George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (January 11, 1859 - March 20, 1925), was a conservative British statesman and sometime Viceroy of India.
Eldest son of the 4th Baron Scarsdale, rector of Kedleston, Derbyshire, Curzon was educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. At Oxford he was president of the Union, and after a brilliant university career was elected a fellow of All Souls College in 1883.
He became assistant private secretary to Lord Salisbury in 1885, and in 1886 entered Parliament as member for the Southport division of south-west Lancashire. He served as under-secretary for India in 1891-1892 and for foreign affairs in 1895-1898.
In the meantime he had travelled in Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, the Pamirs, Siam, Indochina and Korea, and published several books describing central and eastern Asia and related policy issues.
In 1895 he married Mary Victoria Leiter (d. 1906), the beautiful daughter of Levi Zeigler Leiter, a Chicago millionaire of German Lutheran origin and a cofounder of the department store Field & Leiter (now known as Marshall Field). They had three daughters: Mary Irene (who inherited her father's Barony of Ravensdale and was created a life peer as Baroness Ravensdale of Kedleston), Cynthia (first wife of Sir Oswald Mosley), and Alexandra Naldera (wife of Edward "Fruity" Metcalfe, the best friend of Edward VIII; best known as Baba Metcalfe, she later became a mistress of her brother-in-law Oswald Mosley, as did her stepmother, Grace).
After a long affair with the romance novelist Elinor Glyn, Curzon married, in 1917, the former Grace Elvina Hinds, the Alabama-born widow of Alfred Hubert Duggan, an Englishman who was born and died in Argentina. The daughter of a U.S. Minister to Brazil, Duggan had three children from her first marriage: Alfred Leo Duggan, Hubert Duggan, and Marcella Duggan. Despite fertility-related operations and several miscarriages, she was never 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 January 1899 he was appointed Viceroy of India. He was created an Irish peer on his appointment, the creation taking this form, it was understood, in order that he might remain free during his father's lifetime to re-enter the House of Commons.
Reaching India shortly after the suppression of the frontier risings of 1897-98, 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.
His deep mistrust of Russian intentions led him to encourage British trade in Persia, paying a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1903. At the end of that year he sent a military expedition into Tibet, 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 evidence of any Russian threat was found.
Within India, Curzon appointed a number of commissions to inquire into Indian 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 partition of Bengal (July 1905), which roused such bitter opposition among the people of the province that it was later revoked (1912).
A difference of opinion with the British military commander-in-chief in India, Lord Kitchener, regarding the position of the military member of council in India, led to a controversy in which Lord Curzon of Kedleston failed to obtain support from the home government. He resigned in August 1905 and returned to England.
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. He served in Lloyd George's War Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords from December 1916. 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.
Following the conclusion of the Great War Curzon designed the Cenotaph memorial in central London, initially only temporary it met with such popular sentiment that a permanent Cenotaph was erected in the 1920s.
Appointed Foreign Secretary from January 1919, Curzon gave his name to the British government's proposed Soviet-Polish boundary, the Curzon Line of December 1919.
On Andrew Bonar Law's retirement as Prime Minister in May 1923, Curzon was passed over for the job in favour of Stanley Baldwin. Many reasons are often cited for this but amongst the most prominent are that Curzon's character was objectionable to many Conservatives, that it was felt to be inappropriate for the Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords (though this did not prevent peers being considered for the premiership on several subsequent occasions) and that in a democratic age it would be dangerous for a party to be led by a rich aristocrat. A letter purporting to detail the opinions of Bonar Law but in actuality written by Baldwin sympathisers was delivered to the King's private secretary, though it is unclear how much impact this had in the final outcome.
Curzon remained Foreign Secretary under Baldwin until the government fell in January 1924. When Baldwin formed a new government in November 1924 he did not reappoint Curzon as Foreign Secretary but instead as Lord President of the Council. Curzon held this post until the following March when he died in office.
While at Oxford Curzon was the inspiration for a piece of doggerel which stuck with him in later life:
- My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
- I am a most superior person.
- My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,
- I dine at Blenheim once a week.
Curzon's publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889); Persia and the Persian Question (1892); Problems of the Far East (1894; new ed., 1896).
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.