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George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen KG KT FRS PC (28 January 1784 – 14 December 1860), styled Lord Haddo from 1791 to 1801, was a Scottishmarker politician, successively a Tory, Conservative and Peelite, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1852 until 1855.

Early life

Born in Edinburghmarker on 28 January 1784, he was the eldest son of George Gordon, Lord Haddo, son of George Gordon, 3rd Earl of Aberdeen. His mother was Charlotte, youngest daughter of William Baird. He lost his father in 1791 and his mother in 1795 and was brought up by Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. He was educated at Harrow Schoolmarker, and St John's College, Cambridgemarker, where he graduated with a Master of Arts in 1804.

Period 1801–1812

Before this, however, he had become Earl of Aberdeen on his grandfather's death in 1801, and had travelled all over Europe. On his return to Englandmarker, he founded the Athenian Society. In 1805, he married Lady Catherine Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Abercorn. In December he took his seat as a Tory Scottish representative peer in the House of Lordsmarker. In 1808, he was created a Knight of the Thistle.

Official and political career

Following the death of his wife in 1812 he joined the Foreign Service. He was appointed ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at Viennamarker, where he signed the Treaty of Töplitz between Britainmarker and Austria in October 1813. He was one of the British representatives at the Congress of Chatillon in February 1814, and at the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Paris in May of that year. Returning home he was created a peer of the United Kingdom as Viscount Gordon, of Aberdeen in the County of Aberdeen (1814), and made a member of the Privy Council. In July 1815 he married Harriet, daughter of John Douglas, and widow of James, Viscount Hamilton. During the ensuing thirteen years Aberdeen took a less prominent part in public affairs.
Lord Aberdeen, by John Partridge
He served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster between January and June 1828 and subsequently as Foreign Secretary until 1830 under the Duke of Wellington. He resigned with Wellington over the Reform Bill of 1832. He was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies (1834-35) and again Foreign Secretary (1841-46) under Robert Peel. It was during his second stint as Foreign Secretary that he settled two disagreements with the US - the Northeast Boundary dispute by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842), and the Oregon dispute by the Oregon Treaty of 1846. He also worked successfully to improve relationships with France, where Guizot had become a personal friend. He again followed his leader and resigned with Peel over the issue of the Corn Laws. After Peel's death in 1850 he became the recognized leader of the Peelites. His dislike of the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill, the rejection of which he failed to secure in 1851, prevented him from joining the government of Lord John Russell.

In December 1852, however, he became Prime Minister and headed a coalition ministry of Whigs and Peelites. Although united on free trade and on questions of domestic reform, his cabinet which contained Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, was certain to differ on questions of foreign policy. He entered the country into the Crimean War on the side of the Ottoman Empire following pressure from some of his cabinet. Palmerston, supported by Russell, favoured a more aggressive policy, and Aberdeen, unable to control Palmerston, acquiesced. However the war proved his downfall. As reports returned detailing the mismanagement of the conflict Russell resigned; and on 29 January 1855 a motion for the appointment of a select committee to enquire into the conduct of the war, was carried by a large majority. Treating this as a vote of no confidence, Aberdeen resigned.


The Earl of Aberdeen in 1828.

Lord Aberdeen died at Argyll House, St. James'smarker, London on 14 December 1860, and was buried in the family vault at Stanmore.


By his first wife Aberdeen had one son and three daughters, all of whom predeceased their father. By his second wife, who died in August 1833, he left four sons and one daughter. His eldest son, George, succeeded as fifth Earl; his second son John was created Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair in 1916. Aberdeen's second son was General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, K.C.B.; his third son was the Reverend Douglas Hamilton-Gordon; and his youngest son Arthur Gordon was created Baron Stanmore in 1893.

Other personal matters

Apart from his political career Aberdeen was also a distinguished scholar. He was appointed Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen in 1827 and was President of the Society of Antiquaries of London. His private life is believed to be exemplary by the standards of the day. His manner was lofty and reserved, and as a speaker he was ponderous rather than eloquent. It is said that he lacked strength and his foreign policy was essentially one of peace and non-intervention.

In 1994 novelist, columnist and politician Ferdinand Mount used George Gordon's life as the basis for a historical novel - Umbrella.

See also

External links


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