H. H. Asquith
Name: H. H. Asquith
Occupation: Leaders
Gender: Male
Birth Day: September 12, 1852
Death Date: 15 February 1928(1928-02-15) (aged 75)
Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire, England
Age: Aged 75
Birth Place: Morley, British
Zodiac Sign: Libra

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H. H. Asquith

H. H. Asquith was born on September 12, 1852 in Morley, British (75 years old). H. H. Asquith is a Leaders, zodiac sign: Libra. Nationality: British. Approx. Net Worth: $1 Million - $2 Million (Approx.).

Net Worth 2020

$1 Million - $2 Million (Approx.)
Find out more about H. H. Asquith net worth here.

Family Members

# Name Relationship Net Worth Salary Age Occupation
#1 Violet Bonham Carter Daughter N/A N/A N/A
#2 Elizabeth Asquith Daughter N/A N/A N/A
#3 Joseph Dixon Asquith Father N/A N/A N/A
#4 Raymond Bonham Carter Grandson N/A N/A N/A
#5 Helena Bonham Carter Helena Bonham Carter Great-granddaughter $60 million (2019) N/A 54 Actor
#6 Raymond Asquith, 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith Great-grandson N/A N/A N/A
#7 Emily Willans Mother N/A N/A N/A
#8 Herbert Asquith Son N/A N/A N/A
#9 Raymond Asquith Son N/A N/A N/A
#10 Arthur Asquith Son N/A N/A N/A
#11 Cyril Asquith, Baron Asquith of Bishopstone Son N/A N/A N/A
#12 Anthony Asquith Anthony Asquith Son $1 Million - $2 Million (Approx.) N/A 65 Director
#13 Margot Asquith Spouse N/A N/A N/A

Does H. H. Asquith Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, H. H. Asquith died on 15 February 1928(1928-02-15) (aged 75)
Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire, England.


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Biography Timeline


None of these bills were important enough to dissolve parliament and seek a new mandate at a general election. Asquith and Lloyd George believed the peers would back down if presented with Liberal objectives contained within a finance bill—the Lords had not obstructed a money bill since the 17th century, and after initially blocking Gladstone's attempt (as chancellor) to repeal Paper Duties, had yielded in 1861 when it was submitted again in a finance bill. Accordingly, the Liberal leadership expected that after much objection from the Conservative peers, the Lords would yield to policy changes wrapped within a budget bill.


In his younger days he was called Herbert ("Bertie" as a child) within the family, but his second wife called him Henry. His biographer Stephen Koss entitled the first chapter of his biography "From Herbert to Henry", referring to upward social mobility and his abandonment of his Yorkshire Nonconformist roots with his second marriage. However, in public, he was invariably referred to only as H. H. Asquith. "There have been few major national figures whose Christian names were less well known to the public" according to biographer Roy Jenkins. He and his brother were educated at home by their parents until 1860, when Dixon Asquith died suddenly. William Willans took charge of the family, moved them to a house near his own, and arranged for the boys' schooling. After a year at Huddersfield College they were sent as boarders to Fulneck School, a Moravian Church school near Leeds. In 1863 William Willans died, and the family came under the care of Emily's brother, John Willans. The boys went to live with him in London; when he moved back to Yorkshire in 1864 for business reasons, they remained in London and were lodged with various families. The biographer Naomi Levine writes that in effect Asquith was "treated like an orphan" for the rest of his childhood. The departure of his uncle effectively severed Asquith's ties with his native Yorkshire, and he described himself thereafter as "to all intents and purposes a Londoner". Another biographer, H. C. G. Matthew, writes that Asquith's northern nonconformist background continued to influence him: "It gave him a point of sturdy anti-establishmentarian reference, important to a man whose life in other respects was a long absorption into metropolitanism."


In November 1869 Asquith won a classical scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, going up the following October. The college's prestige, already high, continued to rise under the recently elected Master, Benjamin Jowett. He sought to raise the standards of the college to the extent that its undergraduates shared what Asquith later called a "tranquil consciousness of effortless superiority". Although Asquith admired Jowett, he was more influenced by T. H. Green, White's Professor of Moral Philosophy. The abstract side of philosophy did not greatly attract Asquith, whose outlook was always practical, but Green's progressive liberal political views appealed to him.


Asquith's university career was distinguished—"striking without being sensational" in the words of his biographer, Roy Jenkins. An easy grasp of his studies left him ample time to indulge his liking for debate. In the first month at university he spoke at the Oxford Union. His official biographers, J. A. Spender and Cyril Asquith, commented that in his first months at Oxford "he voiced the orthodox Liberal view, speaking in support, inter alia, of the disestablishment of the Church of England, and of non-intervention in the Franco-Prussian War". He sometimes debated against his Balliol contemporary Alfred Milner, who although then a Liberal was already an advocate of British imperialism. He was elected Treasurer of the Union in 1872 but was defeated at his first attempt at the Presidency. During the General Election in January and February 1874 he spoke against Lord Randolph Churchill, who was not yet a prominent politician, at nearby Woodstock. He eventually became President of the Union in Trinity Term 1874, his last term as an undergraduate.

Asquith was proxime accessit (runner-up) for the Hertford Prize in 1872, again proxime accessit for the Ireland Prize in 1873, and again for the Ireland in 1874, on that occasion coming so close that the examiners awarded him a special prize of books. However, he won the Craven Scholarship and graduated with what his biographers describe as an "easy" double first in Mods and Greats. After graduating he was elected to a prize fellowship of Balliol.


After his graduation in 1874, Asquith spent several months coaching Viscount Lymington, the 18-year-old son and heir of the Earl of Portsmouth. He found the experience of aristocratic country-house life agreeable. He liked less the austere side of the nonconformist Liberal tradition, with its strong temperance movement. He was proud of ridding himself of "the Puritanism in which I was bred". His fondness for fine wines and spirits, which began at this period, eventually earned him the sobriquet "Squiffy".


Returning to Oxford, Asquith spent the first year of his seven-year fellowship in residence there. But he had no wish to pursue a career as a don; the traditional route for politically ambitious but unmoneyed young men was through the law. While still at Oxford Asquith had already entered Lincoln's Inn to train as a barrister, and in 1875 he served a pupillage under Charles Bowen. He was called to the bar in June 1876.


Between 1876 and 1884 Asquith supplemented his income by writing regularly for The Spectator, which at that time had a broadly Liberal outlook. Matthew comments that the articles Asquith wrote for the magazine give a good overview of his political views as a young man. He was staunchly radical, but as unconvinced by extreme left-wing views as by Toryism. Among the topics that caused debate among Liberals were British imperialism, the union of Great Britain and Ireland, and female suffrage. Asquith was a strong, though not jingoistic, proponent of the Empire, and, after initial caution, came to support home rule for Ireland. He opposed votes for women for most of his political career. There was also an element of party interest: Asquith believed that votes for women would disproportionately benefit the Conservatives. In a 2001 study of the extension of the franchise between 1832 and 1931, Bob Whitfield concluded that Asquith's surmise about the electoral impact was correct. In addition to his work for The Spectator, he was retained as a leader writer by The Economist, taught at evening classes, and marked examination papers.


Asquith's career as a barrister began to flourish in 1883 when R. S. Wright invited him to join his chambers at the Inner Temple. Wright was the Junior Counsel to the Treasury, a post often known as "the Attorney General's devil", whose function included giving legal advice to ministers and government departments. One of Asquith's first jobs in working for Wright was to prepare a memorandum for the prime minister, W. E. Gladstone, on the status of the parliamentary oath in the wake of the Bradlaugh case. Both Gladstone and the Attorney General, Sir Henry James, were impressed. This raised Asquith's profile, though not greatly enhancing his finances. Much more remunerative were his new contacts with solicitors who regularly instructed Wright and now also began to instruct Asquith.


In June 1886, with the Liberal party split on the question of Irish Home Rule, Gladstone called a general election. There was a last-minute vacancy at East Fife, where the sitting Liberal member, John Boyd Kinnear, had been deselected by his local Liberal Association for voting against Irish Home Rule. Richard Haldane, a close friend of Asquith's and also a struggling young barrister, had been Liberal MP for the nearby Haddingtonshire constituency since December 1885. He put Asquith's name forward as a replacement for Kinnear, and only ten days before polling Asquith was formally nominated in a vote of the local Liberals. The Conservatives did not contest the seat, putting their support behind Kinnear, who stood against Asquith as a Liberal Unionist. Asquith was elected with 2,863 votes to Kinnear's 2,489.


From time to time Asquith appeared in high-profile criminal cases. In 1887 and 1888 he defended the radical Liberal MP, Cunninghame Graham, who was charged with assaulting police officers when they attempted to break up a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Graham was later convicted of the lesser charge of unlawful assembly. In what Jenkins calls "a less liberal cause", Asquith appeared for the prosecution in the trial of Henry Vizetelly for publishing "obscene libels"—the first English versions of Zola's novels Nana, Pot-Bouille and La Terre, which Asquith described in court as "the three most immoral books ever published".


Asquith's law career received a great and unforeseen boost in 1889 when he was named junior counsel to Sir Charles Russell at the Parnell Commission of Enquiry. The commission had been set up in the aftermath of damaging statements in The Times, based on forged letters, that Irish MP Charles Stuart Parnell had expressed approval of Dublin's Phoenix Park killings. When the manager of The Times, J. C. Macdonald, was called to give evidence Russell, feeling tired, surprised Asquith by asking him to conduct the cross-examination. Under Asquith's questioning, it became plain that in accepting the forgeries as genuine, without making any check, Macdonald had, in Jenkins's phrase, behaved "with a credulity which would have been childlike had it not been criminally negligent". The Manchester Guardian reported that under Asquith's cross-examination, Macdonald "squirmed and wriggled through a dozen half-formed phrases in an attempt at explanation, and finished none". The accusations against Parnell were shown to be false, The Times was obliged to make a full apology, and Asquith's reputation was assured. Within a year he had gained advancement to the senior rank of the bar, Queen's Counsel.


In September 1891 Helen Asquith died of typhoid fever following a few days' illness while the family were on holiday in Scotland. Asquith bought a house in Surrey, and hired nannies and other domestic staff. He sold the Hampstead property and took a flat in Mount Street, Mayfair, where he lived during the working week.


In 1893, Asquith responded to a request from Magistrates in the Wakefield area for reinforcements to police a mining strike. Asquith sent 400 Metropolitan policeman. After two civilians were killed in Featherstone when soldiers opened fire on a crowd, Asquith was subject to protests at public meetings for a period. He responded to a taunt, "Why did you murder the miners at Featherstone in '92?" by saying, "It was not '92, it was '93."


When Gladstone retired in March 1894, Queen Victoria chose the Foreign Secretary, Lord Rosebery, as the new prime minister. Asquith thought Rosebery preferable to the other possible candidate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir William Harcourt, whom he deemed too anti-imperialist—one of the so-called "Little Englanders"—and too abrasive. Asquith remained at the Home Office until the government fell in 1895.

Asquith had known Margot Tennant slightly since before his wife's death, and grew increasingly attached to her in his years as a widower. On 10 May 1894 they were married at St George's, Hanover Square. Asquith became a son in law of Sir Charles Tennant, 1st Baronet. Margot was in many respects the opposite of Asquith's first wife, being outgoing, impulsive, extravagant and opinionated. Despite the misgivings of many of Asquith's friends and colleagues the marriage proved to be a success. Margot got on, if sometimes stormily, with her step-children and she and Asquith had five children of their own, only two of whom survived infancy.:


The Liberal Party, with a leadership—Harcourt in the Commons and Rosebery in the Lords—who detested each other, once again suffered factional divisions. Rosebery resigned in October 1896 and Harcourt followed him in December 1898. Asquith came under strong pressure to accept the nomination to take over as Liberal leader, but the post of Leader of the Opposition, though full-time, was then unpaid, and he could not afford to give up his income as a barrister. He and others prevailed on the former Secretary of State for War, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to accept the post.


Asquith led the Liberal Party into the election, but with a singular lack of enthusiasm, writing on 25 November: "I doubt whether there is much interest. The whole thing is a wicked fraud." The Liberal leaders expected to lose the 1918 election badly, as they had lost the "Khaki Election" in 1900, but did not foresee the sheer scale of the defeat. Asquith hoped for 100 Liberal MPs to be returned. He began by attacking the Conservatives, but was eventually driven to attack the "blank cheque" which the government was demanding.


As a minority party after 1910 elections, the Liberals depended on the Irish vote, controlled by John Redmond. To gain Irish support for the budget and the parliament bill, Asquith promised Redmond that Irish Home Rule would be the highest priority. It proved much more complex and time-consuming than expected. Support for self-government for Ireland had been a tenet of the Liberal Party since 1886, but Asquith had not been as enthusiastic, stating in 1903 (while in opposition) that the party should never take office if that government would be dependent for survival on the support of the Irish Nationalist Party. After 1910, though, Irish Nationalist votes were essential to stay in power. Retaining Ireland in the Union was the declared intent of all parties, and the Nationalists, as part of the majority that kept Asquith in office, were entitled to seek enactment of their plans for Home Rule, and to expect Liberal and Labour support. The Conservatives, with die-hard support from the Protestant Orangemen of Ulster, were strongly opposed to Home Rule. The desire to retain a veto for the Lords on such bills had been an unbridgeable gap between the parties in the constitutional talks prior to the second 1910 election.


The general election of July 1895 was disastrous for the Liberals, and the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury won a majority of 152. With no government post, Asquith divided his time between politics and the bar. Jenkins comments that in this period Asquith earned a substantial, though not stellar, income and was never worse off and often much higher-paid than when in office. Matthew writes that his income as a QC in the following years was around £5,000 to £10,000 per annum (around £500,000–£1,000,000 at 2015 prices). According to Haldane, on returning to government in 1905 Asquith had to give up a £10,000 brief to act for the Khedive of Egypt. Margot later claimed (in the 1920s, when they were short of money) that he could have made £50,000 per annum had he remained at the bar.

Salisbury's Conservative successor as Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, resigned in December 1905, but did not seek a dissolution of Parliament and a general election. King Edward VII invited Campbell-Bannerman to form a minority government. Asquith and his close political allies Haldane and Sir Edward Grey tried to pressure him into taking a peerage to become a figurehead Prime Minister in the House of Lords, giving the pro-empire wing of the party greater dominance in the House of Commons. Campbell-Bannerman called their bluff and refused to move. Asquith was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. He held the post for over two years, and introduced three budgets.


A month after taking office, Campbell-Bannerman called a general election, in which the Liberals gained a landslide majority of 132. However, Asquith's first budget, in 1906, was constrained by the annual income and expenditure plans he had inherited from his predecessor Austen Chamberlain. The only income for which Chamberlain had over-budgeted was the duty from sales of alcohol. With a balanced budget, and a realistic assessment of future public expenditure, Asquith was able, in his second and third budgets, to lay the foundations for limited redistribution of wealth and welfare provisions for the poor. Blocked at first by Treasury officials from setting a variable rate of income tax with higher rates on those with high incomes, he set up a committee under Sir Charles Dilke which recommended not only variable income tax rates but also a supertax on incomes of more than £5,000 a year. Asquith also introduced a distinction between earned and unearned income, taxing the latter at a higher rate. He used the increased revenues to fund old-age pensions, the first time a British government had provided them. Reductions in selective taxes, such as that on sugar, were aimed at benefiting the poor.

In 1906 suffragettes Annie Kenney, Adelaide Knight, and Jane Sbarborough were arrested when they tried to obtain an audience with Asquith. Offered either six weeks in prison or giving up campaigning for one year, the women all chose prison. Asquith was a target for militant suffragettes as they abandoned hope of achieving the vote through peaceful means. He was several times the subject of their tactics: approached (to his annoyance) arriving at 10 Downing Street (by Olive Fargus and Catherine Corbett whom he called 'silly women', confronted at evening parties, accosted on the golf course, and ambushed while driving to Stirling to dedicate a memorial to Campbell-Bannerman. On the last occasion, his top hat proved adequate protection against the dog whips wielded by the women. These incidents left him unmoved, as he did not believe them a true manifestation of public opinion.

Asquith led a deeply divided Liberal Party as Prime Minister, not least on questions of foreign relations and defence spending. Under Balfour, Britain and France had agreed upon the Entente Cordiale. In 1906, at the time the Liberals took office, there was an ongoing crisis between France and Germany over Morocco, and the French asked for British help in the event of conflict. Grey, the Foreign Secretary, refused any formal arrangement, but gave it as his personal opinion that in the event of war Britain would aid France. France then asked for military conversations aimed at co-ordination in such an event. Grey agreed, and these went on in the following years, without cabinet knowledge—Asquith most likely did not know of them until 1911. When he learned of them, Asquith was concerned that the French took for granted British aid in the event of war, but Grey persuaded him the talks must continue.


Asquith planned the 1908 budget, but by the time he presented it to the Commons he was no longer Chancellor. Campbell-Bannerman's health had been failing for nearly a year. After a series of heart attacks he resigned on 3 April 1908, less than three weeks before he died. Asquith was universally accepted as the natural successor. King Edward, who was on holiday in Biarritz, sent for Asquith, who took the boat train to France and kissed hands as prime minister in the Hôtel du Palais, Biarritz on 8 April.

Asquith hoped to act as a mediator between members of his cabinet as they pushed Liberal legislation through Parliament. Events, including conflict with the House of Lords, forced him to the front from the start of his premiership. Despite the Liberals's massive majority in the House of Commons, the Conservatives had overwhelming support in the unelected upper chamber. Campbell-Bannerman had favoured reforming the Lords by providing that a bill thrice passed by the Commons at least six months apart could become law without the Lords' consent, while diminishing the power of the Commons by reducing the maximum term of a parliament from seven to five years. Asquith, as chancellor, had served on a cabinet committee that had written a plan to resolve legislative stalemates by a joint sitting of the Commons as a body with 100 of the peers. The Commons passed a number of pieces of legislation in 1908 which were defeated or heavily amended in the Lords, including a Licensing Bill, a Scottish Small Landholders' Bill, and a Scottish Land Values Bill.

In a major speech in December 1908, Asquith announced that the upcoming budget would reflect the Liberals' policy agenda, and the People's Budget that was submitted to Parliament by Lloyd George the following year greatly expanded social welfare programmes. To pay for them, it significantly increased both direct and indirect taxes. These included a 20 per cent tax on the unearned increase in value in land, payable at death of the owner or sale of the land. There would also be a tax of ⁄2d in the pound on undeveloped land. A graduated income tax was imposed, and there were increases in imposts on tobacco, beer and spirits. A tax on petrol was introduced despite Treasury concerns that it could not work in practice. Although Asquith held fourteen cabinet meetings to assure unity amongst his ministers, there was opposition from some Liberals; Rosebery described the budget as "inquisitorial, tyrannical, and Socialistic".

Asquith had as chancellor placed money aside for the provision of non-contributory old-age pensions; the bill authorising them passed in 1908, during his premiership, despite some objection in the Lords. Jenkins noted that the scheme (which provided five shillings a week to single pensioners aged seventy and over, and slightly less than twice that to married couples) "to modern ears sounds cautious and meagre. But it was violently criticised at the time for showing a reckless generosity."

More public was the naval arms race between Britain and Germany. The Moroccan crisis had been settled at the Algeciras Conference, and Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet approved reduced naval estimates, including postponing the laying down of a second Dreadnought-class battleship. Tenser relationships with Germany, and that nation moving ahead with its own dreadnoughts, led Reginald McKenna, when Asquith appointed him First Lord of the Admiralty in 1908, to propose the laying down of eight more British ones in the following three years. This prompted conflict in the Cabinet between those who supported this programme, such as McKenna, and the "economists" who promoted economy in naval estimates, led by Lloyd George and Churchill. There was much public sentiment for building as many ships as possible to maintain British naval superiority. Asquith mediated among his colleagues and secured a compromise whereby four ships would be laid down at once, and four more if there proved to be a need. The armaments matter was put to the side during the domestic crises over the 1909 budget and then the Parliament Act, though the building of warships continued at an accelerated rate.


The budget divided the country and provoked bitter debate through the summer of 1909. The Northcliffe Press (The Times and the Daily Mail) urged rejection of the budget to give tariff reform (indirect taxes on imported goods which, it was felt, would encourage British industry and trade within the Empire) a chance; there were many public meetings, some of them organised by dukes, in protest at the budget. Many Liberal politicians attacked the peers, including Lloyd George in his Newcastle upon Tyne speech, in which he said "a fully-equipped duke costs as much to keep up as two Dreadnoughts; and dukes are just as great a terror and they last longer". King Edward privately urged Conservative leaders Balfour and Lord Lansdowne to pass the Budget (this was not unusual, as Queen Victoria had helped to broker agreement between the two Houses over the Irish Church Act 1869 and the Third Reform Act in 1884). From July it became increasingly clear that the Conservative peers would reject the budget, partly in the hope of forcing an election. If they rejected it, Asquith determined, he would have to ask the King to dissolve Parliament, four years into a seven-year term, as it would mean the legislature had refused supply. The budget passed the Commons on 4 November 1909, but was voted down in the Lords on the 30th, the Lords passing a resolution by Lord Lansdowne stating that they were entitled to oppose the finance bill as it lacked an electoral mandate. Asquith had Parliament prorogued three days later for an election beginning on 15 January 1910, with the Commons first passing a resolution deeming the Lords' vote to be an attack on the constitution.


The January 1910 general election was dominated by talk of removing the Lords' veto. A possible solution was to threaten to have King Edward pack the House of Lords with freshly minted Liberal peers, who would override the Lords's veto; Asquith's talk of safeguards was taken by many to mean that he had secured the King's agreement to this. They were mistaken; the King had informed Asquith that he would not consider a mass creation of peers until after a second general election.

The budget passed the Commons again, and—now that it had an electoral mandate—it was approved by the Lords in April without a division. The cabinet finally decided to back a plan based on Campbell-Bannerman's, that a bill passed by the Commons in three consecutive annual sessions would become law notwithstanding the Lords' objections. Unless the King guaranteed that he would create enough Liberal peers to pass the bill, ministers would resign and allow Balfour to form a government, leaving the matter to be debated at the ensuing general election. On 14 April 1910, the Commons passed resolutions that would become the basis of the eventual Parliament Act 1911: to remove the power of the Lords to veto money bills, to reduce blocking of other bills to a two-year power of delay, and also to reduce the term of a parliament from seven years to five. In that debate Asquith also hinted—in part to ensure the support of the Irish MPs—that he would ask the King to break the deadlock "in that Parliament" (i.e. that he would ask for the mass creation of peers, contrary to the King's earlier stipulation that there be a second election).

These plans were scuttled by the death of Edward VII on 6 May 1910. Asquith and his ministers were initially reluctant to press the new king, George V, in mourning for his father, for commitments on constitutional change, and the monarch's views were not yet known. With a strong feeling in the country that the parties should compromise, Asquith and other Liberals met with Conservative leaders in a number of conferences through much of the remainder of 1910. These talks failed in November over Conservative insistence that there be no limits on the Lords's ability to veto Irish Home Rule. When the Parliament Bill was submitted to the Lords, they made amendments that were not acceptable to the government.


Asquith enjoyed alcohol and his drinking was the subject of considerable gossip. His relaxed attitude to drink disappointed the temperance element in the Liberal coalition and some authors have suggested it affected his decision-making, for example in his opposition to Lloyd George's wartime attacks on the liquor trade. The Conservative leader Bonar Law quipped "Asquith drunk can make a better speech than any of us sober". His reputation suffered, especially as wartime crises demanded the full alert attention of the prime minister. David Owen writes that Asquith was ordered by his doctor to rein in his consumption after a near-collapse in April 1911, but it is unclear whether he actually did so. Owen, a medical doctor by training, states that "by modern diagnostic standards, Asquith became an alcoholic while Prime Minister." Witnesses often remarked on his weight gain and red, bloated face.

The election resulted in little change to the party strengths (the Liberal and Conservative parties were exactly equal in size; by 1914 the Conservative Party would actually be larger owing to by-election victories). Nevertheless, Asquith remained in Number Ten, with a large majority in the Commons on the issue of the House of Lords. The Parliament Bill again passed the House of Commons in April 1911, and was heavily amended in the Lords. Asquith advised King George that the monarch would be called upon to create the peers, and the King agreed, asking that his pledge be made public, and that the Lords be allowed to reconsider their opposition. Once it was, there was a raging internal debate within the Conservatives on whether to give in, or to continue to vote no even when outnumbered by hundreds of newly created peers. After lengthy debate, on 10 August 1911 the Lords voted narrowly not to insist on their amendments, with many Conservative peers abstaining and a few voting in favour of the government; the bill was passed into law.

Despite the distraction of the problem of the House of Lords, Asquith and his government moved ahead with a number of pieces of reforming legislation. According to Matthew, "no peacetime premier has been a more effective enabler. Labour exchanges, the introduction of unemployment and health insurance … reflected the reforms the government was able to achieve despite the problem of the Lords. Asquith was not himself a 'new Liberal', but he saw the need for a change in assumptions about the individual's relationship to the state, and he was fully aware of the political risk to the Liberals of a Labour Party on its left flank." Keen to keep the support of the Labour Party, the Asquith government passed bills urged by that party, including the Trade Union Act 1913 (reversing the Osborne judgment) and in 1911 granting MPs a salary, making it more feasible for working-class people to serve in the House of Commons.

The cabinet committee (not including Asquith) that in 1911 planned the Third Home Rule Bill opposed any special status for Protestant Ulster within majority-Catholic Ireland. Asquith later (in 1913) wrote to Churchill, stating that the Prime Minister had always believed and stated that the price of Home Rule should be a special status for Ulster. In spite of this, the bill as introduced in April 1912 contained no such provision, and was meant to apply to all Ireland. Neither partition nor a special status for Ulster was likely to satisfy either side. The self-government offered by the bill was very limited, but Irish Nationalists, expecting Home Rule to come by gradual parliamentary steps, favoured it. The Conservatives and Irish Unionists opposed it. Unionists began preparing to get their way by force if necessary, prompting nationalist emulation. The Unionists were in general better financed and more organised.


Possessed of "a faculty for working quickly", Asquith had considerable time for leisure. Reading the classics, poetry and a vast range of English literature consumed much of his time. So did correspondence; intensely disliking the telephone, Asquith was a prolific letter writer. Travelling, often to country houses owned by members of Margot's family, was almost constant, Asquith being a devoted "weekender". He spent part of each summer in Scotland, with golf, constituency matters, and time at Balmoral as duty minister. He and Margot divided their time between Downing Street and The Wharf, a country house at Sutton Courtenay in Berkshire which they bought in 1912; their London mansion, 20 Cavendish Square, was let during his premiership. He was addicted to Contract bridge.

Above all else, Asquith thrived on company and conversation. A clubbable man, he enjoyed "the companionship of clever and attractive women" even more. Throughout his life, Asquith had a circle of close female friends, which Margot termed his "harem". In 1912, one of these, Venetia Stanley became much closer. Meeting first in 1909–1910, by 1912 she was Asquith's constant correspondent and companion. Between that point and 1915, he wrote her some 560 letters, at a rate of up to four a day. Although it remains uncertain whether or not they were lovers, she became of central importance to him. Asquith's thorough enjoyment of "comfort and luxury" during peacetime, and his unwillingness to adjust his behaviour during conflict, ultimately contributed to the impression of a man out of touch. Lady Tree's teasing question, asked at the height of the conflict; "Tell me, Mr Asquith, do you take an interest in the war;" conveyed a commonly held view.

Disestablishment of the Welsh Church was a Liberal priority, but despite support by most Welsh MPs, there was opposition in the Lords. Asquith was an authority on Welsh disestablishment from his time under Gladstone, but had little to do with the passage of the bill. It was twice rejected by the Lords, in 1912 and 1913, but having been forced through under the Parliament Act received royal assent in September 1914, with the provisions suspended until war's end.

With a growing majority of the Cabinet, including Lloyd George and Churchill, in favour of women's suffrage, Asquith was pressed to allow consideration of a private member's bill to give women the vote. The majority of Liberal MPs were also in favour. Jenkins deemed him one of the two main prewar obstacles to women gaining the vote, the other being the suffragists's own militancy. In 1912, Asquith reluctantly agreed to permit a free vote on an amendment to a pending reform bill, allowing women the vote on the same terms as men. This would have satisfied Liberal suffrage supporters, and many suffragists, but the Speaker in January 1913 ruled that the amendment changed the nature of the bill, which would have to be withdrawn. Asquith was loud in his complaints against the Speaker, but was privately relieved.

The passions generated by the Irish question contrasted with Asquith's cool detachment, and he wrote about the prospective partition of the county of Tyrone, which had a mixed population, deeming it "an impasse, with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small, & to Irish eyes immeasurably big". As the Commons debated the Home Rule bill in late 1912 and early 1913, unionists in the north of Ireland mobilised, with talk of Carson declaring a Provisional Government and Ulster Volunteer Forces (UVF) built around the Orange Lodges, but in the cabinet, only Churchill viewed this with alarm. These forces, insisting on their loyalty to the British Crown but increasingly well-armed with smuggled German weapons, prepared to do battle with the British Army, but Unionist leaders were confident that the army would not aid in forcing Home Rule on Ulster. As the Home Rule bill awaited its third passage through the Commons, the so-called Curragh incident occurred in April 1914. With deployment of troops into Ulster imminent and threatening language by Churchill and the Secretary of State for War, John Seely, around sixty army officers, led by Brigadier-General Hubert Gough, announced that they would rather be dismissed from the service than obey. With unrest spreading to army officers in England, the Cabinet acted to placate the officers with a statement written by Asquith reiterating the duty of officers to obey lawful orders but claiming that the incident had been a misunderstanding. Seely then added an unauthorised assurance, countersigned by Sir John French (the professional head of the army), that the government had no intention of using force against Ulster. Asquith repudiated the addition, and required Seely and French to resign, taking on the War Office himself, retaining the additional responsibility until hostilities against Germany began.


Asquith had opposed votes for women as early as 1882, and he remained well known as an adversary throughout his time as prime minister. He took a detached view of the women's suffrage question, believing it should be judged on whether extending the franchise would improve the system of government, rather than as a question of rights. He did not understand—Jenkins ascribed it to a failure of imagination—why passions were raised on both sides over the issue. He told the House of Commons in 1913, while complaining of the "exaggerated language" on both sides, "I am sometimes tempted to think, as one listens to the arguments of supporters of women's suffrage, that there is nothing to be said for it, and I am sometimes tempted to think, as I listen to the arguments of the opponents of women's suffrage, that there is nothing to be said against it."


Within a month of the start of Asquith's tenure at the War Office, the UVF landed a large cargo of guns and ammunition at Larne, but the Cabinet did not deem it prudent to arrest their leaders. On 12 May, Asquith announced that he would secure Home Rule's third passage through the Commons (accomplished on 25 May), but that there would be an amending bill with it, making special provision for Ulster. But the Lords made changes to the amending bill unacceptable to Asquith, and with no way to invoke the Parliament Act on the amending bill, Asquith agreed to meet other leaders at an all-party conference on 21 July at Buckingham Palace, chaired by the King. When no solution could be found, Asquith and his cabinet planned further concessions to the Unionists, but this did not occur as the crisis on the Continent erupted into war. In September 1914, after the outbreak of the conflict, Asquith announced that the Home Rule bill would go on the statute book (as the Government of Ireland Act 1914) but would not go into force until after the war; in the interim a bill granting special status to Ulster would be considered. This solution satisfied neither side.

The Agadir crisis of 1911 was again between France and Germany over Moroccan interests, but Asquith's government signalled its friendliness towards France in Lloyd George's Mansion House speech on 21 July. Late that year, the Lord President of the Council, Viscount Morley, brought the question of the communications with the French to the attention of the Cabinet. The Cabinet agreed (at Asquith's instigation) that no talks could be held that committed Britain to war, and required cabinet approval for co-ordinated military actions. Nevertheless, by 1912, the French had requested additional naval co-ordination and late in the year, the various understandings were committed to writing in an exchange of letters between Grey and French Ambassador Paul Cambon. The relationship with France disquieted some Liberal backbenchers and Asquith felt obliged to assure them that nothing had been secretly agreed that would commit Britain to war. This quieted Asquith's foreign policy critics until another naval estimates dispute erupted early in 1914.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 initiated a month of unsuccessful diplomatic attempts to avoid war. These attempts ended with Grey's proposal for a four-power conference of Britain, Germany, France and Italy, following the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia on the evening of 23 July. Grey's initiative was rejected by Germany as "not practicable". During this period, George Cassar considers that; "The country was overwhelmingly opposed to intervention." Much of Asquith's cabinet was similarly inclined, Lloyd George told a journalist on 27 July that "there could be no question of our taking part in any war in the first instance. He knew of no Minister who would be in favour of it." and wrote in his War Memoirs that before the German ultimatum to Belgium on 3 August "The Cabinet was hopelessly divided—fully one third, if not one half, being opposed to our entry into the War. After the German ultimatum to Belgium the Cabinet was almost unanimous." Asquith himself, while growing more aware of the impending catastrophe, was still uncertain of the necessity for Britain's involvement. On 24 July, he wrote to Venetia; "We are within measurable, or imaginable, distance of a real Armageddon. Happily there seems to be no reason why we should be anything more than spectators."

The declaration of war on 4 August 1914 saw Asquith as the head of an almost united Liberal Party. Having persuaded Sir John Simon and Lord Beauchamp to remain, Asquith suffered only two resignations from his cabinet, those of John Morley and John Burns. With other parties promising to co-operate, Asquith's government declared war on behalf of a united nation, Asquith bringing "the country into war without civil disturbance or political schism".

Jenkins considered Asquith as foremost amongst the great social reforming premiers of the twentieth century. His Government's social and political reforms were unprecedented and far-sighted; "paving the way for the welfare state legislation of the Attlee government in 1945–1951 as well as Blair's constitutional reforms after 1997." According to Roy Hattersley, a changed Britain entered the war in 1914, "the political, social and cultural revolution had already happened. Modern Britain was born in the opening years of the twentieth century." Asquith also worked strenuously to secure a settlement of the Irish question and, although unsuccessful, his work contributed to the 1922 settlement. Lastly, as a "great head of a Cabinet", Asquith directed and developed the talents of an extraordinary array of parliamentarians, for an extraordinarily long period. Hazlehurst contends that this "ability to keep so gifted and divergently-inclined a group in harness (was) one of his major achievements." Overall, the Brocks argue that; "on the basis of his achievements 1908 to 1914 he must rank among the greatest British statesmen of any era." His oldest political and personal friend, Haldane, wrote to Asquith on the latter's final resignation; "My Dear A., a time has come in both of our lives when the bulk of work has been done. That work does not pass away. It is not by overt signs that its enduring character is to be judged. It is by the changes made in the spirit of things into which the work has entered."


Failures in both the East and the West began a tide of events that was to overwhelm Asquith's Liberal Government. Strategic setbacks combined with a shattering personal blow when, on 12 May 1915, Venetia Stanley announced her engagement to Edwin Montagu. Asquith's reply was immediate and brief, "As you know well, this breaks my heart. I couldn't bear to come and see you. I can only pray God to bless you—and help me." Venetia's importance to him is illustrated by a letter written in mid-1914; "Keep close to me beloved in this most critical time of my life. I know you will not fail." Her engagement; "a very treacherous return after all the joy you've given me", left him devastated. Significant though the loss was personally, its impact on Asquith politically can be overstated. The historian Stephen Koss notes that Asquith "was always able to divide his public and private lives into separate compartments (and) soon found new confidantes to whom he was writing with no less frequency, ardour and indiscretion."

The insatiable demand for manpower for the Western Front had been foreseen early on. A volunteer system had been introduced at the outbreak of war, and Asquith was reluctant to change it for political reasons, as many Liberals, and almost all of their Irish Nationalist and Labour allies, were strongly opposed to conscription. Volunteer numbers dropped, not meeting the demands for more troops for Gallipoli, and much more strongly, for the Western Front. This made the voluntary system increasingly untenable; Asquith's daughter Violet wrote in March 1915; "Gradually every man with the average number of limbs and faculties is being sucked out to the war." In July 1915, the National Registration Act was passed, requiring compulsory registration for all men between the ages of 18 and 65. This was seen by many as the prelude to conscription but the appointment of Lord Derby as Director-General of Recruiting instead saw an attempt to rejuvenate the voluntary system, the Derby Scheme. Asquith's slow steps towards conscription continued to infuriate his opponents, Sir Henry Wilson writing to Leo Amery; "What is going to be the result of these debates? Will 'wait and see' win, or can that part of the Cabinet that is in earnest and is honest force that damned old Squiff into action?" The Prime Minister's balancing act, within Parliament and within his own party, was not assisted by a strident campaign against conscription conducted by his wife. Describing herself as "passionately against it", Margot Asquith engaged in one of her frequent influencing drives, by letters and through conversations, which had little impact other than doing "great harm" to Asquith's reputation and position.


By the end of 1915, it was clear that conscription was essential and Asquith laid the Military Service Act in the House of Commons on 5 January 1916. The Act introduced conscription of bachelors, and was extended to married men later in the year. Asquith's main opposition came from within his own party, particularly from Sir John Simon, who resigned. Asquith described Simon's stance in a letter to Sylvia Henley; "I felt really like a man who had been struck publicly in the face by his son." Some years later, Simon acknowledged his error; "I have long since realised that my opposition was a mistake." Asquith's achievement in bringing the bill through without breaking up the government was considerable, his wife writing; "Henry's patience and skill in keeping Labour in this amazing change in England have stunned everyone," but the long struggle "hurt his own reputation and the unity of his party".

On Easter Monday 1916, a group of Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen Army seized a number of key buildings and locations in Dublin and elsewhere. There was heavy fighting over the next week before the Volunteers were forced to surrender. Distracted by conscription, Asquith and the Government were slow to appreciate the developing danger, which was exacerbated when, after hasty courts martial, a number of the Irish leaders were executed. On 11 May Asquith crossed to Dublin and, after a week of investigation, decided that the island's governance system was irredeemably broken, He turned to Lloyd George for a solution. With his customary energy, Lloyd George brokered a settlement which would have seen Home Rule introduced at the end of the War, with the exclusion of Ulster. However, neither he, nor Asquith, appreciated the extent of Conservative opposition, the plan was strongly attacked in the House of Lords, and was abandoned thereafter. The episode damaged Lloyd George's reputation, but also that of Asquith, Walter Long speaking of the latter as; "terribly lacking in decision". It also further widened the divide between Asquith and Lloyd George, and encouraged the latter in his plans for government reconstruction; "Mr. A gets very few cheers nowadays."

Early 1916 saw the start of the German offensive at Verdun, the "greatest battle of attrition in history". In late May, the only significant Anglo-German naval engagement of the War took place at The Battle of Jutland. Although a strategic success, the greater loss of ships on the Allied side brought early dismay. Lord Newton, Paymaster General and Parliamentary spokesman for the War office in Kitchener's absence, recorded in his diary; "Stupefying news of naval battle off Jutland. Whilst listening to the list of ships lost, I thought it the worst disaster that we had ever suffered." This despondency was compounded, for the nation, if not for his colleagues, when Lord Kitchener was killed in the sinking of HMS Hampshire on 5 June.

Asquith followed this by agreeing to hold Commissions of Inquiry into the conduct of the Dardanelles and of the Mesopotamian campaign, where Allied forces had been forced to surrender at Kut. Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the War Committee, considered that; "the Coalition never recovered. For (its) last five months, the function of the Supreme Command was carried out under the shadow of these inquests." But these mistakes were overshadowed by the limited progress and immense casualties of the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July 1916, and then by another devastating personal loss, the death of Asquith's son Raymond, on 15 September at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. Asquith's relationship with his eldest son had not been easy. Raymond wrote to his wife in early 1916; "If Margot talks any more bosh to you about the inhumanity of her stepchildren you can stop her mouth by telling her that during my 10 months exile here the P.M. has never written me a line of any description." But Raymond's death was shattering, Violet writing; "…to see Father suffering so wrings one", and Asquith passed much of the following months "withdrawn and difficult to approach". The War brought no respite, Churchill writing that; "The failure to break the German line in the Somme, the recovery of the Germanic powers in the East [i.e. the defeat of the Brusilov Offensive], the ruin of Roumania and the beginnings of renewed submarine warfare strengthened and stimulated all those forces which insisted upon still greater vigour in the conduct of affairs."

On 20 November 1916 Lloyd George, Carson and Law met at the Hyde Park Hotel. The meeting was organised by Max Aitken who was to play central roles both in the forthcoming crisis and in its subsequent historiography. Max Aitken was a Canadian adventurer, millionaire, and close friend of Law. His book on the fall of the First Coalition, Politicians and the War 1914–1916, although always partial and sometimes inaccurate, gives a detailed insider's view of the events leading up to Asquith's political demise. The trio agreed on the necessity of overhauling the government and further agreed on the mechanism for doing so; the establishment of a small War Council, chaired by Lloyd George, with no more than five members and with full executive authority for the conduct of the war.

Lord Northcliffe's role was critical, as was the use Lloyd George made of him, and of the press in general. Northcliffe's involvement also highlights the limitations of both Aitken's and Lloyd George's accounts of Asquith's fall. Both minimised Northcliffe's part in the events. In his War Memoirs, Lloyd George stated emphatically "Lord Northcliffe was never, at any stage, brought into our consultations." Aitken supported this; "Lord Northcliffe was not in active co-operation with Lloyd George." But these claims are contradicted by others. In their biography of Northcliffe, Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth record Northcliffe's brother Rothermere writing contemporaneously; "Alfred has been actively at work with Ll.G. with a view to bringing about a change." Riddell wrote in his diary for 27 May 1916: "LG never mentions directly that he sees Northcliffe but I am sure they are in daily contact." Margot Asquith was also certain of Northcliffe's role, and of Lloyd George's involvement, although she obscured both of their names when writing in her diary; "I only hope the man responsible for giving information to Lord N- will be heavily punished: God may forgive him; I never can." They are also contradicted by events; Northcliffe met with Lloyd George on each of the three days just prior to Lloyd George's resignation, on 1, 2, and 3 December, including two meetings on 1 December, both before and after Lloyd George put his revised proposals for the War Council to Asquith. It seems improbable that ongoing events were not discussed and that the two men confined their conversations to negotiating article circulation rights for Lloyd George once he had resigned, as Pound and Harmsworth weakly suggest. The attempts made by others to use Northcliffe and the wider press also merit consideration. In this regard, some senior military officers were extremely active. Robertson, for example, wrote to Northcliffe in October 1916, "The Boche gives me no trouble compared with what I meet in London. So any help you can give me will be of Imperial value." Lastly, the actions of Northcliffe's newspapers must be considered—in particular The Times editorial on 4 December which led Asquith to reject Lloyd George's final War Council proposals. Thompson, Northcliffe's most recent biographer, concludes; "From the evidence, it appears that Northcliffe and his newspapers should be given more credit than they have generally received for the demise of the Asquith government in December 1916."

Within Parliament, Asquith pursued a course of quiet support, retaining a "heavy, continuing responsibility for the decision of August 4, 1914." A. G. Gardiner in the Daily News (9 December) stated explicitly that Lloyd George's government should not have to live under the constant barrage of criticism that Asquith's coalition had endured. In a "gracious" reply to Lloyd George's first speech in the House of Commons as Prime Minister on 19 December 1916, Asquith made clear that he did not see his role "in any sense to be the leader of what is called an opposition". From around the spring of 1917 Asquith's reluctance to criticise the government at all began to exasperate some of his press supporters.

His eldest son Raymond, after an academic career that outstripped his father's was killed at the Somme in 1916. His second son Herbert (1881–1947) became a writer and poet and married Cynthia Charteris. His later life was marred by alcoholism. His third son Arthur (1883–1939), became a soldier and businessman. His only daughter by his first wife, Violet, later Violet Bonham Carter (1887–1969), became a well-regarded writer and a life peeress as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury. She married Asquith's Personal Private Secretary Maurice Bonham Carter in 1915. His fourth son Cyril (1890–1954) was born on the day Asquith became a QC and later became a Law Lord.


Asquith belatedly came around to support women's suffrage in 1917, by which time he was out of office. Women over the age of thirty were eventually given the vote by Lloyd George's government under the Representation of the People Act 1918. Asquith's reforms to the House of Lords eased the way for the passage of the bill.

Outside of the Commons, Margot and he returned to 20 Cavendish Square and he divided his life between there, The Wharf and visiting. Money, in the absence of his premier's salary, became more of a concern. In March 1917 he was informally offered the Lord Chancellorship, with the highest salary in government, but he declined. Personal sadness continued in December 1917 when Asquith's third son Arthur, known in the family as "Oc", was badly wounded fighting in France; his leg was amputated in January 1918. Asquith's daughter-in-law recorded in her diary; "The Old Boy (Asquith) sent me fifteen pounds and also, in a letter, told me the sad news of poor, dear Oc having been badly wounded again."


On 7 May 1918 a letter from a serving officer, Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice appeared in four London newspapers, accusing Lloyd George and Law of having misled the House of Commons in debates the previous month as to the manpower strength of the army in France. Asquith, who received a letter from Maurice on 6 May, and had also been in contact with the sacked Robertson, with whom Maurice discussed the letter, called for a Select Committee of the House to investigate the charges. In response to a private notice question, Law had offered a judicial inquiry, with Asquith free to choose the judges, but Asquith declined this offer on the evening of 7 May, thinking it contrary to the dignity of Parliament. Prior to the debate, he received a surprising communication (8 May) from H. A. Gwynne, the editor of The Morning Post, and previously a fervent opponent. "The effect of the Maurice letter, and your motion, must be the dissolution of the present government (and) your accession to power." At this point "Asquith hated Lloyd George with a passion" but he did not want the premiership for himself. Asquith's opening speech on the Select Committee motion was lengthy and lacked punch. Bridgeman recorded; "He did not make much of a case, and did not even condemn Maurice's breach of the King's Regulations, for which he got a very heavy blow from L.G.". Lloyd George's one and a quarter-hour long reply was "a stunning solo display by the greatest rhetorician of his age" in which he threatened the House with the inevitable political consequence of a vote for Asquith's motion. "… if this motion is carried, he [Asquith] will again be responsible for the conduct of the War. Make no mistake!" John Ramsden summed up the opinion in the House of Commons; "Lloyd George's lies were (preferred to) Asquith's half-measures." The motion was defeated by 293 votes to 106, more an "utter rejection of Asquith, than (a) wholehearted endorsement of Lloyd George", and the latter's position in Parliament was not seriously threatened for the remainder of the War.

Asquith was left politically discredited by the Maurice Debate and by the clear turn of the war in the Allies' favour from the summer of 1918. He devoted far more effort to his Romanes Lecture "Some Aspects of the Victorian Age" at Oxford in June 1918 than to any political speech. However, Lady Ottoline Morrell thought it "a dull address". A letter of July 1918 describes a typical couple of days. "Nothing much is happening here. I dined with the usual crowd at Mrs. Astor's last night. The Duke of Connaught lunches here on Friday: don't you wish you were coming!"

Even before the Armistice, Lloyd George had been considering the political landscape and, on 2 November 1918, wrote to Law proposing an immediate election with a formal endorsement—for which Asquith coined the name "Coupon", with overtones of wartime food rationing—for Coalition candidates. News of his plans soon reached Asquith, causing considerable concern. On 6 November he wrote to Hilda Henderson; "I suppose that tomorrow we shall be told the final decision about this accursed election." A Liberal delegation met Lloyd George in the week of 6 November to propose Liberal reunification but was swiftly rebuffed.


In April 1919 Asquith gave a weak speech to Liberal candidates, his first public speech since the election. In Newcastle (15 May) he gave a slightly stronger speech, encouraged by his audience to "Hit Out!" Asquith was also disappointed by the "terms and spirit" of the Treaty of Versailles in May, but did not oppose it very strongly in public. On 31 July 1919, after a lunch in honour of former Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch, Asquith wrote "he talked a lot of nonsense about Germany sinking never to rise again."

In August 1919 Asquith was asked to preside over a Royal Commission into the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, although the report when it came was, in line with Asquith's own academic views, somewhat conservative. The commission began hearings in January 1920; many dons would have preferred Haldane as chair. Asquith's public rehabilitation continued with the receipt in late 1919 of the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, honours which the War Office, under Churchill, had originally intended only to be awarded to Lloyd George, until the King insisted Asquith receive them also.

Maclean and others urged Asquith to stand in the Spen Valley by-election in December 1919, but it is unclear whether he ever considered the idea. This was just as well, as it had become clear that Labour were going to fight the seat hard and they defeated Sir John Simon when Lloyd George insisted on splitting the Liberal vote by running a Coalition Liberal candidate.


In January 1920, an opportunity arose at Paisley, in Scotland like his previous seat, after the death of the Liberal MP. The Liberals had held the seat by only 106 votes in 1918. Asquith's adoption was not a foregone conclusion: the local Association was split between pro- and anti-coalition factions, and he was selected by a vote of 20:17 by the executive and then 92:75 of the wider members. He was formally adopted on 21 January 1920 and soon united the local Liberal Association behind him. Asquith was lukewarm at the thought of returning to Scotland, and regarded his gamble with trepidation, although he grew more confident as the campaign progressed. Travelling with Margot, his daughter Violet and a small staff, Asquith directed most of his campaign not against Labour, who were already in second place, but against the Coalition, calling for a less harsh line on German reparations and the Irish War of Independence. Some "thought fit to compare [the campaign] with Gladstone's Midlothian campaign, although Asquith himself was more circumspect.

Money, or its lack, also became an increasing concern. Margot's extravagance was legendary and Asquith was no longer earning either the legal fees or the prime ministerial salary they had enjoyed in earlier years. Additionally, there were on-going difficulties with Margot's inheritance. In 1920, as an economy measure, 20 Cavendish Square was sold to Viscountess Cowdray and Asquith and Margot moved to 44, Bedford Square.


Criticism of Asquith's weak leadership continued. Lloyd George's mistress Frances Stevenson wrote (18 March) that he was "finished … no fight left in him"; the press baron Lord Rothermere, who had supported him at Paisley, wrote on 1 April of his "obvious incapacity for the position he is expected to fill". In fact Asquith spoke in the House of Commons far more frequently than he had ever previously done when not a minister. He also spoke frequently around the country, in June 1921 topping the Liberal Chief Whip's list of the most active speakers. The issue was the quality of his contributions. Asquith still maintained friendly relations with Lloyd George, although Margot made no secret of her enmity for him.

Until the Paisley by-election Asquith had accepted that the next government must be some kind of Liberal-Labour coalition, but Labour had distanced themselves because of his policies on the mines, the Russo-Polish War, education, the prewar secret treaties and the suppression of the Easter Rebellion. The success of Anti-Waste League candidates at by-elections made leading Liberals feel that there was a strong anti-Coalition vote which might be tapped by a wider-based and more credible opposition. By late June 1921 Asquith's leadership was still under strong attack from within the Wee Free group, although Frances Stevenson's claim in her diary that most of them now wanted Lloyd George as their leader is not corroborated by the report in The Times. Lord Robert Cecil, a moderate and pro-League of Nations Conservative, had been having talks with Edward Grey about a possible coalition, and Asquith and leading Liberals Crewe, Runciman and Maclean had a meeting with them on 5 July 1921, and two subsequent ones. Cecil wanted a genuine coalition rather than a de facto Liberal government, with Grey rather than Asquith as Prime Minister, but the Liberals did not, and little came of the plans.

Asquith did fiercely oppose "the hellish policy of reprisals" in Ireland, impressing the young Oswald Mosley. J.M. Hogge even urged Sir Donald Maclean (31 August) to "knock Asquith into the middle of next week" and seize back the chairmanship of the Liberal MPs. Late in 1921 the National Liberal Federation adopted an industrial programme without Asquith's agreement. On 24 October 1921 Asquith commented "if one tries to strike a bold true note half one's friends shiver and cower, and implore one not to get in front of the band".


In January 1922 C.P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian told Asquith that he supported a centre-left grouping, but only if moderate Labour was included—in reality Labour leaders were unable to deliver the support of their local members for such a realignment. Asquith achieved more success with a major speech at Westminster Central Hall in January 1922, in reply to a speech by Lloyd George a few days earlier. Asquith had with some difficulty been persuaded to make the maximum possible reference to his renewed alliance with Grey, but Haldane had refused to join the platform. Five days later Churchill replied with a pro-Coalition speech in which he accused Asquith and other Liberals of having "stood carefully aside" during the war, causing deep offence.

By the summer of 1922 Asquith's interest in politics was at a very low ebb. He was observed to be "very heavily loaded" and was helped up the stairs by Lloyd George at a party of Sir Philip Sassoon's on 16 July 1922, whilst his reputation was further damaged by his portrayal in Aldous Huxley's novel Crome Yellow and by the publication of the first volume of Margot's memoirs, which sold well in the UK and the USA, but were thought an undignified way for a former Prime Minister to make money. On 13 September 1922 Sir Donald Maclean told Harold Laski that Asquith was devoted to bridge and small talk and did not do enough real work. Asquith was increasingly attracted by the thought of making money from writing, with Churchill doing very well from his The World Crisis and Lloyd George rumoured to be being paid handsomely for his memoirs (which in the event did not appear until the mid-1930s). Asquith's books The Genesis of the War finally appeared in September 1923 and Studies and Sketches in 1924. His second son Herbert recorded; "A large part of my father's later years was occupied with authorship and it was during this period that he wrote most of his longer books."

Asquith played no part in Lloyd George's fall from power in October 1922, which happened because the rank-and-file majority of his Conservative coalition partners, led by Stanley Baldwin and Lloyd George's former colleague Law, deserted him. Law formed a purely Conservative government, and the following month, at the 1922 general election, Asquith ceased to be Leader of the Opposition as more Labour MPs were elected than the two Liberal factions combined. 138 Labour members outnumbered the combined Liberal number of 117, with 60 Asquith supporters and 57 "National Liberals" (adherents to Lloyd George). Asquith had thought Paisley would be safe but was only narrowly returned with a 316 majority (50.5 per cent of the votes cast in a two-candidate battle with Labour), despite a rise in the Liberal vote. He put this down to the 5,000 unemployed at Paisley after the slump of 1920–1921. He wrote that he "gloated" over the senior Coalition Liberals—Churchill, Hamar Greenwood, Freddie Guest and Edwin Montagu—who lost their seats.


In March 1923 a petition for reunion among Liberal backbenchers received 73 signatures, backed by the Lloyd Georgeite Daily Chronicle and the Asquithian Liberal Magazine. But reunion was opposed by senior Asquithian Liberals like Sir John Simon, Viscount Gladstone and Charles Masterman, and as late as 30 June by journalists such as H. W. Massingham and Gardiner of The Nation. Viscount Gladstone felt that "it was generally recognised that Asquith was no longer effective as an active leader" but that Lloyd George must not succeed him. By July Asquith was superficially friendly to Lloyd George and consulted him, but he did not include him in the Shadow Cabinet. Asquith wanted Lloyd George to make the first move but although the latter put out feelers to senior Asquith supporters he insisted that he was "neither a suppliant nor a penitent". M.S.R. Kinnear writes that Asquith felt that with Lloyd George's faction declining in strength he had everything to gain by waiting, while too quick an approach would antagonise the Labour leaders who hated Lloyd George and whose support he might need for a future Lib-Lab coalition. Kinnear also argues that Asquith's "gloating" over the defeat of Coalition Liberals in 1922 is evidence that "the most important factor influencing Asquith against quick reunion was his personal dislike of Lloyd George and his desire for vengeance."

The political situation was transformed when Baldwin, now Prime Minister, came out in favour of Protection at Plymouth on 22 October 1923. Coming out for Free Trade himself, Lloyd George was obliged, at least formally, to submit to Asquith's leadership. Parliament was dissolved. Asquith and Lloyd George reached agreement on 13 November, followed by a Free Trade manifesto, followed by a more general one. Lloyd George, accompanied by his daughter Megan, came to Paisley to speak in Asquith's support on 24 November.

Asquith fought an energetic national campaign on free trade in 1923, with echoes of 1903. He spoke at Nottingham and Manchester, but did not privately expect more than 200 Liberals to be elected—although he hoped to overtake Labour and become Leader of the Opposition once again—and hoped for Baldwin to win by a tiny majority.

The poll at Paisley was split by an independent extreme socialist and a Conservative. Asquith won with 33.4 per cent of the vote. Nationally, the outcome of the election in December 1923 was a hung Parliament (258 Conservatives, 191 Labour, 158 Liberals); the Liberals had gained seats but were still in third place. A quarter of the seats were held by majority less than 1,000. In general, Asquith Liberals did better than Lloyd George Liberals, which Gladstone and Maclean saw as a reason to prevent close co-operation between the factions.


The 1924 election was Asquith's last Parliamentary campaign, and there was no realistic chance of a return to the Commons. He told Charles Masterman "I'd sooner go to hell than to Wales," the only part of the country where Liberal support remained strong. The King offered him a peerage (4 November 1924). Asquith felt he was not rich enough to accept, and would have preferred to die a commoner like Pitt or Gladstone. He accepted in January 1925 after a holiday in Egypt with his son Arthur. He deliberately chose the title "Earl of Oxford", saying it had a splendid history as the title chosen by Robert Harley, a Conservative statesman of Queen Anne's reign. He was thought by some to have delusions of grandeur, Lady Salisbury writing to him that the title was "like a suburban villa calling itself Versailles." Asquith found the controversy amusing but the College of Heralds insisted that he add "and Asquith" to the final title, after protests from Harley's descendants. In practice he was known as "Lord Oxford". He never enjoyed the House of Lords, and thought the quality of debates there poor.

In 1924 the Liberal party had only been able to put up 343 candidates due to lack of money. At one point the Liberal Shadow Cabinet suggested obtaining the opinion of a Chancery Lawyer as to whether the Liberal Party was entitled under trust law to Lloyd George's money, which he had obtained from the sale of honours. On 29 January 1925, at a two-day London convention, Asquith launched a Million Fund Appeal in an unsuccessful attempt to raise Liberal Party funds independent of Lloyd George.


He was seen off by tumultuous crowds at Glasgow, and greeted by further crowds at Euston the next morning, and along the road on his first return to Parliament. However, he received only a chilly greeting inside the Chamber, and no personal congratulations from Coalition politicians, except from Lord Cave, who was later to defeat him for the Chancellorship of Oxford University in 1925.

One more disappointment remained. In 1925 he stood for the Chancellorship of Oxford University, vacant on the death of Lord Curzon. He was eminently suited and was described by Lord Birkenhead, one of his many Conservative supporters, as "the greatest living Oxonian."

In May 1925 Asquith accepted the Order of the Garter from Baldwin, who was known to be a personal admirer of his.

Difficulties continued with Lloyd George, who had been chairman of the Liberal MPs since 1924, over the party leadership and over party funds. In the autumn of 1925 Hobhouse, Runciman and the industrialist Sir Alfred Mond protested to Asquith at Lloyd George organising his own campaign for reform of land ownership. Asquith was "not enthusiastic" but Lloyd George ignored him and arranged for Asquith to be sent reports and calculations ("Lord Oxford likes sums" he wrote). At a meeting on 25 November 1925 Grey, Maclean, Simon, Gladstone and Runciman urged Asquith to have a showdown with Lloyd George over money. Asquith wanted to think it over, and at the December 1925 Federation executive he left the meeting before the topic came up. To the horror of his followers Asquith reached an agreement in principle with Lloyd George over land reform on 2 December, then together they presented plans to the National Liberal Federation on 26 February 1926. But, wrote Maclean, "in private Asquith's language about Lloyd George was lurid."


In January 1926 Mond withdrew his financial support from the Liberal Party. The loss of wealthy donors and the failure of the Million Fund Appeal further weakened Asquith's position, and there is some evidence that his frequent requests for money irritated donors like Sir Robert Perks who had given a good deal to the Party over the years, and that outside his inner circle of devotees he was bad at keeping on good terms with potential donors.

Margot is said to have later claimed that her husband regretted the breach and had acted after several rich donors had threatened to quit. Asquith finally resigned the Liberal leadership on 15 October 1926.


His health remained reasonable, almost to the end, though financial concerns increasingly beset him. A perhaps surprising contributor to an endowment fund established to support Asquith in 1927 was Lord Beaverbrook (the former Max Aitken), who contributed £1,000. Violet was highly embarrassed by her step-mother's attempts to enlist the aid of Aitken, Lord Reading and others of her husband's friends and acquaintances. "It is monstrous that other people (should) be made to foot Margot's bridge bills. How she has dragged his name through the mud!"

Asquith suffered a second stroke in January 1927, disabling his left leg for a while and leaving him a wheelchair-user for the spring and early summer of 1927. Asquith's last visit was see the widowed Venetia Montagu in Norfolk. On his return to The Wharf, in autumn 1927, he was unable to get out of his car and "he was never again able to go upstairs to his own room." He suffered a third stroke at the end of 1927. His last months were difficult, and he became increasingly confused, his daughter Violet writing; "To watch Father's glorious mind breaking up and sinking—like a great ship—is a pain beyond all my imagining."


Asquith's will was proven on 9 June 1928, with his estate amounting to £9345 9s. 2d. (roughly equivalent to £567,195 in 2019).


Asquith's reputation will always be heavily influenced by his downfall at the height of the First World War. In 1970, Basil Liddell Hart summed up opinion as to the reasons for his fall; "Lloyd George (came to) power as the spokesman for a widespread demand for a more vigorous as well as a more efficient prosecution of the war." Asquith's collegiate approach; his tendency to "wait and see;" his stance as the chairman of the cabinet, rather than leader of a government—"content to preside without directing;" his "contempt for the press, regard(ing) journalists as ignorant, spiteful and unpatriotic;" and his weakness for alcohol—"I had occasion to speak to the P.M. twice yesterday and on both occasions I was nearly gassed by the alcoholic fumes he discharged;" all contributed to a prevailing sense that Asquith was unable to rise to "the necessities of total warfare." Grigg concludes, "In certain vital respects, he was not qualified to run the war. A great head of government in peacetime, by the end of 1916 he was in a general state of decline, his obvious defects as a war leader (exposed)." Cassar, reflecting on Asquith's work to bring a united country to war, and his efforts in the year thereafter, goes towards a reassessment; "His achievements are sufficiently impressive to earn him a place as one of the outstanding figures of the Great War" His contemporary opponent, Lord Birkenhead paid tribute to his bringing Britain united into the War, ""A statesman who rendered great service to his country at a time when no other living Englishman could have done what he did." The Coalition Whip, William Bridgeman, provided an alternative Conservative view, comparing Lloyd George to Asquith at the time of the latter's fall; "however unpopular or mistrusted (Lloyd George) was in the House, he carried much more weight in the Country than Asquith, who was almost everywhere looked on as a lazy and dilatory man." Sheffield and Bourne provide a recent historical reassessment; "Asquith's governments arguably took all the key decisions of the War: the decision to intervene, to send the BEF; to raise a mass volunteer army; to start and end the Gallipoli Campaign; the creation of a Coalition government; the mobilisation of industry; the introduction of conscription." But the weight of opinion continues to agree with Asquith's own candid assessment, in a letter written in the midst of war in July 1916; "I am (as usual) encompassed by a cloud of worries, anxieties, problems and the rest. 'The time is out of joint' and sometimes I am tempted to say with Hamlet 'O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.' Perhaps I wasn't."

Koss concludes that, in a "long, eventful and complex career, (that) does not admit easily of a summing up, Asquith's failings were no less manifest than his achievements." Michael and Eleanor Brock maintain that "his peacetime record of legislative achievement should not be overshadowed by his wartime inadequacy." Of those achievements, his colleague Lord Buckmaster wrote; "The dull senses and heavy lidded eyes of the public prevent them from seeing now all that you have accomplished, but history will record it and the accomplishment is vast." Among his greatest domestic accomplishments, reform of the House of Lords is at the zenith. Yet Asquith's premiership was also marked by many difficulties, leading McKenna to write in his memoirs, "friends began to wonder whether the highest statesmanship consisted of overcoming one crisis by creating another". Hazlehurst, writing in 1970, felt there was still much to be gleaned from a critical review of Asquith's peacetime premiership, "certainly, the record of a prime minister under whom the nation goes to the brink of civil war [over Ireland] must be subjected to the severest scrutiny."

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