Robert Cecil, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood


Robert Cecil

Edgar Algernon Robert Cecil (September 14, 1864-November 24, 1958) British lawyer, parliamentarian and cabinet minister, one of the architects of the League of Nations and its faithful defender, was the distinguished son of the third Marquess of Salisbury, that remarkable man who occupied, in the course of his career, the highest offices in the land: the foreign ministry under Disraeli, the prime ministry three times (1885, 1886-1892, and 1895-1902).

The education which Robert absorbed at home until he was thirteen was superior and far more interesting, he writes in his autobiography, than his four years at Eton. He enjoyed his undergraduate days at Oxford where he won renown as a debater, and after several terms of reading law, he was called to the Bar in 1887, at the age of twenty-three. Of his marriage to Lady Eleanor Lambton two years later he was fond of saying that it was the cleverest thing he had ever done1.

From 1887 to 1906, Cecil’s career was a legal one, involving most of the forms of common law, occasional efforts in Chancery, and a steadily increasing parliamentary practice. He also collaborated in writing Principles of Commercial Law.

From the law, Cecil turned to politics. As a Conservative, he represented East Marylebone in the House of Commons from 1906 to 1910, lost two elections in the next year, and then won as an Independent Conservative in 1911 as member for the Hitchin Division of Hertfordshire, remaining in the Commons until 1923.

Fifty years old at the outbreak of World War I, Cecil went to work for the Red Cross, but with the formation of the coalition government in 1915, he became undersecretary for foreign affairs for a year, served as minister of blockade from 1916 to 1918, being responsible for devising procedures to bring economic and commercial pressure against the enemy, and early in 1918 became assistant secretary of state for foreign affairs.

The «third phase»2 of Cecil’s public career – his absorption in the maintenance of peace – began in 1916. Appalled by the war’s destruction of life, property, and human values, he became convinced that civilization could survive only if it could invent an international system that would insure peace. In September, 1916, he circulated a memorandum making proposals for the avoidance of war, which he says was the «first document from which sprang British official advocacy of the League of Nations»3.

From the inception of the League to its demise in 1946, a span of almost thirty years, Cecil’s public life was almost totally devoted to the League. At the Paris Peace Conference, he was the British representative in charge of negotiations for a League of Nations; from 1920 through 1922, he represented the Dominion of South Africa in the League Assembly; in 1923 he made a five-week tour of the United States, explaining the League to American audiences; from 1923 to 1924, with the title of Lord Privy Seal, and from 1924 to 1927, with that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he was the minister responsible, under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Secretary, for British activities in League affairs.

In 1927, dissatisfied with the attitude of the British cabinet toward the League, he resigned from governmental office and thereafter, although an official delegate to the League as late as 1932, worked independently to mobilize public opinion in support of the League. He was president of the British League of Nations Union from 1923 to 1945, and joint founder and president, with a French Jurist, of the International Peace Campaign, known in France as Rassemblement universel pour la paix. Among his publications during this period were The Way of Peace (1928), a collection of lectures on the League; A Great Experiment (1941), a personalized account of his relationship to the League of Nations; All the Way (1949), a more complete autobiography.

Lord Robert’s career brought him many honors. He was created first Viscount of Chelwood in 1923 and made a Companion of Honour in 1956, was elected chancellor of Birmingham University (1918-1944) and rector of the University of Aberdeen (1924-1927), was given the Peace Award of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1924 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937, was presented with honorary degrees by the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Liverpool, St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Princeton, Columbia, and Athens.

In the spring of 1946 he participated in the final meetings of the League at Geneva, ending his speech with the sentence: «The League is dead; long live the United Nations!» He was eighty-one. He lived for thirteen more years, occasionally occupying his place in the House of Lords, and supporting international efforts for peace through his honorary life presidency of the United Nations Association.

Selected Bibliography
Bachofen, Maja, Lord Robert Cecil und der Völkerbund. Zurich, 1959.
Carlton, David, «Disarmament with Guarantees: Lord Cecil, 1922-1927», in Disarmament and Arms Control, 3 (1965, no. 2) 143-164.
Cecil, Lord Robert, All the Way [an autobiography]. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1949.
Cecil, Lord Robert, «American Addresses», League of Nations, 5 (1922, no. 6) 401-460. [A publication of the World Peace Foundation, Boston.]
Cecil, Lord Robert, An Emergency Policy. London and New York, Hutchinson, 1948.
Cecil, Lord Robert, A Great Experiment: An Autobiography. New York, Oxford University Press, 1941.
Cecil, Lord Robert, International Arbitration [the Burge Memorial Lecture]. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1928.
Cecil, Lord Robert, «The League as a Road to Peace», in The Intelligent Man’s Way to Prevent War, ed. by L. Woolf. London, Gollancz, 1933.
Cecil, Lord Robert, The Moral Basis of the League of Nations [the Essex Hall Lecture]. London, Lindsey Press, 1923.
Cecil, Lord Robert, The New Outlook. London, Allen & Unwin, 1919.
Cecil, Lord Robert, Peace and Pacifism [the Romanes Lecture]. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1938.
Cecil, Lord Robert, The Way of Peace: Essays and Addresses. London, Allen, 1928. [Reissued, Port Washington, N.Y., Kennikat Press, 1968.]
Cecil, Lord Robert, and Joseph Hurst, The Principles of Commercial Law. London, Stevens & Haynes, 1891.
Crewe, Marquess of, «Lord Cecil and the League», The Fortnightly, 155 [n.s. 149] (March, 1941) 209-218.
Obituary, the (London) Times (November 25, 1958) 13.

1. Cecil, A Great Experiment, p. 19.

2. Cecil, All the Way, pp. 142, 239.

3. Ibid. p. 141.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1937

To cite this section
MLA style: Robert Cecil – Biographical. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Thu. 20 Jun 2024. <>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.