54 individuals have been British Prime Minister from Walpole to May and 56 First Lords of the Treasury, including Northcote and Smith. (Pitt the elder was never First Lord). Some lists include the names of the Earl of Bath: 10th to 12th February 1746 and Waldegrave: 8th to 12th June 1757. Just seven days between them. (SeeHarold Wilson - A Prime Minister On Prime Ministers). However, since neither was officially recognised as Prime Minister, or held the post of First Lord, they have been included in this collection only as an historic courtesy. Others, like the2nd Earl Granville, (Carteret), were offered the post. In February 1746 he allowed himself to be entrapped by the intrigues of the Pelhams becoming, effectively, Prime Minister for four days, though not widely acceped as such.
NOTE: Lord Waldegrave is not usually counted as Prime Minister or First Lord of the Treasury, yet he is sometimes regarded as one of the three shortest serving Prime Ministers in British history. (See also John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville,and William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath.)
There can often be breaks in the holding of the office of the Prime Minister, usually if the handover of power follows an election defeat or the death, resignation or retirement of the current PM. In the 18th century there were 98 days post-Walpole when the UK officially had no prime minister. In the 19th century this figure rose to 192, but there were only 13 such days in the 20th century. Since 2000 there have been 5 days in 2010 when a coalition government was sought though, technically, Brown was still in power. There have been twelve handovers after one-day, seven after a two-day gap and a further eight following a three-day pause. The longest gap so far was the fifty-six day period in 1743 after the Earl of Wilmington’s death and the appointment of Henry Pelham. That was twice as long as the time between Perceval’s assassination and Liverpool’s assumption of office.
Since Walpole, there are two First Lords of the Treasury who have been almost ignored by history completely. The first is Stafford Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh. In 1885, when Lord Salisbury became prime minister he took the titles of Earl of Iddesleigh and Viscount St Cyres, and was included in the cabinet as First Lord of the Treasury. The second was William Henry Smith ll who served as the First Lord from 14th January 1887 to 6th October 1891, during Salisbury's second administration. Neither gets a mention on the 10 Downing Street website.Both are included on this site at the bottom of 19th century Prime Minister's.and onOther First Lords of the Treasury
Theresa May is not alone in being an un-elected Prime Minister. She joins a list of illustrious names including Balfour, Asquith, Lloyd-George, Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Callaghan, Major and Brown
In the case of British coalition governments it could be argued that the resulting premier does not necessarily have the full backing of the electorate: none elected. For example, in the 2010 election, Labour had a majority in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Conservatives had a majority in England: neither party with an overall majority. Each of the major parties then turned to the Liberal Democrats to negotiate coalition terms to form a government. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats found more common ground and formed their coalition with David Cameron (Conservative) as Prime Minister and Nick Clegg (LD) as Deputy Prime Minister leaving many in the UK feeling disenfranchised.
The United Kingdom's constitution, being uncodified and largely unwritten, makes no mention of a prime minister. Though it had de facto existed for centuries, its first mention in official state documents did not occur until the first decade of the twentieth century. Accordingly, it is often said "not to exist", indeed there are several instances of parliament declaring this to be the case. The prime minister sits in the cabinet solely by virtue of occupying another office, either First Lord of the Treasury (office in commission), or more rarely Chancellor of the Exchequer (the last of whom was Balfour in 1905).
A similar piece (illustrated on the right) was sold at Christie's of London in 2006 for £3,600
Lord Rockingham is one of the three rarest of all Prime Minister signatures, and given the historical significance of this letter would be valued today at around £10,000
This letter was obtained from the Raab Collection of Philadelphia. (Wikipedia.) Dated February 1770. Rockingham Hopes That Pitt the Elder Will Attend the Debate in Parliament on Repeal of Townsend Acts
Prime Minister Lord North resigned in March 1782. In April 1782, the Commons voted to end the war in America. Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November 1782; the formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris was signed on 3rd September 1783, and the U.S Congress of the Confederation ratified the treaty on 14th January 1784. The last British troops left New York City on 25th November 1783.
Prime Minister for two days - often debated
10th February 1746 - 12th February 1746
He was never a First Lord. He did, however, 'kiss hands'
William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath
(22nd March 1684 – 7th July 1764)
Harold Wilson refers to him only as 'Bath' in his book
'A Prime Minister On Prime Ministers'
This is his rarer form of signature from 9 October 1752
The Earl of Bath is one of the rarest signatures from this time and context and would not be sold today for less than £5,000
The eldest son of William Pitt the Elder and an elder brother of William Pitt the Younger. commissioned into the 47th Regiment of Foot in 1774
There remain differences of interpretation about the precise holders of the position in the eighteenth century: two politicians, William Pulteney, earl of Bath (1684–1764), and James Waldegrave, second Earl Waldegrave (1715–1763), accepted office as first lords of the treasury. Pulteney actually kissed hands (in February 1746) but was unable to form a ministry capable of commanding majorities in the both houses, and resigned within days of his appointment. Waldegrave accepted office in July 1757, but did not kiss hands and instead helped form the coalition that returned the duke of Newcastle to office.
The start of Walpole's premiership is open to interpretation. Only after the resignation of his colleague Charles Townshend second Viscount Townshend, in May 1730, did he gain unrivalled control of the administration and its policies.
Prime Minister for four days - often debated
John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville, 2nd Baron Carteret
(22nd April 1690–22nd January 1763)
An extremely rare signature: 1755: as Lord President of the Council
Signed when Northern Secretary. February 1721–May 1730
This envelope was signed on 23 November 1792 (aged 55) as 'Lansdowne'. When Pitt became Prime Minister in 1784, Shelburne, instead of receiving a place in the Cabinet, was created Marquess of Lansdowne. Though giving a general support to the policy of Pitt, he from this time ceased to take an active part in public affairs.
After the resignation of The Duke of Newcastle in November 1756, George II dismissed William Pitt (the driving force of the new government) in April 1757 and invited Lord Waldegrave to take over from Newcastle's successor, The Duke of Devonshire as First Lord of the Treasury. And so, Devonshire was briefly dismissed and Lord Waldegrave tried to form a government from 8–12 June that year but failed to do so and stepped down, partly because he feared that as Prime Minister, he would fall out with his close friend, the King (as his predecessors had done). Devonshire then continued as First Lord and Prime Minister for almost another two weeks and Newcastle returned a week later.