British Prime Ministers List

British Prime Ministers List

This list of past British Prime Ministers as a handy chronological list and timeline guide.

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“I unequivocally deny that I am sole and prime minister.” 
Robert Walpole 1741 uttered this when his Government was under attack

Each Prime Minister is listed in chronological order with an interactive link to the periods where we have related information and an overview to that period in history. This will link to a selection of overviews, profiles and biographies of some of the more notable characters. Simply click on the Prime Ministers name where you see a link and you will be taken to the related article. Additional and key members of the House of Lords and the history of the political leadership of the particular historic periods and how they relate to our historic themes will also be covered, so worth a look there too. Launching this list in 2015, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill, seems fitting.

“The main essentials of a successful Prime Minister are sleep and a sense of history”
Harold Wilson Prime Minister 1964 – 1970 and 1974 – 1976

How long has Britain had what is called a prime minister?

We take for granted that we are led in Government by a Prime Minister but the idea of a Prime Minister was not a status created, more it was one that evolved after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. There was a need for spokesperson, a head who could deliver control of the Parliament for the monarch. It was a term used in the first place to insult someone that was felt to have got above their station, after the monarch was thought to be the ‘prime’ minister.

Robert Walpole was First Lord of the Treasury and found himself in the extended role of being that prime spokesman but the idea of such a role was still not considered justifiable. For decades after Walpole, the post of Prime Minister was still not established but rather assumed that those holding the post of First Lord of the Treasury would also be Prime Minister.

By the end of the 18th century the office of Prime Minister was accepted.

Astonishingly, it was only in 1885 that the list of government ministers printed in Hansard, the official record of parliamentary debates, first used the title Prime Minister and the first statutory reference to the Prime Minister came in the Chequers Estate Act 1917.  In 1977 public recognition of the existence of a ‘Prime Minister’s Office’ was entered in the Civil Service Yearbook.

Whilst the idea of a Prime Minister has been accepted, the role has remained largely informal, it’s powers being a matter of convention rather than law. It is expected that the Prime Minister will take the lead on significant matters of state.