Lord Palmerston was one of the most successful of all British politicians. Linking the world of the Regency with the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign, he was made Secretary at War in 1809 at the age of twenty-five, and held the post for nineteen years. From 1830 to 1841 he was Foreign Secretary. At first he was regarded as weak and ineffectual, a ‘Lord Cupid’ who was more active in love affairs than in diplomacy; but before the end of his term of office he had raised English prestige in Europe to a record height. Without any special following in Parliament, he became the most popular statesman in the country, because of his vigorous defence of the rights Englishmen abroad.
He played a crucial part in the creation of Belgium, saved Portugal and Spain from complete tyranny, rescued Turkey from Russia and saved the route to India from France. He was again Foreign Secretary from 1846-51, when he was in effect dismissed by Queen Victoria after undertaking to show her his foreign dispatches and then manifestly failing to do so. He would probably have averted the Crimean War if he had been Foreign Secretary at the time; and in 1855, at the age of seventy, he finally became Prime Minister, because the public believed he was the only man who could win the war. With a break of sixteen months, he was Prime Minister until he died in 1865.
Palmerston was not greatly concerned with morality. His policy, first, last and all the time, was to protect and strengthen British interests, not least by a policy of brinkmanship that preserved the international balance of power and thus made British nineteenth-century prosperity possible.
His personal energy and vitality were phenomenal—at the age of seventy-nine he rode from Piccadilly to Harrow in fifty-five minutes—and his treatment of his fellow men and women, from the humblest clerk in the Foreign Office to Metternich, Napoleon III and Queen Victoria, was consistently robust.