Shortest Serving British Prime Ministers

13 British PMs held the office less than two years, while the shortest tenure of all lasted less than 4 months.

Over the years there have been British Prime Ministers who have served for a very short time, whether it be as a result of death, resignation, or more. The shortest tenure lasted less than four months. Here is a list of the shortest-serving prime ministers in British history. 

Shortest-Serving Prime Ministers in British History

George Canning

George Canning was the shortest serving Prime Minister in British history. He served only 119 days in 1827. He was born on April 11th, 1770 to George Canning Sr. of Garvagh and Mary Ann Costello. His parents were not wealthy, and his father abandoned the family after his financial situation worsened. George Canning exhibited extraordinary intelligence and was adopted by his rich uncle, Stratford Canning, who was a wealthy merchant. Canning was well educated and graduated from Oxford in 1791 with a Degree in Law.

Canning developed an interest in politics. His uncle was a Whig and had developed friendships with other prominent Whigs most of whom were wealthy aristocrats. Canning, however, due to his poor background, had an uncertain future in the Whig party.

He had great admiration for William Pitt the younger leader of the “Tory Group” and when the two met, Canning shifted loyalty from the Whig Party. With the assistance of Pitt, Canning became an MP. He enjoyed a fast rise in politics attributed to his intelligence, wit, and oratory skills.

He was appointed Foreign Secretary in 1807, a post which made him famous. He out-smarted Napoleon by capturing the Danish Navy. He also attempted to remove the Minister of War, Castlereagh, from office and was wounded in a duel between them. He resigned this post but after Castlereagh’s suicide in 1822, he resumed office. He was lauded mainly for preventing the French from annexing South America.

Canning succeeded Lord Liverpool as Prime Minister on 10 April 1827 through a coalition with the Whigs. Canning had become liberal as he supported the abolition of slavery and Roman emancipation. The name “Canningites” was coined for his ardent supporters.

His legacy is that of the "lost leader" because he did not have enough time to accomplish much as Prime Minister. He died suddenly on 8 August 1827, of Pneumonia barely five months after he took office.

Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich

Frederick John Robinson was the successor of George Canning as Prime Minister. He was the second-shortest serving prime minister, as he served only 130 days from August 31, 1827, to January 21, 1828. He was born an Aristocrat and was well educated. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1802 after graduating from St. John’s College in Cambridge. He was not admitted to the bar, however, and did not practice law.

Family Connections helped him enter into politics first as the private secretary to the Earl of Hardwicke. He was elected to Parliament in 1806 representing Carlow. He was elected as MP for Ripon a year after, a position he held until 1827.

He was joint paymaster-general between 1813 and 1817 under Castlereagh. He was present when the Treaty of Paris of 1814 was negotiated. He reluctantly introduced the Corn Laws in Parliament. The laws were unpopular since they proposed stopping wheat imports to England.

He was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1823 and 1827 and improved the economy through reduction of tax and customs duties. Frederick was the leader of the Lords in 1827 and earned the title "viscount". He became Prime Minister on August 31, 1827, and was unable to unite a disintegrating coalition between the Whigs and the Tories. He resigned 130 days after.

Bonar Law

Andrew Bonar Law was born in September 1858 in Canada. He left school at the age of 16 to train in iron. He became wealthy and entered politics as a Conservative. He was Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Bootle, and Dulwich. His rise in politics saw him nominated to become Leader of the Conservative Party on November 13, 1911, as a compromise nominee succeeding Arthur Balfour.

As leader of the opposition party, Law pursued tariff reform and opposed the Irish Home Rule, which divided an already disunited Party. He attempted to unite the party through negotiating a coalition with Asquith after WWI.

He was Secretary of State for Colonies between 1915 and 1916 and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1916 to 1919. The conservatives elected to break off from the coalition and Law voted the Party Leader and Prime Minister. During his tenure, UK severed its diplomatic relations with France over the occupation of Ruhr by the French.

He served as Prime Minister for 211 days from October 23, 1922, to May 20, 1923. He made history by becoming the first Prime Minister born outside of the British Isles.

The Other Prime Ministers With Short Rules

Other UK Prime Ministers who were in office for less than two years, include the Duke of Devonshire, who served 225 days and William Petty the second Earl of Shelburne, who served for only 266 days. John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute, served for 317 days, Alec Douglas-Home was in office for only 362 days, while Lord William Grenville, 3rd Duke of Grafton served for 1.12 years. Augustus Fitzroy was in office for 1.29 years only while Archibald Primrose served for 1.3 years

Shortest Times In Office Among Prime Ministers Of The United Kingdom

Rank´╗┐Prime Minister NameTime Spent in Office (Days)
1George Canning119
2The Viscount Goderich 130
3Bonar Law211
4The Duke of Devonshire225
5The Earl of Shelburne266

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