<< Back to full list of biographies
Gladstone was the youngest son of Sir John Gladstone, 1st Baronet (1764-1851) and was born in Liverpool, though his family had strong Scottish ties. The Gladstones were a rich family, with a fortune based on corn and tobacco trade and West Indian sugar plantations. William spent his early life being educated at Eton and Oxford.
In 1832, at the request of the 4th Duke of Newcastle under Lyne, father of his close friend the Earl of Lincoln, Gladstone stood as member of parliament for Newark and was duly elected. He led a number of different seats during his time in parliament. His early political career was marked by a keen interest in all matters relating to Anglicanism, and by the publication of a number of books.
Originally a Tory, Gladstone was soon appointed to government office under Peel, holding position such as Vice-President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.
By the 1850s Gladstone was moving towards Liberal politics and between 1852 and 1855 he held the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Aberdeen’s coalition government. He returned to the Exchequership in 1859 under Lord Palmerstone, and held the post until 1866, while he continued to be associated with political Liberalism and radicalism. After the defeat of the government in 1866, Gladstone became the Liberal Party’s opposition leader in the House of Commons. By 1868, he was Prime Minister.
Gladstone’s first government was to last until 1874. After his defeat by Disraeli’s Tories he resigned the Liberal leadership, but was to come to prominence again, and indeed served as Prime Minister on a further three occasions before his retirement in 1894.