Akers-Douglas, Aretas, second Viscount Chilston 1876-1947, diplomatist, was born in London 17 February 1876, the elder son of Aretas Akers-Douglas, afterwards first Viscount Chilston [qv.]. He was educated at Eton, and after serving for a short time in the Royal Scots entered the diplomatic service in 1898. His first post was in the following year in Cairo under Lord Cromer [qv.] whose esteem he quickly won, not least through his proficiency as a classical scholar—an interest which remained with him throughout his life. Indeed, his skill in modern, as well as ancient, languages greatly enhanced his standing and value as a diplomat at many stages of his career—including his last appointment at Moscow, where he took the pains to learn Russian.
After serving at Madrid and Constantinople, he was promoted to be a second secretary in 1905 whilst serving in Athens. During the following years the growing confidence in his abilities was evinced not only by his appointment to two such front-ranking chancelleries as Rome (1907) and Vienna (1909), but in a perhaps even more striking manner by his being entrusted with British representation as acting agent and consul-general at Sofia (1907) and as chargé d'affaires at the unique court of King Nicholas of Montenegro (on three occasions, in 1911 and 1913-14), as well as at Bucharest (1912) where he returned as first secretary (1914-15). Representation at some of these Balkan posts at that period, whilst leaving the envoy an apparently enviably free hand through the almost complete absence of official directives, for this very reason demanded a high standard of diplomatic acumen and resourcefulness, not to mention a certain degree of physical and mental endurance.
At the end of the war of 1914-18, during most of which he was employed at the Foreign Office, Akers-Douglas was attached to the British delegation to the peace conference at Paris and on his return was appointed diplomatic secretary to the secretary of state for foreign affairs. Here his tact and conscientiousness gained for him the hard-won favour and esteem of that august, but often harsh and capricious, taskmaster, Lord Curzon [qv.]. He could thus recognize reward when he was appointed in November 1921 to be minister at Vienna, a post which, although it had in certain obvious respects declined in grandeur since pre-war days, was nevertheless of considerable importance in the new Europe then emerging, as well as personally congenial to Akers-Douglas through old associations. Here he remained for nearly seven years, spanning the period of the young republic's quick growth out of post-war chaos and depression into a remarkable but all too short spell of stability and prosperity before the rising mist of Nazism enveloped and blotted it out.
From Vienna Chilston (as he now was) went in 1928 to Budapest where he managed to win universal popularity despite the difficulties of steering a careful course, not only between the supporters of the Regent, Admiral Horthy, and the legitimists, who considered the latter to have usurped the throne, but between Hungarians of all shades of opinion who bent every effort to obtain British support for the recovery of the territories lost as a result of the war. Despite these current polemics Budapest was at this time an agreeable post and, in an age of change and economic depression, somehow managed to preserve an air of unbelievable bien-être and even feudal orderliness.
From this old-worldliness Chilston in 1933 was suddenly called upon to take up the toughest ambassadorship in the gift of the Foreign Office. Moreover, on his arrival in Moscow, he inherited the aftermath of one of the tensest passages in Anglo-Soviet relations—the affair of the British engineers—and replaced an ambassador who had, as a result, felt obliged to ask for his recall. Chilston brought his natural patience, tolerance, and zeal to bear upon the sorely strained relations which he found, and in a remarkably short space of time established a new modus vivendi with the Soviet Union. The foreign minister, Litvinoff, soon came to have such a genuine personal regard for Chilston that, despite the immense contrast between the two men and the policies of their respective countries, accord or compromise could often be reached where friction or mistrust might so easily have been engendered. The success of Chilston's mission was attested by its prolongation (in 1936) for a further two years. He retired from the service a month after the Munich agreement, just as the short-lived German-Russian rapprochement was beginning to develop, and, with it, automatically the star of Litvinoff was beginning to wane.
Chilston married in 1903 Amy Constance, daughter of Captain John Robert Jennings-Bramly, R.H.A., and had two sons. He succeeded his father as second viscount in 1926, but was only able to live on his much-loved Kentish estate during his last years, after his retirement, and these were of course beclouded by the war of 1939-45, in which characteristically he played his part as a local Home Guard leader. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1918, promoted K.C.M.G. in 1927 and G.C.M.G. in 1935, and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1939. He died at Chilston Park, Maidstone, 25 July 1947, and was succeeded in his titles by his younger son Eric Alexander (born 1910), the elder, Aretas, having died in 1940. A portrait of Chilston, painted by his wife, is at Chilston Park.
Contributor: Michael Palairet., Chilston.