Percy Zachariah Cox
GCMG, GCIE, KCSI
20 November 1864|
Harwood Hall, Herongate, Essex, England
|Died||20 February 1937
Melchbourne, Bedfordshire, England
British Indian Army
|Years of service||1884 - 1923|
Major-General Sir Percy Zachariah Cox, GCMG, GCIE, KCSI (20 November 1864 – 20 February 1937) was a British Indian Army officer and colonial administrator in the Middle East. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, he was one of the major figures in the creation of Iraq. He was commonly known as Coccus (and as Kokkus to the Arabs).
- 1 Family and early life
- 2 British Somaliland and Muscat (1893-1903)
- 3 The Persian Gulf (1904-1919)
- 4 Appointment as High Commissioner of Iraq and Iraqi Revolt (1920)
- 5 The 1921 Cairo Conference and the Crowning of King Faisal
- 6 Remaining Term as High Commissioner of Iraq (1922-1923)
- 7 Relationship with Gertrude Bell
- 8 Marriage and children
- 9 Retirement and Death
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Family and early life
Cox was born in Harwood Hall, Herongate, Essex, the son of Arthur Zachariah and Julienne Emily Cox. He was educated initially at Harrow School where he developed interests in natural history, geography, and travel. In February 1884 the bookish Cox, being his father's third son and therefore without significant inheritance, joined the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant into the Cameronians in February 1884, joining their 2nd Battalion in India. In November 1889 he transferred to the Bengal Staff Corps. On 14 November 1889 he married Louisa Belle Hamilton, later created a Dame, a daughter of the Irish born Surgeon-General Sir John Butler Hamilton (1838-1902).
British Somaliland and Muscat (1893-1903)
After holding minor administrative appointments in Kolhapur and Savantvadi in India, Cox was posted to British Somaliland, which was then administered from India, as Assistant Political Resident at Zeila. He transferred to Berbera in 1894. He was promoted to captain in February 1895. In May 1895 he was given command of an expedition against the Red Hared clan, which had blocked trade routes and was raiding the coast. With only 52 Indian and Somali regulars and 1,500 poor quality, untrained local irregulars, he defeated the Red Hared in six weeks. Later that year, he was promoted to be assistant to the Viceroy's agent in Baroda.
In October 1899, Cox was appointed Political Agent and Consul at Muscat, inheriting a tense situation between the British, who regarded the area as under their influence, Sultan Feisal, the local ruler, and the French, who gave protection to the local slave trade (which the British opposed) and had leased a coaling station from Feisal for their navy. Cox managed to successfully end French influence in the area. When Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, visited Muscat in 1903, he judged that Cox virtually ran the place. Cox was promoted to the rank of major in February 1902.
The Persian Gulf (1904-1919)
In June 1904, Cox was appointed Acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf and Consul-General for the Persian provinces of Fars, Lurestan and Khuzestan and the district of Lingah, residing in the Persian side of the gulf at the city of Bushire. Five years later he was confirmed as Resident, a post which he occupied highly successfully until 1914, when he was appointed Secretary to the Government of India. Among his achievements while at Bushire was the establishment of the state of Kuwait as an autonomous kaza within the Ottoman Empire by the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913. He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in February 1910. Shortly after his return to India, he was sent back to the Persian Gulf as Chief Political Officer with the Indian Expeditionary Force to fight against the Ottoman Empire during WWI. Taking part in the campaigns in Mesopotamia and Palestine, he was promoted to Honorary Major-General in May 1917. During this time he established strong relations with Ibn Saud, the powerful ruler of the Nejd, with whom he had already had dealings while Resident. At the end of hostilities with the Ottoman Empire in November 1918, Cox was appointed Acting Minister in Tehran, negotiating the Anglo-Persian Agreement.
Appointment as High Commissioner of Iraq and Iraqi Revolt (1920)
Following the Iraqi Revolt of 1920, British colonial administrators felt a more effective and cheaper method to rule the area would be to create an Iraqi government in which British influence was less visible. It was in this environment that Percy Cox took up residence in Baghdad as the first High Commissioner under the Iraq Mandate. Later, reflecting on Britain’s new policy and the difficulties involved, Cox wrote to the mother of Gertrude Bell,
The task before me was by no means an easy or attractive one. The new line of policy which I had come to inaugurate involved a complete and necessarily rapid transformation of the facade of the existing administration from British to Arab and, in the process, a wholesale reduction in the numbers of British and British-Indian personnel employed.
Acting as High Commissioner, Cox collaborated with former Ottoman officials and tribal, sectarian, and religious leaders and oversaw the creation of a largely Arab provisional government, or “Council of State,” with the purpose of seeing the nascent country through the turbulent period following the revolt. Cox selected as president the (Sunni) religious leader Abd al-Rahman al- Kaylani, the Naqib of Baghdad. Council members were culled from local elites whom Cox felt could be relied upon to support the British agenda. The satisfactory functioning of this interim government allowed Cox to attend the Cairo Conference, convened by the new Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill in 1921.
The 1921 Cairo Conference and the Crowning of King Faisal
Among the points Cox considered salient coming into the 1921 Cairo Conference were the reduction of British spending in Iraq and the selection of a ruler for the country. To satisfy the first item, Cox proposed a plan to immediately cut expenditure and withdraw troops from Mesopotamia. On the question of who should rule Iraq, Cox considered the best option to be one of the sons of the Sherif of Mecca, with whom the British had a special relationship during the war due to promises made during the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence. At the conference, the Sherif’s son Faisal emerged as the preferred choice, with Cox noting that Faisal’s military experience in the First World War as well as his vast political skills made him the most qualified to raise an army and rule Iraq effectively. Cox would later write that the decision in favor of Faisal was “easiest to arrive at . . . by the process of elimination,” reasoning that local candidates for the throne would split the support of the major parties in Iraq while Faisal, as a result of his experience and his respected family name, would enjoy the “general if not the universal support of inhabitants.” After arranging an election of sorts of Faisal's asking, Cox would go on to proclaim Faisal as King of Iraq on 23 August 1921 in Baghdad, upon which event the provisional cabinet formed by Cox resigned. For his remaining years as the High Commissioner of Iraq, Cox continued to greatly influence Iraqi government and events in the country, using his power behind the throne to advise and pressure Faisal when necessary.
Remaining Term as High Commissioner of Iraq (1922-1923)
On 23 August 1922, King Faisal was struck with appendicitis and rendered unable to rule for several weeks. At this moment, a debate was raging over the nature and extent of British control over Iraqi affairs through treaty obligations. In perhaps the boldest action of his political career, Cox seized control and instituted direct British rule. Cox, in effect, became acting King of Iraq and undertook such measures as jailing and transporting those hostile to foreign intervention; silencing opposition parties and media; and even ordering the bombing of tribal insurgents. Interpretation of these events varies greatly depending on the source: John Townsend writes that Cox’s actions “demonstrated British infallibility, illusory though it might have been” and that what transpired amounted to “perhaps [Cox’s] greatest single achievement.” Ahmad Shikara is not as kind, calling Cox’s measures “severe and unpopular” and noting that Faisal himself held “strong objections to the High Commissioner’s actions.” Cox’s own account conflicts, as he writes that not only were his actions necessary for the stability of the state, but that Faisal, upon recovery, “thanked me cordially for the action taken during the interregnum.” Whatever the case, Cox’s actions succeeded in preserving the status quo for the British, and Faisal resumed his rule in September.
The remainder of Cox’s term as High Commissioner was spent negotiating the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, years 1921 and 1922. Faisal’s objection to the British Mandate of Iraq and his insistence on formal independence necessitated a fine diplomatic touch. Britain wished to keep its interests alive in Iraq while at the same time appearing to have no control over its government. To this end, Cox negotiated the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, which forced many of the original terms of the Mandate system on Iraq but which avoided the term “mandate” and granted British protection to Faisal against rivals such as Ibn Saud. This treaty was signed 10 October 1922; shortly thereafter, Cox utilized his good relationship with Ibn Saud to establish the boundaries between the Saudi kingdom, Iraq, and Kuwait in order to ensure that Britain would not have to defend Iraq from the Saudis.
In her letters, the famed adventurer, archaeologist, and author Gertrude Bell writes of the effectiveness of Cox’s diplomacy: “Ibn Saud is convinced that the future of himself and his country depends on our goodwill and that he will never break with us. In point of fact the treaty is on exactly the lines that Sir Percy stipulated.” This was to be Cox’s final significant act as High Commissioner of Iraq, as he retired on 4 May 1923 and was succeeded by Sir Henry Dobbs, High Commissioner to the Kingdom of Iraq till 1929, a.k.a.Sir Henry Robert Conway Dobbs, GBE, KCSI, KCMG KCIE (1871-1934)
Relationship with Gertrude Bell
Throughout his career in Iraq, Cox was in close connection with his aforementioned colleague Gertrude Bell. Their relationship seems unambiguously to be one of mutual admiration and respect. In her writing, Bell describes Cox as possessing an “air of fine and simple dignity,” praising his “kindness and consideration,” and claiming that his disposition towards her amounted to “an absurd indulgence.” Bell also describes Cox’s political and diplomatic prowess, calling him “a master hand at the game of politics.” She notes the respect that he enjoyed with the peoples of Iraq and when writing about Cox’s dealings with Ibn Saud even declares, “It's really amazing that anyone should exercise influence such as his...I don't think that any European in history has made a deeper impression on the Oriental mind.” Cox, for his part, returns this respect, referring to Bell’s “indefatigable assistance” and the “great degree to which Gertrude Bell enjoyed my confidence and I her devoted co- operation . . .”
Marriage and children
Lady Cox (Belle Hamilton Cox) was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1923 Birthday Honours.
The Coxs' only son, Derek, was killed in action in 1917 (although he left a son) and their only daughter died at birth.
Retirement and Death
After Cox's departure from Baghdad, he was never again employed in any official position by the British government, but served as a delegate to several conferences. Cox devoted much of the rest of his life to the Royal Geographic Society, serving as its president from 1933 to 1936.
Sir Percy Cox died suddenly while hunting at Melchbourne, Bedfordshire, in 1937. He apparently felt ill and dismounted, collapsing on the road beside his horse; by the time he was found by another huntsman, Lord Luke, he was already dead. The coroner recorded a verdict of heart failure.
- Iraqi revolt against the British
- British Mandate of Mesopotamia
- Faisal I of Iraq
- Anglo-Iraqi Treaty
- Gertrude Bell
- Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq. 3rd ed. (New York: Cambridge UP, 2007) 44.
- Bell, Gertrude. The Letters of Gertrude Bell. Ed. Lady Bell. Vol. 2. New York: Boni And Liveright, 1927. Project Gutenberg Australia. Sept. 2004. <http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400461h.html>.
- Simon, Reeva S., and Eleanor H. Tejirian, eds. Creation of Iraq, 1914-1921. (New York: Columbia UP, 2004) 31.
- "First Meeting of the Political Committee. 12 March 1921." Proc. of Conference on Middle Eastern Affairs, Cairo.
- Townsend, John. "Some Reflections on the Life and Career of Sir Percy Cox, G.C.M.G., G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I." Asian Affairs 24 (1993).
- Tripp 52.
- Shikārah, Aḥmad Abd al-Razzāq. Iraqi politics, 1921-41 the interaction between domestic politics and foreign policy. (London: LAAM, 1987) 39.
- Fromkin, David. Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922. (New York: H. Holt, 1989) 509-10.
- Sir Percy Cox's obituary, The Times, 22 February 1937
- Bell, Gertrude. The Letters of Gertrude Bell. Ed. Lady Bell. Vol. 2. (New York: Boni And Liveright, 1927). Project Gutenberg Australia. Sept. 2004. <http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400461h.html>.
- Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922. (New York: H. Holt, 1989).
- Meyer, Karl E. and Shareen Blair Brysac. Kingmakers: the Invention of the Modern Middle East. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008) ISBN 978-0-393-06199-4.
- Pearce, Robert. 'Cox, Sir Percy Zachariah (1864–1937)' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004)
- Simon, Reeva S., and Eleanor H. Tejirian, eds. Creation of Iraq, 1914-1921. (New York: Columbia UP, 2004) 31.
- Townsend, John. 'Some reflections on the life and career of Sir Percy Cox, G.C.M.G., G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I.' in Asian Affairs, Vol. 24, #3, November 1993, pp. 259–272
- Townsend, John. Proconsul to the Middle East: Sir Percy Cox and the End of Empire. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010).
- Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq. 3rd ed. (New York: Cambridge UP, 2007).
- "History, Britain, Iran & the 1919 Treaty, by A. R. Begli Beigie, The Irania
- "A Political Inquest", The Real Voice
- February 1990 "A Very British Coup: How Reza Shah Won and Lost His Throne", by Shareen Blair Brysac, World Policy Journal, Summer 2007