In these days when politicians are despised, and the old aristocracy regarded either as a joke or a standing offence, it is hard to conceive that a century ago such people were the equivalent of pop or film stars. And, from the 1880s to the beginning of the twentieth century, few were more stellar than Archibald Philip Primrose, Fifth Earl of Rosebery. As Leo McKinstry reminds us at the beginning of this superb book, Rosebery passed into the language of the contemporary culture, and is still with us today, thanks to one of the most memorable of music-hall songs:
Nearly everyone knows me
From Smith to Lord Roseb’ry.
I’m Burlington Bertie from Bow!
At times in his career as a public figure Rosebery seemed like something of a music-hall turn, and not always for very creditable reasons. At others he was the embodiment of high seriousness, a man whose performance in the