10 Most Famous British Prime Ministers (2022)

Please note: There are many ways in which the most famous British prime ministers can be ranked. This ranking is based on the 2004 University of Leeds survey studying the success of 20th century prime ministers.

1. Sir Winston Churchill (1940 – 1945, 1951 – 1955)

10 Most Famous British Prime Ministers (1)

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Sir Winston Churchill can easily be considered Britain’s most famous prime minister. Not only that, but he could also be said to be one of the world’s most famous figures of the 20th century. The two time prime minister was a prominent member of the Conservative party, and is widely credited with leading Britain and the Allied powers to victory during the Second World War.

In Churchill’s youth he served in the First World War at the Western Front, surviving significant shelling attacks. Later, he was a key figure in the process of British rearmament as the threat from the Nazi party grew during the 1930s, and at the outbreak of war was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty once again. In 1940, following his election as British prime minister he formed a War Cabinet.

Despite achieving significant successes during the war, some of his more brutal decisions caused controversy at the time, and his strongly imperialist sentiments have come under increasing throughout over the decades. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that he remains a significant political figure in British History.

2. Clement Attlee (1945 – 1951)

Clement Attlee was British prime minister between Sir Winston Churchill’s two terms after serving as Churchill’s Deputy Prime Minister during the Second World War.

Shortly following the end of the war, Attlee led the Labour Party to a landslide victory in the 1945 general election, the first such victory for Labour. During his time as prime minister, he oversaw significant social reforms in the country, including the nationalisation of public utilities and, most significantly, the founding of the National Health Service, or NHS. Today, the NHS endures as one of the world’s biggest employers and one of the most successful public health services in the world.

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His tenure also saw significant post war changes within the then British Empire, including the partition of India and the independence of several territories.

The significant improvements to public services and care made by his government have led many academics to deem him Britain’s most successful modern prime minister.

3. David Lloyd George (1916 – 1922)

10 Most Famous British Prime Ministers (2)

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David Lloyd George was the prime minister who led Britain to the end of the First World War and into the 1920s. Following the fall of H. H. Asquith Lloyd George became prime minister, which caused a rift within his Liberal Party.

After developing a War Cabinet in 1916, he contributed to the unification of the Allies which eventually led to victory in 1918. The Imperial War Cabinet sanctioned the Flanders Offensive which led to the Battle of Passchendaele. Significant losses were experienced on both sides, however the loss to the German army was significant and crippling. The invention of the War Cabinet was considered one of Lloyd George’s most successful ideas. The cabinet oversaw vital wartime rationing and improved conscription rates among the general public.

The next few years saw him being involved in several scandals followed by economic depression and a rise in unemployment at the beginning of the 1920s. He eventually resigned in 1922.

4. Margaret Thatcher (1979 – 1990)

Margaret Thatcher achieved world fame upon her election in 1979 as Britain’s first female prime minister. Despite many controversial policies and events during her three terms, she is still viewed favourably by many with a legacy still evident today.

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Margaret Thatcher’s controversial first term as prime minister initially saw the major privatisation of state owned companies, which caused a reduction in the power of trade unions and proved unpopular with many working people. However, Britain’s victory in the Falkland War and a recovering economy resulted in a landslide reelection in 1983. In 1984 she survived an assassination attempt by the IRA.

In subsequent years, her popularity waned due to her Euroscepticism and efforts against the National Union of Mineworkers during their strike action. In 1990 she resigned against opposition from politician Michael Heseltine. She was famously portrayed by Meryl Streep in the Oscar nominated 2011 film The Iron Lady.

5. Harold Macmillan (1957 – 1963)

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Harold Macmillan was one of several British prime ministers to serve in the First World War in his youth. Macmillan miraculously survived severe wounds during the Battle of the Somme to eventually enter Parliament in 1924. He became prime minister following the resignation of Anthony Eden after the Suez Crisis. During his time as prime minister he promoted significant public investment and oversaw an affluent age of high growth and low unemployment.

Macmillan’s Conservative government was eventually toppled by a series of events, one of the most famous being the Profumo affair. This scandal of the Secretary of State For War John Profumo’s extramarital affair with young model Christine Keeler was recently immortalised in the BBC series The Trial Of Christine Keeler. The widely publicised affair led to a jail sentence for Keeler, Profumo’s resignation in disgrace and even the suicide of Keeler’s friend. It also fatally damaged the reputation of Macmillan’s government. He resigned under increasing pressure in October 1963, following a bout of ill health.

6. Tony Blair (1997 – 2007)

Tony Blair was British prime minister for ten years, as was elected during Labour’s largest landslide victory in history. He also won two subsequent elections. He oversaw a change in the Labour party named New Labour, which distanced it from previous heavy socialist policies. During his terms the party moved away from significant trade union influence and closer to the European Union.

In 1998 he introduced the National Minimum Wage act, and other significant improvements in equal rights in the country. At the beginning of the 21st century, he supported George W. Bush at the outset of the War in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks, and the subsequent 2003 invasion of Iraq. This led to a decline in popularity with the British public, many of whom saw the invasion as excessive and unnecessary. His anti terror policies following the London bombings also came under scrutiny.

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In 2007 Blair was succeeded by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

7. H. H. Asquith (1908 – 1916)

10 Most Famous British Prime Ministers (4)

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Liberal politician Herbert Henry Asquith was the last Liberal prime minister.

He led the reform agenda of the Liberal Party during his time as prime minister. This involved a reduction in the power of the House of Lords, but also difficulty in dealing with rule in Ireland at the time.

After taking Great Britain and the British Empire into the First World War in 1914, his weak leadership came under heavy scrutiny, especially his failure to address issues of conscription, finance and strategy. His government was also criticised for a lack of munitions and the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign. After forming a coalition government with other parties, his power waned further and he was forced to resign in 1916.

8. Stanley Baldwin (1923 – 1924, 1924 – 1929, 1935 – 1937)

Baldwin was a Conservative prime minister who oversaw an improvement in Conservative appeal during his terms. His government improved childcare, pensions and housing.

The abdication crisis within the British Monarchy also occurred during his third term. Baldwin joined others in their attempts to dissuade King Edward VIII from his taboo marriage to twice divorced American Wallis Simpson, but to no avail.

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In recent decades however, his tenure has come under increasing criticism due to the high unemployment levels in the country during his terms. He has also faced vilification for the rise in power of Adolf Hitler under his watch, and also for attempting to appease Hitler, rather than challenge him, and for insufficient armament in the years leading up to World War Two. Despite this, he is still generally viewed as successful by academics.

9. Harold Wilson (1964 – 1970, 1974 – 1976)

10 Most Famous British Prime Ministers (5)

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Harold Wilson became leader of the Labour Party following the sudden death of previous leader Hugh Gaitskell. He won the subsequent leadership election and the 1964 general election. His first period as prime minister was an age of low unemployment and general prosperity, however Wilson then lost the 1970 general election to Edward Heath before returning to power in 1974.

He is mostly considered to have been a moderate socialist, and is credited with leading the country well during difficult times including the Vietnam War. He is portrayed by actor Jason Watkins in the popular Netflix series The Crown.

10. Lord Salisbury (1895 – 1902)

The last British prime minister of the 19th century, Lord Robert Salisbury was a three time British prime minister. In his youth, he defied his aristocratic father to marry a woman of lower social standing than him and his family.

A complicated and capricious personality, he was nonetheless effective in his policies and particularly in foreign affairs. He oversaw a significant investment in and expansion of the Royal Navy and an attempt to combat growing unrest in the countries of the Mediterranean.

He resigned in 1902 with honours following the death of his wife.

(Video) List of Prime Ministers Of United Kingdom | UK Prime Ministers | U.K. Government

FAQs

Who is the most famous British prime minister? ›

Winston Churchill is generally considered one of the greatest prime ministers for his leadership during the Second World War.

Who was the Queen's Favourite prime minister? ›

Harold Wilson - 1964-70 and 1974-76

Wilson went on to become one of the Queen's favourite prime ministers, and the pair thoroughly enjoyed their weekly meetings. Then-Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle said: "Harold was very fond of her and she reciprocated it."

How many prime ministers has Queen Elizabeth had? ›

The Queen had 179 individuals serve as her realms' prime ministers throughout her reign, the first new appointment being Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister of Ceylon and the final being Liz Truss as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; some of these individuals served multiple non-consecutive terms in office (within ...

Who was the longest serving prime minister? ›

The prime minister with the longest single term was Sir Robert Walpole, lasting 20 years and 315 days from 3 April 1721 until 11 February 1742. This is also longer than the accumulated terms of any other prime minister.

Did Churchill like Queen Elizabeth? ›

The hero of five wars and a World War II icon, Churchill was infatuated with the young royal, having known her since her birth as a close friend of her father, and the two remained close throughout Churchill's mandate as he believed Elizabeth II embodied all of the hallmark qualities a British sovereign should have to ...

Who was the Queen's favorite private secretary? ›

Martin Michael Charles Charteris, Baron Charteris of Amisfield (1913-1999), Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II. Sitter in 2 portraits. Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022), Reigned 1952-2022.

Why is Queen Consort not queen? ›

Officially, Queen Consort is the title of a woman who is the wife of the reigning king. The title of Queen is for female monarchs who have ascended the throne when the monarch dies - as was the case of Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited the throne from her father.

Will Camilla be queen? ›

Camilla is married to a King rather than reigning in her own right, so she is not Queen in the same way that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (opens in new tab) was. This means if anything were to happen to Charles whilst King, she would not take over as monarch - that honour will fall to Prince William.

How many popes has the Queen met? ›

Queen Elizabeth II has come to Rome for lunch with Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano ahead of the British monarch's first meeting with Pope Francis. Before Francis, Elizabeth had met with four pontiffs, starting with Pope Pius XII in 1951, a year before her accession to the throne.

Can the Queen overrule the Prime Minister? ›

The monarch remains constitutionally empowered to exercise the royal prerogative against the advice of the prime minister or the cabinet, but in practice would likely only do so in emergencies or where existing precedent does not adequately apply to the circumstances in question.

Who is UK longest serving Prime Minister in the 20th century? ›

Time in office: 11 Years, 208 Days

As well as being Prime Minister for longer than anyone else in the 20th Century, Margaret Thatcher was also the most controversial figure to hold the post.

Who was the first British PM? ›

Modern historians generally consider Robert Walpole, who led the government of Great Britain for over twenty years from 1721, as the first prime minister. Walpole is also the longest-serving British prime minister by this definition.

Who was the 1st Prime Minister? ›

Jawaharlal Nehru, was 58 when he started the long innings of 17 years as free India's first Prime Minister.

Who will succeed Queen Elizabeth? ›

After an historic 70 years on the throne as Britain's longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96, at her home at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, on Sept. 8, 2022. Immediately upon her passing, her eldest son, Prince Charles, became the new king.

Does Queen Elizabeth have power? ›

As the keeper of the nation's Constitutional flame, the monarch can use said powers to appoint and dismiss ministers; to summon Parliament, and give royal assent to bills passed by Parliament.

Did the Queen go to Winston Churchill's funeral? ›

Heads of state and leaders from around the world attended his funeral, including Queen Elizabeth II. Churchill was the Queen's first prime minister.

Who is the Queen's boss? ›

The Queen and Prime Minister.

Does the Queen have a best friend? ›

Enter Angela Kelly ‒ the queen's most loyal aide for the past three decades. She's also known as her hairdresser, dresser and “best friend”, as claimed by various media.

Does the Queen have ladies in waiting? ›

The Queen's Ladies-in-Waiting

The late monarch Queen Elizabeth II appointed nine ladies in waiting between 1953 and 2017. These ladies assisted the queen in discharging her daily duties, from maintaining the official diary to arranging private and family events.

Will Kate be queen or Queen Consort? ›

When the couple married in 2005, they announced that the Duchess would become Her Royal Highness The Princess Consort instead of a queen.

What will Camilla's title be when Charles is king? ›

Now that Charles is king, Camilla's official title is queen consort rather than Duchess of Cornwall. A queen consort is also addressed as a queen, meaning Camilla will be known as Queen Camilla. While the title of queen consort was instantly given to her when Queen Elizabeth passed, it wasn't always guaranteed to her.

Will Prince William become Prince of Wales? ›

Prince William and his wife Catherine were named the Prince and Princess of Wales by King Charles III on Friday. In a phone call with Wales' first minister, the prince is said to have acknowledged his and the princess's deep affection for Wales.

Why is Winston Churchill famous? ›

Winston Churchill was an inspirational statesman, writer, orator and leader who led Britain to victory in the Second World War. He served as Conservative Prime Minister twice - from 1940 to 1945 (before being defeated in the 1945 general election by the Labour leader Clement Attlee) and from 1951 to 1955.

What was Margaret Thatcher famous for? ›

She was the first female British prime minister and the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century. As prime minister, she implemented policies that became known as Thatcherism.

What is the salary of UK prime minister? ›

Salary of the Prime Minister
DateEntitlementClaimed
1 Apr 2017£153,907£151,451
1 Apr 2018£155,602£152,819
1 Apr 2019£158,754£154,908
1 Apr 2020£161,866£157,372
12 more rows

Who was the first British prime minister? ›

Biography. Today often viewed as the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole was described by contemporary opponents as the 'Screen-Master General', adept at pulling all the political strings. He was First Lord of the Treasury for over twenty years, an unusually long period in office by any standard.

Did the US save Britain in ww2? ›

No one 'saved' the UK. Britain saved France and then together Britain, the USSR and the US defeated Germany and Italy.

What is Winston Churchill's most famous quote? ›

Never Give In” “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.

Who was Winston Churchill's best friend? ›

Frederick Alexander Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, CH, PC, FRS (/ˈtʃɑːrwɛl/ CHAR-wel; 5 April 1886 – 3 July 1957) was a British physicist who was prime scientific adviser to Winston Churchill in World War II.

Why did Margaret Thatcher Privatise? ›

Privatisation. Thatcher's political and economic philosophy emphasised reduced state intervention, free markets, and entrepreneurialism. Since gaining power, she had experimented in selling off a small nationalised company, the National Freight Company, to its workers, with a positive response.

What did Margaret Thatcher do to the miners? ›

The government strategy, designed by Margaret Thatcher, was threefold: to build up ample coal stocks, to keep as many miners at work as possible, and to use police to break up attacks by pickets on working miners. The critical element was the NUM's failure to hold a national strike ballot.

What is the highest paid jobs in the UK? ›

43 Highest Paid Jobs in the UK in 2022
  • Chief Executive Officer. Average Salary – £77,711. ...
  • Entrepreneur. Average Salary – £101,000. ...
  • Chief Financial Officer. Average Salary – £97,646. ...
  • Lawyer. Average Salary – £48,414. ...
  • Orthodontist. Average Salary – £77,757. ...
  • Information Technology Manager. ...
  • Cybersecurity Specialist. ...
  • Accountant.

Does the Prime Minister get taxed? ›

There is no exemption for the role of prime minister, so they must pay income tax.

How much pension do MPs get? ›

The rate is 1/51 — if an MP served for one year, they would get a yearly income of one 51st of their career average salary in retirement. As MPs typically serve for 11 years, the average retirement salary for an MP is £17,672 a year, based on their present earnings.

Who is UK longest serving Prime Minister in the 20th century? ›

Time in office: 11 Years, 208 Days

As well as being Prime Minister for longer than anyone else in the 20th Century, Margaret Thatcher was also the most controversial figure to hold the post.

When did England stop being a monarchy? ›

On 7 February 1649, the office of King was formally abolished. The Civil Wars were essentially confrontations between the monarchy and Parliament over the definitions of the powers of the monarchy and Parliament's authority.

Who was first prime? ›

India's first prime minister—Jawaharlal Nehru—took oath on 15 August 1947. Nehru went on to serve as prime minister for 17 consecutive years, winning four general elections in the process. His tenure ended in May 1964, on his death.

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