The deathbed of Lord Palmerston: An episode in Victorian cultural history

Michael J D Roberts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Lord Palmerston died on 18 October 1865, still prime minister at the age of eighty. He was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey on 27 October. By that time his stepson-in-law, Lord Shaftesbury, had begun spreading the word to a half-believing, half-unpersuaded public that Palmerston had died 'the good [evangelical] death', confessing in his last moments not only his sins but his belief in a life to come for all penitent believers in Christ's atoning sacrifice. This article reviews the surviving evidence of witnesses at Palmerston's deathbed and attempts to reconstruct the meaning(s) which Palmerston and his attendants (both family and medical) placed on the rituals in which they participated during the final days of Palmerston's life. A particular effort is made to provide a plausible cultural and intellectual context to Palmerston's participation in these rituals. Palmerston, it will be argued, was a 'religious believer' but in a very different sense from that wished on him by the younger generation who stage-managed the event.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-196
Number of pages14
JournalCultural and Social History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Death and dying
  • Evangelicalism
  • Paley
  • Palmerston
  • Victorian family


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