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Edward Grey

(1862—1933) politician, countryman, and author

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(b. London, 25 Apr. 1862; d. Fallodon, Northumberland, 7 Sept. 1933)

British; Foreign Secretary 1905–16; Bt. 1882, Viscount 1916 The son of an army officer, Grey was educated at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford, from which he was sent down. At the age of 23 he was elected Liberal MP for Berwick-on-Tweed, and retained the seat until his elevation to the peerage.

As a result of the Conservatives' monopoly of office for the previous two decades, Grey had had only three years' junior ministerial experience (1892–5) when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman appointed him Foreign Secretary in 1905. His subsequent eleven consecutive years' occupancy of the post has not since been equalled.

Grey occupied the Foreign Office at a crucial period and his record was controversial. Even the circumstances of his appointment were curious. Differences within the Liberal Party in opposition had led Grey, H. H. Asquith, and R. B. Haldane to agree (in the so-called ‘Relugas Compact’) to accept office under Campbell-Bannerman only if he undertook to go to the House of Lords and to leave Asquith as leader in the Commons. When Campbell-Bannerman rejected these terms, Grey delayed the formation of the government for several days—despite the obvious risk to party unity this action presented.

Criticism of Grey's foreign secretaryship has focused upon his concealment of the true nature of the understandings reached with France before the First World War and the terms of a secret treaty he made with Italy in 1915. In the former case, neither the public, nor even the full Cabinet, was made aware that the logical implication of the arrangements arrived at was British military support for France in the event of war between the latter and Germany. Indeed, Grey maintained that Britain retained complete freedom of action in the event of the outbreak of such hostilities. Concerning Italy, Grey agreed that it should be ceded substantial rights in Dalmatia in return for declaring war on Germany. Earlier, his negotiation of the 1907 Anglo-Russian agreement over spheres of influence in Asia had had a hostile reception—not least from Liberal backbenchers, many of whom considered his policies too close to the ‘imperialism’ of the previous Conservative government.

Many of Grey's endeavours were, however, widely praised. He had a leading role in improving conditions in the Belgian Congo, where the treatment of the indigenous population under the rule of the King of Belgium had become an international scandal. He also played a vital part in averting the outbreak of hostilities between France and Germany over the Agadir crisis in 1911 and in helping to prepare the ground for the USA's entry into the war against Germany.

Grey undertook some public functions after his departure from office when David Lloyd George succeeded Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916. The most notable of these was his unsuccessful attempt, in 1919 (on the government's behalf), to persuade the USA to join the League of Nations. But his eyesight deteriorated badly and his political activities had become minimal well before his death.


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