Round Table movement

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The Round Table movement, founded in 1909, was an association of organisations promoting closer union between Britain and its self-governing colonies. The movement began at a conference at Plas Newydd, Lord Anglesey's estate in Wales, over the weekend of 4–6 September.[1] The framework of the organisation was devised by Lionel Curtis, but the overall idea was due to Lord Milner. Former South Africa administrator Philip Kerr became secretary to the organisation.[2]


In 1910, The Round Table Journal: A Quarterly Review of the Politics of the British Empire was founded by Lord Milner and members Lionel Curtis, Philip Kerr and Geoffrey Dawson. Many of these original contributors were believers in the idea of an "imperial federation in which the British Empire would be united by a new centralized Imperial Parliament. However, after the First World War, this scheme appeared less realistic and the Round Table members became more drawn to a conception of the empire as a "Commonwealth of Nations". Accordingly, the journal's subtitle was changed to A Quarterly Review of the Politics of the British Commonwealth in 1919, A Quarterly Review of British Commonwealth Affairs in 1948, A Quarterly Review of Commonwealth Affairs in 1966, and The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs in 1983.[3] Other prominent members included Sir Harry Johnston and Nathan Mayer Rothschild.

During the interwar period the Round Table groups continued to advocate a policy of collaboration among the Dominions of the British Empire (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and Canada) together with the United States. However, its embrace of the "Commonwealth" ethos also led it to support movements for self-government within the Empire such as the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the Indian reforms of 1919 and 1935. In the late 1930s the contributors to the journal were split between those who advocated appeasement and those that did not.[4]

After World War II younger members began to dominate the editorial board, and The Round Table became less a journal espousing a particular view, and more a forum to exchange opinions.[5]

In 1910–1911 Philip Curtis took a tour of the Dominions to set up local Round Table groups. Groups were formed in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. A Newfoundland Round Table was set up in 1912.[6] A loosely organised Round Table group existed in the United States. Members of this American group included George Louis Beer, Walter Lippmann, Frank Aydelotte, Whitney Shepardson, Thomas W. Lamont, Jerome D. Greene, and Erwin D. Canham.[7]

Society of the Elect[edit]

Historian Carroll Quigley claimed that the Round Table Groups were connected to a secret society, which South African diamond baron Cecil Rhodes is believed to have set up with similar goals. Rhodes was believed by some to have formed this secret society in his lifetime. This secret society is supposed to have been named the Society of the Elect.[7]

Rhodes first formalised his idea with William T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, when he and Stead agreed on the structure of the secret society. This proposed secret society had an elaborate hierarchical structure, based on that of the Jesuits, which comprised: at the top, the position of "General of the Society"—a position modelled on the General of the Jesuits—to be occupied by Rhodes, with Stead and Lord Rothschild as his designated successors; an executive committee called the "Junta of Three", comprising Stead, Milner and Reginald Baliol Brett (Lord Esher); then a "Circle of Initiates", consisting of a number of notables including Cardinal Manning, Arthur Lord Balfour, Albert Lord Grey and Sir Harry Johnston; and outside of this was the "Association of Helpers", the broad mass of the Society. One of the puzzles surrounding this meeting is whether the "Society of the Elect" actually came into being. Carroll Quigley claims in Tragedy and Hope (1966) that Rhodes's "Society of the Elect" was not only "formally established" in 1891, although its first inception existed several years prior (1889), but that its "outer circle" known as the "Association of Helpers" was "later organised by Milner as the Round Table".[7] Quigley claimed that this secret society actually played a very important role in the history of the British Empire from 1899–1940, and that its place in history is so significant that it deserves to be known. Quigley also claimed that this group held nearly total control in writing the history of British imperialism during this period.

In several of his wills, Rhodes left money for the continuation of the project. However, in his later wills, Rhodes abandoned the idea and instead concentrated on what became the Rhodes scholarships, which enabled Commonwealth, American, and German scholars to study for free at Oxford University.[7]

Similar organisations[edit]

Lionel Curtis founded the Royal Institute of International Affairs in June 1920. A year later its sister organisation, the Council on Foreign Relations, was formed in America. One of the founders of the sister organisation was another member of the roundtable groups, Walter Lippmann.[7]

Current organisation and membership[edit]

The Round Table still exists but its position in influencing the policies of world leaders has been much reduced from its heyday during the First World War. Today it is largely a Commonwealth ginger group, designed to consider and influence Commonwealth policies.

The Round Tables editorial board, which also organises "occasional seminars, meetings and conferences on themes of Commonwealth interest" is known as 'The Moot'.[8]


  1. ^ Historical Dictionary of the British Empire. 1996. ISBN 0-313-27917-9. 
  2. ^ J. Lee Thompson (2007). Forgotten Patriot: A Life of Alfred, Viscount Milner of St. James's And Cape Town, 1854–1925. ISBN 0-8386-4121-0. 
  3. ^ The Journal's History
  4. ^ The Journal's History
  5. ^ The Journal's History
  6. ^ May, Alexander The Round Table, 1910–66 DPhil. University of Oxford 1995 pp.69–72
  7. ^ a b c d e Quigley, Carroll : Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in Our Time. G. S. G. & Associates, Incorporated (June 1975). ISBN 0-945001-10-X, ISBN 978-0-945001-10-2
  8. ^ About the Moot

Further reading[edit]

  • Quigley, Carroll The Anglo-American Establishment: From Rhodes to Cliveden (1981)
  • May, Alexander The Round Table, 1910–66 DPhil. University of Oxford (1995)
  • Bosco, Andrea The Round Table Movement and the Fall of the 'Second' British Empire (1909-1919) (2017)

External links[edit]