Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe

The Most Honourable
The Marquess of Crewe

Robert Offley Ashburton Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe
Lord President of the Council
In office
25 May 1915  10 December 1916
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by The Earl Beauchamp
Succeeded by The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston
In office
10 December 1905  12 April 1908
Monarch Edward VII
Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Preceded by The Marquess of Londonderry
Succeeded by The Lord Tweedmouth
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
14 April 1908  10 December 1916
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by The Marquess of Ripon
Succeeded by The Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
18 August 1892  29 June 1895
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister The Earl of Rosebery
Preceded by The Earl of Zetland
Succeeded by The Earl Cadogan
Personal details
Born Robert Offley Ashburton Milnes
(1858-01-12)12 January 1858
Died 20 June 1945(1945-06-20) (aged 87)
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) (1) Sibyl Graham (d. 1887)
(2) Lady Margaret Primrose
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge

Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe KG PC FSA (12 January 1858  20 June 1945), known as The Lord Houghton from 1885 to 1895 and as The Earl of Crewe from 1895 to 1911, was a British Liberal politician, statesman and writer.

Background and education

Robert Offley Ashburton Milnes was born at 16 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, London, the only son of Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, by his wife the Hon. Annabella Crewe, daughter of John Crewe, 2nd Baron Crewe, and was educated firstly at Winton House, near Winchester, and then Harrow. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1880.[1]

Political career

A Liberal in politics, Milnes became Assistant Private Secretary to Lord Granville in April 1883 when Granville was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In an 1884 by-election he was the losing Liberal candidate at Barnsley. As Baron Houghton he was made Liberal whip in 1885. In January 1886 he was made a Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria during the Third Gladstone ministry, and remained a Home Ruler.

Prepared for ministerial success, a severe blow was struck to a burgeoning political career: his wife Sybil Marcia, daughter of Sir Fred Frederick Graham, 3rd baronet of Netherby, whom he had married on 3 June 1880, died suddenly in September 1887, still only thirty years old. He was determined to get over this personal tragedy by studying agriculture at Cirencester. However, he was prevented by illness from pursuing his studies. Leaving England, he travelled to Egypt where the Stray Verses were written in a somewhat mournful lament at his great loss. Further melancholy hit hard when his eight-year-old son and heir Richard died in 1890.

Returning to Houghton in 1892, he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the Liberal Government of 1892–1895, in which his old friend Lord Rosebery eventually became Prime Minister. John Morley served as Chief Secretary.[2]

On the death of his uncle, Hungerford Crewe, 3rd Baron Crewe, he inherited vast estates of nearly 50,000 acres in four counties, and assumed the same year the additional surname of Crewe by royal licence on 8 June 1894.[3] From 17 July 1895 he took a changed name of Crewe-Milnes with creation as Earl of Crewe, in the County Palatine of Chester.

On 20 April 1899, he married an eighteen-year-old society beauty, Lady Mary Etienne Hannah Primrose, daughter of the former Prime Minister Lord Rosebery.

The Boer War broke out only months later in October. Crewe remained a leader of the conciliators who to the last tried to find a negotiated settlement with President Kruger. He began to grow apart from his father-in-law's Liberal imperialism, advocating a gradualist "step-by-step" policy of containment of the situation. But the war soon escalated with Crewe finding himself isolated. He was not much of an orator, but had skills in administration, proving an efficient organizer. He became increasingly influential with Henry Campbell-Bannerman and the Radicals. He made a personal friend out of H. H. Asquith, who was his political mainstay in the round of intrigues that intensified during the lead up to the First World War. A close confidante he was appointed as an aide on almost every committee. From 1905 to 1908 he was Lord President of the Council in the Liberal government. The Lords, dominated by Tory Peers, were hostile to Asquith's proposed reforms. They wrecked the Education Bill of 1906, while Crewe stood out as the main defender of the Cabinet's policy. In response to pleas from Campbell-Bannerman he assumed the role of cross-party convenor. Crewe was a moderate in all things. He deplored Lloyd George's rabble-rousing Limehouse Speech in the east end of London in 1909 that called for destruction of the class system. By the same token he found it unacceptable for die-hard Tories and Unionists to continue to block legislation.

Although Elgin reassured him of Churchill's friendliness among Liberals, Crewe was in for a rude shock: he had succeeded the orientalist Lord Elgin as Secretary of State for the Colonies, and in May 1908 an angry exchange of letters challenged his credentials as a new cabinet minister, which Churchill claimed came direct from the Prime Minister.[4] Crewe could be haughty and coldly disapproving: alike to Grey he took a dim view of Lloyd George's 'people's budget'.[5] In spite of Churchill's opposition to it in a minority of the cabinet, it was Crewe's job to steer it through the Lords.[6] In his capacity as Leader of the House of Lords he played a key role in bringing the Parliament Act 1911 (depriving the Lords of its veto) to the floor of the house and eventually onto the statute book. Asquith valued him highly as a colleague, for his common sense and sound judgment rather than any exceptional brilliance. But when Churchill circulated a memorandum proposing the abolition of the Lords in 1910, Crewe remained essentially whiggish and cautious, blocking any attempt to change the bicameral relationship.[7] He sat on the Constitutional Conference Commission set up on 16 June 1910 during the crisis following Edward VII's death.[8] The inconclusive outcome of the January 1910 election, which increased Unionist representation in the Commons, caused a wide-ranging debate on the constitutional implications of the Lords' powers. The new King, George V, to obviate a stalemate agreed to create 500 new peers, should the Liberals win the December 1910 election. Crewe was present at the discussions as one of the Inner Sanctum in the cabinet. He had previously taken a more right-wing position with Asquith arguing for reform of the membership of the Upper House, rather than of its customary powers. Crewe was selected to face leading Tory Lord Cromer, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, in negotiation of the provisions of the Veto bill, which would give a whip hand to an elected Commons.

It was his colonial responsibilities from September 1910 as part of his terms as Secretary of State for India (1910–11 and 1911–15), for which he gained the hoped for promotion in the peerage. The Delhi Durbar was an invention of his genius for organization, designed to the last detail for the first British monarch in history to pay a visit to India. In that post, he was responsible for the removal of the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi, and the reunion of the two Bengals under a Governor-in-Council, as well as commissioning the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens for his outstanding visionary grand design of New Delhi.[9] He was further honoured in 1911 when he was created Earl of Madeley, in the County of Stafford, and Marquess of Crewe.[10][11]

Robert Offley Ashburton Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, by William Strang, 1907

In at least one of Asquith's famed cabinet lists 1913–14, Crewe was at the top; but other ministers, like Churchill, were more thrusting at pushing themselves forward for promotion. Crewe was widely respected for his administrative competence, efficiency and personal intelligence.[12] Crewe served as Lord President of the Council again from May 1915, topping the Asquithian cabinet rankings, and working closely with Lloyd George on currency and exchange rate stabilisation in the budget.[13] His home at Crewe House, Curzon Street in Mayfair became a centre for war propaganda.

In 1916 he was appointed briefly as President of the Board of Education, and may have been useful in the post-war educational sector, but the coalition split in December. He remained as ever, an Asquithian, declining office under Lloyd George, and after his resignation he continued to lead the independent Liberal opposition in the House of Lords.[9] He took the largely honorific title of Chairman of London County Council. He maintained a leading role in the education sector, serving as Chairman of the Governing Body of Imperial College London (1907–22), President of the Board of Education (1916) and Chancellor of Sheffield University. He was later Ambassador to France appointed by Bonar Law from October (1922–28). As Ambassador to France, he launched a fund for the creation of a British Institute in Paris, which has since developed into the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). He had a very brief ten week stint as Secretary for War in MacDonald's National Coalition from August 1931, but did not hold office after the general election. The Samuelite Liberals withdrew over free trade from the National Coalition in 1932. From 1936 and throughout the Second World War Crewe was leader of the Independent Liberals in the House of Lords.

What's the matter with the public-speaker?

He did not much like public speaking, but that was probably because he contrasted sharply with Lloyd George's firebrand delivery and populist demagogy.[14] Crewe himself tended to hesitate too long time with "pregnant pauses", as his speech became stilted. He was above all fastidious in the royal tradition of Charles I.[15] Edwin Montagu, the Jewish cabinet minister, claimed somewhat sardonically, that one of his female constituents died of boredom listening to the Marquess. His father-in-law, Lord Rosebery, had been Liberal Leader six years before he himself became Leader in the House of Lords of that party. Rosebery thought Crewe a reliable politician but a poor speaker. When it was announced to him that his daughter, the Marchioness of Crewe, was in labour, Rosebery is said to have quipped, "I hope that her delivery is not as slow as Crewe's".[16] Always at ease in London High Society, Crewe hosted the dinner party at which Winston Churchill met Clementine Hozier.

Political positions

A radical[17][18] Liberal, Crewe voiced his support during his time in Parliament for numerous reforms, including old-age pensions,[19] an eight-hour day for miners,[20] and meal provisions for schoolchildren.[21] In November 1905, Crewe had written to (then) Party leader Henry Campbell-Bannerman of the need for innovative reform on the part of the Liberals, noting that

More than ever before, the Liberal Party is on its trial as an engine for securing social reforms, - taxation, land, housing, etc. It has to resist the I.L.P. claim to be the only friend of the workers. Can it do this and attempt Home Rule as well?[22]

During the Liberal party crises of 1886, 1909–11, and 1916, he stayed loyal to the party. He was also said to have acknowledged the damage the First World War did to liberalism. When he died the 4th Marquess of Salisbury described Crewe as "the best of the whig statesmen". One historian believed his whiggery was more temperamental than ideological.[23] Reserved and stiff upper-lipped by nature he sought compromise by mediation attempting to negotiate a middle way. His meetings were often spontaneous and informal, but dominated by an aristocratic clique: Lloyd George recalled how in 1912 Crewe had tried at Deeside to resolve Ulster's longstanding problems with Bonar Law over a round of golf.

Literary work

Crewe inherited his father's literary tastes, and published for public consumption Stray Verses in 1890, besides other miscellaneous literary work, including Gleanings from Béranger (privately printed in 1889), much of which translated. He also wrote a biography on his father-in-law, Lord Rosebery, published in 1931, roundly criticised by Churchill as pedestrian, but which was well received in other quarters.[24] A war poem, A Harrow Grave in Flanders—which touches on the theme of "what might have been"—was published in several anthologies during and following World War I.[25] Lord Crewe was the last of the Liberal grandees at the end of Empire. He was essentially by character a Victorian, but this showed in his austere reverential writings that took few risks with the material.


Margaret (Peggy) Crewe-Milnes, Marchioness of Crewe (Glyn Philpot, 1917)

Crewe married twice. In 1880, he married Sibyl Marcia Graham (1857–1887), daughter of Sir Frederick Graham, 3rd Baronet, of Netherby in the County of Cumberland. They had three daughters and one son, who died as a child:

In 1899, more than a decade after his first wife's death, the 41-year-old Crewe married again. At eighteen years of age, the bride was around the same age as Crewe's eldest daughter. She was Lady Margaret Etienne Hannah (Peggy) Primrose, daughter of the 5th Earl of Rosebery. They had two children, a son and a daughter, and again the son died in childhood. The children were:

Lord Crewe died in June 1945, aged 87. As he had no surviving male heir his titles became extinct.

Styles of address

Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Zetland
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
The Earl Cadogan
Preceded by
The Marquess of Londonderry
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Lord Tweedmouth
Preceded by
The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine
Colonial Secretary
Succeeded by
Lewis Vernon Harcourt
Preceded by
The Marquess of Ripon
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Earl Carrington
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Preceded by
The Viscount Morley of Blackburn
Secretary of State for India
Succeeded by
Austen Chamberlain
Preceded by
The Marquess of Lincolnshire
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Earl Curzon of Kedleston
Preceded by
The Earl Beauchamp
Lord President of the Council
Preceded by
Arthur Henderson
President of the Board of Education
Succeeded by
Herbert Fisher
Preceded by
Alfred Fowell Buxton
Chairman of the London County Council
Succeeded by
Ronald Collet Norman
Preceded by
Thomas Shaw
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Party political offices
Preceded by
The Marquess of Ripon
Leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Viscount Grey of Fallodan
Preceded by
The Marquess of Reading
Leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Viscount Samuel
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
The Lord Hardinge of Penshurst
British Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Sir William Tyrrell
Academic offices
Preceded by
Henry Fitzalan-Howard
Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
Succeeded by
Henry Lascelles
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Fife
Lord Lieutenant of the County of London
Succeeded by
The Duke of Wellington
Preceded by
The Duke of Portland
Senior Privy Counsellor
Succeeded by
The Viscount Ullswater
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Marquess of Crewe
Preceded by
Richard Monckton Milnes
Baron Houghton


Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Robert Crewe-Milnes
  1. "Milnes, the Hon. Robert Offley Ashburton (MLNS875RO)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Crewe, Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 432.
  3. Davis, John. Milnes, Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-, marquess of Crewe (1858–1945), in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (September 2004; January 2008), Oxford University Press, retrieved 23 January 2009
  4. Jenkins, Churchill, p. 153.
  5. Jenkins, p. 159.
  6. Jenkins, op cit., p. 165.
  7. Jenkins, op cit., pp. 168–9.
  8. Jenkins, op cit., p. 189.
  9. 1 2  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Crewe, Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 30 (12th ed.). London & New York. p. 772.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Sir Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st and last Marquess of Crewe". The Peerage. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Crewe, Marquess of (UK, 1911 - 1945)". Cracroft's Peerage. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  12. Asquith letters to Lady Venetia Stanley; Jenkins, op cit., p. n229.
  13. Jenkins, The Chancellors, pp. 193, 206.
  14. Pope-Hennesey, p.150; David, pp. 120–1.
  15. Pope-Hennessey, p. X.
  16. Leo McKinstry, Rosebery; Statesman in Turmoil.
  17. Smith, Neil (1972). "Social reform in Edwardian liberalism: the genesis of the policies of national insurance and old age pensions, 1906-11 - Durham e-Theses". Durham E-Theses. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  18. Walter Runciman
  19. Lord Crewe's Speeches
  20. Lord Crewe's Speeches 2
  21. Lord Crewe's Speeches 3
  22. Lancashire and the New Liberalism
  23. Pope-Hennessey, p. 54.
  24. Jenkins, Churchill, pp. 447–8.
  25. New York Libraries (Feb 1919) p. 161
  27. The London Gazette: no. 26318. p. 4742. 19 August 1892.


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