J. E. B. Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone
Major General John Edward Bernard Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone CB, CMG, DSO, TD, PC, JP, DL (31 May 1868 – 7 November 1947) was a British Army general and politician. He was a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) from 1900 to 1904 and a Liberal MP from 1904 to 1922 and from 1923 to 1924. He was Secretary of State for War for the two years prior to the First World War, before being forced to resign as a result of the Curragh Incident. As General Jack Seely, he led one of the last great cavalry charges in history at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on his war horse Warrior in March 1918. Seely was a great friend of Winston Churchill and the only former cabinet minister to go to the front in 1914 and still be there four years later.
- 1 Background
- 2 Early life
- 3 Early political career
- 4 Military career
- 5 Later career
- 6 Legacy
- 7 Marriage
- 8 Styles of address and honours
- 9 In popular culture
- 10 Writings
- 11 Electoral record
- 12 References
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Seely was a member of a family of politicians, industrialists and significant landowners. His father Sir Charles Seely, 1st Baronet, brother Sir Charles Seely, 2nd Baronet, nephew and grandfather were all Members of Parliament. His grandfather Charles Seely (1803–1887) was a noted philanthropist and famous for hosting Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary hero, in London and the Isle of Wight in 1864. Seely's nephew Sir Hugh Seely, 3rd Baronet and 1st Baron Sherwood, was Under-Secretary of State for Air during the Second World War. His eldest son from his second marriage, David Peter Seely, 4th Baron Mottistone, was the last Governor of the Isle of Wight; he was baptised with Winston Churchill and the then Duke of Cornwall (subsequently Edward VIII, and then later HRH Duke of Windsor) as his godparents.
The family had homes in Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Wight as well as extensive property in London. It is with the Isle of Wight that Jack Seely will always be associated. His aunt's husband, Colonel Harry Gore Browne, won the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny. Gore Browne was manager of the extensive Seely estates on the Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria lived nearby at her favourite residence, Osborne House.
He was educated at Harrow School, where he met Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. Churchill became a lifelong friend. He was later called to the Bar, Inner Temple.
Early political career
Seely was elected Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight as a Conservative at a by-election in May 1900 and re-elected at the "Khaki" General Election that autumn. This was under unusual circumstances: he was still on active service in South Africa during the Boer War. He was a strong believer in free trade and was unhappy with the Conservative Party's increasing support for protectionist tariff reform. He also opposed the Balfour government's support for the use of Chinese Slavery in South Africa. He left the Conservative Party in March 1904 mainly over these two issues and challenged the Conservative Party to oppose him running as an Independent Conservative at the Isle of Wight by-election, 1904. They declined and he was returned unopposed.
Many Conservative free traders like Seely and Winston Churchill soon gave up on their party and joined the Liberal Party. He was elected Liberal MP for Liverpool Abercromby at the 1906 General Election. He was defeated at the January 1910 General Election and returned to Parliament for Ilkeston at a by-election later in 1910, holding that seat until 1922. Seely was also amongst those Liberals who strongly supported Lloyd George's budgets of 1909 and 1910.
Under-Secretary of State
Seely served as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in the ministry of Herbert Henry Asquith between 1908 and 1911, becoming a member of the Privy Council in 1909. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, "Since his chief, Lord Crewe, was in the Lords, important work fell to the under-secretary, in particular the South Africa Act 1909, which brought about the Union of South Africa."
Seely then served as Under-Secretary of State for War from 1911 to 1912. As a yeomanry colonel, he did not support conscription, which General Henry Wilson favoured. “Ye Gods” was how Wilson greeted his appointment in his diary. However, as Under-Secretary, Seely supported Wilson when he gave evidence to the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) in November 1912 that the presence of the British Expeditionary Force on the continent would have a decisive effect in any future war.
Secretary of State for War
In 1912, Seely was promoted to Secretary of State for War, with a seat in the Cabinet, a post he held until 1914. With Sir John French he was responsible for the invitation to General Foch to attend the Army Manoeuvres of 1912 and was active in preparing the army for war with Germany. The mobility of the proposed Expeditionary Force, and in particular the development of a Flying Corps (the origin of the modern Royal Air Force) were his special interests. According to The Times, these developments played a significant role in the victory during World War I.
In April 1913 Seely told the House of Commons that the Territorial Force could see off an invasion by 70,000 men and that the General Staff opposed conscription. Sir John French (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) obtained a partial retraction after Wilson had threatened that he and his two fellow Directors at the War Office would resign in protest at the “lie”, but Wilson felt that French’s recent promotion to Field Marshal had made him reluctant to clash with Liberal Ministers. During the CID “Invasion Inquiry” (debates of 1913–14 as to whether some British regular divisions should be retained at home to defeat a potential invasion), Seely lobbied in vain for all six divisions to be sent to France in the event of war. French became very friendly with Seely when his first wife died in childbirth in August 1913.
With Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, and the Cabinet contemplating some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who wanted no part of it, French and Seely summoned Paget (Commander-in-Chief, Ireland) to the War Office for talks, whilst Seely wrote to the Prime Minister (24 October 1913) about the potential use of General Macready, who had experience of peacekeeping in the South Wales coalfields in 1910, and had been consulted by Birrell (Chief Secretary for Ireland) about the use of troops in the 1912 Belfast riots. In October 1913 Seely sent him to report on the police in Belfast and Dublin.
Seely spoke to the assembled Army Regional Commanders-in-Chief at the War Office (16 December 1913) with French and the Adjutant-General Spencer Ewart present. He assured them that the Army would not be called upon for “some outrageous action, for instance, to massacre a demonstration of Orangemen”, but nonetheless officers could not “pick and choose” which lawful orders they would obey, and that any officer who attempted to resign on the issue should instead be dismissed.
By March 1914 intelligence reported that the Ulster Volunteers, now 100,000 strong, might be about to seize the ammunition at Carrickfergus Castle, and political negotiations were deadlocked as Carson was demanding that Ulster have a complete, not just temporary, opt-out from Home Rule. Seely was on the five-man Cabinet Committee on Ireland (along with Crewe, Simon, Birrell and Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty)). Seely repeatedly assured French of the accuracy of intelligence that Ulster Volunteers might march on Dublin. No trace of Seely’s intelligence survives. It has been suggested, e.g. by Sir James Fergusson, that the move to deploy troops may have been a “plot” by Churchill and Seely to goad Ulster into a rebellion which could then be put down, although this view is not universally held.
The move to deploy troops resulted in the Curragh incident, in which Gough and many other officers threatened to resign. The elderly Field-Marshal Roberts, whom Seely had told the King was “at the bottom” of the matter, thought Seely “drunk with power”.
At a meeting on 23 March, Seely, who – by Gough’s account – attempted unsuccessfully to browbeat him by staring at him, accepted French’s suggestion that a written document from the Army Council might help to convince Gough’s officers. Seely took over a draft document to a Cabinet meeting for approval. Seely had to leave the meeting for an audience with the King, and in his absence the Cabinet agreed a text, stating that the Army Council were satisfied that the incident had been a misunderstanding, and that it was “the duty of all soldiers to obey lawful commands”. Seely and Morley later added two paragraphs, stating that the Crown had the right to use force in Ireland or elsewhere, but had no intention of doing so “to crush opposition to the Home Rule Bill”. It is unclear whether this – amending a Cabinet document without Cabinet approval – was an honest blunder on Seely’s part or whether he was encouraged to do so and then made a scapegoat.
Gough, on the advice of Maj-Gen Wilson, then insisted on adding another paragraph clarifying that the Army would not be used to enforce Home Rule on Ulster, with which French concurred in writing. Asquith publicly repudiated the “peccant paragraphs” (25 March), forcing French to resign, and also insisted Seely resign.
Seely served in the Hampshire Yeomanry, in which he was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 7 December 1889. He was promoted to lieutenant on 23 December 1891 and to captain on 31 May 1892.
Second Boer War
Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War he was commissioned as a captain in the Imperial Yeomanry on 7 February 1900, having succeeded in arranging transport to South Africa for his squadron the same week, with the assistance of his uncle Sir Francis Evans, 1st Baronet, chairman of the Union Castle Line. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded a medal with four clasps, as well as the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in November 1900. On 10 August 1901, he was promoted to the rank of major in the yeomanry, with the honorary rank of captain in the Army from 10 July. Seely was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the yeomanry on 20 June 1907, and to the honorary rank of colonel in the yeomanry on 31 March 1908. He therefore became known as "Colonel Seely" during his time as a politician before the First World War. Seely was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in 1902. In October 1910, he was awarded the Territorial Decoration.
First World War
Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, Seely was recalled to active duty as a special-service officer. Seely served for near the entirety of the First World War. On a liaison mission between the French Fifth Army and Haig's I Corps (31 August 1914 – during the period when Sir John French's retreat had opened up a gap in the Allied line), he claimed to have been almost captured in the fog, but to have bluffed his way past a German cavalry patrol by calling out (in German) that he was a member of the Great General Staff.
On 28 January 1915, Seely was given command of a brigade, with the army rank of brigadier-general and the substantive army rank of colonel. He eventually merited mentions in despatches five times, enhancing his reputation for bravery in battle, and became commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. On 1 January 1916, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). During the advance to the Hindenburg Line in spring 1917, Seely, whose Canadian Cavalry Brigade was attached to Fourth Army, commandeered infantry from XV Corps to form an ad hoc combat group to capture Equancourt Village. General du Cane's anger was assuaged – Seely later claimed – by the arrival of congratulations from Field Marshal Haig. He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) on 1 January 1918.
During the German Spring Offensive Seely, back from London, called on the Fifth Army Chief of Staff Beddington at around 2am on 24 March 1918, to inform him of the gossip in London that Fifth Army had been routed. Beddington, who had only managed to get to sleep an hour previously, for the first time since the morning of 21 March, on a camp bed in his office, recorded that he "lost (his) temper, cursed him up hill and down dale for daring to wake (him) with such drivel". Seely himself later admitted that it suddenly seemed unimportant a few days later when he was commanding the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in action, but it mattered a great deal in the next few days when Gough was sacked from command of the Army as a scapegoat. He relinquished command of the brigade on 20 May 1918.
After being gassed in 1918, he returned to England. Seely had remained an MP throughout his military service in the First World War, and as a member of the Liberal faction which supported Lloyd George's coalition government, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions on 10 July 1918, serving under Churchill (Minister of Munitions). He was the only member of the government, besides Churchill, to see active service in the war, and was promoted to the temporary rank of major general on 13 July.
Seely relinquished his temporary rank of major-general on 14 January 1919. He was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Air and President of the Air Council in 1919, again under Winston Churchill (Secretary of State for War). However, he resigned both posts at the end of 1919 after the Government refused to create a Secretary of State for Air (as it later did). Like many Lloyd George Liberals Seely lost his seat at Ilkeston at the November 1922 General Election. Seely retired from the army on 25 August 1923, with the honorary rank of major-general.
He returned to Parliament as a member of the reunited Liberal Party for the Isle of Wight at the December 1923 General Election, which saw a hung Parliament in which the Liberals supported the first Labour Government under Ramsay MacDonald. In May 1924, however, Churchill (then out of Parliament, and who had recently left the Liberal Party to become an independent "Constitutionalist", prior to rejoining the Conservatives after his return to the Commons in 1924) listed Seely in a letter to Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin as one of his group of Liberal MPs who would vote against the Labour government, and a month later mentioned Seely as a likely Liberal Conservative. Indeed, according to historian Chris Wrigley, Seely’s political trajectory was similar to that of Churchill’s (i.e. a Conservative in 1900, joining the Liberals a few years later, then becoming a conservative again in the 1920s) as arguably characterised by his vehement hostility to the General Strike of 1926. Seely lost his seat again at the 1924 General Election, at which the Liberals suffered heavy losses.
He was made Chairman of the National Savings Committee in 1926, a post he served in until 1943, the same year he became Vice-President. During this time he was asked by the Government to conduct the publicity in regard to the conversion of the 5% war loan. According to The Times, "in the Second World War the activities of the National Savings Committee were largely extended and became a vital part of the national war effort." He continued to have an influential role in domestic politics.
In May 1935 Adolf Hitler made a well publicised speech in which he proclaimed that German rearmament offered no threat to world peace. Mottistone in the House of Lords said that "we ought to assume that it is genuine and sincere...I have had many interviews with Herr Hitler. I think the noble Lord and all the people who have really met this remarkable man will agree with me on one thing, however much we may disagree about other things—that he is absolutely truthful, sincere, and unselfish". In June 1939 he proclaimed: "I am an unrepentant believer in...the policy of appeasement".
Seely was also an honorary major general, a Colonel of the Territorial Army, an Honorary Colonel of 72nd (Hampshire), an Honorary Air Commander Auxiliary Air Force, and Vice-President of the RNLI. Moreover, he served as Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire from 1918 to 1947, as a Justice of the Peace (JP) for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, as the first Chairman of Wembley Stadium, and as a director of Thomas Cook. On 21 June 1933 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Mottistone, of Mottistone in the County of Southampton.
He died in Westminster aged 79.
Seely was described as a brave man, but it was also said unkindly of him that if he had had more brains he would be half-witted.
The Times called him a "Gallant Figure in War and Politics" and F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, wrote, "In fields of great and critical danger he has constantly over a long period of years displayed a cool valour which everybody in the world who knows the facts freely recognizes." Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies in the final year of World War I, gave him a cigarette case inscribed, "Au Ministre de 1912: au Vaillant de la Grande Guerre."
A screen was erected in St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Mottistone in his memory.
In 1895, Seely married Emily Florence, daughter of Colonel Honourable Sir Henry George Louis Crichton. After her death in August 1913, he married Hon. Evelyn Izme Murray, JP (d. 11 Aug 1976) on 31 July 1917. She was the widow of George Crosfield Norris Nicholson and daughter of Montolieu Oliphant-Murray, 1st Viscount Elibank. His first son, 2Lt Frank Reginald Seely, was killed in action with the Royal Hampshire Regiment on 13 April 1917. His heir John Seely (1899–1963) was an architect whose work, in partnership with and Paul Paget, included the interior of Eltham Palace in the Art Deco style, and the post-World War II restoration of a number of bomb-damaged buildings, such as the London Charterhouse and the church of St John Clerkenwell. Seely's grandson Brough Scott, who presented horseracing television programmes, wrote a biography of Seely, Galloper Jack (2003).
Styles of address and honours
Styles of address
- 1868–1900: Mr Jack Seely
- 1900–1902: Mr Jack Seely DSO MP
- 1902–1909: Mr Jack Seely DSO DL MP
- 1909–1910: The Right Honourable Jack Seely DSO DL MP
- 1910–1916: The Right Honourable Jack Seely DSO TD DL MP
- 1916–1918: The Right Honourable Jack Seely CB DSO TD DL MP
- 1918–1933: The Right Honourable Jack Seely CB CMG DSO TD DL MP
- 1933–1947: The Right Honourable The Lord Mottistone CB CMG DSO TD PC DL
For his services during the Boer War, Seely was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order and was Mentioned in Despatches. During the First World War, Seely was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (1918), appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (1918), and was Mentioned in Despatches five times; Belgium appointed him a Commander of the Order of the Crown, and France both appointed Seely a Commander of the Légion d'honneur and awarded him the Croix de guerre. Seely was granted the Freedom of the City of Portsmouth in 1927 (UK) and was awarded the Territorial Decoration.
In popular culture
According to the Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum (Alfred Munnings was a former president of the Royal Academy of Arts and famous horse painter) "Without doubt his most important painting was that of General J. E. B. Seely (later Lord Mottistone) on his charger Warrior which led to his commission to paint the Earl of Athlone, brother of Queen Mary."
Jack Seely was featured in the HBO film Into the Storm in 2009. At the end of the film Churchill reads a sympathetic post-election note from his old friend Jack Seely: "I feel our world slipping away." Churchill thinks back: "I met him in South Africa, riding across the veldt. He was Col. Seely then. I saw him at the head of a column of British cavalry, riding twenty yards in front, on a black horse. I thought of him as the very symbol of British Imperial power." The Testimony Films 2012 documentary War Horse: The Real Story contained extensive discussion of the First World War service of Seely and his widely revered horse, Warrior. Warrior was adopted as his formation's mascot and had a reputation for bravery under fire. Warrior survived the war, dying in 1941 at the age of 33. In September 2014, the horse was posthumously awarded an honorary PDSA Dickin Medal for bravery.
- Adventure (1930)
- Fear and Be Slain: Adventures by land, sea and air (1931)
- Launch! A Life-Boat Book (1932)
- For Ever England (1932)
- My Horse Warrior (1934) – a biography of his charger
- The Paths of Happiness (1938)
Seely's books shed light on his personality but are not always factually reliable.
|Conservative||John Edward Bernard Seely||6,432||54.5||+2.5|
|Conservative||John Edward Bernard Seely||unopposed||n/a||n/a|
|Independent Conservative||John Edward Bernard Seely||unopposed||n/a||n/a|
|Independent Conservative gain from Conservative||Swing||n/a|
|Liberal||John Edward Bernard Seely||2,933||51.8||N/A|
|Liberal gain from Conservative||Swing||N/A|
|Conservative||Richard Godolphin Walmesley Chaloner||3,088||54.7||+6.5|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||2,562||45.3||−6.5|
|Conservative gain from Liberal||Swing||+6.5|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||10,204|
|Conservative||Henry FitzHerbert Wright||6,871|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||9,990||62.7||+2.9|
|Conservative||William Marshall Freeman||5,946||37.3||-2.9|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||9,049||53.6||-9.1|
|Unionist||William Marshall Freeman||7,838||46.4||+9.1|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||9,660||54.8||+1.2|
|Labour||George Harold Oliver||7,962||45.2||n/a|
|Labour||George Harold Oliver||9,432||40.0||-5.2|
|National Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||8,348||35.3||-19.6|
|Unionist||William Marshall Freeman||5,841||24.7||n/a|
|Labour gain from Liberal||Swing||+7.1|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||16,249||46.6||+10.4|
|Unionist||Peter Drummond Macdonald||16,159||46.3||+14.7|
|Labour||Mrs E Palmer||2,475||7.1||-4.1|
|Unionist||Peter Drummond Macdonald||19,346||52.4||+6.1|
|Liberal||Rt Hon. John Edward Bernard Seely||13,944||37.8||-8.8|
|Labour||H E Weaver||3,620||9.8||+2.7|
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- "Winston Churchill: A Biographical Companion – Chris Wrigley – Google Books". Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-02-15.
- Imperial Defence. HL Deb 22 May 1935 vol 96 cc990-1068
- British Foreign Policy. HL Deb 12 June 1939 vol 113 cc387-438
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- Holmes 2004, p136
- "Sophie Hunter is Bringin an Unusual Show in Northern Ireland". The Journal.
- Nightingale, Benedict. [sophiehunter.net/post/125797832820/what-sophie-hunter-aka-mrs-cumberbatch-did "What Sophie Hunter Did Last Week"] Check
|url=value (help). The Times.
- Nelson, Jeff. "All About Benedict Cumberbatch's New Wife, Sophie Hunter".
- Sir Alfred Munnings Equestrian Prints, Paintings & Art Museum -UK
- Painted in 1918 for the Canadian War Memorial when Seely was commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Held in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
- War Horse: The Real Story (Television production). Bristol, United Kingdom: Testimony films / Channel 4. 4 March 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
- "World War One: Warhorse Warrior awarded Dickin Medal", BBC News, London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 2 Sep 2014, retrieved 2 Sep 2014
- Holmes 2004, p385
- The Constitutional Year Book, 1904, published by Conservative Central Office, page 145 (169 in web page), Isle of Wight
- British Parliamentary Election Results 1885-1918, compiled and edited by F.W.S. Craig (The Macmillan Press 1974)
- Debretts House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1916
- British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949, F W S Craig
- Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition Volume III
- Dictionary of National Biography, 1941–1950.
- Farrar-Hockley, General Sir Anthony (1975). Goughie. London: Granada. ISBN -0246640596.
- Holmes, Richard (2004). The Little Field Marshal: A Life of Sir John French. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-84614-0.
- Jeffery, Keith (2006). Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820358-2.
- Philpott, W. (2009). Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century (1st ed.). London: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1-4087-0108-9.
- Terraine, John (1960). Mons, The Retreat to Victory. Wordsworth Military Library, London. ISBN 1-84022-240-9.
- J.E.B. Seely at National Registry of Archives
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Seely, John Edward Bernard (requires login)
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by J. E. B. Seely
- Portraits of John Edward Bernard Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- The Mighty Warrior – Extended story of the Canadian cavalry horse