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Lord Melbourne (1779-1848)

William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne was born on 15 March 1779 at Melbourne House, Piccadilly in London. He was the second son and second child in a family of six children and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the University of Glasgow. His mother's husband probably was not his father. He was elected to Parliament as a Whig candidate in 1806 and served as Chief Secretary for Ireland between 29 April 1827 and May 1828. In 1829 he was elevated to the House of Lords on his father's death.

As Home Secretary from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834, he acted firmly to suppress the Swing Riots and trade-unionist agitators. When Earl Grey resigned in 1834 , William IV appointed Melbourne as the least bad choice of Prime Minister; from 1835 to 1841 Melbourne served as Prime Minister again at a time when Whig power was declining whilst that of the Conservatives under Peel was rising. Melbourne disliked political controversy and after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act looked with disfavour on further parliamentary reform.

In his second Ministry, Melbourne held together a difficult and divided Cabinet and maintained support in the House of Commons through an uneasy alliance of Whigs, Radicals and the Irish under Daniel O'Connell. It was Melbourne's second Ministry that oversaw the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act, the Municipal Corporations Act and the rise of both Chartism and the Anti-Corn-Law League.

When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, Melbourne undertook the duties of being her secretary and political tutor even though he was Prime Minister, in a friendship that contrasted with his personal life. He was devoted to the young queen, and with his guidance she found her way in British politics and acquired an early preference for Whig ministries. In 1839 this led to the Bedchamber Crisis.

In 1805, Melbourne married Lady Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the third Earl of Bessborough and Henrietta Frances Spencer (daughter of the first Earl Spencer). In 1812, Caroline met Lord Byron, noting that he was 'mad, bad and dangerous to know'. Their very public love affair lasted until the summer of 1813; its end was very undignified. Melbourne separated from his wife in 1825.

Melbourne suffered a stroke in 1842 and died at Brocket Hall on 24 November1848.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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