Archibald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso

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The Viscount Thurso

The Air Ministry, 1939-1945. CH10270.jpg
Archibald Sinclair as Secretary of State for Air during the Second World War
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
26 November 1935 – 26 July 1945
DeputyPercy Harris (1940–1945)
Preceded bySir Herbert Samuel
Succeeded byClement Davies
Secretary of State for Air
In office
11 May 1940 – 23 May 1945
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterWinston Churchill
Preceded bySir Samuel Hoare, Bt
Succeeded byHarold Macmillan
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
4 November 1931 – 26 November 1935
LeaderHerbert Samuel
Preceded byHerbert Samuel
Succeeded byPercy Harris 1940–1945
Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
25 August 1931 – 28 September 1932
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byWilliam Adamson
Succeeded bySir Godfrey Collins
Liberal Chief Whip
In office
1930 – 25 August 1931
LeaderDavid Lloyd George
Preceded byRobert Hutchison
Succeeded byGoronwy Owen
Member of Parliament
for Caithness and Sutherland
In office
15 November 1922 – 5 July 1945
Preceded byLeicester Harmsworth
Succeeded byEric Gandar Dower
Personal details
Archibald Henry Macdonald Sinclair

22 October 1890 (1890-10-22)
Chelsea, London, England
Died15 June 1970 (1970-06-16) (aged 79)
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)Marigold Forbes
Alma materRoyal Military College, Sandhurst

Archibald Henry Macdonald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso, KT, CMG, PC (22 October 1890 – 15 June 1970), known as Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt, between 1912 and 1952, and often as Archie Sinclair, was a British politician and leader of the Liberal Party.[1]

Background and education[edit]

Born in Chelsea, London,[2] Sinclair was the son of a Scottish father and an American mother. He was the great-great-grandson of Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet. In 1912, he succeeded his grandfather, Sir John Sinclair, 3rd Baronet, as the fourth Baronet, of Ulbster. Educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Life Guards in 1910.[3]

Military career[edit]

Sinclair served on the Western Front during the First World War[3] and rose to the rank of Major in the Guards Machine Gun Regiment. He served as second-in-command to Winston Churchill, when Churchill commanded the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the Ploegsteert Wood sector of the Western Front in 1916 after Churchill had resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty. They formed a lasting friendship, which would become a significant political alliance in later decades. From 1919 to 1921, he served as Personal Military Secretary to Churchill, when he returned to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for War, then accompanied him to the Colonial Office as Private Secretary.[3]

Political career[edit]

In 1922, Sinclair entered the House of Commons as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Caithness and Sutherland,[4] supporting David Lloyd George and defeating the incumbent Liberal supporter of H. H. Asquith. His constituency was the largest, in terms of area, in the United Kingdom. He rose through the Liberal ranks as the party shrank in Parliament, becoming Chief Whip by 1930.[3]

In 1931, the Liberal Party joined the National Government of Ramsay MacDonald, with Sinclair appointed Secretary of State for Scotland.[5] He was sworn of the Privy Council at the same time.[6] In 1932, he, together with other Liberal ministers, resigned from the government in protest at the Ottawa Conference introducing a series of tariff agreements.

In the 1935 general election, Samuel lost his seat. Sinclair became the party's leader at the head of only 20 MPs. With the party now clearly marginalised as the third party on the fringe and few distinct domestic policies, with a parliamentary party that was primarily a collection of individuals elected as much for themselves as for their party, and with the separate Liberal Nationals offering competition amongst Liberal-inclined voters, Sinclair fought to make the Liberals once more a relevant force in British politics, taking up the issues of opposition to the continental dictatorships and working closely with Churchill, who was then unpopular and generally shunned by his Conservative Party.

When Churchill formed an all-party coalition government in 1940, Sinclair entered the cabinet as Secretary of State for Air. He did not sit in the small War Cabinet but was invited to attend meetings discussing any political matter. As Secretary for Air, his first task was to work with the RAF in planning the Battle of Britain. Towards the end of the war, he found himself at odds with Churchill, arguing against Bomber Harris's strategy for the Bombing of Dresden.[7] He remained a minister until May 1945 when the coalition ended. In the 1945 general election, he narrowly lost his seat. His margin of defeat is one of the tightest on record; he came third even though the victor had only 61 votes more than he did.[3]

There was speculation that he might return to the Commons and the leadership, as the Conservative victor in his seat had promised to serve in parliament only until the end of the war with Japan, a pledge he kept modifying to serving just one more year, every year. Sinclair awaited the imminent by-election, which never materialised. At the 1950 general election, Sinclair again stood for his old seat and moved to second place but, in yet another close election, he remained 269 votes away from victory.[citation needed] In 1952, the year of his first stroke, he accepted elevation to the House of Lords as Viscount Thurso of Ulbster in the County of Caithness.[8] He was expected to take up the leadership of the Liberal group in the House of Lords, but a much more serious stroke in 1959 left him largely bedridden and in a state of precarious health, until his death in 1970.[9]


Sketch of Sinclair commissioned by the Ministry of Information in the Second World War period

In 1918 Sinclair married Marigold (1897–1975), daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Stewart Forbes and Lady Angela Forbes. They had four children: the Hon. Catherine (1919–2007), the Hon. Elizabeth (1921–1994), Robin (1922–1995), and the Hon. Angus (born 1925).[citation needed] Sinclair was one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom, owning an estate of about 100,000 ac (40,000 ha) in Caithness. He was handsome and charming and regarded[by whom?] as a daredevil, but in private life, he was rather shy, reserved and antisocial, with a slight speech impediment.[citation needed]

In the 1990s, his grandson, John Sinclair, entered politics and sat from 2001 to 2015 as the Liberal Democrat MP for his grandfather's seat, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. Sinclair's granddaughter, Veronica Linklater, Baroness Linklater of Butterstone (daughter of the Hon. Elizabeth Sinclair), has also become a Liberal Democrat politician.[citation needed]

The Southern Railway named a Battle of Britain Class Light Pacific steam locomotive "Sir Archibald Sinclair". The ceremonial naming of the locomotive was performed by Sir Archibald himself at Waterloo station on 24 February 1948. The SR number of the locomotive was 21C159 and its British Railways number was 34059. In 1966, when the locomotive was no longer needed by BR, it was purchased for scrap by Woodham Brothers of Barry, South Wales. For years, it was available for purchase by a preservation society, which was eventually done by the Bluebell Railway, and the locomotive was restored to working order. As of 2015, the last time the locomotive ran was in 2011, when serious damage to the firebox was discovered.


  1. ^ Full coverage of his career appears in Gerard DeGroot, Liberal Crusader: The Life of Sir Archibald Sinclair (New York University Press, 1993).
  2. ^ Wikitree Archibald Sinclair
  3. ^ a b c d e Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - subscription based; accessed 26 July 2011
  4. ^ "No. 32775". The London Gazette. 8 December 1922. p. 8712.
  5. ^ "No. 33748". The London Gazette. 28 August 1931. p. 5616.
  6. ^ "No. 33748". The London Gazette. 28 August 1931. p. 5615.
  7. ^ Liberal Crusader by Gerard de Groot
  8. ^ "No. 39516". The London Gazette. 15 April 1952. p. 2077.
  9. ^ "John Thurso: The hereditary peer who became an MP". BBC News. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2011.


  • Violet Bonham Carter, ed. Mark Pottle, Champion Redoubtable: The Diaries of Violet Bonham Carter 1914-1945 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998)
  • Gerard DeGroot, Liberal Crusader: The Life of Sir Archibald Sinclair (New York University Press, 1993)
  • ed. Ian Hunter, Winston and Archie: The collected correspondence of Winston Churchill and Sir Archibald Sinclair (Politico's, 2005)
  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Leicester Harmsworth, Bt
Member of Parliament for Caithness and Sutherland
Succeeded by
Eric Gandar Dower
Political offices
Preceded by
William Adamson
Secretary of State for Scotland
Succeeded by
Sir Godfrey Collins
Preceded by
Sir Samuel Hoare, Bt
Secretary of State for Air
Succeeded by
Harold Macmillan
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Hutchison
Liberal Chief Whip
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Goronwy Owen
Preceded by
Herbert Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
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Post vacant
Next incumbent: Percy Harris
Preceded by
Sir Herbert Samuel
Leader of the Liberal Party
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Clement Davies
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New position
President of the Scottish Liberal Party
With: John Bannerman 1963–1965
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John Bannerman and Andrew Murray
Honorary titles
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The Duke of Portland
Lord Lieutenant of Caithness
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Academic offices
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Dick Sheppard
Rector of the University of Glasgow
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John Boyd Orr
Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Sir John Sinclair
(of Ulbster)
Succeeded by
Robin Sinclair
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
(new creation)
Viscount Thurso
Succeeded by
Robin Sinclair