William Lamb was born on 15th of March 1779 into a wealthy London family. His parents were Peniston Lamb an MP and former gentleman of the bedchamber and Elizabeth Lamb who is remembered as a famed political hostess. The paternity of William was often questioned, however, due to his mother’s numerous love affairs.
William was given the finest education at Eton and Cambridge, studying and growing up during the Napoleonic wars. In 1805, his elder brother died, making William his father’s heir. Just a year on from this, William was married to Lady Caroline Ponsonby with whom he had two children.
In 1806, William began his political career and became the Whig MP for Leominster. After this, he continued to progress with his political career becoming secretary for Ireland in 1827 and Home Secretary from 1830-1834. In this time, his father had passed away which elevated William to the title Viscount Melbourne, and he moved to the House of Lords after over twenty years as a backbencher in the Commons.
In 1834, William became Prime Minister for the first time, almost by accident. It was not a position he was seeking, but rather a position which was offered to him by King William IV after Lord Grey resigned from the post. Melbourne did not wish to be Prime Minister and believed it would be a distraction he did not need, but eventually gave in and took the position. At the end of 1834, Melbourne briefly lost his position as Prime Minister due to King William’s opposition to Whig reforms, but by 1835 he was Prime Minister again for a second time.
These years of Melbourne’s life are mostly remembered by historians for his scandal-filled marriage in which both he and his wife had affairs, one of Melbourne’s resulted in blackmail which could have cost him his government had the King himself not stepped in. In 1837, Melbourne’s life changed when a new ruler came to the throne. Queen Victoria, aged just eighteen, was trying to stand her own ground in politics and needed guidance from somebody other than her mother and Melbourne filled this role perfectly.
Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne spent a great deal of time together in the following years; he schooled her in politics and helped her to flourish as a monarch. The pair became very close, with Victoria saying that William, Lord Melbourne was like a father to her. Of course, the press and the public were always looking for a story, and when William was given apartments at Windsor Castle, it was widely reported that the Queen was set to marry him. This was obviously not true as Melbourne was forty years older than the young Queen and was merely devoted to her in a political sense. He spent hours and hours each day tutoring the Queen, and the pair sent masses of letters when they were apart during Melbourne’s time in office.
Melbourne and Victoria’s friendship was not without scandal and difficulties like any working relationship. In 1839, the pair faced a backlash from the public for spreading rumours that a young woman at court named Lady Flora Hastings was pregnant. After months of whispers and judgment which were begun by Victoria’s governess and backed up by Lord Melbourne, it was discovered that Flora was not pregnant, but suffering from advanced cancer which resulted in her death. Victoria’s popularity was greatly harmed by this incident and was not restored until her marriage to Prince Albert.
In 1839, Lord Melbourne wished to resign from the role of Prime Minister and the post was due to pass to Robert Peel. Peel wished for the Queen to ask some of her Whig ladies in her personal entourage to leave and be exchanged for Tory ladies as it would be showing favouritism towards the Whig party to retain them all when the government had changed, Victoria refused, and the whole affair was blown out of proportion. Peel then refused to form a government and Melbourne was convinced to stay at his post until his final resignation in 1841.
Though no longer her Prime Minister, Melbourne wrote to Victoria often and advised her politically and on personal matters. Over time, however, Victoria came to rely more on her husband Albert who she was devoted to and did not need William, Lord Melbourne as much.
William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s friend and tutor, died in 1848 passing his title on to his brother Frederick as sadly his own children had both died. By some, he is remembered negatively as a Prime Minister for supporting slavery and for changes to the Poor Laws, but he is remembered fondly for his changes to local government and the large drop in deaths by capital punishment.
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