The Cecils – Uncle and Nephew

This article was first published in the monthly magazine The Present Age September 2017, Vol. 3 No. 6

This is the third in a series of 5 articles which is rooted in the tortuous destiny between England and France, the two western countries which ‘pioneered’ modern nationalism, that view of life that has had such fateful consequences over the past 250 years. The modern western concept of the centralised, administrative state emerged in Britain and France 1300-1600 and there was a gradual identification of the British and French peoples with their respective states, which eventually produced what is called the ‘nation state’. This arguably experienced its ‘apotheosis’  with Woodrow Wilson’s ultimately disastrous attempts to redraw the map of Europe after the First World War, based on the concept of the unitary ‘nation state’ that he and America had come to champion. In recent decades, in the EU, we have seen the gradual, but steady, sustained effort to create a single ‘European nation state’, essentially on the American model, federal but unitary, which is intended to supersede the European nation states and integrate them even more fully into the global structure dominated by Anglo-American ideas and patterns of behaviour. In this long process, certain families, or bloodlines, i.e. karmic streams, have played significant roles, and this short series of articles looks at two of them  – the Cecils, and the Herberts – that came to prominence with the Tudor dynasty after 1485. The last article looked at William Cecil and his son Robert who served as Secretaries of State to Elizabeth I and James I respectively and played a key role in preparing the stage for the  emergence of what would later become the British Empire. This article will consider two other members of the Cecil family, an uncle and his nephew, who were present at the closing of the curtain of the British Empire in 1890-1919 and played key roles in that closing, although things did not exactly work out as they had intended.

Lord Salisbury

Throughout the second half of the 19th century British politics was dominated by three figures:  Disraeli, his arch-enemy William Gladstone (1809-1898), the Liberal leader, and Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), usually known as Lord Salisbury.

The head of the Cecil family from 1868 and three times Prime Minister (1885-86, 1886-92,  1895-1902), Robert Cecil’s other names  – Arthur Talbot Gascoyne  – point back to mediaeval times: the legendary king Arthur, the Talbots, who were a Norman family that later provided one of the greatest commanders of the Hundred Years War (John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury) and Gascoyne, which is  an anglicisation of Gascogne, a province of SW France that belonged to the English Crown from 1152-1453; the dispute over this territory between England and France was the spark that actually set off the Hundred Years War in 1337. The direct descendant and namesake of King James I’s Secretary of State Robert Cecil (the first Earl of Salisbury, d. 1612), Lord Salisbury was 193 cm tall (6 ft 4 inches), very weighty in old age, sported a very full beard and was as aristocratic, High Tory and reactionary ‘true blue’ as they come in British politics, although he was not a harsh, aggressive man nor a member of the hunting and shooting fraternity. His credo was: “Whatever happens will be for the worse, and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible” and in government, he disliked removing “older men in favour of rising talent”(1) Rather as Metternich had done in Austria, he tried for as long as possible to stem the tides of bourgeois liberalism and of proletarian socialism, believing that the essence of the country was the Crown, the Established Church of England and the landowning aristocracy. He opposed the more dynamic, populist, jingoistic conservative views of Disraeli, a middle class Jew, and tried to block Disraeli’s bill to enfranchise working class males in 1867. Salisbury was, however, a realist; he could see the way the winds were blowing, and realised the importance of “public opinion”;  so although he loftily held the masses to be ignorant of foreign affairs, and was in the habit of conducting foreign policy in great secrecy from his own desk and not sharing information with his colleagues and subordinates, he was not averse to using the excuse of having to bow to “democratic public opinion” in his conduct of foreign policy when it suited him to do so. In 1900 he told a colleague: “in questions of peace and war, the action of the Government is entirely dependent on [public] opinion”.(2)  Sir Edward Grey would make much of this hypocritical and deceptive tactic during his long years as Foreign Secretary (1906-1916).

“The Cecil Bloc”

Over the second half of the 19th century, Lord Salisbury built a personal power base that ran right through the upper echelons of the British elite and which stood on four legs: blood, journalism, academia and the Church. The network that connected all these has been called “the Cecil Bloc”. In his detailed study, “The Anglo-American Establishment”(1949), Prof. Carroll Quigley describes this bloc as follows: “The methods used by this man [Lord Salisbury] were merely copied by the Milner Group [set up by Sir Alfred, later Lord Milner from c.1900]. These methods can be summed up under three headings: (a) a triple-front penetration in politics, education and journalism; (b) the recruitment of men of ability (chiefly from All Souls [College, Oxford]) and the linking of these men to the Cecil Bloc by matrimonial alliances and by gratitude for titles and positions of power; and (c) the influencing of public policy by placing members of the Cecil Bloc in positions of power shielded as much as possible from public attention.” (3)

Through Lord Salisbury’s five sons, three daughters, two brothers and two sisters, the Cecils were related  through marriage to many of the leading aristocratic families of the day such as the “Lytteltons (Viscounts Cobham), Wyndham (Barons Leconfield), Grosvenor (Dukes of Westminster), Balfour, Wemyss, Palmer (Earls of Selborne and Viscounts Wolmer), Cavendish (Dukes of Devonshire…), and Gathorne-Hardy (Earls of Cranbrook)”.(4) These families were allies of the Cecils in the second half of the 19th century and were a key part of the Cecils’ network, which was essentially a social network used for political purposes and containing members of both political parties. Even Gladstone, who had originally been a Tory politician before changing to the Liberals, was a member of it. This network regarded itself as “Society” or even “England”. Its members met in two gentlemen’s clubs in London, The Club (founded 1764) and Grillion’s (founded 1812); together they had no more than 60 members and had stellar memberships of British political and cultural figures.

In the last two decades of the 19th century and the first of the 20th century, the high tide of British imperialism, Cecil relatives were everywhere to be found in government, indeed nepotism was so rife that the government c.1900 was wittily referred to as ‘Hotel Cecil’, and there was even an actual grand ‘Hotel Cecil’ from 1896-1930 (built 1890-96 at the height of Salisbury’s power) on the Strand in central London approximately midway between the financial centre of the City of London in the east and the royal political centre, which is in Westminster in the west. Lord Salisbury’s network also spread to the Church and academia, notably Oxford University’s All Souls College, the ‘spiritual’ hub of British imperial thinking, where he recruited his protégés,(5) [CQ 20-28]; he was a Fellow of All Souls himself from 1853 and Chancellor of Oxford University from 1869-1903 as well as three times Prime Minister during that period. The Milner Group would also later draw most of its key brains from All Souls. Lord Salisbury was also an active amateur scientist and journalist. While contemptuous of what he called the “great democracy we all have to obey”, he understood the importance of public opinion in a society increasingly obsessed with newspapers and journals. Cut off by his father from the family money, he supported himself by writing and wrote many articles in the Press or else, when in government, got his political friends in the Press to write articles expressing his views without naming him.

1887 and 1895 – two critical years on the path to 1914

A foreign affairs specialist who, as Prime Minister, also served as his own Foreign Secretary, his foreign policy was that of “avoiding foreign entanglements” and “no major alliances”, trying to avoid wars and running the empire as cheaply as possible. Primarily, Salisbury sought to keep Russia away from British India, and Germany away from the gold and diamond mines of South Africa. Wary of Franco-Russian opposition to the British Empire, and regarding Russia as a dangerous ‘natural phenomenon’, he tacked towards Bismarck and the Triple Alliance and in 1887 concluded Mediterranean agreements with Italy and Austria in order to do so. But at the same time he sought to improve relations with Britain’s traditional imperial rivals France and Russia. In July 1887 he did a deal with Russia over Afghanistan and in September met his old acquaintance, the French diplomat Baron Chaudordy at Dieppe, which led to a colonial agreement between Britain and France in October; this would foreshadow the much more significant colonial deal between the two countries in the Entente Cordiale of 1904, which was concluded by the government of his nephew, Arthur Balfour. But in the background to this manoeuvring in 1887 were portentous financial rearrangements whereby French capital, led by the Rothschilds in the spring of that year(6) , began to pour into Russia in the autumn. This would eventually lead to the conclusion of the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance in 1894, preceded by several prior agreements, including a secret military convention in 1892 that would be the basis for joint Franco-Russian action in August 1914. Gold was discovered in S. Africa in 1884, and the British were determined to monopolise both it and the already existing South African diamond mines. In the summer of 1887 the megalomaniac imperialist mining magnate Cecil Rhodes secured from the Rothschilds in London and Paris the money he needed to totally dominate diamond mining in S. Africa.(7) 1887 was the critical year in which  the process began that led eventually to the catastrophe of 1914. In the crisis for the British  that developed in 1886-1887  around the tragic figure of the exiled Indian prince Dalip Singh (1838-1893) and the consequent possibility of rebellion in India, Salisbury’s government was suddenly faced with the prospect of a serious Franco-Russian threat to British India. Meanwhile, voices in Britain, notably Randolph Churchill and W.T. Stead, began to speak of the desirability of a rapprochement with Russia.

Salisbury, however, had always taken a longer-range view of Russia. He told Sir Robert Morier, British Ambassador in St. Petersburg, in 1885, that “Russia’s only weak point [is] her ‘financial embarrassment’”, and “if we become her chronic enemy it is to that weak point that our efforts must be addressed. We must lead her into all the expense we can in the hope that a few steps further must push her into the revolution over which she seems constantly to be hanging”(8) The historian John Charmley writes that Salisbury (below, left) felt that “time and chance might provide the answer to the Russian problem….either in the form of revolution, Islamic revival or war against Germany….”(9) Two of these subsequently happened to Russia (1904-1917), with not a little help from Salisbury’s nephew Arthur Balfour (below, right)

“…quite early in the ’90s, Balfour became aware that the era of peace was in all probability drawing to a close…Both in the privacy of his thoughts and in the publicity of the House [of Commons] Balfour began to develop …his rising flair for military matters.”(10) Actually Balfour had no real flair for purely military matters; a very skilled parliamentarian with a lazy temperament and a keen interest in science and philosophy, he did have a flair for grand strategy and foreign policy; this was what interested him, and he sought to arrange military matters in a way that would support his strategic intentions. His biographer does not say anything about how Balfour became aware that the era of peace was drawing to a close. He says only: “… where, when and how war on a large scale would break out was not …apparent to him; but…there were indications from Germany, from France and from the Far East that war was a possibility.”(11) Like his uncle, and like his ancestors, William and Robert Cecil, Arthur Balfour also had an interest in secrecy. As a member of his uncle’s government in 1895, and perhaps with that awareness of an approaching major war in mind, he was responsible for setting up a secret Cabinet Defence Committee in 1895. Rudolf Steiner referred to this – but didn’t name Balfour -  in a lecture of 18 December 1916 (GA 173): “…the conduct of foreign affairs was taken away from Parliament and also from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and made the preserve of a committee whose members consisted exclusively of the cabinet and certain officials in the Foreign Ministry…So, at the moment when it became necessary to commence pulling threads , the scene of action was transferred from external view to a hidden place, to a so-called committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

1895 was the critical turning point in Anglo-German relations, when tensions over South Africa were mounting. Germans wanted fair access to the gold and diamonds of the region, but the British, notably Cecil Rhodes,  were determined to maintain their own monopoly and to keep Germany away from this strategically important region. Germans also resented the treatment of the Boers at the hands of the British. Rhodes and his allies were determined to bring the Boer Republics under complete British control. On 24 August 1895 the first of three anonymous, extremely anti-German articles appeared in the normally highly regarded Saturday Review weekly newspaper (for which, among many other famous people, Lord Salisbury had also written articles in the past); it included the following words: “we English have always made war hitherto upon our rivals in trade and commerce; and our chief rival in trade and commerce to-day is not France but Germany. In case of a war with Germany, we should stand to win much and lose nothing; whereas, in case of a war with France, no matter what the issue might be, we stand to lose heavily.(12) At the end of 1895 the infamous ‘Jameson Raid’ took place in S. Africa. It was an attempted putsch by Cecil Rhodes and his men seeking to overthrow the Boer administration, and was covertly backed by the Colonial Secretary in Salisbury’s government, Joseph Chamberlain, but it failed and led to a telegram in January 1896 from the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, congratulating the Boer leader Paul Kruger. This incensed the British foreign policy elite and the Press; it was the beginning of the poisonous anti-German propaganda in Britain that climaxed in the First World War. Later in 1896, another, particularly vicious article appeared in the Saturday Review, culminating in these words: “Were every German to be wiped out to-morrow, there is no English trade, no English pursuit that would not immediately expand. Were every Englishman to be wiped out tomorrow, the Germans would gain in proportion. Here is the first great racial struggle of the future: here are two growing nations pressing against each other, man to man all over the world. One or the other has to go; one or the other will go. [...] The biological view of foreign policy is plain:…, federate our colonies and prevent geographical isolation turning the Anglo-Saxon race against itself…. be ready to fight Germany, as Germania est delenda(13) [Germany must be destroyed]. In 1897 Salisbury’s government appointed Sir Alfred Milner High Commissioner to South Africa; Milner,  an ally of  Rhodes since 1891, and a key member of the secret society he had founded that year to promote world domination by Britain(14)  quickly determined that the only course was war against the Boer Republics and he strove to bring it about.(15) By 1902, the year of Rhodes’ death, Milner had achieved Rhodes’ goal of conquering the Boer Republics for the Empire and also had became a Trustee of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust and its very considerable funds; Rhodes had trusted him absolutely, although Milner was more circumspect about Rhodes. While in S. Africa, Milner fell in love with Violet Cecil, the wife of Lord Salisbury’s fourth son, Edward Cecil, and they began a long-standing affair. In 1921 Milner married Violet Cecil, who had been widowed in 1918.

Lux Mundi and C.G. Harrison

Balfour’s defence committee proved not to be so effective, as was underlined by Britain’s poor performance in the Boer War, so after taking over from his uncle as Prime Minister in 1902, he revamped the committee into the Committee of Imperial Defence, an altogether more efficient body. In 1909 it would spawn the Secret Service Bureau, from which came MI5 and MI6. From the beginning the Bureau’s work was aimed at Germany. Balfour’s ancestor in the 16th century, William Cecil, had overseen the origins of the very first British secret intelligence service. Arthur Balfour had also always had a keen interest in psychology and in psychic phenomena as well as in philosophy. He was a senior member of the Society for Psychical Research, which was founded in 1882 by the Balfour family and their in-laws.(16)

On 27 October 1919 (Collected Works GA 193) Rudolf Steiner referred for the first time (as far as is known to this author) to the approaching incarnation of Ahriman in the West in the third millennium. He spoke of how mankind has to be able to relate to this incarnation in the right way so as not to be led astray by it, how we have to illuminate both the sciences and the Gospels with spiritual science,  “otherwise, we always get half-truths.” Then he gives as an example the English Catholic Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), who claimed we need a new spiritual revelation. No, says Steiner, we don’t need that; what we need is a new science that is illumined by the spirit. As an example of the kind of thing we do not need, an example of the wrong way to proceed in science and religion, he then immediately refers to the phenomenon of the Lux Mundi movement, whose initial writings appeared in England in November 1889. These essays were permeated by the attempt, says Steiner, to build a bridge from worldly science over to dogmatic religion. “Everywhere a floundering hither and thither, nowhere a bold grasp of worldly science, nowhere an illumination of this science by spirit…mankind today needs to be courageous on both sides and to say: worldly science alone leads to illusion; the Gospel alone leads to hallucination.” Lux Mundi tried to reconcile the thinking of natural science with conventional religion. It was rejected by most traditionalists as too ‘modern’ and by more modern thinkers as too weak and thin, incapable of justifying Christianity, but it was to make a mark in its social teachings and concern for the poor. Those who wrote the collection of essays titled  Lux Mundi  – A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation and who founded what would subsequently become known as the ‘liberal Anglo-Catholic’ wing of the Church of England were mostly members of the Anglo-Catholic High Church ‘Oxford movement’ that had begun at Oriel College at Oxford University in 1833 (Rhodes had studied there in the 1870s and in 1877 became a member of the Apollo freemasonic Lodge no.357).  Cardinal Newman had been a leading figure in this movement before he joined the Church of Rome in 1845. The ‘High Church’ stream has always been that current within the Anglican Church which leans most towards Rome in terms of doctrine, liturgy and ritual; it is the closest stream within the ‘broad church’ of Anglicanism to the church as it was in 16th century Tudor England, and it is the stream that has traditionally been that of the Cecil family. The Oxford Movement attempted to go even further in the direction of Rome without actually abandoning Protestantism altogether, trying to find ‘a middle way’. Now, at the end of the 19th century, ‘in the light’ of the advances of natural science, Lux Mundi wanted to bring science and religion closer together and to emphasise the humanity of Christ rather than His divinity – the Incarnation rather than the Atonement. Those who wrote the essays had gathered in 1882 at the London home of Lord Salisbury to dedicate a college of clergy in memory of Edward Pusey, the leader of the Oxford Movement after 1845. The first principal of this college, from 1884,  was Charles Gore, the cousin of Salisbury’s daughter-in-law. One of Salisbury’s last acts as Prime Minister in 1902 was to appoint Gore Bishop of Worcester, a very controversial appointment.

So Salisbury, who was more earnestly religious than his nephew Balfour, but like him, had a great interest in science, was also connected in a certain way to this new ‘liberal modernist’, ‘half-truth’ wing of the Anglo-Catholic High Church, and it was this very Lux Mundi movement that was spoken of highly by the enigmatic English esotericist C.G. Harrison (1855-1929?)  in his Transcendental Universe – Six Lectures on Occult Science, Theosophy and the Catholic Faith (1893) (where ‘Catholic Faith’ means the Anglo-Catholic High Church, not the Church of Rome) and in his later book, Creed for the Twentieth Century (1923). Indeed, the Berean Society, the group to which Harrison gave his six lectures was “an association of students of theoretical occultism”, a lay group of the Oxford Movement.(17) Christopher Bamford, in his Introduction to a new edition of  Transcendental Universe, published in 1993, writes: “according to certain interpretations, to be an Anglo-Catholic means ….to belong to a national Church and thus to frame one’s spiritual understanding within a nationalist context. Given that Britain is quintessentially an imperial nation, Harrison’s implicit spiritual politics….need to be recognised and taken into account as we read his text.”

Throughout the First World War, Rudolf Steiner, who was alerted to Harrison’s lectures in translation already in the 1890s by his friend Friedrich Eckstein, often drew his listeners’ attention to long-range plans circulating in western occult circles since the 1880s for the instigation of a socialist experiment in Russia that would result from “the next great European war”. He did not mention Harrison’s name but a study of the second of Harrison’s London lectures of 1893 clearly shows that he was drawing on that. Western elites, he said, were using occult knowledge of history and anthropology for nationalist, imperialist purposes, and Central Europeans, ignorant of this, had to wake up to the fact that this knowledge was being used against them. We can recall  John Charmley’s words about Salisbury’s view of Russia in the late 1880s: “time and chance might provide the answer to the Russian problem….either in the form of revolution, Islamic revival or war against Germany….” The occult aim of these western elites was (and still is) to subjugate Russia and the Slavic peoples to western control and tutelage, as Rome had sought to control and tutor the Germanic peoples in the 4th epoch. The British elite, brought up and educated in the classics, saw themselves as the Romans of the modern age.

War between Germany and Russia – keeping these two cultures apart, the very thing that according to Rudolf Steiner, should not happen if the 5th epoch is to pass over to the 6th epoch in the way that will benefit humanity as a whole. Lord Salisbury was imagining war and revolution for Russia already in the 1880s, and from 1887-1907 a diplomatic revolution was effected in Britain, mostly during the time of the governments of Salisbury and his nephew Balfour, that reversed Britain’s traditional foreign policy priorities, and set a course for war between Britain and Germany and between Germany and Russia; the war would initiate the socialist experiment in Russia and would remove Germany as an imperial and economic competitor. The next article in this series will look at how Arthur Balfour and Lord Milner, the Cecil Bloc and the Milner Group, carried the process through to completion. In doing so, despite themselves, they also brought down the British Empire.

1. John Charmley, Splendid Isolation? Britain and the Balance of Power 1874-1914 (1999), p. 197.
2. Charmley, p. 231.
3. Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment – From Rhodes to Cliveden (1981) p. 15.
4. Quigley, p. 15.
5. Quigley, pp. 20-28.
6. Niall Ferguson, The World’s Banker – The History of the House of Rothschild (1998) pp. 904-905
7. Ferguson, pp. 882-886; Robert I.Rothberg, The Founder – Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of
    Power (1988) pp. 202-212.
8. Charmley, p. 201.
9. Charmley, p. 213.
10. Kenneth Young, Arthur James Balfour, (1963), p. 175.
11. Young, p. 175.
12. Markus Osterrieder, Welt im Umbruch – Nationalitätenfrage, Ordnungspläne und Rudolf Steiners
      Haltung im Ersten Weltkrieg (2014) p. 711.
13. Osterrieder, p. 713-714.
14. Quigley, chapter 3, ‘The Secret Society of Cecil Rhodes’.
15. John E. Kendle, The Round Table Movement and Imperial Union (1974), p. 8.
16. Quigley, pp. 31-32.
17. Osterrieder, p.924

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