Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) served as the British Prime Minister for two periods, 1855-58 and 1859-65. He first entered
politics as a Member of Parliament for Newport, Isle of Wight in 1807. He was unpopular with Queen Victoria, outspoken and had
a reputation for being a "ladies man". By the standards of his time he was a controversial character, on one occasion he
financed the legal defence of an aggrieved army officer, who had shot and wounded him, and later, ensured the man was well
cared for when he was sent to a lunatic asylum. On another occasion he refused to step in to stop the execution of a poacher
caught on his estate.
In 1860, after a Royal Commission recommendation, Parliament hurriedly passed Acts to construct or modernise over 70 forts and fortresses for the defence of naval harbours. This decision was prompted by the launch of "La Gloire" by the French navy, the first fully iron-clad warship. This was seen as a serious threat to national security as the British navy was considered to be out of date. The theory was the forts would protect the naval dockyards while the navy modernised its fleet. The new Acts were supported whole-heartedly by Lord Palmerston.
The forts were planned to utilise equipment and tactics little advanced from the days of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. It was soon realised the armaments would be useless against modern iron-clad warships and as the forts were being built they were adapted to mount new technology guns. Amongst the places that forts were built were Portsmouth, Plymouth, Pembroke, Portland, Dover, Chatham, Medway and the Isle of Wight. The entry to the Solent, from the west, was particulally well protected by a number of new forts as well as the re-arming of Hurst Castle on the mainland.
Because of the constant see-saw of Anglo-French relationships enthusiasm for the new defences quickly waned and they soon became known as Palmerstons' Follies. During the 19th century none of the forts was subjected to attack and none fired a shot in anger. Critics entirely missed the main point of the Royal Commissions intentions, which was their construction was intended as a deterrent and as such were supremely effective.
In 1865 Lord Palmerston called a general election which he won with a convincing majority. Sadly he did not see the new parliament convened as he died of a fever on 18th October 1865 after catching a chill while out in his carriage. He was 81 years old and was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey. He is credited with uttering on his death bed; "Die, my dear doctor? That's the last thing I shall do!"