The following table charts the principal events leading to the Cabinet crisis of 1903 and the start of the Parrot poems.

Date Event  
    April Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, presents a Budget whose measures to help meet the costs of the Boer War include a small Corn Registration Duty (1s per quarter), effectively a duty on all imported grain. The duty is welcomed by the Prime Minister of Canada, who sees it as offering an opportunity to establish reciprocal preferences on trade between Britain and Canada.
    July Lord Salisbury retires as Prime Minister, followed by Hicks Beach.
Arthur Balfour becomes Prime Minister.
    Aug Balfour appoints Charles Thompson Ritchie as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
On 31 August, Canada’s finance minister tells Chamberlain his country is prepared to offer generous terms to British trade in return for a waiver of the corn duty.
    Oct 21 Joseph Chamberlain puts the Canadian proposal to a meeting of Cabinet. Balfour and most of his ministers receive the proposal favourably, but Ritchie voices strong opposition and later circulates a memorandum setting out his views, including the political desirability of removing the tax on a foodstuff.
    Nov 19 Cabinet again considers Chamberlain’s proposal and approves it, but agrees, as a concession to Ritchie, not to notify the Canadian government so far in advance of the next budget.
    Nov 25 Chamberlain departs for a pre-arranged official tour of South Africa.
    March In Chamberlain’s absence, and after some poor by-election results, Ritchie succeeds in persuading a number of Cabinet members to support him. In early March, he threatens to resign if the earlier Cabinet decision is allowed to stand.
    March 14 Chamberlain arrives home from South Africa.
    March 17 Cabinet endorses Ritchie’s proposal to repeal the corn duty.
    April 23 Ritchie presents his budget to Parliament.
    May 15 At a speech in his constituency, Chamberlain presents his tariff reform proposals in public for the first time. The same day, Balfour and Ritchie receive a large deputation of those opposed to repeal of the corn duty; Balfour tells the deputation that he is not so dogmatic as to reject tariff reform but that it cannot be imposed by the government without endorsement by the people.
    May 28 Speeches in Parliament by Balfour and Chamberlain are widely interpreted as signalling a change in fiscal policy.
    June 9 The Chancellor tells Parliament there should be an inquiry into preferential treatment of the Colonies.
Campbell-Bannerman declares that the Opposition (ie Liberals) are opposed to Chamberlain’s "scheme for taxing the food of the people".
    June 16 The Prime Minister informs Parliament that the inquiry will be conducted by the Government on its own behalf. The report was eventually published on 17 September.
    Sept 9 Chamberlain writes to the Prime Minister, acknowledging that imperial preference does not have the backing of the country and requesting that, to avoid embarrassing the Government and to allow him to promote the cause "from the outside", Balfour should agree to his tendering his resignation. Balfour does not immediately reply, and Chamberlain’s resignation is temporarily delayed.
    Sept 15 Prime Minister Balfour issues a pamphlet, "Economic Notes on Insular Free Trade", a reprint of notes circulated to Cabinet in early August. The pamphlet, which is seen as a statement of policy endorsed by Cabinet, makes no mention of protectionist tariffs, but recognises the need for retaliatory tariffs.
The Daily Mail claims that the pamphlet is an indication that Chamberlain has been forced to abandon his proposals, at least for the time being.
    Sept 16 Balfour replies privately to Chamberlain, regretting the latter’s desire to resign, but not opposing it, and adding in a postscript that he is gratified that Austen Chamberlain (Joseph’s son and the incumbent Postmaster-General) has agreed to remain in the Government.
    Sept 17 The Daily Express concludes that the Balfour pamphlet leaves the Chancellor, Ritchie, with no choice but to resign, and suggests that two other free traders, Lord George Hamilton (Secretary of State for India) and Lord Balfour of Burleigh (Secretary for Scotland) will follow him.
    Sept 18 The resignations of Chamberlain, Ritchie and Hamilton are confirmed and the exchange of letters between Chamberlain and Balfour is made public.
    Sept 20 The resignations of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and of the Hon Arthur Elliot, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, are confirmed.
    Sept 28 The Daily Express discounts rumours that the Duke of Devonshire has resigned, stating categorically that the Duke "has not resigned, and has no intention of doing so".
    Oct 1 The resignation letters of Lord George Hamilton and C T Ritchie are published; dated 15 September, they show that both resigned following a Cabinet meeting that day. Hamilton’s letter makes it clear that he would not have resigned if he had known Chamberlain had already tendered his resignation.
Balfour, speaking in Sheffield, reiterates his belief—set out in his pamphlet—in the need for a policy of retaliatory tariffs.
    Oct 5 The Duke of Devonshire’s resignation is announced. In his resignation letter, dated 2 October, he says that his decision was prompted by Balfour’s speech at Sheffield.
The announcement of Devonshire’s resignation coincides with publication of changes in the Cabinet following the earlier resignations. Chamberlain’s son, Austen, is the new Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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