Gladstone, William Ewart - Love and not ‘sex’
Type of Spiritual Experience
In his very early years, it is clear that Gladstone was all intellect and had not even met his feminine side. He attended the all male Eton College before matriculating in 1828 at the male Christ Church, Oxford, where he read Classics and Mathematics. In December 1831, he achieved the double first-class degree he had long desired.
This intellectually dominated era produced the only shameful policies of his career. Following the lead taken by his peers and to a lesser extent his father he followed the crowd with little thought. He opposed factory legislation and did nothing to oppose slavery.
But Gladstone was a passionate man and after a number of unsuccessful attempts to find a wife who was both a friend and ally, as well as a passionate woman, he met Catherine Glynne to whom he remained married until his death 59 years later. They had eight children together, although Catherine died when she was 5 :
- William Henry Gladstone (1840–1891), MP.
- Agnes Gladstone (1842–1931), later Mrs. Edward Wickham.
- The Rev. Stephen Edward Gladstone (1844–1920).
- Catherine Jessy Gladstone (1845–1850).
- Mary Gladstone (1847–1927), later Mrs. Harry Drew.
- Helen Gladstone (1849–1925), Vice-Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge
- Henry Neville Gladstone (1852–1935), Lord Gladstone of Hawarden.
- Herbert John Gladstone (1854–1930), MP and Viscount Gladstone.
The effect was immediate and stunning, and he found the feminine side through his wife and his love and grief for his children and grandchildren.
Gladstone became a promoter of love and fidelity because he had experienced first hand how much it had changed his life, so much so that in 1840, Gladstone began to rescue and rehabilitate London prostitutes, walking the streets of London himself and encouraging the women he encountered to change their ways. Much to the criticism of his peers, he continued this practice decades later, even after he was elected Prime Minister.
The objective was both to help the women themselves, but also to remove the sources of temptation to infidelity in other men.
In 1848 he founded the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women. In May 1849 he began his most active "rescue work" and met prostitutes late at night on the street, in his house or in their houses, writing their names in a private notebook. He aided the House of Mercy at Clewer near Windsor and spent much time arranging employment for ex-prostitutes.
Needless to say this activity raised a considerable number of eyebrows, despite the fact his wife fully approved of his work, and in a "Declaration" signed on 7 December 1896 and only to be opened after his death by his son Stephen, Gladstone wrote the following:
A description of the experience
With reference to rumours which I believe were at one time afloat, though I know not with what degree of currency: and also with reference to the times when I shall not be here to answer for myself, I desire to record my solemn declaration and assurance, as in the sight of God and before His Judgement Seat, that at no period of my life have I been guilty of the act which is known as that of infidelity to the marriage bed.
In 1927, during a court case over published claims that he had had improper relationships with some of these women, the jury unanimously found that the evidence "completely vindicated the high moral character of the late Mr. W. E. Gladstone".