Amery, Leopold Charles Maurice Stennett
(18731955), politician and journalist
, was born on 22 November 1873 at Gorakhpur in the North-Western Provinces of India, the eldest of the three sons of Charles Frederick Amery (18331901), of Lustleigh in Devon, an official in the Indian forestry commission, and his wife, Elisabeth Johanna Leitner (c
.18411908), the daughter of Leopold Saphir and Marie Henriette, née
.18121879), who as a child adopted the name of her stepfather, Johann Moritz Leitner (18001861), a physician of Budapest. In 1877 Elisabeth Amery returned from India to Britain, and in 1885 divorced her husband, who took up farming in Canada and had no further contact with his family. Many of Amery's maternal family converted to protestantism and migrated to Britain. His Jewish connections were known, but unremarked, by his contemporaries.
Education and early life
Amery's early schooling took place in his aunt's library, and at small schools in Brighton, Cologne, and Folkestone. From 1887 at Harrow School he moved rapidly, taking the top place in the examinations for a number of years, winning scholarships and prizes, and representing the school at gymnastics. It was here that he first encountered Winston Churchill, a taller though junior contemporary, who pushed Amery into the school swimming pool; they were to be associated, in ever varying relationship (as Churchill put it), for the rest of Amery's political life. An exhibitioner at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1892, Amery went on to take first classes in classical moderations (1894) and literae humaniores
(1896), was proxime accessit
to the Craven scholar (1894) and Ouseley scholar in Turkish (1896), and won a half-blue in cross-country running. He also had a reputation for rejecting prevailing philosophical and economic orthodoxies.
In 1897 Amery was elected, at the second attempt, to a seven-year fellowship in history at All Souls College, which he actually held until 1912, studying the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires and acquiring a working knowledge of fourteen languages. (From 1939 the fellowship was renewed: for the rest of his life the college was his second home.) He joined the staff of The Times
in 1899, and in covering the build-up to the South African War of 18991902 was the only correspondent to visit the Boer forces. After narrowly escaping capture with Winston Churchill, he was ordered away from the front to organize the paper's war correspondents. He remained a member of the editorial staff of The Times
for the next ten years, having been called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1902.
Commitment to empire
In South Africa, Amery had come to regard Alfred Milner with filial devotion. He collaborated with the young men of Milner's staff (the kindergarten) on an occasional basis and was spotted by Milner as a promising unofficial agent for empire in London to research the imperial economy and prepare material for the imperial conferences [see also
]. Amery's commitment to the empire as the final object of patriotic emotion and action (Amery, Political Life
, 1.253) assumed the dimensions of a faith, staunchly defended for more than sixty years, and sustained by a fine mind and (sometimes obdurate) political courage. All Souls, The Times
, and the patronage of Milner and Joseph Chamberlain gave him contacts and unusual influence, magnified by his appetite and capacity for work.
Over nine years Amery planned, edited, and largely wrote The Times History of the War in South Africa
(7 vols., 19001909), which demonstrated the need for reform of the army and the War Office. After extensive discussions with the army chiefs, he advocated its reorganization in The Problem of the Army
(1903) and became a forthright lobbyist for compulsory military training and national service. Under the pseudonym Tariff Reformer in The Times
he attacked free trade, and he followed this with The Fundamental Fallacies of Free Trade
(1906), which he described as a theoretical blast of economic heresy, including the proposition that the total volume of British trade mattered less than the function of trade in balancing the country's deficiency in raw materials and foodstuffs by the export of its surplus manufacturing, shipping, and financial skill. This analysis underlay Amery's lifelong drive for partnership with the empire's primary producers.
In 1910 Amery married Florence Louise Adeliza (Bryddie) Greenwood (18851975), the daughter of John Hamar Greenwood of Whitby, Ontario, and the sister of Hamar (later Viscount) Greenwood, a barrister and Liberal MP. They had two sons, and , and from 1924 lived in Eaton Square, London, in a large family house which seemed unchanging to those who came to know it over two generations.
Amery turned down the editorships of The Observer
(1908) and The Times
(1912) for politics and the struggle for a winnable seat. With the help of the Chamberlain connection he was adopted for the safe seat of South Birmingham (later Sparkbrook), where he was returned unopposed in May 1911. He held the seat until 1945, with his priorities largely unchangedto persuade the Conservative Party to adopt a policy of economic and social progress rather than negative anti-socialism; and, for the Commonwealth, to insist on freedom and equality as the condition for effective unity, to be maintained and developed by the indispensable element of economic co-operation. Tariff reform came to have many different meanings for Conservatives; Amery was one of its central economic theorists, linking it to imperial consolidation over the vicissitudes of fifty years. He considered political federation of the empire, as advocated by Lionel Curtis, with whom Amery collaborated in the Round Table movement, both impractical and unhistorical. Union would evolve through co-operation and personal contact. Clear principles should be debated in new imperial institutions modelled on the committee of imperial defence, and each country left to reconcile them with popular consent and public opinion in its own way. (He was later to advance a similar strategy for India and for European union.)
Amery's diaries, kept more or less continuously from 1910 until his death, are a unique record of a Conservative who represented the imperialist wing of the party for forty years. With gusto, and something of a taste and reputation for intrigue, he threw himself into the thick of political controversy on the right wing of his party. In January 1914 he proposed a British covenant pledged to resist the coercion of Ulster. He served on the joint parliamentary committee investigating the Marconi scandal, and travelled to the southern hemisphere dominions with the first Empire Parliamentary Association in 1913.
In the First World War, Amery served as an intelligence officer in Flanders and then, on the strength of his languages, in the Balkans, Gallipoli, and Salonika. His analysis then would have held as good for him twenty years later:
Our political object is the defence and welfare of the British Empire. … We are not a part of Europe. This war against a German domination in Europe was only necessary because we had failed to make ourselves sufficiently strong and united as an empire to be able to disregard the European balance. … We have got to get back to a British point of view. (Amery to Milner, 25 May 1915, Bodl. Oxf., MSS Milner, 350/142)
With Milner's patronage, in 1916 he was appointed assistant secretary to Maurice Hankey at the war cabinet secretariat, where he played a significant role in the successful experiment of dominion participation in an imperial cabinet and war conference, and in the creation of the Supreme Allied War Council. Amery's view of Britain's world role emphasized the Middle East as the link between the African and Asian empires and the southern dominionsessentially, the British geo-political system that endured until the crack-up at Suez in 1956 (Louis, 68). He was a lifelong Zionista supporter of the creation of the state of Israel, having drafted the agreed text of the Balfour declaration (1917) giving effect to a Jewish national home in Palestine, not as a nationalist state but one where (on the analogy of Canada) vigorous but mutually tolerant Jewish, non-Jewish, and Arab national cultures would co-exist with equal rights.
In 1919 Amery was appointed as Milner's parliamentary under-secretary at the Colonial Office. His scheme of land settlement and assisted empire migration (enacted in the Empire Settlement Act
) showed his capacity for constructive thought and achievement on a limited budget. When Milner resigned in 1921, Amery was appointed parliamentary and financial secretary to the Admiralty, where he defended the ending of the Anglo-Japanese alliance while privately deploring the tripartite naval agreement between Britain, the United States, and Japan. He was prominent in the revolt of the under-secretaries which played its part in ending Lloyd George's coalition, acting as a vigorous spokesman for the junior ministers at their meeting with Austen Chamberlain on 16 October 1922.
Admiralty and Colonial Office
Amery achieved cabinet office when Bonar Law appointed him first lord of the Admiralty in October 1922. A tenacious defender of naval strength and autonomy, he presided over planning the complex Singapore naval base for the use of the fleet in the Far East. He played a significant role in the choice of Baldwin to succeed Law, and in persuading the Conservative leadership that the solution to Britain's industrial and unemployment problems lay in safeguarding British industry from unfair competition and stimulating a common market of the empire by reciprocal preferences. Like most of his colleagues, he was sceptical of Baldwin's impetuous decision to call an election on the issue prematurely in 1923. The election was lost, Amery believed, because the case had never been properly formulated or explained: he was instrumental in setting up a small policy secretariat (the forerunner of the Conservative Research Department) as a remedy.
Baldwin gave Amery the colonial secretaryship from 1924 to 1929, the office he coveted and which he held for long enough to record real achievements. Despite the constraints imposed by Churchill at the exchequer, a policy of colonial development was establishedmodest in scope, with the creation of an empire marketing board and a new co-ordinated agricultural research service for the colonies. Settler-led development at this time was accepted in Palestine, where Amery insisted on equal rights for all communities; in East Africa, by contrast, his support for white settler government was resisted as a breach of trusteeship obligations to Africans and Indians. In 1925 the achievement of Amery's long-projected institution of a separate Dominions Office with quasi-diplomatic status marked his determination to resolve the anomalies between theory and practice in the dominion relationship (from June 1925 to June 1929 he held the secretaryship of state for the dominions concurrent with the colonial secretaryship).
At the imperial conference of 1926 the final formula squaring dominion independence with Commonwealth unity was Balfour's, but much of the background thinking was Amery's. Yet the symbolism of Commonwealth was less important to Amery than its practical functioning as a strong British imperial economic and strategic unit, and he declared his intention to move in 1928 to a policy on empire trade with or without his colleagues. As the first colonial secretary to tour all the dominions, sitting with the various cabinets and (as he put it) quickening the consciousness of Empire in more than 300 speeches (published as The Empire in the New Era
, 1928), he believed he had strengthened my personal equipment in fact and in public esteem for tackling the really big job (Amery Diaries
, 1.529, 3 Feb 1928). He found little support from his colleagues.
Amery later argued that a cabinet of overworked ministers is quite incapable of either thinking out a definite policy, or of securing its effective and consistent execution (Thoughts on the Constitution
, 1946, 86). Few, if any, in the cabinet had his versatility and breadth of experience of the world, but he did not command commensurate influence. Contemporaries maintained that he was ineffective in discussion, speaking too often and for too long, the inherent interest of his content diminished by the unvarying pace and pitch of his delivery; it was said that he might have been prime minister had he been half a head taller and his speeches half an hour shorter. His face would carry the unchanging half-smile of a Buddha as he spoke in perfectly constructed sentences which somehow lacked edge. On occasions he appeared resolutely independent. No place was found for him in the governments of the 1930s; in any case, his inclusion would not have found favour among Labour members of the coalition. He alluded to this elliptically in his autobiography, with the hope that it might have
its encouraging aspect [for younger men], in so far as it shows what appreciable results can be achieved even by an unknown young man, provided he knows what he wants done, and is well content that the actual doing and the credit should rest with others. (Amery, Political Life, 1.14)
The copious detail of his diaries recorded a version of events that did not hesitate to explain his own role fully. He never bore grudges, and would easily shrug off disappointments by escaping from Westminster to climb a mountain. (Three were named in his honour.) Lord Brand later said of him, What courage and what simplicity and what strength, physical and other. He was all of one piece (Brand to Bryddie Amery, 4 Dec 1955, CAC Cam., MSS Amery 454/2). He was also the lastand perhaps the onlyprivy councillor to knock another member to the floor of the House of Commons on a matter of honour.
The locust years
On the back benches, Amery kept in political trim with sustained, purposeful activityat first experimenting with fiction (The Stranger of the Ulysses
, 1934), then updating the case for empire (The Forward View
, 1935), and familiarizing himself with aircraft production and air defence, strategic raw materials, supply. In 1932 he rejoiced that tariff reform had at last been adopted as a policy; the imperial element would follow. He attended the Ottawa conference in a minor advisory capacity only, a chained Prometheus who was acknowledged as one of the few people to understand the preference problem, but whose discussions with the dominion representatives were interpreted by his party colleagues as obstructive intrigue.
In the international confusions and dangers of the 1930s Amery has been absolved from the taint of appeasement. It is perhaps more accurate to say that he was deeply sceptical of idealistic internationalism and disarmament, of the League of Nations and later the United Nations, and took his stand on realities as he saw them: Britain had no further interest in Europe than to see peace and stability; the empire was over-committed, unable to face a challenge from both Germany and Japan together; America, inherently opposed to British protection and imperial economic consolidation, was at best an uncertain ally. The few cards Britain held must therefore be played to maximum advantage. Amery was sufficiently pragmatic to acknowledge that dominion self-government would ultimately come to India, placing strain on the frontier empire from the Middle East to Afghanistan. The eastern Mediterranean was a weak link, but would be secure if Italy could be wooed from commitment to Germany, despite the invasion of Abyssinia. Germany might be given elbow room in eastern Europe, short of Yugoslavia and the Balkans, but there must be no surrender of colonies.
The fall of Austria and the Czechoslovak crisis in 1938 made it clear that Britain's involvement in Europe could not, after all, be avoided. Amery abstained in the Munich debate, torn between war and an ignominious peace; decision came in December when he analysed the facts of the military, naval, and air position. From then on he was committed to gearing the country for war, working with Churchill (their third war, he remarked) to press for a national government and war cabinet and then to harass the government on the conduct of the war. The moment for which he is best remembered came in the debate on the invasion of Norway on 7 May 1940. Speaking with the authority of a former first lord of the Admiralty and the advantage of a Birmingham political background, and sensing the sympathy of the house, he quoted Cromwell's injunction to the Long Parliament: Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go (Hansard 5C
, vol. 360, 1940, col. 1150). The effect was annihilating. On the following day the government lost a division of the house; Neville Chamberlain resigned.
Amery, Churchill, and India
Throughout their political lives, Amery and Churchill had seldom seen eye to eyewhether over free trade, the gold standard, naval strength, the empire, or America. Above all they diverged on Indian self-government, which Churchill passionately opposed. Amery had hoped to return to high office in defence or economic policy, and was deeply disappointed by Churchill's offer of the India Officea position defined as cabinet rank minister outside the war cabinetthough he was to serve on the strategic Middle East and Indian committees. The Indian portfolio grew in importance and challenge as the struggle for Indian self-determination, and the danger of civil war between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, interacted with the vital war role of the Indian army in the Middle and Far East. Amery entered office determined to cut through the uncertainties that beset the Government of India Act
of 1935. The survival of the empire depended on the Indian war effort; India needed a resolute policy, consistently applied. He demanded the maximum expansion of Indian troops and production, proposing to reciprocate with a clear-cut statement promising Indian self-government, with a home-made constitution, at the end of the war.
The relationship between prime minister and secretary of state got off to a bad start and continued stormily. Churchill did not hide his mistrust of Amery, and demanded he modify his revolutionary policy; Amery admired Churchill as a war leader sufficiently to comply, but otherwise regarded him as an incorrigible whig and resented his unprecedented interventions in the affairs of the department. Often goaded to the brink of resignation by what he called Winstonian harangues, he stuck to his post at the cost of his own health, tenacious rather than adroit, defending the authority of frustrated viceroys before a cabinet that did not scruple to override them, confronting Churchill and conciliating him by turns, endlessly redrafting documents in his own hand in the attempt to find a constructive way forward. Colleagues in the office remembered his tireless presence, his diminutive frame perched on a tall stool, adjusting his spectacles like an old man but with a very young mind that illumined new aspects of a question.
Amery personally prevented Linlithgow from banning the Indian National Congress and dissuaded Churchill from seeing India for himself. In order to secure Muslim support against the advancing Japanese after the fall of Singapore, Amery introduced the possibility of local secession from an Indian dominion into the terms authorized for the Cripps mission in 1942, thus inadvertently laying the basis for partition, which he deplored. He engineered Wavell's appointment as viceroy. While he agreed with the progressive Indianization of the viceroy's council and its evolution to something like a cabinet, his instincts were conservative: he would not dilute the powers of the viceroy and held no brief for the tactics of the Indian political parties; he deplored the internationalist tripe which has, of necessity perhaps, been talked during the war (Amery Diaries
, 2.864); he opposed concessions to Gandhi on hunger strike. He battled in cabinet, having to fight his corner even over the need to relieve the Bengal famine and to forestall the repudiation of Britain's wartime indebtedness to India.
In the hope of a dramatic gesture to break the deadlock caused, Amery believed, by nationalism and India's sense of subjection, he amended his original proposal: India should acquire full independence on the basis of her existing constitution on VE- (or VJ-) day, with the viceroy's powers reserved to prevent the Hindus on his council overriding the Muslimsa superficially daring but really cautious and practical policy (Amery Diaries
, 2.1023). The interest of the plan lay in the fact that it did not presuppose (or rule out) a Westminster-style democracy for India. It found no favour and was never put to the cabinet, although Amery believed the formula might have averted partition, and that his proposal later influenced Mountbatten's tactics. Thereafter he backed Wavell's plan for a conference of Indian leaders, but left office with the Indian question deadlocked after the Simla conference of June 1945 broke up over Jinnah's insistence that the Muslim members of the proposed executive council be drawn exclusively from the membership of the Muslim League.
Out of parliament
In the landslide election of 1945 Amery lost Sparkbrook. He described the Conservative Party's election campaign as sordid: unless [the party] recovers an ideal and a method it will never again enthuse the country (Amery Diaries
, 2.1047, 1049). In the same year he was appointed Companion of Honour, having refused the offer of a peerage to leave the way open for his son Julian's parliamentary career. In October 1945 the Amery family faced the trial and execution for treason of John Amery, the elder son. His father afterwards circulated a pamphlet among friends, John Amery: an explanation. Though a man of strong feelings and capable of deep affection, Amery was never demonstrative. His family life was unusually close, Julian's family living in the Eaton Square house, and father and son sharing a study. Bryddie's health gave way; his friends remarked on the extraordinary fortitude that enabled Leo to carry on apparently as before. At the age of seventy-one he could find election defeat rejuvenating, and hoped to find a new seat. He was to be seen on the platform of every Conservative Party conference, the conscience of the party, encouraging and gently directing youthful aspirants such as Peter Walker and Alan Lennox-Boyd, much as Milner had educated him. As late as 1948 he could still announce, We have got to be quite clear about it. Empire Preference is a foundation for our whole economic life (Goldsworthy, 170). But according to his son Julian he came to accept that the analysis he had in the first place adopted from Joseph Chamberlainthe need for a wider area of trade and investmentmight in some senses be met by the move into the European Economic Community.
In the twentieth century few, if any, British politicians who built their careers round a vision of a consolidated empire or Commonwealth gained recognition at the highest level, Amery among them. But Westminster had never bounded his life. In public he could seem austere; in private he was stimulating and lively company. He was a skilled mountaineer and skier (and wrote about his experiences in Days of Fresh Air
 and In the Rain and the Sun
, 1946), and served as president of the Classical Association, the Alpine Club, and the Ski Club of Great Britain. He read and wrote prodigiouslyfrom a treatise arguing that Goliath's Philistines were the remnants of Agamemnon's expeditionary force (The Times
, 23 Nov 1973) to his stimulating and influential analysis of the constitution delivered in 1946 as the Chichele lectures in All Souls (Thoughts on the Constitution), commemorated there fifty years later as of enduring relevance. He produced four volumes of memoirs (three of which were published as My Political Life
) and a stream of other works, on international trade, the balanced economy, and Britain's role between the Commonwealth and a more closely united Europe. He had served from 1919 on the Rhodes Trust (becoming chairman in 1933), where he had used his influence to bring research into closer relation with policy through the Beit, Smuts, and Rhodes chairs in imperial history that he had helped to found in Oxford, Cambridge, and London universities, as well as the Chichele chair of military history at All Souls. Balliol, his old college, rewarded him with an honorary fellowship. He died in London on 16 September 1955. On 22 November 1973 Julian Amery commemorated the hundredth anniversary of his father's birth with a dinner attended, as Isaiah Berlin put it, by some of those splendid pillars of the past, whose like, I suspect, we may never see again (Berlin to Julian Amery, 26 Nov 1973, CAC Cam., MSS Julian Amery 578/1).
L. S. Amery, My political life, 3 vols. (19535) · The Leo Amery diaries, ed. J. Barnes and D. Nicholson, 2 vols. (198088) · W. R. Louis, In the name of God, go! Leo Amery and the British empire in the age of Churchill (1992) · D. Dilks, Neville Chamberlain, 1: 18691929 (1984) · P. Williamson, National crisis and national government: British politics, the economy and empire, 19261932 (1992) · K. Middlemas and J. Barnes, Baldwin: a biography (1969) · J. Ramsden, The age of Balfour and Baldwin, 19021940 (1978) · S. Constantine, The making of British colonial development policy (1984) · G. Rizvi, Linlithgow and India (1978) · R. J. Moore, Churchill, Cripps, and India, 19391945 (1979) · D. Goldsworthy, Colonial issues in British politics, 19451961 (1971) · J. Ramsden, The age of Churchill and Eden, 19401957 (1995) · Baffy: the diaries of Blanche Dugdale, 193647, ed. N. A. Rose (1973) · W. Rubinstein, The secret of Leopold Amery, Historical Research, 73 (2000), 17596 · private information (2004) [Lord Walker; Sir Edward Forde; John Grigg; Sir Roger Cary] · W. R. Louis, Leo Amery and the post-war world, 194555, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 30 (2002), 7190
CAC Cam., corresp. and papers
LPL, corresp. and papers, incl. some relating to son's conversion to Orthodoxy | All Souls Oxf., letters to Sir William Anson
BL, corresp. with Lord Cecil
BL, corresp. with Arthur James Balfour
BL, corresp. with Lord Jellicoe
BL, corresp. with Lord Northcliffe
BL OIOC, corresp. with Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith
BLPES, letters to Violet Markham
BLPES, corresp. with Tariff Commission
BLPES, corresp. with Lady Rhys Williams
Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lionel Curtis
Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Geoffrey Dawson
Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with H. A. Gwynne
Bodl. Oxf., letters to Lady Milner
Bodl. Oxf., letters to Lord Milner
Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Monckton
Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Selborne
Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Simon
Bodl. RH, corresp. with Sir Robert Coryndon
Bodl. RH, corresp. with Lord Lugard
Bodl. RH, corresp. with Joseph Oldham
Bodl. RH, corresp. with Charles Walker
CAC Cam., corresp. with Ernest Bevin
CAC Cam., corresp. with Sir Henry Page Croft
CUL, corresp. with Sir Samuel Hoare
Durham RO, corresp. with Lord and Lady Londonderry
JRL, corresp. with Sir Claude Auchinleck
King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., corresp. with Sir Basil Liddell Hart
Lpool RO, corresp. with Lord Derby
NA Scot., corresp. with Lord Lothian
NAM, letters to Lord Roberts
NL Aus., letters to Alfred Deakin
NL Aus., corresp. with Lord Novar
NL Scot., corresp. with John Buchan [copies]
Nuffield Oxf., corresp. with Lord Cherwell
Parl. Arch., corresp. with Lord Beaverbrook
Parl. Arch., letters to Andrew Bonar Law
Parl. Arch., corresp. with David Lloyd George
Parl. Arch., corresp. with Herbert Samuel
U. Birm. L., corresp. with Mrs Neville Chamberlain
U. Leeds, Brotherton L., corresp. with Henry Drummond-Wolff
U. Lond., Institute of Commonwealth Studies, corresp. with Richard Jebb
U. Warwick Mod. RC, letters to Sir Leslie Scott
BFINA, A tour of the dominions by the Right-Hon. L. S. Amery, M.P., 1928; documentary footage; news footage; propaganda footage
IWM FVA, actuality footage
IWM FVA, news footage
IWM SA, recorded lecture
D. Low, pencil drawing, 1928, NPG · J. Gunn, oils, 1942, NPG [see illus.] · C. Beaton, double portrait, photograph, 1944 (with Lady Amery), NPG · C. Beaton, photograph, 1944, NPG · S. Elwes, oils, c.1954, Bodl. RH · H. Coster, photographs, NPG · T. Cottrell, cigarette card, NPG · J. Gunn, oils, second version, Bodl. RH · oils, Balliol Oxf. · oils, All Souls Oxf.
Wealth at death
£8820 8s. 9d.: probate, 7 Nov 1955, CGPLA Eng. & Wales