1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Grey of Fallodon, Edward Grey, 1st Viscount

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Grey of Fallodon, Edward Grey, 1st Viscount
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GREY OF FALLODON, EDWARD GREY, 1st Viscount (1862- ), British statesman (see 12.588), had given public notification, in a speech in the City of London in Oct. 1905, that if, as seemed probable, the Liberal party regained power in the near future, they would maintain the national foreign policy pursued by Mr. Balfour and Lord Lansdowne. He mentioned as the three cardinal points of British policy: (1) friendship with the United States; (2) the alliance with Japan; and (3) the Entente with France; all three were matters, he said, of cordial congratulation. Could British relations with Russia and Germany be improved? As to Russia, he held that the roots of estrangement lay solely in the past, and that it should be the business of both Governments to encourage the growth of mutual confidence. As to Germany, it must be a condition of any improvement in relations between her and Britain that the relations of Germany with France on all matters coming under the Anglo-French Entente should be fair and good also.

The programme thus laid down in advance was faithfully observed by Sir Edward Grey (as he then was) during a tenure of the Foreign Office which lasted exactly 11 years, from Dec. 1905 to Dec. 1916. He had great hesitation originally in accepting office under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman; but after a short interval of negotiations he was included in the new Liberal Cabinet. In office the relations of the two men were cordial, and the Prime Minister gave his Foreign Secretary steady backing. It was needed at the very outset. During the general election of 1906, as Sir Edward told the House of Commons in his famous speech on Aug. 3 1914, Germany was pressing France about Morocco, and he was asked by France if, should a Franco-German war break out, Britain would give her assistance in arms. He replied that he could promise nothing which would not be fully endorsed by public opinion, but that, if war were forced on France through the Entente respecting Morocco, British public opinion would rally to her support. The French Government then suggested conversations between naval and military experts. After consulting the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the War Secretary, he agreed, on the understanding that such conversations should in no way bind the British Government. The Algeciras Conference on Morocco followed in the spring of 1906, and the constant support which, on his instructions, the British representatives accorded to the French helped to produce a satisfactory result, and to strengthen the Anglo-French Entente. He had also in this first year to take a firm attitude towards Turkey, who was making difficulties about the delimitation of the Turco-Egyptian frontier. In 1907 he forwarded Anglo-American friendship by sending a distinguished public man, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Bryce, to Washington as British ambassador; and, it may be added, he succeeded, during Mr. Bryce's term, in settling the outstanding questions of difference between England and America. He concluded an agreement in 1907 with Spain, which pledged both Powers to maintain the status quo in the waters adjacent to southern Spain and north-western Africa, and which incidentally involved Spanish recognition for the first time of the British position and rights at Gibraltar. In that year he also fulfilled his hope of coming to an understanding with Russia. He concluded a convention with her about Persia, in which both Governments recited their desire to maintain the integrity of that country, but stated that in certain parts of it Russia and Britain had special interests. Accordingly Britain recognized Russia's rights and interests in the northern zone and Russia recognized British rights and interests in the southern zone, the central zone being treated as neutral ground. Sir E. Grey asserted, and the Russians did not deny, the special rights of Britain in the Persian Gulf. Other questions which pressed on him in these early years of his foreign secretaryship were the state of Macedonia and of the Congo. He disappointed the humanitarians by declining to pose as a knight-errant. His prudence led him to be chary of burning words, but to promote international action to benefit Macedonia, and to forward the transference of the Congo State from King Leopold to Belgium.

In 1908 — the year in which Mr. Asquith, an intimate friend of Sir E. Grey, became Prime Minister — the European situation was considerably modified by several striking events. First came the Young Turk revolution, which Sir E. Grey, no wiser than the rest of the western world, welcomed as a most beneficent change. Then, in October, came, almost simultaneously, the assertion by Prince Ferdinand of the independence of Bulgaria and his assumption of the title of king or tsar, and the annexation by Austria-Hungary of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which she had administered under the Treaty of Berlin. These strokes of policy moved the indignation of both the Russian people and the Russian Government; but the German Emperor announced that he would stand by his Austrian ally in “shining armour”; and Sir E. Grey, though he protested against the infraction of the public law of Europe, was naturally unable to promise Russia anything more than diplomatic support. The action of the Central Powers must have confirmed him in the view that it was from them that came the principal danger to European peace; but he kept on friendly terms with them, and resisted all suggestions that the Anglo-French Entente and the Anglo-Russian agreement constituted in any sense a hostile encirclement of Germany. On the other hand he emphatically declared in Parliament that, if Germany persisted in her naval preparations, Britain could not give up the competition.

The labours of the Foreign Office, coupled with membership of the House of Commons, left Sir Edward little leisure for forwarding the domestic policy of the Government. But he made two or three speeches in 1909 on behalf of Mr. Lloyd George's famous budget, maintaining that it was not revolution that Britain had to dread, but undue slowness to move with the times. He also took his share in the campaign against the House of Lords, but protested that he was in favour of a two-chamber system, with the Commons predominant, and declared the Parliament Act, after its passing, to be a cumbrous and not a final measure. He showed himself a convinced supporter of Irish Home Rule, but was forward in the autumn of 1913 to obtain an agreed settlement, suggesting “Home Rule within Home Rule” as the proper method of meeting Ulster's fears. He was a strong advocate of woman suffrage; and he defended the Declaration of London as conforming the British naval code to that which the United States and the continent of Europe would agree to enforce in war.

Meanwhile British relations with Germany were his main preoccupation. Germany gave dramatic notice of her dissatisfaction with the spread of French arms and influence in Morocco by despatching, at the beginning of July 1911, the gunboat “Panther” to the N.W. African coast at Agadir, to protect, it was alleged, German interests (a step which perhaps hastened the action of Italy, later in the year, in seizing Tripoli before her German ally could develop an interest in it). In view of this further attempt to test, and if possible loosen, the Entente, the British Foreign Office issued a warning, through the mouth of Mr. Lloyd George speaking at the Mansion House, that Britain intended at all hazards to maintain her place among the Great Powers. The warning sufficed to make Germany lower her tone, and Sir E. Grey helped forward a reasonable agreement between her and France. In November he explained to Parliament that the foreign policy of the Government was a continuance of Lord Lansdowne's, and had got rid of the constant trouble with France and Russia; that British friendship with these Powers afforded a guarantee that neither would pursue an aggressive or provocative policy towards Germany, while the strength of Germany was a guarantee that no country would pick a quarrel with her; but that, when a nation had the biggest army and was increasing its already big navy, it was natural that other Powers should be apprehensive. On this occasion, as always, the Opposition, represented now by Mr. Bonar Law, supported Sir Edward; but many Radicals and Labour men, as throughout his tenure of office, were full of suspicions, disliking any agreement with autocratically governed Russia, and anxious for better relations with Germany at almost any cost. But public opinion in general supported Sir Edward, and was pleased when in the following year his memorable services to his country as Foreign Minister in difficult times were marked by the very unusual distinction, for a commoner, of the Order of the Garter.

In the beginning of 1912 he was a party to sending Lord Haldane on an informal mission to Berlin to reassure the Emperor and his Government as to the pacific intentions of Britain and to probe the intentions of Germany. The Cabinet formally notified the German Government that Britain would neither make, nor join in, any unprovoked attack on Germany. But nothing would content the German Government but an absolute pledge by Britain of neutrality if Germany were engaged in war — a pledge which Sir E. Grey naturally could not give. Largely in consequence of this ominous rebuff, he exchanged letters on Nov. 22 1912 with the French ambassador, agreeing that, if either Britain or France had grave reason to expect an attack by a third Power or a menace to the general peace, both Governments would consult whether they should coöperate and what measures they should take in common. Still he found himself able to work in general harmony with the German Government in the efforts made by the Powers, in conference in London, to bring a settled peace to the Balkans. In those regions, in the years 1912 and 1913, a Balkan League of Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece had, first of all, severely defeated Turkey, and had then split up, Bulgaria's treachery in turning on Serbia and Greece, in order to obtain the largest share of the booty, being overcome, after barbarous fighting on the part of Bulgarians, Serbians and Greeks alike, by the final intervention of Rumania. He joined the other Powers in creating an independent Albania, under a German prince; and seems to have had his suspicions lulled for the time by the apparent reasonableness of German diplomacy and by the straightforward attitude of the new German ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowsky, who was not, it subsequently appeared, in the confidence of his own Government.

Accordingly he was taken aback by the unyielding attitude of Germany in the negotiations arising out of the Austro-Serbian dispute. As soon as he heard of the Austrian ultimatum delivered at Belgrade on July 23 1914, he realized at once that Russia could not allow Serbia to be crushed, and exerted himself in the most strenuous fashion to save Europe from the threatened catastrophe of a war in which four Great Powers at least, Austria, Russia, Germany and France, would be involved. In conjunction with Russia he urged upon Austria the extension of the alarmingly short time-limit of 48 hours, and he pleaded unavailingly with Germany to do the same. Next he proposed that England, France, Germany and Italy should work together at Vienna and St. Petersburg for conciliation — a proposal to which Germany had no objection, but which produced no result. Thirdly, in conjunction with France and Russia, he advised Serbia to go as far as possible to meet Austria; and in fact, Serbia accepted almost the whole of the Austrian demands; but Austria would be content with nothing less than complete submission, and on the expiry of the time-limit declared war on Serbia. Sir Edward proposed a conference in London between himself and the French, German and Italian ambassadors, to discuss the best means of a settlement. Germany boggled at the conference, but accepted in principle mediation between Austria and Russia by the four Powers; and he asked her to suggest any other form of mediation than the proposed conference. At this point, on July 29, Germany, declaring war to be inevitable if Russia attacked Austria, endeavoured to purchase the neutrality of England by undertaking, if England remained neutral, to make no territorial acquisitions at the expense of France — an undertaking which did not extend to the French colonies — and by promising to respect Belgian integrity, after the war, if Belgium had not sided against Germany. Sir E. Grey next day absolutely refused to make any bargain of the sort at the expense of France and Belgium. But, in a final effort for peace, he offered, if through the coöperation of Germany with England the peace of Europe should be preserved, to endeavour to promote some arrangement, to which Germany would be a party, by which she and her allies could be assured against any aggression or hostile policy on the part of France, Russia or Great Britain. This suggestion met with no response. In view of the apparent threat to Belgium, Sir Edward asked France and Germany whether they were prepared to respect Belgian neutrality provided it was not violated, and he asked Belgium whether she would remain neutral. France and Belgium both replied affirmatively, while Germany temporized. Hopeful negotiations which had been begun directly between Russia and Austria were wrecked by a German ultimatum to Russia to countermand her mobilization; and on Saturday Aug. 1 Germany declared war on France.

The moment for decision had come for Great Britain. Russia had asked her to declare herself against Germany and so give the German General Staff pause; France had asked her to coöperate, as Germany was about to invade French territory. The Cabinet had hitherto been divided, a strong section pressing for the preservation of neutrality, and so Sir Edward had been unable to reply favourably to either Russia or France. But now Germany had declared war on France, and was apparently about to disregard the neutrality of Belgium. The Opposition, through Mr. Bonar Law, tendered support for active measures to aid France and Russia; and Sir Edward with a Cabinet rallying, with slight exceptions, to his view, was able to make an appeal in the House of Commons on Aug. 3 for the support of public and parliamentary opinion to a policy of action. Unconditional neutrality, he said, was precluded by the commitment to France and the consideration of Belgium. The forces of the Crown were never more efficient; the Government had striven for peace till the last moment; and the country when it realized the situation would support them. The speech finally decided a wavering public opinion; with the exception of some Radicals and extremist Labour men, all parties, including the Irish Nationalists, accepted the necessity of war. Sir Edward demanded next day that Germany should respect the neutrality of Belgium, and on the German refusal, England went to war.

Great Britain found herself at once associated, in the war against the Central Powers, with France, Russia, Belgium and Serbia, to whom Japan, in virtue of her relations to Great Britain, was added in the course of August. One of Sir Edward's first tasks was to turn this association into an alliance, which should bind its members to fight in common and make peace in common. In the course of the negotiations for this purpose, both with the Powers who were fighting Germany from the beginning and with those who, like Italy and smaller Powers, joined afterwards in the struggle, he did not hesitate to guarantee the support of Great Britain for the attainment of long-cherished national objects, provided that these did not conflict with the aims of liberation and self-development common to the Allies — the most striking case being the promise, after Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers, that Russia should have Constantinople.

Much of Sir Edward's time and attention during the first half of the war was occupied by difficult questions arising out of the blockade of Germany and the consequent interference with the trade of neutrals. Public opinion in Great Britain constantly complained that the blockade was not enforced with sufficient strictness, that the policy enunciated of preventing goods from either entering or leaving Germany was very far from being realized in fact; while the United States, as the principal neutral, harassed the British Government by repeated notes, denouncing the methods of the British navy, in the search of neutral ships and in the seizure of goods, as unnecessarily prejudicial to American trade and contrary to international law. He was perhaps more successful in his answers to the Americans than in his justification to the British public; and a large body of opinion in America accepted his explanations as reasonable. He pointed out, as was indeed notorious, that American exports to neutral countries adjacent to Germany had enormously increased since the war began; that there was a serious danger lest these countries might become in consequence bases of supplies and arsenals for the enemy on an unprecedented scale; that there were neutral ports in the neighbourhood of Germany that were neutral only in name and really did a thriving trade in contraband; and that Britain was only exercising the right claimed by the United States in their Civil War of expanding the practices of international law to meet emergencies not hitherto contemplated. He further demonstrated that the assertion of the United States that the immense modern ships could be adequately searched at sea, at a period when submarine warfare was being vigorously prosecuted, and that it was unjustifiable to take them into port for the purpose, could not be seriously maintained. He claimed also that the British practice caused the least discomfort to neutrals; and contrasted with it the German practice of sinking ships, regardless of human life.

The tenure of the Foreign Office by a statesman so high-minded, sincere and experienced as Sir Edward Grey was everywhere regarded as such a valuable asset for Great Britain that it appeared only natural and fitting for Mr. Asquith, when contemplating the formation of a Coalition Government in May 1915, to lay down, as one of the essential conditions, that there should be no change in the office of Foreign Secretary. No one could refute with such authority the intermittent assertions of the German Chancellor that it was England and not Germany that was responsible both for the origin and for the continuance of the war. Sir Edward pointed out, in a letter to the press on Aug. 25 1915, that the reason why the Anglo-German negotiations of 1912 broke down was that Germany wished to retain her freedom to wage war while binding Britain to absolute neutrality. What she was really fighting for now was supremacy and tribute. When the pacifists called for negotiations in May 1916, he showed that when the Germans professed a readiness for peace it was only for a peace on the basis that Germany had won and the Allies were beaten; but the Allies were not beaten, and the first step towards peace would be taken when Germany began to recognize that fact. In Oct. 1916 he laid it down that, as the war was forced by Germany on Europe, it was the Allies who must have guarantees for the future. The peace must ensure that Europe should be free from Prussian militarism.

Credit must be given to Sir Edward for facilitating, in the early summer of 1915, the entry of Italy — till May 3 a member of the Triple Alliance — into the war against the Central Powers. It was, however, a grave disappointment to him that he was unable to prevent Bulgaria, in the autumn of 1915, from taking the field against the Allies. He had worked for a Balkan agreement founded on mutual concessions, but naturally Greece and Serbia would not make concessions unless Bulgaria joined the Allies; and Bulgaria was seduced by the promise of the Central Powers, who had not to consider the feelings of her neighbours. He warned Bulgaria that, if she joined the enemy, Britain would give her own friends in the Balkans all the support in her power in conjunction with her Allies, without reserve and without qualification. In fulfilment of this promise Allied troops were sent to Salonika, and he offered Cyprus to Greece in order to induce her to carry out her treaty obligations and go to Serbia's aid against Bulgaria. But on this issue King Constantine won the support of his people against M. Venizelos; and Serbia was crushed before help could reach her.

Sir Edward made strenuous efforts, with a certain measure of success, on behalf of British prisoners in Germany and British civilians interned at Ruhleben. The course of the war compelled him, in July 1916, after long hesitation, to abandon that Declaration of London in regard to naval warfare which he had strongly supported in peace-time. He took part, it may be added, in the first tentative experiments to obtain full coöperation of all the Allies in war, by attending Allied Conferences in Paris in Nov. 1915 and March 1916.

In July 1916 an affection of the eyes, which had been giving him increasing trouble, made it advisable that he should have as much relief from work as possible, and he accepted a peerage. It was announced that he had been created an earl — a rank which his public services thoroughly warranted. But he wished to keep his own name, and yet not to enter into any competition with the head of his family, his cousin Earl Grey. Accordingly at his own request he was gazetted a viscount and not an earl — Viscount Grey of Fallodon. When a few months later, in December, his friend and chief Mr. Asquith was succeeded in the premiership by Mr. Lloyd George, failing eyesight and political comradeship both united to determine him to bring his tenure of the Foreign Office to a close. He had served for a longer consecutive period than any predecessor, exceeding by a year the 10 years' tenure of Grenville (1791-1801), Pitt's colleague in the first war against republican France, and of Castlereagh (1812-22), the Foreign Secretary under whom Waterloo was won and the Treaty of Vienna signed. In his official methods he carried out his own precept — that foreign policy required not striking effects nor bold strokes but careful steering. An ardent lover of peace, he had been driven, through no fault of his, to lead Great Britain into the World War; he left a tradition in his office of steady work, a resolute will, and a clear head, and of that straightforwardness, sportsmanship, and courtesy which istinguish the best type of English gentleman.

After his resignation Viscount Grey took no part in public life for more than a couple of years. Happily, rest and quiet worked a decided improvement in his eyesight, and in the autumn of 1919 he felt himself well enough to comply with the wish of Mr. Lloyd George's Government that, pending the appointment of a permanent ambassador after Sir Cecil Spring-Klee's premature death, he should go on a mission to Washington to deal with questions arising out of the peace. He only remained there three months; while his sympathetic personality made numerous friends for himself and for his country, the quarrel in progress between the Senate and President Wilson over the Treaty of Versailles hampered him seriously in fulfilling the charge entrusted to him. His public appearances in England in the years immediately following the war were very few; but he showed a keen interest in the League of Nations; and he took a leading part at the foundation, in July 1920, of a British Institute of International Affairs in order to promote among Englishmen international thinking.

He published in 1899 a book on Fly-Fishing, his favourite recreation. In 1885 he married Dorothy, daughter of Shellcross F. Widdrington, of Newton Hall, Northumberland. She was killed in a carriage accident in 1906; there were no children of the marriage. (G. E. B.)