Biography of Aberdeen, 4th earl of - Archontology
Aberdeen, 4th earl of

George Hamilton-Gordon

b. 28 Jan 1784, Edinburgh, Scotland
d. 14 Dec 1860, London

Ministerial offices: Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (22 Jan 1828 - 2 Jun 1828)
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (2 Jun 1828 - 16 Nov 1830, 3 Sep 1841 - 29 Jun 1846)
Secretary of State for War and the Colonies (20 Dec 1834 - 8 Apr 1835)
First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Lords (19 Dec 1852 - 30 Jan 1855)
Names/titles: Original name: George Gordon [in Nov 1818 obtained a royal license to assume the surname Hamilton as a "memorial of his respect for the memory of his late father-in-law, John James Hamilton, Marquess of Abercorn"]; 4th Earl of Aberdeen [from 30 Aug 1801]; Viscount Gordon of Aberdeen [from 1 Jun 1814], Viscount of Formartine, Lord Haddo, Methlick, Tarves, and Kellie

George Gordon was the eldest son of Lord Haddo and the grandson of the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen, whom he succeeded in 1801. The Gordons claimed descent from Bertrand de Gourdon who killed King Richard I Cœur de Lion in 1199. Gordon studied at Harrow and St. John's College, Cambridge. On 4 Dec 1806 he was elected a Scottish Representative Peer and took his seat in the House of Lords. In 1813 he started a successful career in diplomacy serving as ambassador to Austria. Aberdeen helped form the coalition that defeated Napoléon I and participated in signing of the Treaty of Paris (30 May 1814). He joined the cabinet of the Duke of Wellington as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1828) and then assumed the office of Foreign Secretary (1828-1830). As Foreign Secretary again (1841-1846) in the second government of Sir Robert Peel, Aberdeen settled disputes over the eastern and western boundaries between Canada and the United States. He supported Peel and became leader of the Peelites in 1850.

When Derby's Government was defeated in the Commons, Aberdeen was summoned by Queen Victoria and appointed First Lord of the Treasury (19 Dec 1852) with the task to form a coalition Government of Peelites, Whigs and radicals. His Cabinet included Lord John Russell as Foreign Secretary, Viscount Palmerston as Home Secretary and William E. Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and controlling it proved too much of a challenge for the former diplomat. Foreign affairs, and in particular the drift toward war with Russia, dominated Aberdeen's prime ministership. On 28 Mar 1854, Great Britain and France entered the Crimean War (1854-1856) fought by that time between Russia and Ottoman Empire. Responsibility for failing to conduct the war efficiently was pinned on Aberdeen personally and a motion in the House of Commons proposing a Committee of Enquiry to consider the conduct of the war led to Aberdeen's resignation tendered to the Queen at Windsor (30 Jan 1855). He had also failed to carry a Reform Bill, although other legislation concerned with taxation, the Civil Service and legal matters was passed early in his administration. [1, pp. 169-176]

[1] Englefield, Dermot; Seaton, Janet; White, Isobel (eds.) Facts About the British Prime Ministers: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1995. online
Image: photograph of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, June 1858.