Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
27 February 1868 – 1 December 1868
20 February 1874 – 21 April 1880
Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, FRS (21 December
1804 – 19 April 1881) was an English statesman and literary figure.
He served in government for three decades, twice as Prime Minister of
the United Kingdom – the first and thus far only person of Jewish
parentage to do so, although Disraeli was baptised in the Anglican Church
at an early age. Disraeli's most lasting achievement was the creation
of the modern Conservative Party after the Corn Laws schism of 1846.
Although a major
figure in the protectionist wing of the Conservative Party after 1844,
Disraeli's relations with the other leading figures in the party, particularly
Lord Derby, the overall leader, were often strained. Not until the 1860s
would Derby and Disraeli be on easy terms, and the latter's succession
of the former assured. From 1852 onwards, Disraeli's career would also
be marked by his often intense rivalry with William Ewart Gladstone,
who eventually rose to become leader of the Liberal Party. In this duel,
Disraeli was aided by his warm friendship with Queen Victoria, who came
to detest Gladstone during the latter's first premiership in the 1870s.
In 1876 Disraeli was raised to the peerage as the Earl of Beaconsfield,
capping nearly four decades in the House of Commons.
Before and during
his political career, Disraeli was well-known as a literary and social
figure, although his novels are not generally regarded as belonging
to the first rank of Victorian literature. He mainly wrote romances,
of which Sybil and Vivian Grey are perhaps the best-known today. He
was and is unusual among British Prime Ministers for having gained equal
social and political renown.
Father of Benjamin DisraeliDisraeli descended from Italian Sephardic
Jews from both his maternal and paternal sides, although he claimed
Spanish ancestry during his own lifetime, he may have just been referring
to the fact that all Sephardim ultimately originate in Spain.  His
father was the literary critic and historian Isaac D'Israeli who, though
Jewish, in 1817 had Benjamin baptised in the Church of England, following
a dispute with their synagogue. The elder D'Israeli (Benjamin changed
the spelling in the 1820s by dropping the foreign-looking apostrophe)
himself was content to remain outside organized religion.  Benjamin
at first attended a small school, the Reverend John Potticary's school
at Blackheath (later to evolve into St Piran's School). Beginning
in 1817, Benjamin attended Higham Hall, in Walthamstow. His younger
brothers, in contrast, attended the superior Winchester College, a fact
which apparently grated on Disraeli and may explain his dislike of his
mother, Maria D'Israeli.
His father destined
him for the law, and he was articled to a solicitor in 1821. The law
was, however, uncongenial, and by 1825, he gave it up. Disraeli was
apparently determined to obtain independent means, and speculated on
the stock exchange as early as 1824 on various South American mining
companies. The recognition of the new South American republics on the
recommendation of George Canning had led to a considerable boom, encouraged
by various promoters and aggrandizers. In this connection, Disraeli
became involved with the financier J. D. Powles, one such booster. In
the course of 1825, Disraeli wrote three anonymous pamphlets for Powles,
promoting the companies. 
That same year Disraeli's
financial activities brought him into contact with the publisher John
Murray who, like Powles and Disraeli, was involved in the South American
mines. Accordingly, they attempted to bring out a newspaper, The Representative,
to promote the cause of the mines and those politicians who supported
the mines, specifically Canning. The paper was a failure, in part because
the mining "bubble" burst in late 1825, ruining Powles and
Disraeli. Also, according to Disraeli's biographer, Lord Blake, the
paper was "atrociously edited", and would have failed anyway.
Disraeli would be indebted for the rest of life.
a Young Disraeli
by Sir Francis Grant, 1852Disraeli now turned towards literature, and
brought out his first novel, Vivian Grey, in 1827. Disraeli's biographers
agree that Vivian Grey was a thinly-veiled re-telling of the affair
of the Representative, and it proved very popular on its release, although
it also caused much offence within the Tory literary world when Disraeli's
authorship was discovered. The book, which was initially published anonymously,
was purportedly written by a "man of fashion" – someone
who moved in high society. Disraeli, then just twenty-three, did not
move in high society, and the numerous solecisms present in Vivian Grey
made this painfully obvious. Reviewers were sharply critical on these
grounds of both the author and the book. Furthermore, Murray believed
that Disraeli had caricatured him and abused his confidence–an
accusation denied at the time, and by the official biography, although
subsequent biographers (notably Blake) have sided with Murray.
a Vindication of the British Constitution, and some political pamphlets,
Disraeli followed up Vivian Grey by a series of novels, The Young Duke
(1831), Contarini Fleming (1832), Alroy (1833), Venetia and Henrietta
Temple (1837). During the same period he had also written The Revolutionary
Epick and three burlesques, Ixion, The Infernal Marriage, and Popanilla.
Of these only Henrietta Temple (based on his affair with Lady Henrietta
Sykes) was a true success.
During the 1840s
Disraeli wrote three political novels collectively known as "the
Trilogy"–Sybil, Coningsby, and Tancred.
with other writers of his period (most of whom were male), were strained
or non-existent. After the disaster of the Representative John Gibson
Lockhart was a bitter enemy and the two never reconciled. Disraeli's
preference for female company prevented the development of contact with
those who were not alienated by his opinions, comportment, or background.
One contemporary who tried to bridge the gap, William Makepeace Thackeray,
established a tentative cordial relationship in the late 1840s only
to see everything collapse when Disraeli took offence at a burlesque
of him which Thackeray had penned for Punch. Disraeli took revenge in
Endymion (published in 1880), when he caricatured Thackeray as "St.
Disraeli had been considering a political career as early as 1830, before
he departed England for the Mediterranean. His first real efforts, however,
did not come until 1832, during the great crisis over the Reform Bill,
when he contributed to an anti-Whig pamphlet edited by Croker and published
by Murray entitled England and France: or a cure for Ministerial Gallomania.
The choice of a Tory publication was regarded as odd if not offensive
by Disraeli's friends and relatives, who thought him more of a Radical.
Sir Robert Peel,
Prime Minister 1834-35, 1841-46Indeed, Disraeli had objected to Murray
about Croker inserting "high Tory" sentiment, writing that
"it is quite impossible that anything adverse to the general measure
of Reform can issue from my pen." Further, at the time Gallomania
was published, Disraeli was in fact electioneering in High Wycombe in
the Radical interest.  Disraeli's politics at the time were influenced
both by his rebellious streak and by his desire to make his mark. In
the early 1830s the Tories and the interests they represented appeared
to be a lost cause. The other great party, the Whigs, was apparently
anathema to Disraeli: "Toryism is worn out & I cannot condescend
to be a Whig." 
Though he initially
stood for election, unsuccessfully, as a Radical, Disraeli was a progressive
Tory by the time he won a seat in the House of Commons in 1837 representing
the constituency of Maidstone. The next year he settled his private
life by marrying Mary Anne Lewis, the widow of Wyndham Lewis, Disraeli's
erstwhile colleague at Maidstone.
Lord John Manners
Friend of Disraeli, and leading figure in the Young England movementAlthough
nominally a Conservative, Disraeli was sympathetic to some of the demands
of the Chartists and argued for an alliance between the landed aristocracy
and the working class against the increasing power of the middle class,
helping to found the Young England group in 1842 to promote the view
that the rich should use their power to protect the poor from exploitation
by the middle class. During the twenty years which separated the Corn
Laws and the Second Reform Bill Disraeli would seek Tory-Radical alliances,
to little avail.
Prime Minister Sir
Robert Peel passed over Disraeli when putting together his government
in 1841 and Disraeli, hurt, gradually became a sharp critic of Peel's
government, often deliberately adopting positions contrary to those
of his nominal chief. The best known of these cases was the Maynooth
grant in 1845 and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The end of 1845
and the first months of 1846 were dominated by the battle in parliament
between the free traders and the protectionists over the repeal of the
Corn Laws, with the latter rallying around Disraeli and Lord George
Bentinck. An alliance of pro-Peel Conservatives, Radicals, and Whigs
carried repeal, but the Conservative Party split: Peel and his followers,
known as Peelites, moved towards the Whigs, while a "new"
Conservative Party formed around the protectionists, led by Disraeli,
Bentinck, and Lord Stanley (later Lord Derby).
The first opportunity
for Disraeli, Stanley, and the protectionist Tories to take office had
come in 1851, when Lord John Russell's government had been defeated
in the House of Commons over the Ecclesiastical Titles Act 1851. Disraeli
was to have been Home Secretary, with Stanley (who became the Earl of
Derby later that year) as Prime Minister. The Peelites, however, refused
to serve under Stanley or with Disraeli, and attempts to create a purely
protectionist government failed. 
office, but resigned again in early 1852 when a combination of the protectionists
and Lord Palmerston defeated him on a Militia Bill. This time Lord Derby
(as he had become) took office, and appointed Disraeli Chancellor of
the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Disraeli's first and
primary responsibility was to produce a Budget for the coming fiscal
year. He proposed to reduce taxes on malt and tea (indirect taxation);
additional revenue would come from an increase in the House tax. More
controversially, Disraeli also proposed to alter the workings of the
Income Tax (direct taxation) by "differentiating"–i.e.,
different rates would be levied on different types of income.  The
establishment of the income tax on a permanent basis had been the subject
of much inter-party discussion since the fall of Peel's ministry, but
no conclusions had been reached, and Disraeli was criticised for mixing
up details over the different "schedules" of income. He was
also hampered by an unexpected increase in defence expenditure, which
was forced on him by Derby and Sir John Pakington (leading to his celebrated
remark to John Bright about the "damned defences").  This,
combined with bad timing and perceived inexperience led to the failure
of the Budget and consequently the fall of the government in December
of that year.
1852, 1858-59, 1866-68Nonetheless, William Ewart Gladstone's final speech
on the Budget marked the beginning of over twenty years of mutual parliamentary
hostility and the end of Gladstone's formal association with the Conservative
The second and third
Main article: Second Derby Ministry
Derby returned to office in 1858 and once again made Disraeli chancellor
and leader of the House of Commons+. The principal measure of the 1858
session was the India Act, under which the subcontinent would be governed
for sixty years. The East India Company and its Governor-General were
replaced by a viceroy and the Indian Council, while at Westminster the
Board of Control was abolished and its functions assumed by the India
Office, under the newly-created Secretary of State for India. Disraeli
worked closely with Lord Stanley, Derby's son and the President of the
Board of Control, to guide the measure through the house. 
Main article: Third
After engineering the defeat of a Liberal Reform Bill introduced by
Gladstone in 1866, Disraeli and Derby introduced their own measure in
William Ewart Gladstone
Four-time Prime MinisterThis was primarily a political strategy designed
to give Conservatives control of the reform process and thereby long
term benefits in the Commons, similar to those derived by the Whigs
after the 1832 Reform Act. The Reform Act of 1867 extended the franchise
by 938,427 (an increase of 88%) by giving the vote to male householders
and male lodgers paying at least 10 pounds for rooms and eliminating
rotten boroughs with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants and granting constituencies
to fifteen unrepresented towns and extra representation in parliament
to larger towns such as Liverpool and Manchester, which had previously
been underrepresented in Parliament.. This act was unpopular with
the right wing of the Conservative Party, most notably Lord Cranborne
(later the Marquess of Salisbury), who resigned from the government
and spoke against the bill, accusing Disraeli of "a political betrayal
which has no parallel in our Parliamentary annals."  Cranborne,
however, was unable to lead a rebellion similar to that which Disraeli
had led against Peel twenty years earlier.
Derby's health had
been declining for some time and he finally resigned as Prime Minister
in late February of 1868; he would live for another twenty months. Disraeli's
efforts over the past two years had dispelled, for the time being, any
doubts about him succeeding Derby as leader of the Conservative Party
and therefore Prime Minister. As Disraeli remarked, "I have climbed
to the top of the greasy pole." 
The Marquess of
Three-time Prime MinisterHowever, the Conservatives were still a minority
in the House of Commons, and the enaction of the Reform Bill required
the calling of new election once the new voting register had been compiled.
Disraeli's term as Prime Minister would therefore be fairly 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.
Disraeli and Chelmsford had never got along particularly well, and Cairns,
in Disraeli's view, was a far stronger minister. 
premiership was dominated by the heated debate over the established
Church of Ireland. Although Ireland was (and remains) overwhelmingly
Roman Catholic, the Protestant Church remained the established church
and was funded by direct taxation. An initial attempt by Disraeli to
negotiate with Cardinal Manning the establishment of a Roman Catholic
university in Dublin foundered in mid-March when Gladstone moved resolutions
to dis-establish the Irish Church altogether. The proposal divided the
Conservative Party while reuniting the Liberals under Gladstone's leadership.
While Disraeli's government survived until the December general election,
the initiative had passed to the Liberals.
However, in the
election that followed, William Gladstone and the Liberals were returned
to power with a majority of 170. After six years in opposition, Disraeli
and the Conservative Party won the election giving the party its first
absolute majority in the House of Commons since the 1840s. Disraeli's
government introduced various reforms, such as the Artisans Dwellings
Act (1875), the Public Health Act (1875), the Pure Food and Drugs Act
(1875), the Climbing Boys Act (1875), and the Education Act (1876).
His government also introduced a new Factory Act meant to protect workers,
the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) to allow peaceful
picketing, and the Employers and Workmen Act (1878) to enable workers
to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legal contracts.
Disraeli and Queen
Victoria.Disraeli was a staunch British imperialist and helped strengthen
the British Empire with his support for the construction of the Suez
Canal. He also achieved a diplomatic success at the Congress of Berlin
in 1878 in limiting the growing influence of Russia in the Balkans and
breaking up the League of the Three Emperors. However, difficulties
in South Africa, epitomised by the defeat of the British Army at the
Battle of Isandlwana, and Afghanistan weakened his government and likely
led to his party's defeat in the 1880 election.
He was elevated
to the House of Lords in 1876 when Queen Victoria (who liked Disraeli
both personally and politically) made him Earl of Beaconsfield and Viscount
Hughenden. He and Gladstone clashed again over Britain's Balkan policy.
Disraeli saw the situation as a matter of British imperial and strategic
interests; that is, keeping to Palmerston's policy of supporting the
Ottoman Empire against Russian expansion. Gladstone, however, saw the
situation as a moral one because Bulgarian Christians had been massacred
by the Turks and therefore he believed it was immoral to support the
Turks. Gladstone embarked on his "Midlothian campaign" in
1879 denouncing what he called "Beaconsfieldism". In the general
election of 1880 Disraeli's Conservatives were defeated by Gladstone's
Liberals. Disraeli became ill soon after and died in April 1881. His
literary executor and for all intents and purposes his heir was his
private secretary, Lord Rowton.
Personal life and
Benjamin was the second child and eldest son of Isaac D'Israeli and
Maria Basevi. His siblings included Sarah (1802–1859), Naphtali
(1807), Ralph (1809–1898), and James (1813–1868). 
Before his entrance
into parliament Disraeli was involved with several different women,
most notably Lady Henrietta Sykes (the wife of Sir Francis Sykes, Bt),
who served as the model for Henrietta Temple. His relationship with
Henrietta would eventually cause him serious trouble beyond the usual
problems associated with a torrid affair. It was Henrietta who introduced
Disraeli to Lord Lyndhurst, with whom she later became romantically
involved. As Lord Blake observed: "The true relationship between
the three cannot be determined with certainty...there can be no doubt
that the affair [figurative usage] damaged Disraeli and that it made
its contribution, along with many other episodes, to the understandable
aura of distrust which hung around his name for so many years."
Although born of Jewish parents, Disraeli was baptised in the Christian
faith at the age of thirteen, and remained an observant Anglican for
the rest of his life. At the same time, he regarded himself racially
Jewish and did not view the two positions as incompatible.
First Disraeli Ministry (February–December 1868)
Second Disraeli Ministry (February 1874–April 1880)
Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore
Prime Minister: 27 February-1 December 1868; 20 February 1874-21 April
was born on 21 December 1804 at Bedford Row London. He was the eldest
son and second of five children born to Isaac D'Israeli and his wife
Maria Basevi. Although the family was Jewish, Benjamin was baptised
at St. Andrew's Anglican church in 1817. He was educated at Miss Roper's
school in Islington and then went to Higham Hall School in Walthamstow
between 1817 and 1821. In 1824 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn but
he withdrew in 1831. After that Disraeli travelled throughout Europe
and the Near East; whilst on his travels he contracted venereal disease
and was subjected to the mercury treatment on his return to England.
Since gonorrhoea causes sterility in males, this may explain why he
remained childless. On his return he abandoned a career in Law to pursue
one in writing.
In 1825 the daily
newspaper The Representative appeared: it was founded by Disraeli and
John Murray but it lasted only a few months. However, his first novel,
Vivien Grey was published in April 1826, earning him £200. His
first foray into political life was when he stood as a candidate for
Wycombe in June 1832 but was not elected. He stood three times for Wycombe
as an Independent Radical so in 1835 he committed himself to the Tory
Party after Lyndhurst, the Lord Chancellor, became his political patron.
Disraeli lost the Taunton by-election in April 1835 but by then he was
an 'official' Tory candidate thanks to the efforts of Sir Francis Bonham
and the Carlton Club. Disraeli had been conducting an affair with Lady
Henrietta Sykes since 1833; it seems that her husband was aware of the
liaison that continued for three years. They parted in the autumn of
In 1835 Disraeli
and Daniel O'Connell quarrelled publicly over press reports that O'Connell
had been called a 'traitor and incendiary' by Disraeli. The pair were
to fight a duel but the police intervened and Disraeli was bound over
to keep the peace. This was the first of their confrontations. In a
heated debate in parliament, O'Connell referred to Disraeli's Jewish
ancestry in disparaging terms to which Disraeli responded:
Yes, I am a Jew
and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal
savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.
By 1835 he had a
number of publications to his name: The Voyage of Captain Popanilla
(1828);The Young Duke (1831); Contarini Fleming (1832); The Wondrous
Tale of Alroy and the Rise of the Iskander (1833); A Year at Hartlebury
(1834) and the political pamphlet A Vindication of the English Constitution
in a Letter to a Noble and Learned Lord by Disraeli the Younger (1835).
He also attacked the Municipal Corporations Bill in fourteen anonymous
articles in the Morning Post. In 1836 he produced a series of nineteen
letters in The Times under the pseudonym 'Runnymede' that poked fun
at identifiable members Melbourne's government. This did nothing to
endear him to his contemporaries, especially after he entered parliament
as MP for Maidstone in July 1837 during the general election, along
with Wyndham Lewis. His maiden speech on the subject of Irish elections
was something of a disaster: he was shouted down but ended it by saying,
'I sit down now but the time will come when you will hear me'. His second
speech, delivered two weeks later, was deliberately dull and was received
with more attention. In 1844 and prior to the start of the Famine, he
summarised the "Irish question" in the following terms
... you have a starving
population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien church, and in addition
the weakest executive in the world. That is the Irish Question.
In August 1839 Mary
Anne Wyndham Lewis (the widow of Wyndham Lewis) and Disraeli were married.
She was twelve years older than her new husband and at the time there
was a great deal of gossip that he had married her for her money-which
lasted only for her lifetime. There was no doubt that they were devoted
to each other and in later years he teased her by saying that he had
only married her for her money: her reply invariably was 'but if you
had to do it again, you'd do it for love'. That year saw the first manifestation
of Chartism; in a parliamentary debate on the Poor Law he expressed
support for the Chartists and in June 1840 was one of only five MPs
who protested at the harsh punishment meted out to the Chartist leaders.
On the resignation
of Lord Melbourne in 1841, Peel was appointed as PM following the general
election; Disraeli became the MP for Shrewsbury. He wrote to Peel asking
for government office but was not made a member of the government. Consequently
he attached himself to 'Young England', a group of young aristocrats
who first entered parliament that year and were led by George Smythe.
Other members were Lord John Manners and Alexander Baillie-Cochrane.
They expressed a desire to return to the 'golden age' of agricultural
society where paternalism and deference ensured that society worked
for the benefit of all and the aristocracy ruled the land in justice
and peace. By the end of 1844 the group had disintegrated.
In a speech in the
House of Commons on 28 February 1845 Disraeli attacked Peel for disregarding
the views of the Conservatives in parliament who opposed the alteration
of the Corn Laws; he said:
The Right Honourable
Gentleman caught the Whigs bathing and walked away with their clothes.
He has left them in the full enjoyment of their liberal position, and
he is himself a strict conservative of their garments.
Disraeli also commented
that 'a conservative government is an organised hypocrisy'. As it became
increasingly obvious that Peel was likely to move for a repeal of the
Corn Laws, a 'protectionist' group was established early in 1846 to
oppose the PM from within his own party: the leaders of this group were
Disraeli, Bentinck and Stafford O'Brien who spear-headed the parliamentary
attacks on Peel. In May, Disraeli made a vicious attack on Peel in the
Corn Law debates. Peel accused him of touting for office in 1841: Disraeli
denied that he had done so, relying on the hope that Peel could not
produce the letter. Although Peel managed to push the repeal of the
Corn Laws through parliament he resigned over the Irish Coercion Act
in June and was succeeded as PM by a Whig ministry led by Lord John
Russell. Disraeli supported the Whig attempt to remove the civil disabilities
still imposed on Jews and continued to do so for the next ten years
until the legislation was successful.
Buckinghamshire. Disraeli bought the house in 1847
When Russell resigned
in 1852, the Earl of Derby formed his first ministry and Disraeli became
Chancellor of the Exchequer in the so-called "Who? Who?" ministry.
He spoke for five hours when presenting his first Budget but was answered
by Gladstone, thus marking the opening of the parliamentary conflict
between the two men. The Bill was defeated and the government resigned,
giving way to Aberdeen's ministry that plunged the country into the
Crimean War. Gladstone took over as Chancellor of the Exchequer in this
ministry and an argument broke out between Gladstone and Disraeli over
the furniture in No. 11 Downing Street and the Chancellor's robe that
Disraeli refused to surrender. Aberdeen's ministry fell over the mis-handling
of the war and was succeeded by that of Palmerston. In February 1858
Derby formed his second ministry and Disraeli again took the post of
Chancellor of the Exchequer but the ministry lasted only for eighteen
months; during that time, the government introduced a Reform Bill that
was defeated by the Liberals. On his third appointment to the Treasury
in 1866, Disraeli was responsible for putting the second Reform Bill
to parliament: it was an attempt to broaden support for the Tory party.
The Bill received royal assent in 1867 and Disraeli formed his first
ministry in 1868 on the resignation of Derby on the grounds of ill health.
His comment was 'I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole'. Once
the new electoral register was ready a general election was held: the
Liberals won a resounding victory and Gladstone formed his first administration.
Queen Victoria created Mary Anne Disraeli the Countess of Beaconsfield.
Mary Anne died in December 1872 leaving Disraeli devastated and reliant
upon his private secretary, Monty Corry. In the 1874 general election
the Tories were victorious and Disraeli formed his second ministry which
saw the passing of a number of pieces of legislation including, in 1875
In 1878 Disraeli
was elevated to the House of Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield; his
administration was attacked by Gladstone for its policy towards the
Ottoman Empire. In 1876 the Bulgarian atrocities had taken place but
Disraeli said that the press reports were exaggerated - this was something
of a faux pas for him and Gladstone made the most of his opportunity,
publishing a pamphlet The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the
East later in the year. Another outbreak of Russo-Turkish hostilities
erupted in the war of 1877 which ended with the Treaty of Adrianople
in 1878 and was followed by the Congress of Berlin that was attended
by Disraeli and Salisbury on behalf of Britain. The meeting culminated
in the signing of the Treaty of Berlin and Disraeli claimed to have
won 'peace with honour'. In 1880 he resigned as PM following a Liberal
victory at the general election and became leader of the Opposition
from the Lords. Always something of a dandy, he arrived at a dinner
party wearing 'green velvet trousers, a canary coloured waistcoat, low
shoes, sliver buckles, lace at his wrists and his hair in ringlets...'
[Henry Bulmer]. He died a year later and was buried at Hughenden parish
church in Buckinghamshire. He was 76 years old.