Sir Eyre Alexander Barby Wichart Crowe GCB GCMG (30 July 1864 – 28
April 1925) was a British diplomat. He was a leading expert on Germany
in the foreign office. He is best known for his 1907, vigorous warning
that Germany's expansionist intentions toward Britain were hostile and
had to be met with a closer alliance ("Entente") with France. He built
the Ministry of Blockade during the World War, and worked closely with
Georges Clemenceau at the Supreme Council at the
Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Jealous rivals in the Foreign Office
tried to block his advancement; he finally became permanent
undersecretary in 1920. He did not work well with Prime Minister David
1 Early life
2 Foreign Office
6 Further reading
7 External links
Eyre Crowe was born in
Leipzig and educated at
Düsseldorf and Berlin
and in France. His father,
Joseph Archer Crowe
Joseph Archer Crowe (1825 - 1896), had been
a British consul-general and ended his career as commercial attache
for all of Europe (1882–1896), as well as being an important art
historian. His mother was Asta von Barby (c1841 - 1908). His
Eyre Evans Crowe was a journalist, writer and historian,
and his uncle, Eyre Crowe, was an artist.
Crowe first visited
England in 1882 when he was seventeen to cram for
Foreign Office examination and at the time was not fully fluent in
English. Even later in life it was reported that when angry he
spoke English with a German accent. He married his widowed German
cousin Clema Gerhardt in 1903. Crowe's wife's uncle was Henning von
Holtzendorff, who was to become the Chief of the German Naval Staff in
the First World War. Due to being half-German, Crowe was often
attacked in the press and by
Christabel Pankhurst and William le Queux
for this during the First World War.
Crowe entered the
Foreign Office in 1885 and until 1895 was resident
clerk. He served as assistant to Clement Hill in the African
Protectorates' Department but when responsibility for the
protectorates was handed over to the
Colonial Office he was asked to
reform the registry system. His success led to his appointment as
senior clerk in the Western Department in 1906 and in January 1907 he
produced an unsolicited Memorandum on the Present State of British
Relations with France and
Germany for the Foreign Office. The
memorandum stated Crowe's belief that
Germany desired "hegemony" first
"in Europe, and eventually in the world". Crowe stated that Germany
presented a threat to the balance of power in Europe similar to the
threat posed by Philip II of Spain, the Bourbons and Napoleon. Crowe
opposed appeasement of
To give way to the blackmailer's menaces enriches him, but it has long
been proved by uniform experience that, although this may secure for
the victim temporary peace, it is certain to lead to renewed
molestation and higher demands after ever-shortening periods of
Crowe further argued Britain should never give in to Germany's demands
The blackmailer's trade is generally ruined by the first resolute
stand made against his exactions and the determination rather to face
all risks of a possibly disagreeable situation than to continue in the
path of endless concessions.
Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary United Kingdom, said he found
Crowe's memorandum "most valuable". Grey circulated the paper to the
Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Ripon and Morley but there
is no evidence either way that any of them either read or were
influenced by the argument. The historian Richard Hamilton states:
"Though a life-long Liberal, Crowe came to despise the Liberal
Cabinets of 1906–1914, including Sir Edward Grey, for what he
perceived as their irresolute attitude to Germany".
However, detractors of Crowe, for example the historian John Charmley,
argue that he was being unduly pessimistic about
Germany and by making
warnings like these was encouraging war.
Crowe regarded the
Agadir Crisis of 1911 as "a trial of strength, if
anything...Concession means not loss of interests or loss of prestige.
It means defeat, with all its inevitable consequences". He urged Grey
to send a gunboat to Agadir. During the
July Crisis of 1914 Crowe
wrote Grey a memorandum: "The argument that there is no written bond
binding us to France is strictly correct. There is no contractual
obligation. But the Entente has been made, strengthened, put to the
test and celebrated in a manner justifying the belief that a moral
bond was being forged...our duty and our interest will be seen to lie
in standing by France...The theory that
England cannot engage in a big
war means her abdication as an independent state...A balance of power
cannot be maintained by a State that is incapable of fighting and
consequently carries no weight".
During the First World War, Crowe served in the Contraband Department
and at the start of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference he was Assistant
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; by June 1919 he was head
of the political section of the British Delegation there. Harold
Nicolson's diary entry for 22 January 1919 records:
Crowe is cantankerous about Cyprus and will not allow me even to
mention the subject. I explain (1) that we acquired it by a trick as
disreputable as that by which the Italians collared the Dodecanese.
(2) that it is wholly Greek, and that under any interpretation of
self-determination would opt for union with Greece. (3) that it is of
no use to us strategically or economically. (4) that we are left in a
false moral position if we ask everyone else to surrender possessions
in terms of self-determination and surrender nothing ourselves. How
can we keep Cyprus and express moral indignation at the Italians
retaining Rhodes? He says, ‘Nonsense, my dear Nicolson. You are not
being clear-headed. You think that you are being logical and sincere.
You are not. Would you apply self-determination to India, Egypt, Malta
and Gibraltar? If you are not prepared to go as far as this, then you
have no right to claim that you are logical. If you are prepared to go
as far as this, then you had better return to London.’ Dear Crowe
– he has the most truthful brain of any man I know.
Whilst Crowe had been an implacable opponent of appeasement towards
Germany, he also doubted the French government's motives and sincerity
at the Paris Peace Conference, regarding the French as more interested
in revenge than a lasting peace. He also regarded the League of
Nations Mandates over Danzig, with Polish ownership of a
German-populated city, as a 'house of cards that would not stand'.
Crowe was sceptical of the usefulness of the
League of Nations
League of Nations and in
a memorandum of 12 October 1916, he said that a solemn league would be
like other treaties, and asked: "What is there to ensure that it will
not, like other treaties, be broken?" Crowe was also sceptical on
whether the pledge of common action against breakers of the peace
would be honoured. Crowe thought that the balance of power and the
considerations of national interest would determine how individual
states decided their future actions. Crowe argued that boycotts and
blockades, as advocated by the League of Nations, would not be of any
use: "It is all a question of real military preponderance" in numbers,
cohesion, efficiency and geographical location of each state.
Universal disarmament, Crowe also argued, would be a practical
Crowe was Permanent Under-Secretary at the
Foreign Office from 1920
until his death in 1925.
He was appointed
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1907,
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1917, Knight
Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the
1920 New Year Honours, and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the
Bath (GCB) in the 1923 Birthday Honours.
Stanley Baldwin called him "our ablest public servant". Lord
Vansittart in his memoirs said of Crowe: "...a dowdy, meticulous,
conscientious agnostic with small faith in anything but his brain and
his Britain". Sir
Ivone Kirkpatrick said Crowe was:
...probably the most efficient public servant ever produced by the
Foreign Office. His mother was German, he spoke with a guttural accent
and he had a mind of truly Germanic clarity and orderliness. No-one
since his time has ever kept so tight a grip on the work of the whole
office. He read a copy of every inward and outward telegram (there
were fewer in those days) and sent his marginal notes on them by
urgent box to the appropriate department. He sometimes telephoned to
juniors to make known his views or his disapproval. I was paralysed
one day to pick up the telephone to hear his voice: ‘I have just
r-r-read your minute. Either you do not mean what you say, in which
case you are wasting my time. Or you do mean it, in which case you are
wr-r-riting r-r-rot.’ And with that he put down the receiver.
Crowe's industry was prodigious. In December 1921 Lord Curzon asked
for the office views on Anglo-French relations. Crowe regarded this as
a suitable holiday task for himself, and on our return from the
Christmas holidays we found a 20,000-word manuscript memorandum in his
inimitable limpid style. It was unfortunate for Crowe that he should
have served under a chief who never appreciated his quality and who
was apt to take advantage of his zeal. The work which Curzon heaped on
his willing shoulders probably accelerated his premature death whilst
still in harness.
A. J. P. Taylor
A. J. P. Taylor claimed "Crowe always thought he knew better than his
Zara Steiner and Keith Nelson have described Crowe as "the leading
German expert in the pre-war Foreign Office...He was a master of
detail but also interested in the broader complex of international and
military relations...Crowe was the arch anti-appeaser. With ruthless
logic and in a forthright manner, he opposed every effort to come to
terms with Berlin...A prodigious worker, Crowe's knowledge and skill
earned him a very special place in the
Foreign Office hierarchy and
his comments were read with attention if not always with
In the 2014 BBC mini-series 37 Days, Crowe is portrayed by actor
Nicholas Farrell. Crowe is depicted as a competent and shrewd
administrator, but one who is exasperated and confused by the Foreign
Secretary's (Sir Edward Grey; portrayed by Ian McDiarmid) superior
diplomatic prowess. The narrator of the series, a Second Division
Clerk in the
Foreign Office (portrayed by actor James McArdle), also
describes Crowe as: "German born, educated in Berlin, but...more
British than any one of us."
^ http://eyrecrowe.com/biography/familytree accessed 2012-08-24
^ Sibyl Crowe and Edward Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant: Sir Eyre
Crowe GCB, GCMG, KCB, KCMG, 1864-1925 (Devon: Merlin, 1993), pp.
^ Jeffrey Stephen Dunn (2013). The Crowe Memorandum: Sir Eyre Crowe
Foreign Office Perceptions of Germany, 1918-1925. Cambridge
Scholars Publishing. p. 247.
^ Richard Hamilton, The Origins of
World War I
World War I (Cambridge University
Press, 2003), p. 272.
^ Zara S. Steiner and Keith Nelson, Britain and the Origins of the
First World War. Second Edition (Macmillan, 2003), pp. 75-76.
^ Steiner and Nelson, p. 243.
^ Nigel Nicolson (ed.), The
Harold Nicolson Diaries: 1907-1963
(Phoenix, 2005), pp. 17-18.
^ Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Pan, 2002), p. 245.
^ "No. 31712".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1919.
^ Robert Gilbert Vansittart, The Mist Procession (Hutchinson, 1958),
^ Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (London: Macmillan, 1959),
^ A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914 - 1945 (Oxford University
Press, 1990), p. 226.
^ Steiner and Nelson, pp. 195-196.
^ "37 Days, BBC Two TV reviews, news & interviews The Arts
Desk". www.theartsdesk.com. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
^ "37 Days". International Movie Database. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
^ "37 Days, BBC Two, review". Retrieved 2015-09-30.
Sibyl Crowe and Edward Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant: Sir Eyre Crowe
GCB, GCMG, KCB, KCMG, 1864-1925 (Devon: Merlin, 1993).
F.H. Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey
Zara S. Steiner, The
Foreign Office and Foreign Policy 1898-1914
Zara S. Steiner and Keith Nelson, Britain and the Origins of the First
World War. Second Edition (Macmillan, 2003).
Corp, Edward. "Sir
Eyre Crowe and the Administration of the Foreign
Office, 1906-1914" The Historical Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Jun.,
1979), pp. 443–454.
Corp, Edward. "The problem of promotion in the career of Sir Eyre
Crowe, 1905–1920", Australian Journal of Politics and History, 28
(1982), pp. 236–49.
Corp, Edward. "Sir
Eyre Crowe and
Georges Clemenceau at the Paris
peace conference, 1919–1920", Diplomacy and Statecraft, 8 (1997),
Cosgrove, Richard A. "The Career of Sir Eyre Crowe: A Reassessment",
Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 4,
No. 4 (Winter, 1972), pp. 193–205.
Crowe, Sibyl Eyre. "Sir
Eyre Crowe and the Locarno Pact", The English
Historical Review, Vol. 87, No. 342 (Jan., 1972), pp. 49–74.
Dunn, J.S. The Crowe Memorandum: Sir
Eyre Crowe and Foreign Office
Perceptions of Germany, 1918-1925 (Cambridge Scholars Publishing,
Otte, Thomas. "
Eyre Crowe and British Foreign Policy: A Cognitive
Map", in T. G. Otte and Constantine A. Pagedas (eds.), Personalities,
War and Diplomacy. Essays in International History (Cass, 1997),
Otte, T. G., and Eyre A. Crowe. "Communication: The Crowe‐Satow
correspondence (1907–14)." (1996): 770-792.
Full Text: Crowe Memorandum, January 1, 1907
Catalogue of the papers of Sir Eyre Crowe
Lord Hardinge of Penshurst
Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
1920 – 1925
ISNI: 0000 0000 3673 7339
BNF: cb17077458p (da