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William Lamb – Biography

Below is the detailed biography of Prime Minister William Lamb, the second Viscount Melbourne. He was best known as Lord Melbourne. He is known to have served the Whig party as a Home Secretary and was also an elected member of the Parliament.

Early Life of William Lamb

William Lamb was born on 15th March 1779 in London, England to Elisabeth Milbank who married the first Viscount of Melbourne. However, it is believed that the first Viscount of Melbourne – Peniston Lamb was not the real father of William Lamb.

William Lamb Portrait
A portrait of William Lamb

He happened to be the second son and therefore, not a direct heir. The elder son of the Lamb family passed away at a tender age.

Lady Caroline Lamb

This made William Lamb become the real heir of Peniston Lamb’s family bringing William fame and fortune. He was now the ‘Second Viscount of Melbourne’ or Lord Melbourne.

Peniston Lamb Portrait
A portrait of Peniston Lamb – the First Viscount of Melbourne

Changes in his personal and professional life gave him a rise in social status. This made it easy for him to marry the daughter of Frederic Ponsonby, 3rd earl of Bessborough. She was known as Lady Caroline Ponsonby.

They were married in June 1805. However, the marriage didn’t work out for either of them and they were officially separated in 1825. Several reasons were considered. One of them was Lamb’s mother’s coarse behavior with her daughter in law.

Caroline Ponsonby Portrait
A portrait of Lady Caroline Ponsonby

Also, Lady Caroline’s affair with Lord Byron – a famous poet in the Victorian era. Lady Caroline died 3 years after the divorce. They had a son together but was a sick child who died in 1836.

Political Life and Career

In 1806, Lamb became a member of the House of Commons. He was a supporter of George Canning and his firm ideas on traditionalism. He served as the chief secretary of Ireland under the governments of George Canning and Arthur Wellesley from April 1827 to May 1828.

Wellesley was the first Duke of Wellington. Here he served as a major link between the British and Irish Governments. In 1830, he became the Home Secretary in the 2nd Earl Grey’s Ministry where he served until 1834.

Tolpuddle Martyrs
Tolpuddle Martyrs

During this time, he was a hesitant supporter of the Reform Act of 1832. He restrained the Tolpuddle Martyrs – a group of Dorset agricultural laborers in 1834.

Since a very young age, he was a great supporter of the Whig party and their leader – Charles James Fox. He appreciated their ideas of religious tolerance, limited monarchy and the right to property.

William Lamb Artist

Soon, he became a member. He served the Whig Prime Minister – Lord Grey in 1827. He succeeded him and in 1834, he became Prime Minister of England. But, he was dismissed by King William IV due to some reforms he tried to make in the renovation of the church in the following year.

However, in the same year, Sir Robert Peel’s office failed to get a majority and hence, Lamb came to power once again as Prime Minister.

Whig Party
A banner of the Whig Party

He made his efforts in holding together Radicals and Whigs. After the death of King William IV, life became easier for William Lamb. He was the private secretary for Queen Victoria, after her accession to the throne. She too became a Whig supporter due to her affection for William Lamb.

William Lamb Facts

She made her attendants become Whig Ladies. William resigned from his post on his own when he could not handle his personal life crisis alongside his responsibilities as a Prime Minister on May 7, 1839.

King William IV Portrait
A portrait of King William IV by Andrew Morton

In 1840, Great Britain was under great division against industrial and working classes. During this time, there were also wars with China and Afghanistan.

William Lamb was involved with Lord Palmerston – the foreign secretary in warding off war with France over Syria. He convinced Queen Victoria to hand over state responsibilities to her husband – Prince Albert. In the election of 1841, Conservatives won the election and Lamb left office.

Lord Melbourne Family Tree

William Lamb had an unpleasant marriage. His wife Lady Caroline Ponsonby was known to have an affair with famous writer and poet- Lord Byron. With her mental breakdown, followed her death in 1836. After this, Lord Melbourne chose to give higher priorities to his political career.

Lord Melbourne, as he was known as, as much of a charmer. Whilst in Ireland he was having an affair with the Lady Branden of Dublin. When her husband found out, he sued Lord Melbourne for “criminal conservation”.

William Lamb Portrait
Another portrait of William Lamb

It is not confirmed, however, a chemistry between him and the famous writer – Caroline Norton. She was exceptionally beautiful. She was the granddaughter of the well-known playwright – Sheridan.

Personal Life of William Lamb

Her husband launched a case against William which William Lamb won. This satire was written by Charles Dickens in “The Pickwick Papers”.

Caroline became a social activist and fought for women’s rights. Their relationship became weaker as both of them went higher in political statuses.

Caroline Norton Portait
A portrait of Caroline Norton by Frank Stone

This drifted them but Caroline always remained a source of great comfort and a loyal friend to Lord Melbourne all his life.

Such threatening and insults created a major impact on his political career. He had a great chemistry with Queen Victoria in public. However, she denied this by mentioning that Lord Melbourne was a great father figure to her.

Windsor Castle
An old sketch of the Windsor Castle – residence of William Lamb

He shared a close bond and Melbourne helped Queen Victoria with a lot of royal decisions. Melbourne was given a private apartment in the Windsor Castle.

Legacy and Death of William Lamb

William Lamb was an excellent example of a common boy who had the potential to govern a country like Great Britain. He was kind, honest and not self-seeking. He strived to keep the tradition and religious culture alive.

William Lamb Portrait
Another portrait of William Lamb or Lord Melbourne.

After a year of leaving politics, Melbourne suffered a stroke which he survived. However, he became physically weak. He died on 24th November 1848 at Broket Hall. He was buried at St. Etheldreda’s Church, Hertfordshire, England.

The capital city of the State of Victoria in Australia – Melbourne is named after Lord Melbourne.

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