Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour (;〔(Oxford Dictionaries ) Oxford Dictionaries Online〕 25 July 1848 – 19 March 1930) was a British Conservative politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from July 1902 to December 1905, and later Foreign Secretary.
Balfour came into a vast inheritance at 21. Entering Parliament in 1874, he achieved prominence as Chief Secretary for Ireland, in which position he suppressed agrarian unrest whilst taking measures against absentee landlords. He opposed Irish Home Rule, saying there could be no half-way house between Ireland remaining within the United Kingdom or becoming independent. From 1891 he led the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, serving under his uncle, Lord Salisbury, whose government won large majorities in 1895 and 1900.
In July 1902 he succeeded Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister. He oversaw reform of British defence policy and the Entente Cordiale, an agreement with France that influenced Britain's decision to join the First World War. However, he was seen as an ambivalent personality and a weak Prime Minister. He cautiously embraced the imperial preference championed by Joseph Chamberlain, but resignations from the Cabinet left his party divided. He also suffered from public anger at the later stages of the Boer war (counter-insurgency warfare characterized as "methods of barbarism") and the importation of Chinese labour to South Africa ("Chinese slavery"). He resigned as Prime Minister in December 1905 and the following month the Conservatives suffered landslide defeat at the 1906 election. He continued to serve as Leader of the Opposition throughout the crisis over Lloyd George's 1909 budget, the narrow loss of two further General Elections in 1910, and the passage of the Parliament Act. He resigned as party leader later in 1911.
Balfour returned as First Lord of the Admiralty in Asquith's Coalition Government (1915–16). In December 1916 he became Foreign Secretary in David Lloyd George's wartime administration, but was frequently left out of the inner workings of government, although the Balfour Declaration bore his name. He continued to serve in senior Cabinet positions throughout the 1920s, and died on 19 March 1930 aged 81, having spent a vast inherited fortune. He never married. Balfour trained as a philosopher – he originated an argument against believing that human reason could determine truth – and was seen as having a detached attitude to life, epitomised by a remark attributed to him: "Nothing matters very much and few things matter at all".
==Background and early career==
Arthur Balfour was born at Whittingehame House, East Lothian, Scotland, the eldest son of James Maitland Balfour (1820–1856) and Lady Blanche Gascoyne-Cecil (1825–1872). His father was a Scottish MP, as was his grandfather James; his mother, a member of the Cecil family descended from Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, was the daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Salisbury and a sister to the 3rd Marquess, the future Prime Minister. His godfather was the Duke of Wellington, after whom he was named.〔Tuchman, ''The Proud Tower'', p. 46.〕 He was the eldest son, third of eight children, and had four brothers and three sisters. Arthur Balfour was educated at Grange preparatory school in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (1859–1861), and Eton College (1861–1866), where he studied with the influential master, William Johnson Cory. He went to the University of Cambridge, where he read moral sciences at Trinity College (1866–1869), graduating with a second-class honours degree. His younger brother was the Cambridge embryologist Francis Maitland Balfour (1851–1882).
Although he coined the saying "Nothing matters very much and few things matter at all", Balfour was distraught at the early death from typhus in 1875 of his cousin May Lyttelton, whom he had hoped to marry: later, mediums claimed to pass on messages from her – see the "Palm Sunday Case". Balfour remained a bachelor. Margot Tennant (later Margot Asquith) wished to marry him, but Balfour said: "No, that is not so. I rather think of having a career of my own."〔 His household was maintained by his unmarried sister, Alice. In middle age, Balfour had a 40-year friendship with Mary Charteris (née Wyndham), Lady Elcho, later Countess of Wemyss and March. Although one biographer writes that "it is difficult to say how far the relationship went", her letters suggest they may have become lovers in 1887 and may have engaged in sado-masochism,〔R. J. Q. Adams, ''Balfour, The Last Grandee'', p. 47.〕 a claim echoed by A. N. Wilson.〔 Another biographer believes they had "no direct physical relationship", although he dismisses as unlikely suggestions that Balfour was homosexual, or, in view of a time during the Boer War when he replied to a message while drying himself after his bath, Lord Beaverbrook's claim that he was "a hermaphrodite" whom no-one saw naked.〔Mackay, ''Balfour, Intellectual Statesman'', p. 8.〕
In 1874 he was elected Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Hertford until 1885. In spring 1878, Balfour became Private Secretary to his uncle, Lord Salisbury. He accompanied Salisbury (then Foreign Secretary) to the Congress of Berlin and gained his first experience in international politics in connection with the settlement of the Russo-Turkish conflict. At the same time he became known in the world of letters; the academic subtlety and literary achievement of his ''Defence of Philosophic Doubt'' (1879) suggested he might make a reputation as a philosopher.
Balfour divided his time between politics and academic pursuits. Released from his duties as private secretary by the general election of 1880, he began to take more part in parliamentary affairs. He was for a time politically associated with Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff and John Gorst. This quartet became known as the "Fourth Party" and gained notoriety for leader Lord Randolph Churchill's free criticism of Sir Stafford Northcote, Lord Cross and other prominent members of the "old gang".
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