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Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
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Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon

Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon KG, PC, FZL, DL (25 April 1862 7 September 1933), better known as Sir Edward Grey, Bt, was a British Liberal statesman. He served as Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916, the longest continuous tenure of any person in that office. He is probably best remembered for his remark at the outbreak of the First World War: "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time". Ennobled as Viscount Grey of Fallodon in 1916, he was Ambassador to the United States between 1919 and 1920 and Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords between 1923 and 1924. He also gained distinction as an ornithologist.


Background, education and early life

Grey was the eldest of the seven children of Colonel George Henry Grey and Harriet Jane Pearson, daughter of Charles Pearson. His grandfather Sir George Grey, 2nd Baronet of Fallodon, was also a prominent Liberal politician, while his great-grandfather Sir George Grey, Captain R.N. 1st Baronet of Fallodon, was the third son of Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey, and the younger brother of Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey.[1] Grey attended Temple Grove school from 1873 until 1876. Whilst at the school Grey's father died unexpectedly in December 1874 and his grandfather assumed responsibility for his education sending him to Winchester College in 1876 where his head of house was William Palmer who had been at Temple Grove. Grey would later have official relations with Palmer when, as Lord Selborne, he served as High Commissioner in South Africa.

Grey went up to Balliol College, Oxford in 1880 to read Greats. Apparently an indolent student he was tutored by Mandell Creighton during the vacations and managed a second in Mods. Grey subsequently became even more idle using his time to become university champion at real tennis. In 1882 his grandfather died and he became Sir Edward Grey inheriting an estate of about and a private income. Returning to Oxford in the autumn of 1883, Grey switched to studying jurisprudence in the belief that it would be an easier option but by January 1884 he had been sent down but allowed to return to sit his finals. Grey returned in the summer and achieved a third.

Grey left university with no clear career plan and in the summer of 1884 he asked a neighbour, Lord Northbrook, at the time First Lord of the Admiralty, to find him "serious and unpaid employment". Northbrook recommended him as a private secretary to his kinsman Sir Evelyn Baring the British consul general to Egypt who was attending a conference in London. Grey had shown no particular interest in politics whilst at university but by the summer of 1884 Northbrook found him "very keen on politics" and after the Egyptian conference had ended found him a position as an unpaid assistant private secretary to Hugh Childers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Early political career

Grey was selected as the Liberal Party candidate for Berwick-upon-Tweed where his Conservative opponent was the sitting member Earl Percy. He was duly elected and, at 23, became the youngest MP (Baby of the House) in the new House of Commons. Grey retained his seat in the 1892 election with a majority of only 442 votes and to his surprise was made Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs by William Ewart Gladstone (albeit after his son Herbert had refused the post) under the Foreign Secretary, Lord Rosebery. Grey would later claim that at this point he had had no special training nor paid special attention to foreign affairs.[2]

Grey would later date his first suspicions of future Anglo-German disagreements to his early days in office after Germany sought commercial concessions from Britain in the Ottoman Empire in return for support for the British position in Egypt. "It was the abrupt and rough peremtoriness of the German action that gave me an unpleasant impression"; not, he added, that the German position was at all "unreasonable", rather that the "method... was not that of a friend."[3] With hindsight, he argued in his memoirs, "the whole policy of the years from 1886 to 1904 [might] be criticized as having played into the hands of Germany".[4]

1895 statement on French expansion in Africa

Prior to the Foreign Office vote on 28 March 1895, Grey asked Lord Kimberley (who had replaced Rosebery as Foreign Secretary when the latter became Prime Minister in 1895) for direction as to how he should answer any question about French activities in West Africa. According to Grey, Kimberley suggested "pretty firm language".[5] In fact, West Africa was not mentioned but when pressed on possible French activities in the Nile Valley Grey stated that a French expedition "would be an unfriendly act and would be so viewed by England"[6] According to Grey the subsequent row both in Paris and in Cabinet was made worse by the failure of Hansard to record that his statement referred explicitly to the Nile Valley and not to Africa in general.[7] The statement was made before the dispatch of the Marchand expedition (indeed he believed it might have actually provoked it) and as Grey admits did much to damage future Anglo-French relations.[8]

The Liberal Party lost a key vote in the House of Commons on 21 June 1895 and Grey was amongst the majority in his party that preferred a dissolution to continuing. He seems to have left office with few regrets, noting "I shall never be in office again and the days of my stay in the House of Commons are probably numbered. We" [he and his wife] "are both very glad and relieved...."[9] The Liberals were heavily defeated in the subsequent General Election although Grey added 300 votes to his own majority.[10] He was to remain out of office for the next ten years, but was sworn of the Privy Council in 1902.[11] He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Northumberland in 1901.[12]

Foreign Secretary 1905 1916

Portrait of Sir Edward Grey by James Guthrie, circa 1924 1930. After the Conservative government of Arthur Balfour fell in December 1905 there was some speculation that H. H. Asquith and his allies Grey and Richard Haldane would refuse to serve unless the Liberal leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman accepted a peerage, which would have left Asquith as the real leader in the House of Commons. However, the plot (called the "Relugas Compact" after the Scottish lodge where the men met) collapsed when Asquith agreed to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Campbell-Bannerman. Grey was appointed Foreign Secretary- the first MP to hold the office since 1868. Haldane became Secretary of State for War. The party won a landslide victory in the 1906 general election. When Campbell-Bannerman stepped down as Prime Minister in 1907, Grey was one of the two leading candidates to succeed him. The post eventually went to Asquith, and Grey continuted as Foreign Secretary. Grey was to hold office for 11 years to the day, the longest continuous tenure in this office.

Anglo-Russian Entente 1907

As early as 13 December 1905 Grey had assured the Russian Ambassador Count Alexander Benckendorff that he supported the idea of an agreement with Russia.[13] Negotiations began soon after the arrival of Sir Arthur Nicolson the new British Ambassador in June 1906. In contrast with the previous Conservative government that had seen Russia as a potential threat to the empire, Grey's intention was to re-establish Russia "as a factor in European politics"[14] on the side of France and Great Britain in order to maintain a balance of power in Europe[15]

Agadir Crisis 1911

Grey did not welcome the prospect of a renewed crisis over Morocco: he worried that it might either lead to a re-opening of the issues covered by the Treaty of Algeciras or that it might drive Spain into alliance with Germany. Initially Grey tried to restrain both France and Spain but by the Spring of 1911 he had failed on both counts. Grey believed that whether he liked it or not his hands were tied by the terms of the Entente cordiale. The despatch of the German gunboat Panther to Agadir served to strengthen French resolve and, because he was determined both to protect the agreement with France and also to block German attempts at expansion around the Mediterranean, it pushed Grey closer to France. Grey however tried to calm the situation, merely commenting on the "abrupt" nature of the German intervention, and insisting that Britain must participate in any discussions about the future of Morocco.

In cabinet on 4 July Grey accepted that the UK would oppose any German port in the region, any new fortified port anywhere on the Moroccan coast and that Britain must continue to enjoy an "open door" for its trade with Morocco. Grey at this point was resisting efforts by the Foreign Office to support French intransigence. By the time a second cabinet was held on 21 July Grey had adopted a tougher position suggesting that he propose to Germany that a multi-national conference be held and that were Germany to refuse to participate "we should take steps to assert and protect British interests".[16]

July Crisis 1914

Lord Grey of Fallodon. Although Grey's activist foreign policy, which relied increasingly on the Entente with France and Russia, came under criticism from the radicals within his own party, he maintained his position because of the support of the Conservatives for his "non-partisan" foreign policy. In 1914, Grey played a key role in the July Crisis leading to the outbreak of World War I. His attempts to mediate the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia by a "Stop in Belgrade" came to nothing, owing to the tepid German response. He also failed to clearly communicate to Germany that a breach of the treaty not merely to respect but also to protect the neutrality of Belgium of which both Britain and Germany were signatories would cause Britain to declare war against Germany. When he finally did make such communication, German forces were already massed at the Belgian border, and Helmuth von Moltke convinced Kaiser Wilhelm II it was too late to change the plan of attack. On 3 August, Germany declared war on France and broke the treaty by invading Belgium. As Grey stood at a window in the Foreign Office, watching the lamps being lit as dusk approached, he famously remarked: "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time".[17] The British Cabinet voted almost unanimously to declare war on August 4.

First World War

Following the declaration of World War I Grey found that British foreign policy was constrained by mainly military events that were outside his control. During the war, Grey, along with the Marquess of Crewe was also instrumental in forcing an initially reluctant ambassador Sir Cecil Spring Rice to raise the issue of the Hindu-German Conspiracy to the American Government that ultimately led to the unfolding of the entire plot. In the early years of the war, Grey negotiated several important secret treaties, promising Russia the Turkish Straits. He maintained his position as Foreign Secretary when the Conservatives came into the government to form a coalition in May 1915, but when the Asquith Coalition collapsed in December of the following year and David Lloyd George became Prime Minister, Grey went into opposition. In an attempt to reduce his workload he left the House of Commons for the House of Lords in July 1916, accepting a peerage as Viscount Grey of Fallodon, in the County of Northumberland.[18] He had previously been made a Knight of the Garter in 1912.[19]

Later career

In 1919 Grey was appointed Ambassador to the United States,[20] a post he held until 1920. He continued to be active in politics despite his near blindness, serving as Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords from 1923 until his resignation on the grounds that he was unable to attend on a regular basis shortly before the 1924 election. From 1928 to 1933 he was Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Private life

Cover of Recreation by Grey of Falloden, 1920, Houghton Mifflin Company Lord Grey of Fallodon married Dorothy, daughter of S. F. Widdrington, of Newton Hall, Northumberland, in 1885. After her death in February 1906 he married secondly Pamela Adelaide Genevieve, daughter of the Honourable Percy Wyndham and widow of Lord Glenconner, in 1922. There were no children from the two marriages.[1]

During his university years Grey represented his college at football and was also an excellent tennis player being Oxford champion in 1883 (and winning the varsity competition the same year) and won the British championship in 1889, 1891, 1895, 1896 and 1898. He was runner-up in 1892, 1893 and 1894 years in which he held office.[21] He was also a lifelong fisherman publishing a book on his exploits in 1899.[22] and was also an avid ornithologist one of the best known photographs of him shows him with a Robin perched on his hat. He was a member of the Coefficients dining club of social reformers set up in 1902 by the Fabian campaigners Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

Lady Grey of Fallodon died in November 1928. Lord Grey remained a widower until his death in September 1933, aged 71. The viscountcy became extinct on his death while he was succeeded in the baronetcy by his kinsman, Sir Charles George Grey, 4th Baronet.[1]

See also

  • Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology
  • Earl Grey

Further reading

  • The Genesis of the "A.B.C." Memorandum of 1901.
  • Grey's Speech of 3 August 1914 before the House of Commons ("We are going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war, whether we are in it or whether we stand aside.")
  • H.S. Gordon, Edward Grey of Fallodon and His Birds (London, 1937)
  • Viscount Grey, Cottage Book. Itchen Abbas, 1894 1905 (London, 1909)
  • Viscount Grey, Twenty-Five Years, 1892 1916 (London, 1925)
  • Viscount Grey, Fallodon Papers (London, 1926)
  • Viscount Grey, The Charm of Birds (London, 1927)
  • F.H. Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey (Cambridge, 1977)
  • Keith Robbins, Sir Edward Grey. A Biography of Lord Grey of Fallodon (London, 1971)
  • Zara S. Steiner, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy 1898 1914 (London, 1969)
  • G.M. Trevelyan, Grey of Fallodon; the Life of Sir Edward Grey (London, 1937)


External links

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