Cecil, James Edward Hubert Gascoyne-, fourth Marquess of Salisbury 1861-1947, was born at 21 Fitzroy Square, London, 23 October 1861, the eldest son of Lord Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil who became the third Marquess of Salisbury [qv.] in 1868. The eldest of five brilliant brothers, he was in some respects the ablest. Without the eloquence of his youngest brother, Lord Hugh Cecil (later Lord Quickswood), or the magnetism of Lord Robert Cecil (subsequently Viscount Cecil of Chelwood), he was endowed with wisdom, farsightedness, and tact.
Lord Cranborne, as he was by this time, was educated at Eton and at University College, Oxford, where he obtained a third class in mathematical moderations (1882) and a second in modern history (1884). In 1878 he accompanied his father to the Congress of Berlin, and thus began his public association with his father whose teaching was throughout life his guiding star. He was brought up in politics from infancy, listening to the discussions of his parents and the distinguished politicians and ambassadors who were frequent visitors at Hatfield. Throughout his life he endeavoured to give expression to the principles of the art of politics which he learnt there in his early years.
In 1887 Cranborne married Lady Cicely Alice Gore (died 1955), the second daughter of the fifth Earl of Arran, a brilliant hostess and ideal wife who made a major contribution to his life. Without such a wife to encourage and assist him, he might easily have been overshadowed by the eminence of his father and the brilliance of his younger brothers. Her sparkle and charm made their home a social and political centre and brought contacts which his own diffidence might have prevented.
He had already entered Parliament in 1885, at the age of twenty-four, as member for the Darwen division of North-East Lancashire. He was defeated in 1892 but was returned for Rochester in the following year and sat until he succeeded to the peerage in 1903. Until the year before his death his father was either prime minister or leader of the Opposition, and during this time he relied greatly on his son to keep him in touch with the moods and currents of opinion in the House of Commons. Cranborne thus became increasingly his father's confidant and learnt to see political problems from the viewpoint of both the Cabinet and the back bench. In the House he made his own mark as a zealous churchman. He engaged actively in the debates on Welsh disestablishment and tithes, and in the education controversies was a champion of the voluntary schools. From 1893 to 1900 he was chairman of the Church parliamentary committee and in 1896 he introduced a benefices bill to prevent the institution and provide for the disciplining of unworthy incumbents. Some of his measures were subsequently taken up by the Government and enacted in 1898.
Cranborne inherited from his grandfather, the second marquess, a love of soldiering which was the second dominant secular interest in his life. While still an undergraduate he received a commission in his county militia battalion, the 4th Bedfordshire, and commanded it in the South African war, being mentioned in dispatches and awarded the C.B. He was recalled in 1900, however, to become under-secretary for foreign affairs when his father relinquished the office of foreign secretary to Lord Lansdowne [qv.]. Cranborne had the important task of defending his chief's foreign policy in the House of Commons at a time when it came under sharp criticism from the Liberal Party. He did not find it easy to answer supplementary questions when unable to consult his chief, for he had not the art of making ambiguous statements and he was sometimes accused of those blazing indiscretions for which his father had been famous.
In October 1903, by then Lord Salisbury, he was appointed lord privy seal in Balfour's reconstructed Cabinet. The fiscal question had rent the Conservative Party in two, and his own brothers had violently sided with the minority of the party in opposition to the protectionist proposals of Joseph Chamberlain. Salisbury, although also by conviction a free trader, saw that the Conservative Party stood for causes much more important than the question of a moderate tariff on foreign imports. He therefore rallied to support Balfour's unsuccessful endeavour to keep the party together and he was president of the Board of Trade in the last reconstruction before the Government gave way to the Liberals in December 1905.
During the first half of Salisbury's career his party was in power and pursuing a policy in which he ardently believed. For the rest of his life the Conservative Party was swayed by influences which he mistrusted and deplored. Conservatism, as he had learnt it, was a creed which included social reform, but it had nothing in common with Liberalism. He never lost his faith in Conservatism as a militant creed and although he was never in any sense a reactionary he gradually became recognized as the leader of the old Conservatives in the Unionist Party.
He first emerged as a parliamentary debater of high rank in the controversy over the budget of 1909 and the Parliament bill. Up to that time the House of Lords had powers almost equal to those of the House of Commons, not only legally but also in admitted constitutional practice which nevertheless prescribed that the Lords should pay great respect to the ultimate views of the nation and that the Commons should have the last word in matters of finance. Lloyd George's budget of 1909, however, was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as an attempt to initiate social legislation under cover of supply. Salisbury held that if they allowed it to pass into law without reference to the electors, the Lords would be abdicating their responsibilities. The finance bill was rejected by the Lords on the second reading, but was passed the following year after the general election of January had confirmed the Liberals in office, albeit with a majority so reduced as to make them dependent on the Irish vote. The House of Commons passed resolutions which were then drafted into a Parliament bill intended to deprive the Lords of their power of veto.
In the cooler atmosphere of the new reign a constitutional conference attempted unsuccessfully to resolve the deadlock and a second general election ensued in December 1910. In the following year the Parliament bill passed through the Commons but was returned to them so amended by the Lords as to be unacceptable. The prime minister, Asquith, then revealed that King George V had promised before the dissolution that should this happen he would accept his Government's advice to create sufficient peers to ensure the passage of the bill. Asquith now intimated that if the Lords insisted on their amendments he would so advise. The Conservative Party then became split. Lansdowne and Lord Curzon [qv.], supported by Balfour, took the view that the House of Lords should submit rather than allow itself to be swamped by the elevation of five hundred nobodies which would bring the whole peerage into contempt. Halsbury [qv.], Selborne [qv.], Salisbury and others held, on the contrary, that since the Government owed its majority only to the support of the Irish members who saw in the removal of the veto their only hope of Home Rule, it had no mandate from the electors of Great Britain for any such constitutional revolution. Although there was much talk at this time of the reform of the House of Lords and Asquith declared that it brooked no delay, they feared that if the House consented to the emasculation of its powers it would sink into impotence without being reformed. The swamping of the peerage, on the other hand, would make the reform of the House of Lords, and with it some restoration of its powers, inevitable.
This party became known as the Diehards, and under the leadership of the aged Lord Halsbury they defied their own political leaders, the Government, and the King. On the eve of the crucial debate, a meeting of the Diehards was held in Salisbury's house in Arlington Street, where they resolved to insist on the amendments. On 10 August 1911, however, the Government prevailed by 131 votes to 114. Thirty-seven Conservative peers and thirteen prelates voted with the Government. Lansdowne and his supporters abstained.
The controversy over the second chamber was the turning-point in Salisbury's life. He had seen his party in 1909 ready to fight under the old Conservative banner. In 1911 he saw it falter under social pressure. For the rest of his life he never ceased to agitate for the reform of the House of Lords and some restoration of its previous powers.
In the war of 1914-18 Salisbury's military capacity again emerged. In 1914 he was still in command of the 4th Bedfordshire, now a special reserve battalion, and he served with it in England until he was made a major-general commanding a division of the Home Army in 1917. When conscription was introduced in 1916 Salisbury was appointed chairman of the supreme tribunal to which conscientious objectors and others could appeal for exemption. This was work to which his blend of good sense and tenderness to other people's scruples was particularly suited, and to which he gave infinite pains. He remained in uniform until the armistice although what he considered to be the feeble conduct of the war and the rising chaos in Ireland caused him to make frequent incursions into debates in the House of Lords. He repeatedly demanded firm government in Ireland, the state of which he declared to be a danger to the Empire, always maintained that Home Rule could never work, and strongly opposed the treaty of 1921.
When he returned to civil life Salisbury had found Lloyd George, whom he profoundly mistrusted, prime minister by Conservative support in the Commons, but pursuing an opportunist rather than a Conservative policy. Although the Government had the support of the leading intellects of the Conservative Party, such as Balfour, Birkenhead, and Curzon, Salisbury at once set about recalling the Conservative Party to its principles. He was the first to state publicly (in a letter to the Morning Post, 20 June 1921) that the Coalition Government no longer possesses the full confidence of the Unionist Party. He sought to rally Conservative opinion in the country by speaking at meetings and by letters to the newspapers and in July 1922 he was elected leader of the Conservative and Unionist Movement, that group within the party which, in his own words (September 1922), stood for the spirit of Conservatism and against the spirit of the Coalition. An important meeting of this group was held at his house in Arlington Street, 17 October 1922, when Salisbury's strenuous demand that the Conservative Party should free itself from the coalition had its effect on the outcome of the famous Carlton Club meeting two days later.
In Bonar Law's Cabinet which followed the break-up of the coalition Salisbury became lord president of the Council and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, retaining the former office under Baldwin. During this period he rendered signal service on the Committee of Imperial Defence. In March 1923 Bonar Law appointed him chairman of a sub-committee to consider the co-ordination of national and imperial defence. In August it recommended, first, the development of the chiefs of staff committee which had existed on a temporary footing since the Chanak crisis of 1922 and was to become the focus of British military organization in the war of 1939-45; secondly, that the prime minister, while retaining the presidency of the Committee of Imperial Defence, should appoint a chairman as deputy to preside in his absence. The chairman, assisted by the chiefs of staff, was to keep the defence situation as a whole constantly under review, advise the Committee on planning and preparation and exercise the wider initiative. Salisbury himself became the first chairman. The policy was confirmed in a full report published in 1924 and was continued by the Labour Government but thereafter lapsed.
When ill health compelled Bonar Law to resign the premiership in 1923 he made it known that he would prefer not to be consulted about his successor. The King, therefore, caused a number of leading Conservatives to be consulted, among whom was Salisbury who recommended that Lord Curzon be sent for. Other counsels prevailed, however, and Stanley Baldwin became prime minister. In spite of his past sympathies with free trade Salisbury rallied like-minded Conservatives to support Baldwin when he went to the country on protection in the autumn of 1923. In Baldwin's second Government (1924-9) Salisbury was lord privy seal and, after the death of Curzon in 1925, leader of the House of Lords. Nevertheless, his collaboration with Baldwin was never easy, although they were personal friends. The prime minister was by now convinced that he could not govern without a large measure of Liberal or moderate Labour support, to secure which he was prepared to jettison some of the pre-1914 traditional Conservative policy. Although other differences were soon to follow, the first clash between Baldwin and Salisbury was over the House of Lords. Salisbury vainly did everything he could to persuade the prime minister to honour the repeated Conservative pledges to place the constitution on a securely bi-cameral basis. During the second Labour Government Salisbury was a member of the shadow Cabinet and leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords but thenceforward he pursued an increasingly independent line which tended to diverge from that of Baldwin. He called attention to the enforced resignation of Lord Lloyd [q.v.] from Egypt, in contrast with the Conservative leaders in the House of Commons who gave Lord Lloyd no more support than they had done when in office; and later in 1929 Salisbury carried a motion in the House of Lords severely criticizing the precipitation of the Labour Government's policy in seeking a treaty with Egypt, warning them that they were embarking on a course highly prejudicial to the interests of Great Britain. In June 1931 he resigned from the Conservative leadership in the House of Lords ‘for reasons of health’ and he did not join the ‘national’ Government formed in August. The fact was that he saw clearly that the coalition was unlikely to pursue a policy which he could support.
Salisbury now lost no time in trying to move Conservative and public opinion to force the Government into activity on the constitutional issue. Even the Liberals had declared the Parliament Act to be provisional and temporary and in the meantime the country had through lethargy slipped into single-chamber government. He persuaded the House of Lords to appoint a committee whose recommendations (with certain alterations as a result of conferences with members of the House of Commons) he embodied in a bill providing for a House consisting of 150 hereditary peers elected by the peers, 150 lords of Parliament chosen in pursuance of a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, together with the royal peers, the law lords, and a small episcopal representation. Money bills were more closely defined and were to continue to enjoy the special procedure provided by the Parliament Act, but any other bill rejected for the third time by an absolute majority of the reformed House of Lords was not to be presented for the royal assent unless the House of Commons in the next Parliament so resolved.
The Conservative Party, however, was by now deeply divided on the issue. Whereas a large section of the party shared Salisbury's apprehensions, many felt with Baldwin that the existing system worked well enough and that public opinion would not favour its reform until it had been shown to have broken down. In May 1934 the second reading was carried by 171 to 82 after a three days' debate rendered academic by the statement of Lord Hailsham [q.v.], leader of the House, on the first day, that the Government would abstain from the division, had reached no conclusion on the problem, and could give no facilities for its discussion in the House of Commons. In a passionate peroration rebuking the Government for its incapacity to act, Salisbury correctly foretold that there would be a Labour majority in the House of Commons in the next Parliament but one. Hailsham's declaration caused alarm to a large section of the Conservative Party and within a few days 163 members of the House of Commons signed a petition to the prime minister declaring the necessity of an alteration in the constitution and powers of the House of Lords in the present Parliament. If a party conference on the subject had then been held Salisbury would probably have received the support of the majority. In 1936 he returned to the attack. He introduced a deputation of some 150 members of both Houses to Baldwin, and followed this up by supporting Lord Lloyd's resolution on the subject which was carried without a vote at the Conservative Party conference. The crisis of the abdication and the rise of Hitlerism, however, turned the public's attention in other directions.
In the meantime Salisbury found himself in direct opposition to the Government on the question of self-government for India. To his mind India was totally unprepared, if not inherently unsuited, for democratic government. He was deeply distressed that the Conservative Party should lend itself to what he regarded as the betrayal of millions of innocent peasants for whose welfare the British were responsible. Finding, however, that not only the Liberal and Labour parties but also many Conservatives thought some advance in Indian self-government necessary, Salisbury concentrated his endeavours on diminishing the pace at which the experiment was tried. With eight others he dissented from the report of the joint parliamentary select committee on Indian constitutional reform and he himself drafted an amendment, supported by four colleagues, which sought to confine the grant of self-government to the provinces. At a meeting of the central council of the Conservative Party (4 December 1934) he poured scorn on the ‘paper safeguards’ of the majority report and moved an amendment accepting provincial autonomy but rejecting central responsible government. In this he received the support of (Sir) Winston Churchill but they were defeated by 1,102 to 390 votes. In June 1935 Salisbury took the unusual course of opposing the first reading of the Government of India bill and made his final protest when it came up for third reading but did not divide the House.
Salisbury was also greatly preoccupied by the rising menace of Hitler and by what he felt was the inadequacy of the military preparations of the Government to meet it. On 27 February 1936 he initiated a debate in the House of Lords on national defence, advocated the reappointment of a chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence on the lines of the report of 1924, a policy which Baldwin had allowed to lapse, and contended that, had it been adhered to, the country would not have been caught asleep. On the same day Baldwin announced that such an appointment would be made. On 28 July 1936 Salisbury was among the eighteen privy counsellors who went on a deputation introduced by Sir Austen Chamberlain [q.v.] and (Sir) Winston Churchill to the prime minister to beg the Government to take a more realistic view of the situation. In 1938 Salisbury declared openly for conscription and after the outbreak of war favoured a national Government from the first.
Salisbury was by now seventy-eight but continued very active. He immediately formed a ‘watching committee’ consisting of prominent members of both Houses, which met fortnightly throughout the war, acting as a private liaison between Parliament and Downing Street and rendering useful service in many other ways. From 1942 onwards he directed the attention of the committee to post-war problems. A number of questions which came before the committee he ventilated in the House where he always gave strong support to (Sir) Winston Churchill.
From 1942 until 1945 Salisbury was president of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations. After the general election of 1945 he witnessed the situation he had for so many years foreseen, a Socialist House of Commons armed with the Parliament Act and an unreformed House of Lords. His last letter to The Times in 1946 was on this subject. But his greatest concern was still with India and almost his last speech in the House of Lords was a vehement protest in February 1947 at the betrayal of fifty million untouchables. And so he continued in harness to the end.
A most regular attendant in both Houses of Parliament in his day, Salisbury spoke authoritatively on a wide variety of subjects of which the principal were ecclesiastical and moral questions (he was an uncompromising opponent of easier divorce), industrial problems, local government, housing, town planning, military and imperial matters, and foreign policy in which he was a consistent supporter of the League of Nations. For the last thirty years of his life he was on many issues in direct conflict with the leaders of his own party and still more so with the Liberal and Labour parties. Yet he enjoyed immense popularity and respect and exercised a unique influence in the House of Lords. Returning there after an illness in 1931 he was greeted with a round of cheers which interrupted a speech by Lord Peel. In the tense debate on the King's abdication in 1936 only the leaders of the three parties and the archbishop of Canterbury spoke, but all eyes then turned to Salisbury who rose and indicated in a short and characteristic speech his support of Baldwin.
When Salisbury died a bust of him by Benno Elkan was placed in the precincts of the House of Lords ‘by peers of all Parties in token of their affection and esteem’: an honour paid to few. This esteem was due not only to his unfailing courtesy, his broad and humane outlook on all questions and his transparent integrity, but also to the moderation and cogency of his arguments which made him a formidable force in debate. A Liberal peer, a great industrialist, once remarked as Salisbury passed, ‘There goes the wisest man in England!’ To the outside world, however, he was little more than a distant figure, the bearer of a great name. He was without those gifts of popular oratory or demagogy by which politicians impress their personalities on the general public. In his own counties, in Hertfordshire and Dorset, and in Liverpool, it was very different. He was vitally interested in his three estates and regularly visited his tenants. At great personal expense he entirely reformed his important Liverpool property and built over 500 cottages in Hertfordshire and Dorsetshire. His speeches in Parliament on housing problems were those of a practical expert. It was extraordinary how much time he found to give to local work, as chairman of quarter-sessions (1896-1911), and as alderman of Hertfordshire County Council. He was a member of the visiting committee of St. Albans prison, and even in the last months of his life he made a special study of remand homes in Hertfordshire. He was president of many county associations, a member of Hatfield parochial church council and of St. Albans diocesan conference where he was a frequent speaker. This activity was accompanied by much generosity. He presented Hertford Castle to the borough; and he gave great sums of money and many sites for the building of churches and church schools. He was a man of the deepest personal religion who believed that personal Christian endeavour was the only way of life; and that it was worth while to take infinite trouble to achieve that end. He was essentially a humble man of a gentle fastidious nature, greatly affected by unhappiness in others which he sought to alleviate by many acts of kindness. He was chairman of the Canterbury House of Laymen (1906-11) and for twenty-five years a member of the Church Assembly. His last public act, a week before he died, was to lead a deputation, against his doctor's advice, to appeal to the archbishop of Canterbury to give a strong and dramatic lead against the prevalent post-war materialism and irreligion which if unchecked would inevitably destroy civilization. He collapsed during this final speech and died in London 4 April 1947. He was buried in the family graveyard of St. Etheldreda's church, Hatfield.
Salisbury was about five feet eight inches in height, clean-shaven with moustache, well proportioned, and handsome in appearance. In London he was always immaculately dressed in the frock coat and top hat which had been de rigueur in his youth and which he was one of the last to wear. He was not fond of games, and only moderately of sport. His hobbies were riding and wood-carving to which he was never able to give the time he would have liked. He had a love and knowledge of architecture and made his tenure of Hatfield notable by restoring the early Tudor bishop's palace to its former beauty, and by adding a muniment room for the proper storage of the many State and other documents which had accumulated there over four hundred years.
Salisbury was appointed aide-de-camp to the King in 1903, G.C.V.O. in 1909, and K.G. in 1917. He was high steward of Westminster and of Hertford, and he officiated as lord high steward at the coronation of King George VI when he bore St. Edward's Crown. He was an honorary fellow of University College and an honorary D.C.L. of Oxford (1926). Although after the death of Curzon there was a movement to nominate him for election as chancellor of the university his name did not in the end go forward and Lord Cave [q.v.] was elected.
Portraits of Salisbury are at Hatfield, as a boy with his mother by George Richmond, at his coming of age by Sir William Richmond, and a third full length in robes by Glyn Philpot. There are also portraits of him at University College, Oxford, with three brothers, by F. H. Shepherd, and at Church House by Glyn Philpot.
Salisbury had two sons and two daughters. He was succeeded by his elder son, Robert Arthur James (born 1893), who was called to the Lords as Baron Cecil of Essendon in 1941. His younger son, Lord David Cecil, contributes to this Supplement. Lady Beatrice Cecil married the fourth Lord Harlech; Lady Mary Cecil married the tenth Duke of Devonshire and in 1953 became mistress of the robes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Hansard, The Times, and Annual Register, passim;