Stafford Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh

Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh GCB PC FRS (27 October 1818 – 12 January 1887), known as Sir Stafford Northcote, Bt from 1851 to 1885, was a British Conservative politician. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1874 and 1880 and as Foreign Secretary between 1885 and 1886

The Earl of Iddesleigh
Iddesleigh in 1870s
President of the Board of Trade
In office
6 July 1866  8 March 1867
Prime MinisterThe Earl of Derby
Preceded byThomas Milner Gibson
Succeeded byThe Duke of Richmond
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
21 February 1874  21 April 1880
Prime MinisterBenjamin Disraeli
Preceded byWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Succeeded byWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
3 August 1886  12 January 1887
Prime MinisterThe Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded byThe Earl of Rosebery
Succeeded byThe Marquess of Salisbury
Personal details
Born27 October 1818 (1818-10-27)
Died12 January 1887(1887-01-12) (aged 68)
Political partyConservative
SpouseCecilia Frances Farrer (died 1910)
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford

According to Nigel Keohane, historians have portrayed him "as a man who fell short of the ultimate achievement of being prime minister largely because of personal weakness, and lack of political virility and drive."[1]

Background and education

Northcote (pronounced "Northcut") was born at Portland Place, London, on 27 October 1818.[2] He was the eldest son of Henry Stafford Northcote (1792–1850), eldest son of Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 7th Baronet. His mother was Agnes Mary (died 1840), daughter of Thomas Cockburn. His paternal ancestors had long been settled in Devon, tracing their descent from Galfridas de Nordcote who settled there in 1103. The family home was situated at Pynes House northwest of Exeter. Northcote was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford and was called to the bar, Inner Temple, in 1847.

Early political career

In 1843 Northcote became private secretary to William Ewart Gladstone at the Board of Trade. Northcote was afterwards legal secretary to the board and, after acting as one of the secretaries to the Great Exhibition of 1851, co-operated with Sir Charles Trevelyan in framing the Northcote–Trevelyan Report, which revolutionized the conditions of appointment to the Civil Service. He succeeded his grandfather, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote (1762–1851), as 8th baronet in 1851. He entered Parliament in 1855 as Conservative Member of Parliament for Dudley with the support of the influential local landowner Lord Ward.[3] However, tensions between Northcote and Lord Ward soon arose, in particular over a vote over conflict with China in which the two men supported opposite sides in the vote.[4] Northcote subsequently decided not to contest Dudley again and stood unsuccessfully for North Devon in 1857. He returned to Parliament the following year, when he was elected for Stamford in 1858, a seat that he exchanged in 1866 for North Devon. He was briefly Financial Secretary to the Treasury under the Earl of Derby from January to July 1859.

Later political career

The Earl of Iddesleigh by Edwin Long.

Steadily supporting his party, he became President of the Board of Trade in 1866, Secretary of State for India in 1867 and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1874. In 1870, during the interval between the last two appointments, he was the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, North America's oldest company (established by an English royal charter in 1670), when it sold the Northwest Territories to Canada. Northcote was one of the commissioners for the settlement of the Alabama Claims with the United States, culminating with the Treaty of Washington in 1871.

On Benjamin Disraeli's elevation to the House of Lords as Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876, Northcote became Leader of the Conservatives in the Commons. As a finance minister, he largely continued the lines of policy laid down by Gladstone. However, he distinguished himself by his dealings with the debt, especially his introduction of the new sinking fund in 1876 by which he fixed the annual charge for the debt in such a way as to provide for a regular series of payments off the capital.

His temper as leader was, however, too gentle to satisfy the more ardent spirits among his own followers. Party cabals (in which Lord Randolph Churchill took a leading part) led to Northcote's elevation to the Lords in 1885, when Lord Salisbury became prime minister. Taking the titles of Earl of Iddesleigh and Viscount St Cyres, he was included in the cabinet as First Lord of the Treasury. In Lord Salisbury's 1886 ministry he became Foreign Secretary, but the arrangement was not a comfortable one, and his resignation had just been decided upon when on 12 January 1887, he died very suddenly at the First Lord of the Treasury's official residence, 10 Downing Street.

Other public positions

Northcote was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1875[5] and Lord Rector of Edinburgh University in 1883, in which capacity he addressed the students on the subject of "Desultory Reading". From 1886 to 1887 he was also Lord Lieutenant of Devon. He was not a prolific or notable writer, but amongst his works were Twenty Years of Financial Policy (1862), a valuable study of Gladstonian finance, and Lectures and Essays (1887).[6] His Life by Andrew Lang appeared in 1890. Northcote was appointed a CB in 1851 and a GCB in 1880 and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1866. He was one of only two people to hold the office of First Lord of the Treasury without ever being Prime Minister.[7]

Family and personal life

Portrait of Sir Stafford Northcote, c.1850s

Northcote married Cecilia Frances Farrer (died 1910), daughter of Thomas Farrer and sister of Thomas Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer, in 1843. They had seven sons and three daughters. His second son, Henry, 1st Baron Northcote, was Governor-General of Australia. Another son, Amyas, later became known as a writer of ghost stories.[8]

In the aftermath of the British Expedition to Abyssinia, Northcote built up a small but prestigious collection of Ethiopian artefacts that is now in the British Museum.[9]

The 1881 Census shows him living next door to Lord Randolph Churchill MP and family, at 30 St James Place, Westminster.


  1. Nigel Thomas Keohane, "The Lost Leader: Sir Stafford Northcote and the Leadership of the Conservative Party, 1876–85." Parliamentary History 27.3 (2008): 361-379.
  2. Williams, William Retlaw (1897). The parliamentary history of the county of Worcester. Hereford: Jakeman and Carver. p. 182.
  3. Lang, Andrew (1890). Life, Letters, and Diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, First Earl of Iddesleigh. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons. pp. 109–113.
  4. Lang, Andrew (1890). Life, Letters, and Diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, First Earl of Iddesleigh. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons. pp. 147–151.
  5. "Fellow Details". Royal Society. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  6. "Review of Lectures and Essays by Sir Stafford Henry Northcote". The Athenæum (3113): 826–827. 25 June 1887.
  7. The other was William Henry Smith, his successor-but-two, who, like Iddesleigh, also served in post in one of the Salisbury ministries).
  8. Neil Wilson, Shadows in the Attic: A Guide to British supernatural fiction, 1820–1950, British Library (2000) ISBN 0712310746; p. 383
  9. British Museum Collection,; accessed 24 July 2017.

Further reading

  • Cooke, A. B. “A Conservative Party Leader in Ulster: Sir Stafford Northcote’s Diary of a Visit to the Province, October 1883.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature, vol. 75, (1975), pp. 61–84, online.
  • Iddesleigh, Stafford Henry Northcote. "Speech of the Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford Northcote, to the Working-Men’s Conservative Association of Edinburgh" (Edinburgh Conservative Association, 1876), pp. 1–12, online
  • Keohane, Nigel Thomas. "The Lost Leader: Sir Stafford Northcote and the Leadership of the Conservative Party, 1876–85." Parliamentary History 27.3 (2008): 361-379.
  • Lang, Andrew. Life, Letters, and Diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, First Earl of Iddesleigh (1891) online
  • Swartz, Marvin. The politics of British foreign policy in the era of Disraeli and Gladstone (London: Macmillan, 1985).
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