British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Prime Minister David Lloyd George sold noble titles to strengthen his position and that of his new Coalition Liberal Party. By granting honors to war profiteers and even criminals, including traitors and tax evaders, he scandalized British society and fell from power.

Summary of Event

The concept of buying into the nobility was not new in the United Kingdom. In the seventeenth century, both James I and Charles I sold titles to operate outside the financial restrictions of Parliament. Beginning with William Pitt in 1783, prime ministers employed the practice to cover expenses and win political favors. By the early twentieth century, a growing electorate required political parties to run campaigns. It was not enough to knight landowners; both the Liberals and the Conservatives needed the money of industrialists and businessmen anxious to enter the ranks of the nobility. [kw]Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors, British Prime Minister David (June 22, 1922) Lloyd George, David Guest, Frederick Guest, Frederick Lloyd George, David Guest, Frederick Guest, Frederick [g]Europe;June 22, 1922: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors[00280] [g]England;June 22, 1922: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors[00280] [c]Government;June 22, 1922: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors[00280] [c]Politics;June 22, 1922: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors[00280] [c]Royalty;June 22, 1922: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors[00280] [c]Corruption;June 22, 1922: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George Is Accused of Selling Honors[00280] Younger, George Hodge, Sir Rowland Robinson, Sir Joseph

David Lloyd George.

(Library of Congress)

In late 1916, David Lloyd George used a split in the wartime Coalition government to force Prime Minister H. H. Asquith’s cabinet out of office and take part of his Liberal Party. While he was a dynamic and forceful leader, Lloyd George had no party apparatus or funding to support him in the next general election. To make matters worse, Parliament was soon to approve voting rights for all adult males.

Lloyd George turned to Coalition Liberal Party chief whip Frederick Guest to raise the needed funds. For the previous twenty years, prime ministers had relied on their party’s chief whips to find appropriate individuals deserving of titles as well as important donors. Guest took this system to a higher level. Between 1916 and 1922, he found 87 persons who were willing to give up to £50,000 for a peerage, 237 who donated £30,000 for a baronetcy, and 1,500 who paid up to £10,000 for a knighthood. Guest was helped by a series of middlemen, or “touts.” The most famous was Maundy Gregory.

Gregory was a successful con artist who created the society magazine Mayfair & Town Topics in 1910. The magazine was in reality a scheme to obtain cash from the nouveau riche, who paid to have flattering biographies written by Gregory in the hopes of gaining respectability. As an outgrowth of the magazine, Gregory started a detective and credit-rating agency two years later, making him a unique asset for Guest. Gregory knew those wishing to enter society and, more important, those who could afford to pay the price.

Lists of those receiving honors are traditionally posted at New Years and the monarch’s official birthday (as the Birthday Honours List) in June. Lloyd George had long been seen as a maverick and as antiestablishment. His first list in 1917 was modest, and many hoped it marked a new trend. Conservative James Gascoyne-Cecil, Lord Salisbury, was not convinced. His worse fears were realized with the prime minister’s June, 1917, list, but his complaints were ignored. Lloyd George successfully presented Salisbury as a mere elitist. With World World War I[World War 01] War I taking a priority in the minds of the public, Guest and Gregory’s system went unnoticed.

At war’s end, Gregory revived the concept of Mayfair & Town Topics under the new title The Whitehall Gazette. The magazine’s name, typeface, and paper were designed to convince readers that it was a government publication. Once again, Gregory devoted a segment to profile wealthy individuals who paid him for access into society. The war had made many individuals rich, and they made easy targets for Gregory to use and then pass on to Guest.

The highpoint of Lloyd George’s career was December 14, 1918. He won the coupon election with a wide Coalition Party majority, but his party actually controlled only 127 seats in the House of Commons. His junior partner, the Conservative Party, held 332 seats. The need to build a new party base became more crucial than ever. Protesting soldiers, strikes, the issue of Irish independence, and the Paris peace conference all combined to keep the public’s focus away from Gregory. He also used each of these to solicit donations for Lloyd George and his party.

It was not until January of 1921 that the honors lists truly made national headlines. Lloyd George had put forward war profiteers before this, but he now nominated Sir Rowland Hodge. A shipbuilder, Hodge had been convicted of hoarding food during the war. In 1918, he had sought to purchase a title through the influence of Winston Churchill and then Conservative Party chief whip George Younger. Both found Hodge vulgar and thus rejected him. Even King George V George V, who had met him only once, found Hodge to be disagreeable. Over the king’s objections, the prime minister successfully made Hodge a baronet.

Lloyd George allowed the political waters to calm. For the Birthday Honours List of June 3, 1922, he recommended persons who were beyond the bounds of acceptability. Samuel Waring was a war profiteer who reorganized his company to avoid paying his shareholders. William Vestey moved his meatpacking business out of Britain in 1915 to avoid paying Tax evasion taxes. Both Archibald Williamson and John Drughorn had been convicted of trading with the enemy. Even worse, however, was Sir Joseph Robinson. As a prospector in South Africa, he had made much of his money by buying undervalued land and then reselling it to his own company at inflated prices. He had been convicted of fraud and fined £500,000. He fought the case all the way to the Privy Council, which had ruled against him in November of 1921, and lost this case as well. Members of the council in the House of Lords were incensed that he was now to be made one of them. Smuts, Jan Jan Smuts, the prime minister of South Africa South Africa, was angry that he had not been consulted, and the British king was furious with the selection.

Lord Harris used Robinson to launch the assault on Lloyd George and his list on June 22. After the South African’s business practices were made public, the prime minister had no choice but to have Robinson decline the honor. On June 29, the prime minister announced Robinson’s decision, but it did not calm his critics. According to historian Geoffrey Searle, Lloyd George became a victim of both the left and right. The former disliked the whole concept of the nobility and felt betrayed by the prime minster, while the latter feared that if he was not stopped he would dilute the English nobility. Equally important, Guest and Gregory’s work had undercut Lloyd George’s Coalition Party partners. Younger revealed that Guest brought several Conservative supporters over to the Coalition Liberals by offering them titles. On July 17, the prime minister was attacked simultaneously in both the Commons and the Lords. After seven hours of debate, to protect himself, Lloyd George agreed to create a royal commission to investigate the selling of titles, but the die was already cast.

Impact

From 1916, the Conservatives had been willing to operate under Lloyd George only as long as he remained an effective force. The honors scandal convinced many party members that it was time to chart an independent course. On October 16, the Conservatives left, the Coalition collapsed, and without a political base, Lloyd George was forced to resign. He then used the funds Guest had secured to purchase the Daily Chronicle. The royal commission issued its nine-page report the next month. It did little more than suggest that a scrutiny committee be established to investigate all candidates.

In April, 1923, the Conservatives introduced the Honours Prevention of Abuses Bill, which sought to punish those trying to buy or sell titles. The Conservatives fell from power before the bill could make its way through Parliament. Shortly after his return to office, Stanley Baldwin reintroduced the bill in June of 1925, and it received a royal assent in August. In 1933, Gregory became the only person ever convicted under the Prevention of Abuses Act of Prevention of Abuses Act of 1925 1925. He died in France in 1941, but his name and the honors scandal he helped create remain in British political discourse. Lloyd George, David Guest, Frederick Guest, Frederick

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cook, Andrew. Cash for Honours: The True Life of Maundy Gregory. Stroud, England: History Press, 2008. Seeks to link Gregory with the Establishment, or the traditional conservative ruling class, and MI5, the British secret service.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cullen, Tom. Maundy Gregory: Purveyor of Honours. London: Bodley Head, 1974. Although somewhat dated, this is a good, detailed account of Gregory’s life and deeds.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinnear, Michael. The Fall of Lloyd George: The Political Crisis of 1922. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Dated, but a solid academic examination of Lloyd George’s last year as British prime minister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Purcell, Hugh. Lloyd George. London: Haus, 2006. Concise but thorough overview of Lloyd George’s life and career. Part of a series of biographies of British prime ministers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Searle, G. R. Corruption in British Politics: 1895-1930. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. A detailed scholarly work on the honors scandal and the wider issues that scandal brought to the fore.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walker, John. The Queen Has Been Pleased: The British Honours System at Work. London: Secker & Warburg, 1986. A Labour Party perspective on the British nobility beginning with the seventeenth century.

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