5th December 1905

A Scot becomes Britain’s first Prime Minister

Liberal politician Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was born in Glasgow in 1836 and educated at the University of Glasgow. On 5 December 1905, he became Britain’s first Prime Minister.

He had first been elected to Parliament in the general election of 1868, where he represented the seat of Stirling Burghs and, in subsequent Parliaments, he was appointed Secretary of State for War.

In 1899, he was elected leader of the Liberal Party which, at the time, was the official opposition, and the following year led it to defeat in another general election. However, in 1905, its fortunes were set to change, as irreconcilable disagreements arose within the ruling Conservative Party.

The Conservatives’ then leader, Arthur Balfour resigned and, as leader of the second largest party, Campbell-Bannerman was invited by the king to form a minority government. Campbell-Bannerman agreed, and he was awarded the title Prime Minister. Previously, the person to hold that office had always been called the First Lord of the Treasury.

Prime ministership

Under Campbell-Bannerman’s leadership, the Liberal Party won a landslide victory at the general election of 1906, which gave it the power to pass ambitious legislation. This included the provision of free school meals for all children, and indemnifying trades unions for any damage caused by their members striking. Campbell-Bannerman’s government also successfully passed the Probation Act 1907, under which the courts were given the right to release offenders on probation.

However, Campbell-Bannerman’s prime ministership was to be short-lived. His wife, Charlotte, died in 1906, and Campbell-Bannerman’s health declined. He suffered several heart attacks, and resigned on 3 April 1908, to be succeeded by HH Asquith. He continued living at 10 Downing Street while making alternative living arrangements, and had not yet moved out when he died, still in the Prime Minister’s official residence, on 22 April 1908.

Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s death

On the day of his death, the Westminster Gazette noted that “he does not die in harness, but it is only just taken off… for some little time past now he had been saying good-bye to colleagues and friends, and those who have been privileged to pay this last visit have come away with heavy hearts, but also with increased appreciation of the kindness of one whose lovableness linked his friends to him with chains that were hard to break.”

“There can be little doubt his life period was somewhat shortened by the large measure of service he gave to the State,” said the Evening Star and Daily Herald on 22 April 1908. “The highest honours came to him at a late period in life, and were enjoyed for a very limited period; he bore them with that degree of modesty which all men admire; he will be remembered as a Briton of sterling worth.”



Other events that occured in December

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