The Victorians - Towards the Modern World

Rivals in the age of empire

Illustration: William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)

Born in Liverpool and educated at Eton and Oxford he entered Parliament as a follower of Peel (Conservative) in 1832. He first achieved high office as Chancellor of the Exchecquer in 1852, introducing income tax as a 'temporary measure' in that year. In 1867 he became leader of the newly formed Liberal Party and was Prime-minister from 1868 to 1874, 1880-85, 1889-90 and 1892-94. He opposed all hereditary privileges and traditions when they blocked his ideal of cheap and efficient government. His most revolutionary step was to embrace Home Rule for Ireland when the imperialist tide was running all the other way. A powerful orator he was known as the 'People's William'.

Illustration: Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Born in London, the eldest son of an Anglicised Jew, Disraeli made his early reputation as a novelist. Leader of the 'Young England' movement, his was a romantic conservatism similar to Pugin's. His opportunity for leadership came when the followers of Peel (including Gladstone) joined the Liberals. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer twice in minority governments before becoming leader of the Conservatives and briefly Prime-minister in 1868. During his second term as premier (1874-80) he brought the Queen out of retirement and bought the Suez Canal. At the Congress of Berlin (1878) he negotiated agreements between the powers that kept the peace in Europe until 1914. Charming and witty he was regarded by Gladstone as a shallow opportunist.