Benjamin Disraeli
Name: Benjamin Disraeli
Occupation: Politician
Gender: Male
Birth Day: December 21, 1804
Death Date: Apr 19, 1881 (age 76)
Age: Aged 76
Country: England
Zodiac Sign: Sagittarius

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Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli was born on December 21, 1804 in England (76 years old). Benjamin Disraeli is a Politician, zodiac sign: Sagittarius. Nationality: England. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.


He wrote two well-known romance novels, titled Sybil and Vivian Grey.

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As per our current Database, Benjamin Disraeli died on Apr 19, 1881 (age 76).


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Before Fame

He spurned the life of law his father had set out for him.


Biography Timeline


Disraeli was born on 21 December 1804 at 6 King's Road, Bedford Row, Bloomsbury, London, the second child and eldest son of Isaac D'Israeli, a literary critic and historian, and Maria (Miriam), née Basevi. The family was mostly from Italy, of mixed Sephardic Jewish, mercantile background with some Italkim, and Ashkenazi origins. Disraeli later romanticised his origins, claiming his father's family was of grand Spanish and Venetian descent; in fact Isaac's family was of no great distinction, but on Disraeli's mother's side, in which he took no interest, there were some distinguished forebears, including the Rothschilds and Isaac Cardoso. Historians differ on Disraeli's motives for rewriting his family history: Bernard Glassman argues that it was intended to give him status comparable to that of England's ruling elite; Sarah Bradford believes "his dislike of the commonplace would not allow him to accept the facts of his birth as being as middle-class and undramatic as they really were".


Isaac D'Israeli had never taken religion very seriously, but had remained a conforming member of the Bevis Marks Synagogue. His father, the elder Benjamin, was a prominent and devout member; it was probably from respect for him that Isaac did not leave when he fell out with the synagogue authorities in 1813. After Benjamin senior died in 1816 Isaac felt free to leave the congregation following a second dispute. Isaac's friend Sharon Turner, a solicitor, convinced him that although he could comfortably remain unattached to any formal religion it would be disadvantageous to the children if they did so. Turner stood as godfather when Benjamin was baptised, aged twelve, on 31 July 1817.


In November 1821, shortly before his seventeenth birthday, Disraeli was articled as a clerk to a firm of solicitors—Swain, Stevens, Maples, Pearse and Hunt—in the City of London. T F Maples was not only the young Disraeli's employer and a friend of his father's, but also his prospective father-in-law: Isaac and Maples entertained the possibility that the latter's only daughter might be a suitable match for Benjamin. A friendship developed, but there was no romance. The firm had a large and profitable business, and as the biographer R W Davis observes, the clerkship was "the kind of secure, respectable position that many fathers dream of for their children". Although biographers including Robert Blake and Bradford comment that such a post was incompatible with Disraeli's romantic and ambitious nature, he reportedly gave his employers satisfactory service, and later professed to have learned a good deal from his time with the firm. He recalled, "I had some scruples, for even then I dreamed of Parliament. My father's refrain always was 'Philip Carteret Webb', who was the most eminent solicitor of his boyhood and who was an MP. It would be a mistake to suppose that the two years and more that I was in the office of our friend were wasted. I have often thought, though I have often regretted the University, that it was much the reverse."


Disraeli toured Belgium and the Rhine Valley with his father in the summer of 1824; he later wrote that it was while travelling on the Rhine that he decided to abandon his position: "I determined when descending those magical waters that I would not be a lawyer." On their return to England he left the solicitors, at the suggestion of Maples, with the aim of qualifying as a barrister. He enrolled as a student at Lincoln's Inn and joined the chambers of his uncle, Nathaniel Basevy, and then those of Benjamin Austen, who persuaded Isaac that Disraeli would never make a barrister and should be allowed to pursue a literary career. He had made a tentative start: in May 1824 he submitted a manuscript to his father's friend, the publisher John Murray, but withdrew it before Murray could decide whether to publish it. Released from the law, Disraeli did some work for Murray, but turned most of his attention not to literature but to speculative dealing on the stock exchange.


Murray had for some time had ambitions to establish a new morning paper to compete with The Times. In 1825 Disraeli convinced him that he should proceed. The new paper, The Representative, promoted the mines and those politicians who supported them, particularly Canning. Disraeli impressed Murray with his energy and commitment to the project, but he failed in his key task of persuading the eminent writer John Gibson Lockhart to edit the paper. After that, Disraeli's influence on Murray waned, and to his resentment he was sidelined in the affairs of The Representative. The paper survived only six months, partly because the mining bubble burst in late 1825, and partly because, according to Blake, the paper was "atrociously edited", and would have failed regardless.

Disraeli's biographer Jonathan Parry writes that the financial failure and personal criticism that Disraeli suffered in 1825 and 1826 were probably the trigger for a serious nervous crisis affecting him over the next four years: "He had always been moody, sensitive, and solitary by nature, but now became seriously depressed and lethargic." He was still living with his parents in London, but in search of the "change of air" recommended by the family's doctors Isaac took a succession of houses in the country and on the coast, before Disraeli sought wider horizons.


Together with his sister's fiancé, William Meredith, Disraeli travelled widely in southern Europe and beyond in 1830–31. The trip was financed partly by another high society novel, The Young Duke, written in 1829–30. The tour was cut short suddenly by Meredith's death from smallpox in Cairo in July 1831. Despite this tragedy, and the need for treatment for a sexually transmitted disease on his return, Disraeli felt enriched by his experiences. He became, in Parry's words, "aware of values that seemed denied to his insular countrymen. The journey encouraged his self-consciousness, his moral relativism, and his interest in Eastern racial and religious attitudes." Blake regards the tour as one of the formative experiences of Disraeli's whole career: "[T]he impressions that it made on him were life-lasting. They conditioned his attitude toward some of the most important political problems which faced him in his later years—especially the Eastern Question; they also coloured many of his novels."


After the two novels were published, Disraeli declared that he would "write no more about myself". He had already turned his attention to politics in 1832, during the great crisis over the Reform Bill. He contributed to an anti-Whig pamphlet edited by John Wilson Croker and published by Murray entitled England and France: or a cure for Ministerial Gallomania. The choice of a Tory publication was regarded as strange by Disraeli's friends and relatives, who thought him more of a Radical. Indeed, he had objected to Murray about Croker's inserting "high Tory" sentiment: Disraeli remarked, "it is quite impossible that anything adverse to the general measure of Reform can issue from my pen." Moreover, at the time Gallomania was published, Disraeli was electioneering in High Wycombe in the Radical interest.


Disraeli's political views embraced certain Radical policies, particularly democratic reform of the electoral system, and also some Tory ones, including protectionism. He began to move in Tory circles. In 1834 he was introduced to the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Lyndhurst, by Henrietta Sykes, wife of Sir Francis Sykes. She was having an affair with Lyndhurst, and began another with Disraeli. Disraeli and Lyndhurst took an immediate liking to each other. Lyndhurst was an indiscreet gossip with a fondness for intrigue; this appealed greatly to Disraeli, who became his secretary and go-between. In 1835 Disraeli stood for the last time as a Radical, unsuccessfully contesting High Wycombe once again.


In April 1835, Disraeli fought a by-election at Taunton as a Tory candidate. The Irish MP Daniel O'Connell, misled by inaccurate press reports, thought Disraeli had slandered him while electioneering at Taunton; he launched an outspoken attack, referring to Disraeli as:

With Lyndhurst's encouragement Disraeli turned to writing propaganda for his newly adopted party. His Vindication of the English Constitution, was published in December 1835. It was couched in the form of an open letter to Lyndhurst, and in Bradford's view encapsulates a political philosophy that Disraeli adhered to for the rest of his life. Its themes were the value of benevolent aristocratic government, a loathing of political dogma, and the modernisation of Tory policies. The following year he wrote a series of satires on politicians of the day, which he published in The Times under the pen-name "Runnymede". His targets included the Whigs, collectively and individually, Irish nationalists, and political corruption. One essay ended:


Disraeli was now firmly in the Tory camp. He was elected to the exclusively Tory Carlton Club in 1836, and was also taken up by the party's leading hostess, Lady Londonderry. In June 1837 William IV died, the young Queen Victoria, his niece, succeeded him, and parliament was dissolved. On the recommendation of the Carlton Club, Disraeli was adopted as a Tory parliamentary candidate at the ensuing general election.


In the election in July 1837 Disraeli won a seat in the House of Commons as one of two members, both Tory, for the constituency of Maidstone. The other was Wyndham Lewis, who helped finance Disraeli's election campaign, and who died the following year. In the same year Disraeli published a novel, Henrietta Temple, which was a love story and social comedy, drawing on his affair with Henrietta Sykes. He had broken off the relationship in late 1836, distraught that she had taken yet another lover. His other novel of this period is Venetia, a romance based on the characters of Shelley and Byron, written quickly to raise much-needed money.

Disraeli made his maiden speech in Parliament on 7 December 1837. He followed O'Connell, whom he sharply criticised for the latter's "long, rambling, jumbling, speech". He was shouted down by O'Connell's supporters. After this unpromising start Disraeli kept a low profile for the rest of the parliamentary session. He was a loyal supporter of the party leader Sir Robert Peel and his policies, with the exception of a personal sympathy for the Chartist movement that most Tories did not share.

Although initially curious about Disraeli when he entered Parliament in 1837, Victoria came to detest him over his treatment of Peel. Over time, her dislike softened, especially as Disraeli took pains to cultivate her. He told Matthew Arnold, "Everybody likes flattery; and, when you come to royalty, you should lay it on with a trowel". Disraeli's biographer, Adam Kirsch, suggests that Disraeli's obsequious treatment of his queen was part flattery, part belief that this was how a queen should be addressed by a loyal subject, and part awe that a middle-class man of Jewish birth should be the companion of a monarch. By the time of his second premiership, Disraeli had built a strong relationship with Victoria, probably closer to her than any of her Prime Ministers except her first, Lord Melbourne. When Disraeli returned as Prime Minister in 1874 and went to kiss hands, he did so literally, on one knee; and, according to Richard Aldous in his book on the rivalry between Disraeli and Gladstone, "for the next six years Victoria and Disraeli would exploit their closeness for mutual advantage."


In 1839 Disraeli married Mary Anne Lewis, the widow of Wyndham Lewis. Twelve years Disraeli's senior, Mary Lewis had a substantial income of £5,000 a year. His motives were generally assumed to be mercenary, but the couple came to cherish one another, remaining close until she died more than three decades later. "Dizzy married me for my money", his wife said later, "But, if he had the chance again, he would marry me for love."


Finding the financial demands of his Maidstone seat too much, Disraeli secured a Tory nomination for Shrewsbury, winning one of the constituency's two seats at the 1841 general election, despite serious opposition, and heavy debts which opponents seized on. The election was a massive defeat for the Whigs across the country, and Peel became Prime Minister. Disraeli hoped, unrealistically, for ministerial office. Though disappointed at being left on the back benches, he continued his support for Peel in 1842 and 1843, seeking to establish himself as an expert on foreign affairs and international trade.

Although a Tory (or Conservative, as some in the party now called themselves) Disraeli was sympathetic to some of the aims of Chartism, and argued for an alliance between the landed aristocracy and the working class against the increasing power of the merchants and new industrialists in the middle class. After Disraeli won widespread acclaim in March 1842 for worsting the formidable Lord Palmerston in debate, he was taken up by a small group of idealistic new Tory MPs, with whom he formed the Young England group. They held that the landed interests should use their power to protect the poor from exploitation by middle-class businessmen.


During his lifetime Disraeli's opponents, and sometimes even his friends and allies, questioned whether he sincerely held the views he propounded, or whether they were adopted by him as essential to one who sought to spend his life in politics, and were mouthed by him without conviction. Lord John Manners, in 1843 at the time of Young England, wrote, "could I only satisfy myself that D'Israeli believed all that he said, I should be more happy: his historical views are quite mine, but does he believe them?" Blake (writing in 1966) suggested that it is no more possible to answer that question now than it was then. Nevertheless, Paul Smith, in his journal article on Disraeli's politics, argues that Disraeli's ideas were coherently argued over a political career of nearly half a century, and "it is impossible to sweep them aside as a mere bag of burglar's tools for effecting felonious entry to the British political pantheon."


Disraeli gradually became a sharp critic of Peel's government, often deliberately taking positions contrary to those of his nominal chief. The best known of these stances were over the Maynooth Grant in 1845 and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. But the young MP had attacked his leader as early as 1843 on Ireland and then on foreign policy interventions. In a letter of February 1844, he slighted the Prime Minister for failing to send him a Policy Circular. He laid into the Whigs as freebooters, swindlers and conmen but Peel's own Free Trade policies were directly in the firing line.


Peel successfully steered the repeal of the Corn Laws through Parliament, and was then defeated by an alliance of all his enemies on the issue of Irish law and order; he resigned in June 1846. The Tories remained split and the Queen sent for Lord John Russell, the Whig leader. In the 1847 general election, Disraeli stood, successfully, for the Buckinghamshire constituency. The new House of Commons had more Conservative than Whig members, but the depth of the Tory schism enabled Russell to continue to govern. The Conservatives were led by Bentinck in the Commons and Stanley in the Lords.

Disraeli's task as Chancellor was to devise a budget which would satisfy the protectionist elements who supported the Tories, without uniting the free-traders against it. His proposed budget, which he presented to the Commons on 3 December, lowered the taxes on malt and tea, provisions designed to appeal to the working class. To make his budget revenue-neutral, as funds were needed to provide defences against the French, he doubled the house tax and continued the income tax. Disraeli's overall purpose was to enact policies which would benefit the working classes, making his party more attractive to them. Although the budget did not contain protectionist features, the Opposition was prepared to destroy it—and Disraeli's career as Chancellor—in part out of revenge for his actions against Peel in 1846. MP Sidney Herbert predicted that the budget would fail because "Jews make no converts".


In 1847 a small political crisis occurred which removed Bentinck from the leadership and highlighted Disraeli's differences with his own party. In that year's general election, Lionel de Rothschild had been returned for the City of London. As a practising Jew he could not take the oath of allegiance in the prescribed Christian form, and therefore could not take his seat. Lord John Russell, the Whig leader who had succeeded Peel as Prime Minister and like Rothschild was a member for the City of London, proposed in the Commons that the oath should be amended to permit Jews to enter Parliament.


In the aftermath of the debate Bentinck resigned the leadership and was succeeded by Lord Granby; Disraeli's own speech, thought by many of his own party to be blasphemous, ruled him out for the time being. While these intrigues played out, Disraeli was working with the Bentinck family to secure the necessary financing to purchase Hughenden Manor, in Buckinghamshire. The possession of a country house, and incumbency of a county constituency were regarded as essential for a Tory with ambitions to lead the party. Disraeli and his wife alternated between Hughenden and several homes in London for the rest of their marriage. The negotiations were complicated by Bentinck's sudden death on 21 September 1848, but Disraeli obtained a loan of £25,000 from Bentinck's brothers Lord Henry Bentinck and Lord Titchfield.


Disraeli spoke in favour of the measure, arguing that Christianity was "completed Judaism", and asking the House of Commons "Where is your Christianity if you do not believe in their Judaism?" Russell and Disraeli's future rival Gladstone thought it brave of him to speak as he did; the speech was badly received by his own party. The Tories and the Anglican establishment were hostile to the bill. Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, spoke strongly against the measure and implied that Russell was paying off the Jews for helping elect him. With the exception of Disraeli, every member of the future protectionist cabinet then in Parliament voted against the measure. One who was not yet an MP, Lord John Manners, stood against Rothschild when the latter re-submitted himself for election in 1849. Disraeli, who had attended the Protectionists dinner at the Merchant Taylors Hall, joined Bentinck in speaking and voting for the bill, although his own speech was a standard one of toleration. The measure was voted down.


Within a month of his appointment Granby resigned the leadership in the Commons, feeling himself inadequate to the post, and the party functioned without a leader in the Commons for the rest of the parliamentary session. At the start of the next session, affairs were handled by a triumvirate of Granby, Disraeli, and John Charles Herries—indicative of the tension between Disraeli and the rest of the party, who needed his talents but mistrusted him. This confused arrangement ended with Granby's resignation in 1851; Disraeli effectively ignored the two men regardless.

In March 1851, Lord John Russell's government was defeated over a bill to equalise the county and borough franchises, mostly because of divisions among his supporters. He resigned, and the Queen sent for Stanley, who felt that a minority government could do little and would not last long, so Russell remained in office. Disraeli regretted this, hoping for an opportunity, however brief, to show himself capable in office. Stanley, on the other hand, deprecated his inexperienced followers as a reason for not assuming office, "These are not names I can put before the Queen."


For many years in his parliamentary career Disraeli hoped to forge a paternalistic Tory-Radical alliance, but he was unsuccessful. Before the Reform Act 1867, the working class did not possess the vote and therefore had little political power. Although Disraeli forged a personal friendship with John Bright, a Lancashire manufacturer and leading Radical, Disraeli was unable to persuade Bright to sacrifice his distinct position for parliamentary advancement. When Disraeli attempted to secure a Tory-Radical cabinet in 1852, Bright refused.

At the end of June 1851, Stanley's father died, and he succeeded to his title as Earl of Derby. The Whigs were wracked by internal dissensions during the second half of 1851, much of which Parliament spent in recess. Russell dismissed Lord Palmerston from the cabinet, leaving the latter determined to deprive the Prime Minister of office as well. Palmerston did so within weeks of Parliament's reassembly on 4 February 1852, his followers combining with Disraeli's Tories to defeat the government on a Militia Bill, and Russell resigned. Derby had either to take office or risk damage to his reputation and he accepted the Queen's commission as Prime Minister. Palmerston declined any office; Derby had hoped to have him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Disraeli, his closest ally, was his second choice and accepted, though disclaiming any great knowledge in the financial field. Gladstone refused to join the government. Disraeli may have been attracted to the office by the £5,000 per year salary, which would help pay his debts. Few of the new cabinet had held office before; when Derby tried to inform the Duke of Wellington of the names of the Queen's new ministers, the old Duke, who was somewhat deaf, inadvertently branded the new government by incredulously repeating "Who? Who?"

In the following weeks, Disraeli served as Leader of the House (with Derby as Prime Minister in the Lords) and as Chancellor. He wrote regular reports on proceedings in the Commons to Victoria, who described them as "very curious" and "much in the style of his books". Parliament was prorogued on 1 July 1852 as the Tories could not govern for long as a minority; Disraeli hoped that they would gain a majority of about 40. Instead, the election later that month had no clear winner, and the Derby government held to power pending the meeting of Parliament.

Disraeli delivered the budget on 3 December 1852, and prepared to wind up the debate for the government on 16 December—it was customary for the Chancellor to have the last word. A massive defeat for the government was predicted. Disraeli attacked his opponents individually, and then as a force, "I face a Coalition ... This, too, I know, that England does not love coalitions." His speech of three hours was quickly seen as a parliamentary masterpiece. As MPs prepared to divide, Gladstone rose to his feet and began an angry speech, despite the efforts of Tory MPs to shout him down. The interruptions were fewer, as Gladstone gained control of the House, and in the next two hours painted a picture of Disraeli as frivolous and his budget as subversive. The government was defeated by 19 votes, and Derby resigned four days later. He was replaced by the Peelite Earl of Aberdeen, with Gladstone as his Chancellor. Because of Disraeli's unpopularity among the Peelites, no party reconciliation was possible while he remained Tory leader in the House of Commons.

Derby took office at the head of a purely "Conservative" administration, not in coalition with any other faction. He again offered a place to Gladstone, who declined. Disraeli was once more leader of the House of Commons and returned to the Exchequer. As in 1852, Derby led a minority government, dependent on the division of its opponents for survival. As Leader of the House, Disraeli resumed his regular reports to Queen Victoria, who had requested that he include what she "could not meet in newspapers".


In June 1853 Disraeli was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Oxford. He had been recommended for it by Lord Derby, the university's Chancellor. The start of the Crimean War in 1854 caused a lull in party politics; Disraeli spoke patriotically in support. The British military efforts were marked by bungling, and in 1855 a restive Parliament considered a resolution to establish a committee on the conduct of the war. The Aberdeen government chose to make this a motion of confidence; Disraeli led the Opposition to defeat the government, 305 to 148. Aberdeen resigned, and the Queen sent for Derby, who to Disraeli's frustration refused to take office. Palmerston was deemed essential to any Whig ministry, and he would not join any he did not head. The Queen reluctantly asked Palmerston to form a government. Under Palmerston, the war went better, and was ended by the Treaty of Paris in early 1856. Disraeli was early to call for peace, but had little influence on events.


When a rebellion broke out in India in 1857, Disraeli took a keen interest in affairs, having been a member of a select committee in 1852 which considered how best to rule the subcontinent, and had proposed eliminating the governing role of the British East India Company. After peace was restored, and Palmerston in early 1858 brought in legislation for direct rule of India by the Crown, Disraeli opposed it. Many Conservative MPs refused to follow him and the bill passed the Commons easily.


During its brief life of just over a year, the Derby government proved moderately progressive. The Government of India Act 1858 ended the role of the East India Company in governing the subcontinent. It also passed the Thames Purification Bill, which funded the construction of much larger sewers for London. Disraeli had supported efforts to allow Jews to sit in Parliament—the oaths required of new members could be made in good faith only by a Christian. Disraeli had a bill passed through the Commons allowing each house of Parliament to determine what oaths its members should take. This was grudgingly agreed to by the House of Lords, with a minority of Conservatives joining with the Opposition to pass it. In 1858, Baron Lionel de Rothschild became the first MP to profess the Jewish faith.


The Tories pursued a Reform Bill in 1859, which would have resulted in a modest increase to the franchise. The Liberals were healing the breaches between those who favoured Russell and the Palmerston loyalists, and in late March 1859, the government was defeated on a Russell-sponsored amendment. Derby dissolved Parliament, and the ensuing general election resulted in modest Tory gains, but not enough to control the Commons. When Parliament assembled, Derby's government was defeated by 13 votes on an amendment to the Address from the Throne. He resigned, and the Queen reluctantly sent for Palmerston again.


Disraeli led a toothless Opposition in the Commons—seeing no way of unseating Palmerston, Derby had privately agreed not to seek the government's defeat. Disraeli kept himself informed on foreign affairs, and on what was going on in cabinet, thanks to a source within it. When the American Civil War began in 1861, Disraeli said little publicly, but like most Englishmen expected the South to win. Less reticent were Palmerston, Gladstone (again Chancellor) and Russell, whose statements in support of the South contributed to years of hard feelings in the United States. In 1862, Disraeli met Prussian Count Otto von Bismarck for the first time and said of him, "be careful about that man, he means what he says".


The party truce ended in 1864, with Tories outraged over Palmerston's handling of the territorial dispute between the German Confederation and Denmark known as the Schleswig-Holstein Question. Disraeli had little help from Derby, who was ill, but he united the party enough on a no-confidence vote to limit the government to a majority of 18—Tory defections and absentees kept Palmerston in office. Despite rumours about Palmerston's health as he passed his eightieth birthday, he remained personally popular, and the Liberals increased their margin in the July 1865 general election. In the wake of the poor election results, Derby predicted to Disraeli that neither of them would ever hold office again.


Political plans were thrown into disarray by Palmerston's death on 18 October 1865. Russell became Prime Minister again, with Gladstone clearly the Liberal Party's leader-in-waiting, and as Leader of the House Disraeli's direct opponent. One of Russell's early priorities was a Reform Bill, but the proposed legislation that Gladstone announced on 12 March 1866 divided his party. The Conservatives and the dissident Liberals repeatedly attacked Gladstone's bill, and in June finally defeated the government; Russell resigned on 26 June. The dissidents were unwilling to serve under Disraeli in the House of Commons, and Derby formed a third Conservative minority government, with Disraeli again as Chancellor. In 1867, the Conservatives introduced a Reform Bill. Without a majority in the Commons, the Conservatives had little choice but to accept amendments that considerably liberalised the legislation, though Disraeli refused to accept any from Gladstone.

Disraeli is buried with his wife in a vault beneath the Church of St Michael and All Angels which stands in the grounds of his home, Hughenden Manor, accessed from the churchyard. There is also a memorial to him in the chancel in the church, erected in his honour by Queen Victoria. His literary executor was his private secretary, Lord Rowton. The Disraeli vault also contains the body of Sarah Brydges Willyams, the wife of James Brydges Willyams of St Mawgan in Cornwall. Disraeli carried on a long correspondence with Mrs. Willyams, writing frankly about political affairs. At her death in 1865, she left him a large legacy, which helped clear up his debts. His will was proved in April 1882 at £84,019 18 s. 7 d. (roughly equivalent to £8,538,009 in 2019).


Derby had long suffered from attacks of gout which sent him to his bed, unable to deal with politics. As the new session of Parliament approached in February 1868, he was bedridden at his home, Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool. He was reluctant to resign, reasoning that he was only 68, much younger than either Palmerston or Russell at the end of their premierships. Derby knew that his "attacks of illness would, at no distant period, incapacitate me from the discharge of my public duties"; doctors had warned him that his health required his resignation from office. In late February, with Parliament in session and Derby absent, he wrote to Disraeli asking for confirmation that "you will not shrink from the additional heavy responsibility". Reassured, he wrote to the Queen, resigning and recommending Disraeli as "only he could command the cordial support, en masse, of his present colleagues". Disraeli went to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, where the Queen asked him to form a government. The monarch wrote to her daughter, Prussian Crown Princess Victoria, "Mr. Disraeli is Prime Minister! A proud thing for a man 'risen from the people' to have obtained!" The new Prime Minister told those who came to congratulate him, "I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole."

The Conservatives remained a minority in the House of Commons and the passage of the Reform Bill required the calling of a new election once the new voting register had been compiled. Disraeli's term as Prime Minister, which began in February 1868, would therefore be short unless the Conservatives won the general election. He made only two major changes in the cabinet: he replaced Lord Chelmsford as Lord Chancellor with Lord Cairns, and brought in George Ward Hunt as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Derby had intended to replace Chelmsford once a vacancy in a suitable sinecure developed. Disraeli was unwilling to wait, and Cairns, in his view, was a far stronger minister.

At his first departure from 10 Downing Street in 1868, Disraeli had had Victoria create Mary Anne Viscountess of Beaconsfield in her own right in lieu of a peerage for himself. Through 1872 the eighty-year-old peeress was suffering from stomach cancer. She died on 15 December. Urged by a clergyman to turn her thoughts to Jesus Christ in her final days, she said she could not: "You know Dizzy is my J.C."

Disraeli's cabinet of twelve, with six peers and six commoners, was the smallest since Reform. Of the peers, five of them had been in Disraeli's 1868 cabinet; the sixth, Lord Salisbury, was reconciled to Disraeli after negotiation and became Secretary of State for India. Lord Stanley (who had succeeded his father, the former Prime Minister, as Earl of Derby) became Foreign Secretary and Sir Stafford Northcote the Chancellor.


The Suez Canal, opened in 1869, cut weeks and thousands of miles off the sea journey between Britain and India; in 1875, approximately 80% of the ships using the canal were British. In the event of another rebellion in India, or of a Russian invasion, the time saved at Suez might be crucial. Built by French interests, 56% of the stocks in the canal remained in their hands, while 44% of the stock belonged to Isma'il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt. He was notorious for his profligate spending. The canal was losing money, and an attempt by Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the canal, to raise the tolls had fallen through when the Khedive had threatened to use military force to prevent it, and had also attracted Disraeli's attention. The Khedive governed Egypt under the Ottoman Empire; as in the Crimea, the issue of the Canal raised the Eastern Question of what to do about the decaying empire governed from Constantinople. With much of the pre-canal trade and communications between Britain and India passing through the Ottoman Empire, Britain had done its best to prop up the Ottomans against the threat that Russia would take Constantinople, cutting those communications, and giving Russian ships unfettered access to the Mediterranean. The French might also threaten those lines. Britain had had the opportunity to purchase shares in the canal but had declined to do so.


Gladstone in 1870 had sponsored an Order in Council, introducing competitive examination into the Civil Service, diminishing the political aspects of government hiring. Disraeli did not agree, and while he did not seek to reverse the order, his actions often frustrated its intent. For example, Disraeli made political appointments to positions previously given to career civil servants. In this, he was backed by his party, hungry for office and its emoluments after almost thirty years with only brief spells in government. Disraeli gave positions to hard-up Conservative leaders, even—to Gladstone's outrage—creating one office at £2,000 per year. Nevertheless, Disraeli made fewer peers (only 22, and one of those one of Victoria's sons) than had Gladstone—the Liberal leader had arranged for the bestowal of 37 peerages during his just over five years in office.


By 1872 there was dissent in the Conservative ranks over the failure to challenge Gladstone and his Liberals. This was quieted as Disraeli took steps to assert his leadership of the party, and as divisions among the Liberals became clear. Public support for Disraeli was shown by cheering at a thanksgiving service in 1872 on the recovery of the Prince of Wales from illness, while Gladstone was met with silence. Disraeli had supported the efforts of party manager John Eldon Gorst to put the administration of the Conservative Party on a modern basis. On Gorst's advice, Disraeli gave a speech to a mass meeting in Manchester that year. To roaring approval, he compared the Liberal front bench to "a range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest. But the situation is still dangerous. There are occasional earthquakes and ever and again the dark rumbling of the sea." Gladstone, Disraeli stated, dominated the scene and "alternated between a menace and a sigh".

Returning to Hughenden, Disraeli brooded over his electoral dismissal, but also resumed work on Endymion, which he had begun in 1872 and laid aside before the 1874 election. The work was rapidly completed and published by November 1880. He carried on a correspondence with Victoria, with letters passed through intermediaries. When Parliament met in January 1881, he served as Conservative leader in the Lords, attempting to serve as a moderating influence on Gladstone's legislation.


In 1873, Gladstone brought forward legislation to establish a Catholic university in Dublin. This divided the Liberals, and on 12 March an alliance of Conservatives and Irish Catholics defeated the government by three votes. Gladstone resigned, and the Queen sent for Disraeli, who refused to take office. Without a general election, a Conservative government would be another minority, dependent for survival on the division of its opponents. Disraeli wanted the power a majority would bring, and felt he could gain it later by leaving the Liberals in office now. Gladstone's government struggled on, beset by scandal and unimproved by a reshuffle. As part of that change, Gladstone took on the office of Chancellor, leading to questions as to whether he had to stand for re-election on taking on a second ministry—until the 1920s, MPs becoming ministers, thus taking an office of profit under the Crown, had to seek re-election.


In January 1874, Gladstone called a general election, convinced that if he waited longer, he would do worse at the polls. Balloting was spread over two weeks, beginning on 1 February. Disraeli devoted much of his campaign to decrying the Liberal programme of the past five years. As the constituencies voted, it became clear that the result would be a Conservative majority, the first since 1841. In Scotland, where the Conservatives were perennially weak, they increased from seven seats to nineteen. Overall, they won 350 seats to 245 for the Liberals and 57 for the Irish Home Rule League. The Queen sent for Disraeli, and he became Prime Minister for the second time.

Disraeli always considered foreign affairs to be the most critical and most interesting part of statesmanship. Nevertheless, his biographer Robert Blake doubts that his subject had specific ideas about foreign policy when he took office in 1874. He had rarely travelled abroad; since his youthful tour of the Middle East in 1830–1831, he had left Britain only for his honeymoon and three visits to Paris, the last of which was in 1856. As he had criticised Gladstone for a do-nothing foreign policy, he most probably contemplated what actions would reassert Britain's place in Europe. His brief first premiership, and the first year of his second, gave him little opportunity to make his mark in foreign affairs.

Gladstone, in the 1874 election, had been returned for Greenwich, finishing second behind a Conservative in the two-member constituency, a result he termed more like a defeat than a victory. In December 1878, he was offered the Liberal nomination at the next election for Edinburghshire, a constituency popularly known as Midlothian. The small Scottish electorate was dominated by two noblemen, the Conservative Duke of Buccleuch and the Liberal Earl of Rosebery. The Earl, a friend of both Disraeli and Gladstone who would succeed the latter after his final term as Prime Minister, had journeyed to the United States to view politics there, and was convinced that aspects of American electioneering techniques could be translated to Britain. On his advice, Gladstone accepted the offer in January 1879, and later that year began his Midlothian campaign, speaking not only in Edinburgh, but across Britain, attacking Disraeli, to huge crowds.


Disraeli, recognising the British interest in the canal, sent the Liberal MP Nathan Rothschild to Paris to enquire about buying de Lesseps's shares. On 14 November 1875, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Frederick Greenwood, learned from London banker Henry Oppenheim that the Khedive was seeking to sell his shares in the Suez Canal Company to a French firm. Greenwood quickly told Lord Derby, the Foreign Secretary, who notified Disraeli. The Prime Minister moved immediately to secure the shares. On 23 November, the Khedive offered to sell the shares for 100,000,000 francs. Rather than seek the aid of the Bank of England, Disraeli asked Lionel de Rothschild to loan funds. Rothschild did so and took a commission on the deal. The banker's capital was at risk as Parliament could have refused to ratify the transaction. The contract for purchase was signed at Cairo on 25 November and the shares deposited at the British consulate the following day.

In July 1875 Serb populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, then provinces of the Ottoman Empire, rose in revolt against their Turkish masters, alleging religious persecution and poor administration. The following January, Sultan Abdülaziz agreed to reforms proposed by Hungarian statesman Julius Andrássy, but the rebels, suspecting they might win their freedom, continued their uprising, joined by militants in Serbia and Bulgaria. The Turks suppressed the Bulgarian uprising harshly, and when reports of these actions escaped, Disraeli and Derby stated in Parliament that they did not believe them. Disraeli called them "coffee-house babble" and dismissed allegations of torture by the Ottomans since "Oriental people usually terminate their connections with culprits in a more expeditious fashion".


In August 1876, Disraeli was elevated to the House of Lords as Earl of Beaconsfield and Viscount Hughenden. The Queen had offered to ennoble him as early as 1868; he had then declined. She did so again in 1874, when he fell ill at Balmoral, but he was reluctant to leave the Commons for a house in which he had no experience. Continued ill health during his second premiership caused him to contemplate resignation, but his lieutenant, Derby, was unwilling, feeling that he could not manage the Queen. For Disraeli, the Lords, where the debate was less intense, was the alternative to resignation from office. Five days before the end of the 1876 session of Parliament, on 11 August, Disraeli was seen to linger and look around the chamber before departing the Commons. Newspapers reported his ennoblement the following morning.

Gladstone, who had left the Liberal leadership and retired from public life, was appalled by reports of atrocities in Bulgaria, and in August 1876, penned a hastily written pamphlet arguing that the Turks should be deprived of Bulgaria because of what they had done there. He sent a copy to Disraeli, who called it "vindictive and ill-written ... of all the Bulgarian horrors perhaps the greatest". Gladstone's pamphlet became an immense best-seller and rallied the Liberals to urge that the Ottoman Empire should no longer be a British ally. Disraeli wrote to Lord Salisbury on 3 September, "Had it not been for these unhappy 'atrocities', we should have settled a peace very honourable to England and satisfactory to Europe. Now we are obliged to work from a new point of departure, and dictate to Turkey, who has forfeited all sympathy." In spite of this, Disraeli's policy favoured Constantinople and the territorial integrity of its empire.

Disraeli and the cabinet sent Salisbury as lead British representative to the Constantinople Conference, which met in December 1876 and January 1877. In advance of the conference, Disraeli sent Salisbury private word to seek British military occupation of Bulgaria and Bosnia, and British control of the Ottoman Army. Salisbury ignored these instructions, which his biographer, Andrew Roberts deemed "ludicrous". Nevertheless, the conference failed to reach agreement with the Turks.


Parliament opened in February 1877, with Disraeli now in the Lords as Earl of Beaconsfield. He spoke only once there in the 1877 session on the Eastern Question, stating on 20 February that there was a need for stability in the Balkans, and that forcing Turkey into territorial concessions would do nothing to secure it. The Prime Minister wanted a deal with the Ottomans whereby Britain would temporarily occupy strategic areas to deter the Russians from war, to be returned on the signing of a peace treaty, but found little support in his cabinet, which favoured partition of the Ottoman Empire. As Disraeli, by then in poor health, continued to battle within the cabinet, Russia invaded Turkey on 21 April, beginning the Russo-Turkish War.


With the Russians close to Constantinople, the Turks yielded and in March 1878, signed the Treaty of San Stefano, conceding a Bulgarian state which would cover a large part of the Balkans. It would be initially Russian-occupied and many feared that it would give them a client state close to Constantinople. Other Ottoman possessions in Europe would become independent; additional territory was to be ceded directly to Russia. This was unacceptable to the British, who protested, hoping to get the Russians to agree to attend an international conference which German Chancellor Bismarck proposed to hold at Berlin. The cabinet discussed Disraeli's proposal to position Indian troops at Malta for possible transit to the Balkans and call out reserves. Derby resigned in protest, and Disraeli appointed Salisbury as Foreign Secretary. Amid British preparations for war, the Russians and Turks agreed to discussions at Berlin.

The Treaty of Berlin was signed on 13 July 1878 at the Radziwill Palace in Berlin. Disraeli and Salisbury returned home to heroes' receptions at Dover and in London. At the door of 10 Downing Street, Disraeli received flowers sent by the Queen. There, he told the gathered crowd, "Lord Salisbury and I have brought you back peace—but a peace I hope with honour." The Queen offered him a dukedom, which he declined, though accepting the Garter, as long as Salisbury also received it. In Berlin, word spread of Bismarck's admiring description of Disraeli, "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann! "

As successful invasions of India generally came through Afghanistan, the British had observed and sometimes intervened there since the 1830s, hoping to keep the Russians out. In 1878 the Russians sent a mission to Kabul; it was not rejected by the Afghans, as the British had hoped. The British then proposed to send their own mission, insisting that the Russians be sent away. The Viceroy of India Lord Lytton concealed his plans to issue this ultimatum from Disraeli, and when the Prime Minister insisted he take no action, went ahead anyway. When the Afghans made no answer, the British advanced against them in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, and under Lord Roberts easily defeated them. The British installed a new ruler, and left a mission and garrison in Kabul.


Disraeli's government also introduced a new Factory Act meant to protect workers, the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875, which allowed peaceful picketing, and the Employers and Workmen Act (1875) to enable workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legal contracts. As a result of these social reforms the Liberal-Labour MP Alexander Macdonald told his constituents in 1879, "The Conservative party have done more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals have in fifty."

British policy in South Africa was to encourage federation between the British-run Cape Colony and Natal, and the Boer republics, the Transvaal (annexed by Britain in 1877) and the Orange Free State. The governor of Cape Colony, Sir Bartle Frere, believing that the federation could not be accomplished until the native tribes acknowledged British rule, made demands on the Zulu and their king, Cetewayo, which they were certain to reject. As Zulu troops could not marry until they had washed their spears in blood, they were eager for combat. Frere did not send word to the cabinet of what he had done until the ultimatum was about to expire. Disraeli and the cabinet reluctantly backed him, and in early January 1879 resolved to send reinforcements. Before they could arrive, on 22 January, a Zulu impi, or army, moving with great speed and stealth, ambushed and destroyed a British encampment in South Africa in the Battle of Isandlwana. Over a thousand British and colonial troops were killed. Word of the defeat did not reach London until 12 February. Disraeli wrote the next day, "the terrible disaster has shaken me to the centre". He reprimanded Frere, but left him in charge, attracting fire from all sides. Disraeli sent General Sir Garnet Wolseley as High Commissioner and Commander in Chief, and Cetewayo and the Zulus were crushed at the Battle of Ulundi on 4 July 1879.

On 8 September 1879 Sir Louis Cavagnari, in charge of the mission in Kabul, was killed with his entire staff by rebelling Afghan soldiers. Roberts undertook a successful punitive expedition against the Afghans over the next six weeks.


Despite this pessimism, Conservatives hopes were buoyed in early 1880 with successes in by-elections the Liberals had expected to win, concluding with victory in Southwark, normally a Liberal stronghold. The cabinet had resolved to wait before dissolving Parliament; in early March they reconsidered, agreeing to go to the country as soon as possible. Parliament was dissolved on 24 March; the first borough constituencies began voting a week later.

Disraeli refused to cast blame for the defeat, which he understood was likely to be final for him. He wrote to Lady Bradford that it was just as much work to end a government as to form one, without any of the fun. Queen Victoria was bitter at his departure as Prime Minister. Among the honours he arranged before resigning as Prime Minister on 21 April 1880 was one for his private secretary, Montagu Corry, who became Baron Rowton.


Disraeli told the Queen, "it is settled; you have it, madam!" The public saw the venture as a daring statement of British dominance of the seas. Sir Ian Malcolm described the Suez Canal share purchase as "the greatest romance of Mr. Disraeli's romantic career". In the following decades, the security of the Suez Canal, as the pathway to India, became a major concern of British foreign policy. Under Gladstone Britain took control of Egypt in 1882. A later Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, described the canal in 1909 as "the determining influence of every considerable movement of British power to the east and south of the Mediterranean".


Disraeli left much of the detailed work to Salisbury, concentrating his efforts on making it as difficult as possible for the broken-up big Bulgaria to reunite. Disraeli did not have things all his own way: he intended that Batum be demilitarised, but the Russians obtained their preferred language, and in 1886, fortified the town. Nevertheless, the Cyprus Convention ceding the island to Britain was announced during the congress, and again made Disraeli a sensation.


In the years after Disraeli's death, as Salisbury began his reign of more than twenty years over the Conservatives, the party emphasised the late leader's "One Nation" views, that the Conservatives at root shared the beliefs of the working classes, with the Liberals the party of the urban élite. Disraeli had, for example, stressed the need to improve the lot of the urban labourer. The memory of Disraeli was used by the Conservatives to appeal to the working classes, with whom he was said to have had a rapport. This aspect of his policies has been re-evaluated by historians in the 20th and 21st centuries. In 1972 B H Abbott stressed that it was not Disraeli but Lord Randolph Churchill who invented the term "Tory democracy", though it was Disraeli who made it an essential part of Conservative policy and philosophy. In 2007 Parry wrote, "The tory democrat myth did not survive detailed scrutiny by professional historical writing of the 1960s [which] demonstrated that Disraeli had very little interest in a programme of social legislation and was very flexible in handling parliamentary reform in 1867." Despite this, Parry sees Disraeli, rather than Peel, as the founder of the modern Conservative party. The Conservative politician and writer Douglas Hurd wrote in 2013, "[Disraeli] was not a one-nation Conservative—and this was not simply because he never used the phrase. He rejected the concept in its entirety."

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Currently, Benjamin Disraeli is 217 years, 5 months and 1 days old. Benjamin Disraeli will celebrate 218th birthday on a Wednesday 21st of December 2022.

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