Disraeli’s rise to the top of the Greasy Pole as he put it may have been a great personal triumph but his first Administration was to be of short duration.
The passage of the 1867 Reform Act had triggered a General Election for December of the following year which despite his promises to the contrary the Conservatives lost, for in forcing through the Act he had neglected to supervise the redistribution of seats that would see those votes transformed into election victory and the rush to update the electoral roll to reflect the new franchise actually worked against him with many voting for a Liberal Party which more closely resembled the radical policies they espoused.
It seemed that Disraeli’s promise of a political bounty for the Conservatives from the extension of the franchise had proved a hollow one but he was in fact to be proved correct over time for despite the emergence of the Labour Party more than a third of working class voters have regularly cast their ballots in favour of the Conservative Party ever since.
In the brief ten months of his Premiership Disraeli did however pass some important legislation: he ended the spectacle of public execution following the rancour caused by the hanging of the Fenian terrorist Michael Barrett for the Clerkenwell Bombing that had left 12 dead, and he passed the Corrupt Practices Act cleaning up the Augean Stables of electoral malfeasance and the financial gravy train that accompanied it.
But Disraeli’s reward for making Britain something akin to a participatory democracy was to be defeated at the polls by a margin that was a firm rejection of the party he led as the Liberals, now under the leadership of his great rival William Gladstone, were swept to victory with a 116 seat majority.
The Liberal politician Evelyn Ashley was with Gladstone at Hawarden Castle when he received the news that he had been summoned to the Palace to be asked to form a new Government.
He famously described the scene:
“In the park at Hawarden, I was standing by Mr Gladstone holding his coat on my arm while he, in his shirt sleeves, was wielding an axe to cut down a tree. Up came a telegraph messenger. He took the telegram, opened it and read it, then handed it to me, speaking only two words, namely, ‘Very Significant’, and at once resumed his work. After a few moments the blows ceased and Mr Gladstone, resting on the handle of his axe, looked up, and with a deep earnestness in his voice, and great intensity in his face, exclaimed: ‘My mission is to pacify Ireland.’ He then resumed his task, and never said another word until the tree was down.”
Ireland would be the albatross that hung around his neck.
During his many years as one of the most prominent politicians in the land Disraeli had formed a good relationship with Queen Victoria who charmed in his presence, as indeed many were, welcomed his visits. He reminded her of her beloved Lord Melbourne who had been Prime Minister on her accession to the throne, though the similarity may have been one more of affection than shared character.
As a former Prime Minister it was only right and proper that Disraeli should be in possession of a Title. He certainly thought so and the Queen agreed but in accepting a Title Disraeli would have to lead the opposition from the House of Lords and not the House of Commons.
As such, he persuaded Victoria to ennoble his wife Mary Anne as Lady Beaconsfield while he remained a commoner but a Lord-in-waiting inheriting the Title should his wife pre-decease him or he retired from politics.
Sadly, for Disraeli it would be the former when on 15 December 1872, Mary Anne died, aged 81, after a long illness during which advised to turn her thoughts towards God she responded that she could think of no one but Benjamin – he was her Jesus Christ.
A marriage of convenience had evolved into strong ties of love and mutual affection as the flirtatious Mary Anne and the romantic Benjamin found themselves the perfect match - he the lovelorn hero of his own novels, she more of a mistress than a wife – they were a devoted couple.
Disraeli was distraught and even Gladstone, who had a great fondness from Mary Anne, if not her husband, felt compelled to pen a letter of condolence.
But there is little room in politics for sentiment and upon inheriting the Title of Lord Beaconsfield the popular press soon dubbed him Lord Baconsfield should he need reminding, however popular he might become, of his Jewish origins.
The cornerstone of any Gladstone Administration was financial rectitude, the requirement to maintain taxation at levels that facilitated consumer spending whilst at the same time encouraging thrift. His foreign policy was to seek peace, promote cooperation in international affairs and to guarantee the regular and unhindered flow of free trade. Empire building he believed was for visionaries and dreamers who tore at the purse strings but did no accounting.
It did not make for exciting Government.
But the achievements of his first Administration were significant and profound nonetheless, especially in regard to the nation’s institutions.
The administration of the Poor Law he placed under Local Government supervision to ensure that charity and alms were distributed according to need not sentiment and that the Victorian demand for self-improvement in both personal morals and the work ethic be paramount in the consideration of poor relief; in the Army he ended the custom of being able to simply purchase a commission establishing a trained professional Officer Corps where promotion was gained on merit not means; access to the Civil Service would in future be via examination and not just a tool of familial largesse; and the Universities he opened up to Catholics and non-Conformists who could now study and graduate on equal terms with their Anglican fellow students.
Other reforms followed including in the justice system and the 1871 (Forster) Education Act which provided elementary schooling for all children aged between 5 and 13; in 1872 he introduced the Secret Ballot which allowed people to vote for the first time free of threat and intimidation; and he also passed his first Irish Land Act intended to improve landlord–tenant relations.
It didn’t, and he was soon to discover that ‘pacifying Ireland’ as he called it was easier said than done.
Gladstone was nothing if not a busy man believing as he did that to govern just for the sake of it, to merely maintain the status quo and not improve where improvement was required was a betrayal of the peoples trust.
Not all agreed, and many found his reform agenda forced upon them in that objectionable finger jabbing way of his unnecessary interference in established ways that had worked well in the past.
In truth, his First Administration was never popular, the politics were made for a dull palette and his moral tone and hectoring style made him a great many enemies but then he was used to making enemies even among friends. Yet he was effective, and just as Benjamin Disraeli could be said to have set Britain on the path to becoming a fully participatory democracy so William Gladstone created the first stirrings of a meritocracy where advancement would be based on talent and not privilege and nepotism.
Given Gladstone’s majority in Parliament Disraeli was not over-exercised in opposing his always full legislative programme, indeed he may have agreed with much of it, but then his objection to Gladstone was always as much personal as it was political, not that the two things were divisible.
Disraeli concentrated his efforts on strengthening his own position within the Conservative Party instead and transforming it into the most formidable election winning machine in British political history.
Sensing his Government was running out of steam in January 1874, Gladstone seeking a fresh mandate from the people called a snap General Election.
His Liberal Party was ill-prepared however, and perhaps aware of this Gladstone called for the ballot to take place just three weeks after Parliament was dissolved, a campaign considerably shorter than the usual three months.
Disraeli and his Conservatives on the contrary were very well prepared.
He had reorganised his party just for this moment and had spent many of the last few months allowing Gladstone to stew in his own unpopularity whilst he toured the country addressing meetings and receiving a rapturous reception.
The 1874 General Election was a triumph of Conservative Party organisation for despite polling 8% fewer votes they won 116 more seats with dozens of constituencies being uncontested by the Liberals at all.
Indeed, such was the shambolic nature of the Liberal Party campaign the MP George Howell wrote to Gladstone to complain:
“We have lost not by a change of sentiment so much as by want of organised power.”
Gladstone did not take the defeat well and he certainly wasn’t prepared to accept the blame for it.
He was a man who led a devotional life, at home, at the pulpit, and in public service and so to lose to a shallow fraud like Benjamin Disraeli was quite bad enough.
Disinterested in leading the Opposition from the backbenches Gladstone did what he would often do and retired from active politics returning to Hawarden Castle to chop down trees and write pamphlets.
Disraeli could barely contain his satisfaction, he had often said he did not mind that Gladstone would have a card up his sleeve but he did resent the fact he believed God had put it there – well on this occasion both Gladstone and God had been trumped.
Queen Victoria was certainly delighted that the charming Benjamin was back, she had long ago tired of being addressed by Gladstone as if she were a public meeting.
Although Disraeli never had the raw energy of Gladstone and certainly did not share his love of hard physical labour, his Government was to be no less busy, and in unexpected areas as a raft of domestic policies transformed class and labour relations:
The Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act decriminalised trade union activity on the part of the individual; the Employer and Workers Act permitted workers to sue their employers for breach of contract; the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Act provided loans to Local Authorities to clear slum dwellings and build workers homes.
Little wonder that the Liberal MP Alexander MacDonald might remark – the Conservative Party has done more for the working class in five years than the Liberals have done in fifty.
The Public Health Act of 1875 which provided for pavements and street lighting in towns, the need for a Sanitary Inspector and Medical Officer to be appointed to every Health Authority, the application of stronger regulation regarding clean water and unadulterated food, and the requirement that every new house built had be fully plumbed did much to improve the hygiene and health of the people.
But it was in foreign affairs that Disraeli would be seen to excel.
Disraeli’s relationship with Queen Victoria was often the cause of derision for to say it was unapologetically fawning would be an understatement and he wasn’t shy in admitting as such:
“Everyone likes flattery and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”
At their formal meetings he would fall upon one knee and kiss her hand. It was subservient and theatrical but it was not insincere for he truly believed that the Monarchy was the foundation upon which all else existed and he feared its dissolution and what might follow as a result.
The preservation of the Monarchy was never far from his thoughts, and with good reason.
At the time of the Princess Alexandrina Victoria’s accession to the throne in June 1837, the Hanoverian Monarchy had fallen into disrepute and was held in such low regard that it had become the stock-in-trade of satirists and a regular subject for the poison pen lampoons of the popular press.
At least the young Victoria would represent a breath of fresh air following decades of drunkenness, debauchery, extra-marital affairs and illegitimate children - and so it would prove.
Her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, a sober and hard-working man, would go a long way to restoring the reputation of the Monarchy.
They were a devoted couple who disregarded the trappings of Royalty and its grander manifestations for a more modest approach living when possible at their residence, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight where they portrayed themselves as the model loving Victorian middle-class family.
All this changed however, when on 14 December 1861, Prince Albert died following a short illness.
Victoria was plunged into deep mourning and was to withdraw from public life for the next decade.
This greatly concerned Disraeli who saw an absent Queen as grist-to-the-mill for an increasingly vocal Republican Movement which could argue with some justification what was the point of having an expensive Monarchy that said nothing, did nothing, and was seen by no one?
Disraeli would be a prime mover in persuading Victoria to engage once more with her subjects and he played a significant role in re-fashioning the Monarchy during her reign just as he had earlier re-modelled the Conservative Party.
Indeed, his devotion to the Queen reached its apotheosis with the Royal Titles Act of 1876.
Victoria had long felt that her status as a ruling Monarch at the head of an Empire should be formally recognised and her Title be elevated to that of Empress.
Disraeli had no personal objection to this but he knew that it was politically contentious seen by many in a country where the primacy of Parliament was paramount as an unnecessary and intolerable assertion of Royal power and the rumour that the Queen had herself agitated for it only seemed to confirm this.
He was aware that forcing through the Royal Titles Act that would make Victoria, Empress of India would make him more enemies that friends but he persisted nonetheless and though when it came to the vote it was passed with a comfortable majority it had taken all Disraeli’s powers of persuasion to ensure its safe passage.
The new Empress at least, was delighted, as also were the jingo press – good old Dizzy!
William Gladstone’s attitude towards the Monarchy however, was very different.
By no means a Republican he nonetheless tolerated rather than welcomed the Queen’s constitutional role in the political life of Britain, and though he would behave with due deference his manner would be perfunctory and matter-of-fact; charm was not after all an inherent characteristic and it was a weapon he would not have used even if he could, he preferred the power of argument.
Victoria dreaded her meetings with Gladstone as upright and distant he would lecture her at length on whatever issue of the day had engaged him and the fact that she found such a serious man so objectionable when for so many years she had been married to one is a testament of his ability to offend.
But politics is rarely dull regardless of Gladstone’s best efforts to make it so.
On 17 November 1869, the Suez Canal was formally opened.
The idea of the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps it ran 120 miles across the Isthmus that separated the Mediterranean from the Red Sea and reduced the sea journey from Europe to East Asia by some 5,000 miles and many weeks of perilous sailing around the Continent of Africa and past the Cape of Good Hope.
Its construction had been accompanied by the rather grand statement that it was to be used in time of war as in time of peace by every vessel of commerce or war without distinction of flag.
Not all agreed.
Britain had opposed its construction from the outset and had done its utmost to impede its progress it being felt that it was not in the Empires interests to facilitate easier access to the Orient for European shipping which could only pose a threat to her Far East possessions and virtual monopoly on trade. There were also concerns that it could fall into the hands of a hostile power.
But its strategic significance was not immediately seized upon by those who might have been expected to do so and de Lesseps struggled to sell shares in his artificial waterway providing Disraeli with the opportunity to manipulate the situation to his advantage - Britain may have been unable to prevent its construction but it could at least determine how it was used and by whom.
The lack of enthusiasm for the project made many who had already invested begin to doubt its financial viability and there was little disinclination on their part to divest themselves of their interest.
Disraeli was eager to seize the opportunity but aware that Gladstone had previously declined the offer to invest and fearing opposition in Parliament he by-passed the Treasury and instead secured a loan from his friend Lionel de Rothschild.
Upon learning that the Egyptian Khedive was looking to sell his shares Disraeli did not hesitate to act and on 25 November 1875, he signed the contract of purchase for a fee of 100,000,000 francs.
Britain was now the majority shareholder in the Suez Canal Company and Disraeli who understood full well its significance for the Empire informed Queen Victoria with relief and delight:
“It is settled, you have it Madam!”
Gladstone was appalled, not with the purchase of the shares per se but in the manner they had been procured, in secret, with private finance, and without consultation. It was typical Disraeli he thought, a deal struck amongst friends in smoke filled drawing rooms in the dead of night without proper scrutiny and of doubtful financial probity.
But the public thought otherwise – Good Old Dizzy!
In July 1875, the Balkans exploded into violence when Bulgaria and later Bosnia and Serbia rose in revolt against their Turkish masters.
The Ottoman Empire, so long the Sick Man of Europe was desperate to hold onto its possessions west of the Bosphorus, their ancestral enemy the Russians were no less eager to exploit their vulnerability.
Russian strategic interest were always of concern to the British in particular their long-held ambition to seize Constantinople, secure the Dardanelles, and gain access to the Mediterranean and a route to the West.
Disraeli supported the Ottoman Empire both diplomatically and financially as a bulwark against Russian expansionism and that it was in Britain’s strategic interest to maintain its territorial integrity, plain and simple.
When reports began to circulate that the Turks in their repression of the revolt were committing atrocities Disraeli metaphorically shrugged his shoulders and dismissed them as mere Coffee House Babble.
Gladstone, who had remained largely above the political fray since his defeat at the General Election two years earlier now returned with a vengeance at the same time proving that he was no less politically unscrupulous as his great rival penning a pamphlet in September 1876, ‘The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East’, that became a surprise bestseller condemning Disraeli as complacent, indifferent to the suffering of others and demanding that he condemn the atrocities and withdraw Britain’s support from Turkey.
It was a fabricated argument and Gladstone knew it but it was a convenient stick with which to beat Disraeli who, though he might dismiss the pamphlet as ‘the greatest Bulgarian horror of them all’ was aware that few doubted Gladstone’s sincerity when it came to moral outrage as he toured the cities of northern England venting his spleen before large crowds at the man who turned a blind eye to murder.
Well might Disraeli only half-jokingly remark:
“The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this – If Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”
Whether Disraeli turned a blind eye to the atrocities in the Balkans or not, he was damned if he was going to pay any attention to Gladstone’s fulminations; it would be the interests of Britain and its Empire that would dictate his policy not his rival’s carping from the sidelines.
Disraeli’s worst fears were realised when on 21 April 1877, the Russians intervened militarily in support of the rebels.
The forces of the Ottoman Empire performed better than many had anticipated but even though the Russian advance was slowed it continued inexorably.
By early 1878, the Turks had been cleared from most of their Balkan possessions and Russia had imposed its authority over a vast area but it had been a bloody and wearisome fight and under pressure from Britain and others both sides agreed to a cessation of hostilities.
What emerged from the negotiations was the Treaty of San Stefano signed on 3 March which brought to an end the conflict in the Balkans but did not halt Russia’s advance on Constantinople.
In response to the continuing threat Disraeli despatched a British Fleet to the Bosphorus.
Disraeli was not willing to accept a treaty imposed on Europe by the Russians and concern that the crisis in the Balkans could engulf the Great Powers in a far wider conflict was a very real one.
As a result that great manipulator of European affairs the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck invited to Berlin all the contending parties to attend what was in effect a Summit Meeting.
The Congress of Berlin which took place between June and July 1878, was to represent Disraeli’s finest moment as fragile, ailing (he was 74 years of age)and leaning upon his silver-topped cane towered over by the 6’4” Bismarck who was not shy in using his considerable physical presence to intimidate others he went onto dominate proceedings, so much so that even the Iron Chancellor, not a man given to praising his opponents felt compelled to remark – What a man! The Old Jew, he is the one to watch!
Disraeli secured for the Ottoman Empire enough of its European possessions to serve as a barrier against further Russian expansion thereby ensuring its continued control of Constantinople, the Dardanelles Strait and access to the Mediterranean.
He also acquired for Britain the strategically important Island of Cyprus.
When the Russians appeared unwilling to agree to the terms of the treaty he ordered that his private train be prepared for departure.
It was clear that if the Russians did not sign the treaty then he would return home and make ready for war.
It was an act of bravado but not one without substance – the Russians backed down.
Disraeli, aware of his achievement was nonetheless taken aback by the reception he received upon his return to England where Union Jack bunting hung from buildings and adorned shop windows, people lined the tracks to applaud as his train passed by, and crowds flocked onto the streets of London to wave flags, sing the National Anthem, and shout his praises.
Standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street he declared that he had brought back ‘Peace with Honour’ a remark that would be echoed some sixty years later by another Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, following his meeting with Adolf Hitler at Munich, though perhaps more out of hope than conviction.
Flowers from the Queen awaited him inside as did letters and telegrams of congratulation, though not from Gladstone but then it didn’t matter he had trumped him once more, at least for the time being.
Although it was discussed at length with his Cabinet colleagues Disraeli declined to ride the surge of popularity and call a snap General Election.
His decision not to do so was to prove a mistake as events some foreseen others unforeseen would see Disraeli’s popularity disappear before his eyes and the prospects of election victory slip through his grasp.
Despite his triumphs abroad the economy had stagnated and agriculture in particular was enduring its worst slump since the ‘Hungry Forties’ with poor harvests not helped by inclement weather and a lack of investment.
Disraeli refused to reinstate the Corn Laws or adopt protectionist policies that would inevitably increase the price of food for the urban working class. It was a decision made for sound reasons but once again it made him appear indifferent to the travails of those who were amongst the Conservative Party’s staunchest supporters.
He then appeared to lose his touch in the area where he was considered to be a safe pair of hands - the Empire.
On 22 January 1879, a British Army was wiped out by Zulu tribesmen at the Battle of Isandlwana in South Africa and then on 8 September the British Mission at Kabul in Afghanistan was massacred to a man.
Although both setbacks were speedily avenged the damage to Disraeli’s reputation was already done and his visits to the Palace to explain to the Queen the reversal in Britain’s fortunes he found particularly irksome.
Growing dissatisfaction with his Government, isolated from front-line politics in the House of Lords, and with declining health reducing his number of public appearances Disraeli was vulnerable and Gladstone knew it.
Without a seat at Westminster but eager to exploit Disraeli’s increasing unpopularity especially with a General Election looming he now returned to the political fray standing for the Constituency of Midlothian in Scotland.
Gladstone’s Midlothian Campaign is now considered a model of its kind.
Nothing was left to chance as he employed a campaign manager (Lord Rosebery) and a team of advisors who orchestrated his rallies to ensure that he reached as many people as possible, and he was to calculate that by the end of the campaign he had addressed no less than 86,930 people.
No one doubted Gladstone’s magnetism as a speaker or his ability to draw and transfix a crowd but now he was to engross a nation as he took every opportunity to attack Disraeli and the Conservative Government even if many of the arguments he used were a mere repeat of those he had uttered during the Balkan Crisis.
It was also an opportunity to explain in detail his political principles and moral philosophy and he did so with a religious fervour that saw his speeches regularly reported in the national press sometimes verbatim despite their length and complexity, just as he had intended.
It was Gladstone at his most impressive, even if Disraeli had heard it all before.
No longer able to compete with Gladstone at the hustings because of failing health Disraeli could do little to stem the tide against his Conservative Government which went down to a resounding defeat even though the swing to the Liberals had been only 1.8% of votes cast.
Re-elected to Parliament as the Member for Midlothian, Gladstone resumed the leadership of the Liberal Party after Lord Hartington stood down in his favour becoming Prime Minister for the second time.
Disraeli was under no illusions that his defeat almost certainly heralded the end of his political career but to relinquish his leadership of the Conservative Party with Gladstone in power would simply have been a humiliation too far; but any vigour he had remaining he now dedicated to the completion of his final novel, Endymion.
In March 1881, his health took a turn for the worse when he contracted a severe bout of bronchitis that made him virtually housebound and later confined him to his bed.
He had been in frequent correspondence with Queen Victoria since the General Election but now requested she not visit him during his latest illness as it would make her maudlin and dwell too much upon the death of her beloved Albert.
She would never see him again.
Benjamin Disraeli died on 19 April 1881, aged 76, declaring that though he might wish otherwise and desired to live he had no fear of death.
Despite being aware of his rival’s poor state of being Gladstone could not quite bring himself to believe the news of his demise thinking it at first a ruse on his part to elicit public support; upon discovering that he had declined a State Funeral he considered it a trick to preserve for himself the quite false reputation as a man of the people. He wrote in his diary:
“As he lived so he died, all display without reality of genuineness.”
Disraeli had spurned the applause of the crowd for a quiet funeral with a private service at the Chapel in the grounds of Hughenden Manor.
Gladstone did not attend the funeral claiming weight of public affairs but was little believed and much criticised for his apparent enmity towards Disraeli even in death and people eagerly anticipated what he might say of his predecessor when he addressed the House of Commons.
As it turned out he behaved impeccably and was fulsome in his praise of Disraeli though he focused almost entirely on his personal qualities whilst ignoring his policies. He then moved that a memorial be erected in Westminster Abbey in his honour – the motion was passed.
William Gladstone would remain at the forefront of political life for the next twenty years becoming Prime Minister on a further two occasions but his later Administrations never matched the achievements of his first as he became increasingly mired in the swamp of Irish Home Rule seeing his attempts at a settlement rejected in Parliament time and again and leaving the country in greater turmoil than he had found it.
The truth was Gladstone needed Disraeli just as Disraeli had needed Gladstone and that for all their mutual antipathy the one without the other was reduced in substance and stature.
Never as popular as Disraeli, or at least not such a gift to the satirists of the press and the gossips of the garden party Gladstone nonetheless became the G.O.M, or Grand Old Man of British politics and Music Hall ribaldry, though he would later be derided as the M.O.G, or Murderer of Gordon following the fiasco at Khartoum.
Gladstone resigned from the Premiership for the last time on 2 March 1894, aged 85, a disappointed man for he had neither pacified Ireland nor witnessed the great moral reformation he had so longed for but at least he was able to return to his beloved Hawarden and spend more time with his many grandchildren.
Not that retirement was on his mind and despite increasing deafness and failing eyesight his library soon became his ‘Temple of Peace’ as he penned pamphlets, translated Greek and Latin texts, and received guests of whom there were many who wished to be seen with the great man.
Working until the end William Ewart Gladstone passed away aged 88 on 19 May 1898.
He had left instructions that his funeral should be a simple affair unless others thought to the contrary, and they did.
On the 28 May he was buried in Westminster Abbey following a State Funeral that saw amongst his pallbearers the future King Edward VII and King George V.
Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone had dominated the political scene for the best part of four decades and in doing so they had transformed it. Both men had created modern political parties as we understand them today and the system of democracy with which we are now very familiar.
Their impact on British society and of the nations place in the world had been no less significant, yet they were very different men.
The perception of Disraeli was of a man willing to gamble, a keen advocate of gunboat diplomacy who like Palmerston before him was willing to let the lion roar; Gladstone, who wore morality on his sleeve believed in cooperation in foreign affairs and negotiation between nations.
On the economy Gladstone preached prudence declaring that in low taxes and sound financial management lay the path to prosperity; Disraeli was always more proactive believing that what needed to be done should be done, and that the money should be found to do it.
That at least is the perception and politics is as much about the smoke and mirrors of desire and ambition as it is a matter of deed and fact, though I can sense Mr Gladstone turning in his grave at the very idea.
It was in the end the clash of greatness the likes of which had never been seen before and will likely never be seen again.
Some twenty years after the demise of Benjamin Disraeli and less than three years following the death of William Gladstone,Queen Victoria that other seemingly indestructible pillar of British cohesion, strength, and authority too passed into history. Britain would never again be so united or attain such power and influence in the world.
It truly was the end of an era.