5th Earl of Rosebery

When Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), was a boy he declared he had three aims in life: to win the Derby, to marry an heiress and to become Prime Minister. Primrose was only four when his father died and inherited the title Lord Dalmeny as heir to his grandfather the 4th Earl of Rosebery. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford Rosebery bought his first horse, Ladas, in 1868 contrary to college rules when he acceded to the Earldom. Told by Christ Church to choose between his studies and Ladas, Rosebery chose the racehorse. Ladas was the first of Rosebery’s three Derby winners and eleven British Classic races.

On his accession, Rosebery took his seat in the Lords and served in Whig Prime Minister Gladstone’s cabinet as Foreign Secretary. In 1878 Rosebery fulfilled his ambition to wed an heiress. Hannah Rothschild was the only child of Jewish banker Baron Mayer de Rothschild and was the richest woman in Britain. The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the Duke of Cambridge attended the society wedding. Rosebery thus became the master of Mayer de Rothschild’s stately home Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire and of No 40 Piccadilly in London as well as a landowner in his own right with properties such as The Durdans in Epsom, Dalmeny House in Scotland and the Villa Delahante in the Bay of Naples.

When Gladstone retired in 1894, Rosebery was invited by Queen Victoria to form a government; he being her preferred choice of a rather bad bunch of Liberal politicians. But apart from installing electric light in No 10 Downing Street, Rosebery was undistinguished as Prime Minister. His hands were tied without the support of his cabinet including Sir William Harcourt, H. H. Asquith and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He resigned within a year opposing his own party’s support for Irish Home Rule.

Rosebery never returned to high office choosing instead to write biographies of William Pitt the Younger, Emperor Napoleon I and Lord Randolph Churchill. Lord Randolph’s son, Winston Churchill, wrote Rosebery’s political obituary saying pithily ‘he would not stoop; he did not conquer’. Lord Rosebery was implicated in the Oscar Wilde scandal in 1895 when it emerged that the Marquess of Queensbury (father of Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas) had accused Rosebery of having unnatural relations with his eldest son Viscount Drumlanrig who had allegedly committed suicide while on a shooting party in 1894. Queensbury had used the accusation to assure that the Prime Minister supported Wilde’s prosecution.

The Earl of Rosebery’s first livery order is recorded in 1878 – the year he married the Rothschild heiress – and lists his address as No 2 Berkeley Square. His first orders are for two airtight cases for liveries and hats respectively. Under-butler Philpot is furnished with a black livery great coat with 18/4 buttons as is Footman Wainwright who is also measured up for an Oxford livery coatee (22/4 buttons), two striped vests, plain Oxford trousers and plain cotton drawers. Groom ‘Boy’ Dyer was furnished with a buck stable coat, vest, trousers and mackintosh coat. Though the Earl’s account appears long, the lion’s share of instruction to Poole’s was the repair, pressing and return of the green and silver Rosebery liveries worn at all of the Earl’s magnificent properties.

The Earl’s personal orders are vast. He is first recorded at Poole in 1882 bespeaking a check angola straight leg trouser and a grey check angola shooting coat with matching knickerbockers and hood. In 1885 Rosebery ordered the then fashionable long double-breasted great coat lined in best mink fur throughout with a Russian sable collar. By 1899, the Poole’s clerk records payment quarterly after’ less 15%’ as an incentive for a rare prompt and regular settlement of account.

Perhaps the most poignant memento of the 5th Earl of Rosebery at Henry Poole is a length of his primrose and rose satin stripe racing colours kept in a separate book for the age’s most famous men of the Turf. Though undated, we can place his first order for racing silks in 1892 when the vest and cap are first mentioned in the Earl’s personal order pages.

Shortly before the end of World War I, the Earl of Rosebery suffered from a stroke that seriously curtailed his activities as an owner/trainer. His sister Constance said of his final years that Rosebery endured ‘a life of weariness, of total inactivity and in his last year of almost blindness’. He had suffered from chronic insomnia ever since his term of office as Prime Minister and was haunted by the death of his eldest son Neil as well as the loss of his wife Hannah in 1890. He died at The Durdans in 1929. At his request, the Eton Boat Song was playing on the Gramophone next to the Earl’s deathbed. Rosebery Avenue in London’s Clerkenwell district is named after the man who remains the wealthiest Prime Minister in history.

(c) James Sherwood

Photo © (c) James Sherwood Collection