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1st Marquess of Reading

1st Marquess of Reading

The English lawyer and statesman Rufus Daniel Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading (1860-1935), known for his brilliant legal career, was an international figure during and immediately after World War I.

Rufus Isaacs, the fourth child and second son of Joseph and Sarah Davis Isaacs, was born on Oct. 10, 1860, in London. At 13 he entered the University College School and completed a year there.

At 15 years of age Rufus left school and entered the family business. His parents, however, desiring to instill a sense of discipline into his life, arranged to have him go to sea for several years. In 1876 he sailed as a shipboy on board the Blair Athole. He returned home 2 years later, having decided against a career at sea.

In the years following his adventure at sea, Isaacs returned to his father's business for a while and then spent 4 years at the stock exchange. Then in 1884 he unexpectedly decided to study law in order to pay off debts he had incurred during the financial slump of that year. Isaacs entered the Middle Temple in 1885, and 2 years later he was admitted to the bar. As a lawyer and later as a justice, he gained great repute for his tact, hard work, and suavity. He was attorney general from 1910 to 1913 and in 1913 was appointed lord chief justice. During these years Isaacs also actively engaged in politics and rose to prominence in the Liberal party. He was the first person to be knighted by George V when he became king; in December 1914 he was created a baron, Lord Reading of Erleigh.

Before and during World War I, Reading's counsel was sought frequently on financial questions; during the war he led several missions to the United States, and in January 1918 he became ambassador to Washington. Although he served as ambassador for just a little over a year, he quickly won the respect of high-ranking officials of both the United States and England and was a great champion of Anglo-American goodwill.

After the war Reading reached the pinnacle of his career when, in 1921, he was appointed viceroy of India. In the 1920s confusion and ill feeling were widespread in India. Mohandas Gandhi was advocating passive resistance, there was agitation against the dyarchy system, and the populace was aroused by the massacre of Indian nationalists in Amritsar in 1919. Throughout these troubled years Reading continued to display the dignity, sagacity, and sense of duty for which he had gained international fame. In 1926 he returned to England and was made a marquess; he became the first commoner since the Duke of Wellington to be so honored. He played a leading role in the Round Table Conferences of 1930 and 1931, which attempted to resolve the Indian problem. In 1931 he served briefly as foreign secretary, and in 1934 he was appointed lord warden of the Cinque Ports. Reading died in London on Dec. 30, 1935.

Further Reading

The best biography of Reading is that by his son, Gerald Rufus Isaacs Reading, 2d Marquess of Reading, Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading (2 vols., 1942-1945). It is a detailed study of all phases of Reading's life; the chapters on his viceroyalty of India are of particular value. An older study is Stanley Jackson, Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading (1936). H. Montgomery Hyde, Lord Reading (1967), is a well-written and sympathetic recent biography. For his legal career see Derek Walker-Smith, Lord Reading and His Cases: The Study of a Great Career (1934). W. B. Fowler, British-American Relations, 1917-1918 (1969), is also useful.

Additional Sources

Judd, Denis, Lord Reading, Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading, Lord Chief Justice and Viceroy of India, 1860-1935, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982.

Sinha, Aruna., Lord Reading, Viceroy of India, New Delhi: Sterling, 1985. □

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