John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon

"Sir John Simon" redirects here. For other people named John Simon, see John Simon.
The Right Honourable
The Viscount Simon
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
In office
10 May 1940  27 July 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by The Viscount Caldecote
Succeeded by The Viscount Jowitt
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
28 May 1937  10 May 1940
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Preceded by Neville Chamberlain
Succeeded by Sir Kingsley Wood
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
5 November 1931  7 June 1935
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by The Marquess of Reading
Succeeded by Sir Samuel Hoare, Bt
Home Secretary
In office
7 June 1935  28 May 1937
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by Sir John Gilmour, Bt
Succeeded by Sir Samuel Hoare, Bt
In office
27 May 1915  12 January 1916
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Reginald McKenna
Succeeded by Herbert Samuel
In office
19 October 1913  25 May 1915
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Sir Rufus Isaacs
Succeeded by Sir Edward Carson
In office
7 October 1910  19 October 1913
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Sir Rufus Isaacs
Succeeded by Sir Stanley Buckmaster
Personal details
Born John Allsebrook Simon
(1873-02-28)28 February 1873
Died 11 January 1954(1954-01-11) (aged 80)
Political party Liberal Party
Other political
National Liberal Party
Spouse(s) Ethel Venables (1899-1902; her death); 3 children
Kathleen Rochard Manning (1917-1954; his death)
Children Margaret Edwards
Joan Bickford-Smith
John Gilbert Simon, 2nd Viscount Simon
Alma mater Wadham College, Oxford

John Allsebrook Simon, 1st Viscount Simon GCSI GCVO OBE PC (28 February 1873 11 January 1954) was a British politician who held senior Cabinet posts from the beginning of the First World War to the end of the Second. He is one of only three people to have served as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, the others being R. A. Butler and James Callaghan.

He also served as Lord Chancellor, the most senior position in the British legal system. Beginning his career as a Liberal (identified with the left-wing[1] and later the right-wing of the Party[2]), he joined the National Government in 1931, creating the Liberal National Party in the process. At the end of his career, he was essentially a Conservative.

Background and education

Simon was the son of Edwin Simon (1843–1920), a Congregational minister in Manchester, and Fanny Allsebrook (1846–1936).[3] He was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh and Wadham College, Oxford, where he was a near-contemporary of F.E. Smith and of the athlete C.B. Fry. He became a fellow of All Souls in 1897 and was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1899.[3]

Before the First World War

Simon became a successful lawyer and entered the House of Commons as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Walthamstow at the 1906 general election, later being elected for Spen Valley. While serving in Parliament, Simon spoke out strongly in support for David Lloyd George's progressive "People's Budget".[4]

He entered the Government in October 1910 as Solicitor-General,[5] succeeding Rufus Isaacs, and was knighted later that month.[6] He was promoted in October 1913 to Attorney-General,[7] again succeeding Isaacs. He was the leader of the (unsuccessful) Cabinet rebels against Winston Churchill's 1914 naval estimates and contemplated resigning in protest at the declaration of war in 1914 but in the end changed his mind.

Simon circa 1916

First World War

In H. H. Asquith's coalition government in May 1915, Simon became Home Secretary, declining an offer of the Lord Chancellorship, but he resigned early the next year in protest against the illiberal introduction of conscription. He proved his patriotism by serving briefly as an officer on Trenchard's staff in the Royal Flying Corps.

After Asquith's fall in late 1916, Simon remained in opposition as an Asquithian Liberal until he lost his seat, at the "Coupon Election" in 1918.

Out of office

In 1919, he attempted to return to Parliament at the Spen Valley by-election. Although the Coalition Liberals, who had formerly held the seat, were pushed into third place, Simon came second; in the view of Maurice Cowling, his defeat by Labour marked the point at which Labour began to be seen as a serious threat by the older parties.


In the early 1920s, he practised successfully at the Bar before winning Spen Valley at the general election in 1922, and from 1922 to 1924, he served as deputy leader of the Liberal Party,[8][9] a role he relinquished when Asquith once again lost his seat in Parliament and Lloyd George took over the chairmanship of the Liberal MPs. Unlike Lloyd George, Simon opposed the general strike in 1926. Simon spoke for Newfoundland in a boundary dispute with Canada, before announcing his permanent retirement from the Bar.

From 1927 to 1931 he chaired the Simon Commission on India's constitution. During the late 1920s and especially during the 1929-31 Parliament, in which Labour had no majority but continued in office with the help of the Liberals, Simon was seen as the leader of the minority of Liberal MPs who disliked Lloyd George's inclination to support Labour rather than the Conservatives.


In June 1931, before the formation of the National Government, Simon resigned the Liberal whip and was accused by Lloyd George of leaving "the slime of hypocrisy" as he crossed the floor".

In 1931, when the Liberals split once again, Simon became leader of the Liberal Nationals (later to become the National Liberals) who continued to support protectionism and Ramsay MacDonald's National Government after the departure of the mainstream Liberals under Herbert Samuel. Simon was never opposed by a Conservative candidate at Spen Valley after 1924, and over time, Simon's Liberal Nationals became hardly distinguishable from the Conservatives, but some Conservative MPs continued to be known locally as "National Liberals" for decades after the Second World War.

Simon served as Foreign Secretary under MacDonald, the highlights of his tenure of office being the repudiation by Germany, under its new chancellor, Adolf Hitler; of the League of Nations; of Disarmament efforts and of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. He attracted particular opprobrium for a speech in Geneva in December 1932 in which he failed to condemn Japanese actions explicitly.[10] Simon then served as Home Secretary,[11] during which time he passed the Public Order Act 1936, restricting the activities of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts. Stanley Baldwin appointed Simon as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; he was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Neville Chamberlain, of whom he had become a close political ally.

Simon was cursed with an unfortunately chilly manner, and from at least 1914 onwards, he had difficulty in conveying an impression that he was acting from honourable motives. His awkward attempts to strike up friendships with his colleagues (asking his Cabinet colleagues to call him "Jack") often fell flat. Neville Chamberlain wrote of Simon, "I am always trying to like him, and believing I shall succeed when something crops up to put me off". Harold Nicolson described him more pithily as "a toad and a worm". Another anecdote, from the late 1940s, tells how the socialist intellectual G. D. H. Cole got into a third-class compartment on the train back from Oxford to London, to break off conversation with Simon; to his dismay Simon followed suit, only for both men to produce first class tickets when the inspector did his rounds.[12]

Later life

By 1940, Simon, along with his successor as Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, had come to be seen as one of the "Guilty Men" responsible for appeasement of the dictators ("the snakiest of the lot" was Hugh Dalton's description), and like Hoare, his continued service in the War Cabinet was not regarded as acceptable in the new coalition. Simon was raised to the peerage as Viscount Simon, of Stackpole Elidor in the County of Pembroke, when he became Lord Chancellor in Churchill's government although without a place on the War Cabinet. In 1945, Churchill formed a brief "Caretaker" administration but once again excluded Simon from the Cabinet. After Churchill's defeat in 1945, Simon never held office again. Although he had won plaudits for his legal skills as Lord Chancellor, Clement Attlee declined to appoint him to the British delegation at the Nuremberg War Trials, telling him bluntly in a letter that his role in the pre-war governments made this unwise. In 1951, Churchill did not offer him a return to the Woolsack. Simon's portrait[13] (by Frank O. Salisbury, 1944) is in the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1952, Simon published his memoirs, Retrospect, which Harold Nicolson reviewed as describing the "nectarines and peaches of office" as if they were "a bag of prunes". The quote "I so very tire of politics. The early death of too many a great man is attributed to her touch" is from Simon's memoir. After his death in 1954, from a stroke, Simon's estate was probated at £93,006.[14]

His personal papers are preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.[15]

Personal life

Dame Kathleen Simon, Viscountess Simon (17 February 1920)

Simon married Ethel Mary Venables in June 1899 in Headington, Oxfordshire: she was later vice-principal of St Hugh's Hall, Oxford. They had three children: Margaret (who married Geoffrey Edwards), Joan (who married John Bickford-Smith) and John Gilbert, 2nd Viscount Simon (1902–1993). Ethel died soon after the birth of their son, in September 1902.

In 1917, Simon married the abolition activist Kathleen Rochard Manning (1863/64-1955), a widow with one son, who had for a while been governess to his children.

Simon bought De Lisle Manor in Fritwell, Oxfordshire in 1911 and lived there until 1933.[16]



  1. Keith Laybourn. "Fifty Key Figures in Twentieth-century British Politics". p. 209. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  2. Jennings, Ivor (1961). Party Politics: Volume 2: The Growth of Parties. Cambridge University Press. p. 268. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  3. 1 2 Dutton, D. J. (January 2008). "Simon, John Allsebrook, first Viscount Simon (1873–1954)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 May 2010.
  4. "FINANCE BILL. (Hansard, 4 November 1909)". Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 28424. p. 7247. 4 October 1910. Retrieved 17 Match 2016.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 28429. p. 7611. 28 October 1910. Retrieved 17 Match 2016.
  7. The London Gazette: no. 28766. p. 7336. 21 October 1913. Retrieved 17 Match 2016.
  8. "London Correspondence", Glasgow Herald, 24 November 1922, p.9
  9. David Dutton, Simon: A political biography of Sir John Simon, p.59
  10. Douglas Reed, 'All Our Tomorrows' (pub.1942) ,p.62 ~ Geneva, 1931, Sir John Simon congratulated by the Japanese emissary for presentation of Japan's case against China'.
  11. Rose, Kenneth (1983). King George V. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 402. ISBN 0-297-78245-2. OCLC 9909629. It was thus that on the morning of 20 January 1936, three members of the Privy Council came down to Sandringham... MacDonald, the Lord President of the Council; Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor; and Simon, the Home Secretary.
  12. Jenkins, Roy The Chancellors (London; Macmillan, 1998), pp. 366-67.
  13. "NPG 5833; John Allsebrook Simon, 1st Viscount Simon - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  14. Keith Laybourn. "British Political Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary". p. 298. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
  15. Langley, Helen (1979). "Catalogue of the papers of John Allsebrook Simon, 1st Viscount Simon, mainly 1894-1953". Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  16. Lobel, Mary D. (ed.) (1959). Victoria County History: A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 6. pp. 134–46.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
David John Morgan
Member of Parliament for Walthamstow
1906 1918
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Tom Myers
Member of Parliament for Spen Valley
1922 1940
Succeeded by
William Edward Woolley
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Rufus Isaacs
Solicitor General
Succeeded by
Sir Stanley Buckmaster
Attorney General
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Carson
Political offices
Preceded by
Reginald McKenna
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Herbert Samuel
Preceded by
The Marquess of Reading
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir Samuel Hoare, Bt
Preceded by
Sir John Gilmour, Bt
Home Secretary
Preceded by
Neville Chamberlain
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Sir Kingsley Wood
Preceded by
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Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Viscount Jowitt
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
Leader of the Liberal National Party
Succeeded by
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Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Simon
1940 1954
Succeeded by
John Gilbert Simon
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