 1963 and 1967, ostensibly because the French president at the time, Charles de Gaulle, had doubted the UK's political will. It is understood, however, that his real fear had been that English will suddenly become the common language of the community - which subsequently proves to be the case.

1974 - 1976

Harold Wilson

Labour. Resigned.

1976 - 1979

James Callaghan


1978 - 1979

The 'Winter of Discontent' sees mass strikes, household waste collected into small mountains in public parks, and a general damaging of the government's reputation. Callaghan is forced to hold a general election in 1979, which he loses.

1979 - 1990

Margaret Thatcher 'the Iron Lady'

Conservative. First female PM.


One of Thatcher's most memorable acts is the leading of Britain through a successful Falklands War against Argentina. She wins a second term of office largely on the strength of this. However, her imposition of the 'poll tax' on individuals rather than householders brings about widespread public disobedience and greatly damages her reputation.

The sinking of the Belgrano
The sinking of the Argentine cruiser the General Belgrano was an act of the first stage of the Falklands War, fought at sea before British troops landed on the islands themselves

1990 - 1997

John Major


1997 - 2007

Tony Blair

Labour. Leader of the so-called modernised 'New Labour'.


Devolution gives back Scotland a parliament of its own to handle its internal affairs. The Scottish parliament operates from Holyrood in Edinburgh in a purpose-built construction which takes four years to complete, opening in 2004. The act also seems to pave the way for the domination of Scottish politics by the pro-independence SNP.

2007 - 2010

Gordon Brown

Labour. Former chancellor for ten years.


Following a catastrophic, US-triggered worldwide financial collapse in 2008-2009 and the resultant economic depression, the popularity of the 'New Labour' government is low. This is concentrated because Gordon Brown has taken over from the retired Tony Blair without facing a general election.

Washington DC
Washington DC, the capital of the United States, was specifically constructed for the purpose between 1790-1800, capped with what could be described as a 'shining beacon upon a hill'

The general election of 6 May 2010 sees the Conservatives win the most seats, but not enough to gain a majority, resulting in a hung parliament. Several days of meetings between the various parties follow, but when it becomes clear that Labour is too inflexible to make a Liberal Democrat-Labour alliance work, it is the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance which becomes a reality.

A formal coalition government, the first since the Second World War, is headed by the Conservative party leader, David Cameron, the youngest prime minister since the earl of Liverpool in 1812, and sees Liberals sharing elements of power for the first time since 1922.

2010 - 2015

David Cameron

Conservative, heading a coalition government.

2010 - 2015

Nick Clegg

Liberal Democrat. Coalition partner and deputy PM.


The rumbling discontent by Argentina over the ownership of the Falkland Islands sparks further controversy. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has long been known to be using the issue to mask her growing unpopularity at home during the war's thirtieth anniversary.

David Cameron and Cristina Kirchner
President Kirchner fails in an attempt to 'handbag' British Prime Minister David Cameron at the G20 industrial nations summit on 19 June 2012

Despite repeated assurances by the islands' residents themselves that they are quite happy to remain British, Kirchner ignores them completely, instead attempting to score political points and garner support amongst likeminded governments.

However, Argentina's military power is so weak after years of cutbacks and purges that it is unable to offer a convincing military threat to the islanders' independence.


Scotland votes against ending its three hundred-and-seven year-old union with England and Wales, with the Scottish National party conceding defeat in the historic referendum. On Friday 19 September 2014, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond decides he will step down following his failure to press home the case for independence.

2015 - 2016

David Cameron

Conservative, heading small majority government. Resigned.


The UK decides to isolate itself from the largest single trading market in the world - the European Union - thanks to a slim majority in a non-binding referendum (Scotland produces a majority 'remain' result while Wales strongly prefers to leave). The unexpected result on 23 June results in Cameron resigning his position.

Several million EU citizens who live and work in the UK - as well as millions who work with EU businesses from the UK - are left with years of uncertainty about their futures while Scotland plans a new independence referendum with a view to reapplying for EU membership.

Brexit illustrated
With the imagery for Brexit becoming ever darker, any rational argument against it was drowned out by a baying chorus of 'Project Fear!', while Brexiteers could offer nothing more than claims of 'freedom, sovereignty, prosperity' to encourage its support, all of which failed to emerge

Subsequent confusion within both leading political parties leaves Labour looking fractured and weak as Jeremy Corbyn's half-hearted leadership faces up to the challenge. For the Conservatives, a vicious leadership election battle sees several big names fall.

During the second round of voting the inexperienced Andrea Leadsom pulls out, leaving Theresa May as the only remaining candidate. She takes up the post of prime minister on Wednesday 13 July 2016.

2016 - 2019

Theresa May

Conservative. Switched majority for minority government.

2017 - 2019

With a small majority in parliament, and facing opposition on all sides for her hard-line stance on exiting the European Union, Theresa May realises that she will have a huge amount of trouble pushing through her demands for complete separation from European institutions (known colloquially as 'Britain's exit', or 'Brexit').

Theresa May, prime minister, 2016-2019
Peculiarly, although highly unpopular, Theresa May was, statistically speaking, the least unpopular still-living PM or former PM of her time, as measured in YouGov data

On 18 April she announces a snap election for June, banking on the hope that she will win a clear and dominant majority in parliament. Quite the opposite occurs, with a hung parliament being delivered.

May moves to form a minority government which is greatly weakened in terms of its Brexit negotiating position. Now it has to rely on Northern Irish allies, the DUP, to have a majority in parliament.

Despite this, May's inflexible message shows no signs of softening, and two years of parliamentary chaos follows as the Brexit debate crawls painfully towards its conclusion - only after May is forced out of office on Friday 7 June 2019 without achieving anything of note.

2019 - 2022

Alexander Boris Johnson

Conservative. Would-be presidential-style bumbler.


One of the first acts of Johnson's right-leaning, semi-libertarian, pro-Brexit government is to destroy its own small majority in parliament by removing the whip from twenty-one of its own MPs (effectively firing them from the Conservative party).

Now powerless and virtually friendless due to the hardline nature of his cabinet, Johnson loses seven straight parliamentary votes and is unable even to force a general election. He is even humiliated in Luxembourg for skipping a press conference in order to avoid protestors.

Luxembourg around 1900
A postcard view of central Luxembourg City which was produced around 1900, at the dawn of the grand duchy's first period of true independence

Somewhat surprisingly then - probably aided by the unelectable nature of the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, and certainly aided by a deluded opposition belief that it can now win an election - it is Johnson who gains a major landslide majority on 12 December 2019.


When the Covid-19 pandemic hits Britain, the response by Johnson's government is half-hearted, confused, contradictory, and one of knee-jerk reaction rather than forward planning. As a result the country suffers one of the highest rates of infection during the first wave. Scotland under its devolved government generally fares better.

Second wave Covid-19 begins to take hold in December, largely due to the appearance of at least two variants which are better at transmitting infection. Christmas is largely a locked-down celebration of individual households with little permitted travelling or mixing.

Boris Johnson, prime minister from 2019
Often appearing during Covid-19 press briefings in a shambolic state, Johnson would deliver a rambling, semi-coherent message with few facts and few answers to questions


A spate of activity during March sees Johnson unveil a flag-draped multi-million pound US presidential-style press conference platform in Downing Street. Decades of gradual nuclear disarmament is suddenly reversed with a vague announcement of rearmament, without specifying where the money will come from.

With the 'Policing Bill' (delayed until May), Johnson seems to be aiming towards the introduction of a far-right state in which dissent and protest is effectively outlawed. The powers it gives to the police allows them to stifle any level of perceived anti-government protest, even down to an individual on Speaker's Corner (similar to Germany's Berlin in 1933 under the 'Enabling Act'). The bill passes through parliament with a Conservative majority vote.


With the Covid-19 pandemic appearing to ease in the face of majority (but not universal) vaccination, Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, become what is thought to be the first sitting prime minister and chancellor to be criminally sanctioned.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak in parliament
Lurching from one political disaster to another, Johnson steadfastly refused to resign for any of his frequent failings in office

Both are given a fixed-penalty notice for breaking Johnson's own Covid laws by attending a party for his birthday at No 10. Neither offers to resign in disgrace.

Finally, one controversy too many results in a major wave of ministerial resignations on Wednesday 6 July 2022. These include Rishi Sunak, Johnson's chancellor, and Sajid Javid, health secretary, both major ministerial positions.

By Thursday morning Johnson's position has become entirely untenable, so he agrees to resign, making him the shortest-serving Conservative prime minister (to date, and excluding the subsequent caretaker term), and not the longest as he has often made clear had been his ambition. The change of heart means a humiliating departure, which takes place on 7 September following a drawn-out selection process.


Mary Elizabeth Truss

Conservative. Former foreign secretary. Resigned.


The 'reign' of Liz Truss begins just days prior to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. When her new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, pronounces a radical and disastrous mini-budget it subsequently crashes the value of the pound. He is forced to carry the can by resigning.

Liz Truss becomes prime minister
Following a calamitous forty-four days in office, Liz Truss was forced to resign as the Conservative party roared its disapproval of her leadership, triggering a leadership contest in which Boris Johnson hoped to stage a remarkable return to power

Then her far-right home secretary, Suella Braverman, is also forced to resign, ostensibly for a clerical error. When it quickly becomes clear that her warring party no longer supports her, she resigns on Thursday 20 October, becoming by a clear margin the country's shorting-serving prime minister.

2022 - 2024

Rishi Sunak

Conservative. Former chancellor.


Rishi Sunak, former chancellor under Boris Johnson, is selected to be the next leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party. He is therefore Britain's latest prime minister, albeit one who remains unelected by the country's voters outside of the party itself. He is the country's first prime minister to be a person of colour and also of a Hindu background.


With a general election required to be held by the start of 2025, Sunak's weak governance and failure to improve the country's financial and economic condition leaves many wondering just which date he will pick for the election. In the end he goes early, plumping for 4 July 2024 and leaving around six weeks of campaigning time.

Kier Starmer becomes prime minister of the United Kingdom
Following five years of steady rebuilding following the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn election result of 2019, Kier Starmer led a carefully-managed, steady-as-you-go Labour party to one of the biggest landslide victories ever seen in British politics

2024 - Present

Sir Kier Rodney Starmer

Labour. Former director of public prosecutions.


Results from the general election are announced in the early hours of the morning of Friday 5 July 2024. The Labour landslide is enormous, winning four hundred and twelve seats to the Conservatives on one hundred and twenty-one. Only Tony Blair's 1997 election had seen Labour do even better.

Leading Conservatives to lose their seats include Liz Truss, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Alex Chalk, Gillian Keegan, Johnny Mercer, Penny Mordaunt, and Grant Shapps. Resurgent Liberal Democrats are restored as the third party. The right-wing Reform party take five seats, one more than the Green party.

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