Chief Minister of England

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The Chief Minister of England is a retroactive and informal title given to the various personages who ruled England on behalf of monarch, with or without said monarch's permission, prior to the government of Robert Walpole in 1721. Among them are regicides, revolutionaries and loyal subjects who among other things, created Parliament, and a few became monarchs themselves.

The "Chief Ministership," being an informal office, had many titles, sometimes none at all, and while usually a single person, could be held by groups of up to three or four. It was an extremely dangerous position, and prior to 1700, a majority of its holders lost their lives at the behest of their royal masters.[citation needed]

Era of Royal Favourites, Regents and Rivals (946–1649)[edit]

Anglo-Saxons[edit]

Further information: Witenagemot
  1. 940–957: Æthelstan Half-King; so called because he had almost as much power as the king himself.
  2. 946–955: Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury; forced into exile by Eadwig 955–957
  3. 959–978: Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury; returned when Edgar became King in Mercia
  4. 1022–1051: Godwin, Earl of Wessex
  5. 1053–1066: Harold, Earl of Wessex, second son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex (the future Harold II, King of England)

Norman/Angevin rule[edit]

Further information: Curia regis

William the Conqueror[edit]

  1. 1068–1080: Odo, Earl of Kent
  2. 1070–1089: Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury

William II and Henry I[edit]

  1. 1094–1100: Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham
  2. 1100–1139: Roger, Bishop of Salisbury

The Early Plantagenets[edit]

Further information: Justiciar
  1. 1155–1162: Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury; murdered
  2. 1189–1199: William Longchamp (intermittently, during the absences of Richard I on crusade, in prison, and in France.
  3. 1214–1219: William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke; Regent of England
  4. 1219–1232: Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent; Regent from 1219 to 1227
  5. 1263–1265: Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester; killed at the Battle of Evesham
  6. 1274–1292: Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells
  7. 1309–1311 Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall
  8. 1327–1330: Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, Regent
  9. 1327–1330: Queen Isabella of France Regent (de facto)
  10. 1327–1330: Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, Regent (de jure)
  11. 1330–1340: John de Stratford, Archbishop of Canterbury
  12. 1367–1371: William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester
  13. 1389–1391: William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester

House of Lancaster[edit]

  1. 1413–1417: Henry Beaufort, Cardinal, Bishop of Winchester
  2. 1422–1435: John, Duke of Bedford Regent, died 14 September 1435
  3. 1422–1437: Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester Regent, died 23 February 1447
  4. 1424–1427: Henry Beaufort, Cardinal, Bishop of Winchester
  5. 1432–1447: Henry Beaufort, Cardinal, Bishop of Winchester
  6. 1447–1450: William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk
  7. 3 April 1454 – February 1455: Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
  8. 19 November 1455 – 25 February 1456 Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, Protector (Regent) for Henry VI.
  9. 1470–1471: Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick; the Kingmaker; killed at the Battle of Barnet

House of York[edit]

  1. 1461–1467: Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick; the Kingmaker
  2. 1475–1483: Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York
  3. 30 April-26 June 1483: Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, was 'Lord Protector of the Realm' during the nominal reign of Edward V (one of the "Princes in the Tower") before claiming the throne for himself as Richard III

House of Tudor[edit]

Henry VII[edit]

  1. 1486–1500: John Morton, Cardinal, Archbishop of Canterbury
  2. 1500–1509: Sir Richard Empson, executed by Henry VIII
  3. 1500–1509: Edmund Dudley, executed by Henry VIII

Henry VIII[edit]

  1. 1514–1529: Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal, Archbishop of York
  2. 1529–1532: Sir Thomas More (Saint); executed by Henry VIII; canonised in 1935
  3. 1532–1540: Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex; executed by Henry VIII

Edward VI and Jane[edit]

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, The Lord High Treasurer, bears a white staff as his symbol of office.
  1. 1547–1549: Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset; Lord Protector for Edward VI, who had him executed.
  2. 1550–1553: John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick; 1st Duke of Northumberland; executed by Mary I.

Mary I[edit]

  1. 1553-1555: Stephen Gardiner
  2. 1556-1558: Reginald Pole

Elizabeth I and James I[edit]

Further information: Ministers to Elizabeth I
  1. 1558–1598: William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
  2. 1598–1612: Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury

House of Stuart[edit]

James I and Charles I[edit]

  1. 1616–1628: George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham; assassinated
  2. 1639–1640: Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford; executed by Charles I

The Stuart Restoration[edit]

Further information: List of English ministries

In 1660, the leadership of the Commonwealth recalled Charles II and the chief minister became responsible to some extent to Parliament as leader of a ministry, although much of the time the King was his own chief minister. The Glorious Revolution of 1688–9 furthered this process and by the time of Queen Anne, monarchs had little choice as to who their ministers would be.

Charles II and James II[edit]

Portrait Name Term of office Ministerial offices Political party Ministry
WH 1st Earl of Clarendon.png Edward, Lord Hyde
(Earl of Clarendon from 1661)
1660 1667 First Lord of the Treasury (1660)
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1660–61)
Lord Chancellor
Clarendon
2ndDukeOfBuckingham.jpg
Buckingham
The Cabal:
1667 1674 (see Cabal Ministry for details) Cabal
1stDukeOfLeeds.jpg Thomas Osborne,
1st Earl of Danby
1674 March 1679 Lord High Treasurer Tory Danby I
The Privy Council
(coordinated by Sir William Temple)
April 1679 November 1679 (see Privy Council Ministry for details) Privy Council
Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester.jpg
Rochester
Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (2).jpg
Godolphin
2nd Earl of Sunderland.jpg
Sunderland
Laurence Hyde
(Earl of Rochester from 1682)

&
Sidney Godolphin
(Lord Godolphin from 1684)

&
Robert Spencer,
2nd Earl of Sunderland
November 1679 1687 First Lord of the Treasury
(Rochester 1679–84, Godolphin 1684–85)
Northern Secretary
(Sunderland 1679–80, 1683–84, Godolphin 1684)
Southern Secretary
(Sunderland 1680–81, 1684–88)
Lord High Treasurer (Rochester 1685–87)
Tory The Chits

William III and Mary II[edit]

Portrait Name Term of office Ministerial offices Political party Ministry
1stDukeOfLeeds.jpg
Carmarthen
George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax by Mary Beale.jpg
Halifax
Thomas Osborne,
1st Marquess of Carmarthen

&
George Savile,
1st Marquess of Halifax
1689 8 February 1690
(Halifax resigned)
Lord President of the Council (Carmarthen)
Lord Privy Seal (Halifax)
Carmarthen–Halifax
1stDukeOfLeeds.jpg Thomas Osborne,
1st Marquess of Carmarthen
February 1690 1695 Lord President of the Council Tory Carmarthen (Danby II)

From 1693 onwards, the government was increasingly dominated by the Whig Junto.

Anne[edit]

The Kingdoms of England and Scotland united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

Portrait Name Term of office Ministerial offices Political party Ministry
Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (2).jpg
Godolphin
John Churchill Marlborough porträtterad av Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722).jpg
Marlborough
Sidney, Lord Godolphin
(Earl of Godolphin from 1706)

&
John Churchill,
1st Duke of Marlborough
1702 1710 Lord High Treasurer (Godolphin)
Master General of Ordnance (Marlborough)
Tory Godolphin–Marlborough
RobertHarley1710.jpg Robert Harley
(Earl of Oxford and Mortimer from 1711)
1710 30 July 1714 Chancellor of the Exchequer (1710–11)
Lord High Treasurer (1711–14)
Tory
(formerly Whig)
Harley
Charles Talbot, 1st Duke of Shrewsbury by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg Charles Talbot,
1st Duke of Shrewsbury
30 July 1714 13 October 1714 Lord High Treasurer Tory Shrewsbury

The Hanoverian Succession[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the monarchy was unable to function as the new King was in his domains in Hanover and did not know of his accession. As a stopgap, Parliament elected Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield Regent, or "acting king" until the new monarch arrived to take his crown. Later, George, Prince of Wales reigned as regent for six months from July 1716 to January 1717 when the King went to Hanover.

In the early part of the reign of George I of Great Britain, who could not speak English, the cabinet began meeting without the monarch present.

Following the succession of George I and the resignation of the Duke of Shrewsbury in 1714, the office of Lord High Treasurer went into permanent commission, its function undertaken by a commission of Lords of the Treasury, chaired by the First Lord of the Treasury, rather than by an individual Lord High Treasurer. From 1714 to 1717 the ministry was led by Viscount Townshend, who was nominally Northern Secretary; the Earl of Halifax, the Earl of Carlisle and Sir Robert Walpole successively served alongside Townshend as nominal First Lord of the Treasury. From 1717 to 1721 Lords Stanhope (First Lord 1717–18) and Sunderland (First Lord 1718–21) led the administration jointly, with Stanhope managing foreign affairs and Sunderland managing home affairs. Stanhope died in February 1721 and Sunderland resigned in April 1721; Townshend and Walpole returned to office.

Thus the First Lord of the Treasury came to be the most powerful minister and the prototype of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and its dominions.

George I[edit]

Portrait Name Term of office Ministerial offices Political party Ministry
Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (2).jpg Charles Townshend,
2nd Viscount Townshend
13 October 1714 1716 Northern Secretary

First Lord of the Treasury:

Whig Townshend
James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg
Stanhope
Charles Spencer 3rd Earl of Sunderland.jpg
Sunderland
James Stanhope,
1st Viscount Stanhope

&
Charles Spencer,
3rd Earl of Sunderland
12 April 1717 21 March 1718 First Lord of the Treasury
& Chancellor of the Exchequer (Stanhope)
Northern Secretary (Sunderland)
Whig Stanhope–Sunderland I
21 March 1718 4 April 1721 First Lord of the Treasury (Sunderland)
Northern Secretary (Stanhope)
Whig Stanhope–Sunderland II

Sources[edit]

References[edit]