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Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, KG, GCVO, PC (3 February 1830 – 22 August 1903), known as Lord Robert Cecil before 1865 and as Viscount Cranborne from 1865 until 1868, was a Britishmarker statesman and thrice Prime Minister, serving for a total of over 13 years. He was the first British Prime Minister of the 20th century and the last Prime Minister to head his full administration from the House of Lords.


Lord Robert Cecil was the second son of the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury. After an unhappy childhood, in which he was sent to Eton Collegemarker, he went up to Christ Church, Oxfordmarker, and on taking his degree was elected a Fellow of All Souls Collegemarker. He entered the House of Commonsmarker as a Conservative in 1853, as MP for Stamford in Lincolnshiremarker. He retained this seat until entering the peerage.

In 1866 Lord Robert, now Viscount Cranborne after the death of his older brother, Salisbury entered the third government of Lord Derby as Secretary of State for India. He resigned the next year over the Reform Bill, which he opposed.

In 1868, on the death of his father, he inherited the Marquessate of Salisbury, thereby becoming a member of the House of Lordsmarker. From 1868 and 1871, he was chairman of the Great Eastern Railway, which was then experiencing losses. During his tenure, the company was taken out of chancery, and paid out a small dividend on its ordinary shares.

He returned to government in 1874, serving once again as India Secretary in the government of Benjamin Disraeli. Salisbury gradually developed a good relationship with Disraeli, whom he had previously disliked and distrusted. In 1878, Salisbury succeeded Lord Derby (son of the former Prime Minister) as Foreign Secretary in time to help lead Britain to "peace with honour" at the Congress of Berlin. For this he was rewarded with the Order of the Garter.

Following Disraeli's death in 1881, the Conservatives entered a period of turmoil. Salisbury became the leader of the Conservative members of the House of Lords, though the overall leadership of the party was not formally allocated. So he struggled with the Commons leader Sir Stafford Northcote, a struggle in which Salisbury eventually emerged as the leading figure. He became Prime Minister of a minority administration from 1885 to 1886. Although unable to accomplish much due to his lack of a parliamentary majority, the split of the Liberals over Irish Home Rule in 1886 enabled him to return to power with a majority, and, excepting a Liberal minority government (1892–1895), to serve as Prime Minister from 1886 to 1902.

In 1889 Salisbury set up the London County Council and then in 1890 allowed it to build houses. However he came to regret this, saying in November 1894 that the LCC, "is the place where collectivist and socialistic experiments are tried. It is the place where a new revolutionary spirit finds its instruments and collects its arms".

Also in 1889 Salisbury's Government passed the Naval Defence Act 1889 which facilitated the spending of an extra £20 million on the Royal Navy over the following four years. This was the biggest ever expansion of the navy in peacetime: ten new battleships, thirty-eight new cruisers, eighteen new torpedo boats and four new fast gunboats. Traditionally (since the Battle of Trafalgarmarker) Britain had possessed a navy one-third larger than their nearest naval rival but now the Royal Navy was set to the Two-Power Standard; that it would be maintained "to a standard of strength equivalent to that of the combined forces of the next two biggest navies in the world". This was aimed at France and Russia.

Salisbury's expertise was in foreign affairs. For most of his time as Prime Minister he served not as First Lord of the Treasury, the traditional position held by the Prime Minister, but as Foreign Secretary. In that capacity, he managed Britain's foreign affairs, famously pursuing a policy of "Splendid Isolation". Among the important events of his premierships was the Partition of Africa, culminating in the Fashoda Crisismarker and the Second Boer War. At home he sought to "fight Home Rule with kindness" by launching a land reform programme which helped hundreds of thousands of Irish peasants gain land ownership .

On 11 July 1902, in failing health and broken hearted over the death of his wife, Salisbury resigned. He was succeeded by his nephew, Arthur James Balfour. Salisbury was offered a dukedom by Queen Victoria in 1886 and 1892, but declined both offers, citing the prohibitive cost of the lifestyle dukes were expected to maintain.

When Salisbury died his estate was probated at 310,336 pounds sterling. In 1900 Salisbury was worth £6.56 million, about £374 million in 2005.


Salisbury is seen as an icon of traditional, aristocratic conservatism. The academic quarterly Salisbury Review was named in his honour upon its founding in 1982.

Clement Attlee (Labour Party Prime Minister, 1945-1951) believed Salisbury to be the best Prime Minister of his lifetime.

After the Bering Sea Arbitration, Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Sparrow David Thompson said of Lord Salisbury's acceptance of the Arbitration Treaty that it was "one of the worst acts of what I regard as a very stupid and worthless life."

In 1886, Salisbury remarked that the British public would not accept a "black man", such as the Indianmarker Dadabhai Naoroji as an MP .

The British phrase 'Bob's your uncle' is thought to have derived from Robert Cecil's appointment of his nephew, Arthur Balfour, as Minister for Ireland .


Lord Salisbury was the second son of the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury, a minor Conservative politician. In 1857, he defied his father and married Georgina Alderson. She was the daughter of Sir Edward Alderson, a moderately notable jurist and so of much lower social standing than the Cecils. The marriage proved a happy one. Robert and Georgina had eight children, all but one of whom survived infancy.

Lord Salisbury


Salisbury believed the role of government was to maintain and extend individual freedom, and to avoid interfering in social and economic affairs. He also advocated self help: 'No men ever rise to any permanent improvement in their condition of body or of mind except by relying upon their own personal efforts'.

Lord Salisbury's First Government, July 1885–February 1886


Lord Salisbury's Second Government, August 1886–August 1892

Cabinet after the reorganisation of January 1887

Further Changes

  • February 1888 – Sir Michael Hicks Beach succeeds Lord Stanley of Preston as President of the Board of Trade
  • 1889 – Henry Chaplin enters the Cabinet as President of the Board of Agriculture.
  • October 1891 – Arthur James Balfour succeeds William Henry Smith (deceased) as First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons. William Lawies Jackson succeeds him as Irish Secretary.

Lord Salisbury's Third Government, June 1895–July 1902


November 1900 – Complete reorganisation of the ministry:


  1. Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (Phoenix, 2000), p. 501.
  2. Ibid, p. 540.
  3. Ibid, p. 836.
  4. Public Archives of Canada, Gowan Papers, M-1900, Thompson to Gowan, 20 Sept. 1893

Further reading

  • A. L. Kennedy, Salisbury 1830-1903: Portrait of a Statesman (1953)
  • Andrew Roberts Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999)

External links

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