Bannerman, Sir Henry Campbell- (1836–1908), prime minister and chief secretary for Ireland, was born 7 September 1836 in Kelvinside, Glasgow, second son and youngest among six children of Sir James Campbell (1790–1876) of Forfarshire, tailor and draper, and Janet Campbell (née Bannerman; d. 1873). He was educated at Glasgow High School (1847–50) and the universities of Glasgow (1851–3) and Cambridge (BA 1858, MA 1861), and became a partner in his father's business. Though his family were active Conservatives, he was converted in the late 1850s to radicalism, which later settled into liberalism. He was elected Liberal MP for Stirling Burghs in 1868 and held the seat for the rest of his life. In 1871 he adopted (reluctantly) the additional surname ‘Bannerman’ on inheriting his maternal uncle's estate.
‘CB’ was not initially impressive in parliament, though he earned during his career a reputation as a good colleague and capable administrator. He served as financial secretary to the war office (1871–4, 1880–82), and succeeded Sir G. O. Trevelyan (qv) as secretary to the admiralty (1882–4). As a result of his work there, he then – proposed by the lord lieutenant, Earl Spencer (qv) – succeeded Trevelyan as chief secretary for Ireland (October 1884–June 1885), but without a seat in the cabinet. Trevelyan had broken down under the stress of the post; but, though not previously sympathetic to Dublin Castle, Campbell-Bannerman worked closely and cordially with the experienced Spencer, proved impervious to the attacks of Irish MPs, while managing to cultivate better relations with them. Although he was chief secretary for only seven months, his success in the post did much for his political reputation for calmness under fire and general competence. In Gladstone's later governments he was secretary for war (1886, 1892–5); his reforms there earned him a GCB. From 1886, after a period of doubt, he espoused Irish home rule as a Liberal objective, helped to draft the second home rule bill, and coined the term ‘Ulsteria’ for northern unionist reaction. However, as party leader (from February 1899) and prime minister (from December 1905), he had to reconcile this objective with the lack of enthusiasm in Britain for home rule, the divisions within Irish politics, and the preference of some colleagues for a gradual ameliorative approach. CB, who emerged as an unexpectedly capable leader, obtained the support of John Redmond (qv) and his party for the ‘step-by-step’ policy, which bore fruit in the Irish councils bill of 1906–7. After a series of heart attacks, beginning after his wife's death, he resigned as prime minister 4 April 1908 and died eighteen days later (22 April 1908) at 10 Downing St., London. After a service in Westminster abbey, he was buried beside his wife in Meigle churchyard, near Dundee, Scotland.
He married (September 1860) Sarah Charlotte Bruce (d. 1906); though a devoted couple, they had no children.