Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, KG PC FRS (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1881) was a British politician who twice served as Prime Minister. Despite the fact that he converted to Anglicanism in his teen years, he remains to date Britain's only ethnically Jewish Prime Minister. (His conversion was not any great show of faith or any kind of cynical move; his father got in a nasty tiff at his synagogue and had his whole family baptised CoE out of spite when young Benjamin was about 12.) He played a key role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party after the Corn Laws schism of 1846. Despite this he was not very well liked by the other major party leaders at the time but he kept working at it and was finally welcomed in fully in the 1860s. He had a life long rivalry with William Gladstone, the later head of the Liberal party and a later Prime Minister. In order to help with this he became a close friend of Queen Victoria (he pushed through legislation that made her the Empress of India, putting her on the top tier of European royalty with Tsar Nicholas II and ensuring that she would not be outranked by her daughter when she married German Emperor Frederick III, or by the Indian nobles who still ran parts of India), which also caused her hatred for Gladstone.
Bizarrely for a Conservative government, from a modern point of view, his second government focused mostly on improving the lot and rights of workers, including giving them the right to picket and to sue their employers for breach of contract. As one of his political opponents put it: "The Conservative party have done more for the working classes in five years than the Liberals have in fifty." This was known as One Nation Conservatism from a phrase of Disraeli's, which basically meant that they should try and transcend differences of class, religion and interests; in practice, they viewed it as they, the upper classes, having a duty to look after the lower classes' welfare (noblesse oblige and all that), though not necessarily to work towards full equality. One Nation Conservatism is still considered to be one of the major strains of thought the Conservative Party todaynote (along with Traditionalist "Faith, Flag, and Family"/"Sir Bufton Tufton" types and the Free-Market, quasi-libertarians labeled Thatcherites since the late 1970s), albeit with some changes from Disraeli's time, and were the dominant strain within the party for most of the 20th century (until Thatcher's ministry led to the ascendancy of the free-marketeers) with a possible return in the 21st (with Boris Johnsonnote being closest to this stream).
But perhaps the most awesome thing is not the political career but the career as a successful Romance Novel author that he engaged upon purely to fund his political career. He is very rare as a Prime Minister in that he had both great political and great social acclaim, although his books have not stood the test of time.
To date, he remains the only leader of the Conservative Party to die in office. This caused something of a Succession Crisis, as the party's leadership selection processes at the time weren't really designed to take account of what would happen if either the incumbent leader died, or the leadership became vacant when the party were out of power, let alone both, which happened upon Disraeli's death. The party leadership thus remained in flux for a further four years, ultimately being taken up by the Marquess of Salisbury. The first Canadian prime minister, the future-Sir and fellow Conservative John A. Macdonald, resembled him enough that he managed to scare a bunch of people by attending Disraeli's funeral in 1881 — and being mistaken for his ghost.
As a Historical Domain Character, Disraeli is associated with the following works:
- The 1929 George Arliss film, Disraeli (Arliss won the Best Actor Oscar).
- The 1941 John Gielgud film, The Prime Minister.
- The 1950 film The Mudlark in which he was played by Alec Guinness.
- The 1980 Ian McShane miniseries, Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic.
- The 1997 Judi Dench film, Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (Disraeli is played by Antony Sher).
- In Tenniel's illustrations to Through the Looking Glass, Disraeli appears both as the Unicorn and as the gentleman dressed in white paper. (Tenniel had made his reputation as a political cartoonist for Punch!.)
- In S. M. Stirling's Alternate History work The Peshawar Lancers, in which the world is hit by comets in 1878 and much of the northern hemisphere becomes uninhabitable, Disraeli is responsible for much of Britain's ruling classes being evacuated to India in a massive operation that sets up the "Angrezi Raj" as the greatest world power in the post-apocalyptic world, though he didn't survive to evacuate himself. In the twenty-first century, when the book is set, he is considered a saint.
- In the alternate, magical world of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, he was defeated by his political enemy, Gladstone, in a Wizard Duel.
- A less-than-flattering portrayal of him can be gleaned from Hannah Arendt's book The Origins of Totalitarianism, which highlights how his active "exoticization" of his Jewish background and the Jewish culture in general among many other things made the Jews derided targets for Nazism that brought about their tragic fates in The Holocaust (aside from highlighting that NOT all Holocaust victims were Jews). Naturally, many Jews reacted negatively to this reading, even though Arendt herself was Jewish.
- In Steampunk novel The Difference Engine, Disraeli is a famous author and Lord Byron is PM, in a reversal of their real-life roles. A bit of For Want Of A Nail here, since the real life figures were each involved in both literature and politics, they simply chose to focus on different priorities in the alternate history. Creating a bit of a Celebrity Paradox, the character of Sybil and elements of her subplot are borrowed from Disraeli's novel Sybil.note .
- In the alternate timeline in To Visit the Queen he is the nuclear proponent to Queen Victoria.
- He appears in one of the Flashman books playing a crooked game of vingt-et-un with the title character, who for once isn't the one cheating, and is the only one who believes him when he denies cheating.
- Portrayed by no less than Sir John Gielgud in the ITV biographical series Edward the Seventh. Goes into detail about his relationship with the Queen, as well as his attempts to keep the peace between her and the Prince of Wales.
- He is the namesake of Cream's 1967 album Disraeli Gears.
- Shows up with his wife Mary Anne in Assassin's Creed Syndicate.
- Perhaps the most well-known fictional depiction of Disraeli is the most telling. In the Family Guy episode where the local bar is bought out by a British man and converted into a pub, the following exchange/Cutaway Gag setup occurs:
- Pinky and the Brain: In the end of "Around the World in 80 Narfs", Disraeli is named President of the Pompous Explorer's Club, a position the Brain spent most of the episode trying to obtain so it could eventually make him Prime Minister of the British Empire.