Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

MARCH 15th

On this day in history in 1779, was born William Lamb, Lord Melbourne.

Melbourne was a politician whose major achievement as Prime Minister, was the creation of the weekend.

William Lamb was born on 15th March 1779, at London, the son of the first viscount Melbourne and Lady Elizabeth Melbourne, née Milbanke. At his birth, it was speculated that viscount Melbourne was not Lamb's real father, as his mother was known to associate with gentlemen of the aristocracy, and also with men from lower ranks of society. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he fell in with a group of Romantic Radicals that included the poets, Shelley and Byron.

In 1805, Lamb married Lady Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the earl of Bessborough, a match that was undertaken for purely monetary reasons. In 1806, Lamb was elected to Parliament as the Whig member for Leominster. In 1812, a public scandal erupted when Lady Caroline had a public affair with the poet Byron. Lamb was humiliated and enraged by the disgrace, but was persuaded to take back his wife, although with the understanding that future affairs would be subjected to the utmost secrecy.

Although a Whig, Lamb served in the Tory governments of Canning and Wellington. In 1829 he succeeded to the viscountcy, and moved to the House of Lords, where he served as Home Secretary in the Grey's ministry. In 1934, he had a brief stint as Prime Minister, before he was dismissed on account of his attempts to reform the Church of England, but when the Conservative leader, Sir Robert Peel, failed to win a parliamentary majority, Melbourne took office as Prime Minister once more. After Queen Victoria's accession to the throne, he became her private secretary, as well as Prime Minister.

Lady Caroline died in 1828, but Lamb never remarried. He had a country house in Nottinghamshire, where he used to invite Parliamentary colleagues, and their wives to stay. These guests returned the compliment and invited Lamb to their country houses, and it became customary for politicians to have social gatherings, often with large numbers involved, at stately residences up and down the country. These occasions were marked by some tiptoeing at night along the creaky corridors of stately homes, as the various guests exchanged partners, yet they were conducted in the utmost secrecy to avoid scandal. To ensure that these parties did not interfere with government business of agrarian reform, wars in China and Afghanistan, and reform of the Poor laws, it was generally agreed that business should cease abruptly on Friday afternoon, and recommence on Monday morning, leaving Saturday and Sunday, free for social business. While the rest of the country worked six days a week and rested on Sunday, Lamb and his colleagues created the weekend.

Lamb died on 24th November 1848. His lasting memorial is the city of Melbourne, Australia, which was a group of wooded huts, when he gave it town status in 1837, and is now a major metropolis. He is buried in Hatfield churchyard. [St. Etheldredas Church, Church Street, Hatfied, Hertfordshire, AL9 5AW]

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