Harris, James Howard
, third earl of Malmesbury (18071889), politician
, was born at Spring Gardens, London, on 25 March 1807, the eldest son of the second earl, James Edward Harris (17781841), and his wife, Harriet Susan (17831815), daughter of a Lincolnshire squire, Francis Bateman Dashwood of Well Vale. The earldom had been created for the eminent diplomat Sir James Harris, whose Diaries and Correspondence
(1844) his grandson edited. James Howard Harris, styled Viscount FitzHarris from 1820 until he succeeded his father in 1841, went from a small private school to Eton College and Oriel College, Oxford (BA, 1828), where as someone with a limited interest in learning he claimed to have ragged his tutor, John Henry Newman, a claim denied by Newman after the publication of his old pupil's memoirs. From his father FitzHarris inherited his toryism, 5000 acres lying mainly in Hampshire (a modest estate for his rank), and a taste for country pursuits. He married first, on 13 April 1830, Lady Corisande Emma Bennet (18071876), daughter of the fifth earl of Tankerville and his countess, Armandine de Gramont, whose brother the duc de Gramont was Napoleon III's foreign minister for a few months in 1870. After her death, on 1 November 1880 he contracted another childless marriage with Susan (18541935), daughter of John Hamilton, formerly Crosse, seated at Fyne Court, Somerset.
Pleasure and politics, 18301852
After leaving Oxford, FitzHarris lived the life of a man of fashion for several years. Continental travel was a habit that never left him; so, too, was a weakness for the ladies. In Italy FitzHarris met Byron's last mistress, Countess Teresa Guiccioli, and through her became familiar with the atmosphere of aristocratic liberalism under governments which he as an English tory, with the libertarianism of his kind, found despotic (Malmesbury, 18). At Rome he struck up a friendship with the exiled Prince Louis Napoleon, the future Napoleon III, not yet head of the house of Bonaparte. On the other hand, he absorbed, through his first wife's Gramont relatives, something of their legitimist outlook. At home his tory instincts were strengthened by the experience of helping to put down the agricultural labourers' revolt of 1830 in Hampshire. The political excitement of the thirties made an indelible impression on him, as it did on others of his class: The country was in a delirium, he later wrote (ibid., 30). He did not succeed in entering the Commons before 1841, when his brief representation of the surviving pocket borough of Wilton was cut short by succession to his father's peerage. By his own admission the years before 1846 were largely devoted to pleasure. But if his diary for the period illustrates the douceur de vivre
of an early Victorian nobleman, its pages reveal a growing attraction to politics. His sympathy with the losing side in the Carlist War was expressed in a pamphlet of 1837 critical of Palmerstonian policy in Spain. Later he spent two years editing his grandfather's papers in four volumes. It was, he recalled, an indispensable education in the methods and language of diplomacy (ibid., 239).
Though not quite a backwoodsman, Malmesbury was one of those tories shocked into making a political career by Peel's precipitate abandonment of protection. A friend of the protectionist leader, Stanley, he emerged as the rebellious tories' whip in the Lords. He spoke well at rallies organized to defend the landed interest in the widest sense, where he predicted national ruin from the abolition of the corn laws. It was not until later, when a cabinet place was in the offing, that he approached Stanley's intellectual son Edward for a reading list on political economy, a subject he had never yet studied (Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party
, 56, 15 March 1851). By then, it had become clear, protection was a lost cause. Malmesbury and the elder Stanley had more than their politics in common. A passion for shooting united them, and Malmesbury was a regular guest at Knowsley, his leader's Lancashire seat, for the autumn battues. As Stanley's closest political associate (Stewart, Politics of Protection
, 145), he, with Disraeli, made the future prime minister attend to the social duties of party leadership in that age, giving dinners to his parliamentary followers. He urged Stanley to accept Disraeli as his lieutenant in the Commons, convinced that there was no alternative to that gifted politician (ibid., 137). Like Disraeli, he was exasperated when Stanley's refusal to form a government without the Peelites enabled a dying whig administration to struggle on for another year. There is not a woman in London who will not laugh at us, exclaimed Malmesbury in the presence of his leader and their principal colleagues (ibid., 178). The party, strong in both houses of parliament, did not relish being told by their chief that they lacked the talent to fill a cabinet (Malmesbury, 2078, 1 March 1851).
The Foreign Office, Disraeli, and the party, 18521858
When Stanley, now the fourteenth earl of Derby, did form a minority government in February 1852, the appointment of Malmesbury to the Foreign Office (he was sworn of the privy council on 27 February 1852) attracted fierce criticism. Beside the whig Palmerston and the Peelite Aberdeen, he was the merest amateur, and had unsuccessfully pleaded his unwillingness to spend the time in London which the job required (Malmesbury, 227, 21 Feb 1852). More seriously, a hostile press accused him of partiality for reactionary Austria and Louis Napoleon's dictatorship in France. Malmesbury differed from his whig predecessors in letting it be known that his was to be an exclusively English
policy, and not one that sought to export the distinctive institutions of his country, regardless of history and national character (Letters of Queen Victoria
, 2.375, 27 Feb 1852). The ablest foreigners, he informed the British minister to liberal Sardinia, can never perfectly apprehend the principles of constitutional liberty (Malmesbury, 256, 8 June 1852). He stood up to Austria when her ambassador made a scene about asylum in Britain for political refugees: no British government could afford to yield on that question. Malmesbury surprised those who condemned him out of hand as ignorant and mediocre (Greville Memoirs
, 6.335, 26 March 1852) by the competence with which he preserved continuity in the negotiations he inherited and carried through, notably an international settlement of the Schleswig-Holstein dispute. He embraced free trade round the world in Palmerstonian fashion as being in everybody's interest, and especially Britain's.
Malmesbury presented a deliberate contrast to Palmerston in his far milder diplomatic style, but they were agreed on the importance of a good working relationship with the France of Louis Napoleon. Malmesbury's friendship with the prince president had endured through the latter's years in English exile and a French prison. He visited Louis Napoleon in captivity after his abortive coup of 1840, and did his best to persuade Peel, then in power, to intercede with the Orléanist regime on the prince's behalf. Later, as ruler of France, Louis Napoleon was accessible to someone who had befriended him in adversity and now counted for something in opposition politics. A Bonapartist restoration naturally excited lively fears across the channel, which I stand alone … in disbelieving, wrote Malmesbury to Derby as his foreign secretary (Malmesbury, 272, 8 Oct 1852). Though it was only sensible to ensure that the navy could repel an attempt at invasion, his personal knowledge of Louis Napoleon made him think that the prince was sincere in his desire to co-operate with his maritime neighbour. Long before he realized his apparently hopeless ambition to rule France, he had always told his English friend that the great mistake of his uncle Napoleon I had been to make an enemy of Britain. Malmesbury must be given some of the credit for the improvement in Anglo-French relations that preceded the Crimean alliance. Well aware of the prince's plans to remodel everything (ibid., 180, 30 March 1849) on the map of Europe, he was satisfied that Louis Napoleon means
to try peace
with us (ibid., 273, 8 Oct 1852). While his French legitimist connections made him mildly scornful of the imperial style that was to be assumed in December 1852it would be a masquerade of mummers (ibid., 244, 29 March 1852)he was enough of a liberal to sympathize with a good deal of what Napoleon III hoped to do. In particular, the overweening influence of Tsar Nicholas I's Russia, the embodiment of reaction and a threat to the British position in the East, needed to be challenged.
In opposition, to which the tories returned at the end of 1852, Malmesbury welcomed the eventual resort to arms after the tsar invaded the Ottoman empire: To stop the modern Attila is a great and sound game (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.1339). He, and Disraeli, deplored Derby's failure to persist with his efforts to form a war administration in February 1855 on the collapse of the Aberdeen coalition. Malmesbury attributed Derby's loss of nerve … courage and energy (Malmesbury, 350, 9 Feb 1855) to bad health, and thought the government that Palmerston constructed and reconstructed ought to be supported. Yet he loyally followed Derby in trying to bring down the ministry later in the session. We had no case, he reflected after a first defeat (ibid., 362, 12 May 1855). Derby and Disraeli omitted to consult him, or anyone else, when they renewed the attack and nearly succeeded. Malmesbury regretted the peace of 1856 as premature; but his advice to make common cause with the more bellicose Liberals against terms forced on Palmerston by France was rejected (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.14234). These differences did not affect his fidelity to Derby, or to a toryism which, he felt, possessed strengths overlooked by friend and foe.
Disraeli, it seems, would have liked the Foreign Office for himself in 1852. The resulting coolness between the two men was a factor in their subsequent disagreements over policy and party organization. In the 1850s Derby's ambitious lieutenant used his own journalthe cursed Press
, as Malmesbury called it (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.14234; to Derby, 23 Nov 1855)to promote independent initiatives. The Press
built up Disraeli amid talk of putting him or Derby's son Edward at the head of the party. Malmesbury crushed the go-between who sounded him about a change in April 1856 (Malmesbury, 379, 26 April 1856); but before the year was out he took it on himself to warn the leader that his political lethargy and Disraeli's activities were seriously damaging the party (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.1458; to Derby, 7 Dec 1856). He was Derby's emissary to the remaining Peelites in March 1857, when Palmerston survived an adverse vote on his China policy by appealing to the electorate. In the aftermath of that sharp electoral setback there was more friction with Disraeli, whose mouthpiece infuriated Malmesbury by some unwise criticism of one of the heroes of the Indian mutiny. The Press
, he complained crossly, must needs let a fart at the present idol of England, Havelock (Malmesbury to Disraeli, 6 Dec 1857, Hughenden MS B/XX/Hs). At this stage of his career Disraeli's opportunism was unpopular with tories, but Malmesbury was one of the two colleaguesEdward Stanley was the otherwho shared his concern to modernize tory thinking somewhat (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.12989).
Malmesbury was ahead of most tories in contemplation of the next instalment of parliamentary reform, with which the parties were wrestling from the early 1850s. He believed, with some reason, that the unskilled labourers were instinctively conservative, unlike the shopkeepers and artisans just above them, and was therefore inclined to prefer universal manhood suffrage to the £5 franchise under discussion in 1853. He sat on the not very efficient committee that endeavoured to give some central direction to tories organizing themselves for elections, and recommended Disraeli to pay more attention than he usually did to such mundane matters, stressing that really it is on this mechanical
element that our avenir
rests, adding that all his talents, multiplied infinitely, would be useless without better preparations for the polls. Malmesbury went on to caution him against the temptation to ally with the radicals in parliament, who were influential, though few in numbers: Our men will never follow them (Malmesbury to Disraeli, 22 July 1855, Hughenden MS B/XX/Hs). While his tone did not spare his correspondent's feelings, it should be remembered that the earl spoke for solid, but not unreflecting, tories. Many years passed before they saw Derby's successor in the exotic figure of Disraeli. Malmesbury often referred to his party simply as Derbyites, and he was always one himself. He pressed their leader to exercise his undoubted authority and make Disraeli conform to an agenda for each session (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.1331). This amateur in politics had a natural grasp of the management of party and public opinion to which Derby was temperamentally reluctant to condescend. He was also remarkably disinterested, being one of three ministers who offered to retire from the tory cabinet in 1852 in favour of weightier selections from other political groupings.
Britain, the great powers, and the war of 1859
Malmesbury has been judged on his performance in the crisis leading to war between France, allied with Sardinia, and Austria over the future of Italy. His mediation failed; but he may be said to have succeeded in his national aims. He went back to the Foreign Office in February 1858 in alarming circumstances. At their first interview, the French ambassador shouted C'est la guerre! C'est la guerre!, while Malmesbury listened impassively, the best way of meeting such explosions from foreigners (Malmesbury, 425, 14 March 1858). His sixteen months in office were devoted to buying time for the modernization and expansion of the British fleet, the superiority of which to the French navy had been dangerously eroded by professional complacency and technological change. When the second Derby ministry fell in June 1859, the country was safer, at any rate, and Palmerston took over from there. In the process the tension with Disraeli increased: he found Malmesbury's diplomacy wanting in the assertiveness which he thought was the mark of a great power. The policy of insisting and threatening is Palmerstonian, replied Malmesbury. It would commit them to the French or the Austrian camp and diminish British influence in Europe where they are now bidding
for our friendship. He likened Britain in his person to a respectable clergyman co-trustee with five horse-dealers, the other powers professing their desire to maintain the continental peace (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.16289 ).
Nevertheless, British policy under Malmesbury remained essentially Palmerstonian. The Palmerston government, enjoying a large majority after the 1857 election, had been overthrown by Derby's opportunistic decision to support a Liberal rebellion on the Conspiracy to Murder Bill
directed at refugees who plotted assassinations abroad. Public opinion turned against this legislative gesture to appease French indignation following the recent attempt on Napoleon III's life by conspirators based in Britain. After as before Palmerston fell, Malmesbury was convinced that appeasement could not be avoided: we are not in a position to have war with anyone (Malmesbury, 415, 1 Feb 1858). In addition to the anxiety about the state of the navy, suppression of the Indian mutiny had denuded Britain of regular troops. The attitude of the French military was openly menacing; but Malmesbury put his trust in personal friendship with the emperor and in Napoleon's undoubted disposition to stand well with the old enemy. He hoped and believed the liberal Bonaparte would be able to control those about him who were more or less hostile to Britain (ibid., 448, 24 Feb 1858). The tories were, in principle, committed to the Conspiracy to Murder Bill
, and their abandonment of it as impossible to carry was difficult to justify to the French. In effect, Malmesbury threw himself on the emperor's mercy: his crucial dispatch was edited sub rosa
by the French ambassador, who discussed the wording with his government before the British foreign secretary was permitted to send it off (Steele, 147). Napoleon exacted a price for sparing a weakened Britain national humiliation and saving the ministry.
I have not moved … without information, explanation, and invitation given spontaneously. I do not see how consistently with the honour of England I can have … shown more deference to an ally, wrote Malmesbury in 1859, looking back on a string of concessions to France (Steele, 147). When Portugal was subjected to French intimidation for co-operating with the British against a thinly disguised revival of the African slave trade under the tricolour, he did not encourage her to resist. A shot at Lisbon … and France would have been mistress of the Channel, he commented after the French navy's show of force in the Tagus (27 Oct 1858, Malmesbury MS 9M73/1/5). One of his difficulties was the public inability to realize the extent of British weakness. The free emigration of Africans incurred the wrath of the powerful anti-slavery lobby. Malmesbury was obliged to appeal to it for restraint and to the emperor for understanding of his predicament, warning the first of the danger of war and offering the second a supply of indentured coolie labour from India for the French sugar colonies. The substitute, he admitted to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, was far from idealthere may be suffering more or lessbut he begged him to use his considerable influence in favour of the compromise upon which I really believe peace with France depends (ibid., 11 Nov 1858). He chose his envoys to Constantinople and Madrid, and shaped his policy all over Europe and beyond, to please Napoleon as far as he could without jeopardizing British interests. If he exaggerated the peril in which his country stood, others, including Disraeli, were sometimes more frightened.
Napoleon's designs on the Austrian presence in Italy, secretly concerted with the Sardinian minister Count Cavour at Plombières in July 1858, were quite unacceptable to Malmesbury when they leaked out over the next four months. In writing to the queen, whose sympathies were decidedly Austrian, he alluded to Italy's splendid past and her present degradation: the romantic feelings which her plight had inspired in him and Napoleon as young men were not dead in either of them (Letters of Queen Victoria
, 3.273, 7 March 1858). He was not prepared, however, to back the emperor in disturbing the territorial settlement of the peninsula, a part of the European order that depended on respect for the Vienna treaties of 181415. On the other hand, he refused to entertain the idea of going to war for the patchwork of Italian states threatened by France. It would be humbug for a British government to join in condemning the Austrian domination that saved Italy from Latin American anarchy. How can we who have conquered Ireland and hold all India by the sword in common decency be the Quixote of Italy, he asked in a letter written for communication to the emperor. These points, which he repeated in the Lords, offended Liberals who perceived a qualitative distinction between British and Habsburg imperialism (Malmesbury to Cowley, 7 Feb 1858, Malmesbury MS 9M73/1/5; Steele, 148). Malmesbury tried to avert the impending clash by urging Austria and France to combine in reforming the papal dominions, the worst administered and most discontented of the Italian states, with moral support and even some unspecified material help from Britain. The proposal was almost an irrelevance, and his continuing mediation was no more successful.
Malmesbury sent Cowley, the ambassador in Paris, to Vienna with a plan of the latter's devising to reduce both French and Austrian involvement in Italy, and isolate Sardinia. It had the effect of giving Austria the impression that Britain would fight beside her, despite Malmesbury's statement to the contrary. At the same time, Malmesbury's soundings in Germany led Napoleon to suspect him of inciting Prussia and other German states not to the exercise of moral pressure but to war. Malmesbury foresaw these failures: but his was the duty of every honest man to prevent the scourge which … unprincipled men would inflict on mankind for their personal profit. While he anticipated the folly … perfectly inconceivable of the Austrians, who were to emerge as the technical aggressors, his trust in Napoleon was destroyed (Malmesbury, 459, 2 Jan 1859). The emperor's weaknesses, personal and political, had been clearly exploited by Cavour, for whom Malmesbury reserved his harshest strictures. The war which opened in April 1859 was as bloody as he feared; but Britain, Prussia, and Russia were determined to localize the conflict. To call Malmesbury's diplomacy futile (Taylor, 108) is to ignore the realities. Britain could not abstain from the great power politics that produced and limited the war. The risks of closer involvement were illustrated after the fighting started when, in the middle of an election called over the fate of the government's Reform Bill
, Disraeli and other ministers spoke of the difficulty of remaining neutral. Disraeli suggested sending an expeditionary corps to Germany to await developments, and a new French ambassador talked excitedly to Malmesbury of an alliance with Britain to conquer all Europe. As he reminded the queen, public opinion was squarely behind Malmesbury's policy of neutrality, which had Lord Derby's full support (Steele, 3031, 149).
Yet Malmesbury, and the government with him, were labelled pro-Austrian. The charge was their undoing in the new parliament where, still in a minority, they lost a vote of confidence on their policy. Malmesbury blamed Disraeli as leader in the Commons for failing to ensure that the house had the blue book containing his official correspondence in time for the debate. It showed how he had striven to hold the balance between France and Austria. Why the blue book was not ready has never been satisfactorily explained. Disraeli never reads a word of my papers
, Malmesbury had complained. On his side, Disraeli's antagonism was barely concealed: Malmesbury must go, he told Derby on the day the Commons voted (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.1624, 1659, 7 Jan 1859, 10 June 1859). Typically, he appears to have thought the foreign secretary's policy lacked the colour and dash which he could have given it. Malmesbury had no illusions and no regrets: accepting a GCB (15 June 1859) from Derby as the government went out he said that if he deserved the honour, it was for gaining time to rebuild the navy's strength. He was glad to escape from office, and from Disraeli who always lied
(Steele, 160, 5 June 1859).
His real claims are very far above his reputationnext
These words are taken from Edward Stanley's character sketch of Malmesbury written in 1856, which controverted the view, then and later, that he was a political lightweight and a society figure (Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party
, 351). In the mid-1860s the former foreign secretary might have had the Foreign Office for a third time when the tories came in again. He stepped aside, serving Derby and then Disraeli as lord privy seal from 1866 to 1868 and from 1874 to 1876. Although the social round, shooting, and travel took up much of his year, he retained his interest in politics. He deputized for the gout-stricken Derby in the Lords, and acted as his intermediary in promising tory assistance for Palmerston's policies. When he became prime minister in 1868, Disraeli considered dropping him from the cabinet but kept him on to lead the upper house for the short remainder of that parliament. A shrewd judge of what the public wanted and what the party would stand, he had encouraged Disraeli to commit himself to household suffrage in March 1867 when three of their cabinet colleagues were poised to resign in protest. He watched disapprovingly as the Commons stripped the new franchise of its accompanying safeguards. After the party lost the 1868 election, he gave up the leadership of the tory peers; but his old admiration for Disraeli had revived, and there was a place for him in the government formed in 1874 until age and deafness compelled him to retire. He died at Heron Court, his Hampshire seat, on 17 May, and was buried in the priory church, Christchurch, in the same county, on 22 May 1889. The earldom devolved on his nephew Lieutenant-Colonel Edward James Harris, eldest son of his second brother, Admiral Sir Edward Harris [see below]
Malmesbury's Memoirs of an ex-Minister
consist mainly of his edited diaries and include selections from his private correspondence. Indiscreet by the standards of the day, and not always accurate, they are none the less a useful source, and a frequently amusing one. Even superficially, they do not bear out Palmerston's description of him, in an angry moment, as lazy, useless and supremely ignorant at the Foreign Office (Monypenny & Buckle, 1.1629). Stanley, who had been his under-secretary in 1852, fairly remarked that Malmesbury was handicapped by a late start in ministerial life without the lengthy apprenticeship in minor office that others served. If he did not have Palmerston's appetite for unremitting toil, he applied himself conscientiously (Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party
, 351). He was excellent company, and, as a minister, capable of satirizing himself and his colleagues, anonymously, in Punch
. More a man of ideas and less pragmatic than Stanley supposed, he often masked a serious purpose with a jest. Nothing can be more agreeable to a foreign minister though perhaps not to an active mind like yours than the dormant state of politics, he told a British ambassador. It is my beau idéal
of foreign affairs (Malmesbury to Loftus, 10 Nov 1858, Malmesbury MS 9M73/1/5). Like many men who enjoy slaughtering the animal creation, he had an acute sense of the folly and waste of war: to provoke it deliberately was intolerable. By no means the least effective of Victorian foreign secretaries, he was the kind of tory who rated peace and security above the political benefits of cutting a figure in the affairs of Europe (Malmesbury to Cowley, 13 Jan 1859, Malmesbury MS 9M73/1/5).
Sir Edward Alfred John Harris
(18081888), naval officer and diplomatist
, Malmesbury's second brother ( was the third), was born on 20 May 1808, and went from Eton College to the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, in 1822. A midshipman in 1823 and lieutenant in 1828, he was not employed again after attaining the rank of captain in 1841; but his subsequent promotions eventually made him a full admiral on the reserve list in 1877. On 4 August 1841 he married Emma Wylie or Wylly (d
. 1896), daughter of Captain Samuel Chambers RN, with whom he had seven children. He entered parliament as a tory in 1844 at a by-election for Christchurch, a small Hampshire borough where his family's influence was strong. When his party split in 1846, he, like his brother, adhered to the protectionist majority and was a beneficiary of Malmesbury's patronage as foreign secretary in 1852 and 18589. Harris left the Commons in 1852 to become consul-general in Denmark and, later that year, chargé d'affaires and consul-general in Peru, a post which he exchanged in 1853 for its equivalent in Chile. Malmesbury brought him back to Europe in 1858 to be consul-general at Trieste, and he was promoted minister to Switzerland almost at once. The next tory foreign secretary, Lord Stanley, moved Harris to the Netherlands as minister in 1867 and, on his retirement in 1877, wrote that he was no loss to the service … a kindly good-natured sort of man who … did no more than he could help (Diaries of E. H. Stanley
, 437). Created KCB in 1872, Harris died at his home in Kent, Sandling Park, on 17 July 1888 and was buried in the priory church, Christchurch, Hampshire. His eldest son, Edward, succeeded as the fourth earl of Malmesbury in 1889.