Lord Edward Cecil

Lord Edward Herbert Gascoyne-Cecil KCMG DSO (12 July 1867 – 13 December 1918), known as Lord Edward Cecil, was a distinguished and highly decorated English soldier. As colonial administrator in Egypt and advisor to the Liberal government, he helped to implement Army reforms.

Lord Edward Cecil

Lord Edward Cecil Vanity Fair 1899-11-09.jpg
"at Mafeking" Cecil as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, November 1899
Birth nameEdward Herbert Gascoyne-Cecil
Born(1867-07-12)12 July 1867
Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, England
Died13 December 1918(1918-12-13) (aged 51)
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service17 years
RankBrevet Lieutenant-Colonel
UnitGrenadier Guards
Commands heldADC (Egypt) to Lord Kitchener, Military Secretary to Lord Kitchener.
Battles/warsSecond Boer War
RelationsMarquess of Salisbury

A son of HatfieldEdit

Lord Edward was the fourth son of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and Georgina Charlotte. When Edward was born, his father asked the Earl of Carnarvon to be a godfather. He was educated at Eton College, but did badly in his exams, failing to get into Sandhurst, which his father blamed on the school (because he had been bullied there).[1] His family called him 'Nigs', which his mother used when writing to him at boarding school. When only 11 years old, he wrote a play on "The Eastern Question" from his father's foreign office papers. The tone of the play was anti-Beaconsfield, showing a resentment for a longevity in office. Written in 1878, at the time of Congress of Berlin, perhaps unaware that Beaconsfield had only three years to live, the Prime Minister is personified as Dickens 'Artful Dodger'.[2] A latent racism was characteristic of Cecilian 'clannish' behaviour.[3]

Gascoyne-Cecil became a Second Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards in 1887. He served for four years in the regiment before being promoted first lieutenant and appointed to the staff of Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley. On the Dongola Expedition in 1896 he served with distinction: mentioned in despatches, he was promoted a Brevet Major, winning the Order of Medjidie 4th Class and the Khedive's Star for service in Egypt and Sudan, with two clasps. He was aide de camp to Lord Kitchener in the Egyptian campaign of 1896, who had a profound influence on his career. "All shall be at home known by the proper people" wrote Lord Edward in his diary. The following day, his father Lord Salisbury announced in parliament that Dongola was not the objective, but the conquest of the Sudan, and recapture of Khartoum to avenge the murder of Gordon.

Cecil was appointed a member of the Rodd Mission to the Emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia in 1897 that negotiated the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897. The following year the Fashoda incident occurred when Captain Marchand leading a small military expedition occupied the White Nile town of Fashoda in present-day South Sudan after an epic 14-month march from West Africa, and claimed the area for France in opposition to Anglo-Egyptian claims, bringing the two powers close to war. On 18 September Lord Edward arrived at Fashoda with Kitchener's expeditionary force of five steam-boats carrying 100 Highlanders, 2,500 Sudanese troops and four machine guns. Kitchener set up a meeting on 19 September at which they drank whisky and champagne with Marchand.[4] The French troops withdrew on 3 November on instruction from Paris. On the Nile Expedition they conquered Darfur and annexed the South of Sudan. Kitchener's army returned in triumph to a speech at the Mansion House. In Cimiez, south of France that summer an elated Queen congratulated Salisbury. The campaign culminated at the battle of Omdurman he was mentioned in despatches at the battle of Atbara. For his part in the re-capture of Khartoum he was mentioned in despatches and won two clasps. Cecil was present at the battle of Omdurman.[5]

With Kitchener and Baden-Powell in South AfricaEdit

On 3 July 1899, Colonel Baden-Powell was informed by Wolseley at the War Office that he should go immediately to Mafeking, taking Lord Edward Cecil as his Chief Staff Officer.[citation needed] They sailed on 8 July, Cecil taking with him, wife Lady Violet. When they landed at Cape Town, Cecil went to contractors Julius Weil & Co to order £500,000 worth of supplies for what Cecil correctly anticipated would be a long siege.[citation needed] As a son of the Prime Minister, Cecil's signature carried weight with Weil & Co although, the Cecils expected parliament would approve the amount.[citation needed]

In October 1899, Cecil was serving with Colonel Baden-Powell, when besieged at Mafeking. 30 October was known as 'Mournful Monday' as three British columns surrendered; the situation became desperate. As second-in-command Cecil imposed the death penalty for spying, looting, trespassing, and loitering outside a women's laager at night. He was in charge of provisioning: when the food ran out the people had to eat dogs and horses, there was one reported case of cannibalism. 478 people died during the siege. Baden-Powell kept the Boers tied down for seven months, only to emerge later as a national hero. Cecil set up the Mafeking Cadet Corps that led onto Baden-Powell founding the Scouts later on.[6] Cecil was chivalrous towards women, but it became clear that the English expected the blacks to starve first. When the siege was finally lifted on 17 May 1900, there was ecstatic rejoicing in London at the news.[7] Cecil had a poignant reunion with his wife at Mafeking on 29 June, and then rode out north into the Transvaal.[8] Lady Edward was staying at Groote Schuur and probably conducting an affair with Lord Milner. Frances teased the Prime Minister "Gainst death could wrestle with Gallant young Cecil!" When Lord Edward Cecil came home to a triumphant welcome at Hatfield House his father had written off his debts, and the whole town turned out to cheer as the celebrations began on 18 December.[9] The houses were decorated with bunting, the brewery men decked out in livery.[10] Lord Edward made a speech, and was formally thanked by Lord Salisbury. They lit a huge bonfire in the park with fireworks.[11]

The following day C-in-C, General Buller landed with an army at Cape Town. During the Second Boer War he was mentioned in despatches, made Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, awarded the Queen's Medal, with two clasps. In February 1902, Cecil was appointed as Military Secretary to the Sirdar, Lord Kitchener travelling back to Egypt. The Cecils remained bullish and optimistic, but Kitchener estimated there were about 5,000 Boers left in the field.[12] Edward was the only son never to see his father at the death, he had embarked from Egypt three days before on 19 August 1903.[13]

Later careerEdit

Cecil was appointed Agent-General to the Government of Sudan and Director of Intelligence at Cairo for two years. Returning to Britain the new Liberal Government invited Lord Edward Cecil to be Under-Secretary of War in 1906. He was Under-Secretary of Finance from 1907 until 1913, and Financial Advisor to War Office from 1912 until the end of the Great War. In 1915 he was awarded Grand Cordon Order of the Nile. He died during the worldwide 1918 flu pandemic which resulted in tens of millions of deaths around the world


Cecil was a tough but dissolute army officer, laden down by gambling debts. He was a keen baccarat player, a charming fellow, and a well known raconteur. He was always tapping his father for money, demonstrable in the copious notes in the Cecil family correspondence. But Lord Salisbury's patience ran out in 1891. In May 1891 he paid in £1,126.8s.6d, money originally intended for unmarried sister, Gwendolen. But fighting abroad, the mess bills continued to mount, and by May 1894 he owed another £2,000.

His book The Leisure of an Egyptian Official, published posthumously in 1921, gives a detailed account of his role and interactions with the Egyptian politicians in nominal control of the country.

He married Violet Georgina Maxse, second daughter of Admiral Frederick Augustus Maxse, a son of Baron Berkeley on 18 June 1894, at St Saviour's Church, Chelsea. The vicar was his brother Rev William Cecil. A wide range of society guests appeared at the wedding, Asquith, Morley and Chamberlain, as well as Balfour and Salisbury, and liberal poets Blunt and Wilde. His mother, Lady Salisbury remarked: "It will be good for Nigs to have a clever wife and one accustomed to raking care of expenses and I hope will convert her. I don't believe in pious pagans - and my only real objection to the Souls, is their heathenry." His father warned him about her character; and settled a further £1,000 pa having settled his debts again. Lord Edward earned £200 pa in Army pay, but his wife's contribution was double that, making their life comfortable. Salisbury urged them to work on their relationship, but the marriage did not work and ended in divorce.

Lady Cecil was appointed Grand Dame of the Order of St John, and Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.[14] Her second husband was the first and last Viscount Milner (died 13 May 1925). They had two children: George Edward Gascoyne-Cecil born on 9 September 1895. He was a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, and was killed in action on 1 September 1914 on the Western Front. Helen Mary Gascoyne-Cecil was born on 11 May 1901. She was an author. She married Alexander Hardinge, 2nd Baron Hardinge of Penshurst, and died in 1979.

Own WorksEdit

  • The Leisure of an Egyptian Official. Reprinted, with a new Introduction by Julian Hardinge (Hardinge Simpole, 2008)


  1. ^ Roberts, 'Salisbury', p.11-12
  2. ^ Lord Edward Cecil Papers Box 1, Royal Archives Victoria (RA VIC) 49/1; edited by Marquis of Zetland 'Letters', vol.1, p.190, RA VIC 50/44
  3. ^ Roberts, Salisbury, p.198-9
  4. ^ Roberts, p.704
  5. ^ Burke's Peerage & Baronetage (106th ed.) (Salisbury)
  6. ^ Lord Edward Cecil Papers: Mafeking records vols.I and II
  7. ^ Roberts, p.760-4
  8. ^ BB (Lady Elizabeth Balfour) 'Hatfield Letters 1883-1906', p.59
  9. ^ Lady Balfour, Ne Obliviscaris, vol.2, p.326
  10. ^ Daily Mail 19 Dec 1900
  11. ^ Roberts, p.765
  12. ^ Roberts, p.820
  13. ^ Roberts, p.831
  14. ^ My Picture Gallery (ed.) National Review 1932-48.



  • Lord Edward Cecil Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Primary sourceEdit

  • Lord David Cecil, The Cecils of Hatfield House, 1973
  • Philip Magnus, Kitchener 1958
  • Keith Middlemas, The Life and Times of Edward VII, 1972
  • George Plumptre, Edward VII, 1995
  • Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999, ISBN 0-75381-091-3
  • John Evelyn Wrench, Alfred Milner: The Man of No Illusions 1958

Secondary sourcesEdit

  • Darrell Bates, The Fashoda Incident, 1898
  • R G Brown, Fashoda Reconsidered, 1969
  • Edward T Cook, The Rights and Wrongs of the Transvaal War, 1901
  • Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt, 2 vols, 1908
  • Brian Gardner, Mafeking: The Making of a Victorian legend, 1966
  • C.F Goodfellow, The Making of South African Confederation 1870-81, 1966
  • Angus Hamilton, The Siege of Mafeking, 1900
  • D M Scheuder, The Scramble for Southern Africa 1877-95, 1980
  • Edward Spiers, The Late Victorian Army, 1992


  • Ahmad Rafiuddin, "The battle of Omdurman and the Mussulman World," Nineteenth century, vol.cclx, October 1898
  • Keith Surridge, "The Military Critique of the South African War 1899-1902," History, October 1997

External linksEdit