The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone Vs Disraeli

Published by W. W. Norton & Company on 13th September 2007

Gladstone and Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the modern age. Their intense hatred was ideological and deeply personal. Victorian Britain rules the oceans and vast territories ‘on which the sun never set’. The vitriolic dual between Gladstone and Disraeli was nothing less than a battle to lead the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

To Disraeli, his antagonist was an ‘unprincipled maniac’ characterised by an ‘extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition’. For Gladstone, his rival was ‘The Grant Corrupter’ whose destruction he plotted ‘day and night, week by week, month by month’.

Victorians were electrified by the confrontation. No wonder that when Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass appeared in 1871,everyone recognised the great adversaries as the warring lion and unicorn ‘fighting for the crown’.

Richard Aldous gives us the first modern telling of this dramatic story of an intense and momentous rivalry. His vivid narrative style – at turns powerful, witty, stirring and theatrical – breathes new life into a familiar, half-remembered tale that is pivotal in Britain’s island history.

The Lion and the Unicorn is a brilliant rethinking of the Gladstone and Disraeli story for a new generation. Richard Aldous confirms a perennial truth: in politics, everything is personal.