views updated


MONTAGU , English banking family, prominent in politics and public life. sir samuel montagu, first baron sway-thling (1832–1911), banker, communal worker, and philanthropist, was born in Liverpool as Montagu Samuel, but in his boyhood the names were reversed. In 1853 he founded the merchant bankers, Samuel Montagu and Company. By securing a larger proportion of the exchange business, he helped make London the chief clearing house of the international money market. He was Liberal member of Parliament for Whitechapel from 1885 to 1900, and a benefactor to its poor, Jewish and non-Jewish. An advocate of, and writer on, decimalization of the currency and adoption of the metric system, he was consulted by successive chancellors of the exchequer on financial matters and in 1894 persuaded the government to exempt from death duties works of art and gifts to universities, museums, and art galleries. In 1894 he was made a baronet and in 1907 a baron. A strictly observant Jew, he assumed leadership of the Orthodox Russo-Jewish immigrants, founding in 1887 the Federation of Synagogues to unite the small congregations. More theologically "right-wing" than the mainstream United Synagogue, it continues to be a force in the Anglo-Jewish religious spectrum. He, however, worshiped at the fashionable New West End Synagogue and was a life member of the United Synagogue Council, though because of disagreements with its president, the first Lord Rothschild, he was inactive there. A masterful personality, he traveled to Palestine, Russia, and the United States on behalf of Jewry, but vigorously opposed Zionism.

His eldest son, louis samuel (1869–1927), second baron swaythling, was president of the Federation of Synagogues. Also an anti-Zionist, he declared, "Judaism is to me only a religion." He married Gladys, daughter of Colonel A.E.W. *Goldsmid. Their second son, ewen edward (1901–1985) was president of the United Synagogue (1954–62). As part of his wartime role in naval intelligence he originated and oversaw the famous scheme (known as "Operation Mincemeat") to fool the Germans into thinking that an Allied landing at Sardinia, rather than Sicily, was imminent in 1943. He did this by planting cleverly forged papers and documents on the corpse of a dead British vagrant, which was placed in such a way that it was certain to be found by the Germans. It was one of the greatest examples of successful wartime deception; Montagu's best-selling account, The Man Who Never Was (1953), was later made into a well-known film. After the War, he became judge advocate of the fleet and chairman of Middlesex Quarter Sessions (a leading London judicial post). Samuel Montagu's second son, edwin samuel (1879–1924), a Liberal politician, was elected to parliament in 1906, becoming private secretary to Herbert Asquith (later prime minister). As parliamentary undersecretary of state for India from 1910 to 1914, he championed Indian aspirations to independence. In 1914 he became financial secretary to the Treasury, in 1915, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and in 1916, minister of munitions. Secretary of state for India in Lloyd George's administration (1917–22), he was responsible for the Government of India Act (1919), devolving wide powers of self-government. He resigned in 1922, because of his opposition to government policy which was offensive to Indian Muslims, and lost his parliamentary seat the same year. In Jewish affairs, he was best known as an uncompromising opponent of Zionism and of the Balfour Declaration, being largely responsible for the modification of the original text. In 1915 he married (Beatrice) Venetia Stanley (1887–1948), the daughter of the fourth Lord Sheffield, who had been the (probably non-sexual) confidante of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. As a result of her marriage she converted to Judaism, but without enthusiasm. Samuel Montagu's daughter, Lillian (Lilly) Helen *Montagu (1873–1963), a social worker and magistrate, was a pioneer of Liberal Judaism in Britain, and thus father and daughter have the possibly unique distinction of founding significant religious movements on opposite ends of the Jewish religious spectrum.


S.D. Waley, Edwin Montagu… (1964); Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1950), index; L. Stein, Balfour Declaration (1961), index; E.M.L. Umansky, Lily Montagu and the Advancement of Liberal Judaism: From Vision to Vocation (1983); R.P. Lehmann, Nova Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica (1961), index; Roth, Mag Bibl, index; dnb, s.v.; jc (June 17, 1927), 11–12; (Jan. 25, 1963), 1, 7, 35; The Times (June 6, 1927; Jan. 24, 1963). add. bibliography: odnb online; W.D. Rubinstein, Jews in Great Britain, index; G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry, index; idem., The Federation of Synagogues, 1887–1987 (1987); C. Bermant, The Cousinhood (1961), index; M. Brock and E. Brock (eds.), H.H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley (1982); N.B. Levine, Politics, Religion, and Love: The Story of H.H. Asquith, Venetia Stanley, and Edwin Montagu (1991); S. Bayme, "Claude Montefiore, Lily Montagu and the Origins of the Jewish Religious Union," in: jhset, xxvii (1978–80), 61–71; E.C. Black, "Edwin Montagu," in: jhset, 30 (1987–88), 199–218.

[Vivian David Lipman /

William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

About this article


Updated About content Print Article