John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC (26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940), was a Scottish novelist, politician and propagandist who served as Governor General of Canada.
Born in Perth, Scotland and growing up in Fife, he spent many summer holidays with his grandparents in the Borders, developing a love of walking and the Border scenery and its wildlife that is often featured in his novels. He won a scholarship to the University of Glasgow where he studied Classics and wrote poetry and first became a published author. He then studied law at Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry. 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 administrator Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner for South Africa, Governor of Cape Colony and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State—Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. On his return to London, he became a partner in a publishing company while he continued to write books. 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.
In 1910, he wrote Prester John, the first of his adventure novels, set in South Africa. In 1911, he first suffered from duodenal ulcers, an illness he would give to one of his characters in later books. He also entered politics running as a Tory candidate for a Border constituency.
During World War I, he wrote for the British War Propaganda Bureau and was a correspondent for The Times in France. In 1915, he published his most famous book The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy thriller set just before the outbreak of World War I, featuring his hero Richard Hannay, who was based on a friend from South African days, Edmund Ironside. The following year he published a sequel Greenmantle. In 1916, he joined the British Army Intelligence Corps where as a 2nd Lieutenant he wrote speeches and communiques for Sir Douglas Haig.
In 1917, he returned to Britain where he became Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects as well as continuing to write thrillers and historical novels. His career as an author was very successful, and he produced many well-respected historical works. He wrote biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, but the most famous of his books were the Richard Hannay spy thrillers and it is probably for these that he is now best remembered.
Buchan became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in a 1927 by-election was elected a Scottish Unionist Party MP for the Scottish Universities. Politically he was of the Unionist-Nationalist Tradition that believed in Scotland's promotion as a nation within the British Empire and once remarked "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. If it could be proved that a Scottish parliament were desirable...Scotsmen should support it". The effects of depression in Scotland and the subsequent high emigration also led him to say "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us" (Hansard, November 24 1932).
Life in Canada
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.
Buchan's writing continued even after he was appointed Governor General. His later books included novels and histories and his views of Canada. He also wrote an autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, while Governor-General. His wife was a writer, producing many books and plays as Susan Buchan. While pursuing 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, still some of Canada's premier literary awards.
Like many people of his time, the experience of the First World War convinced Buchan 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, 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, 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 in common with many of his contemporaries, 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 had a reputation for discretion. He was involved with the Intelligence Corps as a propagandist during World War I and may have had an involvement with British intelligence later; he is cited as having some involvement during the years leading to the Second World War by Canadian-born British spymaster William Stephenson but the books about him are not always reliable.