Lord Charles Beresford

For the New Zealand cricketer, see Charles Beresford (cricketer).
The Lord Beresford

Beresford, as pictured in Queen Alexandra's Christmas Gift Book, distributed for charity
Born 10 February 1846
Died 6 September 1919 (aged 73)
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service 1859–1911
Rank Admiral
Commands held
Battles/wars Urabi Revolt
Gordon Relief Expedition
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order

Charles William de la Poer Beresford, 1st Baron Beresford GCB GCVO (10 February 1846 – 6 September 1919), styled Lord Charles Beresford between 1859 and 1916, was a British admiral and Member of Parliament.

Beresford was the second son of John Beresford, 4th Marquess of Waterford, thus despite his courtesy title as the younger son of a Marquess, he was still eligible to enter the House of Commons. He combined the two careers of the navy and a member of parliament, making a reputation as a hero in battle and champion of the navy in the House of Commons. He was a well-known and popular figure who courted publicity, widely known to the British public as "Charlie B". He was considered by many to be a personification of John Bull, indeed was normally accompanied by his trademark, a bulldog.

His later career was marked by a longstanding dispute with Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher, over reforms championed by Fisher introducing new technology and sweeping away traditional practices. Fisher, slightly senior to Beresford and more successful, became a barrier to Beresford's rise to the highest office in the navy. Beresford rose to occupy the most senior sea commands, the Mediterranean and Channel fleets, but failed in his ambition to become First Sea Lord.

Family life and character

Beresford was born in Curraghmore, Ireland, the second of five brothers. His older brother John joined the Life Guards, succeeding to the family estate and titles in 1866 on the death of their father. William joined the 9th Lancers, won a VC in the Anglo-Zulu War and became military secretary to several viceroys of India. Marcus joined the 7th Hussars, became an equerry to King George V and in charge of the King's racehorses. The youngest brother, Delaval, became a rancher in Canada.[1]

His family traced their ancestry to Englishmen who had invaded Ireland in the reign of James I and stayed to rule. Their estate covered 100,000 acres (400 km2) at Curraghmore near Waterford in South East Ireland, had stables for 100 horses and employed 600 people.[2] The family enjoyed hunting, to the extent that his uncle was killed in a riding accident, his brother was crippled in another, and he himself managed ten broken bones at various times.[3]

Beresford had a reputation for kindness to his men, saying 'Any smart action performed by an officer or man should be appreciated publicly by signal...Everyone is grateful for appreciation'.[4] At 46 and as captain, he took part in inter-ship rowing competitions.

He married Mina Gardner, daughter of Richard Gardner and Lucy Mandesloh, on 25 June 1878 at London, England. They had two daughters, the Hon. Eileen Teresa Lucy de la Poer Beresford (d. 1939) and the Hon. Kathleen Mary de la Poer Beresford (1879–1939).

Military and political career

Nancy Sumner, c. 1859

Beresford had been captivated by the sight of the Channel Fleet at age twelve, [3] and joined the Royal Navy in 1859 aged 13, following preparatory education at Stubbington House School.[5] He started his training as a cadet at the naval training academy HMS Britannia, successfully completing his passing-out examination in March 1861.[6] He was immediately appointed a midshipman on the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet, the steam three-decker HMS Marlborough.[6] Beresford described the Marlborough as "the smartest and happiest ship that ever floated".[7] Beresford left the Marlborough in early 1863,[7] and was appointed to the HMS Defence in the summer of 1863. The Defence was one of four new ironclads serving in the Channel Squadron; Beresford was unhappy in the Defence, which he described as "a slovenly, unhandy tin kettle, which could not sail without steam...and which took minutes instead of seconds to cross topgallant yards".[8] Beresford got into debt, his father consulted Admiral Eden, who arranged for Beresford's transfer in mid-1864 to the steam-corvette HMS Clio, where Beresford would be the senior midshipman, which it was hoped would develop his sense of responsibility.[9] In 1865 the Clio visited the Kingdom of Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands); it was then that Beresford first met Nancy Wahinekapu Sumner, one of Dowager Queen Emma's court ladies.[10] Beresford and Sumner became friends, and continued their friendship through correspondence.[10] Later in 1865, Beresford was transferred to the steam-corvette HMS Tribune, which was commanded by Lord Gilford and was one of the smartest ships in the navy at the time.[11] Beresford was promoted to acting sub-lieutenant in January 1866.[11] A month later Beresford was transferred to the steam-frigate HMS Sutlej, the flagship of the Pacific Squadron.[12] Beresford passed his seamanship examination to qualify for lieutenant on board the Sutlej, which he left later in 1866.[13] Beresford did a gunnery course on the Excellent (shore establishment), a hulk in Portsmouth harbour.[13] Beresford broke a bone in his foot whilst dismounting a gun on the Excellent, an injury that caused him pain for the rest of his life.[13] Beresford joined the HMS Research still as a sub-lieutenant in 1867,[14] and then in the summer of 1868 was one of the sub-lieutenants on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert.[14] Beresford joined the steam-frigate HMS Galatea,[15] commanded by Queen Victoria's son the Duke of Edinburgh, and toured the world, witnessed executions in Japan and got tattooed.[16] On a visit to the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1869, Beresford met Nancy Sumner again. He proposed to her, but she refused likely due to their social and racial differences.[10]

He entered Parliament as a Conservative in 1874, representing County Waterford and retained his seat until 1880. Some difficulties arose with the Lords of the Admiralty, who objected to a junior officer debating the navy publicly in the House of Commons. Beresford's parliamentary career was saved by the intervention of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who feared the loss of the seat to an opposition party, should Beresford be forced to resign.[17] Whilst an MP he continued to serve in the navy, becoming a commander in 1875.

In 1874, Beresford was one of thirty-two aides chosen to accompany the Prince of Wales on a tour of India. Victoria objected, on the grounds of his bad reputation, but he remained at the Prince's insistence. The tour was a lively mixture of social engagements and animal hunts. The Prince insisted on dressing for dinner, even in the jungle, but allowed the concession of cutting off the tails of their evening coats, creating the dinner jacket.[18] He was aide-de-camp to the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, from 1875 until 1876.

In 1891 Beresford's affair with Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick (i.e., Frances Brooke) resulted in a serious dispute with the Prince of Wales. A letter written by the Countess to Beresford came into the possession of Lady Beresford. She lodged the letter with solicitor George Lewis and threatened to use this to destroy the reputation of the Countess. The Prince of Wales, who had a special affection for the Countess, tried to have the letter destroyed but Lewis would not allow this. The Prince of Wales then took steps to exclude Lady Beresford from his social circle. An angry Charles Beresford eventually extracted a written apology from the Prince. The Prince subsequently wrote to Lord Waterford (Beresford's brother) saying that he "can never forget, and shall never forgive, the conduct of your brother and his wife towards me"[19]

Involvement in Egypt and Sudan

Caricature from Punch, 1882

From 1878 until 1881 Beresford was second in command of the royal yacht HMY Osborne. He was captain of the gunboat HMS Condor in 1882 when it took part in the bombardment of Alexandria during the Egyptian war of 1882 and won admiration amongst the British public for taking his ship inshore to bombard the Egyptian batteries at close range.

In 1884 and 1885 Beresford joined the staff of the Gordon Relief Expedition under Garnet Wolseley, along with the Naval Brigade and a Gardner machinegun, to which Beresford was much attracted. During the battle of Abu Klea, Dervishes overran his Gardner gun when it jammed at the last moment. Beresford just escaped death by diving under the trail of the gun. Henry Newbolt's Abu Klea poem "Vitaï Lampada" is often quoted, "The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel's dead...", although it was a Gardner machine gun which jammed.

Re-election to Parliament, promotion to rear admiral

Beresford in dress uniform, late 1880s.
Bersford caricatured by Cloister for Vanity Fair, 1899

In 1885 he was again elected to Parliament, this time as MP for Marylebone East, and re-elected at the 1886 general election. Beresford constantly pushed for greater expenditure on the navy, resigning his seat in protest on this issue in 1888. Meanwhile, in 1886 he had also become Junior Naval Lord. The Naval Defence Act 1889, which increased naval spending, was passed partly as a result of public pressure resulting from this action.

Beresford was a believer in promoting physical recreation beyond the services, being one of the founding committee of the National Physical Recreation Society which began in 1886 under the presidency of Herbert Gladstone. In 1888 he put down a motion in Parliament proposing that the County Councils (formed in 1889) provide a gymnasium for every 100,000 inhabitants. William Penny Brookes invited him to be president of the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games in Shropshire for the years 1888 and 1889 but he was unable to be present at the sports, because of other commitments. In the latter year news of his affair with the Countess of Warwick broke after she threatened Lady Beresford; despite this Brookes, an advocate of physical education, and Beresford had a warm correspondence from 1888 until Brookes' death in 1895, and Beresford was elected an honorary member of the Wenlock Olympian Society in 1891.[20]

From 1889 until 1893 he was the captain of HMS Undaunted, which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet.

First edition of The Break-Up of China (1899) by Beresford

In 1898 Beresford was promoted to rear-admiral and again entered Parliament, this time representing York, though he spent much of his time in China representing the Associated Chambers of Commerce. He resigned from parliament in January 1900 to become second in command of the Mediterranean Fleet, and left London to take up this position the following month.[21] A dislike steadily developed between Beresford and Jacky Fisher who was then commanding that fleet. Shortly after his arrival, Beresford took a company of men ashore and used them as stand-ins for ships to practice manoeuvring and assembling a fleet. Fisher noticed the display and publicly sent a signal demanding to know why Beresford had landed his men without permission. Lord Charles resented his superior as a social climber from unknown origins, while Fisher was jealous of Beresford's inherited wealth and social position.[22] In early February 1902 he left his position in the Mediterranean Fleet and returned to England.[23]

As admiral

Beresford was again elected to Parliament in April 1902,[24] this time for Woolwich, but resigned in 1903 when he was promoted to admiral and appointed chief of the Channel Fleet. In the latter year he was knighted in both the Order of the Bath and the Royal Victorian Order, followed by promotion to GCVO in 1906 and GCB in 1911.[25] Beresford was in command of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1905 until 1907. David Beatty, then a captain serving under Beresford, commented that Beresford's command of the fleet was characterised by 'rigid training and discouragement of initiative'. Beresford aspired to reach the navy's most senior post, First Sea Lord, but the position was held by Fisher, who was widely respected. Mandatory retirement at 65 would have led to Fisher departing in 1906, but Fisher's promotion to admiral of the fleet also brought with it an extension of retirement age to 70. Beresford himself would reach retirement at 65 in 1911, unless he too could achieve the same promotion. As this seemed unlikely, the only possibility was if Fisher resigned, or was obliged to. Beresford set about organising a campaign criticising his handling of the navy and its reforms.[26]

Beresford transferred to command of the Channel fleet from 1907–1909. He was complimented by a then-junior officer as having 'no superior as a seaman', but his time in charge was described as 'principally a processional career around the ports of Britain ... I do not recall that any serious problems of war were either attempted or solved [but] Lord Charles received deputations, addressed crowded meetings in his honour, and became freeman of innumerable cities'.[27]

Beresford is credited with recommending the use of Grimsby trawlers for minesweeping operations following visits he made to various East Coast ports in 1907. Grimsby, with its impressive docklands and trawler fleet was seen as ideal, with Beresford arguing that the fishing fleet would be inactive during times of war as fishing grounds became war zones.[28] It was also thought that trawlermen would be more skilled than naval ratings with regards to the handling of the sizeable warps and winches that would be required for minesweeping as they were already accustomed to using them with the working of the trawl. In World War I the boats provided the craft, the trawler fleet the crew, and the port a base for the Royal Naval Patrol Service

It was noted that his personality seemed to have changed for the worse, and historians have suggested that he might have suffered a minor stroke at some time before 1907.[26] In 1907 and 1908 there were two incidents involving Admiral Percy Scott, commander of the First Cruiser Division of the Channel Fleet. In November 1907 Beresford ordered all ships of the Channel Fleet then at sea to return to harbour to be repainted for a review by the Kaiser. The armoured cruiser Roxburgh (1904) was engaged in gunnery practice at Portland, and its captain requested permission to finish the exercise before returning to harbour. Scott refused, signalling "Paintwork appears to be more in demand than gunnery, so you had better come in in time to make yourself look pretty by the 8th". Nothing happened for four days, until a staff officer visiting Scott's flagship heard of the signal and reported it to Beresford, who summoned and severely reprimanded Scott without giving Scott an opportunity to explain his remarks and actions, and refused to listen when Scott tried to offer an explanation. Beresford then asked the Admiralty to relieve Scott of his command, writing that Scott's signal was "totally opposed to loyalty and discipline...contemptuous in tone, insubordinate in character and wanting in dignity"[29] The Admiralty did not comply, although they expressed their disapproval of Scott's signal. In 1908 Scott disobeyed an order from Beresford which would have resulted in a collision.

After his term with the Channel Fleet finished in 1909, Beresford returned to Parliament at the January 1910 general election, representing Portsmouth. During his spell as commander of the Channel Fleet Beresford had become increasingly critical of Admiralty policy, in particular the organisational reforms instituted by Fisher. In April 1909 he wrote a letter to H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister, expressing his discontent and threatening to express his concerns in public; Asquith responded by setting up a sub-committee of the Committee for Imperial Defence to report on the matter.[30] This upheld Admiralty policy, but sufficient damage was done to Fisher's reputation that he was obliged to retire slightly early, in 1910, in anticipation of a forthcoming general election.

Beresford painted by Charles Wellington Furse

In 1912, it was proposed by George V, who knew Beresford, that he might be promoted admiral of the fleet, but it fell to Beatty, now naval secretary to First Lord Winston Churchill to point out that others would be more deserving of such a promotion. He was later, in 1914, appointed an Honorary Colonel in the Royal Marines.[31] Beresford had been somewhat left behind by the technological innovations and changes in the navy during the last years of his service as an admiral. It is likely that he would have performed poorly had he continued as an admiral into World War I. However, at times during his career he supported proposals to reform the fleet signal book, which might have made it more suitable for wartime use, and had championed reforms in fire control, where understanding of how best to use the new big guns on Fisher's dreadnought ships lagged behind their ability to hit at long ranges.[32]

Fisher was replaced as First Sea Lord by Sir Arthur Wilson, followed in 1911 by Sir Francis Bridgeman. Bridgeman proved to be unsatisfactory, and Churchill resolved to replace him with the Second Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenberg. Beresford questioned the matter of Bridgeman's resignation, officially said to be for reasons of ill health, by challenging Churchill in the House of Commons. Churchill responded, saying of Beresford that "since I became first lord of the admiralty...within a fortnight he made a speech in which he said I had betrayed the navy...and ever since he has been going about the country pouring out charges of espionage, favouritism, blackmail, fraud, and inefficiency... The noble Lord nourishes many bitter animosities on naval matters". The House of Commons supported Churchill, considering that Beresford's attack was a continuation of his dispute with Fisher, who was now acting privately as advisor to Churchill.[33]

On the eve of World War I, First Lord Churchill and First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg made the crucial decision to cancel the scheduled dispersal of the British fleet following practice manoeuvres, to preserve the Royal Navy's battle readiness.[34][35] Nonetheless with the outbreak of war, rising anti-German sentiment among the British public, newspapers, and elite gentlemen's clubs (where resentment was inflamed by Beresford despite Churchill's remonstrances)[36] drove Churchill to ask Prince Louis to resign as on 27 October 1914,[37] which Louis did amidst an outpouring of appreciation from politicians and his naval comrades.

Beresford remained an MP until 1916, after he retired from the navy in 1911. In 1916, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Beresford of Metemmeh and of Curraghmore in the County of Waterford.[38]

Death and funeral

Lord Beresford died in 1919 at Langwell, Berriedale, Caithness, at the age of 73, at which point his title became extinct. After a State funeral at St Paul's Cathedral, he was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery, south London.[39]

Foreign honours

Besides his peerage, Lord Beresford also held a number of foreign honours:


  1. Beresford, p. xiii
  2. Morris, p. 156
  3. 1 2 Massie, pp. 502–503
  4. Massie, p. 502
  5. "BERESFORD". Who Was Who. A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press. December 2007. Retrieved 1 December 2012.(subscription required)
  6. 1 2 Bennett, p. 21
  7. 1 2 Bennett, p. 26
  8. Bennett, p. 27
  9. Bennett, p. 30
  10. 1 2 3 Nancy Sumner, Hawaiian Courtlady
  11. 1 2 Bennett, pp. 33–34
  12. Bennett, p. 35
  13. 1 2 3 Bennett, p. 37
  14. 1 2 Bennett, p. 38
  15. Bennett, p. 39
  16. Massie, p. 503
  17. Massie, pp. 503–504
  18. Massie, p. 504
  19. Magnus, Philip (1964). King Edward the Seventh. John Murray. pp. 232–236.
  20. Beale, Catherine (2011). Born out of Wenlock, William Penny Brookes and the British origins of the modern Olympics. DB Publishing. pp. 111–112. ISBN 978-1-85983-967-6.Letters in archive Wenlock Olympian Society.
  21. "Court Circular". The Times (36055). London. 2 February 1900. p. 10.
  22. Gordon, pp.322–323
  23. "Court circular". The Times (36683). London. 5 February 1902. p. 10.
  24. The London Gazette: no. 27429. p. 2860. 29 April 1902.
  25. The Complete Peerage, Volume XIII – Peerage Creations 1901–1938. St Catherine's Press. 1949. p. 210.
  26. 1 2 Gordon, p. 366
  27. Gordon, p. 366 citing Dawson
  28. Ministry of Information, His Majesty's Minesweepers, London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1943
  29. Massie, pp. 526–7
  30. Massie p.534
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 1916. Kelly's. p. 173.
  32. Gordon, p. 368
  33. Massie, p. 778
  34. Kerr, Mark (1934), Prince Louis of Battenberg. London: Longmans, Green and Co. p.243
  35. Hurd, Archibald (2004), Mountbatten, Louis Alexander, first marquess of Milford Haven [formerly Prince Louis of Battenberg] (1854–1921), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press)
  36. Hough, pp. 302–303
  37. Hough, p. 307
  38. The London Gazette: no. 29454. p. 1126. 28 January 1916.
  39. The Complete Peerage, Volume XIII – Peerage Creations 1901–1938. St Catherine's Press. 1949. p. 211.
  40. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 1913. Burke's Peerage Limited. p. 1963.


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Military offices
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Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet
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Parliament of the United Kingdom
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Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Beresford
Title extinct
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