Childhood & Early Life
William Lamb was born on March 15, 1779, in London, to Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne and Elizabeth, Viscountess Melbourne.
He attended ‘Eton College,’ Berkshire, England, and earned an M.A. from Trinity College, the University of Cambridge, England, in 1799. He was a resident student of Professor John Millar at the ‘University of Glasgow’ from 1799 to 1801.
In 1797, he was admitted to ‘The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn’ and received a call to the bar in 1804.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Lamb served as a captain in 1803 and as a major in 1804.
Lamb became the successor to his father’s title after his elder brother’s untimely death in 1805.
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Lamb began his political career in 1806 and was voted to the ‘British House of Commons’ as the ‘Whig’ MP, representing Leominster. Later in 1806, he won the seat from Haddington Burghs, and from 1807 to 1812, he held the Portarlington seat.
Between 1816 and 1819, he successfully stood for Peterborough. During this period, he voted in favor of the ‘Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1817.’
He represented Hertfordshire, Newport I.O.W, and Bletchingley in different years between 1819 and 1828.
Although a Whig, he accepted the post of Chief Secretary of Ireland in the Tory governments of George Canning and Lord Goderich.
In 1828, he became the 2nd Viscount Melbourne after the death of his father. By virtue of his new title, he moved to the ‘House of Lords.’
The ‘Whigs’ formed the government in 1830 with Lord Grey as Prime Minister, and Lamb as the home secretary until 1834. He played an active role in curbing the violent protests that occurred between 1830 and 1832, although the execution of one of the protesters is considered a controversial decision.
He was against the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
In July 1834, Lord Grey resigned and a reluctant Lamb became the Prime Minister (served from July 1834 to November 1834), upon the insistence of King William IV and the prevailing circumstances.The ‘Whig’ government was dissolved by the king in November 1834, but they regained power in April 1835, and Lamb again became the Prime Minister and served until his resignation in 1841. William Lamb enjoyed the support of Queen Victoria, as she was taught the nuances of politics by him, at a time when she was trying to break free from the influence of her mother, and her mother's adviser, Sir John Conroy. He became a confidant and her private secretary. She was quoted as saying she considered him a fatherly figure.
While serving as the PM, he also served as the leader of the House of Lords.
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During his tenure as prime minister, he was held to ransom by his friend’s husband, who claimed that he had an affair with his wife. However, as his supporters trusted his integrity, he did not step down from the post.
William Lamb’s decision to resign in 1839 led to a misunderstanding between Sir Robert Peel and Victoria, resulting in the ‘Bedchamber Crisis.’
During his tenure as prime minister, Chartism, a working-class movement for parliamentary reform in Britain, broke out. Some other significant events during his tenure were rebellion in Canada (between 1837 and 1838 that caused the formation of Province of Canada), the First Opium War between China and the UK, the First Anglo-Afghan War, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the establishment of New Zealand as one of the UK’s many colonies.
Lamb had to resign after he lost the confidence motion in August 1841, and served as the leader of opposition until October 1842.
Family, Personal Life & Death
He had four siblings – Peniston Lamb, Frederick Lamb, 3rd Viscount Melbourne, George Lamb, and Emily Temple, Viscountess Palmerston.
In 1805, he married Lady Caroline Lamb, but separated in 1825 due to her scandalous affair with Lord Byron and her novel, ‘Glenarvon,’ which brought shame to him.
He had two children, son, George Augustus Frederick and a premature daughter. Both predeceased him. Hence, his brother, Frederick, succeeded to his title after his death in 1848.
He died on November 24, 1848, at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, and was buried in St. Etheldreda’s Church, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.
The city of Melbourne in Australia was named after in 1837.
Mount Melbourne in Antarctica was named to honor him, in 1841, by the British explorer and naval officer Jame Clark Ross.
He has been portrayed by several actors in various movies.
Different authors have written his biographies.