Henry John Temple, better known as the Third (and last) Viscount Palmerston, was a remarkable politician. Potentially one of the youngest ever Chancellors of the Exchequer – he was offered the post at 25, but took the post of Secretary for War instead – he eventually became Prime Minister 1855 at the age of 71. Educated at Harrow, Edinburgh and Cambridge, and known by the nickname “Cupid”, he entered the House of Commons in 1807 as MP for Newport (Isle of Wight) – he was just 23.
Palmerston’s early years were characterised by a reluctance to tie himself too closely to any party, believing more in tackling issues rather than ideals. His elevation to party leader came about in the wake of the early mismanagement of the Crimean Campaign, a war which Palmerston had promoted. The nation looked to him to sort it out and the campaign ended with a negotiated peace.
Forced to resign in 1857, he came back in 1859, by now 75, and enjoyed six more years at the top before dying in the post, in 1865. Those last six years witnessed unparalleled national prosperity and in both Plymouth and Portsmouth, Palmerston commissioned a ring of fortifications to repel a perceived threat from the French. The attack never came, many of the forts were never manned and even today they are known as Palmerston’s follies.