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John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (26 August 1875 11 February 1940) was a British novelist and Unionist politician who, between 1935 and 1940, served as the Governor General of Canada. He was born and primarily educated in Scotlandmarker, and further schooled in Englandmarker, obtaining a degree in Literae Humaniores, and befriending a number of influential future writers while studying at the University of Oxfordmarker. After a brief career in law, Buchan simultaneously began writing and his political and diplomatic career, serving as a private secretary to the colonial administrator of various colonies in Southern Africa, and eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort following the outbreak of the First World War. Once back in civilian life, Buchan was elected the Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities, but spent most of his time on his writing career. He wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps and other adventure fiction.

On the recommendation of Canadian Prime Minister Richard Bennett, Buchan was appointed by George V, the king of Canada, as the Canadian viceroy, succeeding in that role the Earl of Bessborough. Buchan proved to be enthusiastic about literacy as well as the evolution of a distinct Canadian culture. He died in 1940, suffering the consequences of a stroke at Rideau Hallmarker. He received a state funeral in Canada, and his ashes were returned to the UK and intered at Elsfieldmarker, Oxfordshire.

Early life and education

Buchan was the first child of John Buchan a Free Church of Scotland minister and Helen Jane Buchan. Born in Perthmarker, Buchan was raised in Kirkcaldymarker, Fifemarker, and spent many summer holidays with his grandparents in Broughtonmarker, in the Scottish Borders. There he developed a love of walking, as well as for the local scenery and wildlife, which often featured in his novels; the name of a protagonist in a number of Buchan's books Sir Edward Leithen is borrowed from the Leithen Watermarker, a tributary of the River Tweed.

After attending Hutchesons' Grammar Schoolmarker, Buchan was awarded a scholarship at 17 to the University of Glasgowmarker, where he studied classics, wrote poetry and became a published author. With a Junior Hulme scholarship, he moved on in 1895 to study Literae Humaniores (the Oxon term for 'the Classics') at Brasenose College, Oxfordmarker. There he befriended a number of individuals, including Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith and Aubrey Herbert. Buchan won both the Stanhope essay prize in 1897 and the Newdigate Prize for poetry the following year, as well as being elected as the president of the Oxford Unionmarker, and having six of his works published. It was at around the time of his graduation from Oxford that Buchan had his first portrait painted, done in 1900 by a young Sholto Johnstone Douglas.

Life as an author and politician

John Buchan, circa 1936.
Buchan entered into a career in diplomacy and government after graduating from Oxford, becoming the private secretary to colonial administrator Alfred Milner, who was then the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, the Governor of Cape Colony, and the colonial administrator of Transvaalmarker and the Orange Free Statemarker. This posting put Buchan in what came to be known as Milner's Kindergarten, and gave him an acquaintance with a country that would feature prominently in his writing, which, along with entering into a partnership in the Thomas Nelson & Son publishing company, and becoming editor of The Spectator, he resumed upon his return to London. Buchan also read for and was called to the Bar in 1907, though he did not practice as a lawyer, and, on 15 July of the same year, married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor a cousin of Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster and together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.

Buchan wrote Prester John in 1910, the first of his adventure novels set in South Africa, and the following year he suffered from duodenal ulcers, which also inspired one of his characters in later books. At the same time, Buchan tread into the political arena, and ran as a Unionist candidate in a Scottish Borders constituency; he supported free trade, women's suffrage, national insurance, and curtailing the powers of the House of Lordsmarker, though he did also oppose the welfare reforms of the Liberal Party, and what he considered to be the "class hatred" fostered by demagogic Liberals like David Lloyd George.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Buchan went to write for the British War Propaganda Bureau, and worked as a correspondent in Francemarker for The Times. He continued to write fiction, however, and in 1915 published his most famous work: The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy-thriller set just prior to World War I. The novel featured Buchan's oft used hero, Richard Hannay, which was a character based on Edmund Ironside, a fellow who had been a friend of Buchan from the latter's days in South Africa. The following year, Buchan published a sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps: Greenmantle, and then enlisted in the British Army, becoming a 2nd lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps, where he wrote speeches and communiqués for Sir Douglas Haig. Recognised for his abilities, Buchan was in 1917 appointed as the Director of Information, under Max Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook a job Buchan said was "the toughest job I ever took on" and also assisted Charles Masterman in carrying out one of his early projects: publishing a monthly magazine that detailed the history of the war, with the first edition appearing in February 1915. It was difficult however, given his close connections to many of Britain's military leaders, for Buchan to be critical of the British Army's conduct during the conflict. This was also published in 24 volumes as Nelson's History of the War from 1915-1919.

Following the close of the war, Buchan, along with his usual thrillers and novels, turned his attention to writing on historical subjects. By the mid-1920s, he was living in Elsfieldmarker, had become the President of the Scottish Historical Society, a trustee of the National Library of Scotlandmarker, and maintained ties with various universities; Robert Graves, who lived in nearby Islipmarker, mentioned his being recommended by Buchan for a lecturing position at the then newly founded Cairo Universitymarker, and, in a 1927 by-election, Buchan was elected as the Unionist Party member of parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities. Politically, he was of the Unionist-Nationalist tradition, believing in Scotland's promotion as a nation within the British Empire. The effects of the Great Depression in Scotland, and the subsequent high emigration from that country, also led Buchan to reflect: "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us," and he found himself profoundly affected by John Morley's Life of Gladstone, which Buchan read in the early months of the Second World War. He believed Gladstone had taught people to combat materialism, complacency, and authoritarianism; Buchan later wrote to Herbert Fisher, Stair Gillon, and Gilbert Murray that he was "becoming a Gladstonian Liberal."

After Buchan's branch of the Free Church of Scotland joined in 1929 with the Church of Scotlandmarker, he remained an active elder of St. Columba's Churchmarker in London, as well as of the Oxford Presbyterian parish. In 1933 and 1934, Buchan was further appointed as the King's Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. However, beginning in 1930, Buchan also aligned himself with Zionism and the related Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group. In recognition of his contributions to literature and education, on 1 January 1932, Buchan was granted the personal gift of the sovereign of induction into the Order of the Companions of Honour.

In 1935, Buchan's literary work was adapted to the cinematic theatre with the completion of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, starring Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, though with the story of Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps much altered. This came in the same year that Buchan was, on 23 May, honoured with appointment to the Order of St. Michael and St. George, as well as being elevated to the peerage, when he was on 1 June created by King George V as Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in the County of Oxford. This had been done in preparation for Buchan's appointment as governor general of Canada; Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had recommended to the King that he allow Buchan to be viceroy as a commoner, but George V insisted that he be represented by a peer.

Governor generalship

It was announced from the Prime Minister's office on 10 August 1935 that the King had, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, approved the recommendation of his Canadian prime minister, Mackenzie King, to appoint Buchan as his representative. Buchan then departed for Canadamarker, and, on 2 November 1935 was sworn in as the country's governor general in a ceremony in the salon rouge of the parliament buildings of Quebecmarker. Buchan was the first Canadian viceroy appointed since the enactment on 11 December 1931 of the Statute of Westminster, and was thus the first to have been decided on solely by the monarch of Canada in his Canadian council.

Though Buchan continued writing during his time as governor general, he also thereafter took his position as viceroy with seriousness, and from the outset made it his goal to travel the length and breadth of Canada, including, for the first time for a governor general, the Arctic regions; he said of his job: "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people". Buchan also encouraged a distinct Canadian identity and national unity, despite the ongoing Great Depression and the difficulty it caused for the population. Not all Canadians, however, shared Buchan's views; the Baron raised the ire of imperialists when he said in Montreal in 1937: "a Canadian's first loyalty is not to the British Commonwealth of Nations, but to Canadamarker and Canada's King," a statement the Montreal Gazette dubbed as "disloyal." At the same time, Buchan was championing an early form of multiculturalism in Canada; from his installation speech onwards, he maintained and recited his idea that ethnic groups "should retain their individuality and each make its contribution to the national character," and "the strongest nations are those that are made up of different racial elements."

The following year proved to be a tumultuous one for the monarchy that Buchan represented. In late January, George V died, and his eldest son, the popular Prince Edward, acceded to the throne as Edward VIII, while Rideau Hallmarker the royal and viceroyal residence in Ottawamarker was decked in black crepe, and Buchan cancelled all entertaining during the official period of mourning. As the year unfolded, however, it became evident that the new king planned to marry the Americanmarker divorcée Wallis Simpson, which caused much discontent throughout the Dominions. Buchan conveyed to Buckingham Palacemarker and British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin Canadians' deep affection for the King, but also the outrage towards Canadian Puritanism, both Catholic and Protestant, that would occur if Edward VIII married Simpson. By 11 December, the King had abdicated in favour of his younger brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York, who was thereafter known as George VI. In order for the line of succession for Canada to remain parallel to those of the other Dominions, Buchan, as Governor-in-Council, gave the government's consent to the British legislation that formalised the abdication, and in 1937 formally ratified this when he granted Royal Assent to the Succession to the Throne Act.

In May and June 1939 the new king and his royal consort toured the country from coast to coast, and paid a state visit to the United Statesmarker as well. The royal tour had been conceived by Buchan before the coronation in 1937; according to the official event historian, Gustave Lanctot, the idea "probably grew out of the knowledge that as his coming Coronation, George VI was to assume the additional title of King of Canada", and Buchan desired to demonstrate with living example through Canadians seeing "their King performing royal functions, supported by his Canadian ministers" the fact of Canada's status as an independent kingdom. Buchan put great effort into securing a positive response to the invitation sent to the King in May 1937; after more than a year without a reply, in June 1938 Buchan headed to the United Kingdom for personal holidays, but also to procure a decision on the possible royal tour. From his home near Oxford, Buchan wrote to Mackenzie King: "The important question for me is, of course, the King's visit to Canada." After a period of convalescence at Ruthin Castlemarker, Buchan, in October, sailed back to Canada with a secured commitment that the King and Queen would tour the country. Though he had been a significant contributor to the organisation of the trip, Buchan retired to Rideau Hall for the duration of the King's time in Canada; Buchan expressed the view that while the King of Canada was present, "I cease to exist as Viceroy, and retain only a shadowy legal existence as Governor-General in Council."

Another factor behind the tour, however, was public relations: the presence of the King and Queen, both in Canada and the United States, was calculated to shore up sympathy for Britain in anticipation of hostilities with Nazi Germany. His experiences in the First World War had convinced Buchan of the horrors of armed conflict, and he worked with both US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mackenzie King in trying to avert the growing threat of another world war. Still, by the close of the year, with the King's consent, Buchan authorised Canada's declaration of war against Germany, and thereafter, as the titular Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian armed forces, issued orders of deployment for Canadian soldiers, airmen, and seamen. These duties would not burden Buchan for long, as, on 6 February 1940, he suffered a stroke while shaving at Rideau Hall, and seriously injured his head in the fall. He received the best possible care Doctor Wilder Penfield of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital operated twice but the injury proved fatal, and, on 11 February, Buchan died. Mackenzie King reflected the loss felt when he said over the radio: "In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service." The Governor General had formed a strong bond with his prime minister, even if it may have been built more on political admiration than personal, while Mackenzie King, despite being wary of Buchan's vices (such as his penchant for titles), appreciated his "sterling rectitude and disinterested purpose."

After lying in state in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hillmarker, the state funeral for Buchan was held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Churchmarker in Ottawa. Buchan's ashes were returned to the UK aboard the cruiser HMS Orion for final burial at Elsfieldmarker, his family estate in Oxfordshire.


Buchan continued to write while governor general of Canada, including an autobiography Memory Hold-the-Door, as well as works on the history and his views of Canada. He and the Baroness Tweedsmuir together established the first proper library at Rideau Hall, and, with his wife's encouragement, Buchan founded the Governor General's Literary Awards, which remain Canada's premier award for literature.

Buchan's 100 works include nearly thirty novels, seven collections of short stories and biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, and Oliver Cromwell. Buchan was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his biography of James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, but the most famous of his books were the spy thrillers, and it is for these that he is now best remembered. The "last Buchan" (as Graham Greene entitled his appreciative review) was the 1941 novel Sick Heart River (American title: Mountain Meadow), in which a dying protagonist confronts in the Canadian wilderness the questions of the meaning of life. The insightful quotation "It's a great life, if you don't weaken" is famously attributed to Buchan, as is "No great cause is ever lost or won, The battle must always be renewed, And the creed must always be restated."

Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia, now divided into Tweedsmuir South Provincial Parkmarker and Tweedsmuir North Provincial Park and Protected Areamarker, was created in 1938 to commemorate Buchan's 1937 visit to the Rainbow Rangemarker and other nearby areas by horseback and floatplane. In the foreword to a booklet published to commemorate his visit, he wrote "I have now travelled over most of Canada and have seen many wonderful things, but I have seen nothing more beautiful and more wonderful than the great park which British Columbia has done me the honour to call by my name".

Titles, styles, and honours


United Kingdommarker
  • 25 August 1875 1901: Mister John Buchan
  • 1901 3 June 1935: John Buchan, Esquire
  • 3 June 1935 11 February 1940: The Right Honourable The Lord Tweedsmuir

  • 2 November 1935 11 February 1940: His Excellency The Right Honourable The Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada

Buchan's style and title as governor general of Canada was, in full, and in English: His Excellency The Right Honourable Sir John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, Companion of the Order of Companions of Honour, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada, and in French: Son Excellence le très honorable Sir John Buchan, baron Tweedsmuir, compagnon de l'ordre des compagnons d'honneur, chevalier grand-croix du très distingué ordre de Saint-Michel et Saint-George, chevalier grand-croix de l'ordre royal de Victoria, gouverneur général et commandant en chef de la milice et des forces navales et aériennes du Canada. It should be noted that, for Buchan, Commander-in-Chief was strictly a title, and not a position that he held; the actual commander-in-chief (who can also be, and is, called such) is perpetually the monarch of Canada.





Foreign honours

Honorary military appointments

Honorary degrees

Honorific eponyms


Geographic locations

List of principal works



  • Scholar-Gipsies (1896)
  • The African Colony (1903)
  • The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income (1905)
  • Some Eighteenth Century Byways (1908)
  • Sir Walter Raleigh (1911)
  • What the Home Rule Bill Means (1912)
  • The Marquis of Montrose (1913)
  • Andrew Jameson, Lord Ardwall (1913)
  • Nelson's History Of The War. 24 volumes (1914-1919)
  • Britain's War by Land (1915)
  • The Achievement of France (1915)
  • Ordeal by Marriage (1915)
  • The Future of the War (1916)
  • The Battle of the Somme, First Phase (1916)
  • The Purpose of War (1916)
  • The Battle of Jutland (1916)
  • Poems, Scots and English (1917)
  • The Battle of the Somme, Second Phase (1917)

  • These for Remembrance (1919)
  • The Battle Honours of Scotland 1914-1918 (1919)
  • The History of the South African Forces in France (1920)
  • Francis and Riversdale Grenfell (1920)
  • The Long Road to Victory (1920)
  • A History of the Great War (1922)
  • A Book of Escapes and Hurried Journeys (1922)
  • The Last Secrets (1923)
  • A History of English Literature (1923)
  • Days to Remember (1923)
  • Some Notes on Sir Walter Scott (1924)
  • Lord Minto, a Memoir (1924)
  • The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers 1678-1918 (1925)
  • The Man and the Book: Sir Walter Scott (1925)
  • Two Ordeals of Democracy (1925)
  • Homilies and Recreations (1926)
  • The Kirk in Scotland (with George Adam Smith) (1930)
  • Montrose and Leadership (1930)

  • Lord Rosebery, 1847-1929 (1930)
  • The Novel and the Fairy Tale (1931)
  • Julius Caesar (1932)
  • Andrew Lang and the Borders (1932)
  • The Massacre of Glencoe (1933)
  • The Margins of Life (1933)
  • Gordon at Khartoum (1934)
  • Oliver Cromwell (1934)
  • The King's Grace (1935)
  • Augustus (1937)
  • The Interpreter's House (1938)
  • Presbyterianism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1938)
  • Memory Hold-the-Door (also published as Pilgrim's Way) (1940)
  • Comments and Characters (1940)
  • Canadian Occasions (1940)

See also


  1. Hansard, 24 November 1932.


  1. Hansard, 24 November 1932.

Further reading

  • Andrew Lownie: John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier (David R. Godine Publisher, 2003) ISBN 1-56792-236-8

External links

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