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Eldest son of the 4th baron Scarsdale, rector of Kedleston, Derbyshire, Curzon was educated at Eton 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 S.W. Lancashire. He was appointed 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 the political problems connected with those regions. In 1895 he married Mary Victoria Leiter (d. 1906), daughter of Levi Zeigler Leiter[?], a Jewish Chicago millionaire.
In January 1899 he was appointed governor-general of India, where his extensive knowledge of Asiatic affairs showed itself in the inception of a strong foreign policy, while he took in hand the reform of every department of Indian administration. 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 British 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 carried out a policy of conciliation mingled with firmness of control. The only trouble on this frontier during the period of his administration was the Mahsud Waziri campaign of 1901.
Being mistrustful of Russian methods he exerted himself to encourage British trade in Persia, paying a visit to the Persian Gulf in 1903; while on the north-east frontier he anticipated a possible Russian advance by the Tibet Mission of 1903, which rendered necessary the employment of military force for the protection of the British envoys. The mission, which had the ostensible support of China as suzerain of Tibet, penetrated to Lhasa, where a treaty was signed in September 1904. In pursuance of his reforming policy Lord 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.
With a view to improving British relations with the native chiefs and raising the character of their rule, he established the Imperial Cadet corps, settled the question of Berar with the nizam of Hyderabad, reduced the salt tax[?], and gave relief to the smaller income tax payers.
Lord Curzon exhibited much interest in the art and antiquities of India, and during his viceroyalty took steps for the preservation and restoration of many important monuments and buildings of historic interest.
In January 1903 he presided at the durbar held at Delhi in honour of the coronation of King Edward VII. It was attended by all the leading native princes and by large numbers of visitors from Europe and America; and the magnificence of the spectacle surpassed anything that had previously been witnessed even in the gorgeous ceremonial of the East.
On the expiration of his first term of office, Lord Curzon was reappointed governor-general. His second term of office was marked by the passing of several acts founded on the recommendations of his previous commissions, and by the partition of Bengal (1905), which roused bitter opposition amongst the natives of that province. A difference of opinion with the commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener, regarding the position of the military member of council in India, led to a controversy in which Lord Curzon failed to obtain support from the home government. He resigned (1904) and returned to England.
In 1904 he was appointed lord warden of the Cinque Ports; in the same year he was given the honorary degree of DCL by Oxford University, and in 1908 he was elected chancellor of the university. In the latter year he 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 defending the House of Lords against the Liberals, including heading the Anti-Suffrage League[?].
Curzon was Foreign Secretary from 1919. He was involved in the population transfers that occurred between Greece and Turkey when Greeks tried to take advantage of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by claiming territory. On the resignation of Andrew Bonar Law as Prime Minister, Curzon was passed over for the job in favour of Stanley Baldwin. Curzon's stance on women voters is often given as the reason. He retired from politics in 1924, and died in 1925.
Lord Curzon's publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889); Persia and the Persian Question (1892); Problems of the Far East (1894; new ed., 1896).
Material on Curzon's life before 1911 is is based on an article in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica