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Post Who Was Sir George Dixon Grahame?
Created by John Eipper on 03/21/21 2:05 PM

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Who Was Sir George Dixon Grahame? (Silvia Ribelles de la Vega, USA, 03/21/21 2:05 pm)

John, thank you very much for publishing my post, and for showing interest on my research. I am very happy to share this summary of my book. I hope WAISers will find it interesting.

Sir George Dixon Grahame, (1873-1940)--G.C.M.G. (Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George), G.C.V.O. (Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order), P.C. (Privy Council)--was one of the most experienced and highly regarded diplomats of his time. His first assignment, as Third Secretary, was Paris in 1898, and after short stays in Buenos Aires and Berlin, he returned to the capital of France in 1905.

George Grahame played an especially important role in Anglo-French negotiations during the Agadir Crisis. Once that crisis was brought to an end, both Lord Bertie, the British Ambassador, and George Grahame were staunchly opposed to France's wishes to restrict the Spanish zone of Morocco even further. At the outbreak of the Great War, George Grahame had already been promoted to First Secretary, and still worked under the orders of Lord Bertie. A mere six months before the war's end, Lord Bertie fell ill and was replaced by Lord Derby, a member of the military with no experience in diplomacy, though quite charismatic amongst high-ranking allied officials. George Grahame bore the burden of the embassy throughout the final months of the conflict, until the signing of the armistice on 11th November 1918. During the Paris Peace Conferences, once the war was over, he signed the Treaty of Sèvres, which split up the Ottoman Empire. In 1920, he was named ambassador in Brussels, where he weathered the storm which had arisen in the checkered relations between France and the United Kingdom as a result of war reparations, and the Ruhr Crisis, when the French and Belgians decided to occupy that part of Germany.

But the most widely covered part of his career in this work are his years as British Ambassador in Madrid. In 1928, he was stationed in the Spanish capital, and while he remained in Spain at the helm of the embassy until 1935, he was given the task of dealing with the fall of the monarchy and the proclamation of the Spanish Republic. Reading his detailed and interesting dispatches and reports, one can get an idea of the situation in Spain during that volatile first half of the 1930s. They transpire his deep knowledge of the political and sociological situation of the country. He was never judgmental, and always informative. But not only that. His conciliatory reports to the Foreign Office from Madrid, submitted from 14th through 21st April 1931, contributed in large part to the United Kingdom's early official recognition of Spain's new regime. During his stay in Madrid, he also handled the crisis entailed by the revolution of 1934, with a much more liberal attitude than could have been expected from a member of Britain's high society and the representative of a country which leaned conservative. In fact, a few years later, he would end up unabashedly condemning the July 1936 military coup, by saying:

"I sometimes wonder how with my upbringing in a Tory milieu of landed gentry, I came to hold the views I do. I think one of my ancestors must have been a Cromwellian 'round-head,' and his blood moves within me" [1].

Shortly after he passed away in July of 1940, his good friend Claude Bowers, the American Ambassador in Madrid, wrote about him in his diary: "Born a conservative, life and a good heart and sound principles made him a liberal."[2] This liberalism would contribute to his fall from grace amongst colleagues in the Diplomatic Service as his life drew to an end.

During his years in Spain, he was very active in social circles. Sir George also visited different parts of the country, both officially and unofficially. He mixed and mingled with both the higher and the lower ranks of society. Like Azaña said about him, "He likes to mingle with the masses at the parks and in Madrid shows, and he knows many local pet phrases"[3]. A recalcitrant bachelor, Sir George even found a potential Spanish wife when he was past his sixties in a woman eight years younger than him, Julia Heredia. Like he himself said in one of his letters to a good friend only two months before retiring and leaving Spain, "I have had an interesting and, what matters also, a happy time in this country"[4].

He became good friends with different political and intellectual figures in the country, such as Manuel Azaña, Alberto Jiménez Fraud or Ramón Pérez de Ayala; but he also made some enemies, namely, King Alfonso XIII who, while on exile in London, smeared the reputation of Sir George spreading false rumors about him as a payback for having pushed for the speedy recognition of the Republic by the British Government. This, combined with the mystery that always accompanied him among his colleagues, contributed not only to his falling in disgrace, but also to his being cast into complete and utter oblivion. Just as a token of this, he was one of the very few British Ambassadors who did not have a Wikipedia entry when I first started researching his life [5].

In order for me to follow the trace of this elusive character, I have visited archives, museums and libraries in the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, France and Argentina. I have researched in private collections, and I have interviewed, and corresponded with, the descendants of friends and family of Sir George. I have also consulted varied and pertinent bibliography: books, memoirs, newspapers and articles.

This work is an effort to rescue Sir George Dixon Grahame from the abyss in which he had been pushed; to bring back into the flow of history the figure of a man who found himself at the relevant historical crossroads of the first four decades of the 20th Century, sometimes as a mere witness, others as a main character, like his years in Spain. His name should not be forgotten and we should not let his star go extinct forever.


[1] Letters from G.D. Grahame to C. Bowers, 7th September 1936. Bowers MSS Collection. II, 1893-1960, Lily Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana (USA).

[2] Lilly Library, Bowers MSS, II, diary, 13th July 1940.

[3] Manuel Azaña, Memorias políticas y de guerra. Volumen II. Año 1932, Afrodisio Aguado, Madrid 1976, p. 49.

[4] Letter from Sir George to his friend Leslie Scott 9th April, 1935, Private Collection of Sir George's descendants.

[5] Now he does, because I created it.

JE comments:  A splendid overview, Silvia!  Looking forward to reading the biography.  Besides the Spain years, I'm also interested in Sir George's Great War-era service in Paris. 

Tell us, what was the most interesting experience you had while interviewing Sir George's relatives?

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  • Sir George Dixon Grahame, Diplomatic Giant (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/23/21 4:17 AM)
    Silvia Ribelles' post on her biography of Sir George Grahame is very welcome indeed.  I'm looking forward to reading it.

    I first become aware of Sir George's doings in Spain when I wrote La conspiración del General Franco in 2011. The second chapter dealt with British policies towards the Second Republic from 1931-1936. Sir George appeared to me as a diplomatic giant (physically he was one, the tallest man in the British foreign service). His successor, Sir Henry Chilton, was a disgrace. Sir George has always figured prominently in my books about the Republic in peace. Even in the latest one.

    My most sincere congratulations to Silvia. I hope her work will also appear in English.

    JE comments:  I second your congratulations, Ángel!  Sir George Dixon Grahame must have stood a good six inches over six feet.  I found this photo for comparison:  Sir George is pictured between, and dwarfs, two icons of the Great War:  Field Marshal Douglas Haig (left) and Admiral David Beatty.

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