Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, KG, OM, PC, lived from 25 July 1848 to 19 March 1930. He was a politician who became Prime Minister and later, as Foreign Secretary, is remembered for the declaration which led to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Arthur Balfour was born at Whittingehame in East Lothian, a small settlement south of East Linton and east of Haddington. He was the oldest son of James Balfour, a Scottish MP, and Lady Blanche Gascoyne-Cecil, a sister of Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, who served as Prime Minister for three periods between 1885 and 1892. To say he had politics in his genes would be an understatement.
Balfour was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1869. Balfour was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Hertford in 1874. In 1875 his cousin, May Lyttleton, died of typhus. The two had intended to marry and Balfour never entirely got over her loss. He never married, despite a close friendship in later life with Mary Wemyss, who later became Countess of Elcho.
In 1878 Balfour became Private Secretary to his uncle, Lord Salisbury, who was Foreign Secretary at the time. From 1885, Balfour was given a series of Ministerial posts by his uncle during the latter's spells as Prime Minister, becoming First Lord of the Treasury in 1891 and Leader of the House of Commons in 1895. He also stood in as Foreign Secretary while his uncle was abroad.
Balfour succeeded his uncle as Prime Minister on 11 July 1902, serving until 5 December 1905 when he resigned over the issue of free trade versus tariffs. He remained Leader of the Conservative Party until 1911. In December 1916, Arthur Balfour was appointed Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George's wartime government. On 2 November 1917, he wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leading member of the British Jewish community, in which he said "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country". This became known as the Balfour Declaration and above all else serves as Balfour's footnote in history. In a similar but less well known letter dated 11 November 1918 he had an enduring impact on a different corner of the globe when he confirmed that the United Kingdom acknowledged the statehood of Latvia.
Balfour left Government in 1922. He died at his brother's home near Woking in 1930, before being buried at Whittingehame Church alongside other members of the Balfour family.