The article lists the records of prime ministers of the United Kingdom since 1721.
The prime minister with the longest single term was Robert Walpole, lasting 20 years and 315 days from 3 April 1721 until 11 February 1742. This is also longer than the accumulated terms of any other prime minister.
Liz Truss holds the record for the shortest unequivocal term of office, at 50 days. She was appointed by Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle on 6 September 2022, and officially resigned as prime minister to Charles III at Buckingham Palace on 25 October 2022. George Canning holds the record for the second shortest term in office, dying in office on 8 August 1827, 119 days after his appointment.
However, the record of the shortest term may depend on the criteria used. Lord Bath technically assumed office for only two days (10–12 February 1746), but was unable to find more than one person who would agree to serve in his cabinet. A satirist of the time wrote: "the minister to the astonishment of all wise men never transacted one rash thing; and, what is more marvellous, left as much money in the Treasury as he found in it." James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave was a prime minister for four days, 8–12 June 1757. However, neither Pulteney or Waldegrave formed an effective government, and so there are other contenders for the record of shortest term of office.
In November 1834, the Duke of Wellington declined to become prime minister for a second term, but but formed a "caretaker" administration for 25 days (17 November–9 December 1834) while his recommendation for the post, Robert Peel, returned from Europe. This caretaker administration it is not necessarily considered a term of office in its own right, however.
The prime minister with the longest period between the start of their first appointment and the end of their final term was the Duke of Portland, whose first term began on 2 April 1783 and whose second and final term ended on 4 October 1809, a period of about 26 years and 6 months.
The Duke of Portland was out of office between his two terms for 23 years and 101 days, from 19 December 1783 to 31 March 1807.
The shortest interval (or "fastest comeback") was achieved by Henry Pelham, who resigned on 10 February 1746 but returned to office two days later (12 February) when Lord Bath had been invited to form a ministry but failed to do so. The shortest interval where an intervening ministry had been formed was achieved by Lord Melbourne, who was out of office after being dismissed on 14 November 1834, but returned 155 days (under six months) later, following the end of successor Robert Peel's first ministry on 18 April 1835.
A prime minister's "term" is traditionally regarded as the period between their appointment and resignation, dismissal, or death, with the number of general elections taking place in the intervening period making no difference.
The only prime minister to serve four terms under that definition was William Ewart Gladstone:
Three prime ministers have served three terms:
Thirteen prime ministers have served two terms: Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Ramsay MacDonald, The Viscount Melbourne, The Duke of Newcastle, Lord Palmerston, Robert Peel, William Pitt the Younger, The Duke of Portland, The Marquess of Rockingham, Lord John Russell, The Duke of Wellington, and Harold Wilson.
The office of prime minister has coincided with the reigns of eleven British monarchs (including a Regency during the incapacity of George III from 1811 to his death in 1820), to whom the prime minister has been constitutionally head of government to the sovereign's headship of state.
Until 1837, the death of a sovereign led to Parliament being dissolved within six months which led to a general election. The results of such elections were:
Stanley Baldwin is the only prime minister to have served three sovereigns, in succession: King George V, King Edward VIII, and King George VI.
Ten prime ministers served under two sovereigns, nine through being in office at transitions between reigns.
Nine prime ministers have served office under sovereigns in whose own reigns they were born.
Cameron, Johnson, and Truss have the additional distinction of being younger than all of Elizabeth II's children.
Both Robert Walpole (1676–1745) and Lord Wilmington (c. 1673–1743) lived under the reigns of the same seven sovereigns: Charles II, James II, joint sovereigns William III and Mary II, Queen Anne, George I, and George II.
Winston Churchill (1874–1965), Clement Attlee (1883–1967), Anthony Eden (1897–1977) and Harold Macmillan (1894–1986) all lived under the reigns of the same six sovereigns: Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II.
The record for the prime minister appointed latest into a monarch's reign is held by Liz Truss, who was appointed 70 years and 7 months into the reign of Elizabeth II. She also holds the record for the prime minister appointed closest to the end of a monarch's reign, being appointed two days before the death of Elizabeth II.
The record for the prime minister appointed soonest into the reign of a monarch goes to Rishi Sunak, the immediate successor of Liz Truss, appointed 47 days into the reign of Charles III.
These records all come about largely due to (but are not inherently dependent on) the unique circumstance of the end of Elizabeth II's record-breaking long reign coinciding with the start of Liz Truss' record-breaking short term. Various other records can be derived from these facts, such as the shortest time between the end of a prime minister's term and end of a monarch's reign being the 2 days between the resignation of Boris Johnson and death of Elizabeth II, or the shortest time between the start of a monarch's reign and end of a prime minister's term being the 47 days between the ascension of Charles III and the resignation of Liz Truss.
The youngest prime minister to be appointed was William Pitt the Younger on 19 December 1783 at the age of 24 years and 208 days.
The oldest prime minister to be appointed for the first time was Lord Palmerston on 6 February 1855 at the age of 70 years and 109 days.
The oldest prime minister to be appointed overall, and oldest to win a General Election, was William Ewart Gladstone, who was born on 29 December 1809 and appointed for the final time on 15 August 1892 at the age of 82 years and 231 days, following that year's General Election.
The youngest prime minister to leave office was the Duke of Grafton, who retired in 1770, aged 34. The oldest was Gladstone, who was 84 years at the time of his final retirement in 1894.
Greatest age difference — Lord Rosebery (born 7 May 1847) was 37 years 129 days younger than William Ewart Gladstone (born 29 December 1809) whom he succeeded after the final retirement of the latter in 1894.
Smallest age difference — George Canning (born 11 April 1770) was 57 days senior to Lord Liverpool (born 7 June 1770), whom he succeeded after Liverpool retired in 1827. Canning and Liverpool were one of four pairs of immediately consecutive prime ministers who shared a same birth year, the others being:
The decade of the 1730s was the most productive for births of five future prime ministers: Lord Rockingham (born 1730, served 1765–1766 and 1782), Lord North (born 1732, served 1770–1782), the Duke of Grafton (born 1735, served 1768–1770), Lord Shelburne (born 1737, served 1782–1783), and the Duke of Portland (born 1738, served 1783 and 1807–1809).
The longest-lived prime minister was James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, who was born on 27 March 1912 and died on 26 March 2005 at the age of 92 years 364 days, which was the day before his 93rd birthday. Prior to this the longest-living prime minister was Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, who was born on 10 February 1894 and died on 29 December 1986 (aged 92 years, 322 days).
Of the seven former prime ministers currently alive, the oldest is John Major (born 29 March 1943), who is 79 years old. If he reaches his 93rd birthday on 29 March 2036, he will surpass Callaghan's record and he will become the longest-lived prime minister.
The shortest-lived prime minister was the Duke of Devonshire, who was born on 8 May 1720 and died on 2 October 1764 at the age of 44 years and 147 days.
The prime minister who lived the longest after leaving office for the final time was the Duke of Grafton, who left office on 28 January 1770. He died on 14 March 1811, 41 years and 45 days later.
In recent years, the prime minister who lived the longest after leaving office was Edward Heath, whose term ended on 4 March 1974. He died on 17 July 2005, 31 years and 135 days later.
The prime minister who lived the shortest period after leaving office was Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who resigned on 3 April 1908 and died just 19 days later on 22 April 1908, while still resident in 10 Downing Street.
There have been two intervals between general elections, both in the 18th century, when on both occasions five successive prime ministers were in office.
In modern times, since members of the House of Lords ceased to hold prime ministerial office (after 1902), there have been two occasions where there were three prime ministers in office between general elections:
The most general elections contested by an individual is six. H. H. Asquith contested the January 1910, December 1910, 1918, 1922, 1923 and the 1924 general elections.
The most general elections lost by an individual is four. Charles James Fox was unsuccessful after contesting the 1784, 1790, 1796 and 1802 general elections, and subsequently never became prime minister. The most general elections won by an individual is four. Robert Walpole, Lord Liverpool, William Ewart Gladstone, and Harold Wilson each won four general elections.
The youngest person to be on the losing side at a general election was Charles James Fox, who led his Whig Party to defeat in the 1784 general election when aged 35. The youngest prime minister to be on the losing side at a general election was Lord Rosebery, who, having resigned his ministry in May 1895, led his Liberal Party to defeat in the general election the following month when aged 48. Since peers ceased to hold this office (1902), the youngest losing prime minister was John Major, at 54 years and 33 days when the Conservative Party lost the 1997 general election.
William Ewart Gladstone, was the oldest, at 76 years, when his party lost the 1886 general election, although he returned to office in 1892. The oldest prime minister to be defeated without returning to office was Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, who was 75 when the Conservative Party lost the 1880 general election. Aged 70 years, 200 days, Jeremy Corbyn is the oldest person to be on the losing side of a general election without ever becoming prime minister when the Labour Party lost the 2019 general election.
The youngest prime minister to be on the winning side at a general election was William Pitt the Younger, who led the Tory Party to victory in the 1784 general election when aged 25. In recent years, the youngest prime minister to be on the winning side at a general election was David Cameron, who was 43 years and 209 days old when he led the Conservative Party to victory as the largest party in the 2010 general election.
William Ewart Gladstone, was the oldest. He was 82 years of age when he returned to office after his Liberal Party was successful in the 1892 general election. The oldest prime minister to be victorious at a general election for the first time was Lord Palmerston, who was 72 years of age when his Whig Party won the 1857 general election.
16 prime ministers never fought a general election while they held office (or to gain office), usually by serving terms sandwiched between the victor of one election and the prime minister who faced the next. Chronologically they were:
John Russell was unique in serving one entire term at Downing Street as Commons MP, when known as Lord John Russell (as younger son of a Duke of Bedford) in 1846–1852, and his second and last entirely as a member of the Lords as the 1st Earl Russell in 1865–1866, having been raised to the peerage between terms in 1861.
Without counting Lord Russell, eighteen prime ministers served their entire terms from the House of Lords where they were already members. In the following chronological list, those PMs who never served in the House of Commons during their political career are marked with an asterisk (*):
Three prime ministers were elevated from the Commons to the House of Lords during their terms through being raised to the peerage.
Lord North succeeded to his father's peerage as the 2nd Earl of Guilford in 1790 after being in office.
Alec Douglas-Home disclaimed his hereditary peerage as the 14th Earl of Home four days after coming to office in 1963 (under the Peerage Act of that year), giving up his seat in the Lords and subsequently sat in the Commons after succeeding in a by-election, pending which for 20 days he held office from neither House. He returned to the Lords when made life peer as Baron Home of the Hirsel in 1974.
Eleven prime ministers have served their entire terms as Members of the House of Commons but were elevated to the House of Lords afterwards by being created peers.
In contrast, 19 prime ministers preceding the current (Rishi Sunak) have never become members of the House of Lords, including his seven immediate predecessors. Henry Pelham (served 1743 to his death in 1754) was the first to be a lifelong "Commoner". (The convention of prime ministers leading from the House of Commons only became established in the 20th century.)
Holders of Irish peerages (with the exception of 28 Irish representative peers allowed after 1801, who were elected from among their peers) legally did not sit in the House of Lords in the Parliaments of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, but were allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Lord Palmerston was the only Irish peer to serve as prime minister, thus leading from the House of Commons.
The shortest period between entering Parliament and being appointed prime minister was achieved by William Pitt the Younger who became prime minister two years after first becoming an MP. The longest period of service as an MP before becoming prime minister was 47 years for Lord Palmerston.
The oldest debut of a future prime minister as MP was by Neville Chamberlain who was elected, aged 49 years 261 days, at general election in 1918.
The youngest at first election was Lord Euston (later the Duke of Grafton), who was elected at by election on 10 December 1756 aged 21 years and 73 days. He also had the shortest period as an MP enjoyed by a prime minister, nearly five months, representing two successive seats (the first of which he only held for 11 days before being elected for his second) until going to the House of Lords when he succeeded his father as the 3rd Duke of Grafton on 6 May 1757, eleven years before his term of office began.
Winston Churchill served the longest as MP, for a total of 63 years and 360 days, for five successive seats, between 1 October 1900 and retirement on 25 September 1964, excluding two intervals out of parliament (in 1908 and in 1922–1924). He retired as Father of the House. He was in the Commons throughout both his terms as prime minister, and his service covered the terms of eleven other prime ministers, from Lord Salisbury (second ministry) to Alec Douglas-Home, but did not serve under Bonar Law who was in office when Churchill was briefly out of parliament.
David Lloyd George had the longest unbroken career as an MP, for one seat, Carnarvon Boroughs, from a by-election on 10 April 1890 until his death on 26 March 1945, a period of 54 years and 350 days. He received a peerage on 1 January 1945 but was not able to take his seat in the Lords. From 1929 he had been Father of the House. His career as PM covered the terms of eleven other prime ministers, from Lord Salisbury (first ministry) to Winston Churchill (first ministry).
Alec Douglas-Home had the longest interval between terms of service in the Commons. He automatically vacated his Commons seat at Lanark on 11 July 1951 by succeeding his father and going to the House of Lords as the 14th Earl of Home. He gained his next Commons seat at Kinross and Western Perthshire in a by-election on 7 November 1963, after becoming prime minister and disclaiming his hereditary peerage. The interval between these terms as MP was 12 years and 123 days. He had a previous interval out of the Commons between defeat in the 1945 General Election and returning in that of 1950 over four years later.
No parliamentary constituency has been represented by more than one serving prime minister. Four future prime ministers sat for Newport, Isle of Wight (constituency abolished 1832): Lord Palmerston and Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) in 1807–1809, George Canning in 1826–1827 and William Lamb, later Lord Melbourne in April–May 1827.
It is rare for veteran prime ministers sitting in the Commons to lose seats through electoral defeat at subsequent general elections. Those who have are:
Five prime ministers through longest unbroken service became Father of the House. Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the first prime minister to achieve this status, uniquely while in office, in 1907. He was still serving as an MP when he died shortly after retiring as prime minister. The others listed in the table below became Father after the end of their terms. James Callaghan became Father only 4 years and 36 days after the end of his term in office, while at the other extreme Edward Heath became Father 18 years after the end of his.
Four prime ministers have been in office at a time when no former prime ministers were alive.
Twelve prime ministers have been in office at a time when only one former prime minister has been alive.
Following the resignation of Liz Truss in October 2022, there are currently seven living former prime ministers, which is the record for the number of living former prime ministers at any time. From oldest to youngest:
May, Johnson, and Truss are still serving members of the House of Commons and of the governing Conservative Party.
The most recent death of a former prime minister was that of Margaret Thatcher (term of office 1979–1990) on 8 April 2013 (aged 87).
The record for most prime ministers (current or former) to be members of the House of Commons at the same time is four, a sitting prime minister and three former prime ministers. This has occurred on five separate occasions:
The fewest former prime ministers still sat in the House of Commons is zero, which has happened on a number of occasions, most recently between 12 September 2016 when David Cameron left Parliament and 24 July 2019 when Theresa May left office.
Seven prime ministers have died in office:
Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Bonar Law each resigned during their respective final illnesses. Law died five months after his resignation, but Campbell-Bannerman lived only another 19 days, dying at 10 Downing Street, the only prime minister ever to do so.
Others who died within one year of the end of their term were the Duke of Portland who died in 1809, 26 days after he left office, and Neville Chamberlain, who died in 1940, 183 days after he left office, of a cancer that was undiagnosed at the time of his resignation.
Spencer Perceval is the only British prime minister to have been assassinated.
Lord Liverpool, Robert Peel, Margaret Thatcher, and John Major survived targeted assassination attempts in 1820, 1843, 1984, and 1991 respectively while in office, while Edward Heath survived one in 1974 after he had been ousted from office.
Nine former prime ministers have died while their immediate successors were in office:
All of the above-listed prime ministers were older than their immediate successors. The Duke of Portland and Lord Aberdeen are the only ones among this list whose immediate successors also died in office.
The earliest prime minister to be an armed forces veteran was Henry Pelham (1743–1754), who had served as a volunteer soldier in James Dormer's Regiment of Dragoons during the Jacobite rising of 1715 and fought at the Battle of Preston that year against the Jacobite forces.
The most recent prime minister to be an armed forces veteran was James Callaghan (1976–1979), who served in the Royal Navy in the Second World War, from 1942 to 1945, seeing action with the East Indies Fleet and reaching the rank of Lieutenant. He was the only future prime minister to serve in the navy rather than the army.
In contrast to many nations, Britain has had only two prime ministers who have been military generals: Lord Shelburne (1782–1783), who was promoted from Lieutenant-General to full General in the British Army in the latter year, and the Duke of Wellington, who achieved the supreme rank of Field Marshal in 1813. He was prime minister twice, in 1828–1830 and 1834, in the interval between his two terms as Commander-in-Chief of the Forces. During his military career he took part in some 60 battles, seeing more wartime combat than any other future prime minister.
No future prime ministers have yet served in the flying services, although Neville Chamberlain (1937–1940) and Winston Churchill (1940–1945 and 1951–1955) were honorary Air Commodores in the Auxiliary Air Force during their respective terms of office.
In addition, the following served in home-based militia, volunteer, or yeomanry units raised during the same wars, but were not deployed abroad:
Although Eden and Alec Douglas-Home were Territorial Army officers at outbreak of war in 1939, neither was mobilised and the latter was invalided due to disabling spinal tuberculosis.
The following lost close relations in their lifetimes as a result of war:
The most decorated British prime minister was Winston Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, who received a total of 38 orders, decorations and medals, from the United Kingdom and thirteen other states (on continents of Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America). Ten were awarded for active service as an Army officer in Cuba, India, Egypt, South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. The greater number of awards were given in recognition of his service as a minister of the British government.
Churchill was also the only British prime minister to have received a Nobel Prize (for Literature, in 1953).
The most widely decorated prime minister by the number of states from which he received honours was the Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH, who is known to have received 28 orders, decorations and medals from the United Kingdom and seventeen other states (all in Europe), in recognition of his military services.
The British order of knighthood most frequently conferred on prime ministers has been the Order of the Garter, of which 30 male prime ministers (beginning with Sir Robert Walpole and later including Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden) have been Knight Companions (KG), and the first female, Lady Margaret Thatcher, a Lady Companion (LG) of the Order. Nine prime ministers, including Thatcher, received it after serving office. Currently, the only living knights among them are Sir John Major, knighted in 2005, and Sir Tony Blair, knighted in the 2022 New Years Honours.
The only prime minister to have received a British gallantry award was Anthony Eden, who won the Military Cross (MC) while serving in the army in the First World War, before entering parliament.
The longest-married prime minister was James Callaghan who was married to his wife Audrey for 66 years from 28 July 1938 until her death on 15 March 2005.
Four prime ministers married while in office, three to second wives:
The British prime minister widowed the longest is Lord Rosebery who died more than 38 years after his wife.
Recently, the British prime minister widowed the longest is Harold Macmillan, who was widowed from 21 May 1966 to his death on 29 December 1986, a total of 21 years.
The British prime minister widowed the shortest is James Callaghan, who died on 26 March 2005. His wife, Audrey Callaghan, died on 15 March 2005, only 11 days before him.
Three British prime ministers have been divorced.
Four British prime ministers have been bachelors.
The most prolific prime minister was apparently Lord Grey who in wedlock fathered ten sons and six daughters in addition to one illegitimate daughter by Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire who was subsequently raised by Grey's parents.
At least 24 British prime ministers were related to at least one other prime minister by blood or marriage.
Two sets of father and son have successively held the office:
There have been two blood uncle-nephew sets of prime ministers.
The first prime minister never to have been a university graduate was the Duke of Devonshire (served 1756–1757); the most recent is John Major (served 1990–1997).
After being appointed prime minister by King Charles III on 25 October 2022, Rishi Sunak became the richest prime minister ever, with an estimated combined personal fortune with his wife of £730 million.
The previous richest prime minister was Lord Derby, with a personal fortune of over £7 million (about £444 million in today's money).
The poorest prime minister was William Pitt the Younger, who was £40,000 (now over £1 million) in debt by 1800.
Before becoming prime minister, Robert Walpole was impeached and convicted in 1712 for "a high breach of trust and notorious corruption" and sentenced to six months imprisonment in the Tower of London.
In 2006 and 2007, Tony Blair became the first sitting prime minister to be questioned as part of a criminal investigation, following the Cash-for-Honours scandal, but this was not under caution.
In 2022, Boris Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice relating to violations of the COVID-19 lockdown regulations in the Partygate scandal, becoming the first prime minister found to have broken the law in office. Future prime minister Rishi Sunak, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was also fined at the same time.
In January 2023, during his current period in office, Rishi Sunak was issued a fixed penalty notice by Lancashire Police for failing to wear a seatbelt in his ministerial car while filming an Instagram video to promote his government's levelling up policy. Sunak hence became the second prime minister in history to be found to have broken the law in office.
There have been three female prime ministers, all Conservative. They have led the United Kingdom for a total of 15 years, 6 days.
Since Cameron's 2010 appointment through to Sunak's in 2022, male and female prime ministers have alternated.
Two prime ministers were born in Ireland, both in Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland before the Act of Union of 1801.
Two further prime ministers were born outside of the British Isles.
All other prime ministers were born in Great Britain (46 in England and 7 in Scotland). Although of Welsh origin, David Lloyd George was born in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Lancashire.
The English are a majority within the United Kingdom. Several prime ministers have come from the other nations of the United Kingdom.
Most of the Irish prime ministers were of Anglo-Irish background, largely descended from Protestant English settlers rather than the Gaelic Irish. However, James Callaghan's grandfather had an Irish Catholic background.
Britain's prime ministers have been predominately Church of England by denomination, in an office which has had input into the appointment of that Church's bishops. The first to hold the office from outside the Church of England was Lord Bute, who was a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, while the Duke of Grafton was the first to convert away by formally becoming a Unitarian, after leaving office. Prime ministers of other denominations (when in office, unless otherwise stated) were:
The tallest prime minister is believed to be Lord Salisbury, who was around 6 feet 4 inches (193.0 cm) in height, although Downing Street's own website lists 6-foot-1-inch (185.4 cm) James Callaghan as the tallest.
The shortest prime minister to take office was believed to be Spencer Perceval who stood at around 5 feet 3 inches (160.0 cm) in height. When prime minister Liz Truss took office on 6 September 2022, she drew equal with this record, being also 5 feet 3 inches in height. The next smallest prime ministers were Lord John Russell who remained "under" 5 feet 5 inches (165.1 cm) throughout his adult life and Margaret Thatcher, who was 5 feet 5 inches (165.1 cm).
British male prime ministers, when in office, have been predominately clean-shaven men, except for the following (as borne out by pictures):
In a pattern similar to the bald–hairy rule in Russia, between 1922 and 1957 men with moustaches succeeded clean-shaven men as prime minister, and vice versa.
At least seven prime ministers are known to have been physically disabled when in office.
Others became disabled after leaving office, notably:
Harold Wilson is believed to have been aware he had early stage Alzheimer's disease when he resigned office in 1976, though he continued to serve as an MP until 1983.
Prior to taking office, and while serving as an MP, Alec Douglas-Home was immobilised from 1940 to 1943 following an operation to treat spinal tuberculosis.
Owlapps.net - since 2012 - Les chouettes applications du hibou