Sir (Joseph) Austen Chamberlain
and The Primrose League.


(Joseph) Austen Chamberlain was the eldest son of the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain (died 1914) and Harriet daughter of Archibald Kenrick of Birmingham and was born 16th October 1863. He married in 1906: Ivy Murial daughter of Col. Henry Laurence Dundas. They had issue two sons and one daughter. There is evidence of Chamberlain's association with the Primrose League, but none has so far has been found to prove membership.

Austen Chamberlain was born to greatness. That he did not achieve the highest office in the land was the peculiar consequence of his own honour, and his party's lack of it. Chamberlain was part of a dynasty which played a giant role in national politics for half a century. His father was the populist Lord Mayor of Birmingham who also came close to the brink of national power.

The elder Chamberlain was a staunch Liberal who fell out with the party's greatest leader, William Gladstone, over the issue of Irish home rule. He led a breakaway anti-home rule faction, the Liberal Unionists, who from the outset were close allies of the staunchly pro-Union Conservatives. Both his sons, (Joseph) Austen Chamberlain and (Arthur) Neville Chamberlain, became Liberal Unionist MP's, but later dropped the fig-leaf and declared themselves Tories.

Austen was reckoned to be the cleverer, more gifted son. It is one of the ironies of twentieth century politics that he achieved the party leadership, but never the prime ministership, whereas his half-brother Neville became one of the most despised men ever to occupy 10 Downing Street.

Both boys were groomed for statesmanship. Austen's education at Rugby and Cambridge was supplemented by courses in Paris and Berlin, after which he became his famous father's personal assistant. He was just 29 when, in 1892, he was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal Unionist. He was to remain an MP for 45 years, until his death.

In 1911, Chamberlain was one of the leading candidates to succeed Arthur James Balfour as Conservative leader - even though he was still a member of the Liberal Unionist party (the two parties merged formally in 1912). However he was opposed by Walter Long and both men were eventually persuaded to withdraw in favour of Andrew Bonar Law, who was chosen as a compromise candidate.
Punch magazine Vol. 158,
25th February 1920
Chamberlain rose swiftly. He was a junior minister within three years, a cabinet member within ten, and chancellor of the exchequer a year after that. In the coalition governments headed by Liberal prime ministers during and after the first world war, Chamberlain served as secretary of state for India, then again as chancellor.

The Punch Cartoon depicts Chamberlain after a debate in the house in which he spoke in favour of continuing to mint the silver threepenny-bit, against the objections of others who cited the displeasure of churchwardens with the coin.

When Andrew Bonar Law resigned as Conservative leader in 1921, Austen Chamberlain was his natural successor. But politically, he had two fatal flaws: his Liberal views and his strong sense of personal loyalty to the struggling Liberal coalition leader, David Lloyd George. Rank and file Tories were so outraged that their leader refused to abandon the coalition, that they abandoned him. The ailing Bonar Law was recalled and, following the Liberal collapse of 1922, installed in Downing Street.

On the 2nd February 1922 Austen Chamberlain spoke at the annual dinner of the Primrose League. Referring to, amongst other things, the task before the government was to consolidate peace in Europe and restore order and stability at home, concentrating on the elimination of those disputes which had so ruinously aggravated distress. The first necessity was for a reduction of expenditure and the strictest economy in administration and policy.

Chamberlain would never again have a chance at the supreme prize, but his career was far from over. In the Baldwin administration of 1924-29, he was foreign secretary. His greatest achievement was to broker the Locarno treaties of 1925. For this noble but alas ill-fated attempt to bring lasting peace to Europe, he was rewarded with a share of the Nobel peace prize, and became a Knight of The Most Noble Order of The Garter (The London Gazette [pictured] entry shows his appointment and also his wife's appointment as Dame Grand Cross of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).

His last great service was during the period 1934 to 1937, as he was with Winston Churchill, the most prominent voice calling for British rearmament in the face of a growing threat from Germany. He was the chairman of two Conservative parliamentary delegations in late 1936 which met with the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, to remonstrate with him about the slow progress in modernizing and expanding the armed forces.

He died 17th March 1937, just ten weeks before his half-brother took up residence in Downing Street, and was thus spared the spectacle of seeing a Chamberlain grovelling to the German Führer. Chamberlain's estate was probated at £45,044

Hughenden Manor.

Short film clips (no sound) of various wreath laying occasions on or around 19th of April (Primrose Day) by members of the Primrose League have been made available by British Pathe News, click on the links to view.
All links working as of the 14th April 2012!

Primrose Day in London 1916.
A memorial tribute to Benjamin Disraeli around his statue, with Big Ben behind it.

Primrose Day 1921.
Austen Chamberlain and members of the Primrose League laying wreaths on the grave of Lord Beaconsfield at Hughenden

Primrose Day 1923.
Sir W. Joynson-Hicks, new Postmaster General at annual tribute to Lord Beaconsfield. Hughenden.

Primrose Day 1923.
Sir W. Joynson-Hicks, at Annual Tribute to Lord Beaconsfield

Primrose Day 1926.
Liverpool's tribute to great Statesman

Primrose Day 1928.
Miss Diana Churchill heads annual pilgrimage in memory of Lord Beaconsfield.

< < < Pictured left is Disraeli's Tomb located in the grounds of Hughenden Manor.

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My sincere thanks go to Mr. Rob Farrow for permission
to use his excellent photograph of Disraeli's Tomb.
Copyright remains with Mr. Farrow.
Visit The Geograph Web Site to view a
larger rendering of this image.
The Guardian, Friday June 8, 2001.
Who's Who 1922.
Wikipedia encyclopedia, Feb. 1922.
House of Commons Government Web Site, Feb. 2006.
British Pathe News Archives.

Page updated 14th April 2012.