Benjamin Disraeli

Annie Lee | Sep 11, 2023

Table of Content


Benjamin Disraeli, born on December 21, 1804 and died on April 19, 1881 in London, was a British statesman and writer, twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He played a central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party, whose doctrine he formalized. Through his great influence on foreign policy, he associated the Conservatives with the glory and power of the British Empire.

Born into a Jewish family, Benjamin Disraeli was raised in the Anglican faith because his father was in conflict with his synagogue. He began a career as a lawyer but turned to politics in the 1830s and was elected to the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Maidstone in 1837. When the Conservatives took power in 1841, Disraeli did not join the government of Prime Minister Robert Peel. Five years later, Peel divided the party by calling for the repeal of the Corn Laws, which limited grain imports: he was violently attacked by Disraeli. Few Conservative notables broke with Peel, and Disraeli became an important figure in the party even though many distrusted him. He was three times Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons in Lord Derby's cabinets in the 1850s and 1860s. During this period he developed a strong rivalry with the Liberal William Ewart Gladstone.

When Derby resigned for health reasons in February 1868, Disraeli became Prime Minister but lost the election at the end of the year. He then represented the Opposition before leading his party to victory in 1874. He developed a strong friendship with Queen Victoria who made him Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876. Disraeli's second term in office was dominated by the question of the East, referring to the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the actions of other European countries, notably Russia, to take advantage of it. He thus pushed British interests to take shares in the Suez Canal Company in Ottoman Egypt. In 1878, faced with Russian victories against the Ottomans, Disraeli led the British delegation to the Congress of Berlin and negotiated terms favorable to the United Kingdom.

Although Disraeli was praised for his actions in Berlin, other events affected support for his government: the wars in Afghanistan and South Africa were criticized, and he angered British farmers by refusing to reinstate the Corn Laws. Gladstone ran an effective campaign and the Liberal party won the 1880 election.

Author of several novels since 1826, Benjamin Disraeli published his last work, Endymion, shortly before his death at the age of 76.


Benjamin Disraeli was born on December 21, 1804 in the London neighborhood of Bloomsbury. He was the second child and first son of Isaac D'Israeli, a historian and literary critic, and Maria (Miriam) née Basevi. The family was mainly of Sephardic origin, with many ancestors coming from Italy. Isaac's father, also named Benjamin, left Venice in 1748 to settle in England, while his maternal grandfather, Naphtali Basevi, came to London from Verona in 1762. Disraeli later romanticized his origins by claiming that his father's family came from the Spanish or Venetian aristocracy; in reality, there were no noblemen in Isaac's family, but on his mother's side, in which he took no interest, he had several illustrious forebears, including the Aboabs. Historians are divided on Disraeli's motivation for rewriting his family history; Bernard Glassman argues that it was intended to give him a status comparable to that of the dominant English elite, while Sarah Bradford speculates that "his aversion to the ordinary did not allow him to accept the fact that his birth was as commonplace as it really was.

Benjamin Disraeli had an older sister Sarah (1802-1859) and three younger brothers Naphtali (born and died 1807), Raphael (1809-1898) and Jacobus (1813-1868). He was close to his sister and more distant with his brothers. Little is known about his education. At the age of six he was educated at a dame school in Islington, which one of his biographers described as "an excellent establishment for the time. About two years later he was sent to the Reverend John Potticary's school in Blackheath. It was at this time that his father renounced Judaism and his four children were baptized into the Anglican faith in July and August 1817.

Isaac D'Israeli had never taken much interest in religion, but he remained a member of the Bevis Marks synagogue. His father was an influential member of the synagogue and it was probably out of respect for him that Isaac did not leave the synagogue when he quarreled with the local authorities in 1813. After his father's death in 1816, Isaac decided to leave the congregation after another dispute. His friend and lawyer, Sharon Turner, convinced him that while it was possible for him to be unaffiliated with any religion, it would be detrimental to his children if they did the same. Turner was the godfather of Benjamin at his baptism at the age of 12 on July 31, 1817.

The baptism allowed Disraeli to consider a better career in politics. British society in the early nineteenth century was not particularly anti-Semitic and several Jews had been members of Parliament since Sampson Eardley in 1770. However, until 1858, MPs had to swear allegiance to the "true Christian faith" which required at least a token conversion. It is not known whether Disraeli already had political ambitions at the time of his baptism at age 12, but it is certain that he bitterly regretted his parents' decision not to send him to Winchester College. It was one of the most prestigious public schools in England, which trained some of the political elite. His two younger brothers were educated there and it is not clear why Isaac decided to send his older son to a much less prestigious institution. He was sent to a school in Walthamstow in the fall of 1817.


In November 1821, shortly before his 17th birthday, Disraeli was hired as an apprentice in a City of London law firm. One of its principals, T. F. Maples, was not only his first employer and a friend of his father's, but also nearly became his stepfather. A friendship developed between Benjamin and Maples' daughter, but it did not go far. The firm's business was successful and biographer R. W. Davis notes that the job was "the kind of stable, respectable position many fathers dreamed of for their children. Although biographers such as Robert Blake and Sarah Bradford argue that the position was incompatible with Disraeli's ambitious and romantic nature, he satisfied his employers and later indicated that he had learned a great deal from working in the firm.

About a year after joining Maples' firm, Benjamin changed his name from D'Israeli to Disraeli. His reasons are unknown, but his biographer Bernard Glassman suggests that this was to avoid confusion with his father. Disraeli's siblings adopted this new version while their parents kept the old one.

Disraeli visited Belgium and the Rhine Valley with his father in the summer of 1824; he later wrote that it was along the Rhine that he decided to resign. On his return to England, he left the firm to, on Maples' advice, become a barrister. He enrolled at Lincoln's Inn and joined the practice of his uncle, Nathaniel Basevy, and then Benjamin Austen, who persuaded Isaac that Disraeli would not succeed in this line of work and that he should be allowed to pursue a literary career. He had already submitted a manuscript to his father's friend, the publisher John Murray, but withdrew it before Murray decided whether to publish it. After leaving law school, Disraeli wrote some material for Murray but concentrated on speculating on the stock market.

With the end of Spanish rule in South America, mining companies were expanding and issuing large numbers of shares. With no funds of his own, Disraeli borrowed money to invest. He approached financier John Diston Powles, who was one of those encouraging the mining boom. During 1824, Disraeli wrote three anonymous pamphlets promoting the mining companies on behalf of Powles. The articles were published by John Murray who had invested heavily in the industry.

Murray had at one time considered creating a new morning paper to rival The Times and in 1825 Disraeli convinced him to go ahead. The new publication, The Representative, promoted mining companies and the politicians who supported them, such as George Canning. Disraeli impressed Murray with his enthusiasm and commitment to the project, but he was unable to convince the influential writer John Gibson Lockhart to edit his paper. After that, Disraeli's influence on Murray waned and he was, to his regret, removed from the editorial board of the periodical. The journal lasted only six months, partly because of the bursting of the speculative bubble at the end of 1825 and because, according to Blake, it was "atrociously edited" and would have failed sooner or later.

The bursting of the bubble ruined Disraeli and by June 1825 he and his partners had lost £7,000 (Disraeli did not pay off his debt completely until 1849. He then returned to writing to try to get money and to take revenge on Murray and those who he felt had abandoned him. The literary genre in vogue at the time was silver-fork fiction, which depicted the lives of the aristocracy in novels usually written anonymously and aimed at the middle classes. In 1826 and 1827 Disraeli published anonymously the four volumes of his first novel Vivian Grey, which was based largely on the failure of The Representative. Sales were satisfactory, but the work caused a scandal in literary circles when the identity of its author was discovered. The many solecisms showed that Disraeli, then only 23 years old, was not a member of high society, and the criticism was severe. In addition, Murray and Lockhart, who had great influence in literary circles, felt that they had been caricatured and misled; these accusations were rejected by the author but repeated by many of his biographers. In later editions, Disraeli made numerous changes to the text to soften the satire, but his reputation was tarnished for a long time.

Biographer Jonathan Parry suggests that the financial failure and criticism of him affected Disraeli greatly and he suffered a severe nervous breakdown for nearly four years: "He had always been moody, sensitive and solitary by nature, but now he became deeply depressed and lethargic. He was still living with his parents in London, but the doctors recommended a change of scenery and he occupied several houses in the country and on the coast.

The 1830s

With his sister's fiancé, William Meredith, Disraeli traveled to the Mediterranean in 1830 and 1831. The trip was partly financed by another of his novels, The Young Duke, written in 1829 and 1830. The expedition was cut short because Meredith died of smallpox in Cairo in July 1831. Despite this tragedy, Disraeli was enriched by the experience. He became, according to Parry, "conscious of values that seemed to elude his fellow citizens on the mainland. The journey developed his self-awareness, his moral relativism and his interest in the religious and racial views of the East. Blake considers the expedition as one of the most formative experiences of his career: "The influence it had on him was lasting. It conditioned his attitude towards the most important problems he faced in his later years, especially the Eastern Question; it also colored many of his novels.

Disraeli wrote two novels on his return. Contarini Fleming, published in 1832, was a self-portrait. Subtitled "a psychological autobiography," it illustrates the contradictory elements of his hero's character: the duality of his Nordic and Mediterranean ancestry, the dreamy artist and the courageous man of action. The Wondrous Tale of Alroy the following year depicts the problems of an important medieval Jew having to decide between a small, exclusively Jewish state and a large multi-religious empire.

After the publication of the two novels, Disraeli declared that he would "write no more about himself. He had become interested in politics in 1832 during the Reform Bill crisis. He had contributed to an anti-whig pamphlet edited by John Wilson Croker and published by Murray entitled England and France: or a cure for Ministerial Gallomania. The choice of a Tory publication was considered strange by Disraeli's friends and relatives, who considered him closer to the radicals. At the time of the article's publication, Disraeli was campaigning in High Wycombe for the radical cause.

At that time, national politics was dominated by members of the aristocracy. The Whigs were descended from the coalition of nobles who had forced the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1689. The Tories were more supportive of the king and the church and were opposed to political change. A small number of radicals, usually from the conscripts in the north of England, were the strongest advocates of political and social reform. By the early 1830s, the Tories and the interests they defended seemed lost. The Whigs, the other major party, were hated by Disraeli: "Toryism is at an end and I cannot stoop to be a Whig. In the two general elections of 1832, Disraeli tried unsuccessfully to be elected to High Wycombe on the radical ticket.

Disraeli shared some of the political ideas of the Radicals, such as the need for reform of the electoral system, and some of those of the Tories, such as protectionism. He began to grow closer to the Tories and in 1834 he was introduced to the former Lord Chancellor John Copley by Henrietta Sykes, the wife of Francis Sykes. She had a romantic relationship with Copley and began one with Disraeli. Disraeli and Copley immediately developed a strong friendship. Copley recklessly spread gossip and enjoyed intrigue, which greatly pleased Disraeli, who became his deputy and intermediary. In 1835 Disraeli ran for the last time as a radical but failed again to be elected at High Wycombe.

In April 1835, Disraeli contested a by-election in Taunton as a Tory. Irish MP Daniel O'Connell, misled by incorrect press reports, thought Disraeli had slandered him during his campaign and launched a violent attack referring to Disraeli as :

"a reptile... just right now, after being twice rejected by the people, to become a conservative. He has all the necessary prerequisites of perfidy, selfishness, depravity, corruption, etc., to qualify for this change. His name shows that he is of Jewish origin. I do not use this term as a reproach; there are many respectable Jews. But there are some, as in any other people, of the lowest and most contemptible degree of moral turpitude; and of these I regard Mr. Disraeli as the worst."

The public exchanges between the two men were widely reported in The Times, including a demand for a duel with O'Connell's son (for which Disraeli was temporarily imprisoned by the authorities), a reference to "the inexhaustible hatred with which he will carry on his existence" and the accusation that O'Connell's supporters had "a princely income extracted from a hungry race of fanatical slaves. Disraeli was greatly gratified by the argument, which thrust him into the national spotlight for the first time. He did not win the election against the Whig incumbent Henry Labouchère, but the Taunton constituency was considered unwinnable by the Tories. Disraeli nevertheless scored well and this made him a potential candidate for an easier constituency in the next election.

With Copley's support, Disraeli began writing pamphlets for his new party. His Vindication of the English Constitution, published in December 1835 as an open letter to Copley, set out the philosophy to which he adhered until his death, according to Bradford. In it he advocated the virtues of benevolent aristocratic government, the disregard of political dogma and the modernization of Tory policies. The following year, he wrote a series of satires on the politicians of the time, which were published in The Times under the pseudonym "Runnymede". He attacked the Whigs, the Irish nationalists and the corruption of the political class. Disraeli was now firmly in the Tory camp and was elected to the Carlton Club, an exclusively Tory club, in 1836. In June 1837, King William IV died and his niece Victoria ascended the throne. Parliament was dissolved and, on the recommendation of the Carlton Club, Disraeli was chosen as a candidate for the general election.

Private Member

In the general election of July 1837, Disraeli was elected to the House of Commons as one of two Tory MPs for the Maidstone riding. The other was Wyndham Lewis, who helped finance Disraeli's election campaign and died the following year. That same year Disraeli published the novel Henrietta Temple, a love story and social comedy based on his affair with Henrietta Sykes. He had broken off his relationship with her at the end of 1837, disappointed that she had taken a new lover. He wrote another romance in Venetia based on Percy Bysshe Shelley and George Gordon Byron to get money quickly.

Disraeli made his first speech to Parliament on December 7, 1837. O'Connell preceded him and criticized his "long, rambling, muddled speech". O'Connell's supporters silenced him by shouting louder than he did and Blake reports that his last words were "I will now sit down but the day will come when you will hear me. After this inauspicious start, Disraeli kept a low profile throughout his term. He was a loyal supporter of party leader Robert Peel and his policies, although he expressed personal sympathy for the Chartist movement that many Tories did not share.

In 1839, Disraeli married Mary Anne Lewis, the widow of Wyndham Lewis. Twelve years his senior, Mary Lewis had a comfortable annual income of £5,000 (about £516,000 in 2011). Her biographers consider this union to be self-serving, but the two became very close until Mary's death three decades later. She later said, "Dizzy married me for my money, but if he had the chance again, he would marry me for love.

Feeling that the financial demands of his seat as a member of Parliament were too great, Disraeli won the Tory nomination for Shrewsbury and was elected in 1841 despite strong opposition. The election was a serious defeat for the Whigs and Peel became Prime Minister. Disraeli unrealistically expected to be appointed to the cabinet. Although he was disappointed to be a backbencher, he continued to support Peel in 1842 and 1843 and sought to establish himself as an expert in politics and international trade.

Although he was a Tory, or Conservative as some party members called themselves, Disraeli favoured Chartism and advocated an alliance of the landed aristocracy and the working class against the growing power of middle-class merchants and industrialists. He was unanimously praised in March 1842 after winning a debate against the great orator Lord Palmerston and was joined by several new Tory MPs with whom he formed the Young England group to promote the idea that landed interests should use their power to protect the poor from exploitation by middle-class businessmen.

Disraeli gradually became a vocal critic of Peel's government and often deliberately took positions opposed to those of his party leader. His best-known opposition came in 1845 over the Maynooth Grant, which designated the government's subsidy to an Irish Catholic seminary, and in 1846 over the repeal of the Corn Laws. The latter imposed tariffs on grain imports to protect British farmers but increased the price of bread. Peel hoped that the repeal of the Corn Laws and the resulting lower costs would improve the living conditions of the poor, especially those suffering from the Irish potato famine. The first months of 1846 in Parliament were thus dominated by the clash between the free traders and the protectionists, with the latter led by Disraeli and George Bentinck. An alliance of free-trading conservatives (the "peelites"), radicals and whigs succeeded in obtaining the repeal of the legislation and the conservative party split: the peelites moved closer to the whigs while a "new" conservative party formed around the protectionists led by Disraeli, Bentinck, and Lord Stanley.

The split in the Conservative party had profound implications for Disraeli's political career: almost all the Tories with government experience followed Peel, leaving the rank and file without leadership. In Blake's words, "he found himself the only person on his side capable of the oratorical skills essential to a parliamentary leader. From the House of Lords, George Campbell wrote that Disraeli "was like a junior officer in a great battle where all the senior officers were dead or wounded. If the Conservative party could muster the electoral support necessary to form a government, Disraeli now seemed certain to win an important office. He would, however, be forced to govern with a group of men who had little or no experience and who remained personally hostile to him. In the end, this problem did not arise, for the divided Tory party quickly lost power and did not regain it until 1852. The Conservative party did not have a majority in the House of Commons until 1874.

Party leadership

Peel got the repeal of the Corn Laws through Parliament but was defeated by an alliance of all his opponents on the question of restoring order in Ireland; he resigned in June 1846. The Tories remained divided, and the queen appealed to the Whig leader, John Russell. In the general election of 1847, Disraeli was elected member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire. The new House of Commons had more Conservatives than Whigs, but the split in the Tory party allowed Russell to remain in power. The Conservatives were led by Bentinck in the House of Commons and Stanley in the House of Lords.

In 1847, a minor political crisis highlighted Disraeli's differences with his own party. During the general election, Lionel de Rothschild had been elected as a member of Parliament for the City of London. As a practising Jew, he could not take the oath of office in the required Christian form and so could not sit in Parliament. Prime Minister John Russell, who like Rothschild had been a member of Parliament for the City of London, proposed in the House of Commons that the oath of allegiance be amended to allow Jews to enter Parliament.

Disraeli defended the measure by arguing that Christianity was "completed Judaism" and asked the House of Commons, "Where is your Christianity if you do not believe in their Judaism? Russell and his future rival, William Ewart Gladstone, congratulated him on this courageous act, for his speech was not well received by his own party. The Conservative and Anglican oligarchy was hostile to the bill, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford insinuated that Russell was rewarding the Jews for helping him get elected. The bill was passed in the House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords.

As a result of the debate, Bentinck left the Conservative leadership and was replaced by Charles Manners; Disraeli, whose speech had been deemed blasphemous by many in his party, was removed. During this crisis, Disraeli traded with the Bentinck family for funds to purchase the Hughenden mansion in Buckinghamshire. Having a country house and being a member of Parliament were considered essential for a Tory to be able to run for the party leadership. Disraeli and his wife alternated between Hughenden and several London residences for the rest of their marriage. Negotiations were complicated by Bentinck's sudden death on 21 September 1848, but Disraeli obtained a loan of £25,000 (about £2.8 million in 2011) from his brothers Henry and William.

Less than a month after his appointment, Charles Manners, who did not feel up to the task, resigned as leader of the Conservatives in the House of Commons; the party functioned without a leader until the end of the parliamentary session. At the beginning of the next term, affairs were managed by a triumvirate of Manners, Disraeli and John Charles Herries; this complicated leadership reflected the tensions between Disraeli and the rest of the party, which needed his talents but distrusted him.

First Derby Government

In March 1851, John Russell's first government collapsed in a vote of no confidence, largely due to divisions within his party. He resigned and the Queen called in Lord Stanley, but Stanley felt that a minority government could not last very long and Russell remained prime minister. Disraeli regretted this decision, as he had hoped to use this opportunity, however brief, to demonstrate his abilities. Lord Stanley, on the other hand, cited the inexperience of his supporters as a reason for not becoming prime minister: "These are not names I can present to the Queen.

At the end of June 1851, Lord Stanley's father died and his son became Earl of Derby. The Whig party was also riven by internal divisions in the second half of 1851 and Russell dismissed Lord Palmerston. On February 4, 1852, Palmerston and Disraeli's Tories joined forces to overthrow the government and Russell resigned. Lord Derby agreed to become Prime Minister. He offered Lord Palmerston the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, but Palmerston declined to join the government; Disraeli was his second choice and accepted the position, although he admitted that he was not particularly experienced in economic matters. It is possible that Disraeli was attracted by the annual salary of £5,000 which could pay off his debts. Few members of the new cabinet had been ministers; when Lord Derby informed the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, of the composition of the government, the latter, who was in his eighties and hard of hearing, unintentionally gave the new government its nickname by repeating "Who? Who?" to each name.

In the weeks that followed, Disraeli sat as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. He wrote regular reports on the proceedings in the House for the Queen, who described them as "very curious" and "like the style of books. Parliament adjourned on July 1, 1852, because the minority Tories could no longer govern. Disraeli hoped that they could gain a majority of about 40 votes, but the election did little to change party lines and the Derby government remained in power until Parliament resumed.

As chancellor of the Exchequer, Disraeli had to draw up a budget that would satisfy the protectionists supporting the Tories while avoiding the opposition of the free traders. His proposal, presented to the House of Commons on December 3, reduced taxes on malt and tea and included provisions to appease the working class. To balance the budget and obtain funds for the construction of defences against the French, he doubled the property tax and continued the collection of income tax. Disraeli's overall goal was to implement policies that would benefit the working class in order to make his party more attractive to this segment of the population. Although the budget did not include protectionist elements, the opposition was determined to oppose it in part as revenge for Disraeli's actions against Peel in 1846; MP Sidney Herbert argued that the budget would be defeated because "Jews don't make converts.

Disraeli presented the budget on December 3, 1852, and debate continued until December 16. It was customary for the chancellor to have the last word, and with a serious defeat looming, Disraeli attacked his opponents individually, and his three-hour speech was soon considered a masterpiece. As the opposition members seemed to waver, Glasdtone rose to his feet and launched into a furious speech despite the Tory members trying to silence him by shouting louder than he did. The interruptions diminished as Gladstone took control of the House and for two hours presented Disraeli as frivolous and his budget as subversive. The bill was defeated by a majority of 19 votes and Lord Derby resigned four days later. He was replaced by the Peelite Lord Aberdeen and Gladston became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Because of Disraeli's unpopularity with the Peelites, no reconciliation was possible and he remained the Tory leader in the House of Commons.


After the fall of the Derby government, Disraeli and the Conservatives returned to the opposition benches; Disraeli spent three-quarters of his parliamentary career in opposition. Lord Derby did not wish to overthrow the new administration to avoid a repeat of the Who? Who? government and because he knew that, despite the strengths of his supporters, the ruling coalition had been formed in part to counter Disraeli. Disraeli, on the other hand, was eager to return to the cabinet and as leader of the Conservatives in the House of Commons opposed the government on all major legislation.

In June 1853 Disraeli received an honorary degree from Oxford University; he had been recommended by Lord Derby, the chancellor of the institution. The outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 brought a lull in political strife, and Disraeli made patriotic speeches on its behalf. The setbacks and incompetence of the British high command prompted Parliament to consider the establishment of a commission on the conduct of the war. Lord Aberdeen's government chose to make it a confidence motion; Disraeli led the opposition and it was rejected by 305 votes to 148. Lord Aberdeen resigned and the Queen called upon Lord Derby who refused the post. Lord Palmerston was considered essential to any Whig government and would refuse to participate if he did not preside over it. The Queen reluctantly asked him to form a government. The course of the war improved with the arrival of the new administration and the conflict ended with the Treaty of Paris in March 1856. Disraeli had been one of the first to call for peace, but he had little influence on the course of events.

When a revolt broke out in India in 1857, Disraeli took a close interest because he had been part of a commission in 1852 to determine how best to govern the subcontinent. After the return of calm in 1858, Lord Palmerston introduced legislation for direct control of India by the Crown and the end of the power of the English East India Company. Disraeli opposed it, but many conservatives refused to follow him, and the bill was easily passed.

The Palmerston government was weakened by its reaction to the Orsini affair, named after an Italian revolutionary who had attempted to assassinate the French emperor Napoleon III with a bomb made in Birmingham. At the request of the French ambassador, Lord Palmerston presented amendments to the definition of conspiracy to murder so that the manufacture of a doomsday machine would be a crime and not a misdemeanor. The proposal was rejected with the support of many liberals. He resigned immediately and was replaced by Lord Derby.

Second Government Derby

Lord Derby took office as head of a purely "Conservative" administration, not as part of a coalition. He again offered Gladstone a position, but Gladstone refused. Disraeli again became Chancellor of the Exchequer. As in 1852, Lord Derby led a minority government dependent for its survival on the division of its opponents. As leader of the House of Commons, Disraeli resumed his regular reports to Queen Victoria, who had requested that he include what she "could not meet in the newspapers.

During its brief existence, the Derby government was moderately progressive. The Government of India Act of 1858 ended the administration of the English East India Company in the subcontinent. Disraeli had supported attempts to allow Jews to sit in Parliament. He introduced legislation allowing both houses of Parliament to determine the wording of the oaths of allegiance. The legislation was reluctantly passed by the House of Lords and in 1858 Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jewish member of Parliament.

Following Edward Law's resignation as chairman of the Indian Board responsible for the administration of India, Disraeli and Derby again attempted to persuade Gladstone, still nominally a Conservative member of Parliament, to join the government. Disraeli wrote him a letter personally asking him to put the good of the party above personal animosities. In his reply, Disraeli denied that personal differences had played a part in his decisions to accept office now and before, while acknowledging that there were "deeper oppositions between Derby and himself than you might suppose.

In 1859 the Tories introduced legislation for a minor extension of the franchise. Tensions between Russell's and Palmerston's supporters in the Liberal party were eased and at the end of March 1859 the government was overthrown. Lord Derby dissolved Parliament and the 1859 election was a Conservative victory, but not enough to gain control of the House of Commons. When Parliament resumed, the Derby government was defeated by 13 votes on an amendment to the Speech from the Throne. It resigned and the Queen reluctantly called in Lord Palmerston again.

Opposition and Third Derby Government

After the fall of Lord Derby, Disraeli was attacked by members of his party who blamed him for the defeat, and the former prime minister warned him that some members of Parliament were seeking to remove him from the leadership. Among the conspirators was Robert Cecil, a young Conservative MP who became prime minister a quarter of a century later as Lord Salisbury; he wrote that having Disraeli as leader in the House of Commons reduced the Conservatives' chances of taking power. When his father disagreed, Cecil replied, "I am only printing what every gentleman in the country says in private.

Disraeli led an opposition unable to overthrow Lord Palmerston because Lord Derby had decided not to seek the defeat of the government. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Disraeli made few public statements but, like most Britons, he expected a Southern victory. Lord Palmerston, Gladstone (again chancellor) and Russell were less reticent, and their statements in favour of the South helped to create a few years of sharp animosity with the United States. In 1862, Disraeli met the Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck for the first time and said of him, "Let's be careful with that man, he knows what he wants.

The political truce ended in 1864 because the Tories were outraged by Lord Palmerston's handling of the border dispute between the German confederation and Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein. Disraeli received little support from the ailing Lord Derby, but he rallied the party enough to reduce the government's majority. Despite rumours of Lord Palmerston's health at the age of 80, he remained popular and the Liberals increased their majority in the 1865 election. Because of the Conservatives' poor showing, Lord Derby told Disraeli that none of them would ever return to power.

Political tactics were shaken up by Palmerston's death on October 18, 1865. Russell became prime minister again with Gladstone as leader of the Liberal party and Disraeli, leader of the House of Commons, as his main opponent. One of Russell's first acts was to introduce suffrage reform, but the text divided the party. Conservatives and Liberal dissidents attacked the legislation and the government finally fell in June. The dissenters did not wish to serve under Disraeli in the House of Commons, and Lord Derby formed a third minority government with Disraeli again as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1867, the Conservatives introduced electoral reform. Without a majority in the House of Commons, the Conservatives were forced to accept amendments that significantly changed the legislation, but Disraeli refused to accept all of Gladstone's proposed changes.

The Reform Act passed in August greatly increased the number of men who could vote, eliminated the rotten boroughs of less than 10,000 inhabitants and increased the representation of large cities such as Liverpool and Manchester. The Act was unpopular with the right wing of the Conservatives, including Robert Cecil, who resigned from the government and spoke out against it, accusing Disraeli of having committed "a political treason without parallel in our parliamentary annals. Cecil, however, was unable to lead an effective opposition to Disraeli and Lord Derby. Disraeli was celebrated and made a hero of his party for the "marvellous parliamentary skills" with which he secured the passage of reform in the House of Commons.

Lord Derby had long suffered from gout and had less and less influence on politics. As the opening of the new session of Parliament in February 1868 approached, he was confined to bed at his residence at Knowsley Hall near Liverpool. He did not wish to resign, however, arguing that he was only 68 years old and therefore much younger than Palmerston or Russell at the end of their terms. He knew, however, that his health would eventually force him to relinquish his responsibilities. At the end of February, Lord Derby, still absent, wrote to Disraeli asking him to confirm that he "would not shrink from these important new responsibilities. Reassured, he submitted his resignation to the Queen and recommended Disraeli as the only one who could receive the support of his colleagues. Disraeli went to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight where the Queen asked him to form a government. She wrote to her daughter, Victoria of Prussia, "Mr. Disraeli is Prime Minister! A noble achievement for a man "of the people"! The new Prime Minister told those who came to congratulate him, "I have reached the top of the maypole.

The Conservatives remained in the minority in the House of Commons, but neither side wanted an election before the electoral registers were updated. Disraeli's term as prime minister, which began in February, would therefore be brief unless the Conservatives won the general election in the fall. He made two major changes to his cabinet, replacing Lord Chancellor Lord Chelmsford with Lord Cairns and appointing George Ward Hunt to succeed him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Derby had planned to replace Chelmsford as soon as a vacancy in a suitable office appeared, but Disraeli was unwilling to wait and appoint Cairns, whom he considered far more effective.

Disraeli's first term in office was dominated by debates over the Church of Ireland. Although the island was overwhelmingly Catholic, the Protestant church remained the official church and the collection of tithes was very much resented by the population. Attempts by Disraeli to negotiate the establishment of a Catholic university in Dublin with Archbishop Henry Edward Manning failed in March when Gladstone introduced legislation to abolish the official Church of Ireland. The proposal united the Liberal party under Gladstone's leadership and divided the Conservatives. In the general election with the new electoral registers, the Liberals regained power with a reinforced majority.

Despite its brief existence, the first Disraeli government managed to pass several relatively consensual pieces of legislation. He put an end to public executions and the Corrupt Practices Act significantly reduced political corruption. He initiated a primitive version of nationalization by having the General Post Office take over the telegraph companies through the Telegraph Act of 1869 and passed amendments to the Education Act and the Scottish Judiciary. Disraeli also ordered Robert Napier's expedition against Tewodros II of Ethiopia to free British captives.

Faced with a Liberal majority in the House of Commons, Disraeli could not but protest against the legislation introduced by the government. Consequently, he decided to wait and take advantage of the Liberals' mistakes. With more time on his hands, he wrote a new novel entitled Lothair which was published in 1870. It was the first work of fiction written by a former Prime Minister and became a best-selling book.

In 1872, the failure to oppose Gladstone led to tensions within the Conservative party. Disraeli took steps to assert his authority, and dissent subsided as divisions within the Liberal party erupted. Popular support for Disraeli was demonstrated at a reception to wish the Prince of Wales a speedy recovery; Disraeli's speech was cheered, while Gladstone's was met with silence. Encouraged by Disraeli, John Eldon Gorst reorganized the Conservative party administration to modernize it.

On leaving 10 Downing Street in 1868, Disraeli had convinced Queen Victoria to ennoble his wife and Mary Anne became Viscountess of Beaconsfield. After suffering from stomach cancer throughout 1872, the octogenarian countess died on December 15. After her death, Gladstone, who had always liked Mary Anne, sent a letter of condolence to her widower.

In 1873 Gladstone introduced legislation to establish a Catholic university in Dublin. This divided the Liberals, and on March 12 the Conservatives and Irish Catholics overthrew the government by a majority of three votes. Gladstone resigned and the Queen appealed to Disraeli who refused the proposal because the Conservative government would be in a minority in Parliament. Disraeli felt he would have more to gain by letting the Liberals remain in power temporarily. The partially reshuffled Gladstone administration thus remained in place despite further scandals.

In January 1874, Gladstone called for a general election, considering that the longer he waited, the worse his score would be. The election was held over two weeks beginning February 1. From the first results, it became clear that the Conservatives would have a majority for the first time since 1841. In the end, they won 350 seats to 242 for the Liberals and 60 for the Irish Home Rule League. The Queen called on Disraeli to become Prime Minister for the second time.

Disraeli's cabinet of six peers and six commoners was the smallest since the Reform Act of 1832. Of the six peers, five had been members of the previous Conservative government; the sixth, Lord Salisbury, had reconciled with Disraeli and was appointed Secretary of State for India. Lord Stanley (who became Lord Derby on the death of his father, the former prime minister, in 1869) and Stafford Northcote were appointed to the Foreign Office and the Treasury respectively.

In August 1876 Disraeli was knighted as Earl of Beaconsfield and Viscount Hughenden. The Queen had offered him this ennoblement as early as 1868, but he had refused it and did so again when he was ill in 1874; he did not wish to leave the House of Commons for the House of Lords, where he had no experience. Continued ill health during his second term as Prime Minister led him to consider resignation, but Lord Derby was reluctant to do so because he did not feel able to secure the Queen's support. For Disraeli, the House of Lords, where debate was less intense, was an alternative to resignation. Five days before the end of the parliamentary session on August 11, 1874, Disraeli left the House of Commons with visible regret. The newspapers announced his elevation the next morning. Regarding this elevation, Disraeli wrote to Lady Bradford on 8 August: "I am rather tired of this place, but when a friend asked him if he liked the House of Lords, he replied: 'I am dead; dead but in the Fields of Elysium.

Domestic Policy

Under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior Richard Assheton Cross, the new government introduced numerous reforms, including the Artisan's and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act, which encouraged local governments to build working-class housing by making credit more readily available, the Public Health Act to modernize public health, the Sale of Food and Drugs Act to protect consumers, and the Education Act to expand schooling. To protect workers, the government passed the Factory Act to limit working hours and child labor, the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act to allow peaceful picketing, and the Employers and Workmen Act to allow workers to sue their employers for violations of labor contracts. As a result of these social reforms, Liberal-Labour leader Alexander Macdonald told his constituents in 1879: "The Conservative party has done more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals did in fifty.

In 1870 Gladstone had issued an order in council introducing a competitive examination for entry into the civil service to reduce corruption in the hiring of civil servants. Disraeli was opposed to this, and while he did not seek to reverse the decision, his actions frequently betrayed his views. He made several political appointments to positions previously held by career civil servants. He was supported in this by his party, whose members were eager to enjoy the benefits of office after nearly 30 years of brief stints in government. Disraeli gave posts to Conservative notables, including one with an annual salary of £2,000 (about £190,000 in 2011). Disraeli, however, created only 22 peers, compared with 37 for his predecessor.

As in the administration, Disraeli rewarded his supporters with positions in the clergy. He favoured the Low Church and dismissed other Anglican tendencies for political reasons, in opposition to the Queen who, out of loyalty to her late husband Albert, preferred the High Church. A controversial appointment took place shortly before the 1868 election. When Charles Thomas Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury, died, Disraeli agreed to appoint the Queen's candidate, Archibald Campbell Tait, Bishop of London. To replace Tait, Disraeli was urged to appoint Samuel Wilberforce, the former bishop of Winchester and an important figure in London society. Disraeli did not like him, however, and instead chose John Jackson, the bishop of Lincoln. Blake suggests that these appointments cost Disraeli more votes than they gained him.

The Reform Act, which he introduced in 1867, recognized the status of elector not only to landowners but also to all inhabitants of towns or cities who paid at least ten pounds of rent per year. The result was a near doubling of the electorate to almost 2.5 million men. By excluding agricultural workers, however, the reform maintained the domination of the notables in the countryside. Women also remained excluded from the vote.

Foreign Policy

Disraeli regarded foreign affairs as the most important and interesting part of his work as prime minister. His biographer Robert Blake doubts, however, that he had developed any real doctrine in this area before he took office in 1874. He had rarely travelled abroad; since his trip to the Middle East in 1830-31, he had left Britain only for his honeymoon and three visits to Paris, the last of which was in 1856.

The Suez Canal, inaugurated in 1869, allowed ships to avoid going around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope and reduced the crossing time between Great Britain and India by several weeks; in 1875, about 80% of the ships using the canal were British. In the event of a new revolt in India or a Russian invasion, the time saved in Suez would be crucial. Since they had financed its construction, most of the shares in the Suez Canal Company were owned by French interests; the Khedive Ismail Pasha, who ruled Egypt on behalf of the Ottoman Empire and was known for his excessive spending, also had shares in the company. As in the Crimea, the Suez Canal reignited the Eastern Question about the actions surrounding the decline of the Empire governed from Constantinople. Since much of Britain's trade and communication with India passed through the Ottoman Empire prior to the construction of the canal, the United Kingdom had done its best to support the Ottoman Empire against the threat of the Russians, who, if they took Constantinople, would have unrestricted maritime access to the Mediterranean. The French were also concerned about this possibility because of their interests in Syria. The United Kingdom had had the possibility of taking a share in the canal, but in the end had not taken any initiatives in this direction.

Disraeli had passed near Suez during his trip to the Middle East in his youth and when he came to power, he realized the importance of British interests in the area. He therefore sent the liberal MP Nathan Rothschild to Paris to try to buy out the shares of his builder Ferdinand de Lesseps. On November 14, 1875, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Frederick Greenwood, learned from the London banker Henry Oppenheim that the khedive was trying to sell his shares in the canal company to a French company. Greenwood immediately informed the foreign secretary Lord Derby who passed the news on to Disraeli. The latter acted quickly to secure their purchase and on November 23, the Khedive offered to sell his shares for 4 million pounds (400 million pounds in 2011). As Parliament was not in session, Disraeli could not obtain government funding for the purchase and he appealed to Lionel de Rothschild to advance the funds. The latter agreed and this decision was strongly criticized, especially by Gladstone who accused Disraeli of undermining the British constitutional system. The transfer of the shares was signed in Cairo on November 25.

Disraeli said to the Queen: "It is settled; you have it, Madam! Public opinion saw the operation as a bold demonstration of British maritime supremacy. In the decades that followed, the security of the Suez Canal as a strategic passage to India became a major focus of British foreign policy. In 1909, Lord Curzon, the foreign secretary, described the canal as "the determining factor in all British action east and south of the Mediterranean.

As early as 1838 Britain opened a consulate in Jerusalem, and the following year the Church of Scotland published a Memorandum to the Protestant monarchs of Europe for the restoration of the Jews in Palestine. In August 1840, The Times reported that the British government was considering the possibility of such a restoration. In 1841-42, Sir Moses Montefiore entered into correspondence with the British consul in Damascus, Charles Henry Churchill, containing what appears to be the first recorded plan for political Zionism.

In 1847, Lord Lindsay wrote that "the soil of Palestine...awaits only the return of her banished children to industrialize and develop her agricultural capabilities, so that she may once more burst forth into lushness and become again what she was in the days of Solomon. He testifies that Benjamin Disraeli, Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1852, had a plan to restore the Jewish nation in Palestine, and 26 years later, in 1877, in an article entitled The Jewish Question is the Holy Grail of the East, Disraeli predicted that the next fifty years would see one million Jews residing in Palestine under British rule.

Initially intrigued by Disraeli when he entered Parliament in 1837, Victoria grew to dislike him because of his actions against Peel. Her opinion became more favourable especially as Disraeli did everything to please her. He told the writer Matthew Arnold: "Everybody loves flattery, and when it comes to princes, you have to spread it with a trowel. One of his biographers, Adam Kirsch, suggests that the obsequiousness of his relationship with the queen was a combination of flattery, a sense that this was the way a loyal subject addresses his sovereign, and wonder that a burgher of Jewish descent should be the companion of a monarch. By the beginning of his second term as prime minister, Disraeli had established a strong relationship with Victoria, perhaps closer than with any other prime minister apart from her first, Lord Melbourne. On taking office in 1874, he literally kissed the Queen on the knee and, according to biographer Richard Aldous, "for the next six years Victoria and Disraeli exploited each other's closeness to their advantage.

Victoria had long wished to have an imperial title that reflected the expanding territory of the United Kingdom. She was irritated that Emperor Alexander II of Russia had a higher title than her own and outraged that her daughter would surpass her when her husband became German emperor. The title of Empress of India had been used informally for some time and she wanted to make it official. So the queen asked Disraeli to introduce a royal titles act and indicated her willingness to open Parliament in person, something she did only when she needed to get something from the legislators. Disraeli was concerned about a possible backlash from members of Parliament and refused to mention such a possibility in the Throne Speech.

Once the bill was prepared, Disraeli's handling of it was clumsy. He did not inform the Prince of Wales or the opposition and was met with annoyance by the Prince and anger by the Liberals who denounced it as a despotic move. Fearing defeat, Disraeli hesitated to present the bill to the House of Commons, but the legislation was finally passed with a majority of 75 votes in 1876. According to Aldous, "the unpopular Royal Titles Act nevertheless demolished Disraeli's authority in the House of Commons.

In July 1875, the Christian populations of Bosnia, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, rose up in protest against religious persecution and the failings of the provincial administration. In January, Sultan Abdülaziz accepted reforms proposed by Hungarian statesman Gyula Andrássy, but the rebels, sensing they could win their freedom, refused to negotiate and were joined by Serbian (en) and Bulgarian insurgents. The Ottoman repression in Bulgaria resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and when reports of the abuses reached Britain, Disraeli and Derby told Parliament that they did not believe them. Disraeli called the reports "counter gossip" and dismissed the allegations of Ottoman torture on the grounds that "Orientals generally shorten their relations with the guilty in a more expeditious manner.

Gladstone, who had left the leadership of the Liberal party and retired from public life, was horrified by reports of atrocities in Bulgaria and in August 1876 wrote a hastily constructed pamphlet asserting that the Ottomans should be deprived of Bulgaria as punishment for their actions. He sent a copy to Disraeli, who called it "vindictive and ill-written ... of all Bulgarian horrors, perhaps the worst. The pamphlet was nevertheless a huge success and prompted Liberals to demand that the Ottoman Empire no longer be an ally of the United Kingdom. Disraeli wrote to Lord Salisbury on September 3: "If it had not been for these unfortunate 'atrocities' we should have negotiated a peace most honourable to England and satisfactory to Europe. We are now obliged to take a new starting point and compel Turkey, which has renounced all compassion. Despite this, Disraeli's policy was to protect Constantinople and the integrity of his empire.

Disraeli and the cabinet sent Salisbury to lead the British delegation to the Constantinople conference held from December 1876 to January 1877. In the run-up to the conference, Disraeli asked Salisbury to secure British military occupation of Bulgaria and Bosnia and British control of the Ottoman army. Salisbury ignored these instructions, which his biographer Andrew Roberts describes as "absurd. The conference was ultimately a failure because the Ottoman Empire and the European powers could not reach an agreement.

The parliamentary session resumed in February 1877 with Disraeli in the House of Lords as Earl of Beaconsfield. He made only one speech during this Parliament and declared on February 20 that the Balkans needed stability and that forcing Turkey to make territorial concessions would do nothing to facilitate this. The Prime Minister wanted an agreement with the Ottomans whereby the British would temporarily occupy strategic positions to deter the Russians from entering the war while a way out of the crisis was negotiated, but he was isolated within his cabinet, which preferred to dismantle the Ottoman Empire. As Disraeli, increasingly ill, continued to confront his cabinet, Russia invaded the Ottoman Empire on April 21.

The Russians advanced rapidly in the Balkans and captured the Bulgarian city of Pleven in December 1877; the fall of Constantinople seemed inevitable. The war divided British public opinion, but the Russian successes led some to call for intervention on the Ottoman side. The siege of Plevna made the headlines for weeks, and Disraeli's statements warning of the threat posed to British interests by the Russians seemed increasingly prophetic. The jingoistic attitude of many Britons strengthened Disraeli's political position; the Queen also acted in his favour by visiting him at Hughenden; it was her first visit to her Prime Minister's residence since Lord Melbourne. At the end of January 1878, the Ottoman sultan appealed to the United Kingdom to save Constantinople. In the midst of the war fever, the British government asked Parliament to allocate 6 million pounds (631 million pounds in 2011) for the preparation of the army and navy. Gladstone, who had returned to politics, opposed the measure, but was followed by only half of his party's MPs. Public opinion was on Disraeli's side, although some criticized him for not immediately declaring war on Russia.

With the Russians at the gates of Constantinople, the Ottomans agreed to an armistice and, by the Treaty of San Stefano signed in March 1878, ceded large territories to a new state called Bulgaria, which in effect became a vassal of Russia. The other Ottoman possessions in Europe received their independence and territories were ceded directly to Russia. This was unacceptable to the British, who protested in the hope of convincing the Russians to accept an international conference that the German chancellor Bismarck proposed to organize in Berlin. The cabinet discussed Disraeli's proposal to station Indian troops in Malta before a possible deployment to the Balkans and expressed its reservations. Derby resigned in protest and Disraeli replaced him with Salisbury. As British military preparations continued, the Russians and Ottomans agreed to negotiate in Berlin.

In preparation for the conference, secret exchanges took place between Britain and Russia in April and May 1878. The Russians were willing to accept a reduction in Bulgarian territory but refused to give up their conquests in Bessarabia and on the eastern Black Sea coast. In exchange, the British demanded a possession in the eastern Mediterranean to base ships and troops and negotiated the cession of Cyprus with the Ottomans. Once these secret agreements were reached, Disraeli was ready to accept the Russian gains.

Disraeli left the details of the negotiations to Salisbury and concentrated his efforts on how to prevent the creation of a Greater Bulgaria. He succeeded in getting Bulgaria to remain partly subordinate to the Ottoman Empire but failed to prevent the demilitarization of Batum, which the Russians fortified in 1886. The Cyprus convention ceding the island to the United Kingdom was also announced during the Congress. Disraeli negotiated that the Ottoman Empire retain enough territory in Europe to protect the Dardanelles. According to one account, he asked his secretary to prepare a special train for him to return to Britain to prepare for war if the Russians remained intransigent. Russia eventually relented and accepted the conclusions of the Congress, but Alexander II later described the conference as "a European coalition against Russia led by Bismarck.

The Treaty of Berlin was signed on July 13, 1878 at the Radziwill Palace in Berlin. Disraeli and Salisbury received a hero's welcome on their return to Britain. At the threshold of 10 Downing Street, he received flowers sent by the Queen and declared to the assembled crowd: "Lord Salisbury and I have brought you peace, but a peace, I hope, with honor. He declined the royal proposal to make him a duke, but agreed to join the Order of the Garter on condition that Salisbury would also be entitled to the honor. In Berlin, Bismarck said admiringly of Disraeli: "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann!

In the weeks following the Congress of Berlin, Disraeli and the cabinet considered holding a general election to take advantage of the satisfaction of public opinion. Legislatures at that time lasted a maximum of seven years, and it was traditional not to hold an election until the sixth year unless forced by events. The previous election had been held four and a half years earlier and there was no reason to expect a Conservative defeat if they waited. This decision not to seek a conformation of his power has often been cited as Disraeli's greatest mistake. Blake, however, qualifies this assertion by arguing that the Conservatives' performance in the local elections had not been particularly stellar and doubts that Disraeli had missed a great opportunity in the meantime.

Since Afghanistan had often been the gateway for conquerors from India, the British had been watching the region and intervening since the 1830s to try to keep the Russians at bay. Amir Sher Ali Khan tried to maintain his country's neutrality between his two powerful neighbors, but despite his opposition, a Russian delegation arrived in Kabul in July 1878. The British then requested that one of their delegations also be received in the Afghan capital. Viceroy Lord Lytton did not inform Disraeli of his ultimatum and ignored it when he asked him not to act. When the British delegation was refused entry to Afghanistan, Lord Roberts went on the offensive and easily defeated the Afghan forces. The conflict ended with the signing of the Treaty of Gandomak in which Afghanistan renounced its external sovereignty and accepted a British garrison in Kabul. On September 8, 1879, Louis Cavagnari (en), head of the garrison, was killed by Afghan soldiers who had mutinied. Roberts then undertook a punitive expedition that ended in the Battle of Kandahar (en) a year later. The British abandoned the idea of stationing troops in the country, but their objectives of stabilizing the northwestern border of India had been fulfilled.

British policy in South Africa was to encourage a rapprochement between the British colonies of Cape Town and Natal and the Boer republics of Transvaal (annexed by the United Kingdom in 1877) and Orange. The Governor of the Cape Colony, Henry Bartle Frere, believed that the formation of a federation would be impossible as long as the local indigenous tribes refused British rule. He sent a series of demands to the Zulu king Cetshwayo, knowing full well that they were unacceptable. Bartle Frere did not inform the cabinet of his actions until the ultimatum was almost up. Disraeli and the government reluctantly supported him and agreed to send reinforcements in January 1879. On January 22, an impi, or Zulu army, made a surprise attack on a British camp at Isandhlwana and nearly 1,300 soldiers were killed. News of the defeat did not reach London until February 12, and Disraeli wrote the next day: "The terrible disaster has struck me to the core. He reprimanded Bartle Frere but left him in charge of the situation, which was much criticized. Disraeli placed General Garnet Joseph Wolseley in command of the army and the Zulus were crushed at the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, 1879; the war ended with the annexation of Zulu territory.

Election of 1880

In the 1874 election, Gladstone had been elected as one of two MPs for Greenwich but had come in behind the Conservative candidate, which he called a defeat rather than a victory. In December 1878 he received the Liberal nomination for Edinburghshire, a constituency popularly known as Midlothian. The small Scottish political scene was dominated by the conservative Duke of Buccleuch and the liberal Lord Rosebery. The latter, a friend of Disraeli and Gladstone who succeeded the latter as prime minister, had travelled to the United States to study local political practices and returned convinced that some aspects could be applied in Britain. On his advice, Gladstone conducted a so-called Midlothian campaign, not just in his own constituency but throughout the United Kingdom, in which he gave fiery speeches attacking Disraeli in particular on his foreign policy.

The conservative outlook was affected by the bad weather and its impact on agriculture. Four wet summers had resulted in poor harvests, and while in the past farmers could easily raise their prices, grain imports from the United States were now keeping prices low. Other European countries, facing the same difficulties, had opted for protectionism and Disraeli was eager to reinstate the Corn Laws to reduce imports and raise the selling price of agricultural products. He refused, declaring that the matter was settled. Protectionism would have been very unpopular with the new urban middle classes because it would have increased the cost of living. In the midst of a general economic slump, the Conservatives lost the support of many farmers.

Disraeli's health continued to deteriorate throughout 1879. Because of his infirmity, he arrived three-quarters of an hour late at a banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor of London at Guildhall in November, where it is customary for the prime minister to make a speech. Although many complimented him on his apparent good health, it had taken a great deal of effort for him to appear this way, and when he told the audience that he hoped to speak at the reception again the following year, many laughed. Despite his public confidence, Disraeli expected his party to lose the next election.

Despite this pessimism, the Conservatives regained hope in early 1880 with successes in by-elections that the Liberals seemed certain to win. The cabinet had decided to wait to dissolve Parliament, but in early March they decided to call a ballot as soon as possible. Parliament was dissolved on March 24 and the first constituencies voted a week later.

Disraeli did not participate in the campaign because he felt it was inappropriate for a Lord to make speeches to influence an election to the House of Commons. This rule also applied to leading members of the Conservative party such as Salisbury. Estimates predicted a close result, but after the first returns, it became clear that the Conservatives had suffered a crushing defeat. The Liberals had an absolute majority by about 50 votes.

After his defeat, Disraeli wrote to Lady Bradford that dissolving a government was as much work as forming one, but less fun. Back at Hughenden, Disraeli brooded over his defeat but resumed his novel Endymion, which he had begun writing in 1872 before stopping after the 1874 election. The work was quickly completed and published in November 1880. He maintained an epistolary correspondence with Victoria, who had been saddened by his departure. When Parliament met in January 1881, he took the lead for the Conservatives in the House of Lords and sought to moderate Gladstone's legislation.

Suffering from asthma and gout, Disraeli went out as little as possible. In March he developed bronchitis and only left his bed for a meeting with Salisbury and other Conservative leaders on the 26th. When it became clear that he would not recover from the illness, friends and opponents alike went to his bedside. He refused a visit from the queen, saying "she would only ask me to carry a message to Albert.

Despite the seriousness of Disraeli's condition, doctors wrote optimistic bulletins to the public. Prime Minister Gladstone repeatedly inquired about his rival's condition and wrote in his diary, "May the Almighty be near his pillow. Disraeli usually took communion at Easter, and on April 17 his friends and relatives discussed offering him the opportunity to do so; those who feared he would lose hope finally outnumbered him. On the morning of Easter Monday, he was seized with dementia and fell into a coma. Disraeli's last known words were "I would have preferred to live but I am not afraid to die" on April 19, although there are rumors that he said the Shema Israel of the Jewish religion. The house where he died, on Curzon Street in Mayfair, has a plaque in his name.

His executors decided against a public funeral because they did not want large crowds to pay their respects. The funeral ceremony was conducted by his brother Raphael and his nephew Coningsby who inherited the Hughenden manor. The bereaved queen considered ennobling Raphael or Coningsby in memory of Disraeli (as he had no children, his titles disappeared with him) but decided against it as their holdings were too small for a peerage. Protocol prohibited her from attending the funeral, but she sent a wreath of primroses (protocol did not change until 1965 when Elizabeth II attended the funeral of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Disraeli was buried with his wife in a vault beneath St. Michael and All Angels Church in the grounds of Hughenden Manor. Queen Victoria also had a memorial erected in the chancel of the church. Disraeli's vault also contains the body of Sarah Brydges Willyams, a wealthy widow with whom Disraeli maintained a long correspondence from the 1830s. When she died in 1865, she left him a large inheritance that helped him pay off his debts. Disraeli left a fortune of nearly £84,000 (about £9 million in 2011).

Disraeli has a memorial in Westminster Abbey which was erected at the instigation of Gladstone who recommended him in his eulogy before the House of Commons. His speech was eagerly awaited because of his well-known opposition to the deceased. In the end, the speech was a model of its kind and he avoided commenting on Disraeli's policies while emphasizing his qualities.


Blake suggests that Disraeli "produced an incredibly bad epic poem and a tragedy in blank verse of five acts, perhaps even worse. He also wrote on political science and a biography, the Life of Lord George Bentinck which is excellent...remarkably balanced and fair." Disraeli was nevertheless judged more on his novels and critics were from the start divided. The writer R. W. Stewart notes that there are always two criteria for judging Disraeli's work, one political and the other artistic. Literary critic Robert O'Kell agreed, writing: "It is, after all, impossible, even if you are a conservative to the core, to regard Disraeli as a first-rate novelist. And it is equally impossible, no matter how much you may regret the extravagances and improprieties of his books, to make him an insignificant writer.

His first silver fork novels, such as Vivian Grey (1826) and The Young Duke (1831), dramatized aristocratic life (about which he knew nothing) with characters based on well-known public figures. His most autobiographical novel was Contarini Fleming (1832), a work of claimed seriousness that was not successful. The critic William Kuhn suggests that Disraeli's work can be taken as "the memoirs he never wrote" and reveal the personal life of a politician for whom the norms of the Victorian era seemed to be a social straightjacket.

Of his other novels of the early 1830s, Alroy is described by Blake as "lucrative but unreadable" while The Rise of Iskander (1833), The Infernal Marriage and Ixion in Heaven (1834) had little impact. Henrietta Temple (1837) was Disraeli's second success. The book builds on his affair with Henrietta Sykes to tell the story of a debt-ridden young man torn between a self-interested but loveless marriage and a love at first sight for the eponymous heroine. Venetia (1837) was a minor work written to raise money quickly.

In the 1840s, Disraeli wrote a trilogy on political themes. With Coningsby; or, The New Generation (1844), Disraeli, according to Blake, "breathed into the literary world a wind of political sensibility espousing the belief that England's future as a world power depended not on the smug old guard but on idealistic young politicians." Coningsby was followed by Sybil; or, The Two Nations (the two nations in the subtitle refers to the economic and social gap separating a privileged few from the underprivileged working classes. The final work in the political trilogy was Tancred; or, The New Crusade (1847), which argued for the role of the Church of England in British spiritual renewal.

Disraeli's last novels were Lothair (1870) and Endymion (1880). The first was described by Daniel R. Schwarz as his Pilgrim's Progress in which he analyzed the role of the Anglican and Catholic churches in politics. Even though the hero of Endymion is a Whig, Disraeli exposes his political and economic beliefs for the last time. To the end, he attacked his opponents in thinly disguised caricatures: the character of St. Barbara in Endymion is widely seen as a mockery of the writer William Makepeace Thackeray, who had offended Disraeli more than thirty years earlier by ridiculing him in Punch magazine. Disraeli left an unfinished novel whose central character, Falconet, is indisputably a caricature of Gladstone.


In the years following Disraeli's death, the Conservative party, led by Salisbury, resumed its "Tory democracy" ideology that the Conservatives should support and improve the lot of the working classes. This aspect of his policies has been reassessed by twentieth and twenty-first century historians. In 1972, B. H. Abbott argued that the term "Tory democracy" was coined by Randolph Churchill but that it was Disraeli who made it an essential component of Tory philosophy. In 2007, Parry wrote that "the myth of Tory democracy has not withstood the close scrutiny of historians in the 1960s who showed that Disraeli had little interest in social legislation and was very flexible in negotiating the parliamentary reform of 1867. Despite this, Parry considers Disraeli, not Peel, to be the founder of the modern Conservative party. Conservative writer and politician Douglas Hurd wrote in 2013: "Disraeli was not a Tory democrat; and it was not because he never used the phrase. He rejected the whole concept.

Disraeli's actions in international politics were also seen to have attracted working class voters. Prior to his leadership of the Conservative party, imperialism was associated with the Liberal party and in particular with Palmerston, while the Conservatives whispered their opposition. Disraeli made his party the principal defender of the British Empire and supporter of military action to establish its dominance. This development came partly from Disraeli's own views, partly because he saw it as an advantage for the Conservatives and partly in opposition to Gladstone, who resented the expansion of the Empire. Blake argued that Disraeli's imperialism "guided the Conservative party for many years, and the tradition he initiated was probably its best asset in winning the working class vote during the last quarter century. Some historians have cited a romantic impulse behind Disraeli's approach to Empire and foreign affairs; Abbot wrote: "To the mythical conservative concepts of the Crown, the Church, the Aristocracy and the People, Disraeli added the Empire. Others have seen a certain pragmatism in this. Gladstone's biographer, Philip Magnus, contrasted Disraeli's management of foreign affairs with Gladstone's, who "never understood that high moral principles, in their application to foreign policy, are more often destructive of political stability than motivations for the national interest.

Throughout his life, Disraeli's opponents and sometimes friends and allies questioned whether he sincerely believed in the ideas he espoused or whether he simply regarded them as tools he promoted without conviction. In 1843, at the time of the Young England group, John Manners wrote: "If I could convince myself that D'Israeli believed all he said, I should be delighted: his historical views are close to mine, but does he believe them? In 1966, Blake suggests that it is no more possible to answer this question today than it was then. Paul Smith, however, argues in his article on Disraeli's policies that his ideas were coherently articulated over a career of nearly half a century and "cannot be dismissed as a burglar's paraphernalia aimed at breaking into the British political pantheon.

Frances Walsh summarized Disraeli's life as follows:

"The debate over his place in the Conservative pantheon has continued since his death. Disraeli fascinated and divided the opinions of his contemporaries; he was seen by many, including those in his own party, as an adventurer and charlatan and by others as a patriotic and far-sighted statesman. As an actor on the political stage, he played many roles: Byronic hero, man of letters, social critic, parliamentary virtuoso, Mr. Hughenden, royal companion, European statesman. His singular and complex personality has offered historians and biographers a particularly difficult challenge."


  1. Benjamin Disraeli
  2. Benjamin Disraeli
  3. ^ The street was renamed some time after 1824 as Theobald's Road;[2] a commemorative plaque marks the current 22 Theobald's Road as Disraeli's birthplace.[3][4]
  4. ^ Both Disraeli's grandfathers were born in Italy; Isaac's father, Benjamin, moved in 1748 from Venice to England. His second wife, Disraeli's grandmother, was Sarah Shiprut de Gabay Villareal. The maternal grandfather, Naphtali Basevi from Verona, settled in London in 1762. He married in 1767 Rebecca Rieti, born in England, the daughter of Sarah Cardoso and granddaughter of Jacob Aboab Cardoso who was already born in London (from this line, Disraeli had already four generations born in Britain).[5]
  5. ^ Disraeli's mother's ancestors included Isaac Aboab, the last Gaon of Castille, the Cardoso family (among whose members were Isaac Cardoso and Miguel Cardoso) and other prominent families; Disraeli was described in The Times as having "some of the best blood in Jewry".[10]
  6. ^ Monypenny gives his age as "six or earlier"; Parry concurs, giving his first year at Miss Roper's as 1810 or 1811;[16] Hibbert[17] and Ridley[18] give his age unequivocally as six. Kuhn puts his starting age as early as four.[19]
  7. ^ Isaac was elected, without his consent, as Warden (parnas) of the synagogue. He refused the post, partly lest it interfere with his literary research and partly because he was ideologically much more liberal than the ruling orthodox group. Under the synagogue's rules he became liable for a fine of £40 for declining to serve. He refused to pay.[21]
  8. Parmi les ascendants de Miriam, la mère de Benjamin Disraeli, figuraient Isaac Aboab, le dernier gaon de Castille, les philosophes Isaac et Abraham Miguel Cardoso ou Spinoza et des membres d'autres influentes familles juives comme les Rothschild. Disraeli fut présenté dans The Times comme ayant « un des meilleurs sangs de la communauté juive[4] ».
  9. Son age au moment d'intégrer cette école primaire n'est pas connu avec précision. Monypenny avance qu'il avait « au plus six ans » et est soutenu en cela par Parry qui indique que sa première année d'école fut 1810 ou 1811[11] ; Hibbert[12] et Ridley[13] sont certains qu'il avait six ans tandis que Kuhn indique qu'il est possible qu'il n'ait eu que quatre ans[14].
  10. ^ Blake, p. 3.
  11. ^ M. C. N. Salbstein, ‘Benjamin Disraeli, Marrano Englishman’, in The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain, 97–114. (New Jersey 1982)
  12. ^ Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p.323
  13. ^ I suoi oppositori, ad ogni modo, continuarono ad includere l'apostrofo nella corrispondenza. Lord Lincoln, scrivendo a Sir Robert Peel nel 1846, si riferisce a lui come "D'Israeli." Conancher, p. 435
  14. Jerman, B. R. (1960). The Young Disraeli. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Consultado el 14 de febrero de 2012.
  15. Blake 1966, p. 3. Norman Gash,
  16. Salbstein, M. C. N. «Benjamin Disraeli, Marrano Englishman», en The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain, 97–114 (New Jersey, 1982).

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?