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Biography of Benjamin Disraeli

Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli was a Victorian Prime Minister and novelist.

When and Where was he Born?

21st December 1804, London, England.

Family Background:

Benjamin Disraeli was the eldest son and second child of Isaac Disraeli, the author of several books on literature and history and Maria Basevi from an Italian Jewish family.

Education:

Small Unitarian private school at Walthamstow Trained as a Solicitor for nine terms Lincoln’s Inn, London.

Timeline of Benjamin Disraeli:

1813: His father quarrels with the Synagogue of Bevis Marks.

1817: His father has his children baptised as Christians, which was fortunate for Disraeli as Jews were excluded from Parliament until 1858.

1837: As he was interested early on in politics he had stands for election as a Whig, a Radical and an Independent before finally being successful representing Maidstone in Kent for the Conservatives. His maiden speech in the House of Commons is drowned by howls of laughter.

1839: Disraeli marries the widow Mrs Wyndham Lewis. He later remarked he had married for money but she replied “Ah…you would do it again for love”.

1841: The Conservatives win the General Election. He suggests to the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel that he should be made a Minister but is rejected and becomes a fierce critic of the Government from the back benches.

1842: Disraeli helps form the “Young England” Group arguing that the Middle Class now has too much power and that an alliance should be formed between the aristocracy and the Working Class with the former helping the poor. This political philosophy is expressed in his novels “Coningsby”, “Sybil” and “Tancred”. He strongly opposed Peel’s decision to repeal the Corn Laws, which was an issue that strongly divided the Conservatives and eventually brought about the downfall of Peel.

1852: Lord John Russell, the Whig Prime Minister resigns and Lord Derby succeeds him for the Conservatives and Disraeli is appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. This government, however, only lasted a few months and is replaced by that of the Earl of Aberdeen.

1858: Lord Derby again becomes Prime Minister and appoints him Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. He is responsible for measures to reform Parliament, proposing the equalisation of town and county franchise. This would have led to some people in towns losing the vote and was bitterly opposed by the Liberals.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament, London taken from the London Eye big wheel (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1859: Lord Palmerston becomes Prime Minister for the Liberals and Disraeli is once again in opposition, but now gains a reputation as a tenacious and skilful debater.

1866: The Conservatives regain power under Lord Derby who appoints him once again Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. He is sure that the new leader of the Liberals, William Gladstone, if returned to power, would bring in extensive reforms and he is worried that the Conservatives would be seen as the anti-reform party.

1867: He proposes a new Reform Act which gives the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency and those in rented accommodation paying over ten pounds for unfurnished rooms. This act, supported by Gladstone, was to give the vote to about one and a half million men. It was so controversial at the time that a prominent member of his own party, Lord Cranborne (later the Marquis of Salisbury) resigns in protest. Constituencies with less than 12,000 inhabitants also lost one of their M.P.’s and these forty-five seats were distributed amongst the larger cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds and counties whose populations had increased dramatically.

1868: Lord Derby resigns and Disraeli now becomes the new Prime Minister. However at the General Election which followed shortly afterwards the Liberals won power and Gladstone becomes Prime Minister

1874: After six years in opposition the Conservatives again win power and this was the first time since 1841 that they had had a clear majority. He now had the authority to bring in social reforms.

1875: The Artisan’s Dwelling Act, the Public Health Act, the Pure Food and Drugs Act the Climbing Boys Act are all passed. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act allowed peaceful picketing by Trade Unions. He also made Great Britain the shared owner of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

1876: The Education Act is passed. Queen Victoria, who got on very well with Disraeli in sharp contrast to her dislike of Gladstone, agreed to his suggestion that she should accept the title Empress of India although she was not keen on all of his imperialist ideas. The Queen grants Disraeli the title of Lord Beaconsfield and he now continues as Prime Minister from a seat in the House of Lords.

1878: The Employers and Workmen Act enables workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they break legal contracts. After a British fleet had been sent to the Dardanelle’s to counter the Russians who were then threatening the Turks, he goes to the Congress of Berlin. Disraeli there meets with great success, and the praise of the German Chancellor Bismarck in his attempts to limit Russia’s power in the Balkans and achieve “peace with honour”.

1880: At the General Election the Conservatives are defeated and once again Gladstone becomes Prime Minister. Benjamin Disraeli decides to retire from politics at this point in order to spend more time writing his novels, however he soon met with ill health which forces him to retire completely.

When and Where did he Die?

19th April 1881, London, England of gout complicated by bronchitis.

Age at Death:

76.

Written Works:

1826: “Vivian Grey”.
1828: “The Voyage of Captain Popanilla”.
1831: “The Young Duke”.
1832: “Contarini Fleming, A Psychological Autobiography”.
1833: “The Wondrous Tale of Alray and the Rise of Iskander”.
1837: “Henrietta Temple”. “Venetia”.
1840: “Isaac: Amenities of Literature”.
1844: “Coningsby or the New Generation”.
1845: “Sybil or the Two Nations”.
1847: “Tancred”.
1862: “The Life of Lord George Bentinck”.
1870: “Lothair”.
1880: “Endymion”.

Marriage:

1839: To extremely wealthy widow Mrs Wyndham Lewis. He later remarked he had married for money but she replied “Ah…you would do it again for love”.

Site of Grave:

St. Michael’s Churchyard, Hughenden, Buckinghamshire, England.

Places of Interest:

AVON:

Lived at No 8 Brock Street, Bath.

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE:

Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, HP14 4LA (Home NT).

OXFORD:

Bodleian Library holds his papers.

LONDON:

Houses of Parliament, Westminster.

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