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Sir Alec Douglas-Home

 

Alex Douglas HomeAlexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel, KT, PC (2 July 1903 – 9 October 1995), 14th Earl of Home from 1951 to 1963, was a British Conservative politician, and served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a year from October 1963 to October 1964 (as Sir Alec Douglas-Home). He was the last member of the House of Lords to be appointed Prime Minister and the only Prime Minister to renounce his peerage to leave the House of Lords and contest a by-election to enter the House of Commons. He was also the only Prime Minister to have played first class cricket and the first British Prime Minister to have been born in the 20th century.

Douglas-Home was born in Mayfair, London, England, the eldest of seven children born to Charles, Lord Dunglass, (the oldest son of the 12th Earl of Home) and Lady Lilian Lambton, daughter of Frederick Lambton, 4th Earl of Durham. His mother was the great-great-granddaughter of the reforming Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. After his father's succession to the Earldom in 1918 he held the courtesy title Lord Dunglass. One of his brothers was the dramatist William Douglas-Home.

Home was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated with a Third Class Honours MA in Modern History in 1925. At Eton, his contemporaries included Cyril Connolly, who later described him as "a votary of the esoteric Eton religion, the kind of graceful, tolerant, sleepy boy who is showered with all the laurels, who is liked by the masters and admired by the boys without any apparent exertion on his part". Connolly famously concluded, "in the eighteenth century he would have become Prime Minister before he was 30: as it was he appeared honourably ineligible for the struggle of life". In 1936 he married Elizabeth Alington, the daughter of Cyril Alington, who had been Douglas-Home's headmaster at Eton. They had four children, Caroline, Meriel, Diana and David.

He was elected as a Unionist MP for South Lanark in 1931 – a position he held until 1945. Douglas-Home was the first peer to be elected as a Member of Parliament since Lord Salisbury in 1895. Douglas-Home became a Conservative MP in 1950 for Lanark – a post he held until 1951. From 1963 to 1974, Douglas-Home was MP for Kinross and West Perth.

From 1937 to 1939, Douglas-Home was the private personal secretary of Neville Chamberlain. He spent two years of the war incapacitated due to a back injury when he had to wear a spinal cast. In 1951, when the Conservatives won the general election, Douglas-Home was recommended to Winston Churchill as Minister for Scotland. Churchill replied with “Never heard of him”. Regardless of this, Churchill appointed Douglas-Home Minister of Scotland – a post he held until 1955.

Under Anthony Eden, Douglas-Home was brought into the cabinet as Minister for Commonwealth Relations. He held this post for five years when Macmillan appointed him as Foreign Secretary in 1960. Douglas-Home held this post until 1963.

In October 1963, Harold Macmillan resigned as Prime Minister. Many were surprised when Macmillan recommended to the Queen that she call Douglas-Home to appoint a cabinet as Prime Minister. He had to disclaim his peerage to serve in the House of Commons and he became Sir Alec Douglas-Home. He was 60 years old when he became Prime Minister and he spent 362 days at the helm and served Kinross and West Perth as its MP.

He was Prime Minister for one year and lost the October 1964 election to Labour’s Harold Wilson by just five seats. He served as Leader of the Opposition for nine months and was succeeded as leader of the Conservative party by Edward Heath. When he became Prime Minister in 1970, Heath appointed Douglas-Home Foreign Secretary in June 1970. He held this position until February 1974. He then returned to the Lords as a life peer where he attended regularly for twenty years.

Alec Douglas-Home died on October 9th 1995 in Berwickshire, Scotland.


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Last modified: Monday, 14 April 2014