The Last of the Whigs: A Political Biography of Lord Hartington, Later Eighth Duke of Devonshire (1833-1908)
This political biography of Lord Hartington, later the Eighth Duke of Devonshire, is the first to appear in over eighty years. Hartington was the last of the great Whig landowners to play a prominent part in national politics. In the very different society which came into being after his death in 1908, he was largely forgotten - his reputation eclipsed by those of more spectacular contemporaries, such as Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. Many modern commentators have tended too readily to accept Hartington's self-depreciation at face value. By non-specialists he is remembered, if at all, as the classic example of the amateur politician who claims to be bored by politics, reputedly yawning in the middle of his own speeches. This myth grew out of the defensive reactions of a diffident nature and out of contemporary expectations of aristocracy.
As Patrick Jackson shows, Hartington played an important part in British politics for over forty years - from 1863 (when he joined Palmerston's Government), until 1903 (when he resigned from Balfour's Cabinet). Uniquely in British history, he three times declined offers of the Premiership. The first came after the great Liberal election victory in April 1880, when Hartington had to make way for Gladstone's re-emergence from retirement. The other two offers were in 1886, after Hartington had broken with Gladstone over Irish home rule and had led his Liberal Unionist supporters into an alliance with the Conservatives.
One of the main fascinations of Hartington's political career lies in the contrast between his personality and attitudes and those of his great colleagues - Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain, Salisbury, and Balfour. There is also still a direct modern relevance in some of the major political controversies in which Hartington played a significant part, such as the struggle over Irish home rule and the argument about abandoning Britain's traditional free trade policy in favor of tariff reform and Imperial preference.
By the end of his life Hartington had established an influence far greater than can be accounted for by his actual political achievements. This reflected his personal character: he was universally trusted because he was straight - totally disinterested and without self-delusions. It is impossible to understand Hartington's reputation without considering his social position as the heir to one of the great dynasties of the British landed aristocracy. Although this book is primarily a political biography, it also covers Hartington's private life - including his thirty-year love affair with the Duchess of Manchester, whom he married in 1892, when he was 59 years old.
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