1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lansdowne, Henry Charles Keith Petty Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Lansdowne, Henry Charles Keith Petty Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of

LANSDOWNE, HENRY CHARLES KEITH PETTY FITZMAURICE, 5th Marquess of (1845-), British statesman (see 16.184), had, during his tenure of office as Foreign Minister (1900-5), definitely set his mark on British foreign policy at a crucial period in history. The system which his predecessor, Lord Salisbury, had inherited from Lord Beaconsfield, of a general reliance on Germany and the Triple Alliance, had become no longer possible, in view of the unconcealed ill-will of Germany during the Boer War, and the German resolve to build a fleet sufficiently large to constitute a serious challenge to the British navy. During the South African War of 1899-1902 Great Britain felt all the disadvantages of isolation. If she could no longer rely on Germany, she had recently nearly come to blows with France over Fashoda, and her historical friction with Russia continued. Her isolation was equally marked in the Far East. Germany, Russia and France had forced Japan, after her Chinese war, to relinquish her conquest of the Liaotung peninsula. England had refused to join the other European Powers in their action, but had simply stood on one side and allowed them to work their will. Subsequently Russia had overrun Manchuria and seized Port Arthur; France had effected a favourable revision of her frontier in the Mekong valley, and Germany had seized Kiaochow. It is Lord Lansdowne's great title to fame that his five years' tenure of the Foreign Office rescued Great Britain from this position of peril, procured her an ally in the rising maritime Power of the Pacific, Japan, and in Europe established her on terms of friendship and mutual understanding with France, by clearing away all the sources of bickering between Paris and London. He shares this credit, indeed, with Mr. Balfour, who was Prime Minister 1902-5, and of whom he himself testified, in Nov. 1905, that there had never been a Prime Minister who had given closer and more unremitting attention to foreign affairs.

When the Duke of Devonshire resigned from Mr. Balfour's Government in 1903 Lord Lansdowne became the Unionist leader in the House of Lords, and though the fall of Mr. Balfour's Ministry in Nov. 1905 transferred him to the Opposition bench he remained the leader of the majority of that House until his resignation in Dec. 1916 at the close of Mr. Asquith's Coalition Ministry. His polished and courteous manner, his thorough acquaintance both with his work and with the idiosyncrasies of the peers, his cool temper and the sweet reasonableness of his expositions of policy speedily rendered his leadership most acceptable to his followers, in spite of the drawback, from the point of view of the Tory majority among them, that he was himself an old Whig. He rendered consistently patriotic support to the development by Sir Edward Grey of the foreign policy for which he himself had been responsible. In domestic politics he endeavoured, as far as possible, to limit points of difference with the Commons; but the measures of the Liberal Ministry inevitably brought about a conflict, which came to a head over Mr. Lloyd George's budget of 1909. In advising the Lords to reject it—as they did—he claimed that it was not an ordinary budget, but emphatically one that ought to be referred to the electorate to decide. Next year, however, he accepted the result of the general election of Jan. 1910 as making it obligatory upon the peers to pass the Finance bill. On the constitutional question he formed one of the abortive conference which met after King George's accession to endeavour to come to an agreed solution. He supported Lord Rosebery's Resolutions for the reform of the House of Lords, and, after the second general election of 1910 on the point of the Lords' veto, he brought forward in 1911, as an alternative to the Parliament bill, a scheme for reconstructing the Upper House, which, however, was dropped after a second reading. When the Parliament bill itself came up to the House of Lords he moved and carried, by 253 to 40, an amendment providing for a submission to a popular vote of bills affecting the Constitution or otherwise of great gravity. From that amendment he and his friends would not, he said, recede so long as they were “free agents.” Ministers immediately announced that they would not accept the amendment, and that the King had consented to create, if necessary, sufficient peers to ensure the passage of the bill in its original form. Lord Lansdowne held that, after this threat of coercion, the peers had ceased to be free agents, and he therefore advised them to desist from further resistence. In this advice he was supported by Mr. Balfour; but a vehement opposition developed in the Unionist party, headed by the ex-Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury, and these “Diehards” were supported by such a large body of opinion that the bill was only carried eventually by 17 votes.

This episode gave a shock to Lord Lansdowne's authority both in his House and in the Unionist party, but he remained leader, though Mr. Balfour retired shortly afterwards and was succeeded in the leadership of the party in the Commons by Mr. Bonar Law. He fought the Irish Home Rule bill and the Welsh Disestablishment bill strenuously on their successive appearances in the House of Lords, and procured their rejection by large majorities. But he was always ready for an agreement by consent over the Irish question, to avoid the “irremediable misfortune,” the “overwhelming catastrophe,” of civil war. He endeavoured to make the Government's Amending bill in 1914 more satisfactory by getting an amendment inserted to exclude the whole of Ulster from the operation of the Home Rule bill. When ministers would not accept this he became a member of the Buckingham Palace Conference as a last chance of a peaceful settlement.

The World War reduced all these issues to comparative insignificance, and Lord Lansdowne associated himself with Mr. Bonar Law in tendering at once their hearty support to the Government, as leaders of the Opposition, in rallying to the assistance of France and Russia. In 1915 he joined Mr. Asquith's Coalition Ministry without portfolio; and took the lead in pressing the military service bills on the House of Lords. He concurred in sanctioning Mr. Lloyd George's efforts, in the early summer of 1916, to find some satisfactory settlement of the Irish question, but he dissociated the Government from Mr. Lloyd George's actual proposals; and the failure to reach an agreement was largely attributed by Irish Nationalists to his insistence on the necessity of repressing treason and sedition. He retired from office at the close of Mr. Asquith's Ministry, the Unionist leadership in the Lords being then entrusted to Lord Curzon. In his retirement he got somewhat out of touch with public opinion, and published in the Daily Telegraph, in Nov. 1917, a letter in which, to the general surprise, he strongly advocated a negotiated peace instead of the policy of Thorough, on which the Ministry and the Empire were set. His ideas received hardly any support save from the small pacifist section. In subsequent years he took little or no active part in politics, his health having failed.

Lord Lansdowne's great and various services to his country were rewarded with the K.G., G.C.S.I., G.C.M.G., and G.C.I.E. He was a trustee of the National Gallery, and chairman of the Council of the British Royal Red Cross Society 1915-20. His own university of Oxford gave him an honorary degree; and so did Cambridge, McGill and Leeds. He had two sons and two daughters. His elder son, Lt.-Col. the Earl of Kerry (b. 1872), a soldier who won both the D.S.O. and the Legion of Honour, was in the Irish Guards, and served in the S. African War. He was a member of the L.C.C. in 1907, and was M.P. for W. Derbyshire 1908-18. He married in 1904 Elizabeth Caroline, only daughter of Sir E. S. Hope, and had a family. The younger son, Lord Charles G. F. Mercer Nairne (1874-1914), major 1st Dragoons, served both in the S. African War and in the World War, and was killed in action in France, Oct. 30 1914, leaving a widow and children. The elder daughter married the 9th Duke of Devonshire, and the younger married the 6th Marquess of Waterford, and, after his death, Lord Osborne de Vere Beauclerk. (G. E. B.)