H. H. Asquith

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC, KC, FRS (12 September 1852 – 15 February 1928), generally known as H. H. Asquith, was a British statesman and Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916. He was the last Liberal prime minister to command a majority government, and the most recent Liberal to have served as Leader of the Opposition. He played a major role in the design and passage of major liberal legislation and a reduction of the power of the House of Lords. In August 1914, Asquith took Great Britain and the British Empire into the First World War. During 1915, his government was vigorously attacked for a shortage of munitions and the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign. He formed a coalition government with other parties but failed to satisfy critics and was forced to resign in December 1916, and never regained power.


The Earl of Oxford and Asquith

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
5 April 1908  5 December 1916
Monarch
Preceded byHenry Campbell-Bannerman
Succeeded byDavid Lloyd George
Leader of the Opposition
In office
12 February 1920  21 November 1922
MonarchGeorge V
Prime Minister
Preceded byDonald Maclean
Succeeded byRamsay MacDonald
In office
6 December 1916  14 December 1918
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded bySir Edward Carson
Succeeded byDonald Maclean
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
30 April 1908  14 October 1926
Preceded bySir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Succeeded byDavid Lloyd George
Secretary of State for War
In office
30 March 1914  5 August 1914
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byJ. E. B. Seely
Succeeded byThe Earl Kitchener
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
10 December 1905  12 April 1908
MonarchEdward VII
Prime MinisterSir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded byAusten Chamberlain
Succeeded byDavid Lloyd George
Home Secretary
In office
18 August 1892  25 June 1895
MonarchVictoria
Prime Minister
Preceded byHenry Matthews
Succeeded byMatthew White Ridley
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
10 February 1925  15 February 1928
Earl of Oxford and Asquith
Preceded byPeerage created
Succeeded byJulian Edward George Asquith
Member of Parliament
for Paisley
In office
12 February 1920  29 October 1924
Preceded byJohn McCallum
Succeeded byEdward Mitchell
Member of Parliament
for East Fife
In office
27 July 1886  14 December 1918
Preceded byJohn Boyd Kinnear
Succeeded byAlexander Sprot
Personal details
Born
Herbert Asquith

(1852-09-12)12 September 1852
Morley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died15 February 1928(1928-02-15) (aged 75)
Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire, England
Resting placeAll Saints' Church, Sutton Courtenay
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)
  • Helen Melland
    (m. 1877; died 1891)
  • (m. 1894)
Children10, including Raymond, Herbert, Arthur, Violet, Cyril, Elizabeth, and Anthony
EducationCity of London School
Alma mater
ProfessionBarrister
Signature
Garter-encircled shield of arms of H. H. Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, as displayed on his Order of the Garter stall plate in St. George's Chapel, viz. Sable on a fesse between three cross-crosslets argent, a portcullis of the field.

After attending Balliol College, Oxford, he became a successful barrister. In 1886 he was the Liberal candidate for East Fife, a seat he held for over thirty years. In 1892 he was appointed as Home Secretary in Gladstone's fourth ministry, remaining in the post until the Liberals lost the 1895 election. In the decade of opposition that followed Asquith became a major figure in the party, and when the Liberals regained power under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905 Asquith was named Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1908 Asquith succeeded him as prime minister. The Liberals were determined to advance their reform agenda. An impediment to this was the House of Lords, which rejected the People's Budget of 1909. Meanwhile, the South Africa Act 1909 passed. Asquith called an election for January 1910, and the Liberals won, though were reduced to a minority government. After another general election in December 1910, he gained passage of the Parliament Act 1911, allowing a bill three times passed by the Commons in consecutive sessions to be enacted regardless of the Lords. Asquith was less successful in dealing with Irish Home Rule. Repeated crises led to gun running and violence, verging on civil war.

When Britain declared war on Germany in response to the German invasion of Belgium, high-profile domestic conflicts were suspended regarding Ireland and women's suffrage. Asquith was more of a committee chair than a dynamic leader. He oversaw national mobilization, the dispatch of the British Expeditionary Force to the Western Front, the creation of a mass army, and the development of an industrial strategy designed to support the country's war aims. The war became bogged down and the demand rose for better leadership. He was forced to form a coalition with the Conservatives and Labour early in 1915. He was weakened by his own indecision over strategy, conscription, and financing.[1] Lloyd George replaced him as prime minister in December 1916. They became bitter enemies and fought for control of the fast-declining Liberal Party. His role in creating the modern British welfare state (1906–1911) has been celebrated, but his weaknesses as a war leader and as a party leader after 1914 have been highlighted by historians. He remained the only Prime Minister between 1827 and 1979 to serve more than eight consecutive years in a single term.