Herbert Asquith Facts & Worksheets

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    • Early Life and Political Career
    • Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
    • Governance Under Crises
    • Later Years and Legacy

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s find out more about Herbert Asquith!

    Herbert Henry Asquith Former Earl of Oxford and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

    Herbert Asquith, better known as H. H. Asquith (an acronym for his full name Herbert Henry) was a reform-minded Liberal Party politician in the United Kingdom. Before becoming Prime Minister in 1908, he served in the House of Commons for almost three decades. During the early years of World War I, he led Britain and made significant use of his position as Prime Minister by instituting reforms such as pensions and social insurance.

    He aimed to minimise the power of the House of Lords, which is controlled by the Conservatives. This resulted in the expansion of democracy in the British system, which is regarded as one of his most notable achievements.

    Early Life and Political Career

    • H. Asquith was born on 12 September 1852 in Morley, a town near Leeds, Yorkshire. His father was a wool vendor who died when he was young, forcing him and his family to relocate to Huddersfield. 
    • He enrolled at the City of London School in 1863. After seven years, Asquith was awarded a scholarship to Balliol College, where he studied classical literature.
    • After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1876, and a year later, he married Helen Melland, with whom he had five children.
    • Melland passed away in 1891. Three years later, Asquith married Margot Tennant and had two children.
    • Asquith decided to pursue his political ambitions while also practising law.

      Asquith in 1876
    • He was democratically elected as a member of the Liberal Party for East Fife in the House of Commons in 1886 and remained in the position for the next 32 years.
    • When the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell was suspected of supporting a pair of politically motivated murders in Dublin in the late 1880s, he served as junior counsel for him. The letters used to back up the accusations were later proven to be forgeries. When Asquith successfully defended Parnell, political opportunities opened for him.
    • When William Gladstone became the new Prime Minister, Asquith was appointed the Liberals' home secretary. His newly acquired position assigned him the responsibility of dealing with security in Great Britain.
    • Despite having a disagreement with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman about the Boer War, it was quickly resolved. When Campbell-Bannerman became Prime Minister, he made Asquith Chancellor of the Exchequer.
    • This was a fantastic opportunity for Asquith because he was able to hold a Cabinet-level financial position as the prime minister's chancellor.

    Prime Minister H.H. Asquith

    • Asquith wielded so much power in the House that when Campbell-Bannerman resigned as Prime Minister in 1908, Asquith seamlessly assumed the position he had left.
    • Asquith designated David Lloyd George to fill Asquith's former position. In modern Britain, Prime Minister Asquith and his chancellor George brought important constitutional changes.
    • Asquith started with the legislation for providing pensions for the aged and social insurance for the unemployed, disabled and ill.
    • Lloyd George supported the legislation in 1909 with a reasonable budget relying on land and income taxes.
    • Furthermore, a budget was provided to expand the British navy, which the two saw as necessary to address the rising threat from the German navy.
    • Reforms regarding pensions and insurance were opposed by the Conservative members of the House of Lords. The Conservatives issued a veto against the budget or the People's Budget of 1909.
    • Due to the inconsistencies, two general elections were held: a constitutional crisis, and the adoption of the Parliament Act of 1911. The Parliament Act was to decrease the power of the House of Lords, increasing the power of the House of Commons.
    • The Parliament Act, like the People's Budget, was opposed by Conservatives in the House of Lords. To ensure the bill's passage, the Liberal government agreed with King George V to create 250 more liberal peers.
    • The passage of the Parliament Act of 1911 changed the way the British government operated because unlike before, it prevented the Lords from issuing a veto against any financial legislation. It also reduced the term from seven to five years and provided payment for the service of the members of the Parliament.

    Governance Under Crises

    • Asquith successfully implemented pension and insurance reforms. However, between 1911 and 1914, his government faced serious challenges, the most serious of which was the growing Irish crisis. 
    • Conservatives, along with the military, make up the majority of Unionists. This majority desired to maintain control over Ireland by keeping it a part of the British Union.
    • Asquith, on the other hand, opposed it along with the Liberals and advocated for Irish home rule instead.
    • The situation deteriorated and a civil war broke out in 1914.
    • The Home Rule Law was eventually passed in favour of Asquith's group, but World War I delayed its implementation to the point where it was never instated.

      Prime Minister Asquith (visiting the front) during the Battle of the Somme in 1916
    • In August 1914, Britain formally entered World War I. Its current prime minister, Asquith, turned out to be a weak wartime leader because of his slowness in decision-making and developing tactical strategies.
    • After a munitions shortage adversely affected the British military effort in 1915, Asquith was forced to form a coalition Cabinet that included Conservatives.
    • The newspapers viciously attacked Asquith following the Battle of the Somme, which resulted in heavy casualties for the British military.
    • Because of pressure from his own Cabinet, Asquith resigned as Prime Minister in December 1916, and Lloyd George took his place.

    Later Years and Legacy

    • Asquith's resignation as Prime Minister was only the beginning of the end of his political career. He remained active in his party throughout the middle 1920s. However, he frequently clashed with the Liberals who supported Lloyd George. 
    • The success of Lloyd George's government relegated Asquith to the political wilderness, which was exacerbated by the loss of his seat in 1918, as well as those of many of his supporters.
    • Though Asquith disagreed with the Liberal supporters of Lloyd George's leadership, the prime minister's downfall in October 1922 was not Asquith's fault. It occurred primarily as a result of the abandonment of the majority of the Conservative coalition partners of Lloyd George.
    • He represented Paisley in the 1923 Parliament election then, in 1925, he was appointed Earl of Oxford and Asquith.
    • Asquith never ran for office again, though he was the Liberal Party's leader until 1926.
    • Asquith remained productive by concentrating on book writing, which was proven by his second son who said, “A large part of my father's later years was occupied with authorship and it was during this period that he wrote most of his longer books.”
    • His best-known books are The Genesis of the War (1923), Fifty Years of Parliament (1926), and Memories and Reflections (1928).
    • He died of a stroke on 15 February 1928, at the age of 75, in The Wharf, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire. His funeral was simple, as his family stated was his request. It was held at the All Saints’ Churchyard in Sutton Courtenay. His name, title, and the dates of his birth and death were carved on his gravestone.
    • Although he is not remembered as a great statesman or military leader, Asquith made a significant contribution to improving the democracy of the British system.