Herbert Asquith

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, Viscount Asquith of Morley (from 1925) (September 12, 1852 – February 15, 1928) served as the Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916.

)Born in Morley, Yorkshire and educated at the City of London School, he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. After graduation he became a barrister and was called to the bar in 1876. He became prosperous in the early 1880s from practising law.

He married Helen Melland in 1877 and they had three children before she died from typhoid in 1891. In 1894 he remarried, to Margot Tennant.

Elected to Parliament in 1886 as the Liberal representative for East Fife, he achieved his first significant post in 1892 when he became Home Secretary under Gladstone. The Liberals went out of power for ten years from 1895, and he turned down an offer to lead the party in 1898.

The Liberal Party won a landslide victory in the 1905 general election, and Asquith became Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He demonstrated his staunch support of free trade in this post. Campbell-Bannerman resigned due to illness in April 1908 and Asquith succeeded him as Prime Minister.

The Asquith government began an extensive social welfare programme, introducing government pensions in 1908. However it also became involved in an expensive naval arms race with Germany. The financing of this expenditure required funding through an increase in taxation, which together with other measures provoked a revolt in the Conservative-controlled House of Lords over David Lloyd George’s 1909 budget. Such a clash had not occurred for over a hundred years.

Asquith narrowly avoided a constitutional crisis, made the powers of the Lords the issue of the elections of January and December 1910, and curbed those powers by the Parliament Act of 1911. The price of Irish support in this effort was Irish Home Rule, which Asquith delivered in legislation that was ultimately suspended owing to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Asquith’s efforts over home rule for Ireland nearly provoked a civil war in Ireland, only averted by the outbreak of a European war.

Asquith headed the Liberal government into the war. However following a cabinet split in May 1915 he became head of a new coalition government, bringing senior figures from the opposition into the cabinet. But his performance over the conduct of the war dissatisified certain Liberals and the Conservative Party. Opponents partially blamed a series of political and military disasters (including the failed offensives at the Somme and Gallipoli (1915- 1916)) and the Easter Rising in Ireland (April 1916) on Asquith. Acting to displace the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George managed to split the Liberals and on December 5, 1916 Asquith resigned. Lloyd George became head of the coalition two days later.

Asquith remained leader of the Liberal Party after 1916 and even after losing his seat in the 1918 elections. He returned to the House of Commons in 1923. Asquith played a major role in putting the minority Labour government of 1924 into office, elevating Ramsay MacDonald to the Prime Ministership.

Created Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925, Asquith retired to the House of Lords. The Liberals did not replace him as head of the party until 1926, when Lloyd George succeeded him.

Asquith died in 1928. Two daughters outlived him: Margot and Violet (who became a well-regarded writer) His son Raymond Asquith was killed at the Somme in 1916.

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