In 1921 James Bryce observed in Modern Democracies how ‘extremely small is the number of persons by whom the world is governed’ and that free government was always ‘an Oligarchy within a Democracy’.1 Accordingly, a major theme in the historiography of Britain has been whether ‘modernisation’ was helped or hindered by its largely aristocratic elite, and how that elite adapted itself to the process.2 This concern has led in two directions: assessments of the economic and political power of the elite, and studies of how far political decisions were impervious to democratic pressure. The latter trend has, in recent years, turned its attention to the role of ‘ideals’ and ‘values’ in the behaviour of politicians.3 There are now important works examining, for instance, the way that leaders tried to mobilise and manipulate wider bodies of opinion; the heroic or tragic narratives of national history in which they located their political personas; and the deeper — sometimes anxious — gendered assumptions about the status of ‘public men’.4 What, generally, has not been explored was how leadership itself was understood at the time.5 A political leader existed within a network of assumptions of what leadership was — these could be resources to draw upon, but they were also constraints which constituted an ideal and a form of evaluation. This chapter considers five aspects of statesmanship, beginning with its relationship to governance.


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© David Craig 2013

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