HomeNationsUnited KingdomHeads of GovernmentMELBOURNE, 2nd viscount
MELBOURNE, 2nd viscount

William Lamb

b. 15 Mar 1779, London
d. 24 Nov 1848, Brocket Hall, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Ministerial offices: Chief Secretary for Ireland (29 Apr 1827 - May 1828)
Home Secretary (22 Nov 1830 - 16 Jul 1834)
First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Lords (16 Jul 1834 - 14 Nov 1834, 18 Apr 1835 - 30 Aug 1841)
Names/titles: Lord Melbourne [until 1828], Baron of Kilmore; 2nd Viscount Melbourne of Kilmore and Baron Melbourne [from 22 Jul 1828]

The second son of the 1st Viscount Melbourne, William Lamb received education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and also studied in Glasgow. A Whig by family tradition he entered the House of Commons in 1806 (MP, 1806-1812, 1816-1826, 1827-1828). When George Canning became prime minister in 1827, he made Lamb Chief Secretary for Ireland (1827-1828). After the death of his father Lamb inherited the title of Viscount Melbourne and joined the House of Lords in 1829. He also served as Home Secretary (1830-1834) in the Grey administration. On Grey's resignation in 1834, King William IV appointed (16 Jul 1834) him First Lord of the Treasury and prime minister of the caretaker administration, but soon dismissed him (14 Nov 1834) despite the Whig majority in the Commons. However, a series of defeats in the House of Commons forced Robert Peel to resign and the King again appointed Melbourne First Lord of the Treasury (18 Apr 1835). Without any strong political convictions Melbourne held together a difficult and divided Cabinet and sustained support in the House of Commons through a very uneasy alliance of Whigs, Radicals and also Irish under O'Connell. His was not a reforming Government, despite the important Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 which ensured the growing middle class secured control of urban local government. Melbourne preserved the transitional caretaker note of keeping order, raising taxes and conducting foreign policy. In 1837 when Victoria became Queen, Melbourne undertook her political education in a remarkable friendship between a sovereign and her prime minister. The outbreak of rebellion in Jamaica and the crisis over the "bedchamber question" (the Queen insisted her attendants be Whig ladies) led him to resign on 7 May 1839 only to take up office again (11 May 1839) when Peel refused to form a Government. However, his Parliamentary support was declining and in 1840 it grew difficult to hold the Cabinet together, in particular regarding foreign policy with France. He was defeated in the House of Commons, prompted by the Queen to call an election against his will, and finally resigned on 30 Aug 1841. Biography source: [1, pp. 141-147]

[1] Englefield, Dermot; Seaton, Janet; White, Isobel (eds.) Facts About the British Prime Ministers: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1995. online
Image: Viscount Melbourne, detail of an oil painting by John Partridge, 1844.