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The Earl of Rosebery 'Little Bo-Peep'

Spy (Sir Leslie Ward) (1851-1922)



Watercolour and bodycolour

11 x 7 inches

Vanity Fair, 14 March 1901, Statesmen no 734, 'Little Bo-Peep'

Chris Beetles & Alexander Beetles (eds.) Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection, London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 2023, page 147

'Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, October-November 2023, no 71

As the fifth earl of Rosebery, a title he succeeded on the death of his grandfather in 1868, Archibald Primrose (1847-1929) served as Prime Minister of a Liberal government from 1894 to 1895. He had become Prime Minister following the retirement of William Ewart Gladstone, having served under Gladstone as Foreign Secretary in 1886 and again between 1892 and 1894. Following the defeat of the Liberal Party in June 1895, Rosebery remained as Liberal leader until his resignation and subsequent retirement from politics in October 1896.

At the time of his appearance in Vanity Fair, though he was officially politically inactive, Rosebery had emerged as the leader of the ‘Liberal Imperialists’ faction of the party, vocally supporting the Boer War and opposing Irish Home Rule.

"The first Charles found a Primrose and made him Clerk of his Privy. Council; ‘whereupon Primrose honourably stood by his Master through the Civil Wars, ‘and the Primroses became a Family.’ So much was said here of his origin just a quarter of a century ago; when he was less than thirty years of age, had come of reputable forbears, and had done with Eton and the House. At one-and-twenty he addressed the House of Lords upon horses; and his faith is still in the noble animal. He fills all sorts of Offices, from the Leadership of an absent Party to a Trusteeship of the Imperial Institute, and he sometimes manages to make quite a sensation. He has filled even bigger Offices, such as that of the Sovereign's Prime Minister and the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow University; but he has never yet redeemed his early promise. For just as he is at this moment a Leader of no Party, so has he been a Statesman full of possibilities but without that balance which is needed for really great success. Sometimes, indeed, he has been roundly accused of playing to the gallery; yet has he always been a persona grata with Personages. He is a clever fellow who is often called able; but with all his cleverness, his brilliance, and his wit he reminds one of a man with ten talents who does nothing with them. He has won two Derbys running, and he is popular on the Turf; yet in the great Affairs of the Empire he seems to let his chances - and they have been many - slip. He is supposed to know all about Foreign Affairs; and twice he has been their Secretary of State; but, like a brilliant meteor, he has left no mark upon the shifting sands of time. He still has a future before him, for he is but three-and-fifty. Will he ever overtake it?

He is a fine orator and a warm critic. He has compiled two little books, and he has enemies.”

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