Records of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom

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Records of Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom:

Period of service[edit]

Robert Walpole, the longest-serving Prime Minister (1721–1742)

The Prime Minister with the longest single term was Sir Robert Walpole, lasting 20 years and 314 days from 4 April 1721 until 11 February 1742. This is also longer than the accumulated terms of any other Prime Minister.

George Canning, who served the shortest total period as an effective Prime Minister (1827)

The shortest period in office is more confused, depending on the criteria.

The shortest ever period was only two days, a record held by the Earl of Bath, from 10 February to 12 February 1746, who was asked to form a government but was unable to find more than one person who would agree to serve in his cabinet. A satirist of the time wrote: "the minister to the astonishment of all wise men never transacted one rash thing; and, what is more marvellous, left as much money in the Treasury as he found in it." The 2nd Earl Waldegrave was prime minister for four days, from 8 June to 12 June 1757. However, since neither of these Earls actually formed an effective government, there are other contenders for the record of shortest term of office among those who actually governed the country.

In November 1834, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington declined to become Prime Minister in favour of Sir Robert Peel but formed a "caretaker" administration for 25 days (17 November 1834 – 9 December 1834) while Peel returned from Europe. However, as a caretaker administration this might not necessarily be considered a term of office in its own right.

Therefore of those with clear and effective terms, the Prime Minister with the shortest single one was Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, whose second term lasted 96 days from 27 March 1782 until his death on 1 July 1782. However, combined with his first term (13 July 1765 – 30 July 1766) his total time in office was 1 year and 113 days, which exceeds the total periods of several other Prime Ministers. (The Duke of Wellington had also served as prime minister between 1828 and 1830.)

Consequently, the Prime Minister with the total shortest period in office was George Canning, whose sole term lasted 119 days from 10 April 1827 until his death on 8 August 1827.

Other notables[edit]

The Prime Minister with the longest period between the start of their first appointment and the end of their final term was William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, whose first term began on 2 April 1783 and his second and final term ended on 4 October 1809.

Portland also holds the record for the longest period between terms—his first term ended on 19 December 1783 and his second term did not start until 31 March 1807.

Number of terms[edit]

William Ewart Gladstone, appointed Prime Minister more times than any other and the oldest person ever appointed to the office

A Prime Minister's "term" is traditionally regarded as the period between their appointment and resignation, dismissal (or death, in the case of those who die in office), with the number of general elections taking place in the intervening period making no difference.[citation needed]

The only Prime Minister to serve four terms was William Ewart Gladstone (3 December 1868 – 20 February 1874, 23 April 1880 – 23 June 1885, 1 February 1886 – 25 July 1886 and 15 August 1892 – 5 March 1894).

Age at appointment[edit]

William Pitt the Younger, the youngest ever Prime Minister

The youngest Prime Minister to be appointed was William Pitt the Younger on 19 December 1783 at the age of 24 years, 6 months and 21 days.

The oldest Prime Minister to be appointed for the first time was Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston on 6 February 1855 at the age of 71 years, 3 months and 17 days.

The oldest Prime Minister to be appointed overall was William Ewart Gladstone, who was born on 29 December 1809 and appointed for the final time on 15 August 1892 at the age of 82 years, 7 months and 3 days.

Age on leaving office[edit]

The youngest Prime Minister to leave office was Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, who retired in 1770, aged 34. The oldest was Gladstone, who was 84 at the time of his final retirement in 1894.

Longest lived[edit]

The longest-lived Prime Minister was James Callaghan, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who was born on 27 March 1912 and died on 26 March 2005 at the age of 92 years 364 days, that is the day before his 93rd birthday. Prior to this the longest living Prime Minister was Harold Macmillan, Earl of Stockton, who was born on 10 February 1894 and died on 29 December 1986 (aged 92 years 322 days).

Of the three former Prime Ministers currently alive, the oldest is John Major, who was born on 29 March 1943 and is 71 years old. If he is still alive on 28 March 2036, he will surpass Callaghan's record and become the longest-lived Prime Minister.

Shortest lived[edit]

The shortest-lived Prime Minister was William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, who was born on 8 May 1720 and died on 2 October 1764 at the age of 44 years and 147 days.

Longest lived after office[edit]

The Prime Minister who lived the longest after leaving office for the final time was Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, who left office on 28 January 1770 and died on 14 March 1811, a total of 41 years, 1 month and 17 days.

Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who lived the shortest after leaving office

In recent years, the Prime Minister who lived the longest after leaving office was Sir Edward Heath, whose term ended on 4 March 1974; he died on 17 July 2005, 31 years and 135 days later.

Shortest lived after office[edit]

The Prime Minister who lived the shortest period after leaving office was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who resigned on 3 April 1908 and died just nineteen days later on 22 April 1908, while still resident in 10 Downing Street.

Foreign Born Prime Ministers[edit]

Only three Prime Ministers have been born outside of the island of Great Britain:

Both the Earl of Shelburne and the Duke of Wellington were born in Dublin, Ireland before the Union of 1801 (The Duke of Wellington had actually served in the Parliament there).
Bonar Law was born in the colony of New Brunswick in what is now Canada.

Number of living former Prime Ministers[edit]


After Robert Walpole, three other Prime Ministers have been in office at a time when no former Prime Ministers were alive:


The most living former Prime Ministers at any one time has been 5, which has happened several times: the first time was between January and November 1770, while Lord North was in office, and the Earl of Bute, George Grenville, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, Pitt the Elder and the 3rd Duke of Grafton were still alive (Grenville died in November 1770); from 1964 to 1965 with Clement Attlee; Winston Churchill; Anthony Eden; Harold Macmillan; and Alec Douglas-Home the most recent was between November 1990 and May 1995, while John Major was in office, and Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan and Thatcher were still alive (Wilson died 24 May 1995).

Currently living former prime ministers[edit]

There are three living former British Prime Ministers.

Died in office[edit]

Seven Prime Ministers have died in office:

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Bonar Law each resigned during their respective final illnesses. Law died five months after his resignation, but Campbell-Bannerman lived only another 19 days, dying at 10 Downing Street, the only Prime Minister ever to do so. Another who died within the same year he was Prime Minister was Neville Chamberlain, who died in 1940, six months (less a day) after he left office, of a cancer that was undiagnosed at the time of his resignation.

Spencer Perceval is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

Widowed the longest[edit]

  • The British Prime Minister widowed the longest is Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery who died more than 38 years after his wife.
  • Recently, the British Prime Minister widowed the longest is Harold Macmillan, who was widowed from 21 May 1966 to his death on 29 December 1986, a total of over 20 years.

Widowed the shortest[edit]

The British Prime Minister widowed the shortest is James Callaghan, who died on 26 March 2005. His wife, Audrey Callaghan, died on 15 March 2005, only 11 days before him.

Other widowed Prime Ministers[edit]


The Prime Minister who had the most children is Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who fathered 17 children.

The tallest Prime Minister is believed to be Lord Salisbury, who was around 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) in height,[1] although Downing Street's own website lists 6-foot-1-inch (1.85 m) James Callaghan as the tallest.[2]

The shortest period between entering Parliament and being appointed Prime Minister was William Pitt the Younger who became Prime Minister two years after first becoming an MP. The longest period of service as an MP before becoming Prime Minister was 47 years for Lord Palmerston.

The richest Prime Minister was Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, with a personal fortune of over £7 million (about £444 million in today's money).[3] The poorest was William Pitt the Younger, who was £40,000 (now over £1 million) in debt by 1800.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Englefield, Dermot; Janet Seaton; Isobel White (1995). Facts About the British Prime Ministers. Mansell. p. 374. 
  2. ^ "James Callaghan". 10 Downing Street. 
  3. ^ "Richest British Prime Minister". Retrieved 12-04-2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)