Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor
19 May 1879|
New York City, U.S.
|Died||30 September 1952
Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Witcher Langhorne
(m. 1906–1952; his death)
|Parents||William Waldorf Astor
Mary Dahlgren Paul
|Alma mater||Eton College
New College, Oxford
Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor (19 May 1879 – 30 September 1952) was an American-born English politician and newspaper proprietor. He was also a member of the Astor family.
Waldorf Astor was born in New York City. He was the eldest son of Viscount William Waldorf Astor and Mary Dahlgren Paul (1858–1894); his younger brothers were John Rudolph Astor (who died young) and Baron John Jacob Astor V. He spent much of his life traveling and living in Europe before his family settled in Great Britain in 1889. There Waldorf attended Eton College and New College, Oxford, where he did not distinguish himself academically but excelled as a sportsman, earning accolades for both fencing and polo. For the Oxford University Polo Club he played side on side with Devereux Milburn in successive Varsity Matches, wining by a margin of 14 goals on both occasions.
In 1905, while a passenger on an Atlantic voyage returning to Britain, Astor met Nancy Witcher Langhorne, a divorced woman with a young son Robert Gould Shaw III. After a rapid courtship, the two married in May 1906. As a wedding gift, Waldorf's father gave him and his bride the family estate at Cliveden, which Nancy redecorated and modernized with the installation of electricity. Theirs proved a close marriage, and they had five children:
- William Waldorf "Bill" Astor II
- Nancy Phyllis Louise Astor
- Francis David Langhorne Astor
- Michael Langhorne Astor
- John Jacob "Jakie" Astor VII
Astor valued his wife; through her, Astor developed an interest in social reform.
Nancy also encouraged her husband to launch a career in politics. Though defeated in an initial attempt to win election to the House of Commons in the January 1910 general election, Astor won election as a Unionist for the borough of Plymouth in the December 1910 general election. He held the seat until the constituency was abolished in 1918, after which he moved to the borough of Plymouth Sutton. Despite his political affiliation, Astor quickly demonstrated his independence by his support for the so-called "People's Budget" and the National Insurance Act of 1911.
In 1911, Astor was approached by James Louis Garvin, the editor of The Observer, about purchasing the newspaper from its owner, the press baron Lord Northcliffe. The two men had a disagreement over the issue of Imperial Preference, and Northcliffe had given Garvin the option of finding a buyer for the paper. Astor convinced his father to purchase the paper, which William did on the condition that Garvin also agree to edit the Pall Mall Gazette, which was also a property of the Astor family. Though his father provided the funds, it was Waldorf who was in charge of the paper, and he developed a harmonious working relationship with Garvin. William formally turned over ownership of both papers to his son in 1915, who promptly sold the Pall Mall Gazette but retained ownership of The Observer.
Like many of his class, Astor joined the army at the start of the First World War. Having been diagnosed with a bad heart, Astor was unable to serve in combat and instead fought waste and inefficiency in munitions production. When his friend David Lloyd George became prime minister and formed a new coalition government, Astor became his parliamentary private secretary. In 1918 he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and from 1919 until 1921 he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health while also playing a prominent role as a member of Lloyd George's "garden suburb" of advisers.
In 1916, father William Waldorf Astor was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Astor. Upon the death of his father in October 1919, Waldorf Astor succeeded to the viscountcy and became the 2nd Viscount Astor despite Waldorf's attempts to disclaim the title. Now a member of the House of Lords, Astor was forced to forfeit his seat in the House of Commons, though he remained active in the government. The seat was won subsequently in a by-election by Astor's wife Nancy, who became the second woman elected to the House of Commons and the first woman to take her seat in the House, after the first woman elected, Constance Markievicz, had declined in accordance with her (Sinn Féin) party's policy. Nancy retained the seat until she stepped down in the 1945 general election.
With his political career eclipsed by that of his wife, Waldorf turned to greater involvement in charitable causes. He became governor of the Peabody Trust and Guy's Hospital, while his interest in international relations fuelled his involvement with the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and he served as its chairman from 1935 to 1949. He was also a considerable benefactor to the city of Plymouth, and served as its Lord Mayor from 1939 to 1944. He took over a thoroughbred racing stable from his father and expanded it, winning a number of races, including the St. Leger Stakes in 1927.
During the military buildup in Germany in the 1930s, the Astors promoted entente with Germany, seen by some as appeasement of Hitler. Many of their associates felt sympathy for the state of Germany after World War I, feared Communism, and supported the position of the British government. Astor had anti-Semitic views and in the 1930s he told Thomas Jones that Germany was criticised because, "Newspapers are influenced by those firms which advertise so largely in the press and are frequently under Jewish control." However, Nancy was critical of the Nazis, mostly on women's rights. Viscount Astor's anti-Semitism was non-violent and he protested to Hitler about treatment of the Jews.
In 1940, they urged Neville Chamberlain to resign and supported Churchill as replacement. He also supported war against Germany when it came although both remained uncomfortable with Joseph Stalin as an ally (from 1941). His son David, who became owner and editor of The Observer in 1948, never forgave Claud Cockburn and his newssheet The Week for attacks on the "Cliveden Set".
- R.J.Q. Adams, "Astor, Waldorf, second Viscount Astor", in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), vol. 2, p. 801.
- The Polo Monthly. July 1909. p. 375. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
- Christopher Sykes, Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), pgs. 79–82, 87, 146.
- Adams, op cit.
- Alfred M. Gollin, The Observer and J. L. Garvin, 1908–1914 (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), pgs. 300–303.
- "Viscount Astor, 73, Dead at Cliveden. American-Born Peer Was One of Set in 1930's That Failed to Recognize Nazi Threat. Astor One of Virginia's Langhorne Sisters. Father Had Been U. S. Diplomat". New York Times. 1 October 1952. Retrieved 21 March 2010. "In 1919, on his father's death, he became the second Viscount and Baron Astor"
- Sykes, op cit, pgs. 187–209
- A Reevaluation of Cockburn's Cliveden Set
- "Death Claims British Peer". Eugene Register-Guard. 30 September 1952. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by the Viscount Astor
- Archival material relating to Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor listed at the UK National Archives
- "Astor, William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). 1922. This article is mostly about Waldorf Astor.
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Charles Edward Mallet and
|Member of Parliament for Plymouth
With: Arthur Shirley Benn
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton
Nancy Witcher Langhorne
|Peerage of the United Kingdom|
William Waldorf Astor
William Waldorf Astor II