George Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston: Difference between revisions

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Revision as of 05:16, 6 December 2005

George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, British statesman

The Most Honourable George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (January 11, 1859March 20, 1925), was a conservative British statesman who served as Viceroy of India.

Early life

Eldest son of the 4th Baron Scarsdale, rector of Kedleston, Derbyshire, Curzon was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. At Oxford he was president of the Union, and after a brilliant university career was elected a fellow of All Souls College in 1883.

While at Oxford Curzon was the inspiration for a piece of doggerel which stuck with him in later life:

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.

Life and Career

He became assistant private secretary to Lord Salisbury in 1885, and in 1886 entered Parliament as member for the Southport division of south-west Lancashire. He served as under-secretary for India in 1891-1892 and for foreign affairs in 1895-1898.

In the meantime he had travelled in Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, the Pamirs, Siam, French Indochina and Korea, and published several books describing central and eastern Asia and related policy issues.

First Marriage (1895)

In 1895 he married Mary Victoria Leiter (d. 1906), the beautiful daughter of Levi Zeigler Leiter, a Chicago millionaire of German Lutheran origin and a cofounder of the department store Field & Leiter (now known as Marshall Field). They had three daughters: Mary Irene (who inherited her father's Barony of Ravensdale and was created a life peer in her own right), Cynthia (first wife of Sir Oswald Mosley), and Alexandra Naldera (wife of Edward "Fruity" Metcalfe, the best friend of Edward VIII; best known as Baba Metcalfe, she later became a mistress of her brother-in-law Oswald Mosley, as did her stepmother, Grace).

Viceroy of India (1899-1905)

In January 1899 he was appointed Viceroy of India. He was created an Irish peer as Baron Curzon of Kedleston on his appointment, the creation taking this form, it was understood, in order that he might remain free during his father's lifetime to re-enter the House of Commons.

Reaching India shortly after the suppression of the frontier risings of 1897-98, he paid special attention to the independent tribes of the north-west frontier, inaugurated a new province called the North West Frontier Province, and pursued a policy of forceful control mingled with conciliation. The only major armed outbreak on this frontier during the period of his administration was the Mahsud Waziri campaign of 1901.

His deep mistrust of Russian intentions led him to encourage British trade in Persia, paying a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1903. At the end of that year he sent a military expedition into Tibet led by Francis Younghusband, ostensibly to forestall a Russian advance. After bloody conflicts with Tibet's poorly-armed defenders, the mission penetrated to Lhasa, where a treaty was signed in September 1904. No Russian presence was found in Llasa.

Within India, Lord Curzon of Kedleston appointed a number of commissions to inquire into Indian education, irrigation, police and other branches of administration, on whose reports legislation was based during his second term of office as viceroy. Reappointed governor-general in August 1904, he presided over the partition of Bengal (July 1905), which roused such bitter opposition among the people of the province that it was later revoked (1912).

A difference of opinion with the British military commander-in-chief in India, Lord Kitchener, regarding the position of the military member of council in India, led to a controversy in which Lord Curzon of Kedleston failed to obtain support from the home government. He resigned in August 1905 and returned to England.

Representative Peer for Ireland (1908)

In 1908 Curzon was elected a representative peer for Ireland, and thus relinquished any idea of returning to the House of Commons. In 1909-1910 he took an active part in opposing the Liberal government's proposal to abolish the legislative veto of the House of Lords. He served in Lloyd George's War Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords from December 1916. Despite his continued opposition to votes for women (he had earlier headed the Anti-Suffrage League), the House of Lords voted conclusively in its favour.

Following the conclusion of the Great War Curzon designed the Cenotaph memorial in central London, initially only temporary it met with such popular sentiment that a permanent Cenotaph was erected in the 1920s.

Second Marriage (1917)

After a long affair with the romance novelist Elinor Glyn, Curzon married, in 1917, the former Grace Elvina Hinds, the Alabama-born widow of Alfred Hubert Duggan, an Englishman who was born and died in Argentina. The daughter of a U.S. Minister to Brazil, Duggan had three children from her first marriage: Alfred Leo Duggan, Hubert Duggan, and Marcella Duggan. Despite fertility-related operations and several miscarriages, she was never able to give Curzon the son and heir he desperately desired, a fact that eroded their marriage, which ended in separation, though not divorce.

Foreign Secretary (1919-24)

Appointed Foreign Secretary from January 1919, Curzon gave his name to the British government's proposed Soviet-Polish boundary, the Curzon Line of December 1919.

On Andrew Bonar Law's retirement as Prime Minister in May 1923, Curzon was passed over for the job in favour of Stanley Baldwin. Many reasons are often cited for this but amongst the most prominent are that Curzon's character was objectionable to many Conservatives, that it was felt to be inappropriate for the Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords (though this did not prevent peers being considered for the premiership on several subsequent occasions) and that in a democratic age it would be dangerous for a party to be led by a rich aristocrat. A letter purporting to detail the opinions of Bonar Law but in actuality written by Baldwin sympathisers was delivered to the King's private secretary, though it is unclear how much impact this had in the final outcome.

Curzon remained Foreign Secretary under Baldwin until the government fell in January 1924. When Baldwin formed a new government in November 1924 he did not reappoint Curzon as Foreign Secretary but instead as Lord President of the Council. Curzon held this post until the following March when he died in office. Upon his death the Barony, Earldom and Marquessate of Curzon of Kedleston became extinct, whilst the Viscountcy and Barony of Scarsdale were inherited by a nephew and the Barony of Ravensdale by his eldest daughter.

Assessment

There was a feeling after his death that Curzon had failed to reach the heights which his youthful talents had seemed destined to reach. This sense of opportunities missed was summed up by Churchill in his book Great Contemporaries (1937):

The morning had been golden; the noontide was bronze; and the evening lead. But all were polished till it shone after its fashion.

Bibliography

Curzon's publications include

  • Russia in Central Asia (1889)
  • Persia and the Persian Question (1892)
  • Problems of the Far East (1894; new ed., 1896).

See


Template:Succession box one to three

Preceded by
The Earl of Elgin
Viceroy of India
1899–1904
Succeeded by
The Lord Ampthill
Preceded by
The Lord Ampthill
Viceroy of India
1904–1905
Succeeded by
The Earl of Minto
Preceded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
1904–1905
Succeeded by
HRH The Prince of Wales
Preceded by
The Marquess of Lansdowne
Conservative Leader in the Lords
1916–1925
Succeeded by
Stanley Baldwin
(as overall leader)
Preceded by
Andrew Bonar Law
Leader of the British Conservative Party
1921–1922
with Austen Chamberlain
Succeeded by
Andrew Bonar Law
Preceded by
Arthur James Balfour
Foreign Secretary
1919–1924
Succeeded by
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by
The Lord Parmoor
Lord President of the Council
1924–1925
Succeeded by
Arthur James Balfour
Preceded by
The Viscount Haldane
Leader of the House of Lords
1924–1925
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Salisbury

Template:Succession box two to one

Preceded by
New Creation
Marquess Curzon of Kedleston Succeeded by
Extinct
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Ravensdale Succeeded by
Mary Irene Curzon

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.