Lloyd George

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WWI Document Archive > Alphabetical Index of WWI Biographies > L-Index > Lloyd George



Lloyd George, David, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor. (1863-1945).

Born, Manchester, England, d. Ty Newydd, Wales, 1945.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1908-May, 1915.

Minister of Munitions, 1915-1916.

Prime Minister of Great Britain, 7 December 1916 - October 1922.

Born of Welsh parents in England, David Lloyd George grew up in Wales and emerged as a leader of Welsh causes and issues from the late 1880s and proved a champion of British working people as well. Elected to parliament by fewer than twenty votes in a by-election in 1890 (two sources hold the number of votes to be eighteen, another, nineteen), Lloyd George affiliated with the anti-militarist “Little England” faction of the Liberal Party, as opposed to the Liberal Imperial faction led by Herbert H. Asquith, who became prime minister upon the death of Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1908. Lloyd George’s opposition to the Second Boer War in 1900 as a drain upon the national resources needed to finance old age pensions and public housing widened as he attacked British generals’ failure to provide proper care for sick and wounded soldiers and also their starvation in concentration camps of Boer women and children. In addition, he scored Joseph Chamberlain for his family’s direct profiteering from that war. Many came to regard the “Welsh Wizard” as a pacifist, but his attacks upon the Tory government’s Education Act, which had directed public monies toward faith-based Anglican schools, brought him back toward the Liberal mainstream; and, he won renown as Campbell-Bannerman’s President of the Board of Trade with his prevention of a nation-wide railway strike in 1907 by persuading anti-union employers to recognize a worker-elected member from each company on labor-management conciliation boards.

The later Asquith cabinet (1908-16) did remain divided, however, on matters of military expenditures and foreign policy commitments. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s cabinet, Lloyd George pressed hard for the reduction of the number of proposed dreadnought battleships, but he lost this struggle to constrain the upward spiral of the Anglo-German naval armaments race. The reformer enjoyed greater success on the domestic front, however, as Lloyd George served as point man for the provision of unemployment compensation, medical care for working-class people, and old-age pensions in a “People’s Budget” which came to fruition in 1911 over the tenacious opposition of the Tory Party and the House of Lords and which led then to the dilution of the power of Lords in the Parliament Act of the same year. Still, the reforms – inspired by the writings of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Paine, and Henry George – failed to satisfy fully some radical Liberals, and Lloyd George’s timidity in the area of women’s rights resulted in the burning of a house that was under construction for him. He remained a leader of the Liberal Party’s left wing, nevertheless.

When the July Crisis arose in 1914, Lloyd George stood with three other senior members of the Asquith cabinet in opposing British involvement in any conflict that should arise. The cabinet had been advised that since 1906 Anglo-French military staff discussions had occurred regarding the nations’ respective roles in the event of a war with Germany; but, they had been assured – correctly – by Asquith and by Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey that the plans did not obligate Britain to go to war, as a treaty might have done. Nonetheless, the Anglo-French Entente initiated in 1904 by Lord Lansdowne and the previous Tory government had become firmer under Asquith and Grey, and Grey had concluded a complementary Anglo-Russian Entente (France and Russia were formal allies) under Campbell-Bannerman’s aegis in 1907, and the cabinet was aware of that understanding, also. Still, Britain retained freedom of action under the ententes, and it became clear to the pro-interventionist leaders – Asquith, Grey, and War Minister Richard Haldane – that nothing short of a German invasion of neutral Belgium (guaranteed by the British and others in a treaty) could provoke Britain’s timely intervention. The Germans, operating under a version of the Schlieffen Plan, did not disappoint the British interventionists. The Asquith cabinet voted a declaration of war on August 4, after which three of the cabinet members – Charles Trevelyan, John Morely, and John Burns – resigned. Lloyd George remained.

Once the war began, Lloyd George became a vigorous proponent of victory, and when the Liberal cabinet gave way in 1915 to a coalition government, Lloyd George became the first Minister of Munitions and then Minister for War in 1916, positions in which he distinguished himself. He disappointed radical Liberals in failing to oppose the introduction of conscription. When those dissatisfied with the prosecution of the war under Asquith sought new leadership, Lloyd George emerged as the choice, and he became prime minister of a new, Tory-dependent coalition government at the end of 1916. Asquith, Grey, and others became casualties of the change, while the new War Cabinet of five members consisted of three Tories, the Labour Party’s Arthur Henderson, and Lloyd George, with Sir Maurice Hankey as secretary. He did return his ally Winston S. Churchill to the cabinet as Minister for Munitions in July 1917, but not to the War Cabinet itself. Accordingly, Lloyd George enjoyed little success in affecting the tactics of British generals on the Western Front, yet he did persuade the Royal Navy to adopt the convoy system in conveying supply ships across the Atlantic Ocean in the face of German submarine warfare. The War Cabinet met daily and was a successful improvisation, making all chief decisions of governance and military operations, including the imposition of the rationing of sugar, fats, and meats early in 1918. The War Cabinet model would be replicated by Winston Churchill during World War II.

As victory loomed in the autumn of 1918, War Cabinet minutes show the Prime Minister’s discomfort with the lack of war aims and the realization that Britain in the past had emerged from conflicts with the lion’s share of the spoils. Consequently, the United States was offered a mandate over Palestine and, on another occasion, over Germany’s African colonies. The U. S. refused the offers. British diplomats were keen, however, to guard British Petroleum’s interests, as well as other British commercial interests, at the head of the Persian Gulf. Accordingly, Britain’s claims in Mesopotamia grew to include much of the area, and thus originated the modern state of Iraq out of the crumbling holdings of the defeated Ottoman Empire. Those and other claims Lloyd George carried to Paris where he conferred repeatedly with President Woodrow Wilson of the U.S., French premier Georges Clemenceau, and Italy’s Vittorio E. Orlando in shaping the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Lloyd George spoke there with the authority of the leader of a smashing electoral victory for his National Liberal/Tory coalition in late 1918.

The peace conference produced a number of treaties between the Allies, as the Anglo-American-French-Italian countries had come to be called, and the defeated Central Powers. The most important of these, clearly, was the treaty of Versailles with Germany. Lloyd George’s desire to extract from Germany enough reparations to have paid for the war fell short of Clemenceau’s determination to crush Germany once and for all, for Britain needed Germany’s trade in order to re-establish economic normality. Britain’s promises to Italy under the wartime Pact of London that had achieved Italian intervention on the side of the Entente were stymied largely by Wilson, whose government was no party to the accord, and produced a disillusion among Italians that would contribute soon to the rise of Fascism in that land. The British, however, did seem to emerge from the peace conference in a powerful position, having accepted the mandates over Palestine, Iraq, and Germany’s African colonies and having gained a significant reparations clause in the Treaty of Versailles. Lloyd George had also supported the founding of the League of Nations. Yet, critics such as John Maynard Keynes arose quickly to predict that The Economic Consequences of the Peace contained the seeds of future strife, a position to which Lloyd George soon thereafter adhered.

In the remaining tenure of his Prime Ministry, Lloyd George sought to integrate Germany once more into the European economy and moved in the same direction with Soviet Russia through agreements that provided the Soviets with de facto recognition. He also led a fight to stifle the Irish independence movement but ultimately negotiated the creation of the Irish Free State with Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. Moreover, scandal rocked his administration in 1922, and the Tories decided to wage the next election alone, rather than in coalition with the National Liberals again. His government fell in October 1922, and Lloyd George never again served at the cabinet level.

Further reading:

David Lloyd George, Memoirs of the Peace Conference. London: H. Fertig, 1972.

David Lloyd George, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. 2 vols.; London: Odham’s Press, 1938, and Boston: Little Brown, 1936.

David Lloyd George, The Truth About the Peace Treaties. 2 vol.; London: Victor Golanz, 1938.

Robert Lloyd George, David and Winston. New ED Edition; John Murray, 2006.

Bentley B. Gilbert, David Lloyd George: A Political Life. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1987 and 1992.

David Grigg, David Lloyd George: War Leader, 1916-1918. New York and London: Penguin, 2003.

A. Lentin, David Lloyd George and the Lost Peace. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.


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