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.

The only Prime Minister to serve four terms under that definition 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 70 years, 3 months and 17 days.

The oldest Prime Minister to be appointed overall, and oldest to win a General Election, 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, following that year's General Election.

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, which was 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 72 years old. If he is still alive on 29 March 2036 (his 93rd birthday), 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.

Intervals between terms of office[edit]

William Cavendish-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland was out of office between his two terms for 23 years 101 days, from 19 December 1783 to 31 March 1807.

The shortest interval (or "fastest comeback") was achieved by William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, who was out of office after being dismissed on 14 November 1834 but returned following the end of successor Robert Peel's first ministry on 18 April 1835 - 155 days (under six months) later.

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, and 45 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 (Both had actually served in the Parliament there).
Bonar Law was born in the colony of New Brunswick in what is now Canada.

Ethnic Minority Prime Ministers[edit]

First British Prime Minister of Asian descent - Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool whose mother was half-British, half-Indian,[1] making him Anglo-Indian.[2]

First ethnically Jewish British Prime Minister - Benjamin Disraeli (although religiously he converted to the Church of England in youth).

Two other Prime Ministers are known to have had Jewish ancestors:

  • David Cameron is great-great-grandson of Emile Levita, a German Jewish financier and a direct descendant of Renaissance scholar Elia Levita. Through Levita, Cameron is a descendant of the Levites, who themselves claim to be descended from Moses.[4] His wife, Cameron's great-great-grandmother, was a descendant of the wealthy Danish Jewish Rée family on her father's side.[5][6]

Disabled Prime Ministers[edit]

At least four Prime Ministers are known to have been physically disabled when in office:

  • William Ewart Gladstone, who lost the forefinger of his left hand in an accident with a firearm in 1842. (He also became partially blind by 1897, following his retirement from office.)
  • Winston Churchill, who during his second term became increasingly deaf (condition onset in 1949) and had a series of strokes that led to his retirement and using a wheelchair in later years.[7]
  • Harold Macmillan, who was left with a slight limp and poor strength in his right hand, affecting his handwriting, after several wounds in World War I.[8]
  • Gordon Brown, who lost the sight of one eye in a school rugby accident at age of sixteen.[9]

Others became disabled after leaving office, notably:

General Elections[edit]

Most Prime Ministers in office between General Elections[edit]

There have been two intervals between General Elections, both in the 18th century, when on both occasions five successive Prime Ministers were in office.

In modern times, since members of the House of Lords ceased to hold Prime Ministerial office (after 1902), there were three Prime Ministers in office between the General Elections of 1935 and 1945: Stanley Baldwin (retired 28 May 1937), Neville Chamberlain (resigned 10 May, and subsequently died 1940), and Winston Churchill (until dissolution of the parliament).

Most General Elections contested[edit]

The most number of General Elections contested by an individual is 6. Herbert Henry Asquith contested the January 1910, December 1910, 1918, 1922, 1923, and the 1924 General Elections.

The most number of General Elections lost by an individual is 5. Charles James Fox was unsuccessful after contesting the 1784, 1790, 1796, 1801 co-option, and 1802 General Elections. The most number of General Elections won by an individual is 4. Robert Walpole, Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, William Ewart Gladstone, and Harold Wilson would all win 4 General Elections.

Age at losing a General Election[edit]

The youngest Prime Minister to be on the losing side at a General Election was Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, who, having resigned his ministry in May 1895, led his Liberal Party to defeat in the General Election the following month when aged 48. Since peers ceased to hold this office (1902), the youngest losing Prime Minister was John Major, at 54 years and 33 days when the Conservative Party lost the 1997 General Election.

William Ewart Gladstone, was the oldest, at 76 years, when his party lost the 1886 General Election, although he returned to office in 1892. The oldest Prime Minister to be defeated without returning to office was Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield who was 75 when the Conservative Party lost the 1880 General Election.

Prime Ministers in office without a General Election[edit]

Thirteen Prime Ministers have held office without the holding of a General Election in bringing them to office, while holding office, or following the end of their office, usually by serving terms sandwiched between the victor of one election and the one who faced the next. Chronologically they were:

Prime Ministers who served from, or later entered, the House of Lords[edit]

John Russell was unique in serving one entire term at Downing Street as Commons MP, when known as Lord John Russell (as younger son of a Duke of Bedford) in 1846-52, and his second and last entirely as a member of the Lords as 1st Earl Russell in 1865-66, having been raised to the peerage between terms in 1861.

Without counting Earl Russell, eighteen Prime Ministers served their entire terms from the House of Lords where they were already members, chronologically:

(The five Prime Ministers asterisked in the above list never served in the House of Commons during their political careers.)

Three Prime Ministers were elevated from the Commons to the House of Lords during their terms through being raised to the peerage:

Frederick North, Lord North succeeded to his father's peerage as 2nd Earl of Guildford in 1790 after being in office.

Alec Douglas-Home disclaimed his hereditary peerage as 14th Earl of Home 4 days after coming to office in 1963 (under the Peerage Act of that year), giving up his seat in the Lords and subsequently sat in the Commons after succeeding in a by-election, pending which for 20 days he held office from neither House. He returned to the Lords when made life peer as Baron Home of The Hirsel in 1974.

Eleven Prime Ministers have served their entire terms as Members of the House of Commons but were elevated to the House of Lords afterwards by being created peers:

In contrast 16 Prime Ministers preceding the current (David Cameron) have never become members of the House of Lords. Henry Pelham (served 1743 to his death in 1754) was the first to be a lifelong 'Commoner' but the convention of Prime Ministers leading from the House of Commons only became established in the 20th century.

Holders of Irish peerages (with the exception of 28 Irish representative peers allowed after 1801, who were elected from among their peers) legally did not sit in the House of Lords in the Parliaments of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, but were allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston was the only Irish peer to serve as Prime Minister, thus leading from the House of Commons.


Winston Churchill in honorary air commodore's uniform, displaying the ribbons of some of his decorations.
The Duke of Wellington wearing decorations representing several nations.

The most decorated British Prime Minister was Sir Winston Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, who received a total of 37 orders, decorations and medals,[12] from the United Kingdom and twelve other states (on continents of Europe, Africa, Asia and North America). Ten were awarded for active service as an Army officer in Cuba, India, Egypt, South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. The greater number of awards were given in recognition of his service as a minister of the British government.[13][14]

Churchill was also the first and so far only British Prime Minister to receive a Nobel Prize (for Literature, in 1953).

The most widely decorated Prime Minister by the number of states from which he received honours was Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH who is known to have received 28 orders, decorations and medals from the United Kingdom and seventeen other states (all in Europe), in recognition of his military services.

The British order of knighthood most frequently conferred on Prime Ministers has been the Order of the Garter, of which 30 male Prime Ministers (beginning with Robert Walpole and later including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden) have been Knight Companions (KG) and the only female, Margaret Thatcher a Lady Companion (LG) of the Order. Nine Prime Ministers, including Thatcher, received it after serving the office. The only currently living (2015) Knight among them is Sir John Major.

The first and so far only Prime Minister to have received a British gallantry award was Anthony Eden who won the Military Cross (MC) while serving in the army in World War I, before entering parliament.

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:


After Earl of Wilmington, eleven other Prime Ministers have been in office at a time when only one former Prime Minister has been alive:

  • Henry Pelham from his appointment in August 1743 until the death of Robert Walpole in March 1745 only Walpole would be alive.
  • Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle in his second term, (July 1757 to May 1762) only Duke of Devonshire would be alive.
  • Duke of Devonshire in his term, (November 1756 to June 1757) only Duke of Newcastle would be alive.
  • Lord John Russell in his second term, (October 1865 to June 1866) only Earl of Derby would be alive.
  • Earl of Derby in his third term, (June 1866 to February 1868) only Lord John Russell would be alive.
  • Benjamin Disraeli from the death of Lord John Russell in May 1878 until the end of his second term in April 1880, only William Ewart Gladstone would be alive.
  • William Ewart Gladstone from his second appointment in April 1880 until the death of Benjamin Disraeli in April 1881 only Disraeli would be alive. And in his third term, (February 1886 to July 1886), and his fourth term, (August 1892 to March 1894) only Lord Salisbury would be alive.
  • Marquess of Salisbury in his first term (June 1885 to January 1886), and second term (July 1886 to August 1892) only William Ewart Gladstone would be alive. And from the death of Gladstone in May 1898 until the end of his third term in July 1902 only Earl of Rosebery would be alive.
  • Arthur Balfour from the death of Lord Salisbury in August 1903 until the end of his term in December 1905 only Earl of Rosebery would be alive.
  • Winston Churchill in his second term, (October 1951 to April 1955) only Clement Attlee would be alive.
  • Clement Attlee from the death of Stanley Baldwin in November 1947 until the end of his term in October 1951 only Winston Churchill would be 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, while Wilson was in office, with Clement Attlee; Winston Churchill; Anthony Eden; Harold Macmillan; and Alec Douglas-Home (Churchill died in January 1965); from April 1976 to January 1977, while Callaghan was in office, with Anthony Eden; Harold Macmillan; Alec Douglas-Home; Harold Wilson; and Edward Heath (Eden died in January 1977); from May 1979 to December 1986, while Thatcher was in office, with Harold Macmillan; Alec Douglas-Home; Harold Wilson; Edward Heath; and James Callaghan (Macmillan died in December 1986); 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:

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

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. Others who died within the same year they were Prime Minister were 3rd Duke of Portland who died in 1809, 26 days after he left office, and 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.

Died while immediate successor was in office[edit]

Nine Prime Ministers have died while their immediate successor was in office:

Among these Prime Ministers all of whom were older than their direct successors. 3rd Duke of Portland and Earl of Aberdeen are the only ones among this list who have both had direct successors to die in office.


The longest-married Prime Minister was James Callaghan who was married to his wife Audrey for 66 years from July 1938 until her death on 15 March 2005.

Prime Ministers who married while in office, both second wives:


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 first and so far only British Prime Minister to have been divorced was Anthony Eden, who divorced his first wife Beatrice (née Beckett) in 1950 then remarried two years later to Clarissa Spencer-Churchill on 14 August 1952, before his term of office began. (Beatrice never remarried and died in 1957.)

Kindred Prime Ministers[edit]

Fathers and Sons[edit]

Two sets of father and son have successively held the office:


The only brothers to hold the office were Henry Pelham, who was succeeded on his death in 1754 by Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle.

Full cousins[edit]

Pitt the Younger and Baron Grenville (who directly succeeded the latter in office) were the only set of full cousins to hold the office, their fathers being brothers-in-law.

Uncles and Nephews[edit]

There have been three blood uncle-nephew sets of Prime Ministers:

Great-great-uncle and nephew[edit]

Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington was two-greats uncle of Spencer Perceval, whose mother, Catherine (nee Compton), Baroness Arden, was a blood great-niece of Wilmington.

Father-in-law and Son-in-law[edit]

William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, as Marquess of Titchfield, married in 1766 Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (who had died in 1764).


Pitt the Elder was married from 1754 to George Grenville's sister Hester, making themselves the only set of brothers-in-law to successively hold the office.

Uncle-in-law and Nephew-in-law[edit]

Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. In 1952, during Churchill's second term, Eden married Clarissa, daughter of John Strange Spencer Churchill, Winston's brother, before succeeding to the office.


The Prime Minister who had the most children is Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who fathered 17 children (16 legitimate, one illegitimate).

The tallest Prime Minister is believed to be Lord Salisbury, who was around 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) in height,[17] although Downing Street's own website lists 6-foot-1-inch (1.85 m) James Callaghan as the tallest.[18]

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).[19] The poorest was William Pitt the Younger, who was £40,000 (now over £1 million) in debt by 1800.[citation needed]

In contrast to many nations, Britain has had only two Prime Ministers who have been military generals: William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Prime Minister 1782-83, who was promoted from Lieutenant-General to full General in the British Army in the latter year, and Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, who served office twice, in 1828-30 and 1834, in the interval between his two terms as Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.

Sir Robert Peel is the only Prime Minister to have ultimately died as a result of an accident (caused by a fall from his horse while riding in London), on 2 July 1850, aged 62, four years after he left office.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ D. Leonard 2008 Nineteenth-Century British Premiers: Pitt to Rosebery. Palgrave Macmillan: p. 82.
  2. ^ Liverpool's mother, Amelia Jenkinson (nee Watts) was daughter of an East India Company official.
  3. ^ Kenneth O. Morgan, Callaghan: A Life, 1997, p.5 "His father's mother was Elizabeth Bernstein, from Sheffield; he was, therefore, a quarter Jewish as well."
  4. ^ "David Cameron 'could be a direct descendant of Moses'". The Times (London). 10 July 2009.  (subscription required)
  5. ^ Fischer, Joseph (1912). Hartvig Philip Rée og hans slægt; udg. paa Foranledning af Eduard Rée. Copenhagen. pp. 47, 56, 59, 61, 62 & 64
  6. ^ The Legal Observer, or, Journal of Jurisprudence, Volume 12 (1837?), p. 534
  7. ^ W. Attenborough, Churchill and the Black Dog of Depression (2014), pp. 175–186.
  8. ^ [1] Spartacus Educational website biography.
  9. ^ Gaby Hinsliff (10 October 2009). "How Gordon Brown's loss of an eye informs his view of the world". The Observer. Archived from the original on 28 December 2013. 
  10. ^ Baldwin: A Biography by Keith Middlemass and John Barnes (1969), page 1070. Publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  11. ^ Balfour resigned on 5 December 1905 but was immediately succeeded by his then Liberal opponent, Campbell-Bannerman, who did not hold the next General Election until January 1906. Balfour contested this as Leader of the Conservative Party and lost.
  12. ^ Medals in this context mean wearable awards, not including prize medals such as those accompanying the Nobel Prizes.
  13. ^ The Orders, Decorations and Medals of Sir Winston Churchill – The Churchill Centre
  14. ^ Before Churchill, the most decorated was the 1st Duke of Wellington, whose orders, decorations and medals totaled at least 28, according to the Wikipedia article on his honours.
  15. ^ Trahair, R.C.S. (1994). From Aristotelian to Reaganomics: A Dictionary of Eponyms With Biographies in the Social Science. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 72. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  16. ^ Bernstein, Jonathan (2006). Knickers in a Twist: A Dictionary of British Slang. Canongate U.S. p. 65. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Englefield, Dermot; Janet Seaton; Isobel White (1995). Facts About the British Prime Ministers. Mansell. p. 374. 
  18. ^ "James Callaghan". 10 Downing Street. 
  19. ^ "Richest British Prime Minister". Retrieved 12-04-2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)