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The Prime Minister who had to go to France to kiss hands with a monarch

When Edward VII had headed to Biarritz for a springtime break in 1908, his government had been under the stewardship of Liberal Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. But his health was failing fast and on April 3rd, he resigned. Herbert Asquith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was selected as his successor without opposition ensuring a smooth transition – with one small obstacle. The king was still in France. And so Herbert Asquith headed to the Riviera to become Prime Minister.

He arrived at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz on April 7th 1908 for the traditional ceremony of ”kissing of hands’. It was a very regal setting. The hotel had originally been built as a holiday home around 1855 for the Empress Eugenie by her still doting husband, Napoleon III. It was turned into a hotel in 1880 and by the time Edward VII and Herbert Asquith met there, it had been completely rebuilt within its original walls following a fire in 1903.

This ‘kissing hands’ took place behind the closed doors of the hotel’s luxurious rooms with Asquith leaving almost immediately to return home and start to build his government. Edward remained in Biarritz, a place he loved.

It is perhaps the most exotic setting for this ancient tradition which officially begins the tenure of a Prime Minister.

The newest PM, Sir Keir Starmer, is carrying out the tradition in more expected circumstances. Sir Keir meets King Charles at Buckingham Palace on a very British looking day of grey drizzle. And it was The King who travelled this time to make sure the smooth transition of power happened. His Majesty had been in Edinburgh for Scotland week but truncated his annual July stay to be in London to appoint the Prime Minister.

Sir Keir becomes PM after winning a landslide victory for the Labour party in the general election.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.