THE WISEST FOOL IN HINDUSTAN?
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© Roderick Matthews 2008
George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925) was the most brilliant of Queen Victoria's Viceroys, and possibly the most able of them all. He was an inexhaustible man composed in equal parts of energy, ambition and duty, all bolstered by a tremendous intellectual vanity. He was the only man to take on two terms as Viceroy, but he failed to complete the second, being forced to resign over a relatively minor administrative issue, exacerbated by a complicated web of political intrigue that he was unable or unwilling to notice, and proved incapable of handling. His term of office, from 1899 to 1905, therefore ended in personal humiliation.
Curzon’s Viceroyalty is also regularly tagged as the high noon or zenith of Britain’s Indian Empire. This is only partially true. His arrival in India did coincide with an upturn in the finances of the Raj, but this came after a grim period of famine, plague, military deployment in the north west and currency problems, topped off with the murder, in 1897, of two British officials in Pune. In a wider view of the British Empire, Curzon’s viceroyalty coincided with a crisis of imperial confidence rooted in a wide range of factors, including the incompetence revealed in the conduct of the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), the rise of German naval power, and diplomatic friction with France in Africa and Russia in Central Asia, all of which led to widespread dissension at home in Britain about the general purposes and structure of the enormous, variegated entity that the Empire had become. By September 1905 an Asiatic power had defeated a European nation for the first time, with the Japanese victory over the Russians, another event frequently selected as a milestone in world history. Finally, following Curzon’s departure, there were years of violence and political repression in India. If Curzon’s time truly marked high noon, then it got dark inexplicably soon afterwards.
This eBook explores the relationship between Curzon’s character and his career, and assesses his impact on India.
Roderick Matthews, Historian, Obtained a First from Balliol College, Oxford in Modern History. Studied Medieval History under Maurice Keen. Studied Tudor and Stuart History under Christopher Hill, Master of Balliol College. Studied European History under Colin Lucas, later Master of Balliol College and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. Studied Imperial History under Professor Paul Longford, Rector of Lincoln College.