Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading

The Most Honourable
The Marquess of Reading

Reading in 1917
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Leader of the House of Lords
In office
25 August 1931  5 November 1931
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald
Preceded by Arthur Henderson
Succeeded by Sir John Simon
Viceroy and Governor-General of India
In office
2 April 1921  3 April 1926
Monarch George V
Prime Minister
Preceded by The Lord Chelmsford
Succeeded by The Earl of Lytton
Lord Chief Justice of England
In office
21 October 1913  8 March 1921
Monarch George V
Preceded by The Viscount Alverstone
Succeeded by The Lord Trevethin
Attorney General for England
In office
7 October 1910  19 October 1913
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Sir William Robson
Succeeded by Sir John Simon
Solicitor General for England
In office
6 March 1910  7 October 1910
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith
Preceded by Sir Samuel Evans
Succeeded by Sir John Simon
Member of Parliament
for Reading
In office
6 August 1904  19 October 1913
Preceded by George William Palmer
Succeeded by Leslie Orme Wilson
Personal details
Born Rufus Daniel Isaacs
(1860-10-10)10 October 1860
Tower Hamlets, London, United Kingdom
Died 30 December 1935(1935-12-30) (aged 75)
Mayfair, London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Alice Edith Cohen (1887–1927)
Stella Charnaud (1931–1935)
Profession lawyer, jurist, politician
Religion Jewish

Rufus Daniel Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading GCB GCSI GCIE GCVO PC KC (10 October 1860 – 30 December 1935) was the Viceroy of India (1921–25), barrister, jurist and the last member of the official Liberal Party to serve as Foreign Secretary. He was the second practising Jew to be a member of the British cabinet (the first being Herbert Samuel,[1] who was also a member of the Asquith Government), the first Jew to be Lord Chief Justice of England, and the first, and as yet only, British Jew to be raised to a marquessate.


The son of a Jewish fruit merchant at Spitalfields, Rufus Daniel Isaacs was educated at University College School and then entered the family business at the age of 15. In 1876–77 he served as a ship's boy and later worked as a jobber on the stock-exchange from 1880–84.

He entered the Middle Temple to study law, and was called to the Bar in 1887.[2] He was appointed a QC in 1898.[3]

In 1887 he married Alice Edith Cohen, who suffered from a chronic physical disability and died of cancer in 1930, after over 40 years of marriage. He then married Stella Charnaud, the first Lady Reading's secretary. His second marriage lasted until his own death in 1935. After his death Stella Isaacs was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1941,[4] promoted to Dame Grand Cross (GBE) in 1944,[5] and then in 1958 made a life peeress as Baroness Swanborough, of Swanborough in the County of Sussex.

Isaacs lived at Foxhill House in Earley, adjoining Reading, and was elevated to the peerage as Baron Reading, of Erleigh in the County of Berkshire, in 1914, and continued to rise in the peerage: he was created Viscount Reading, of Erleigh in the County of Berkshire, in 1916; Earl of Reading along with the subsidiary title of Viscount Erleigh, of Erleigh in the County of Berkshire, in 1917; and eventually Marquess of Reading in 1926. His marquessate was the highest rank in the British peerage ever achieved by a Jew. He was knighted in 1910, made a KCVO in 1911, a GCB in 1915, a GCSI and GCIE in 1921 (upon appointment as Viceroy of India) and a GCVO in 1922. Although he had no apparent link with Canada, his eminence was such that the Lord Reading Law Society (founded in 1948 to promote the interests of Jewish members of the Quebec Bar) was named in his honour.[6]

Lord Reading died in London in December 1935 aged 75. After cremation at Golders Green Crematorium his ashes were buried at the nearby Jewish cemetery.[7] The house where he died, No. 32 Curzon Street in Mayfair, has had a blue plaque on it since 1971.[8]

Lord Reading and his wife at Haifa Power Station, 1930s

Isaacs garnered fame in the Bayliss v. Coleridge libel suit in 1903,[9] and the Whitaker Wright case in 1904. He entered the House of Commons as Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP) for the Reading constituency on 6 August 1904, a seat he held for nine years until 1913. During this period, he served as both Solicitor General and Attorney-General in the government of Herbert Henry Asquith, becoming the first Attorney-General to sit in the Cabinet in 1912. He led for the prosecution in the Seddon poisoning case in 1912 and that same year represented the Board of Trade at the inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic. In 1913, he was made Lord Chief Justice, a position in which he served until 1921. In 1915 he led the Anglo-French Financial Commission to seek financial assistance for the Allies from the United States.

Isaacs was one of several high-ranking members of the Liberal government accused of involvement in the Marconi scandal.[10] An article published in Le Matin on 14 February 1913 alleged corruption in the award of a government contract to the Marconi Company and insider trading in Marconi's shares, implicating a number of sitting government ministers, including Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; Isaacs, then Attorney General; Herbert Samuel, Postmaster General; and the Treasurer of the Liberal Party, the Master of Elibank, Lord Murray.[11] The allegations included the fact that Isaacs' brother, Godfrey Isaacs, was managing director of the Marconi company at the time that the cabinet, in which Isaacs sat, awarded Marconi the contract.[12][13] Isaacs and Samuels sued Le Matin for libel, and as a result, the journal apologised and printed a complete retraction in its 18 February 1913 issue.[11][14][15] The factual matters were at least partly resolved by a parliamentary select committee investigation, which issued three reports: all found that Isaacs and others had purchased shares in the American Marconi company, but while the fellow-Liberal members of the committee cleared the ministers of all blame, the opposition members reported that Isaacs and others had acted with "grave impropriety".[11] It was not made public during the trial that these shares had been made available through Isaacs's brother at a favourable price.[16]

In 1918, Isaacs was appointed Ambassador to the United States, a position in which he served until 1919, while continuing at the same time as Lord Chief Justice. In 1921, he resigned the chief justiceship to become Viceroy of India. Although he preferred a conciliatory policy, he ended up using force on several occasions, and imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi in 1922.

As a former Viceroy, Reading was critical of some of the policies of his successor Lord Irwin. On 5 November 1929 he attacked Irwin in the House of Lords for using the term “Dominion Status” with regard to India, prior to the report of the Simon Commission.[17]

In MacDonald's National Government in August 1931, Reading briefly served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but stood down after the first major reshuffle in November due to ill-health.

In his approach to politics, Isaacs was, according to Denis Judd,

“no blood-red Radical, and had ‘little sympathy with the narrower aspects of the Nonconformist outlook which constituted so powerful an element in contemporary Liberalism.’ Liberalism, nonetheless, was the natural party for him to support. Within his own father’s lifetime Jews had been obliged to struggle to obtain full civil rights. Moreover, the Liberal party apparently stood for the noble principles of liberty, toleration and progress whereas the Tories, although somewhat disguised with the Unionist coalition, seemed to offer little in the way of enlightened policies. For a man who approved of social reform, yet wanted to stop well short of revolution, the Liberal party was the obvious home.”[18]

Indeed, Isaacs championed such measures as the taxation of land values and reforms in the legal standing of unions, education, licensing, and military organization.[19] Isaacs also gave staunch official backing to David Lloyd George’s initiative on land reform, together with his tax on land values[20] and national social insurance scheme.[21]

Israel Electric Corporation

Along with his in-law Alfred Mond (father of his daughter in-law) and Herbert Samuel, Isaacs was a founding chairman of the Palestine Electric Corporation, precursor to the Israel Electric Corporation in the British Mandate of Palestine. The Reading Power Station in Tel Aviv, Israel was named in his honour.



  1. Although Samuel's religious views were generally considered to be atheist, he remained an observant Jew to please his wife: see Wasserstein, Bernard. "Samuel, Herbert Louis". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 22 March 2014. Isaacs could be considered the first believing Jew to be a member of the Cabinet.
  2. The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 1992.
  3. "Who's Who".
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35029. p. 12. 1 January 1941.
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36544. p. 2586. 8 June 1944.
  6. "About". The Lord Reading Law Society. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  7. The Complete Peerage, Volume XIII, Peerage Creations 1901–1938. St Catherine's Press. 1949. p. 182.
  8. "Rufus Isaacs blue plaque". Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  9. Gratzer, Walter. Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes. Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 226.
  10. Lady Frances Lonsdale Donaldson, "The Marconi scandal", Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962
  11. 1 2 3 W.J. Baker, "The history of the Marconi company 1874–1965", Routledge, 1998 ISBN 0-415-14624-0, pages 144–146
  12. Harford Montgomery Hyde, "Lord Reading; the life of Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading", Heinemann, 1968, pages 124,138–140
  13. Stanley Jackson, "Rufus Isaacs, first marquess of Reading", Cassell, 1936, pages 167–172
  14. Ian D. Colvin, "Carson the Statesman", Kessinger, 2005, ISBN 1-4179-8663-8, page 179
  15. Michael Finch, "G.K. Chesterton: A biography", Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1986, ISBN 0-297-78858-2, pages 204–205
  16. ^ a b Michael Finch, "G.K. Chesterton: A biography", Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1986, ISBN 0-297-78858-2, pages 204–205
  17. Jago 2015, pp.65-7, 70
  18. Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading: radical liberal
  19. The Platform On Which He Stood
  20. Rufus Isaacs and land values
  21. Hansard 25 May 1911, National Insurance bill
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rufus Isaacs.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George William Palmer
Member of Parliament for Reading
Succeeded by
Leslie Orme Wilson
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Parmoor
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Preceded by
Arthur Henderson
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir John Simon
Party political offices
Preceded by
The Earl Beauchamp
Leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Crewe
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Samuel Evans
Solicitor General
Succeeded by
Sir John Simon
Preceded by
Sir William Robson
Attorney General
Preceded by
The Lord Alverstone
Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by
The Lord Trevethin
Government offices
Preceded by
The Lord Chelmsford
Viceroy of India
Succeeded by
The Earl of Lytton
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Cecil Spring Rice
British Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
The Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl Beauchamp
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Willingdon
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Marquess of Reading
Succeeded by
Gerald Isaacs
Earl of Reading
Viscount Reading
Baron Reading
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