The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Ewart Gladstone, 1809-1898

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1809
Place of Birth: Liverpool
Date of Death: 1898
Place of Death:


William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), was educated at Eton and Christ College, Oxford in 1828, where he studied classics and mathematics, with the intention of becoming a priest. He went on to marry Catherine Glynne in 1839.


He was a Liberal MP, and four times Prime Minister from 1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, 1892-1894. As the main political rival of Benjamin Disraeli, Gladstone entered parliament as a conservative MP in 1832, but by the 1860s was looked on as the leader of the more radical section of the Liberal Party.

Initially he was involved with extremely reactionary issues, opposing the abolition of slavery and factory legislation, while in 1848 he was to found the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women, which aimed to arrange employment for ex-prostitutes.

Gladstone introduced significant parliamentary reforms during his time in office, under a progressive manner later called Gladstonian Liberalism, which tried to improve individual liberty. He extended the right to vote considerably, in his 1867 Reform Act, giving the vote to 1,500,000 male adult householders living in a borough constituency. He further committed to reducing public spenditure.

He is associated primarily with reform of land tenure in Ireland and attempts to bring a measure of home rule to that country. In 1886 though unsuccessful he introduced his Home Rule Bill for Ireland for the first time. The issue split the Liberal Party and the bill was thrown out on the second reading. In February 1893 he re-introduced a Home Rule Bill, which was passed by the House Of Commons and then rejected by the House Of Lords. He resigned two days later although he again retained his seat.

He had a strong interest in the affairs of the church of England and church control of education, and was passionate about the fate of Italian liberals in the 1850s and of persecuted Armenians after his retirement from Parliament. He opposed the Opium, Afghan and Zulu wars, and in general had no enthusiasm for Empire. He was a notable classical scholar.

Outside political affairs he was a Rector of the University of Glasgow.

It is possible that Whistler and Gladstone met at dinner in the home of Henrietta Labouchère (#02465).

The dealer David Croal Thomson mentioned to Whistler the possibility of approaching Gladstone on the issue of getting governmental support to buy a Whistler portrait for the National Gallery (#05695), but this never came to pass.

Gladstone died of cancer at Hawarden in 1898 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Bibliography: (accessed 2003.6); (accessed 2003.6); Encyclopedia Brittanica, (11th edition) 1911, at (accessed 2005); Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004.