- Category : Political
- Type : ME
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 4
George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, KG, GCSI, GCIE, PC (11 January 1859 – 20 March 1925), known as The Lord Curzon of Kedleston between 1898 and 1911 and as The Earl Curzon of Kedleston between 1911 and 1921, was a British Conservative statesman who was the Viceroy of India and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but who was passed over as Prime Minister in 1923 in favour of Stanley Baldwin. He was a key figure in instituting the 1905 Partition of Bengal, which led to a major political crisis for the British Empire. He drew the Curzon Line in Eastern Europe. He quarreled endlessly and his arrogance and inflexibility made even more enemies. Critics have been negative in contrasting his enormous talents and energy on behalf of British imperialism with his mixed results and unrealized ambitions.
Curzon was the eldest son and second of eleven children of Alfred Curzon, the 4th Baron Scarsdale (1831–1916), Rector of Kedleston in Derbyshire, and his wife Blanche (1837–1875), daughter of Joseph Pocklington Senhouse of Netherhall in Cumberland. He was born at Kedleston Hall, built on the site where his family, who were of Norman ancestry, had lived since the 12th century. His mother, worn out by childbirth, died when George was 16; her husband survived her by 41 years. Neither parent exerted a major influence on Curzon's life. Lord Scarsdale was an austere and unindulgent father who believed in the long-held family tradition that landowners should stay on their land and not go "roaming about all over the world". He thus had little sympathy for those travels across Asia between 1887 and 1895 which made his son one of the most travelled men who ever sat in a British cabinet. A more decisive presence in Curzon's childhood was that of his brutal governess, Ellen Mary Paraman, whose tyranny in the nursery stimulated his combative qualities and encouraged the obsessional side of his nature. Paraman periodically forced him to parade through the village wearing a conical hat bearing the words liar, sneak, and coward. Curzon later noted, "No children well born and well-placed ever cried so much and so justly."
Curzon at Eton, 1870s.
He was educated at Wixenford School, Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. At Eton he was a favourite of Oscar Browning, an over-intimate relationship that led to his tutor's dismissal. While at Eton, he was a controversial figure who was liked and disliked with equal intensity by large numbers of masters and other boys. This strange talent for both attraction and repulsion stayed with him all his life: few people ever felt neutral about him. At Oxford he was President of the Union and Secretary of the Oxford Canning Club. Although he failed to achieve a first class degree in Greats, he won the Lothian and Arnold Prizes, the latter for an essay on Sir Thomas More (about whom he confessed to having known almost nothing before commencing study, delivered as the clocks were chiming midnight on the day of the deadline). He was elected a prize fellow of All Souls College in 1883. Whilst at Oxford, he was a contemporary and close friend of Cecil Spring Rice and Edward Grey.
A teenage spinal injury, incurred while riding, left Curzon in lifelong pain, often resulting in insomnia, and required him to wear a metal corset, contributing to an unfortunate impression of stiffness and arrogance. While at Oxford, Curzon was the inspiration for the following Balliol rhyme, a piece of doggerel which stuck with him in later life:
Early political career
Curzon became Assistant Private Secretary to Lord Salisbury in 1885, and in 1886 entered Parliament as Member for Southport in south-west Lancashire. His maiden speech, which was chiefly an attack on home rule and Irish nationalism, was regarded in much the same way as his oratory at the Oxford Union: brilliant and eloquent but also presumptuous and rather too self-assured. Subsequent performances in the Commons, often dealing with Ireland or reform of the House of Lords (which he supported), received similar verdicts. He was Under-Secretary of State for India in 1891–1892 and Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1895–1898.
Asian travels and writings
In the meantime he had travelled around the world: Russia and Central Asia (1888–89), a long tour of Persia (September 1889 – January 1890), Siam, French Indochina and Korea (1892), and a daring foray into Afghanistan and the Pamirs (1894), and published several books describing central and eastern Asia and related policy issues. A bold and compulsive traveller, fascinated by oriental life and geography, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his exploration of the source of the Amu Darya (Oxus). His journeys allowed him to study the problems of Asia and their implications for British India, whilst reinforcing his pride in his nation and her imperial mission.
Curzon believed Russia to be the most likely threat to India, Britain's most valuable colony, from the 19th century through the early 20th century. In 1879 Russia had begun construction of the Transcaspian Railroad along the Silk Road, officially solely to enforce local control. The line starts from the city of Kzyzl Su (Krasnovodsk) (nowadays Turkmenbashi) (on the Caspian Sea), travels southeast along the Karakum Desert, through Ashgabat, continues along the Kopet Dagh Mountains until it reaches Tejen. Curzon dedicated an entire chapter in his book Russia in Central Asia to discussing the perceived threat to British control of India. This railroad connected Russia with the most wealthy and influential cities in Central Asia at the time, including the Persian province of Khorasan, and would allow the rapid deployment of Russian supplies and troops into the area. Curzon also believed that the resulting greater economic interdependence between Russia and Central Asia would be damaging to British interests.
Persia and the Persian Question, written in 1892, has been considered Curzon's magnum opus and can be seen as a sequel to Russia in Central Asia. Curzon was commissioned by The Times to write several articles on the Persian political environment, but while there he decided to write a book on the country as whole. This two volume work covers Persia's history and governmental structure, as well as graphics, maps and pictures (some taken by Curzon himself). Curzon was aided by General Albert Houtum-Schindler and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), both of which helped him gain access to material to which as a foreigner he would not have been entitled to have access. General Schindler provided Curzon with information regarding Persia's geography and resources, as well as serving as an unofficial editor. The map which accompanied the volumes was the product of RGS, but was later pointed out as inaccurate (according to British officials) as it depicted the islands near the Straits of Hormuz (Sirri, Abu Musa, and the Tunbs) as belonging to the Persians.
Curzon was appalled by his government's apathy towards Persia as a valuable defensive buffer to India from Russian encroachment. Years later Curzon would lament that "Persia has alternatively advanced and receded in the estimation of British statesmen, occupying now a position of extravagant prominence, anon one of unmerited obscurity."
First marriage (1895–1906)
Mary Victoria Leiter by Alexandre Cabanel, 1887.
In 1895 he married Mary Victoria Leiter, the daughter of Levi Ziegler Leiter, an American millionaire of German Mennonite origin and co-founder of the Chicago department store Field & Leiter (now Marshall Field). She had a long and nearly fatal illness near the end of summer 1904, from which she never really recovered. Falling ill again in July 1906, she died on the 18th of that month in her husband's arms, at the age of 36. It was the greatest personal loss of his life.
She was buried in the church at Kedleston, where Curzon designed his memorial for her, a Gothic chapel added to the north side of the nave. Although he was neither a devout nor a conventional churchman, Curzon retained a simple religious faith; in later years he sometimes said that he was not afraid of death because it would enable him to join Mary in heaven.
They had three daughters during a firm and happy marriage: Mary Irene, who inherited her father's Barony of Ravensdale and was created a life peer in her own right; Cynthia, who became the first wife of politician Sir Oswald Mosley; and Alexandra Naldera ("Baba"), who married Edward "Fruity" Metcalfe, the best friend, best man and equerry of Edward VIII. Mosley exercised a strange fascination for the Curzon women: Irene had a brief romance with him before either were married; Baba became his mistress; and Curzon's second wife, Grace, had a long affair with him.
Viceroy of India (1899–1905)
Lord Curzon—procession to Sanchi Tope, 28 November 1899
Lord Curzon and Madho Rao Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior, pose with hunted tigers, 1901
In January 1899 he was appointed Viceroy of India. He was created a Peer of Ireland as Baron Curzon of Kedleston, in the County of Derby, on his appointment. This peerage was created in the Peerage of Ireland (the last so created) so that he would be free, until his father's death, to re-enter the House of Commons on his return to Britain.
Reaching India shortly after the suppression of the frontier risings of 1897–1898, he paid special attention to the independent tribes of the north-west frontier, inaugurated a new province called the North West Frontier Province, and pursued a policy of forceful control mingled with conciliation. The only major armed outbreak on this frontier during the period of his administration was the Mahsud-Waziri campaign of 1901.
In the context of the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires for control of Central Asia, he held deep mistrust of Russian intentions. This led him to encourage British trade in Persia, and he paid a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1903. Curzon argued for an exclusive British presence in the Gulf, a policy originally proposed by John Malcolm. The British government was already making agreements with local sheikhs/tribal leaders along the Persian Gulf coast to this end. Curzon had convinced his government to establish Britain as the unofficial protector of Kuwait with the Anglo-Kuwaiti Agreement of 1899. The Lansdowne Declaration in 1903 stated that the British would counter any other European power's attempt to establish a military presence in the Gulf. Only four years later this position was abandoned and the Persian Gulf declared a neutral zone in the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, prompted in part by the high economic cost of defending India from Russian advances.
At the end of 1903, Curzon sent a British expedition to Tibet under Francis Younghusband, ostensibly to forestall a Russian advance. After bloody conflicts with Tibet's poorly armed defenders, the mission penetrated to Lhasa, where a treaty was signed in September 1904. No Russian presence was found in Lhasa.
During his tenure, Curzon undertook the restoration of the Taj Mahal, and expressed satisfaction that he had done so.
Within India, Curzon appointed a number of commissions to inquire into education, irrigation, police and other branches of administration, on whose reports legislation was based during his second term of office as viceroy. Reappointed Governor-General in August 1904, he presided over the 1905 partition of Bengal, which roused such bitter opposition among the people of the province that it was later revoked (1911).
Curzon also took an active interest in military matters. In 1901, he founded the Imperial Cadet Corps, or ICC. The ICC was a corps d'elite, designed to give Indian princes and aristocrats military training, after which a few would be given officer commissions in the Indian Army. But these commissions were "special commissions" which did not empower their holders to command any troops. Predictably, this was a major stumbling block to the ICC's success, as it caused much resentment among former cadets. Though the ICC closed in 1914, it was a crucial stage in the drive to Indianise the Indian Army's officer Corps, which was haltingly begun in 1917.
Military organisation proved to be the final issue faced by Curzon in India. This was in part a clash of personalities: Curzon once wrote on a document “I rise from the perusal of these papers filled with the sense of the ineptitude of my military advisers”, and once wrote to the Commander-in-Chief in India, Lord Kitchener advising him that signing himself "Lord Kitchener of Khartoum" took up too much time and space, which Kitchener thought petty (Curzon simply signed himself "Curzon" as if he were an hereditary peer, although he later took to signing himself "Curzon of Kedleston"). A difference of opinion with Kitchener, regarding the status of the military member of the council in India (who controlled army supply and logistics, which Kitchener wanted under his own control), led to a controversy in which Curzon failed to obtain the support of the home government. He resigned in August 1905 and returned to England.
Lord and Lady Curzon on the elephant Lakshman Prasad, 29 December 1902
The Indian famine
A major famine coincided with Curzon's time as viceroy in which 6.1 to 9 million people died. Large parts of India were affected and millions died, and Curzon has been criticised for allegedly having done little to fight the famine. Curzon did, however, implement a variety of measures, including opening up famine relief works that fed between 3 and 5 million, reducing taxes and spending vast amounts of money on irrigation works. However, Curzon did state "any government which imperiled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fibre and demoralized the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime." He also cut back rations that he characterised as "dangerously high" and stiffened relief eligibility by reinstating the Temple tests.
Return to Britain
Arthur Balfour's refusal to recommend an earldom for Curzon in 1905 was repeated by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Liberal Prime Minister, who formed his government the day after Curzon returned to England. In deference to the wishes of the king and the advice of his doctors, Curzon did not stand in the general election of 1906 and thus found himself excluded from public life for the first time in twenty years. It was at this time, the nadir of his career, that he suffered the greatest personal loss of his life. Mary died in 1906 and Curzon devoted himself to private matters, including establishing a new home. In 1907 he was elected Chancellor of Oxford and proved a quite active Chancellor – " threw himself so energetically into the cause of university reform that critics complained he was ruling Oxford like an Indian province."
House of Lords
In 1908, Curzon was elected a representative peer for Ireland, and thus relinquished any idea of returning to the House of Commons. In 1909–1910 he took an active part in opposing the Liberal government's proposal to abolish the legislative veto of the House of Lords, and in 1911 was created Baron Ravensdale, of Ravensdale in the County of Derby, with remainder (in default of heirs male) to his daughters, Viscount Scarsdale, of Scarsdale in the County of Derby, with remainder (in default of heirs male) to the heirs male of his father, and Earl Curzon of Kedleston, in the County of Derby, with the normal remainder, all in the Peerage of the United Kingdom.
He became involved with saving Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire from destruction. This experience strengthened his resolve for heritage protection. He was one of the sponsors of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act 1913.
On 5 May 1914, he spoke out against a bill in the Lords that would have permitted women who already had the right to vote in local elections the right to vote for members of parliament.
First World War
Curzon joined the Cabinet, as Lord Privy Seal, when Asquith formed his coalition in May 1915.
Like other politicians (e.g. Chamberlain, Arthur Balfour) Curzon favoured British Empire efforts in Mesopotamia, believing that the increase in British prestige would discourage a German-inspired Muslim revolt in India.
Curzon was a member of the Dardanelles Committee and told that body (October 1915) that the recent Salonika expedition was "quixotic chivalry".
Early in 1916 Curzon visited Douglas Haig (newly appointed CinC of British forces in France) at his headquarters in France – Haig was impressed by Curzon's brains and decisiveness – he had mellowed since his days as Viceroy (the then Major-General Haig had been Inspector-General of Cavalry, India, at the time) and had lost "his old pompous ways".
Curzon served in Lloyd George's small War Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords from December 1916, and he also served on the War Policy Committee. With Allied victory over Germany far from certain, Curzon wrote a paper (12 May 1917) for the War Cabinet urging that Britain seize Palestine and possibly Syria.
However, like other members of the War Cabinet, Curzon supported further Western Front offensives lest, with Russian commitment to the war wavering, France and Italy be tempted to make a separate peace. At the War Policy Committee (3 October 1917) Curzon objected in vain to plans to redeploy 2 divisions to Palestine, with a view to advancing into Syria and knocking Turkey out of the war altogether. Curzon's commitment wavered somewhat as the losses of Third Ypres mounted. In the summer of 1917 the CIGS General Robertson sent Haig a biting description of the members of the War Cabinet, who he said were all frightened of Lloyd George; he described Curzon as "a gasbag".
During the crisis of February 1918 Curzon was one of the few members of the government to support Robertson, threatening in vain to resign if he were removed.
Despite his continued opposition to votes for women (he had earlier headed the Anti-Suffrage League), the House of Lords voted conclusively in its favour.
Second marriage (1917)
Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston
After a long affair with the romance novelist Elinor Glyn, Curzon married in 1917 the former Grace Elvina Hinds, the wealthy Alabama-born widow of Alfred Hubert Duggan; in later years wags joked that despite his political disappointments Curzon still enjoyed "the means of Grace". Glyn, who was staying with Curzon at the time, read of his engagement in the morning newspapers.
His wife had three children from her first marriage. Despite fertility-related operations and several miscarriages, she was not able to give Curzon the son and heir he desperately desired, a fact that eroded their marriage, which ended in separation, though not divorce.
In 1917, Curzon bought Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, a 14th-century building that had been gutted during the English Civil War. He restored it extensively, then bequeathed it to the National Trust.
Foreign Secretary (1919–1924)
Relations with Lloyd George
Curzon did not have David Lloyd George's support. Curzon and Lloyd George had disliked one another since the 1911 Parliament Crisis. The Prime Minister thought him overly pompous and self-important, and it was said that he used him as if he were using a Rolls-Royce to deliver a parcel to the station; Lloyd George said much later that Churchill treated his Ministers in a way that Lloyd George would never have treated his: "They were all men of substance — well, except Curzon." Multiple drafts of resignation letters written at this time were found upon Curzon's death. Despite their antagonism, the two were often in agreement on government policy. Lloyd George needed the wealth of knowledge Curzon possessed so was both his biggest critic and simultaneously as his largest supporter. Likewise, Curzon was grateful for the latitude Lloyd George bestowed upon him when it came to handling affairs in the Middle East.
Other Cabinet Ministers also respected his vast knowledge of Central Asia but disliked his arrogance and often blunt criticism. Believing that the foreign secretary should be non-partisan, he would objectively present all the information on a subject to the Cabinet, as if placing faith in his colleagues to reach the appropriate decision. Conversely, Curzon would take personally and respond aggressively to any criticism.
It has been suggested that Curzon's defensiveness reflected institutional insecurity by the Foreign Office as a whole. During the 1920s the Foreign Office was often a passive participant in decisions which were mainly reactive and dominated by the Prime Minister. The creation of the job of Colonial Secretary, the Cabinet Secretariat and the League of Nations added to the Foreign Office's insecurity.
Policy under Lloyd George
After nine months as acting Secretary while Balfour was at the Paris Peace Conference, Curzon was appointed Foreign Secretary in October 1919. He gave his name to his line that became the British government's proposed Soviet-Polish boundary, the Curzon Line of December 1919. Although during the subsequent Russo-Polish War Poland conquered ground in the east, Poland was shifted westwards after the Second World War, leaving the Curzon Line approximately the border between Poland and its eastern neighbours today.
Curzon was largely responsible for the first Armistice Day ceremonies on 11 November 1919. These included the plaster Cenotaph, designed by the noted British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, for the Allied Victory parade in London, and it was so successful that it was reproduced in stone, and still stands.
In 1918, during WWI as Britain occupied Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), Curzon had tried to convince the Indian government to reconsider his scheme for Persia (modern Iran) to be a buffer against Russian advances. British and Indian troops were in Persia protecting the oilfields at Abadan and watching the Afghan frontier – Curzon believed that British economic and military aid, sent via India, could prop up the Persian government and make her a British client state. However, the agreement of August 1919 was never ratified and the British government rejected the plan as Russia had the geographical advantage and the defensive benefits would not justify the high economic cost.
Small British forces had twice occupied Baku on the Caspian in 1918, while an entire British division had occupied Batum on the Black Sea, supervising German and Turkish withdrawal. Against Curzon's wishes, but on the advice of Sir George Milne, the commander on the spot, the CIGS Henry Wilson, who wanted to concentrate troops in Britain, Ireland, India and Egypt, and of Churchill (Secretary of State for War), the British withdrew from Baku (the small British naval presence was also withdrawn from the Caspian Sea), at the end of August 1919 leaving only 3 battalions at Batum.
In January 1920 Curzon insisted that British troops remain in Batum, against the wishes of Wilson and the Prime Minister. In February, while Curzon was on holiday, Wilson persuaded the Cabinet to allow withdrawal, but Curzon had the decision reversed on his return, although to Curzon's fury (he thought it "abuse of authority") Wilson gave Milne permission to withdraw if he deemed it necessary. At Cabinet on 5 May 1920 Curzon "by a long-winded jaw" (in Wilson's description) argued for a stay in Batum. After a British garrison at Enzeli (on the Persian Caspian coast) was taken prisoner by Bolshevik forces on 19 May 1920, Lloyd George finally insisted on a withdrawal from Batum early in June 1920. For the rest of 1920 Curzon, supported by Milner (Colonial Secretary) argued that Britain should retain control of Persia: when Wilson asked (15 July 1920) to pull troops out of Persia to put down rebellion in Mesopotamia and Ireland, Lloyd George blocked the move, saying that Curzon "would not stand it". In the end financial retrenchment forced a British withdrawal from Persia in the spring of 1921.
Curzon helped in several Middle Eastern problems: he helped to negotiate Egyptian independence (granted in 1922) and the division of the British Mandate of Palestine, creating the Kingdom of Jordan for Faisal's brother, which may also have delayed the problems there.
During the Irish War of Independence, but prior to the introduction of martial law in December 1920, Curzon suggested the "Indian" solution of blockading villages and imposing collective fines for attacks on the police and army.
In 1921 Curzon was created Earl of Kedleston, in the County of Derby, and Marquess Curzon of Kedleston.
Under Bonar Law
Unlike many leading Conservative members of Lloyd George's Coalition Cabinet, Curzon ceased to support Lloyd George over the Chanak Crisis and had just resigned when Conservative backbenchers voted at the Carlton Club meeting to end the Coalition in October 1922. Curzon was thus able to remain Foreign Secretary when Andrew Bonar Law formed a purely Conservative ministry.
In 1922-3 Curzon had to negotiate with France after French troops occupied the Ruhr to enforce the payment of German reparations; he described the French Prime Minister (and former President) Raymond Poincaré as a "horrid little man". Curzon had expansive ambitions and was not much happier with Bonar Law, whose foreign policy was based on "retrenchment and withdrawal", than he had been with Lloyd George. However he provided invaluable insight on the Middle East and was instrumental in shaping British foreign policy in that region.
Passed over for Prime Minister, 1923
On Andrew Bonar Law's retirement as Prime Minister in May 1923, Curzon was passed over for the job in favour of Stanley Baldwin, despite having written Bonar Law a lengthy letter earlier in the year complaining of rumours that he was to retire in Baldwin's favour, and listing the reasons he should have the top job.
This decision was taken on the private advice of leading members of the party including former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Balfour advised the monarch that in a democratic age it was inappropriate for the Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords, especially when the Labour party, which had few peers, had become the main opposition party in the Commons. In private Balfour admitted that he was prejudiced against Curzon, whose character was objectionable to some. George V shared this prejudice. A letter purporting to detail the opinions of Bonar Law but actually written by Baldwin sympathisers was delivered to the King's Private Secretary Lord Stamfordham, though it is unclear how much impact this had in the final outcome.
Curzon, summoned by Stamfordham, travelled to London by train assuming he was to be appointed Prime Minister, and is said to have burst into tears when told the truth. He later described Baldwin as "a man of the utmost insignificance", although he served under Baldwin and proposed him for leadership of the Conservative Party.
Curzon remained Foreign Secretary under Baldwin until the government fell in January 1924. When Baldwin formed a new government in November 1924 he appointed Curzon Lord President of the Council. Curzon held this post until the following March.
In March 1925 he suffered a severe haemorrhage of the bladder. Surgery was unsuccessful and he died in London on 20 March 1925 at the age of 66. His coffin, made from the same tree at Kedleston that had encased Mary, was taken to Westminster Abbey and from there to his ancestral home in Derbyshire, where he was interred beside Mary in the family vault on 26 March. Upon his death the Barony, Earldom and Marquessate of Curzon of Kedleston and the Earldom of Kedleston became extinct, whilst the Viscountcy and Barony of Scarsdale were inherited by a nephew. The Barony of Ravensdale was inherited by his eldest daughter Mary and is today held by Cynthia's son Nicholas Mosley.
There is now a blue plaque on the house in London where Curzon lived and died, No. 1 Carlton House Terrace, Westminster.