Read more about British History
Prime Ministerial records: From the shortest serving to the oldest
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been led by a prime minister for over 300 years. There have been a total of 58 prime ministers to date - with Rishi Sunak as the current incumbent - who are responsible for policy and decisions of the UK government. (With some have been better than others)
Each holder of the office has made their mark on the British historic landscape in one way or another. Loved, hated, or greeted with indifference, each prime minister has helped to shape the country through their record-breaking firsts, lasts, and overall accomplishments.
Here are eleven interesting records held by various British prime ministers.
1. First prime minister
While we can date the inauguration of His Majesty's Government back to 1707 and the birth of the British legal system back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, it’s difficult to pinpoint when we first introduced a singular leader of the British government. It was likely a mixture of leadership positions that evolved over time.
Although we can’t put an official date on when being prime minister officially became the role it did, it’s generally understood that Sir Robert Walpole was the first de facto prime minister of Great Britain.
Following Walpole was William Pitt the Younger, who was both the last prime minister of Great Britain and the first prime minister of the United Kingdom.
2. Longest-serving prime minister
Sir Robert Walpole resigned from office after 20 years and 315 days. His successor, William Pitt the Younger, served an impressive 18 years and 343 days over two terms and died while in office.
3. Shortest-serving prime minister
The shortest-serving prime minister in British history is Liz Truss who was selected as Conservative Party Leader in September 2022. Truss stepped down just 44 days into her term, following a disastrous mini-budget that caused turmoil in the financial markets. The second shortest-serving Prime Minister is George Canning, who died suddenly from pneumonia in 1827, just 118 days into his term.
4. Longest-living prime minister
The longest-living prime minister was James Callaghan, who died the day before his 93rd birthday. Despite only remaining in office for three years, Callaghan was also the only prime minister to hold all four great state offices, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, and Foreign Secretary.
5. Most terms served as prime minister
The prime minister to have served the most terms is William Ewart Gladstone, who served four times between 1868 and 1894 for a total of 12 years.
6. Oldest prime minister
Gladstone’s final elected term started after he won the general election in 1892. He was 81 years and seven months old at the time. This also made him the oldest prime minister to win a general election.
The UK’s oldest prime minister to be appointed for the first time in their life was Lord Palmerston, who was 70 years of age in 1855.
7. Youngest prime minister
The youngest prime minister was William Pitt the Younger, who was just 24 years old at the time of his appointment.
8. Earliest retirement for a prime minister
The youngest prime minister to retire from his position was Augustus Henry Fitzroy, who was just 34 years old - a stark difference from Gladstone, who was 84 at the time of his retirement.
This also meant that Fitzroy holds the title of the prime minister who lived the longest following their exit from office, as he lived for a further 41 years.
9. First female prime minister
The first female prime minister was Margaret Thatcher, who was elected into office in 1969 and re-elected after a landslide victory just four years later. She also holds the record for the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century.
10. British prime minister born the furthest from 10 Downing Street
The prime minister born the furthest away from 10 Downing Street is Boris Johnson, born close to 3,500 kilometers away in New York City. Andrew Bonar Law, born in New Brunswick, Canada, comes in second, having been born 2,100 kilometers away.
11. First prime minister of South Asian descent
Rishi Sunak, isthe first prime minister of South Asian heritage and the first practising Hindu. Sunak's parents who were of Indian Punjabi descent migrated to the UK from East Africa in the 60s.
At 42-years-old Sunak will also be the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool, a title previously held by Tony Blair who assumed office in 1997 aged 43. Sunak’s path from Chancellor of the Exchequer to prime minister, however, is not so unusual as Gordon Brown, John Major, James Callaghan, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain amongst others all made the move from Number 11 to Number 10 Downing Street.