Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne

Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC (14 January 1845  3 June 1927), was a British statesman who served successively as Governor General of Canada, Viceroy of India, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

The Marquess of Lansdowne
Minister without Portfolio
In office
25 May 1915  10 December 1916
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterH. H. Asquith
Preceded byMichael Hicks Beach
Succeeded byArthur Henderson
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
13 October 1903  4 December 1905
MonarchEdward VII
Prime MinisterArthur Balfour
Preceded byThe Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded byThe Marquess of Ripon
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
12 November 1900  4 December 1905
Edward VII
Prime MinisterThe Marquess of Salisbury
Arthur Balfour
Preceded byThe Marquess of Salisbury
Succeeded bySir Edward Grey
Secretary of State for War
In office
4 July 1895  12 November 1900
Prime MinisterThe Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded byHenry Campbell-Bannerman
Succeeded bySt John Brodrick
Viceroy and Governor-General of India
In office
10 December 1888  11 October 1894
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded byThe Earl of Dufferin
Succeeded byThe Earl of Elgin
5th Governor General of Canada
In office
23 October 1883  11 June 1888
Prime MinisterCanadian: John A. Macdonald
William Ewart Gladstone
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded byThe Marquess of Lorne
Succeeded byThe Lord Stanley of Preston
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India
In office
29 April 1880  1 September 1880
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Preceded byHon. Edward Stanhope
Succeeded byThe Viscount Enfield
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War
In office
25 April 1872  17 February 1874
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Preceded byThe Lord Northbrook
Succeeded byThe Earl of Pembroke
Lord Commissioner of the Treasury
In office
16 December 1868  25 April 1872
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Preceded byLord Claud Hamilton
Succeeded byLord Frederick Cavendish
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
5 July 1866  3 June 1927
Hereditary Peerage
Preceded byThe 4th Marquess of Lansdowne
Succeeded byThe 6th Marquess of Lansdowne
Personal details
Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice

(1845-01-14)14 January 1845
Died3 June 1927(1927-06-03) (aged 82)
Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland
Political partyLiberal Unionist
SpouseLady Maud Hamilton
ChildrenEvelyn Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 6th Marquess of Lansdowne
Lord Charles Petty-Fitzmaurice
Beatrix Beauclerk, Duchess of St Albans
Parent(s)Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne
Emily, 8th Lady Nairne
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford

In 1917, during the First World War, he wrote the "Lansdowne Letter", advocating in vain a compromise peace. A millionaire, he had the distinction of having held senior positions in Liberal and Conservative Party governments.[1]

Early years, 1845–1882

A great-grandson of British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne (later 1st Marquess of Lansdowne) and the eldest son of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne, and his wife, Emily, 8th Lady Nairne (née de Flahaut), Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice was born in London in 1845. His maternal grandfather, Count Charles de Flahaut, was an important French general of Napoleon Bonaparte who fought along his side during many battles, and later occupied the functions of Ambassador and Senator of the Empire. Through his mother Emily, he was also a half-nephew of Emperor Napoleon III, a step-grandson of Queen Hortense Bonaparte, and a great-grandson of Talleyrand.

Lansdowne held the courtesy title Viscount Clanmaurice from birth to 1863 and then the courtesy title Earl of Kerry until he succeeded to the marquessate in 1866. Upon his mother's death in 1895, he succeeded her as the 9th Lord Nairne in the Peerage of Scotland.

After studying at Eton and Oxford, he succeeded his father as 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (in the Peerage of the United Kingdom) and 6th Earl of Kerry (in the Peerage of Ireland) at the relatively early age of 21 on 5 June 1866.[1] He inherited a vast estate (including Bowood House, a Wiltshire estate of over 121,000 acres) and great wealth. At one of his inherited properties, Derreen House (Lauragh, County Kerry, in the present-day Republic of Ireland), Lord Lansdowne started to develop a great garden from 1871 onwards. For most of the rest of his life, he spent three months of the year at Derreen.

Lord Lansdowne entered the House of Lords as a member of the Liberal Party in 1866. He served in William Ewart Gladstone's government as a Lord of the Treasury from 1869 to 1872 and as Under-Secretary of State for War from 1872 to 1874. He was appointed Under-Secretary of State for India in 1880 and, having gained experience in overseas administration, was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1883, replacing John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll, the son-in-law of Queen Victoria.[1] The present-day town of Lansdowne, in Uttarakhand, India, was established in 1887 and named after him.

Governor General of Canada, 1883–1888

Lord Lansdowne was Governor General during turbulent times in Canada. His Protestant Irish connections made him unpopular with the Catholic Irish element.[2] Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald's government was in its second term and facing allegations of scandal over the building of the railway (the Pacific Scandal), and the economy was once again sliding into recession. The North-West Rebellion of 1885 and the controversy caused by its leader, Louis Riel, posed a serious threat to the equilibrium of Canadian politics.[3] To calm the situation, he travelled extensively throughout Western Canada in 1885 and met many of Canada's First Nations peoples. His experiences in Western Canada gave Lansdowne a great love of the Canadian outdoors and the physical beauty of Canada. He was an avid fisherman and was intensely interested in winter sports. His love of the wilderness and the Canadian countryside led him to purchase a second residence (first Cascapedia House, built in 1880, later renamed Lorne Cottage, and then New Dereen Camp, built in 1884[4]) on the Cascapédia River in the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec.[3] The same area was previously used by the past Viceroy of Canada, John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll, and his wife, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.[5]

Lansdowne proved himself an adept statesman in helping to negotiate a settlement of a dispute between Canada and the United States in 1886–1887 over fishing rights.[3] He was also a supporter of scientific development and presided over the inaugural session of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1884. In Quebec, he was very popular, as he spoke french fluently, which gained him the admiration of French-Canadians, and a big round of applause during his first speech.[6] His French came from his maternal grandfather, Count Charles de Flahaut, who had been a French general to Napoleon Bonaparte. Lord Lansdowne also made multiple speeches at the Citadelle of Quebec, near Château Frontenac, and joined the Winter Carnival of Montreal.[7]

Lansdowne departed Canada "with its clear skies, its exhilarating sports, and within the bright fire of Gatineau logs, with our children and friends gathered round us" to his regret.[3] He gave his wife a great deal of the credit for his success in Canada. One of her happiest and most successful endeavours at Rideau Hall was a party that she threw for 400 Sunday school children. Lady Lansdowne was decorated with the Order of Victoria and Albert and the Imperial Order of the Crown of India. Lord Lansdowne's military secretary, Lord Melgund, later became Lord Minto and served as Governor General between 1898 and 1904.

Viceroy of India, 1888–1894

Lord Lansdowne was appointed Viceroy of India the same year that he left Canada. The office, which he held from 1888 to 1894,[1] was offered to him by the Conservative prime minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, and marked the pinnacle of his career. He worked to reform the army, police, local government and the mint. There was an Anglo-Manipur War in 1890 in which Manipur was subjugated. Lansdowne securing the death penalty for the instigator in the face of considerable opposition from Britain. His attempt in 1893 to curtail trial by jury was, however, overruled by home government. He returned to England in 1894. His policies exacerbated tensions between Hindu and Muslims.[8]

Secretary of State for War, 1895–1900

Upon his return, as a Liberal Unionist, he aligned with the Conservative Party. Prime Minister Lord Salisbury appointed Lansdowne to the post of Secretary of State for War in June 1895. The unpreparedness of the British Army during the Second Boer War brought calls for Lansdowne's impeachment in 1899. His biographer, P. B. Waite, considers that he was unjustly criticised for British military failures, but ever the good minister, he took full responsibility and said nothing.[1][3]

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1900–1905

After the Unionist victory in the general election of October 1900, Salisbury reorganised his cabinet, gave up the post of Foreign Secretary and appointed Lansdowne to replace him.[1] Lansdowne remained at the Foreign Office under Salisbury's successor Arthur Balfour. As British Foreign Secretary, he signed the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance at his London home, the back half of which still exists as the Lansdowne Club, and negotiated the 1904 Anglo-French Entente Cordiale with French Foreign Minister Theophile Delcassé.[9]

According to G. W. Monger's summary of the Cabinet debates in 1900 to 1902:

Chamberlain advocated ending Britain's isolation by concluding an alliance with Germany; Salisbury resisted change. With the new crisis in China caused by the Boxer rising and Landsdowne's appointment to the Foreign Office in 1900, those who advocated a change won the upper hand. Landsdowne in turn attempted to reach an agreement with Germany and a settlement with Russia but failed. In the end Britain concluded an alliance with Japan. The decision of 1901 was momentous; British policy had been guided by events, but Lansdowne had no real understanding of these events. The change of policy had been forced on him and was a confession of Britain's weakness.[10]

Big Revolver

On 15 June 1903, he made a speech in the House of Lords defending fiscal retaliation against countries with high tariffs and governments subsidising products for sale in Britain (known as 'bounty-fed products', also called dumping). Retaliation was to be done by threatening to impose tariffs in response against that country's goods. His Liberal Unionists had split from the Liberals, who promoted Free Trade, and the speech was a landmark in the group's slide towards protectionism. Landsdowne argued that threatening retaliatory tariffs was similar to getting respect in a room of armed men by showing a big revolver (his exact words were "a rather larger revolver than everybody else's"). The "Big Revolver" became a catchphrase of the day and was often used in speeches and cartoons.[11]

Unionist leader in Lords

The Marquess of Lansdowne by Philip Alexius de László, 1920

In 1903, Lord Lansdowne became the leader of Unionists (Conservative and Liberal Unionist peers) in the House of Lords.[1][3] This was followed shortly by the Liberal victory in the January 1906 general elections. In his new role as head of the opposition peers, he was instrumental in the Unionist leader Arthur Balfour's plans to obstruct Liberal policies through the Unionist majority in the upper house. Although he and Balfour had some misgivings, he led the Lords to reject the People's Budget of 1909. After the Liberals won two elections in 1910 on the pledge to reform the House of Lords and to remove its veto power and after a series of failed negotiations in which Lansdowne was of key importance, the Liberals moved forward to end the Lords veto, if necessary by recommending to the King to create hundreds of new Liberal peers. Lansdowne and the other Conservative leaders were anxious to prevent such an action by allowing the bill, distasteful as they found it, to pass, but soon, Lansdowne found that he could not count on many of the more reactionary peers, who planned on a last-ditch resistance. Ultimately, enough Unionist peers either (like Lansdowne himself) abstained from the vote ("hedgers") or even voted for the bill ("rats") to ensure its passage into the Parliament Act 1911.

In the following years, Lansdowne continued as Opposition Leader in the Lords, his stature increasing when Balfour, the party leader in the Commons, resigned and was replaced by the inexperienced Bonar Law, who had never held cabinet office. In 1914, the suffragettes Flora Drummond and Norah Dacre Fox (later known as Norah Elam) besieged Lansdowne's home and argued that Ulster'z incitement to militancy had passed without notice, but suffragettes were charged and imprisoned.[12] In 1915, Lansdowne joined the wartime coalition cabinet of H. H. Asquith as a Minister without Portfolio but was not given a post in the Lloyd George government formed the following year, despite Conservative pre-eminence in that government. In 1917, having discussed the idea with colleagues for some time with no response, he published the controversial "Lansdowne Letter", which called for a statement of postwar intentions from the Entente Powers. He was criticised as acting contrary to cabinet policy.[13][14][15]


Lord Lansdowne died at Clonmel, Ireland on 3 June 1927 at the age of 82.[3] His probate was sworn at £1,044,613 (equivalent to about £66,300,000 in 2021) in land with another £233,888 in other assets.[16] The Marchioness died in 1932, and their tombs are in the churchyard at Derry Hill, near their Bowood estate in Wiltshire.[17]


Lady Maud Evelyn Hamilton, Marchioness of Lansdowne by Cowell, Simla, India

Henry Petty-FitzMaurice married Lady Maud Evelyn Hamilton, a daughter of James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Abercorn, and his wife Lady Louisa Jane Russell, V.A., daughter of John, 6th Duke of Bedford in 1869. The couple went to Canada in October 1883 with their niece Lady Florence Anson (Streatfield) and their children:[1]

Honorific eponyms

Lord Lansdowne Public School and its famous stone at Robert Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Geographic locations:



  • Lansdowne Bridge, Lansdowne, New South Wales, Australia – a bridge built in 1834–1835 and has the largest span of all Australian masonry bridges
  • Lansdowne Bridge, Rohri, Sindh, Pakistan – a rigid girder bridge built 1879–1887 used by railway traffic


  • Lansdowne Building, Mysore, Karnataka, India, c. 1892 – a market being repaired and restored after a partial collapse in 2012
  • Lansdowne Court, Kolkata, India – residential development
  • Lansdowne Hall, Cooch Behar, India – Community Hall, Library, Masonic Purposes. now Cooch Behar District Magistrate's Office





  1. (Hesilrige 1921, p. 539)
  2. Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain (1955) 2: 355–56.
  3. "Biography – PETTY-FITZMAURICE, HENRY CHARLES KEITH, 5th Marquess of LANSDOWNE – Volume XV (1921-1930) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography". Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  4. Dell, Jessica Elizabeth. "Fishing Camps: The Cascapedia River Museum". www.cascapedia.org. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  5. Lansdowne, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5e marquis de
  6. Lansdowne, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5e marquis de
  7. Lansdowne, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5e marquis de
  8. S. N. Sen (2006). History Modern India. New Age International. p. 142. ISBN 9788122417746.
  9. G. P. Gooch, Before the War: Studies in Diplomacy (vol 1 1936), pp. 1–86 online
  10. G. W. Monger, "The End of Isolation: Britain, Germany and Japan, 1900-1902" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society vol. 13, 1963, pp. 103–21 online
  11. Hugh Montgomery; Philip George Cambray (1906). A Dictionary of Political Phrases and Allusions: With a Short Bibliography. S. Sonnenschein. p. 33.
  12. "Home - Mosley's Old Suffragette: A Biography of Norah Dacre Fox". 13 January 2012. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  13. Harold Kurtz, "The Lansdowne Letter." History Today 18.2 (1968): 84–92.
  14. Douglas Newton, "The Lansdowne 'Peace Letter' of 1917 and the Prospect of Peace by Negotiation with Germany." Australian Journal of Politics & History 48.1 (2002): 16–39.
  15. "Branded a traitor for just seeking peace- a Tory statesman became a pariah when he wrote to The Times calling for an end to the Great War" The Times issue no 72,390 (dated Saturday 25 November 2017), p. 37.
  16. https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk Calendar of Probates and Administrations
  17. Historic England. "Christ Church (1253593)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  18. Morgan, Henry James, ed. (1903). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto: Williams Briggs. p. 193.
  19. Lansdowne, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5e marquis de

Further reading

  • Cohen, Avner. "Joseph Chamberlain, Lord Lansdowne and British Foreign Policy 1901-1903: From Collaboration to Confrontation." Australian Journal of Politics and History 43.2 (1997): 122+.
  • Forrest, Sir George (1894). The administration of the Marquis of Lansdowne as Viceroy and Governor-general of India, 1888–1894. Office of the Supdt. of Government Print. p. 40.
  • Gooch, G. P. Before the war: studies in diplomacy (vol 1 1936) pp. 1–86. online scholarly biography of Lansdowne, stressing foreign policy.
  • Grenville, J. A. S. "Lansdowne’s Abortive Project of 12 March 1901 for a Secret Agreement with Germany." Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 27#76 (November 1954): 201–213.
  • Grenville, John Ashley Soames. "Great Britain and the Isthmian Canal, 1898-1901." American Historical Review 61.1 (1955): 48-69. online
  • Jeshurun, Chandran. "Lord Lansdowne and the 'Anti-German Clique' at the Foreign Office: Their Role in the Making of the Anglo-Siamese Agreement of 1902." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 3.2 (1972): 229-246 online.
  • Keohane, Nigel. The Party of Patriotism: The Conservative Party and the First World War (Routledge, 2016).
  • Kerry, Simon. Lansdowne: The Last Great Whig (2018), ISBN 9781910787953, OCLC 1043014305, scholarly biography. Online review (Wall Street Journal).
  • Kurtz, Harold. “The Lansdowne Letter, November 1917.” History Today Vol. 18, No. 2 (February 1968): 84-92
  • McKercher, B. J. C. "Diplomatic Equipoise: The Lansdowne Foreign Office The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, and The Global Balance of Power." Canadian Journal of History 24.3 (1989): 299–340.
  • Massie, Robert K. Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the coming of the Great War (Random House, 1991) excerpt see Dreadnought (book), popular history; pp 337–350.
  • Monger, George W. "The End of Isolation: Britain, Germany and Japan, 1900–1902" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 13 (1963): 103-121. online
    • Monger, George. The End of Isolation; British Foreign Policy, 1900-1907 (Nelson, 1963).
  • Mulligan, William. "From Case to Narrative: The Marquess of Lansdowne, Sir Edward Grey, and the Threat from Germany, 1900–1906." International History Review 30.2 (2008): 273–302.
  • Newton, Douglas. "The Lansdowne 'Peace Letter' of 1917 and the Prospect of Peace by Negotiation with Germany." Australian Journal of Politics & History 48.1 (2002): pp. 16–39.
  • Newton, Lord. Lord Lansdowne: A Biography (Macmillan, 1929) online.
  • Petty-Fitzmaurice, Edmond George (1912). Life of William, earl of Shelburne, afterwards first marquess of Lansdowne. Vol. 1. Macmillan.
  • Petty-Fitzmaurice, Edmond George; William Petty Lansdowne (Marquis of) (1876). Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, afterwards first Marquess of Landsdowne: with extracts from his papers and correspondence. Vol. 2. Macmillan.
  • Winters, Frank Winfield. "Gentlemen's diplomacy: the foreign policy of Lord Lansdowne, 1845-1927." (PhD Diss. Texas A & M University, 2006) online.
  • Hesilrige, Arthur G. M. (1921). Debrett's Peerage and Titles of courtesy. 160A, Fleet Street, London: Dean & Son. p. 539.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
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