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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

William Ewart Gladstone


William Gladstone was born on December 29, 1809 at 62 Rodney Street, Liverpool. He was the fourth son of  Sir John Gladstone, and his second wife, Anne MacKenzie Robertson.

Sir John Gladstone MP, was a strong willed, rich, self made merchant of Scottish descent who later went into politics.

His grandfather was the merchant Thomas Gladstones, (the final "s" was dropped from the family name to make it easier to pronounce).

Although Gladstone was born and brought up in Liverpool, and always retained a touch of Lancashire accent, he was of Scottish descent on both of his parents' sides.

William was educated from 1816 to 1821 at a preparatory school at the vicarage of St Thomas's Church at Seaforth, close to his family's residence, Seaforth House.

In 1821 William followed in the footsteps of his older brothers and attended Eton College, where he didn't particularly distinguish himself.

In 1828, William matriculated at Christ Church College, Oxford where he studied classics and mathematics (he took the latter subject so that he would receive a double first).

He was a President of the Oxford Union debating society where he developed a notoriety as a fine orator, a reputation that followed him into the House of Commons.

In December 1831 he achieved the double first-class degree he had long desired.

Gladstone in the 1830s

In his student days, William was a pious and high-minded Evangelical who had thoughts of entering the church.


Gladstone's political career lasted more than 60 years. The God-fearing Liverpudlian was dominated in his thinking by general principles and moral ideas. He applied his Christian principles to politics saying, “nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.”

He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times (1853-1855, 1859-1866, 1873-1874, and 1880-1882). As a result of his 1853 and 1860 budgets Great Britain became a free trade country.

His 1853 budget speech lasted for 285 minutes (four hours 45 minutes) - the longest ever.

Gladstone was Liberal Prime Minister four times (1868-1874, 1880-1885, February-July 1886 and 1892-1894).

During his first term of office, Gladstone was responsible for passage of Forester's Education Act, making elementary education available to all Welsh and English children between the ages of five and 13.

After six years in opposition, Gladstone became Britain’s Prime Minister for the second time in 1880. The 70 year-old had become hard of hearing and was able to use his ailment strategically when he didn't want to hear something in the House of Commons.

Gladstone's slowness in sending reinforcements to the besieged Khartoum  resulted in the death of the popular General Gordon.  The general populace were aroused into a mood of an unprecedented mood of grief and anger. Gladstone's title was charged from GOM (Grand Old Man) to MOG (murderer of Gordon.)

Despite a heifer in the 1892 general election campaign knocking down the elderly Gladstone, he was elected as Prime Minister for the fourth time.

Gladstone was 84 years old when he resigned for the last time as Prime Minister. This made him Britain's oldest ever head of state.


Gladstone held daily family prayers and attended church twice on Sundays. He was personally constantly wrestling in prayer.

A High Anglican himself, Gladstone was very tolerant of other denominations, and became a hero of the non-conformists.

The “Grand Old Man of Politics” felt he was the instrument of God’s will. His reaction to one outing at the polls was “The elections perturb me somewhat but one ever sitteth above”.

Gladstone was a founder of the Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women, which involved approaching prostitutes on the street and visiting their rooms at night in order to rescue and convert them. Sometimes he took the prostitutes home to meet his wife. He was so enthusiastic about this crusade that sometimes he dashed from a debate in the House of Commons to the London streets.

He seldom slept more than four hours a night and was in the habit of taking days off, to stay in bed, when suffering from minor ailments.

Gladstone habitually filled his stone hot water bottle with tea. When the Prime Minister woke up in the middle of the night, the tea contained in this primitive flask was still warm enough to drink.  Gladstone was very fond of the beverage, he once said “If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”

Gladstone habitually chewed each mouthful of food 32 times before swallowing it - one for each tooth.

A ham fisted suitor, in his 20s Gladstone was rejected by two girls he hoped to marry because of his moral earnestness.

Gladstone married on July 25, 1839 the charming, serene and beautiful, Catherine Glynne. She was the daughter of a Flintshire gentleman, Sir Stephen Glynne.

Catherine and William Gladstone

A woman of lively wit, complete discretion, and exceptional charm, but also impulsive and forgetful, Catherine was totally devoted to her husband.

Gladstone was a kind and gentle family man and it was a happy marriage, he called her "the ivy" and she called him "the oak".

They had four sons (including his youngest, Herbert, who was born when he was Chancellor and became a British Liberal statesman) and four daughters. One child died in infancy.

The castle and estate of Broadlane Hall, Hawarden, Flintshire was passed down in 1839 on his father in law's death to Gladstone. A source of rest and inspiration, he spent six months there each year.

Gladstone also had a home in Scotland, Fasque House, Petercairn, Aberdeenshire, which was originally built for his father.

The English Prime Minister had a strange habit of chopping down harmless trees. Gladstone was nicknamed "the woodcutter of Hawarden."

Gladstone was one of the very first people to ride on the London Underground. On January 9, 1863, when Farringdon station was opened for the first time, two steam trains took Gladstone and some 600 other notables of society on the world's first underground train journey.

In 1895, at the age of 85, William Gladstone founded St Deiniol's Library, a public library in Hawarden. He wheelbarrowed his personal collection of 32,000 books the three-quarters of a mile between his home and the library. His desire, his daughter said, was to "bring together books who had no readers with readers who had no books."


Gladstone died on May 19, 1898 at Hawarden Castle, Hawarden, aged 88. The cause of death was failure of the heart and infirmity of advanced old age.

The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future George V) acted as pallbearers during Gladstone's state funeral at Westminster Abbey.

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