Curzon, George Nathaniel

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Curzon, George Nathaniel

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon was a conservative British statesman whose positions included viceroy of India and foreign secretary. Born into the aristocracy, Curzon became interested in the British territories in Asia during his years at Eton College and became acquainted with the future regent of Persia, Naser ul-Mulk, at Oxford.

After entering the British Parliament in 1886, Curzon traveled extensively in Asia throughout the next decade and expanded his perception of the empire's civilizing role. In 1889 Curzon undertook a 1,600-mile (2,575-kilometer) trek through parts of Persia by horse, after which he wrote a massive book about Persia and his travels. Persia and the Persian Question (1892), in its day the authoritative account of Iran during the Qajar period (1797–1925), describes the history, economy, government, geography, and the political situation in Persia at the time, emphasizing Curzon's concerns about Russia's ongoing interests in Qajar affairs. Curzon never returned to Persia, but it remained a pet concern, largely because he perceived Persia as a crucial buffer between Russia and India.

Curzon's first major post was viceroy of India (1899–1905), which was controversial since Indian nationalists perceived many of Curzon's reforms as mechanisms to strengthen imperial control. Curzon resigned from the post in 1905 after experiencing rivalry with Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850–1916), general of the Indian army.

After serving in the war cabinet during World War I (1914–1918), Curzon became British foreign secretary (1919–1924). The postwar settlements exasperated Curzon, particularly his dealings with Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863–1945). Anticipating the force of Turkish nationalism, Curzon advised giving the Turks independence in Anatolia, but the prime minister disregarded his counsel. Rather, Turkey was hardly mentioned during the peace conference at Versailles, and the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) carved up most of the Ottoman Empire amongst the Allies, effectively denying Turkish sovereignty.

In 1923 Curzon chaired the Conference of Lausanne, at which Turkey renegotiated the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. Ismet Inonu (1884–1973), who represented Turkey and was partially deaf, exasperated Curzon throughout the proceedings by continually asking Curzon to repeat himself and by ignoring Curzon's long lectures opposing Turkish demands. Curzon's role in the conference was successful because he was able to secure some major objectives in challenging circumstances for a diplomat; Britain was in no position to resume war, unlike the Turks, who were prepared to fight. Turkey, however, secured a far better arrangement than at Sèvres, as Turkey recovered much territory, gained full sovereignty, and paid no war reparations.

Curzon controlled British interactions with Persia following the war and shaped the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, which was a policy disaster. Curzon had both imperial and paternalistic intentions as he aimed to help Iran's development, secure British influence in Iran, and eliminate Russian interference. However, Iranians perceived it as a means of making Iran a protectorate and rejected the agreement outright, largely because of the secrecy with which it was arranged.

Although Curzon was expected to become the prime minister in 1923, he was denied the position. Historians have tended to treat Curzon harshly, most likely due to his arrogant temperament as a politician and an administrator; however, he also produced impressive accomplishments as a scholar and a mixed record as a diplomat.

see also Empire, British.


Bennet, G. H. British Foreign Policy During the Curzon Period, 1919–1924. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Curzon, N. G. Persia and the Persian Question. London: Longmans, 1892.

Gilmour, David. Curzon: Imperial Statesman. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.

Katouzian, Homa. "The Campaign Against the Anglo-Iranian Agreement of 1919." British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 25 (1) (1998): 5-46.

Nicolson, Harold George. Curzon: The Last Phase, 1919–1925: A Study in Post-war Diplomacy. London: Constable, 1934.

Wright, Denis. "Curzon and Persia." The Geographic Journal 153 (3) (1987): 343-350.