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Sidney Herbert was the son of the 11th Earl of Permbroke by his second wife. He was educated at Harrow and then Oxford and soon embarked on a political career. He was elected as Tory M.P. for South Wiltshire in 1832, a seat which he continued to hold until his elevation to the Lords in 1861.
He swiftly rose to office, holding positions including Secretary of the Board of Control, Secretary to the Admiralty, and Secretary at War. He held the latter position during the Crimean War, working alongside the 5th Duke of Newcastle under Lyne who was Secretary of State for War.
His presence in the House of Commons meant that he became spokesman for the army in the Lower House, and he was responsible for supplies of food, clothing, shelter and medical services - all areas noted for their failure.
In later years, Herbert moved towards the Liberal Party and as a member of government, frequently found himself in dispute with Gladstone, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1861, with his health failing, he was created Baron Herbert of Lea and moved to the House of Lords. His death followed shortly afterwards.