Charles Masterman

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Charles Masterman
1923 CFG Masterman.jpg
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
11 February 1914 – 3 February 1915
Prime MinisterH. H. Asquith
Preceded byCharles Hobhouse
Succeeded byEdwin Montagu
Head of Wellington House
In office
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Member of Parliament
for West Ham North
In office
February 1906 – December 1910
Member of Parliament
for Bethnal Green South West
In office
July 1911 – 1914
Personal details
Born24 October 1873
Died17 November 1927 (aged 54)
Political partyLiberal
SpouseLucy Lyttelton
Children3, including Margaret
Alma materChrist's College, Cambridge

Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman PC (24 October 1873 – 17 November 1927) was a British radical Liberal Party politician, intellectual and man of letters. He worked closely with such Liberal leaders as David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in designing social welfare projects, including the National Insurance Act 1911. During the First World War he played a central role in the main government propaganda agency.

Early life[edit]

Masterman was the third son of Thomas W. Masterman of Rotherfield Hall in Sussex. His older brothers were the future natural historian Arthur Masterman and the future bishop Howard Masterman.[1]

On his mother’s side, Masterman was a grandson of William Brodie Gurney and a distant relation of Elizabeth Fry.

He was educated at Weymouth College and Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Union,[2] and joint Secretary of the Cambridge University Liberal Club from 1895 to 1896.[3] At the university, he had two primary interests: social reform (influenced by Christian Socialism) and literature. His first published work was From the Abyss, a collection of articles he had written anonymously while living in the slums of south east London. These were highly impressionistic pieces and reflected his literary leanings. Following this, Masterman became a journalist and co-edited the English Review with Ford Madox Ford. In February 1900 he was elected a junior Fellow of Christ's College.[4] In 1901, he edited a collection of essays by eminent people of the day, entitled The Heart of the Empire: a discussion of Problems of Modern City Life in England.[5] In 1905 he published In Peril of Change, a collection of his own essays.[6] He also wrote a biography of the Reverend F. D. Maurice (Frederick Denison Maurice), published in 1907.[7] In the years up to 1906, he established many of the literary friendships that would be important in his later role as head of British propaganda in the First World War.

Political career[edit]

Masterman was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1903 Dulwich by-election, but in the Liberal Party landslide victory at the general election of 1906, he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for West Ham North.


In 1909, he published his best known book, The Condition of England, a survey of contemporary society with particular focus on the state of the working class.

Masterman worked closely with Liberal leaders Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George on the People's Budget of 1909. By 1911, he was playing a major role in writing parts of the Finance Bill, the Development Bill, the Shop Hours Bill, and the Coal Mines Bill, and he was responsible for the passage through parliament of the National Insurance Act 1911.

He had a mediocre record as a candidate by losing more often than winning. He was re-elected in West Ham North in January 1910 and in December 1910. However, after the second election a petition was filed to unseat him on the grounds of an unlawful return of election expenses, and this proved successful.[8]

In July 1911, Masterman was returned to Parliament at a by-election in the Bethnal Green South West constituency. He joined the Privy Council in 1912, and in 1914 obtained his most important position, an appointment to the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, the law at that time required him to recontest his seat in a by-election on joining the Cabinet. Masterman lost his own seat in February and then in May stood in a by-election at Ipswich, losing yet again. He resigned from the government as a result.[9]

Wartime propagandist[edit]

In the summer of 1914, Masterman strongly supported British entry into the First World War and was soon appointed as head of the War Propaganda Bureau (WPB), known as "Wellington House."[10] His Bureau enlisted the eminent writers John Buchan, H. G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as the painters Francis Dodd and Paul Nash. Before its abolition in 1917, the Bureau published some 300 books and pamphlets in 21 languages, distributed over 4,000 propaganda photographs every week, and circulated maps, cartoons and lantern slides to the media.[11]

Masterman also commissioned films about the war such as The Battle of the Somme, which appeared in August 1916, while the battle was still in progress, as a morale-booster. It received a generally favourable reception. The Times reported on 22 August 1916, "Crowded audiences ... were interested and thrilled to have the realities of war brought so vividly before them, and if women had sometimes to shut their eyes to escape for a moment from the tragedy of the toll of battle which the film presents, opinion seems to be general that it was wise that the people at home should have this glimpse of what our soldiers are doing and daring and suffering in Picardy."[12]

A major objective of his department was to encourage the United States to enter the war on the British and French side. Lecture tours and exhibitions of paintings were organised in the US, drawing on an extensive network of the most important and influential figures in the London arts scene, Masterman devising the most comprehensive arts patronage schemes ever to be supported in the country. It was subsumed into Buchan's Department of Information. It became a template for the war art scheme in the Second World War, headed by Sir Kenneth Clark.[13] Lloyd George demoted Masterman in February 1917; he now reported to Buchan. The agency was peremptorily closed as soon as the war ended, and neither Masterman nor Buchan received the usual public honours. However, Masterman followed Lloyd George in his Liberal party maneuvers after 1918.[14]

Masterman played a crucial role in publicising reports of the Armenian genocide, in part to strengthen the moral case against the Ottoman Empire. For his role, Masterman has been the target of repeated Turkish allegations that he fabricated, or at least embellished, the events for propaganda purposes.

Career after the war[edit]

For the 1918 general election, Masterman returned to West Ham where he had sat for five years before the war. He contested the new seat of Stratford West Ham. However, his old boss, Lloyd George, chose to endorse his Unionist opponent, and he was badly beaten.

Stratford within Essex, 1918

Back into private life, Masterman continued his high output of books and essays. In 1922, he published How England is Governed. In 1921, he supported the Manchester Liberals radical programme, adopted by the National Liberal Federation, which called for the establishment of a National Industrial Council, state supervision of trusts and combines, nationalisation of some monopolies as well as profit limitations.[15]

For the 1922 general Election, Masterman decided to contest Clay Cross in Derbyshire. At the previous election in 1918, the Liberal candidate had been endorsed by the Coalition Government and won. He subsequently took the Coalition Liberal whip and was defending his seat as a National Liberal, with the support of Lloyd George. The local Liberal association wanted an opponent of the coalition to run as their candidate and managed to attract Masterman. He outpolled the sitting member by nearly two to one, but the seat was won by the Labour candidate.

After the election, there was discussion in Liberal circles, of Lloyd George and his National Liberals returning to the party. Masterman was concerned about such a move and talked about defecting to the Labour Party if that happened.[16] Masterman's good political relationship with the Manchester Liberals resulted in their inviting him to contest one of their constituencies, which he accepted. The Manchester Liberals won five seats at the 1923 general election, including Rusholme, where Masterman stood.

Following his election victory in 1923, Masterman revealed to his wife Lucy that he "thought we were never going to (win) again".[17] In August 1924, he led the opposition to a treaty, negotiated by the Labour government, which guaranteed a loan to the Soviet government.[17] During the 1924 election campaign, Masterman publicly blamed Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald for the collapse of Liberal-Labour co-operation.[18]

At the General election of 1924, Masterman was heavily defeated in Manchester Rusholme by the Unionist candidate Frank Boyd Merriman. The same fate befell almost all the Liberal members of parliament in England.

In 1925, he became the Parliamentary Correspondent for The Nation. Having initially expressed concerns about Lloyd George's return to the Liberal Party, he had acknowledged that it was again easier to get the party to adopt measures of social reform: "When Lloyd George came back to the party, ideas came back to the party".[19]

Lloyd George sponsored a number of reviews into areas of Liberal Party policy, and Masterman participated in those reviews, notably as part of the body that produced the policy document Coal and Power. He was also on the committee that ultimately produced Britain's Industrial Future, known as The Yellow Book.[20]

Plaque commemorating Masterman

Masterman‘s health declined rapidly, hastened by drug and alcohol abuse. He died in November 1927 at Bowden House, Harrow, leaving an estate valued at only £452. His address at death was stated as 46, Gillingham Street, Eccleston Square, Westminster.[21]

He was buried in St Giles' Church, Camberwell, where a memorial tablet in the church commemorates him, stating that he had lived there for ten years. There is another for his wife.


Religion was central to Masterman’s career, and he worked to revive the Gladstonian alliance between Liberalism and Nonconformity. He frequently used the language of prophecy—for which he had been inspired by Thomas Carlyle and other seers. Masterman had a long-standing influence as a champion of radical change. On one hand, he ridiculed anachronistic attachments to outmoded Victorian ideals and institutions. However, his own rhetoric was deeply rooted in high Victorian idealism. He proposed a wide-ranging program to assist the working class, such as labour exchanges, wage boards and free meals for schoolchildren. Historians have puzzled as to his ability to lose elections that had been prearranged for him. He had psychological problems, such as severe mood swings and mental health problems, and his public demeanour often struck observers as cynical and self-righteous.[22] John Buchan described Masterman as "one of the most brilliant, misunderstood, and tragically fated men of his time".  [23]

Personal life[edit]

In 1908, Masterman married Lucy Blanche Lyttelton, poet,” and writer, later a politician, daughter of General Sir Neville Lyttelton. She was the author of A Book of Wild Things (1910), Poems (1913), and London from the Bus-top (1951); she also edited Mary Gladstone (Mrs Drew): her diaries and letters (1930). They had three children:

Lucy Masterman's biography of her husband was published in 1939. The Masterman Papers are held at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

Election results[edit]

General election 1906: West Ham North[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 6,838 57.3 +18.8
Conservative Ernest Gray 5,094 42.7 -18.8
Majority 1,744 14.6 37.6
Turnout 79.0 +11.2
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +18.8

General election December 1910: West Ham North[28]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 6,657 53.6 +02
Conservative Ernest Edward Wild 5,760 46.4 -0.2
Majority 897 7.2 +0.4
Turnout 79.3 -0.7
Liberal hold Swing +0.2
General election 1918: Stratford [29]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Unionist Charles Ernest Leonard Lyle 8,498 63.8 n/a
Liberal Rt Hon. Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 4,821 36.2 n/a
Majority 3,677 27.2 n/a
Turnout 13,319 n/a
Unionist win
General election 1922: Clay Cross[30]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Charles Duncan 13,206 57.9 +12.0
Liberal Rt Hon. Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 6,294 27.6 n/a
National Liberal Thomas Tucker Broad 3,294 14.5 n/a
Majority 6,912 30.3 38.6
Turnout 22,794
Labour gain from Liberal Swing n/a
General election 1923: Manchester Rusholme
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Rt Hon. Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 10,901 43.4 +17.3
Unionist John Henry Thorpe 8,876 35.3 -12.6
Labour William Paul 5,366 21.3 -4.7
Majority 2,025 8.1 +29.9
Turnout 78.0 +0.2
Liberal gain from Unionist Swing +15.0
General election 1924: Manchester Rusholme
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Unionist Frank Boyd Merriman 13,341 50.4 +15.1
Liberal Rt Hon. Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 7,772 29.4 -14.0
Communist William Paul 5,328 20.2 -1.1
Majority 5,569 21.0 29.1
Turnout 79.8 +1.8
Unionist gain from Liberal Swing -14.5

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gardiner, J. Stanley (1941). "Arthur Thomas Masterman. 1869-1941". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 3 (10): 813–817. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1941.0036. JSTOR 769181. S2CID 162724215.
  2. ^ "Masterman, Charles Frederick Gurney (MSTN892CF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ The Keynes Society: About us
  4. ^ "University intelligence". The Times. No. 36074. London. 24 February 1900. p. 13.
  5. ^ The Heart of the Empire: a discussion of Problems of Modern City Life in England,
  6. ^ In Peril of Change,
  7. ^ Frederick Denison Maurice,
  8. ^ Peta Dunstan, Campaigning for Life (Books on Demand, 2018), p. 69
  9. ^ Matthew, "Masterman" (2015)
  10. ^ "Espionage, propaganda and censorship". National Archives. Retrieved 17 May 2009.
  11. ^ D. G. Wright, "The Great War, Government Propaganda and English 'Men Of Letters' 1914-16." Literature and History 7 (1978): 70+.
  12. ^ 'War's Realities on the Cinema', The Times, London, August 22, 1916, p 3
  13. ^ Paul Gough, A Terrible Beauty: British Artists in the First World War (Sansom and Company, 2010) pp. 21–31
  14. ^ Matthew (2015)
  15. ^ The Downfall of the Liberal Party by Trevor Wilson
  16. ^ The Downfall of the Liberal Party, by Trevor Wilson
  17. ^ a b The Downfall of the Liberal Party, by Trevor Wilson
  18. ^ Nation, 11 October 1924
  19. ^ Masterman, Lucy (1968). "13: 1924 - Labour Government". C. F. G. Masterman: A Biography (New impression ed.). London: Frank Cass and Company Limited. pp. 345–346.
  20. ^ The Downfall of the Liberal Party, by Trevor Wilson
  21. ^ "MASTERMAN P.C. the right honourable Charles Frederick Gurney" in Wills and Administrations (England and Wales) 1928, p. 233
  22. ^ Seth Kove, "Masterman, CFG" in Fred M. Leventhal, ed., Twentieth-century Britain: an encyclopedia (Garland, 1995) pp 502-3.
  23. ^ Buchan, John (1940). Memory Hold-the-Door. London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 170.
  24. ^ "Papers of Lucy Masterman - Archives Hub". Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  25. ^ Pepper, Richard (6 March 2019). "Neville Masterman obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  26. ^ "Papers of Lucy Masterman - Archives Hub". Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  27. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  28. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885–1918, FWS Craig
  29. ^ British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949, FWS Craig
  30. ^ The Liberal Year Book, 1927

Further reading[edit]

  • David, E. I. "Charles Masterman and the Swansea District By-Election, 1915." Welsh History Review= Cylchgrawn Hanes Cymru 5 (1970): 31+.
  • Hopkins, Eric. Charles Masterman (1873-1927), politician and journalist: the splendid failure (Edwin Mellen Press, 1999).
  • Mason, Francis M. "Charles Masterman and National Health Insurance." Albion 10#1 (1978): 54–75.
  • Masterman, Lucy Blanche Lyttelton. C. F. G. Masterman: a biography (London: Nicholson and Watson, 1939); well researched account by his widow,
  • Matthew, H. C. G. "Masterman, Charles Frederick Gurney (1873–1927)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2015 accessed 2 Aug 2016
  • Stapleton, Julia. "The new liberal vision of C.F.G. Masterman: religion, politics and literature in early twentieth-century Britain." Modern intellectual history. 17.1 (2020): 85-115. online

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for West Ham North
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green South West
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Manchester Rusholme
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board
Succeeded by
Preceded by Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Succeeded by
Preceded by Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
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