Edwin Samuel Montagu (1879-1924) reached the pinnacle of his political career as Secretary of State for India, a position he held from 1917 to 1922, and is best known for his contribution to the cause of constitutional reform in that country. However, since the publication of letters revealing the affair between H. H. Asquith and Venetia Stanley, Montagu's own relationship with Venetia-whom he married in 1915-has also become the subject of some interest.
Edwin Montagu was born in London on 6 Feb. 1879, the second son of Samuel Montagu, later the first Baron Swaythling. His father had made a considerable fortune in banking, and was a Liberal M. P. from 1885 to 1900. But, besides their common attachment to the Liberal cause, father and son appear to have had little in common; in particular, Edwin had little sympathy for his father's rigorous adherence to the Jewish religion, though he remained a member of the Jewish community all his life.
Between the ages of eight and twelve Montagu was educated at the Doreck College, a preparatory school in Kensington Gardens Square, London, and in 1891 he began attending the Jewish House at Clifton College, near Bristol. Owing to his ill-health it was thought expedient for him to travel, and, in the winter of 1891-2 he made a voyage round the world with a tutor, J. D. Israel. He continued at Clifton College till 1893, when he was removed to University College, London, where he passed the Inter-Science Degree examination at the second attempt in 1898. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October that year, and passed his Tripos with a Third in 1902.
At the General Election of January 1906 Montagu was elected as M. P. for West Cambridgeshire, and he represented this consituency and its successor, Cambridgeshire, till 1922. The following month he was invited to become Parliamentary Private Secretary to Asquith, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he continued to hold the post when Asquith became Prime Minister in 1908. In the following year Montagu made the acquaintance of Venetia Stanley, his future wife, who had already become a close friend of Asquith's. In 1910 Montagu was advanced to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India, and while in this post he made his first visit to India, compiling a Diary of his experiences there.
In February 1914 he became Financial Secretary to the Treasury. In the New Year's Honours of 1915 he was made a Privy Councillor, and in the following month he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which gave him a place in the Cabinet at an unusually young age. But his position of eminence was short-lived, for the Liberal Government was replaced by a Coalition in May, and Montagu was demoted to his previous post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
About the same time his affair with Venetia reached a crisis, and she finally consented to marry him in May. She was converted to the Jewish religion-which was considered by both husband and wife rather as a mere matter of necessity-and the couple were married at the West London Synagogue on the 26th of July. Venetia spent most of the period of their engagement working at a hospital at Wimereux near Boulogne. In the following years, much of the Montagus' attention was given to the development of their house and estate at Breccles in Norfolk, under the direction of Sir Edwin Lutyens.
In June 1916 Montagu was made Minister of Munitions, a post he held for year before accepting the office of Secretary of State for India, which he had long desired. Following the declaration in Parliament that the goal of British policy in India was to be the "progressive realization of responsible government," Montagu made a second journey to that country, accompanied by a small delegation, between November 1917 and May 1918. He again kept a Diary of his experiences, an edited version of which was later published by his wife in 1930. The eventual scheme of constitutional reform became law as the Government of India Act, 1919. However, Montagu's sympathy with the interests of Indians was to lead to his downfall. The question of the treatment of conquered Turkey aroused great agitation among the Moslem population of India, and when Montagu authorized the publication of the Government of India's protest against the treaty of Sevres without obtaining the permission of Cabinet, he was compelled to resign (1922).
Montagu spent his last few years in business, making a journey to Brazil in 1923-4. He died on November 15th, 1924, at the early age of forty-five.
This archive is the second accession of Montagu Papers received at Trinity College Library, and comprises papers of, or relating to, Edwin Samuel Montagu (1879-1924), Secretary of State for India from 1917 to 1922. It includes correspondence between Montagu and his wife Venetia, nee Stanley, both before and after their marriage, 1909-24; telegraphic correspondence between Montagu and Lords Chelmsford and Reading, Viceroys of India, 1919-22; typescript copies of Montagu's second Indian Diary and its appendices, 1917-18; letters from Montagu to his mother and father, Lord and Lady Swaythling; and a few letters to Montagu from various correspondents, including H. H. Asquith, Winston Churchill, and members of the Stanley family. Documents added after Montagu's death include press-cuttings of obituaries, and correspondence respecting the sorting of the papers in the 1950s.
These Papers were purchased at an auction sale at Christie's.
In the summer of 1954 Breccles Hall, Edwin Montagu's former home, was sold by his putative daughter Judith, and attention was given for the first time to the disposal of his papers. As Judith Montagu was not inclined to undertake the task herself, the business fell to her aunt Lily, Edwin's sister, whose correspondence on the subject survives.
Inquiries about the papers had already been made by interested parties, but owing to the sensitive nature of the material-with regard to both public and private matters-there was some demur as to the proper manner of proceeding. In August, therefore, Lily Montagu sought the direction of Sir Cecil Kisch, Montagu's former colleague at the India Office, whose immediate advice was that none of the papers should be destroyed without permission. After further consultation with Lord Rothschild, Clements, "the valuable butler" at Breccles, was given instructions to put the papers in store for the time being.
Two months later Kisch proposed that the papers should be "properly sorted and annotated," and indicated that Lady Dorothy Brown, who had at one time been Montagu's personal private secretary, would be prepared to undertake the task. Terms were accordingly agreed with Lady Brown and the papers were transferred to her home at Southbourne, near Bournemouth, in five deed boxes and eleven cardboard boxes of varying sizes. Lady Brown set to work most efficiently, it appears, and by December the papers had been thoroughly examined and sorted, and a Catalogue prepared. (A transcript of Lady Brown's Catalogue is printed as an Appendix to the present one.) The bulk of the papers had been considerably reduced, for, as Kisch noted, "a lot of rubbish" had been destroyed, and it was estimated that the remainder would fill about eight deed boxes. Indeed Kisch thought that, after examination by a member of the family, it might be possible to destroy further material that was not of interest, and, moreover, that Lady Brown should destroy any secret official papers, "as they would have to be returned to Whitehall before anything could be done with them, and they are tiresome things to have around." But nothing more specific is known of the material destroyed before the compilation of the Catalogue.
Of the documents mentioned in the Catalogue, two small groups were immediately identified as being of special value, namely Montagu's correspondence with the Prince of Wales and with Woodrow Wilson. These items were extracted from the general run and put into Lily Montagu's hands for safe keeping. Likewise, thirteen petitions presented to the Montagu-Chelmsford mission-six in silver containers and seven in embroidered cases-were also sent to her, and these-or perhaps only the containers-she distributed among members of the family.
Consideration was given to the possibility of the papers being used in the writing of a memoir, and of being put into the hands of a suitable person for that purpose; but Lady Brown noted, apparently in response to Lily Montagu's direct inquiry on the subject, that "it would be impossible for anyone to write a biography of Mr. Montagu from the material which I have here. It gives no coherent account of his life. The private letters are all to, and not from him, and I cannot imagine that Miss Judith Montagu would wish to hand these over to a publisher without going through them carefully." The plan was therefore put to one side.
As arrangements for returning the documents to Miss Judith were proceeding, it occurred to Lady Brown that "the best thing to do with the 32 Bound Volumes of the Private Letters between Mr. Montagu and the Viceroy [and] Governors would be to give them to the India Office Library." The Librarian was only too pleased to accept the offer, and later expressed in interest in also having the four volumes of Montagu's "Indian Diary," 1912-13, and Alan Parsons' scrapbooks. These three groups of documents were accordingly deposited in the Library on February 26th, 1955 (perhaps with some others; see below), and the correspondence with the Prince of Wales and Woodrow Wilson followed, from Lily Montagu's hands, shortly afterwards. Acknowledging their receipt, the Librarian noted that the papers would be kept together and known as the Montagu Collection.
The Collection, together with other contents of the India Office Library, was later transferred to the British Library, and it now has the shelfmark MSS Eur C965. The present list of the Collection includes not only the documents mentioned above, but also all those listed under the heading "India" in Lady Brown's Catalogue except the Petitions (item 6), as well as a printed volume entitled "Correspondence with the Secretary of State on Post War Reforms," which is evidently item 7 on page C in Lady Brown's Catalogue. It is not clear whether these items were given to the Library at the time of the original deposit, or some time afterwards.
The remainder of the papers in Lady Brown's possession were returned to London, addressed to Judith Montagu, in four deed boxes. (This note on Provenance has not yet been completed.)
The following is a summary of the arrangement of these Papers:
A. Papers of Edwin Montagu.
1. Correspondence with Venetia Montagu, nee Stanley, 1909-19.
2. Telegraphic correspondence with Lord Chelmsford, and related papers, 1919-20.
3. Telegraphic correspondence with Lord Reading, and related papers, 1921-22.
4. Miscellaneous correspondence and other papers, 1906-17.
5. "Indian Diary," and Appendices, 1917-18.
B. Papers of Venetia Montagu.
1. Correspondence with Edwin Montagu, 1909-24.
2. Miscellaneous correspondence and other papers, 1912-25.
C. Papers of Lord and Lady Swaythling.
1. Correspondence with Edwin Montagu, 1904-17 and undated.
2. Miscellaneous correspondence, 1908-16.
D. Papers of Marian Montagu.
1. Correspondence with Edwin Montagu, 1896.
E. Other Papers.
1. Newspaper cuttings concerning the death of Edwin Montagu, 1924.
2. Miscellaneous printed documents, 1924-65.
3. Correspondence of Lily Montagu, 1954-60.
4. Correspondence of Walter D'Arcy Hart, 1968.
5. Transcripts of letters from Edwin Montagu to Venetia Stanley, late 20th c.
6. Photocopies, late 20th c.