Biography of David Lloyd George

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David Lloyd George was a British politician and statesman who was Prime Minister during World War One.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister Lloyd George is credited with transforming the country’s capacity to produce munitions at a time of national crisis. The first Welshman to take the nation’s highest political office, he served his constituents in the seat of Caernarvon Boroughs for 55 years.

Lloyd George was a Liberal politician and a radical thinker. The social reforms he introduced, firstly as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then as Prime Minister, paved the way for the modern day welfare system while also extending the right to vote. During the war he governed in a way which was viewed as unconventional at the time by the civil service but was devised to meet the challenges of the day.

Although rocked by the occasional personal and professional scandal, Lloyd George was a popular statesman who was eloquent, charming and highly persuasive, characteristics he ably used to see acts passed through parliament despite stiff opposition.

He was not always backed by his own party and worked within a coalition government during World War One. It was for his guidance of the nation through the Great War that he was awarded the Order of Merit in 1919 and earned the epitaph ‘The Man Who Won The War’.

1. Early Life

A photo of Lloyd George in ca. 1890
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor taken in 1909

David Lloyd George was born on the 17th January 1863 In Manchester. His parents were William and Elizabeth George, William having moved to Manchester from Pembrokeshire in his profession as a teacher.

Sadly William George died when his son was only a year old and David Lloyd George’s mother took the family to live with her brother Richard Lloyd in Caernarvonshire, having been left in a state of poverty. Richard was a big influence on the young David, helping to oversee his education and although born David George, the future Prime Minister would add his uncle’s surname of Lloyd to his own.

Encouraged by his uncle, David Lloyd George set out on a career in law at the age of 14, becoming articled in 1879 to a firm of solicitors in Porthmadoc. In 1884 David Lloyd George passed his final examinations and the following year he set up his own law practice from his Uncle’s house.

Under the influence and further encouragement of his Uncle, Lloyd George was also developing an interest in politics and campaigned for the Liberal party in the 1885 election. Five years later in 1890 Lloyd George stood himself at a by-election for the Caernarvon Boroughs seat, where he won by a small margin to take his place in Parliament.

2. Early Career

David Lloyd George with his daughter Megan in 1911 (© Albert Henry Llewellyn Chapman, OGL v1.0)
Placard for Lloyd's News : 'THEY HAVE SIGNED !' announcing the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
The 'Terrible Twins' David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in 1907 during the peak of their 'radical phase' as social reformers.

Although elected to parliament Lloyd George continued with his law practice, merging in 1897 with Arthur Roberts.

Yet his talent for speaking and debate was not going unnoticed in Westminster, where he became a prominent member of the more radical side of the opposition Liberal party. He was not afraid to speak up for what he believed in and was vocal in his opposition to the war in South Africa in 1901.

In 1905 the Liberals moved from opposition in to government under the Premiership of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Lloyd George received his first cabinet post as President of the Board of Trade.

In this role Lloyd George introduced the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 which improved food standards and accommodation through regulation for seamen. On the flip side Lloyd George also raised the Plimsoll Line which endangered lives by allowing new cargo vessels to increase capacity by 5%.

Campbell-Bannerman died in 1908, to be replaced as Prime Minister by H.H. Asquith, with Lloyd George appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. A year later he produced the ‘people’s budget’ which provided for social insurance, but it was rejected by the House of Lords.

Lloyd George persevered and returned in 1911 with the National Insurance Act, introducing contributory schemes of health and unemployment insurance based on similar schemes he had seen while on a visit to Germany. It was not a universally popular scheme, but Lloyd George was a skilled parliamentarian who saw his act passed and with it the early foundations for the welfare state were laid.

Further radical reforms of the time included the Old Age Pension Act as Lloyd George looked to improve the lot of the poor who were too old to work.

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3. A War Time Prime Minister

'The Big Four' made all the major decisions at the Paris Peace Conference (from left to right, Lloyd George, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.)
Lloyd George, Edward Grey, Herbert Kitchener, Nikola Pašić, Antonio Salandra, Alexander Izvolsky, Aristide Briand, Joseph Joffre at a conference of the Allied Powers on 27–28 March 1916 in Paris (© Garitan, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Portrait of Chancellor Lloyd George by Christopher Williams (1911)

David Lloyd George was a self-confessed pacifist but as war became almost inevitable in 1914 he focussed on the financial implications and the need to increase the production of munitions.

He was appointed minister of munitions and brought his reforming zeal to the problem at hand. By utilising help from big business and organised labour Lloyd George proved a huge success at his ministry and greatly contributed to eventual victory. In 1916 he was appointed secretary of war before replacing Asquith as Prime minister in December of that year.

Lloyd George came to power with the backing of leading Conservatives, with many of the main players in his own party having resigned with Asquith. He quickly trimmed the War Cabinet to 5 people under his chairmanship from the previous 23 in order to stop lengthy discussions and to make quicker decisions.

Lloyd George was already popular with the population at large, if not the generals with whom he often disagreed with on tactics. In 1917 Lloyd George persuaded a reluctant Admiralty to employ a convoy system to help protect shipping which was bringing food in to the country, combatting the enemy submarines threatening to starve the country out of the war.

The mistrust between Lloyd George and his commanders in the field remained, but in 1918 after the Germans nearly pushed through a successful offensive a unified allied command was formed under Marshal Ferdinand Foch. The tide of the war was soon to turn and an exhausted and defeated German army were forced to agree to the armistice in November.

David Lloyd George was Britain’s chief delegate to the Paris peace conference which oversaw the drafting of the Versailles Treaty. Not surprisingly he won a huge majority at the 1918 general election, though still as head of a coalition with his Conservative partners.

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4. Later Life

Order of Merit to Cardinal Hume displayed in Westminster Cathedral, London, England. (© Oosoom, CC BY-SA 3.0)
A photo of David Lloyd George in 1921
Lloyd George with Japanese Prince Hirohito, 1921

In 1918 David Lloyd George introduced the Representation of the People act, expanding the vote by removing property qualifications, before turning his attention to Ireland.

Since 1919 the Anglo-Irish War had been raging and the decision was taken to reverse a policy of repression and seek a truce. This led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the creation of the Irish Free State.

However, Lloyd George’s government was starting to run on borrowed time after an ‘honours for sale’ scandal added to increasing criticism of his foreign policy. This came to a head in the Canak incident when the Conservatives in the coalition did not agree with the position taken by Lloyd George which threatened to take Britain to war with Turkey over an area in the allied occupied territories of that country. When in October 1922 the Conservative party voted to fight the next election independently and not as a coalition, David Lloyd George resigned.

Lloyd George never held high office again, although he did lead the Liberal party between 1926 and 1931. He continued to champion progressive causes and was offered a war cabinet post by Winston Churchill in 1940, which he declined due to ill health. He took up a position in the House of Lords as Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, but he died not long after on the 26th March 1945, a couple of months short of seeing the second world war end in Europe.

5. His Legacy

Lloyd George statue at Caernarfon Castle (1921), in recognition of his service as local MP and Prime Minister (© Libby norman, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The grave of David LLoyd George at Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd in Wales

Although David Lloyd George never returned to high office after his resignation in 1922, his place in British history was assured following World War One.

He was the first Welsh speaker to hold the office of Prime Minster and the last to date to represent the Liberal party.

Yet his radical social changes have had just as lasting and as important an impact on Britain, including an act which allowed women to sit in the House of Commons. His raft of measures, combined with his leadership in the war, makes Lloyd George one of the most significant public figures of the 20th century.

However it was not all plain sailing. As well as the later ‘honours for cash scandal’, Lloyd George’s political career nearly came crashing down two years before the outbreak of the first world war.

He was accused of corruption in profiting from the purchase of shares while aware a government contract was going to be awarded to the Marconi Company to build wireless communication stations. He was ultimately cleared of the charge of corruption, although the parliamentary enquiry did find he had profited from his dealings.

Away from politics Lloyd George married Margaret Owen in 1888 and they had five children. He would suffer immense personal tragedy in 1907 with the death of his daughter Mair, aged just 17 years old. His wife Margaret died in 1941 but in 1943 Lloyd George married Frances Stevenson who had become his private secretary when he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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