Viscount Melbourne (William Lamb), 1779-1848

Right from his London birth on 15 March 1779, at Melbourne House in Piccadilly, William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne, was at the centre of Whig social circles. The second son of Peniston Lamb, first Viscount Melbourne, he followed a normal early life for sons of Whig magnates Eton, Cambridge University, and education for a legal […]

Earl Grey (Charles Grey), 1764-1845

Charles Grey, second Earl Grey, Viscount Howick and Baron Grey, was the Prime Minister who oversaw the Great Reform Act of 1832, which overhauled the country’s parliamentary electoral system and was the culmination of two years of intense political crisis. Born on 13 March 1764, at Fallodon in Northumberland, his youth was spent in a […]

Herbert Henry Asquith (Earl of Oxford and Asquith), 1852-1928

H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister from April 1908 to December 1916, bore the chief part in some of the greatest Liberal achievements of the twentieth century. Herbert Henry Asquith was born at Morley, West Yorkshire, on 12 September 1852. His father died when he was eight, and in 1863, sent to London to live with […]

Sir Archibald Sinclair (Viscount Thurso), 1890-1970

Archibald Sinclair was the Liberal leader from 1935 to 1945. He was a leading figure in British politics in that period, first as an outspoken critic of appeasement, and then as a minister during the war. For Liberals, his importance lay in his belief in the possibility of a Liberal revival, which was crucial in […]

John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873

John Stuart Mill, philosopher, economist, journalist, political writer, social reformer, and, briefly, Liberal MP, is one of the most famous figures in the pantheon of Liberal theorists, and the greatest of the Victorian Liberal thinkers. Yet his relevance is not restricted to the nineteenth century; as L. T. Hobhouse wrote in 1911, in his single […]

Roy Jenkins (Lord Jenkins), 1920-2003

Roy Jenkins played a significant role in developing and articulating a new progressive vision of social, political and constitutional change. His reforms at the Home Office helped to transform Britain into a more modern, more civilised society. He was a successful, if orthodox, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He played an important and consistent role in […]

Ramsay Muir, 1872-1941

Ramsay Muir was a leading figure in the Liberal Summer School movement and the National Liberal Federation in the 1920s and 1930s. He was briefly a Liberal MP, but, more importantly, he was one of the most prominent Liberal thinkers in inter-war Britain, and had a marked influence on party policy. After his death, Muir […]

Megan Lloyd George, 1902-1966

Megan Lloyd George was born at Criccieth, Caernarfonshire, on 22 April 1902, the third daughter and fifth child of David Lloyd George and his wife Margaret. Until the age of four she could speak only Welsh. She was educated privately, in part by Frances Stevenson, who became her father’s mistress and in 1943 his second wife, […]

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, 1836-1908

There have been four Liberals at the head of clearly Liberal governments – Gladstone, Rosebery, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith. Three of them are well-known names. Yet of the four, ‘CB’ was far and away the best party leader. Only Grimond, in very different circumstances, can compare with him. Had Campbell-Bannerman not become leader in […]

Jeremy Thorpe, 1929-2014

The infamy of Jeremy Thorpe’s downfall unfairly colours all else in his life. Thorpe was a stylish, progressive and popular politician. Under his leadership the Liberal Party won more votes than ever before or since at a general election and helped drive legislation taking Britain into the European Community through a divided Parliament. But the […]

Thomas Paine, 1737-1809

Thomas Paine was born on 29 January 1737 at Thetford in Norfolk and was educated at the local grammar school. His father was a stay-maker, and this was Paine’s first occupation. In 1759, he married Mary Lambert, the daughter of a customs officer, but she died within a few months. This may have determined him […]

Sir Donald Maclean, 1864-1932

Sir Donald Maclean had greatness thrust upon him. Until 1918, everything in his career suggested that he was living a useful public life which would one day merit an obituary notice in The Times, but would hardly bring him into the first rank of politics – yet he was to play a critical and unexpected […]

Jeremy Bentham, 1745-1832

Jeremy Bentham, the English moral philosopher, jurist, social reformer, political economist and founding father of modern utilitarianism was born in London on 15 February 1748. His ambitious father, also a lawyer, had plans for young Jeremy to become Lord Chancellor of England, not only making his name but also his fortune in the process. Despite […]

David Ricardo, 1772-1823

Less well-known than Adam Smith, Ricardo is nevertheless his intellectual and philosophical equal. He is credited alongside Smith with founding the classical school of economics. Inspired by Smith and driven by his friend, James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill), Ricardo provides an historical bridge between the economic and political liberals, although his own writings […]

Clement Davies, 1884-1962

Edward Clement Davies was born on 19 February 1884 at Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, the youngest of the seven children of Moses Davies, an auctioneer, and Elizabeth Margaret Jones. He was educated at the local primary school, won a scholarship to Llanfyllin County School in 1897 and proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became senior foundation […]

William Beveridge (Lord Beveridge), 1879-1963

William Henry Beveridge was born in Rangpur, an Indian station in Bengal, on 5 March 1879. He was the second child and first son of Henry Beveridge, a district sessions judge in the Indian Civil Service, by his second wife, Annette Susannah Ackroyd, who had travelled to India, originally in response to a call to […]

Adam Smith, 1723-1790

Adam Smith did for economic liberalism what John Locke had done for political liberalism, namely, to lay the philosophical foundations on which others would build a distinctive liberal tradition. Smith’s ideas, however, have permeated the western political tradition to the extent where not only liberals but also other contemporary schools of thought claim to be […]

Sir Alfred Mond (Lord Melchett), 1868-1930

Alfred Moritz Mond was born on 28 October 1868 at Parnworth, Lancashire, the younger son of Dr. Ludwig and Freda Mond. His father was a talented German Jew who had left Cassel in 1862 and who, together with John Tomlinson Brunner, set up the great chemical company which developed in 1881 into the public joint-stock […]

Charles James Fox, 1749-1806

Charles James Fox was born in London on 24 January 1749. His family was firmly placed within the political establishment, with his mother being the great-granddaughter of Charles II and his father having faithfully served Walpole for many years. From his early years, Fox mixed both a willingness and aptitude for hard work with periods […]

John Bright, 1811-1889

John Bright has been described as one of the great Victorian moralists, standing at the confluence of the mid-nineteenth century working class movement and of the political wing of nonconformist dissent. By providing leadership to these two movements he made a major contribution to the creed of Liberalism, and a major legacy to William Gladstone, […]