Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford

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The Right Honourable
The Viscount Runciman
of Doxford

1905 Walter Runciman.jpg
circa 1905
President of the Board of Education
In office
12 April 1908 – 23 October 1911
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by Reginald McKenna
Succeeded by Jack Pease
President of the Board of Agriculture
In office
23 October 1911 – 6 August 1914
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by The Earl Carrington
Succeeded by The Lord Lucas of Crudwell
President of the Board of Trade
In office
5 August 1914 – 5 December 1916
Monarch George V
Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
Preceded by John Burns
Succeeded by Sir Albert Stanley
In office
5 November 1931 – 28 May 1937
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister
Succeeded by Hon. Oliver Stanley
Lord President of the Council
In office
31 October 1938 – 3 September 1939
Monarch George VI
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Preceded by The Viscount Hailsham
Succeeded by The Earl Stanhope
Personal details
Born 19 November 1870 (1870-11-19)
Died 14 November 1949 (1949-11-15) (aged 79)
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
National Liberal
Hilda Stevenson (born 1869; died 1956)

Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford, PC (19 November 1870 – 14 November 1949) was a prominent Liberal and later National Liberal politician in the United Kingdom between the 1900s and 1930s.


Runciman was the son of the shipping magnate Walter Runciman, 1st Baron Runciman. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated MA in 1895.[1]

Political career


Runciman unsuccessfully contested Gravesend in a by-election in 1898, but was elected as a member of parliament (MP) in a two-member by-election for Oldham in 1899,[2] defeating the Conservative candidates, James Mawdsley and Winston Churchill. After winning, Runciman is reported to have commented to Churchill: "Don't worry, I don't think this is the last the country has heard of either of us."[citation needed] The following year in the 1900 general election Churchill stood against Runciman again and defeated him.[2]

Runciman soon returned to Parliament for Dewsbury in a by-election in January 1902[3][4] and steadily rose through the ranks of the Liberal Party. A progressive,[5] centrist reformer,[6] he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905, a post he held until 1907, and then served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury until 1908. In April of the latter year he was sworn of the Privy Council[7] and appointed President of the Board of Education by the new Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, which position he retained for three years, followed by another three years as President of the Board of Agriculture.

Walter Runciman, 1913
File:Walter Runciman.jpg
Walter Runciman

In 1914, on the outbreak of war, the President of the Board of Trade, John Burns, resigned and Runciman was appointed to succeed him. He held the position for the next two years but resigned in December 1916 when Asquith's government fell and was succeeded by a coalition headed by David Lloyd George. In the splits that were to rage in the Liberal Party for the next seven years Runciman remained prominent in opposition to Lloyd George, especially when the latter became party leader in 1926. Runciman lost the seat in 1918,[4] but returned for Swansea West in 1924.[8]


In the 1929 general election, the Liberals emerged with the balance of power between the Conservatives and Labour. Runciman took the seat of St Ives, which his wife Hilda had won in a by-election the previous year.[9] Capt. Sydney Augustus Velden, Liberal Agent for St. Ives was instrumental in Lord Runciman's successful election. Lord and Lady Runciman were the first man and wife to sit in the Houses of Parliament in GB. The Liberals soon found themselves heavily divided over how to respond to the Great Depression, whether or not to continue supporting the Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald and even over the basic direction of the party.[citation needed]

In 1931, the cause of the strife was seemingly removed when the Labour government was succeeded by an all-party National Government. Further division emerged, however, when it was proposed that the National Government call a general election to seek a mandate to introduce protective tariffs, a policy that was anathema to Runciman and many other Liberals. Officially, the Liberals threatened to withdraw from the government, but a group led by Sir John Simon emerged as the Liberal Nationals, mainly composed of those who had been opposed to Lloyd George's leadership and who were prepared to continue to support the National Government. A compromise was worked out whereby each party in the National Government campaigned on its own manifesto.[citation needed]

After the National Government won a massive majority in the 1931 general election, the Cabinet was reconstructed. It was felt prudent to balance the key Cabinet committee that would take the decisions on tariffs and so Runciman was appointed President of the Board of Trade once more, in the belief that he would serve as a counterbalance to the protectionist Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain. However like the other Liberal Nationals, Runciman came to accept the principle of tariffs. When in late 1932 the official Liberals resigned their ministerial posts, Runciman very nearly resigned with them but decided not to. In 1933 the official Liberals withdrew completely their support for the National Government but Runciman remained holding office, even though he was President of the extra-Parliamentary National Liberal Federation until 1934. He concluded the Roca-Runciman Treaty with Argentina, initiated by this country to avoid the curtailment of Argentine beef imports.

Runciman remained as President of the Board of Trade until May 1937 when Stanley Baldwin retired and his successor, Neville Chamberlain, only offered Runciman the sinecure position of Lord Privy Seal, an offer Runciman declined.[citation needed] In June 1937 he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Runciman of Doxford, of Doxford in the County of Northumberland.[10] Four years earlier his father had been created Baron Runciman and "of Doxford" was consequently used to differentiate from his father's title. This was a rare case of a father and son sitting in the House of Lords at the same time, with the son holding a superior title. A few months later his father died and he inherited both the barony and his father's shipping business.[citation needed]

Mission to Czechoslovakia

Runciman returned to public life when, at the beginning of August 1938, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, sent him on a Mission to Czechoslovakia to mediate in a dispute between the Government of Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten German Party (SdP) representing the radicalised ethic German population of the border regions known as the Sudetenland. Unknown to Runciman, the SdP, although ostensibly calling for autonomy for the Sudetenland, were under instruction from Nazi Germany not to reach an agreement on the matter. Hence the attempts at mediation failed and with international tension rising in Central Europe, Runciman was recalled to London on 16 September 1938. The controversial report on his Mission provided support for British policy towards Czechoslovakia culminating in the dismembering of the country under the terms of the Munich Agreement. Further controversy arose from Runciman's use of his leisure time in Czechoslovakia spent mostly in the company of the SdP-supporting German aristocracy.[11]

Districts in Czechoslovakia with an ethnic German population of 25% or more (pink), 50% or more (red), and 75% or more (dark red) according to the census of 1930.[12]

The report issued by Runciman on his return to London recommended the transfer of the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and contained the following:[13]

In October 1938, following the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain reshuffled his Cabinet and appointed Runciman as Lord President of the Council, a post he held until the outbreak of the Second World War.


Lord Runciman of Doxford married Hilda, daughter of James Cochran Stevenson, in 1898. They had two sons and three daughters. Their daughter Margaret Fairweather (married Douglas Fairweather who established the Air Movements Flight in 1942, later joined by Margaret) was the first woman to fly a Spitfire and was one of the original eight female pilots selected by Pauline Gower to join the Air Transport Auxiliary. Margaret was killed in 1944 landing a Proctor. Their second son the Honourable Sir Steven Runciman was a historian. Lord Runciman of Doxford died in November 1949, aged 78, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Walter. Lady Runciman died in 1956, aged 87.


  1. "Election intelligence" The Times (London). Wednesday, 29 January 1902. (36677), p. 10.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "O" [self-published source][better source needed]
  3. The London Gazette: no. 27402. p. 646. 31 January 1902.
  4. 4.0 4.1 House of Commons: Devizes to Dorset West
  7. The London Gazette: no. 28129. p. 2935. 17 April 1908.
  8. House of Commons: Sudbury to Swindon South
  9. House of Commons: Saffron Walden to Salford West
  10. The London Gazette: no. 34407. p. 3750. 11 June 1937.
  11. Vyšný, Paul, The Runciman Mission to Czechoslovakia, 1938: Prelude to Munich, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2003, ISBN 0-333-73136-0. Dowling claims that Runciman spent most of his time in Czechoslovakia being entertained by German aristocrats and listening to complaints from Germans that had suffered from the land reform of the 1920s. Dowling, Maria, Czechoslovakia, Arnold, London, 2002, p. 51. ISBN 0-340-76369-8.
  12. Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice československé I. Země česká, Prague, 1934 and Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice československé II. Země moravskoslezská, Prague, 1935.
  13. Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939, Third Series, vol. 2, London, 1949, appendix II, p. 677. Alfred de Zayas, "Anglo-American Responsibility for the Expulsion of the Germans, 1944–48", (Pittsburg lecture, published in Vardy/Tooley "Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe" pp. 239–254) p. 243

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert Ascroft
James Francis Oswald
Member of Parliament for Oldham
With: Alfred Emmott
Succeeded by
Alfred Emmott
Winston Churchill
Preceded by
Mark Oldroyd
Member of Parliament for Dewsbury
Succeeded by
Emil William Pickering
Preceded by
Howel Walter Samuel
Member of Parliament for Swansea West
Succeeded by
Howel Walter Samuel
Preceded by
Hilda Runciman
Member of Parliament for St Ives
Succeeded by
Alec Beechman
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Frederick Jeffreys
Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board
Succeeded by
Thomas James Macnamara
Preceded by
Reginald McKenna
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Charles Hobhouse
Preceded by
Reginald McKenna
President of the Board of Education
Succeeded by
Jack Pease
Preceded by
The Earl Carrington
President of the Board of Agriculture
Succeeded by
The Lord Lucas of Crudwell
Preceded by
John Burns
President of the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
Sir Albert Stanley
Preceded by
Sir Philip Cunliffe Lister
President of the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
Hon. Oliver Stanley
Preceded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Earl Stanhope
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Runciman of Doxford
June 1937–1949
Succeeded by
Walter Leslie Runciman
Preceded by
Walter Runciman
Baron Runciman
August 1937–1949