Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian
The Marquess of Lothian
|British Ambassador to the United States|
June 1939 – December 1940
|Prime Minister||Neville Chamberlain|
|Preceded by||Sir Ronald Lindsay|
|Succeeded by||The Viscount Halifax|
|Born||18 April 1882|
London, United Kingdom
|Died||12 December 1940 (aged 58)|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Alma mater||New College, Oxford|
Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, KT, CH, PC, DL (18 April 1882 – 12 December 1940), known as Philip Kerr until 1930, was a British politician, diplomat and newspaper editor. He was private secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd George between 1916 and 1921. After succeeding a cousin in the marquessate in 1930, he held minor office from 1931 to 1932 in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. In the late 1930s, he was a leading advocate of appeasement of Germany, emphasizing the harshness of the Versailles Treaty and the dangers of Stalin's communism. From 1939 until his death in December 1940 he was Ambassador to the United States. He proved highly successful in winning America's support for the British war effort, most notably the Lend Lease program, which passed Congress after his death.
Background and education
Kerr was born in London. He was the eldest son of Major-General Lord Ralph Kerr, who was the third son of John Kerr, 7th Marquess of Lothian. His mother was Lady Anne Fitzalan-Howard, the daughter of Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 14th Duke of Norfolk, by the Honourable Augusta Mary Minna Catherine Lyons, the daughter of Vice-Admiral Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons.
Kerr was a nephew of Edmund FitzAlan-Howard, 1st Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, and a great-nephew of Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons. Via his descent from the Lyons family, Kerr was a relative of Maine Swete Osmond Walrond (1870–1927), who was the Private Secretary to he Private Secretary to Lord Milner and a fellow member of Milner's Kindergarten.
Kerr was educated at The Oratory School, Birmingham, Cardinal Newman's foundation, from 1892 to 1900, and, subsequently, at New College, Oxford, where he took a First in Modern History in 1904, subsequent to which, in 1904, he tried unsuccessfully for a Prize Fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford.
Kerr served in the South African government from 1905 to 1910 and was a member of what was called "Milner's Kindergarten", a group of colonial officers who deemed themselves reformist rather than an actual political faction. They believed the colonies should have more say in the Commonwealth of Nations. By the standards of the era, they were liberal: most of them had an interest in elevating the status of white colonials, rejected independence, and had a paternalistic view of nonwhites. Kerr became more liberal on these issues than his counterparts by admiring Mohandas Gandhi and trying, if not entirely succeeding, to be more progressive than they were on racial issues. He returned to England in 1910 to found and edit the Round Table Journal. In 1916, he was appointed David Lloyd George's private secretary and was active in the Paris Peace Conference.
Kerr was a director of United Newspapers from 1921 to 1922 and secretary to the Rhodes Trust from 1925 to 1939. In March 1930 he succeeded his cousin in the marquessate and entered the House of Lords. In May of the following year he was made a Deputy Lieutenant of Midlothian. After the formation of the National Government in August 1931, Lothian was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by Ramsay MacDonald. In November of the same year he became Under-Secretary of State for India, a post he held until 1932, when he was replaced by Rab Butler.
Lothian was a key driving force behind the National Trust Act of 1937, using his position in the House of Lords to argue in favour of amendments to the trust. Especially the ability of individuals to bequest country homes and estates to the trust allowing descendants to avoid the death duties. This led to a huge expansion of country homes being obtained by the National Trust known as the Country Houses Scheme. On his death Lothian bequeathed his Norfolk country home Blickling Hall to the National Trust.
Lothian believed that Germany had been treated unfairly and harshly by the Treaty of Versailles and after its signing he became a steadfast advocate of revising the Treaty in Germany's favour throughout the 1920s until March 1939, a policy known as appeasement. Claud Cockburn claimed Lothian was part of the Cliveden set of appeasers, and cartoonist David Low drew him as one of the "Shiver Sisters" dancing to Adolf Hitler's tune.
Speaking on 24 June 1933, at Gresham's School, Lothian said, "There probably never was a time of more uncertainty in the world than today. Every kind of political and economic philosophy is seeking approbation, and there is every kind of uncertainty about social and personal habits".
Lothian claimed that Nazi Germany did not want to "incorporate other races into itself.... [Nazism is a] national movement against internal disunity". He also claimed that the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance was encircling Germany and that, deprived of an alliance with Austria-Hungary, the Polish corridor and many of its pre-1914 fortresses, Germany was weakened strategically and had good reason to pursue rearmament. Nazi repression of domestic enemies, Jews and Social Democrats, was in Lothian's view "largely the reflex of the external persecution to which Germans have been subjected since the war". He favoured a meeting between Hitler and the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, for British policy to be less pro-French and claimed that the League of Nations could not be restored unless Germany was given "a square deal in Central Europe".
In January 1935 and May 1937 he travelled to Germany to meet Hitler. On returning to Britain after the first meeting, Lothian proclaimed: "Germany does not want war and is prepared to renounce it absolutely... provided she is given real equality". After Germany militarised the Rhineland in March 1936, Lothian famously remarked that it was no more than the Germans walking into "their own back garden" and that he would not support sanctions against it.
In May he wrote to Lloyd George: "If we join or drift into the anti-German group, we shall have world war. The only way to peace is justice for Germany [and] a German solution of the Austrian problem". A month later, he wrote to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden: "Personally I believe that, if we assist Germany to escape from encirclement to a position of balance in Europe, there is a good chance of the 25 years of peace of which Hitler spoke". After his second visit to Hitler, Lothian wrote a memorandum to Neville Chamberlain:
I am sure that the idea that by strengthening the military combination against Germany and continuing relentlessly the economic pressure against her, the régime in Germany can be moderated or upset is an entire mistake.... The German people are determined by some means or other to recover their natural rights and position in the world equal to that of the great powers. If they feel driven to use force in power-diplomacy or war, they will do so with a terrifying strength, decision and vehemence. Moreover, because they are now beginning to think that England is the barrier in the way, they are already playing with the idea that... they may have to look for support... to Italy and Japan, if they are to achieve their aims.
At the 1937 Imperial Conference, Lothian strongly urged the Dominion prime ministers to oppose Britain giving any commitments in Europe. After Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938, Lothian expressed relief and said that Chamberlain had done "a marvellous job.... [he is] the only man who steadfastly refused to accept the view that Hitler and the Nazis were incorrigible and would understand nothing but the big stick".
However, he later changed his mind after Hitler's violation of the Munich Agreement by the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. "Up until then it was possible", he wrote to a friend, Thomas William Lamont, on 29 March 1939, "to believe that Germany was only concerned with recovery of what might be called the normal rights of a great power, but it now seems clear that Hitler is in effect a fanatical gangster who will stop at nothing to beat down all possibility of resistance anywhere to his will".
Ambassador to the United States
In September 1939, Lothian was appointed Ambassador to the United States, a post he held until his death, the following year. He was sworn of the Privy Council in August 1939 and made a Knight of the Thistle in November 1940.
On 19 July 1940, Hitler in a speech put out peace feelers to Britain. Without seeking permission from the British government, Lothian asked Malcolm Lovell, an American Quaker in touch with the Germans, to inquire what terms were on offer to "a proud and unconquered nation". However, on 22 July, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax delivered a speech rejecting the offer. Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary, "Lothian claims that he knows the peace terms and they are most satisfactory. I am glad to say that Halifax pays no attention to this".
Lothian played a central role in enlisting American support for economic aid to the British war effort. Upon his arrival in New York on 23 November 1940, he told the assembled journalists: "Well, boys, Britain's broke; it's your money we want". The near-bankruptcy of the United Kingdom had been a closely guarded secret, and Lothian went well beyond Prime Minister Winston Churchill's instructions in divulging it. The remarks caused a sudden drop in confidence in sterling and were exploited by German propaganda. Lothian's statement helped force President Franklin Roosevelt's hand in responding to British appeals by proposing the Lend-Lease Program to aid Britain. He initiated the joint Anglo-American military organisation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
The Kerr family were staunch members of the Roman Catholic Church. Kerr himself considered becoming a priest or monastic at times, but in adulthood he became disillusioned with the faith. His close friendship with Nancy Astor led to their both converting to the Church of Christ, Scientist together. Devoted to the very end to the religion to which he had converted, he died in Washington, D.C. in December 1940, aged 58, having refused medical treatment as a Christian Scientist. He never married and left no heirs, so the marquessate was inherited by his first cousin, Peter Kerr. He bequeathed Blickling Hall to the National Trust.
Styles of address
- 1882–1920: Mr Philip Henry Kerr
- 1920–1930: Mr Philip Henry Kerr CH
- 1930–1931: The Most Hon The Marquess of Lothian CH
- 1931–1939: The Most Hon The Marquess of Lothian CH DL
- 1939–1940: The Most Hon The Marquess of Lothian CH PC DL
- 1940: The Most Hon The Marquess of Lothian KT CH PC DL
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- "No. 34653". The London Gazette. 11 August 1939. p. 5535.
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- Bosco, A. and A. May, eds. The Round Table movement, the Empire/Commonwealth and British foreign policy (1997) ·
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The Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
| Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
J. C. C. Davidson
The Lord Snell
| Under-Secretary of State for India
Sir Ronald Lindsay
| British Ambassador to the United States
The Viscount Halifax
|Peerage of Scotland|
| Marquess of Lothian