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This article was written by Sidney Lee and originally was published in 1891.
Henry Howard MolyneuxHerbert, fourth Earl of Carnarvon, statesman, born on 24 June 1831, was eldest son of Henry John George Herbert, third earl, by his wife Henrietta Anne, eldest daughter of Lord Henry Molyneux Howard, a brother of Bernard Edward Howard, twelfth duke of Norfolk. Herbert, at first known by the courtesy title of Viscount Porchester, owed much of his liberal culture to the training of his father. When only seven he spoke at a large public meeting of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, over which his father presided. At the age of eight he went to Turkey, saw the coronation of Abdul Medjid in 1839, and contracted an illness the evil effects of which never wholly left him. He was educated at Eton, where Edward Coleridge was his tutor. On 17 October 1849 he matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, and on 9 December following succeeded on his father's death to the earldom of Carnarvon. He read assiduously at Oxford, came much under the influence of H. L. (afterwards Dean) Mansel, and obtained a first class in literis humanioribus in 1852. Upon taking his degree early in the following year he made a tour with his friend Lord Sandon (later Earl of Harrowby) through Syria and Asia Minor. The little community of the Druses of Mount Lebanon, which he visited on the journey, arrested his attention, and he published in 1860 an interesting volume of recollections, with notes on the Druses' religion. As soon as he returned to England he devoted his attention to politics, and on 31 January 1854, on the eve of the Crimean War, made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, when he moved the address in reply to the queen's speech, and was complimented by Lord Derby.
From the first Carnarvon's political views were conservative, but he was never a narrow partisan. As a youth he watched with deepest interest the colonial extension of the empire, and his political career was chiefly identified with endeavours to unite the colonies with the mother-country in permanent bonds that should be mutually advantageous. In one of his earliest speeches in parliament (1 March 1855) he suggested that the government should move a vote of thanks to those colonies which had evinced practical sympathy with England during the Crimean war. At the close of the war he visited the Crimea, and was conducted by Admiral Lord Lyons over the battle-fields. When in February 1858 Lord Derby became prime minister Carnarvon entered official life as under-secretary for the colonies. He held office till June 1859, and on quitting it studied attentively the course of foreign affairs. In the session of 1863 he showed wide range of knowledge and liberality of sentiment in two important speeches — one calling attention to the connivance of Prussia in the Russian oppression of Poland, and the other describing outrages recently committed on Englishmen in Japan. At the same time he performed conscientiously all the duties of a country gentleman and landlord on his estate at Highclere, Berkshire. In 1864 he published a sensible paper on ‘Prison Discipline’ as a preface to a report on the subject adopted at his suggestion at the Hampshire quarter sessions. In 1859 he was appointed high steward of Oxford University, and was created D.C.L. He was an examiner in classics and theology at Eton soon afterwards.
In June 1866 Carnarvon joined Lord Derby's second ministry as colonial secretary, and on 19 February 1867 brought forward in an able speech in the House of Lords a bill for confederating the British North American provinces. This great measure, which became law in June 1867, had been in contemplation as early as 1838; its primary object was to unite Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick in one federal dominion under the crown, but the dominion was empowered to admit at any subsequent time the other colonies and provinces of British North America. A dominion parliament, divided into upper and lower houses, was called into existence, and a suitable seat of government — the subject of much controversy — was ultimately found in Ottawa. The scheme included guarantees on the part of the Dominion government for the construction of an inter-colonial railway across the North American continent, and on this portion of Carnarvon's measure Mr. Robert Lowe (later Viscount Sherbrooke) led a determined but unsuccessful attack. The working of the whole plan has justified Carnarvon's sanguine prophecies as to its results. Before, however, his bill reached its final stage serious differences arose between himself and his colleagues. The government had undertaken to reform the parliamentary franchise, and two schemes were for some months under discussion in the cabinet. The one scheme was little democratic in its tendencies, and abounded in safeguards against the predominance of the uneducated voter; the other conceded with few reservations a very wide suffrage. When the first scheme was submitted to parliament in February it was so coldly received that Mr. Disraeli, chancellor of the exchequer, insisted on replacing it by the second. Carnarvon at first assented, but on further consideration withdrew his support, and on 4 March resigned, together with General Peel, secretary of war, and Lord Cranborne (later Marquis of Salisbury), secretary for India. Carnarvon objected, he said, when announcing his resolve to parliament, to any enormous transfer of political power (4 March). ‘I shrink from sweeping away all intervening barriers and reducing the complicated system of the English constitution to two clearly defined, and perhaps ultimately hostile, classes — a rich upper class on the one hand, and a poor artisan class on the other.’
While his party was in opposition (December 1868 to January 1874) Carnarvon effectively criticised the chief measures of the liberal government. But in the debates on the Irish Church Disestablishment Bill (1869) and of the Irish Land Bill he showed characteristic moderation by voting for both in opposition to his own party. Speaking on the first bill he warned the House of Lords that as in 1828 so now there were only three alternatives for them to adopt in their relations with the Irish catholics, ‘emancipation, reconquest, or repeal,’ and begged them ‘not to defer concession till it could no longer have the charm of free consent, nor be regulated by the counsels of prudent statesmanship.’ Of the Land Bill he said (17 June 1870) that Ireland was exceptionally situated, and demanded exceptional legislation, but he was opposed on the whole to purchase of the land by the state. In the same session he denounced the indifference displayed by the government to colonial interests, and spoke eloquently of the possibilities of a great confederation of the British empire. Subsequently he urged the government with much earnestness to avenge the murders of four English travellers by brigands in Greece — crimes for which he held, on apparently good grounds, the Greek government responsible. Carnarvon's cousin, Edward Herbert, secretary of the British legation at Athens, was one of the victims. The Greek government ultimately proceeded against the murderers.
At the general election of February 1874 the conservatives were returned to office, and Carnarvon again entered the cabinet as colonial secretary. Almost his earliest act was to abolish slavery within the Gold Coast protectorate. But South Africa soon absorbed all his attention. The recent discovery of the diamond-fields of Griqualand West — a territory claimed by both English and Dutch — had accentuated the rivalry between the English and Dutch settlers. At the same time the Europeans and natives were engaged in repeated hostilities. The governments of the English colonies of Cape Colony, Natal, and Griqualand West were, moreover, each pursuing independent policies, all more or less rigorous, towards the natives, while the Dutch Boers of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic were exceeding even the harshness of the English colonists in their treatment of their native neighbours. Carnarvon determined to protect and pacify the natives. He reversed the sentence passed by the Natal government on a native chieftain named Langalibalele, whose lands lay on the borders of Natal, and who had been charged with conspiring against the colony. He recalled the lieutenant-governor of Natal, Sir Benjamin Pine, and sent out Sir Garnet (later Lord) Wolseley as temporary governor to report upon the native difficulty and questions of defence (25 February 1875). On 4 May 1875 he forwarded a despatch to Sir Henry Barkly, governor of Cape Colony, directing that representatives of the three English settlements and of the two independent Dutch republics should meet together to determine collectively and on an uniformly just basis their future relations to the natives. He also suggested that the conditions of a South African confederation, on the lines of his Canadian scheme, should be discussed; named the persons who might in his opinion best represent each constituent state; and asked his intimate friend Mr. J. A. Froude, who was visiting South Africa, to explain to the colonists his own personal views. The assembly of Cape Colony hotly resented Carnarvon's proposals as an unwarranted interference with their right to independent government. Carnarvon expostulated (4 July); but, soon perceiving that popular feeling in South Africa supported the colonial ministry, withdrew his scheme (22 October 1875) and substituted a suggestion that a South African conference should meet in the following year in London. That plan was very partially pursued. In 1876 the president of the Orange Free State and Mr. Molteno, premier of Cape Colony, arrived in London; but the proposals for a confederation made little progress. The personal interviews with Carnarvon resulted, however, in a settlement of the claims preferred by both the Orange Free State and Cape Colony to the possession of Griqualand West. It was arranged that that territory should be united to Cape Colony, and that the Orange Free State should abandon its pretensions in consideration of the payment of £90,000. Meanwhile reports of disturbances in the Transvaal, caused not only by the Dutch Boers' quarrels with the natives but by their oppression of English settlers, seemed to Carnarvon to justify English interference. He sent Sir Theophilus Shepstone there in September 1876 to compose internal differences, and gave him for the purpose large discretionary powers. Soon afterwards he sent out Sir Bartle Frere as governor of the Cape and high commissioner for the settlement of native affairs in South Africa.
Carnarvon did not despair of meeting the accumulating difficulties by the adoption of his original scheme of a South African confederation. In April 1877 he introduced into the House of Lords a bill ‘for the union under one government of such of the South African colonies or states as may agree thereto, and for the government of such union.’ He followed throughout the lines of his Canada act, but the measure was merely permissive, ‘a bill’ (he himself described it) ‘of outline and principle.’ Its passage through the House of Commons in July and August was rendered notable by the obstruction on the part of a few Irish members of parliament, led by Mr. Parnell and Mr. Joseph Biggar, who then first appeared in the distinct rôle of irreconcilable enemies to the ordinary methods of parliamentary procedure. Mr. Parnell repeatedly charged Carnarvon with indifference to colonial sentiment. Before, moreover, the bill had proceeded far, news arrived that Shepstone, doubtful of remedying otherwise the anarchy prevailing in the Transvaal, had on 12 April proclaimed the annexation of that country to the British empire. Carnarvon gave this step his warm approval. The opposition, under Mr. Gladstone's leadership, bitterly denounced it in parliament and the country. Carnarvon asserted that the annexation was accepted by the Dutch with enthusiasm (31 July 1877). Later in the year, however, the Boers sent to London a deputation requesting a reversal of the proclamation, but Carnarvon stood firm. In December 1880, after Carnarvon had retired from office, the Boers rose in arms against their English governors. A disastrous war followed, and in April 1881, when Mr. Gladstone was again in power, the independence of the Transvaal Republic was re-established. Meanwhile, in 1877, after Sir Bartle Frere had promptly suppressed a Kaffir outbreak, Carnarvon enthusiastically defended Frere's energetic action in preventing what might (he said) have proved a serious trouble.
South Africa was still suffering from the results of these disturbances and from the prospects of further difficulties, when the policy of his colleagues in Eastern Europe led Carnarvon to retire from the government. On the outbreak of the war between Russia and Turkey in 1877 he had urged that England should adhere to a policy of strict neutrality, and on 30 April 1877 it fell to him to announce to parliament the issue of a proclamation pledging England to that policy in the east of Europe. But when early in 1878 it became clear that Russia would come out victor, and it was probable that she would push her successes against Turkey to the last extremity, Lord Beaconsfield deemed it necessary for England to interfere. To this change of policy Carnarvon objected. On 2 January 1878, while addressing a deputation at the colonial office, he expressed his conviction that England ought not to sanction a repetition of the Crimean war. When the cabinet met a fortnight later, the prime minister severely condemned Carnarvon's language, and a proposal, which came to nothing, was made to send an English fleet into Turkish waters. Carnarvon offered to resign, but Lord Beaconsfield induced him to withdraw his resignation. A week later it was determined at another cabinet council to send a fleet to the Dardanelles, and to appeal to parliament for a vote of credit. Carnarvon thereupon renewed his offer of resignation, and Lord Beaconsfield accepted it. In justifying his conduct in the House of Lords (25 January) Carnarvon urged the government to pursue their original policy of neutrality. In 1878 he earnestly recommended the ministry if they entered the congress of San Stefano, which had been suggested to the great powers by Russia, to safeguard the interests of those Christian races subject to Turkey on whom he thought England might better depend to thwart the aspirations of Russia than on Turkey herself. In the autumn he delivered an interesting lecture on ‘Imperialism’ before the Edinburgh Philosophical Society, in which he deprecated the identification of imperialism with ‘mere bulk of territory and multiplication of subjects’ protected by vast standing armies, and pointed out that England's imperial function was to draw her colonies closer to herself, and to hold the balance between her colonists and the native races.
Carnarvon was a less conspicuous figure in politics for the two following years, but became chairman in September 1879 of an important commission appointed to consider the defence of colonial possessions. The commission sat for nearly three years, and published its third and final report in July 1882. Although it recommended a large expenditure, Carnarvon claimed that its estimates were framed on the lowest possible scale. After the defeat of the conservatives at the polls in 1880 Carnarvon offered once again to devote his services unreservedly to his party, and for the five succeeding years spoke constantly in parliament and at public meetings. On the third reading of the Irish Land Bill in the House of Lords on 8 August 1881 he was put forward to express the suspicions with which his party regarded the measure. He described it as ‘a very great experiment,’ but finally accepted it without dividing the house. When the franchise bill of 1884 reached the House of Lords he energetically opposed it (8 July), on the ground that a redistribution of seats must accompany any further extension of the suffrage, so as to ‘give full play to all the different opinions in the country.’ The Reform Bill of 1867 had led (he said) to violent oscillations of the electoral body, to lower views of duty on the part of candidates, and to a tendency to convert members of parliament into delegates. At his own and his friends' advice the bill was rejected by the House of Lords, and a fierce agitation was conducted in the following autumn throughout the country in support of the bill. The agitators threatened the second chamber with extinction. Carnarvon flung himself with enthusiasm into the conflict, and elaborately defended the action of the House of Lords both in the present and the past. When the ministry consented to combine a redistribution bill with their franchise bill, Carnarvon and his friends withdrew their opposition, but, as the two bills were passing through the upper house, he asserted that duly qualified women were logically entitled to the suffrage. On 13 November 1884 he raised a debate on the proposals made by the liberal government to provide new coaling stations for the fleet and defences for the colonies, and showed the inadequacy of the suggested plans. In November 1884 the Imperial Federation League was formed, and Carnarvon vigorously supported it, taking part in its meetings to the end of his life.
In June 1885 Mr. Gladstone's ministry was defeated on their budget proposals. The Reform Bill had appointed the general election for November, and Lord Salisbury consented to take office after receiving from the liberal majority in the House of Commons promises of support for the few months intervening. The condition of Ireland was the chief difficulty which the new government had to face. The bitterest feelings of hostility against the English government had been roused by the Home Rule agitation of Mr. Parnell and his followers. A Crimes Act had been firmly administered during the last years of Mr. Gladstone's ministry, and the stringency of its provisions had supplied the agitators with their leading cry. When the conservatives assumed power, that act, which had been passed for a term of three years only, was on the point of expiring. The incoming ministry determined to allow it to lapse, and to rely for the repression of crime on the ordinary law. Carnarvon was naturally inclined to such pacific courses. At the earnest request of the leaders of his party, he personally undertook, as lord-lieutenant of Ireland, to give the new conciliatory policy a fair trial; but in a letter to the prime minister he limited his period of office to the end of the year, or the opening of the new parliament. When announcing the new Irish policy in the House of Lords on the eve of his departure for Dublin (6 July 1885), he declared it no hopeless task to conjoin ‘good feeling to England with good government in Ireland.’ On 7 July he made his state entry into Dublin, and was received with enthusiasm by all classes.
Carnarvon claimed to approach Irish problems in a free and unprejudiced spirit, and as soon as he was firmly installed in office he resolved to obtain exact information as to the legislative demands of the Irish parliamentary party. To this end he invited Mr. Parnell to meet him in London at the close of July. Mr. Parnell accepted the invitation. At the opening of the interview, Carnarvon, according to his own account, mentioned firstly, that the invitation was the act of himself by himself, and that the responsibility for it was not shared by any of his colleagues; secondly, that his only object was to obtain information, and no agreement or understanding, however shadowy, was to be deduced from the conversation; and thirdly, that, as the servant of the queen, he could listen to nothing inconsistent with the maintenance of the union between England and Ireland. Carnarvon stated that his own part in the conversation was confined to asking questions and suggesting objections to the answers. Something was said about a second interview, which did not take place. Nearly a year later a serious controversy arose out of this meeting. Mr. Parnell made the earliest public reference to it in the House of Commons on 7 June 1886, in the course of the debate on Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. Carnarvon had promised, Mr. Parnell asserted, that in the event of the conservatives obtaining a majority in the House of Commons at the election of November 1885, they were prepared to give Ireland a statutory parliament with the right to protect Irish industries, and would propose at the same time a large scheme of land-purchase. Carnarvon at once denied having given any such undertaking. Mr. Parnell replied in a detailed statement which the English advocates of Home Rule long quoted to prove that the conservatives were readier than themselves to yield to the demands of the Irish parliamentary party. Carnarvon, in his latest public review of the subject (10 May 1888), reproached himself with holding the interview without witnesses. Nothing is more common than for two persons to take different views of an hour's conversation in which they alone participated, and their differences may not materially reflect on their veracity. It seems clear that Carnarvon had no distinct scheme in mind when he met Mr. Parnell, but he was inclined to ‘some limited form of self-government not in any way independent of imperial control, such as might satisfy real local requirements and to some extent national aspirations.’ So much he subsequently stated in the House of Lords he would gladly see achieved (10 June 1886).
Carnarvon's Irish administration, which closely resembles Lord Fitzwilliam's, raised the hopes of the nationalists higher than his powers of achievement or the views of his colleagues justified. He spent a week in the west in August. He visited Galway and Sligo on the journey; received deputations from the mayors and corporations, and, while avoiding political references, spoke hopefully of improving the material condition of the people. At Belfast on 8 September he announced that ‘he did not come to Ireland to tread the weary round of coercion and repression.’ At Dublin Castle he examined memorials begging him to reverse sentences of long terms of imprisonment passed in his predecessor's time on persons convicted of complicity in agrarian murder. On 17 July 1885 he authorised Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, the leader of the House of Commons, to state, in reply to the Irish members, that he would personally inquire into the convictions in the Maamtrasna murder case, which had excited special attention in Ireland. Except in one instance, Carnarvon did not, after investigation, entertain any notion of granting reprieves; but his courteous demeanour to all parties led to rumours, which were not conducive to good government, that he sympathised with the reckless charges of injustice brought by the nationalists against the recent liberal government. In November the general election brought unsatisfactory results to all parties. The conservatives, together with the Irish members, were practically equal to the liberals, but without the Irish or some liberal support it was impossible for the conservatives to carry on the government, and they soon showed that they had no intention of making common cause with the Irish nationalists in the new parliament. Carnarvon's policy was not developing those results which he had anticipated. Crime was increasing, and his colleagues offered to strengthen by new legislation the means at his command for its repression. At the same time Mr. Gladstone allowed it to be known that he was ready, when in power, to bring in a Home Rule Bill. Amid these complications, but in accordance with his original intention on taking office, Carnarvon resigned (12 January), and on 25 January finally left Dublin. A few days later the conservatives were driven from office, and Mr. Gladstone in the course of the session brought forward his Home Rule and Land Purchase Bills. Carnarvon declared that these bills were financially unsound, healed none of the old sores, and by the tumult they excited virtually postponed the settlement of the Irish question to a very distant day. But, without entering into any details, he recommended ‘some limited form of self-government.’
Carnarvon was not invited to take office in the conservative ministry formed in July 1886, after the defeat of Mr. Gladstone at the general election which followed the rejection of the Home Rule Bill. But he continued to give his party an independent support, and, while still looking forward to an harmonious settlement of the Irish difficulty, acknowledged the need of re-enacting stronger criminal laws. Early in 1887 the ‘Times’ newspaper charged Mr. Parnell and his chief followers with conniving at the Phoenix Park and other outrages which had taken place in Ireland between 1880 and 1885; the House of Commons rejected a proposal to examine the charges as infringements of parliamentary privilege; and Mr. Parnell declined the offer of the government to bring in his behalf a libel action against the newspaper. Carnarvon thereupon urged, in a letter to the ‘Times’ (9 May 1887), that a special commission should be appointed by parliament to determine the truth or falsehood of the accusations. This was the earliest suggestion of a measure which the government adopted a year later. In speeches and letters to the papers Carnarvon repeatedly called attention, in his last years, to the need of increasing our coaling stations, and of fortifying our home and colonial ports for the protection of the empire in case of war. He visited South Africa and Australia (August 1887 to February 1888), and thus increased his practical knowledge of the colonial side of the subject. One of his latest speeches, which was delivered before the chamber of commerce in London (11 December 1889), dealt exhaustively with the details of colonial defence. A few days later, in a speech at Newbury, he described himself in general political matters as still an old conservative, who was anxious to make his party as national as possible. Early in 1890 his health, which was never strong, began to fail, and he died at his London house in Portman Square on 28 June 1890. He was buried on 3 July in the chapel which he had himself erected in the grounds of Highclere. The funeral was attended by Lord Salisbury and many of Carnarvon's political associates. A commemorative service was held at the same time in the Chapel Royal, Savoy.
Carnarvon's chivalrous sentiment rendered him the enemy of all obvious injustice, but his reverence for the past made him suspicious of rapid change. On the battle-field of Newbury, near Highclere, he helped to erect, in 1878, a monument to the memory of Falkland and of those who fell with him there in 1643, and he justly described himself in the inscription as ‘one to whom the rightful authority of the crown and the liberties of the subject are alike dear.’ Apart from his action in Canada, Carnarvon achieved little conspicuous success in the practical field of politics. The difficulties that beset his South African and Irish administrations were beyond his capacity to remove; but the high principle and sensitive honour that guided his conduct were apparent even in his failures. He estimated his own powers with perfect accuracy, and rendered his greatest services as a statesman by forcing on the attention of his countrymen the duties owed by the mother-country to the colonies, and the necessity of preserving friendly relations between all parts of the British empire. That topic was free from the narrowing associations of party warfare, and his wide sympathies and liberal culture enabled him to present it with exceptional effect. His speeches were always clear and often eloquent. Carnarvon's leisure was spent in study. He was interested in archæology, both ancient and modern. In 1859 he published an address on the archæology of Berkshire, delivered to the Berkshire Archæological Association at Newbury. He was admitted a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 15 March 1877, and was president from 23 April 1878 to 23 April 1885. He showed scholarship and taste in verse-translations of Æschylus's ‘Agamemnon’ (1879), and of the first twelve books of Homer's ‘Odyssey’ (1886). When at the Michaelmas commencement of 1885 the university of Dublin conferred on him the degree of LL.D., Carnarvon achieved the exceptional distinction of returning thanks in a felicitous Latin speech. He edited in 1869 his father's account of travels in Greece in 1839; in 1875 a posthumous work of his Oxford tutor, Dean Mansel, on ‘The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries,’ with a life of the author; and in 1889 a series of unpublished letters of Lord Chesterfield, which came, together with the Chesterfield estates at Bretby, Nottinghamshire, into the possession of his eldest son on the death, in 1885, of the Countess of Chesterfield, mother of his first wife. Carnarvon was a devout adherent of the church of England, but was exceptionally tolerant to all religious opinions. He was a useful member of the Historical MSS. Commission from 1882, and was a prominent freemason, holding the post of pro-grand-master of England.
A portrait painted by George Richmond, R.A., for Grillion's Club is in the rooms of the club at the Hotel Cecil, London.
Carnarvon married, first, on 5 September 1861, in Westminster Abbey, Lady Evelyn, only daughter of George Augustus Frederick Stanhope, sixth earl of Chesterfield (she died 25 January 1875); and secondly, on 26 December 1878, Elizabeth Catharine, eldest daughter of Henry Howard, esq. By his first wife he had a son, who succeeded him as fifth earl, and three daughters. By his second wife, who survived him, he had two sons.
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15 November, 2014