John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir

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John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (August 26, 1875February 11, 1940), was a Scottish novelist and politician who served as Governor General of Canada.


Early Life

Born in Perth, Scotland, he was educated at Glasgow University and Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry while a student at the latter. He had a genius for friendship which he retained all his life. His friends at Oxford included Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith and Aubrey Herbert.

Buchan at first entered into a career in law in 1901, but almost immediately moved into politics, becoming private secretary to British colonial admnistrator Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner for South Africa, Governor of Cape Colony and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State - hence Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. Buchan married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor, cousin of the Duke of Westminster, on July 15, 1907. Together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.

Missing image
Lord Tweedsmuir.

During World War I, he was a correspondent for The Times in France before becoming Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects, and became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in a 1927 by-election was elected a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities. In 1935 he became Governor General of Canada and was created Baron Tweedsmuir. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had wanted him to go to Canada as a commoner, but King George V insisted on being represented by a peer.

Life in Canada

His career as a novelist was by then a thriving one, and he had produced his best-known works, including Prester John (1910), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), and Greenmantle (1916). He moved on to write biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose. His autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, was also written while he was Governor General. The Thirty-Nine Steps later became famous when Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie. Lady Tweedsmuir wrote many books and plays under the name of Susan Buchan.

While he pursued his own writing career, he also promoted the development of a distinctly Canadian culture. In 1936, encouraged by Lady Tweedsmuir, he founded the Governor General's Awards for many years Canada's premier literary awards.

Lady Tweedsmuir was active in promoting literacy in Canada. She used Rideau Hall as a distribution centre for 40,000 books, which were sent out to readers in remote areas of the west. Her program was known as the "Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme". Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir established the first proper library at Rideau Hall.

Lord Tweedsmuir took his responsibilities in Canada seriously and tried to make the office of Governor General relevant to the lives of ordinary Canadians. In his own words, "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people".

Lord Tweedsmuir travelled throughout Canada, including the Arctic regions. He took every opportunity to speak to Canadians and to encourage them to develop their own distinct identity. He wanted to build national unity by diminishing the religious and linguistic barriers that divided the country. Lord Tweedsmuir was aware of the suffering experienced by many Canadians due to the Depression and often wrote with compassion about their difficulties.

Lord Tweedsmuir was recognized by Glasgow, St. Andrews, McGill, Toronto and Montréal Universities, all of which conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and he was made an Honorary Fellow and an Honorary D.C.L. of Oxford.

When His Majesty King George V died in 1936, the front of Rideau Hall was covered in black crepe and Lord Tweedsmuir cancelled all entertaining during the period of mourning. The new heir to the throne, King Edward VIII, soon abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson – creating a crisis for the monarchy. However, when the new King, His Majesty George VI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth travelled throughout Canada in 1939, the regal visit – the first visit to Canada by a reigning Sovereign – was extremely popular.

Like many people of his time, the experience of the First World War convinced Lord Tweedsmuir of the horrors of armed conflict and he worked with both United States President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King in trying to avert the ever-growing threat of another world war.

While shaving on February 6, 1940, Lord Tweedsmuir had a stroke and injured his head badly in the fall. He received the best possible care – Canada's famous Dr. Wilder Penfield operated twice – but the injury proved fatal. On February 11, just 10 months before his term of office was to expire, Lord Tweedsmuir died. Prime Minister Mackenzie King reflected the loss that all Canadians felt when he read the following words over the radio, "In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service."

This was the first time a Governor General had died during his term of office since Confederation. After the lying-in-state in the Senate Chamber, a State funeral for Lord Tweedsmuir was held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. His ashes were returned to England on the warship H.M.S. Orion for final burial at Elsfield, where he had bought the Manor in 1920.


In recent years, Buchan's reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness perceived, with hindsight, in his novels. However, in many other ways, his work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.

Buchan was involved with British Intelligence during World War One and may have had an involvement later. He had a reputation for discretion.

In the thirties Buchan gave financial and moral support to the poor, young academic Roberto Weiss, as Buchan was fascinated by the classical antiquity period Weiss studied, and wished to support this.

Missing image
Lord Tweedsmuir.

Bibliography of Principal Works

  • 1896 Scholar-Gipsies (essays)
  • 1899 Grey Weather (stories and poems)
  • 1899 A Lost Lady of Old Years
  • 1900 The Half-Hearted
  • 1902 The Watcher by the Threshold (stories)
  • 1903 The African Colony
  • 1905 The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income
  • 1906 A Lodge in the Wilderness
  • 1908 Some Eighteenth Century Byways (essays and articles)
  • 1910 Prester John
  • 1911 Sir Walter Raleigh
  • 1912 The Moon Endureth (stories and poems)
  • 1912 What the Home Rule Bill Means
  • 1913 The Marquis of Montrose
  • 1913 Andrew Jameson, Lord Ardwall
  • 1915 Salute to Adventurers
  • 1915 The Thirty-Nine Steps
  • 1915 Britain's War by Land
  • 1915 The Achievement of France
  • 1915 Ordeal by Marriage
  • 1916 The Future of the War
  • 1916 The Power-House
  • 1916 The Battle of Jutland
  • 1916 Greenmantle
  • 1916 The Battle of the Somme, First Phase
  • 1916 The Purpose of War
  • 1917 Poems, Scots and English
  • 1917 The Battle of the Somme, Second Phase
  • 1919 Mr Standfast
  • 1919 These for Remembrance
  • 1919 The Battle Honours of Scotland 1914-1918
  • 1920 The History of the South African Forces in France
  • 1920 Francis and Riversdale Grenfell
  • 1920 The Long Road to Victory
  • 1921 The Path of the King
  • 1921-2 A History of the Great War
  • 1922 Huntingtower
  • 1922 A Book of Escapes and Hurried Journeys
  • 1923 The Last Secrets (essays and articles)
  • 1923 A History of English Literature
  • 1923 Midwinter
  • 1923 Days to Remember
  • 1924 Some Notes on Sir Walter Scott
  • 1924 The Three Hostages
  • 1925 The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers 1678-1918
  • 1925 John Macnab
  • 1925 The Man and the Book
  • 1925 Sir Walter Scott
  • 1925 Two Ordeals of Democracy
  • 1926 The Dancing Floor
  • 1926 Homilies and Recreations (essays and addresses)
  • 1927 Witch Wood
  • 1928 The Runagates Club (stories 1913-28)
  • 1929 The Courts of the Morning
  • 1930 The Kirk in Scotland (with George Adam Smith)
  • 1930 Montrose and Leadership
  • 1930 Castle Gay
  • 1930 Lord Rosebery, 1847-1930
  • 1931 The Blanket of the Dark
  • 1931 The Novel and the Fairy Tale
  • 1932 Sir Walter Scott
  • 1932 The Gap in the Curtain
  • 1932 Julius Caesar
  • 1932 The Magic Walking Stick (for children)
  • 1932 Andrew Lang and the Borders
  • 1933 The Massacre of Glencoe
  • 1933 A Prince of the Captivity
  • 1933 The Margins of Life
  • 1934 The Free Fishers
  • 1934 Gordon at Khartoum
  • 1934 Oliver Cromwell
  • 1935 The King's Grace
  • 1935 The House of the Four Winds
  • 1936 The Island of Sheep
  • 1937 Augustus
  • 1938 The Interpreter's House
  • 1938 Presbyterianism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
  • 1940 Memory Hold-the-Door
  • 1940 Comments and Characters
  • 1940 Canadian Occasions
  • 1941 Sick Heart River
  • 1941 The Long Traverse

Preceded by:
The Earl of Bessborough
Governor General of Canada
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Athlone

Template:End box

Preceded by:
New Creation
Baron Tweedsmuir Succeeded by:
John Buchan


External links



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