Who was George Nathaniel Curzon?

Portrait of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston

George Nathaniel Curzon, commonly known as Lord Curzon was born on 11th January 1859 at his ancestral home, Kedleston Hall. The house we see today was commissioned by Lord Curzon’s ancestor Sir Nathanial Curzon in a bid to rival Chatsworth. Lord Curzon was always conscious that the family home was perhaps more distinguished than the family that inhabited it. He set out at an early age to prove himself a worthy master for Kedleston.

Robert Adam's imposing south front at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire
South front at Kedleston Hall Derbyshire
Robert Adam's imposing south front at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Childhood at Kedleston

George was second of eleven children of the 4th Baron Scarsdale and his wife Blanche and as the eldest boy, destined to inherit Kedleston. Neither parent played a huge role in his childhood which, on the most part, was dictated by the ruthless Ellen Mary Paraman, his governess. Paraman's harsh hand and controlling demeanour appears to have made a lasting impact on his attitude towards women and his need for control.

" A good teacher and kind soul in her good moments, but most memorably as an “ogress”- a brutal and vindictive tyrant and I have often thought since she must have been insane"
- George Nathaniel Curzon

A controversial student

Curzon was a talented and competitive child and was freed from the clutches of his governess to attend preparatory school aged ten. He embarked on a successful academic career and during his time at Eton he had a ‘passionate resolve to be at the head of the class’. He was both liked and disliked by equal measure, a man with a talent for words and a skilled debater. But for all of those who found him great company, witty and hardworking there were many who found him tedious and overconfident. 

“My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,

I am a most superior person.

My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,

I dine at Blenheim once a week.”

A poem written by one of his contemporaries published in the Masque of Balliol which journalists quoted against him for the rest of his life.

A politician and a world traveller

Despite his interest in politics he showed reasonably early into his career that despite his talents, he did not have good parliamentary manner, often coming across as overconfident and self-assured. Instead he chose to make his name as an expert on Asia, a continent that had fascinated him since his university days.

Curzon travelled extensively and was fascinated by the orient and geography. He studied and continued to write articles and books and his work was highly regarded and set him apart as an expert. His extensive collection of items from his world travels can still be seen on display in Kedleston Hall’s Eastern Museum.

Look closer at Kedleston's Eastern Museum
a display case in Kedleston's Eastern Museum
Look closer at Kedleston's Eastern Museum

Wife and daughters

Despite a series of risky love affairs during his early political career Curzon announced his engagement to Mary, daughter of Levi Zeigler Leiter a Chicago millionaire on his return from a lengthy tour of Afghanistan in 1895. The pair had actually been engaged for two years but on the insistence of Curzon it was kept a secret. The marriage was a happy one and the pair went on the have three daughters.

Lady Mary Curzon in the Peacock dress which is still on display at Kedleston
Portrait of Lady Mary Curzon
Lady Mary Curzon in the Peacock dress which is still on display at Kedleston

Viceroy of India

In 1899 he was proclaimed as Viceroy of India and he and his family moved to Calcutta. His new radical approach didn’t go without upset and many feared and disliked him.

Curzon’s first sixteen months as Viceroy were overshadowed by famine and plague and his efficiency greatly reduced the degree of suffering. The crisis brought the Viceroy a new determination to extend irrigated areas to combat the issue. His reforms benefitted several aspects of Indian life from infrastructure to education and conservation – one of his most notable conservation projects was his restoration of the Taj Mahal.

Curzon’s return to England

After a rather unceremonious end to his time as Viceroy, following opposition from Lord Kitchener over military powers, Curzon returned to England upon his resignation. Curzon was bitter and angered by the situation and lost because, ‘unlike his opponent, he had refused to become a conspirator’. 

In 1912 He became president of The National League for Opposing Women's Suffrage who campaigned against women gaining the vote. This year the National Trust is exploring Suffrage and Anti-Suffrage stories to mark 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act. At Kedleston Hall there is a display in the Billiard Room exploring Lord Curzon's involvement in the Anti-Suffrage movement.