Charles Masterman

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The Right Honourable
Charles Masterman
1923 CFG Masterman.jpg
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
11 February 1914 – 3 February 1915
Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith
Preceded by Charles Hobhouse
Succeeded by Edwin Samuel Montagu

Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman PC (24 October 1873 – 17 November 1927) was a radical[1] British Liberal Party politician and journalist. He was distantly related to the Gurney family of Norfolk. His great-grandfather was William Brodie Gurney; his brother was Howard Masterman who became the Bishop of Plymouth.

Early life[edit]

Masterman was educated at Weymouth College, Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Union,[2] and joint Secretary of Cambridge University Liberal Club from 1895 to 1896.[3] At 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 whilst living in the slums of south east London. These were highly impressionistic pieces, and reflected his literary leanings. Following this he became involved in journalism and co-edited the English Review with Ford Madox Ford. 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. A second edition of that book was published in 1907. In 1905 he published In Peril of Change, a collection of his own essays. He also wrote a biography of the Reverend F D Maurice (Frederick Denison Maurice), which was published in 1907. During the period of his life up to 1906, he established many of the literary friendships that would be important in his later role as head of British propaganda in World War One.

Political career[edit]

Masterman in 1906

He was an unsuccessful candidate at the Dulwich by-election, 1903, but in the Liberal Party landslide victory at the 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.

He married Lucy Blanche Lyttelton, a poet and writer, in 1908. Her biography of him was published in 1939.

Masterman worked closely with Winston Churchill and Lloyd George on the People's Budget of 1909 and was responsible for the passage through parliament of the National Insurance Act 1911. Beatrice Webb was to note her in her diaries his "almost unnaturally close friendship" with Churchill.[4]

Masterman was re-elected in January 1910 and in December 1910, but the December election was later declared void.[5]

General Election December 1910[6]

Electorate 15,661

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

He was returned to Parliament at a by-election in July 1911 for the Bethnal Green South West constituency.[7][8]

He was sworn as a Privy Councillor in 1912,[9] and in 1914 he was appointed to the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However under the law at the time, any MP accepting an "office of profit under the Crown" was legally required to recontest their seat in a by-election. Masterman lost his own seat, though this was not uncommon, and then stood in a by-election at Ipswich, losing again. He resigned from the Government as a result. Many believed that a promising political career had been destroyed by the legal requirement, a hangover from the era when Parliament had sought to curb the influence of the Crown on MPs, which would be amended and finally repealed altogether in the next twelve years.

War role[edit]

When the First World War began, he served as head of the British War Propaganda Bureau (WPB), set up at Wellington House, London, whose sole aim was to provide support for Britain through the manipulation of information about the Central Powers. In this role, he recruited writers (such as John Buchan, H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle) and painters (e.g., Francis Dodd, Paul Nash) to support the war effort. The main objective of this 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 devised the most comprehensive arts patronage schemes ever to be supported in the country. Eventually subsumed into John Buchan's Department of Information, and in 1918, Lord Beaverbrook's even grander Ministry of Information, it became a template for the war art scheme in the Second World War, headed by Sir Kenneth Clark.[10]

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 in this, Masterman has been the target of repeated Turkish allegations that he fabricated, or at least embellished, the events for propaganda purposes.

Later life[edit]

In 1919, he suggested to his colleagues that they pay attention to Mustafa Kemal, who later founded the Republic of Turkey. Masterman said "This Kemal will bother us a lot". In 1922, he published How England is Governed. Masterman eventually returned to the House of Commons in the 1923 general election, as MP for Manchester Rusholme, but by this point the Liberal Party was in decline and, like most other Liberals, he lost his seat in the 1924 general election. His health declined rapidly, hastened by drug and alcohol abuse. He died in 1927, whilst in the clinic; it has been suggested that he committed suicide. He was buried in St Giles' Church, Camberwell where a plaque commemorates him and other members of his family.

Plaque commemorating Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman 1873-1927 instigator of National Health Insurance system.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Masterman, Charles Frederick Gurney (MSTN892CF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ The Keynes Society: About us
  4. ^ The Condition of England
  5. ^ London Gazette, Issue 28512 published on 11 July 1911, page 27 of 108
  6. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885–1918, FWS Craig
  7. ^ Historical list of MPs: B (part3)
  8. ^ London Gazette Issue 28518 published on 1 August 1911, page 1 of 88
  9. ^ London Gazette Issue 28621 published on 25 June 1912. Page 1 of 100
  10. '^ Paul Gough, A Terrible Beauty': British Artists in the First World War (Sansom and Company, 2010) pp. 21–31

Further reading[edit]

  • Eric Hopkins – Biography of Charles Masterman (1873–1927) Politician and Journalist: The Spendid Failure

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ernest Gray
Member of Parliament for West Ham North
Succeeded by
Baron Maurice Arnold de Forest
Preceded by
Edward Hare Pickersgill
Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green South West
Succeeded by
Sir Mathew Richard Henry Wilson
Preceded by
John Henry Thorpe
Member of Parliament for Manchester Rusholme
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Boyd Merriman
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas James Macnamara
Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board
Succeeded by
Herbert Lewis
Preceded by
Herbert Samuel
Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Succeeded by
Ellis Ellis-Griffith
Preceded by
Thomas McKinnon Wood
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Francis Dyke Acland
Preceded by
Charles Edward Henry Hobhouse
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
Edwin Samuel Montagu