Edward Stanley, fourteenth Earl of Derby, was Prime Minister three times and yet is ‘unknown’. There is good reason for this historical modesty. The administrations he led never enjoyed the support of a majority in Parliament and never lasted long. In each, the multicoloured personality of Disraeli overshadowed Stanley’s more sombre qualities. Above all, no vindication of the man could be attempted while his descendants jealously guarded his papers from the prying eyes of historians. That situation has now changed, and this definitive biography is the result.
Stanley was born into the purple of Whiggery. He believed that the defence of property should determine most political decisions, and that the holding of property carried responsibilities of the most onerous kind. As he uncontroversially put it, ‘An enlightened aristocracy is the bulwark of civilised order and liberty.’ Like