Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Carnarvon
4th Earl of Carnarvon.jpg
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
6 July 1866 – 8 March 1867
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister The Earl of Derby
Preceded by Edward Cardwell
Succeeded by The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos
In office
21 February 1874 – 4 February 1878
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli
Preceded by The Earl of Kimberley
Succeeded by Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Bt
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
27 June 1885 – 28 January 1886
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by The Earl Spencer
Succeeded by The Earl of Aberdeen
Personal details
Born (1831-06-24)24 June 1831
Grosvenor Square, London
Died 29 June 1890(1890-06-29) (aged 59)
Portman Square, London
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) (1) Lady Evelyn Stanhope
(2) Elizabeth Howard
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon PC DL FRS FSA (24 June 1831 – 29 June 1890), known as Viscount Porchester from 1833 to 1849, was a British politician and a leading member of the Conservative Party. He was twice Secretary of State for the Colonies and also served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Background and education[edit]

Born at Grosvenor Square, London, Carnarvon was the eldest son of Henry Herbert, 3rd Earl of Carnarvon, by his wife Henrietta Anna, daughter of Lord Henry Howard-Molyneux-Howard. The Hon. Auberon Herbert was his younger brother. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, taking a First in literae humaniores in 1852. In 1849 he succeeded his father in the earldom. His nickname was "Twitters",[1] apparently on account of his nervous tics and twitchy behaviour.

Early political career, 1854–66[edit]

Carnavon made his maiden speech on 31 January 1854, having been requested by Lord Aberdeen to move the address in reply to the Queen's Speech. He served under Lord Derby, as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1858 to 1859, aged twenty-six.

In 1863 he worked on penal reform. Under the influence of Joshua Jebb he saw the gaols ("gaol" being the British official spelling of "jail"), with a population including prisoners before any trial, as numerically more significant than the system of prisons for convicts. He was himself a magistrate, and campaigned for the conditions of confinement to be made less comfortable, with more severe regimes on labour and diet. He also wished to see a national system that was more uniform. In response, he was asked to run a House of Lords committee, which sat from February 1863. It drafted a report, and a Gaol Bill was brought in, during 1864; it was, however, lost amid opposition. The Prisons Act 1866, passed by parliament during 1865, saw Carnarvon's main ideas implemented, though with detailed amendments.[2]

Colonial Secretary and Canadian federation, 1866–7[edit]

In 1866 Carnarvon was sworn of the Privy Council and appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies by Derby. In 1867 he introduced the British North America Act, which conferred self-government on Canada, and effectively created a confederation. Later that year, he resigned (along with Lord Cranborne and Jonathan Peel) in protest against Benjamin Disraeli's Reform Bill to enfranchise the working classes.

Colonial Secretary, 1874–8[edit]

Returning to the office of the British colonial secretary in 1874, he submitted a set of proposals, the Carnarvon terms, to settle the dispute between British Columbia and Canada over the construction of the transcontinental railroad and the Vancouver Island railroad and train bridge. Vancouver Island had been promised a rail link as a condition for its entry into British North America confederation.

South Africa[edit]

In the same year, he set in motion plans to impose the same system of confederation that he had applied in Canada, on the various states of Southern Africa. The situation in southern Africa was vastly different, not least in that several of its states were still independent, and so required military conquest before being confederated. The confederation plan was also highly unpopular among ordinary southern Africans. The Prime Minister of the Cape Colony (by far the largest and most influential state in southern Africa) firmly rejected confederation under Britain, saying that it was not a model that was applicable to the diverse region, and that conflict would result from outside involvement in southern Africa at a time when state relations were particularly sensitive.[3] The liberal Cape government also objected to the plan for ideological concerns; Its formal response, conveyed to London via Sir Henry Barkly, had been that any federation with the illiberal Boer republics would compromise the rights and franchise of the Cape's Black citizens, and was therefore unacceptable.[4] Other regional governments refused even to discuss the idea.[5] Overall, the opinion of the governments of the Cape and its neighbours was that "the proposals for confederation should emanate from the communities to be affected, and not be pressed upon them from outside."[6]

Lord Carnarvon believed that the continued existence of independent African states posed an ever-present threat of a "general and simultaneous rising of Kaffirdom against white civilization".[7] He thus decided to force the pace, "endeavouring to give South Africa not what it wanted, but what he considered it ought to want."[8]

He sent administrators, such as Theophilus Shepstone and Bartle Frere, to southern Africa to implement his system of confederation. Shepstone invaded and annexed the Transvaal in 1877, while Bartle Frere, as the new High Commissioner, led imperial troops against the last independent Xhosa in the 9th Frontier War. Carnarvon then used the rising unrest to suspend the Natal constitution, while Bartle Frere overthrew the elected Cape government, and then moved to invade the independent Zulu Kingdom.

However the confederation scheme collapsed as predicted, leaving a trail of wars across Southern Africa. Humiliating defeats also followed at Isandlwana and Majuba Hill. Of the resultant wars, the disastrous invasion of Zululand ended in annexation, but the first Anglo-Boer War of 1880 had even more far-reaching consequences for the subcontinent. Francis Reginald Statham, editor of the Natal Witness in the 1870s, famously summed up the local reaction to Carnarvon's plan for the region:

The confederation idea was dropped when Carnarvon resigned in 1878, in opposition to Disraeli's policy on the Eastern Question, but the bitter conflicts caused by Carnarvon's policy continued, culminating eventually in the Anglo-Boer War and the ongoing divisions in South African society.[10]

Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1885–6[edit]

On his party's return to power in 1885, Carnarvon became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. His short period of office, memorable only for a conflict on a question of personal veracity between himself and Charles Stewart Parnell, as to his negotiations with the latter in respect of Home Rule, was terminated by another premature resignation. He never returned to office.

Herbert sketched in 1869 by "Ape" for Vanity Fair

Other public appointments[edit]

Carnarvon also held the honorary posts of Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire between 1887 and 1890 and Deputy Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. He was regarded as a highly cultured man and was a president and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as was high steward of Oxford University. He was also a prominent freemason, having been initiated in the Westminster and Keystone Lodge. He served as Pro Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England from 1874 to 1890. With his permission a number of subsequently founded lodges bore his name in their titles.


Lord Carnarvon married firstly Lady Evelyn Stanhope, daughter of George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield, in 1861. They had one son, George Edward Herbert of Tutankhamun fame and three daughters, Winifred, Margaret, and Victoria. The eldest, Lady Winifred, married as her second husband Lord Burghclere and was the mother of the Honourable Evelyn, first wife of the novelist Evelyn Waugh. Margaret married George Herbert Duckworth, who became a notable publisher, and was also half-brother to the novelist Virginia Woolf and the artist Vanessa Bell. After Evelyn's death in 1875, Herbert married secondly his first cousin Elizabeth Catherine Howard, daughter of Henry Howard, in 1878. They had two sons, Aubrey and Mervyn. Aubrey was the father of Laura Herbert, who was the second wife of Evelyn Waugh.

Lord Carnarvon died at Portman Square, London, in June 1890, aged 59. His second wife survived him by almost forty years and died in February 1929, aged 72.


  1. ^ John Charmley (1999) Splendid Isolation? Britain and the Balance of Power 1874–1914
  2. ^ Seán McConville (1995). "Chapter 3: Carnarvon and National Penal Policy". English Local Prisons, 1860–1900: Next Only to Death. Psychology Press. pp. 97–148. ISBN 978-0-415-03295-7. 
  3. ^ Reader's Digest Association South Africa (1992). "Confederation from the Barrel of a Gun". Illustrated history of South Africa: the real story. Reader's Digest Association South Africa. ISBN 978-0-947008-90-1. 
  4. ^ Noël Mostert (1992). Frontiers: the epic of South Africa's creation and the tragedy of the Xhosa people. Knopf. 
  5. ^ Frank Richardson Cana: South Africa: From the Great Trek to the Union. London: Chapman & Hall, ltd., 1909. Chapter VII. p.89
  6. ^ Theal, George McCall: Progress of South Africa in the century. Toronto:The Linscott Publishing Company. 1902. pp. 402-3.
  7. ^ M. Meredith: Diamonds, Gold and War. Simon & Schuster. 2007.
  8. ^ L. Mitchell: The Life of the Right Honourable Cecil John Rhodes. Vol.1. Edward Arnold: London. 1910. p.109.
  9. ^ F. Statham: Blacks, Boers, & British: A Three-cornered Problem. MacMillan & Co. 1881. p.239.
  10. ^ A. Parker: 50 People who stuffed up South Africa. Burnet Media: Cape Town. 1910. p.37. "Lord Carnarvon".

Further reading[edit]

  • Cross William, Lordy! Tutankhamun's Patron As A Young Man , Book Midden Publishing, 2012 (ISBN 978-1-905914-05-0).
  • Cross William, The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon : 5th Countess of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun Fame , 3rd Ed 2011 ( ISBN 978-1-905914-08-1).
  • Cross William, Catherine and Tilly: Porchey Carnarvon's Two Duped Wives: The Tragic Tales of the Sixth Countesses of Carnarvon, Book Midden Publishing, 2013 ( ISBN 978-1905914-25-8).
  • Underhill, Frank and C.W. de Kiewiet. Duffering-Carnarvon Correspondences, 1874-1878. Toronto: Champlain Society Publications, 1955.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Chichester Fortescue
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Chichester Fortescue
Preceded by
Edward Cardwell
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos
Preceded by
The Earl of Kimberley
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Bt
Preceded by
The Earl Spencer
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
The Earl of Aberdeen
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Marquess of Winchester
Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Northbrook
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Henry John Herbert
Earl of Carnarvon
Succeeded by
George Herbert