Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner

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Alfred Milner, early 1900's

Alfred Milner KG GCB GCMG PC (23 March 1854 – 13 May 1925) was a British statesman and colonial administrator.


  • "Churchill was 'very keen, able, and broad-minded' and a 'powerful backer', but warned that his weakness was being 'too apt to make up his mind without sufficient knowledge'.
    • In a letter written to the High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, on February 5, 1921, as Churchill was preparing to take over the Colonial Office on Milner's retirement. From Martin Gilbert's "Winston Churchill, Vol. IV" (1975), p. 520, and quoted in Chris Wrigley's "Winston Churchill, A Biographical Companion" (2002), p 262
  • British influence... is not exercised to impose an uncongenial foreign system upon a reluctant people. It is a force making for the triumph of the simplest ideas of honesty, humanity, and justice, to the value of which Egyptians are just as much alive as anybody else.
    • England in Egypt (1894 ed.), p. 407
  • [I]f Egyptian prosperity is a British interest, so is Egyptian independence. We have no desire to possess ourselves of Egypt, but we have every reason to prevent any rival power from so possessing itself. And there is no sure, no creditable manner of providing permanently against such a contingency, except to build up a system of Government so stable as to leave no excuse for future foreign intervention.
    • England in Egypt (1894 ed.), p. 436
  • I have a strong hope and conviction that, with moderation and good sense, and a policy of firmness, patience and good temper, these difficulties may yet be satisfactorily, if not immediately settled.
    • Milner, to the people of Kimberley, upon his arrival in South Africa on May 5, 1897, John Evelyn Wrench, cited in Martin Meredith, Alfred Lord Milner (1958), p. 167
  • There is only one possible settlement – war! It has got to come ... The difficulty is in the occasion and not the job itself, that is very easily done and I think nothing of the bogies and difficulties of settling South Africa afterwards. You will find a very different tone and temper when the center of unrest is dealt with.
    • Milner as recorded by Percy FitzPatrick, cited in Martin Meredith, Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa (2008), p. 374
  • If, ten years hence, there are three men of British race to two of Dutch, the country [i.e. South Africa] will be safe and prosperous.
    • Milner on 27 December 1900, in private correspondence with Major Hanbury-Williams, as quoted by C. Headlam in The Milner Papers: South Africa (1933), p. 242
  • ...the impracticability of governing natives, who, at best, are children, needing and appreciating just paternal government, on the same principles as apply to the government of full-grown men.
    • Milner on 6 December 1901, on post-war government in South Africa, in correspondence with Joseph Chamberlain, as quoted by C. Headlam in The Milner Papers: South Africa (1933), p. 312
  • If we believe a thing to be bad, and if we have a right to prevent it, it is our duty to try to prevent it and to damn the consequences.
  • I feel more sure that the end is nearing than I do what kind of end it will be.
    • Milner commenting to Arthur Glazebrook of Canada, about the United States' late entry in the war, cited in J. Lee Thompson's book Forgotten Patriot (2007), p. 338
  • My own disposition is against being in the government unless I am part of the Supreme Direction.
    • Lord Milner, in a letter to his future wife, Violet Cecil, on 8 December 1916, the same day he received a letter from Prime Minister Lloyd George asking him to be a member of his war cabinet. From John Marlowe, "Milner, Apostle of Empire" (1976), pp. 253-254
  • The prospects for peace were, "even blacker than a year ago".
    • Quoted on March 23, 1919, one year after Lloyd George called and asked him to go to France to find out the position of the British Army after the German surprise attack. From Forgotten Patriot, 2007, Rosemont, p. 359
  • Instead of it (World War I) being a war to end wars - it (the Paris Peace Conference) is a Peace to end Peace.
    • A remark to his private secretary, Lord Sandon, in May 1919. From Terence H. O'Brien, Milner, Viscount Milner of St James and Cape Town 1954-1925 (1979) p. 335.

Quotes about Milner

We should have won the war some time ago if there were about half-a-dozen Lord Milners to form a (War) Cabinet. ~ Geoffrey Dawson
  • Only at Government House did I find the Man of No Illusions, the anxious but unwearied Pro-Consul, understanding the faults and virtues of both sides, measuring the balance of rights and wrongs, and determined - more determined than ever, for is it not the only hope for the future of South Africa? - to use his knowledge and power to strengthen the Imperial ties.
  • The conditions of the Transvaal ordinance ... cannot in the opinion of His Majesty's Government be classified as slavery; at least, that word in its full sense could not be applied without a risk of terminological inexactitude.
    • Winston Churchill, in a speech to the House of Commons on February 22, 1906, about a Transvaal ordinance that allowed Chinese coolies to be imported to work in the South African diamond mines.
  • Lord Milner has gone from South Africa, probably forever. The public service knows him no more. Having exercised great authority he now exercises no authority. Having held high employment he now has no employment. Having disposed of events which have shaped the course of history, he is now unable to deflect in the smallest degree the policy of the day. Having been for many years, or at least for many months, the arbiter of the fortunes of men who are 'rich beyond the dreams of avarice', he is today poor, and honorably poor. After twenty years of exhausting service under the Crown he is today a retired Civil Servant, without pension or gratuity of any kind whatever... Lord Milner has ceased to be a factor in public life.
    • Winston Churchill, in a speech to Parliament, March 6, 1906. Cited from, Alfred Lord Milner, The Man of No Illusions (1958), p. 260
  • He is an old friend of mine. We admired and loved the same woman. That's an indissoluble bond.
    • Georges Clemenceau, said to French President Raymond Poincare in January 1917, and quoted by author J. Lee Thompson, in his biography, Forgotten Patriot, A Life of Alfred, Viscount Milner, of St. James and Cape Town, 1854-1925 (2007), p. 334
  • If he does not agree with you, he closes his eyes like a lizard and you can do nothing with him.
    • Georges Clemenceau, describing his dealings with Milner at the Paris Peace Conference. J Lee Thompson, Forgotten Patriot (2007), p. 359
  • We should have won the war some time ago if there were about half-a-dozen Lord Milners to form a (War) Cabinet.
    • Geoffrey Dawson, in a letter dated 14 February 1918 (2 days before General Robertson's replacement), quoted in author John Evelyn Wrench's Alfred Lord Milner (1958), p. 339
  • How far reaching that service became at the turning point of the war, what a godsend that combination of cool judgement and knowledge with the Premier's flair and courage, how essential to victory the power of decision which at the blackest moment consolidated the direction of the allied armies...but when the story comes to be fully written, it may be found that nothing even in the South African chapter has left a more decisive mark on history than Lord Milner's work at Doullens and in Downing Street...
    • Geoffrey Dawson, on Milner's death in 1925, quoted in author J. Lee Thompson's Forgotten Patriot (2007), p. 381
  • “What would have been the position to-day on South Africa if there had not been a man prepared to take upon himself responsibility; a man whom difficulties could not conquer, whom dissenters could not cow, and whom obloquy could not move?”
  • the strongest member of the War Cabinet as well as being the best informed.
    • Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, in a letter to his wife in May 1917, quoted in author Alfred Gollin's, Proconsul in Politics, (1964), p. 436
  • Lloyd George had the firm support of Milner, the strongest man in his War Cabinet.
    • Maurice Hankey, discussing 1918 war strategy in his book The Supreme Command, 1914-1918, Volume II (1961), p. 775
  • The interview adjourned at an appointed hour to the office of the Secretary of War, Lord Milner, whose little book on "The English in Egypt" written twenty-six years ago, was a bible to me in Philippine days. He was an extremely forceful and able man. He was born in Germany of British parents and seems to have acquired a little of the blood and iron. At least he is the most difficult person to bring over that my General (Pershing) and I have attempted. It is all on the question of how many troops shall go with the British and what they shall be. He wants all infantry and machine guns, and while protesting that they all look forward to the day when we shall have our American Army on the line as such, is demanding the things that will make that impossible, at least before 1919.
  • In appearance a scholar rather than a man of action, but with an air of grave assurance, which indicated fixity of purpose, a man more apt to give than to take advice.
    • James Rose Innes cited in Martin Meredith, Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa (2008), p. 368, his first impression of Milner at Government House, Cape Town
  • I think that Milner and I stand for very much the same things. He is a poor man, and so am I. He does not represent the landed or capitalist classes any more than I do. He is keen on social reform, and so am I.
    • David Lloyd George, quoted in Lord Riddell's diary entry (18 February 1917), J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908-1923 (1986), p. 186
  • Milner was the only person I can turn to for advice. Bonar was a quaking reed. Carson had courage, but not always judgement. Milner alone had both wisdom and intrepidity.
    • David Lloyd George, quoted in Leo Amery's diary on January 27, 1918, after Amery suggested that Lord Milner be moved to the War Office. Milner was the most important member of the War Cabinet. Leo Amery, My Political Life, Volume II (1953), p. 98
  • ...trained in the school of newspapers and books rather than that of men. ...poor nervous ignorant fellow, utterly out of sympathy with South Africa.
    • John Merriman cited in Martin Meredith, Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa (2008), p. 368
  • Having to deal with the War Cabinet, I know very well there are only two people in it who do anything - the Prime Minister and Lord Milner...
    • Lord Northcliffe, in a letter to The Times newspaper, April 1918. J Lee Thompson, Forgotten Patriot (2007), p. 344
  • l'homme d'action par excellence du cabinet anglais (the outstanding man of drive in the British cabinet).
    • Prime Minister Clemenceau, quoted by Walter Reid in Five Days From Defeat: How Britain Nearly Lost the First World War (2017), p. 174
  • When Lord Milner was given the Order of the Garter... [h]e had to attend a Levee, and when he dressed he was faced by the problem over which shoulder should the riband go. As there was no time to ask anyone's advice he decided to wear it...over the right shoulder; but the Garter...[is] worn over the left shoulder. Quite unconscious that he was wearing his riband over the wrong shoulder he appeared in the antechamber at St. James's Palace, where everyone assembles. There, unfortunately, he met George Curzon, who was scandalised at his ignorance; so strongly, in fact, did Curzon feel that after the Levee he wrote Milner a letter saying that it was almost inconceivable that anyone who had been given this ancient Order, the highest Order in the land, should not even take the trouble to ascertain how it was worn. It happened some months later that one of the Levees at St. James's Palace happened to come on a collar day... Curzon...came rather late to the Levee...and...committ[ed] the most heinous offence of wearing a riband as well as a collar. Of course, the King observed this at once but made little of it, only chaffing Curzon about the mistake; Milner, who was also present, heard these remarks and afterwards wrote to Curzon, repeating nearly word for word that it was almost inconceivable that anyone who had been given this ancient Order, etc. etc.
  • Lloyd George is a real bad 'un. The other members of the War Cabinet seem afraid of him. Milner is a tired, dyspeptic old man. Curzon is a gas-bag. Bonar Law equals Bonar Law.
    • Sir William Robertson (CIGS), writing to General Douglas Haig after the Flanders Offensive, and after meeting with the war cabinet. William Manchester, The Last Lion (1983), p. 624
    • ....from Haig's diary entry of 9 August 1917, quoting General Robertson, per The Private Papers of Douglas Haig, 1914-1919, by Robert Blake (1952), pp. 251-252
  • ...Cette decision sauva la France et la liberte du monde. Translated from French to English: ...This decision saved France and the freedom of the world.
  • The complete inscription, in english, says, "In this Town Hall, on the 26th of March, 1918, the Allies entrusted General Foch with the Supreme Command on the Western Front. This decision saved France and the liberty of the world."
    • the inscription on two bronze plaques (unobtrusive tablets), one French and one English, on the iron gates of the Town Hall of Doullens, to commemorate the decision made on March 26, 1918 to unite the Western Front under a single command, ....quoted from "United Empire", "Lord Milner and the Unified Command", by W. Basil Worsfold, (May 1929), pg. 237, "The Biography of the Late Marshal Foch", by Major General George Aston, (1929), pgs. 285-286, and "Alfred Lord Milner", by John Evelyn Wrench, (1958), pg. 343

Note that of the two pictures shown to the right, the top photograph was taken in 1902, and the bottom portrait was drawn on May 8th and June 12, 1919. It was later used in the larger oil painting, Statesmen of World War I.