George Buchanan (diplomat)

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Sir George William Buchanan in 1915
George William Buchanan

Sir George William Buchanan GCB GCMG GCVO PC (1854–1924) was a British diplomat. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, he was the son of British Ambassador Sir Andrew Buchanan, Bt..

Diplomatic career[edit]

Buchanan entered diplomatic service, and in 1899 served on the Venezuelan Boundary Commission. In late 1901 he moved to Berlin, where he was appointed First Secretary at the British embassy.[1] In 1908 he was appointed as minister in The Hague, The Netherlands. In 1910 Buchanan was appointed as the British Ambassador to Russia. He kept abreast of the political developments in Russia and met some of the leading liberal reformists in the country. It has been suggested that this was secretly encouraged by the then Liberal government in London.

Buchanan was the ambassador at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He had developed a strong bond with the Tsar, Nicholas II, and attempted to convince the Tsar that granting some constitutional reform would stave-off revolution. Unfortunately Nicholas's opinion of him was poisoned by the Tsarina's views. Knowing that there were plots to stage a palace coup to replace him, Sir George formally requested an audience of the Tsar in the troubled early days of 1917. At his last meeting with Nicholas he pleaded with him in 'undiplomatic' language: "I can but plead as my excuse the fact that I have throughout been inspired by my feelings of devotion for Your Majesty and the Empress. If I were to see a friend walking through a wood on a dark night along a path which I knew ended in a precipice, would it not be my duty, sir, to warn him of his danger? And is it not equally my duty to warn Your Majesty of the abyss that lies ahead of you? You have, sir, come to the parting of the ways, and you have now to choose between two paths. The one will lead you to victory and a glorious peace – the other to revolution and disaster. Let me implore Your Majesty to choose the former." (12 January 1917 – page 49, Vol.II autobiography)

Although the Tsar was touched by the Ambassador's devotion, he allowed his wife's malevolent attitudes to overbear the sensible advice he had been given. After the collapse of the Autocracy (see Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia), he developed close relations with the liberal Provisional Government led by Alexander Kerensky that formed after the February Revolution. However, after the events of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks ascendency to power he was widely criticised for the failure to ensure that Tsar Nicholas II and his family were evacuated from Russia before their execution by the Bolsheviks at Ekaterinburg in 1918. It is now known that this was not his fault but that of the Tsar's first cousin, King George V of Great Britain who, fearful of revolutionary trends in Britain and the stability of his own throne, persuaded the Lloyd George government to rescind the offer they had made to provide sanctuary for the Imperial Family.

Sir George, disappointed that the fledgling democracy offered by the Provisional Government was strangled by the Bolshevik coup in October, finished his distinguished career as ambassador to the Kingdom of Italy from 1919–21.

Sir George's autobiography, My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, was published in 1923. It is believed that he had to leave out some of what he knew under threat of losing his pension. He died in 1924.


British decorations

  • Order of the Bath
    • CB: Companion of the Order of the Bath (civil division) – 16 January 1900 – for services on the Venzuelan Boundary Commission[2]
    • KCB: Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
    • GCB: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
  • Order of St Michael and St George
    • GCMG: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
  • Royal Victorian Order
    • GCVO: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order


Miss Meriel Buchanan in The Graphic, c1916, by Mr Bulla of Petrograd.[3]

In 1885 he married Lady Georgiana Meriel Bathurst (1863–1922), daughter of Allen Bathurst, 6th Earl Bathurst by the Hon. Meriel Leicester (1839–1872), daughter of George Warren, 2nd Baron de Tabley. Their daughter Meriel Buchanan (1886–1959) wrote several perceptive books about the revolution, which she witnessed, and key figures she had personally known. Meriel married Major Harold Wilfrid Knowling (1888–1954), Army Service Corps, and Welsh Guards, in May 1925; and died on 6 February 1959.

  • White Witch (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1913)
  • Tania. A Russian story (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1914)
  • Petrograd, the City of trouble, 1914–1918 (London: W. Collins, 1918)
  • Recollections of Imperial Russia (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923)
  • Diplomacy and foreign courts (London, Hutchinson, 1928)
  • The dissolution of an empire (London: John Murray, 1932; reprinted New York: Arno Press, 1971)
  • Anne of Austria: The Infanta Queen (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1937)
  • Queen Victoria's Relations, Cassell, 1954
  • Victorian gallery (London: Cassell, 1956)
  • Ambassador's daughter (London: Cassell, 1958)


  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27367. p. 6846. 22 October 1901.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27154. p. 5. 16 January 1900.
  3. ^ Karl, his son Viktor, or their studio

See also[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Henry Howard
British Minister to the Netherlands
Succeeded by
Sir Alan Johnstone
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Nicolson, Bt.
British Ambassador to Russia
Succeeded by
no representation following Russian revolution
Preceded by
Sir Rennell Rodd
British Ambassador to Italy
Succeeded by
Sir Ronald Graham