Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford

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For other people named Walter Runciman, see Walter Runciman (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
The Viscount Runciman
of Doxford

1905 Walter Runciman.jpg
circa 1905
President of the Board of Education
In office
12 April 1908 – 23 October 1911
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Reginald McKenna
Succeeded by Jack Pease
President of the Board of Agriculture
In office
23 October 1911 – 6 August 1914
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by The Earl Carrington
Succeeded by The Lord Lucas of Crudwell
President of the Board of Trade
In office
5 August 1914 – 5 December 1916
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by John Burns
Succeeded by Sir Albert Stanley
In office
5 November 1931 – 28 May 1937
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister
Succeeded by Hon. Oliver Stanley
Lord President of the Council
In office
31 October 1938 – 3 September 1939
Monarch George VI
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Preceded by The Viscount Hailsham
Succeeded by The Earl Stanhope
Personal details
Born 19 November 1870 (1870-11-19)
Died 14 November 1949 (1949-11-15) (aged 79)
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
National Liberal
Hilda Stevenson (born 1869; died 1956)

Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford, PC (19 November 1870 – 14 November 1949) was a prominent Liberal and later National Liberal politician in the United Kingdom between the 1900s and 1930s.


Runciman was the son of the shipping magnate Walter Runciman, 1st Baron Runciman. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated MA in 1895.[1]

Political career[edit]


Runciman unsuccessfully contested Gravesend in a by-election in 1898, but was elected as a member of parliament (MP) in a two-member by-election for Oldham in 1899,[2] defeating the Conservative candidates, James Mawdsley and Winston Churchill. After winning, Runciman is reported to have commented to Churchill: "Don't worry, I don't think this is the last the country has heard of either of us."[citation needed] The following year in the 1900 general election Churchill stood against Runciman again and defeated him.[2]

Runciman soon returned to Parliament for Dewsbury in a by-election in January 1902[3][4] and steadily rose through the ranks of the Liberal Party. A progressive,[5] centrist reformer,[6] he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905, a post he held until 1907. Runciman's friends in Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet were Sydney Buxton, Charles Hobhouse and John Morley all on the left. [7]

He then served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury until 1908. In April of the latter year he was sworn of the Privy Council[8] and appointed President of the Board of Education by the new Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, which position he retained for three years. Runciman approved of financing the purchase of land in Ireland, but the policy was becoming prohibitively expensive.[9] He was one of the small group, that included Reginald McKenna, who actually believed in sound public finances - they had witnessed the lax administration of the Chief Secretary of Ireland.

Followed by another three years as President of the Board of Agriculture. Runciman did not want war with Germany, favoured an understanding with her, but like others in the Cabinet could not champion peace.[10]

Walter Runciman, 1913
Walter Runciman

Opposing total war[edit]

In 1914, on the outbreak of war, the President of the Board of Trade, John Burns, resigned and Runciman was on Sunday 2 August was appointed to succeed him.[a] There developed in the cabinet two schools of foreign policy: Grey's friends carried the majority in favouring a Transatlantic alliance. But Churchill at the Admiralty and Runciman at Trade now decided to test the Americans loyalties in a global conflict. Runciman had supported the Haldane Mission of 1912, but preferred brinkmanship to protect the empire to disruption of trade. And on 10 April 1913 he had concurred with the National Compulsory Service.[11] They were still predicting that the German Navy was 'a luxury' too expensive for the Reich to maintain.[12][13] Runciman had joined Lloyd George's Council of War on 13 June, which was mainly designed to exculpate Lloyd George of any involvement in the Marconi Affair. Runciman was a personal friend to Mrs Asquith, and a highly-valued colleague in Cabinet. He encouraged political dialogue, socialism, and James Larkin's movement in Ireland, which the cabinet swiftly sought to decriminalise.[14] The Larne gun-running incident was one among others that Runciman agreed to fight by seizure and sinking. The cabinet cancelled all arms shipments to Ireland on 25 November. He was in the McKenna dining group that opposed escalation of the arms race, and in January 1914 hoping for lower naval estimates. Runciman had done much to encourage Lloyd George as Chancellor raising the trading profile. The Board of Trade reported in October a build-up of German shipping at Hamburg; a record 187 ships entered British ports on 15 October, meaning the war seemed to be good for business. He approved food for Belgian refugees. On 12 January 1915 he agreed to send a memo to the US government to ban all coppoer imports to Ireland.[15] Lloyd George's proposal to actively intervene in union wage disputes was tantamount to socialism, but Runciman was wholly sympathetic since "men were not malingering, but worn out..."; a statement that preceded the mass employment of women in factories. Runciman's bill "commandeered" the armaments factories for the nationalised war effort. Sitting between McKenna and Hobhouse, he announced an industrial agreement to pay a guaranteed 15% dividend plus depreciation. They discussed anglicizing the Germanic dye industries and a prohibition of coal exports.[16] Runciman opposed Kitchener's controversial resignation on 16 April in the wake of the Shells Scandal, on grounds that seemed outlandish, particularly as he had hired him at dinner to remove Sir John French from command. They also discussed Asquith's removal, since his wife had called the Prime Minister "brains in aspic".[17] Runciman was against any suggestion of internment of aliens, yet they were nonetheless confined in large numbers. In May Asquith stunned the Cabinet by resigning: Runciman repaired to the Foreign Office to seek Grey's counsel. The intrigues continued at McKenna's soirees, as Labour sought to deny the Liberal Coalitionists the satisfaction of an alliance. But it was the Conservatives that could demand terms: and the conscientious Runciman sought to preserve both party and government. Yet it had to be reformed chaired by Asquith. By October the cabinet was in open conflict; Conservaties were taking a tough line on conscription and its evasion. He was determined to resign if the issue was carried into law.[18]

By early 1916 Runciman had joined Lloyd George is opposing conscription. Like McKenna, he was against total warfare of which policy Compulsory Service formed a major part. Haig was convinced they intended to split the cabinet against Asquith, but were defeated in committee.[19] They continued to plug the 'depletion of industry' line as being dangerous; Mrs Asquith had already tried to split up the axis within the Cabinet by inviting Runciman and then McKenna to tea separately. But Runciman had better relations with the Chancellor because they shared the aim to improve trade receipts, reduce debt, and increase output.[20]

He held the position for the next two years but resigned in December 1916 when Asquith's government fell and was succeeded by a coalition headed by David Lloyd George. In the splits that were to rage in the Liberal Party for the next seven years Runciman remained prominent in opposition to Lloyd George, especially when the latter became party leader in 1926. He lost the seat in 1918,[4] but was returned for Swansea West in 1924.[21]


In the 1929 general election, the Liberals emerged with the balance of power between the Conservatives and Labour. Runciman took the seat of St Ives, which his wife Hilda had won in a by-election the previous year.[22] Capt. Sydney Augustus Velden, Liberal Agent for St. Ives was instrumental in Lord Runciman's successful election. Lord and Lady Runciman were the first man and wife to sit in the Houses of Parliament in GB. The Liberals soon found themselves heavily divided over how to respond to the Great Depression, whether or not to continue supporting the Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald and even over the basic direction of the party.[citation needed]

In 1931, the cause of the strife was seemingly removed when the Labour government was succeeded by an all-party National Government. Further division emerged, however, when it was proposed that the National Government call a general election to seek a mandate to introduce protective tariffs, a policy that was anathema to Runciman and many other Liberals.[b] Officially, the Liberals threatened to withdraw from the government, but a group led by Sir John Simon emerged as the Liberal Nationals, mainly composed of those who had been opposed to Lloyd George's leadership and who were prepared to continue to support the National Government. A compromise was worked out whereby each party in the National Government campaigned on its own manifesto.[citation needed]

After the National Government won a massive majority in the 1931 general election, the Cabinet was reconstructed. It was felt prudent to balance the key Cabinet committee that would take the decisions on tariffs and so Runciman was appointed President of the Board of Trade once more, in the belief that he would serve as a counterbalance to the protectionist Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain. However like the other Liberal Nationals, Runciman came to accept the principle of tariffs, amended in November 1931 to 10% in favour of a balance of trade recommended by a Tariff Board.[23] When in late 1932 the official Liberals resigned their ministerial posts, Runciman very nearly resigned with them, the Samuelites. In 1933 the official Liberals withdrew completely their support for the National Government but Runciman remained holding office, even though he was President of the extra-Parliamentary National Liberal Federation until 1934. He concluded the Roca-Runciman Treaty with Argentina, initiated by this country to avoid the curtailment of Argentine beef imports.

Runciman remained as President of the Board of Trade until May 1937 when Stanley Baldwin retired and his successor, Neville Chamberlain, only offered Runciman the sinecure position of Lord Privy Seal, an offer Runciman declined.[citation needed] In June 1937 he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Runciman of Doxford, of Doxford in the County of Northumberland.[24] Four years earlier his father had been created Baron Runciman and "of Doxford" was consequently used to differentiate from his father's title. This was a rare case of a father and son sitting in the House of Lords at the same time, with the son holding a superior title. A few months later his father died and he inherited both the barony and his father's shipping business.[citation needed]

Mission to Czechoslovakia[edit]

Main article: Runciman Mission

Runciman returned to public life when, at the beginning of August 1938, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, sent him on a Mission to Czechoslovakia to mediate in a dispute between the Government of Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten German Party (SdP) representing the radicalised ethic German population of the border regions known as the Sudetenland. Unknown to Runciman, the SdP, although ostensibly calling for autonomy for the Sudetenland, were under instruction from Nazi Germany not to reach an agreement on the matter. Hence the attempts at mediation failed and with international tension rising in Central Europe, Runciman was recalled to London on 16 September 1938. The controversial report on his Mission provided support for British policy towards Czechoslovakia culminating in the dismembering of the country under the terms of the Munich Agreement. Further controversy arose from Runciman's use of his leisure time in Czechoslovakia spent mostly in the company of the SdP-supporting German aristocracy.[25]

Districts in Czechoslovakia with an ethnic German population of 25% or more (pink), 50% or more (red), and 75% or more (dark red) according to the census of 1930.[26]

The report issued by Runciman on his return to London recommended the transfer of the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and contained the following:[27]

In October 1938, following the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain reshuffled his Cabinet and appointed Runciman as Lord President of the Council, a post he held until the outbreak of the Second World War.


Lord Runciman of Doxford married Hilda, daughter of James Cochran Stevenson, in 1898. They had two sons and three daughters. Their daughter Margaret Fairweather (married Douglas Fairweather who established the Air Movements Flight in 1942, later joined by Margaret) was the first woman to fly a Spitfire and was one of the original eight female pilots selected by Pauline Gower to join the Air Transport Auxiliary. Margaret was killed in 1944 landing a Proctor. Their second son the Honourable Sir Steven Runciman was a historian. Lord Runciman of Doxford died in November 1949, aged 78, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Walter. Lady Runciman died in 1956, aged 87.


  1. ^ on 3 August, Beauchamp joined Burns, Morley and Simon who had all stepped down.
  2. ^ Chamberlains, Eden, Lloyd George, Nancy Astor, Runciman, David Margesson, Churchill, Vincent Massey and General Smuts - severe critics, some of whom joined the Conservatives.


  1. ^ "Election intelligence" The Times (London). Wednesday, 29 January 1902. (36677), p. 10.
  2. ^ a b Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "O" [self-published source][better source needed]
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27402. p. 646. 31 January 1902.
  4. ^ a b House of Commons: Devizes to Dorset West
  5. ^ Runciman Progressive
  6. ^ Runciman Centrist Reformer
  7. ^ Runciman to Hobhouse, 16 Oct 1907; Hobhouse to Runciman, 20 Oct 1907; David, p.60
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28129. p. 2935. 17 April 1908.
  9. ^ David, p.74
  10. ^ Owen, The Hidden Perspective, p.153
  11. ^ David, p.134
  12. ^ Owen, p.185
  13. ^ see also: Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918 (London, 1938), i, 113
  14. ^ David, pp.148-9
  15. ^ David, pp.202, 216
  16. ^ David, pp.224-5, 228, 232
  17. ^ David, p.238
  18. ^ David, op cit., p.255
  19. ^ 12 Feb 1916, Haig, Diary, pp.179-80
  20. ^ Jenkins, Chancellors, p.202-3
  21. ^ House of Commons: Sudbury to Swindon South
  22. ^ House of Commons: Saffron Walden to Salford West
  23. ^ Jenkins, op cit, p.346
  24. ^ The London Gazette: no. 34407. p. 3750. 11 June 1937.
  25. ^ Vyšný, Paul, The Runciman Mission to Czechoslovakia, 1938: Prelude to Munich, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2003, ISBN 0-333-73136-0. Dowling claims that Runciman spent most of his time in Czechoslovakia being entertained by German aristocrats and listening to complaints from Germans that had suffered from the land reform of the 1920s. Dowling, Maria, Czechoslovakia, Arnold, London, 2002, p. 51. ISBN 0-340-76369-8.
  26. ^ Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice československé I. Země česká, Prague, 1934 and Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice československé II. Země moravskoslezská, Prague, 1935.
  27. ^ Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, Third Series, vol. 2, London, 1949, appendix II, p. 677. Alfred de Zayas, "Anglo-American Responsibility for the Expulsion of the Germans, 1944–48", (Pittsburg lecture, published in Vardy/Tooley "Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe" pp. 239–254) p. 243

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
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James Francis Oswald
Member of Parliament for Oldham
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Member of Parliament for Dewsbury
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Member of Parliament for Swansea West
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Howel Walter Samuel
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Hilda Runciman
Member of Parliament for St Ives
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Political offices
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President of the Board of Education
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President of the Board of Agriculture
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The Viscount Hailsham
Lord President of the Council
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Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Runciman of Doxford
June 1937–1949
Succeeded by
Walter Leslie Runciman
Preceded by
Walter Runciman
Baron Runciman
August 1937–1949