…kindly, tolerant, helpful and far prolonged. Honours followed him, but were

never sought.  He found his satisfaction in his work for the country, and his

countrymen will remember him with gratitude. (1.)


Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes was born on the 12th January, 1858.  His birthplace was 16, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, the home of his father Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton. Richard Monckton Milnes was a significant figure on London society, and in literary circles: he was author of the first biography of John Keats, and his literary breakfasts at his house in Mayfair were famous. Robert’s mother was the Honourable Annabella Crewe, daughter of the 2nd Baron Crewe, in Cheshire. The large Crewe estate, Jacobean mansion and title had been inherited by Annabella’s eccentric brother, Hungerford.



Robert Milnes was educated at Winston House School, near Winchester, and then Harrow.  There, in 1874, he suffered tragedy in the death of his beloved mother. This blow was followed by a four month illness. When he returned to Harrow, his literary skills earned him the Shakespeare Gold Medal.

In the summer of 1875, he travelled to the United States and Canada with his father; an experience he recorded in a pocket diary. Richard Monckton Milnes was sociable, generous and hospitable, much preferring the metropolitan milieu to his Yorkshire background at Fyston Hall.  He had no formal education, but travelled as a child with his parents, spending eight years in Germany and Italy; this gave him cosmopolitan ideas and manners which were an anomaly to his Yorkshire relatives.  Father and son attended a dinner in New York, and there is a description of Robert’s  appearance at the time, by one Bayard Taylor: ‘A young English giant, tall as myself, though scarcely more than seventeen years of age, broad-shouldered, vigorous, and with an expression on his frank brow and in his dark eyes, which, to my mind, confuted the theory of certain ethnologists that genius is not transmitted from father to son.’ (2.) The son very much enjoyed the sea voyages. On land they visited various American states and cities. In St. Louis they dined with General Sherman.  Robert wrote in his diary: 'I shall never forget the evening. Sherman is the man of all others that I wanted to see, and feel most admiration for….’ (3.)

Back in England, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he followed the pattern of a typical undergraduate; joining clubs, becoming part of the A.D.C. Dramatics, and living beyond his means. In this trait of a lack of economic organisation he resembled his father.  He also enjoyed London dance parties and country house weekends.

During his second Cambridge year he accompanied his father to Ireland. On their way back from Dublin, they learned that Fyston Hall had been devastated by fire.  Fire was a repetitive disaster in his life; at the age of eight, he had watched Crewe Hall burn, and more was to follow.

Robert Milnes completed his degree in 1879, describing it as ‘a quaint performance.’ (4.) Back in London, his letters from that period are light-hearted, reflecting a life of parties, balls, theatre and membership of his two Clubs, Brooks and Boodles.



In January, 1879, Robert Milnes came of age, with a ball at the restored Fyston Hall. By now, he was considering a political career, but with no firm prospect of a parliamentary seat. In spite of his youth, he surprised everyone by announcing his engagement to Sybil Marcia, daughter of Sir Frederick Graham of Netherby. His father, Lord Houghton was not exactly overjoyed by this early marriage, describing the wedding as ‘..the most child-like wedding I ever saw.’  (5). Nevertheless, the young couple were showered with presents and good wishes. (These included felicitations from Florence Nightingale, to whom, years back, Lord Houghton had unsuccessfully proposed marriage many times, and who had remained a close friend. )



It was now vital to look to the future. The Milnes were Liberal in politics, and Lord Houghton sounded out his friend Gladstone about the possibility of his son becoming Private Secretary to a Cabinet Minister, but there was no immediate prospect on the horizon. Robert Milnes and his young wife were living with her grandmother, the Duchess of Somerset in Park Lane. At last, in 1883, Robert Milnes became Assistant Private Secretary to Lord Granville, who was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He settled well into the Foreign Office, which at first he described as ‘not arduous except by fits and starts,’ (6.) but 1884-1885 saw the fall of Khartoum and the murder of General Gordon, and in his middle twenties, Milnes experienced the rigours of diplomacy, government and politics at first hand. He privately disagreed with Lord Granville’s handling of affairs in the Sudan, showing calm judgement and an ability to approach situations without political bias.



In August, 1885, Richard Milne died suddenly at Vichy, and his death changed Robert Milnes’ life. As 2nd Baron Houghton, he became a young Liberal peer and a landowner. He openly supported Gladstone at a time when many Whig peers were against his attitude to the Irish Home Rule question. In 1886, Houghton became Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria, as well as Assistant Whip in the House of Lords. His political career was becoming established and his judgement, perception and demeanour acknowledged. He developed a warm relationship with Gladstone.

Then, in September 1887, while Lady Houghton and their four children were staying at Crewe Hall, with ‘Uncle Crewe,’ tragedy struck.  She contracted scarlet fever from which the children were recovering, and died.  Lord Houghton, after seven years of happy marriage, was left with four very young children.

Lord Houghton – later Marquess of Crewe – was sometimes described as formal and stiff, but in the context of his life and writing, depth and sensitivity of character emerge. He was clearly a very different character to his father, with a natural reserve.  It is clear that this death, like that of his mother when he was at Harrow, were absolutely devastating.  He felt unable to resume his political life, and resigned his positions.  Relations and friends rallied round with support and advice, and he decided to change direction and take a course of studies at Cirencester Royal Agricultural College.  He felt that concentration and focus on  such a course of work would distract from his overwhelming grief, and on a practical level, help with land management of his estates. It was not to be; he became very ill. He was often subject to health problems, but for the next year he suffered what might be termed today as a breakdown, or severe depression.  He went to stay with his sister, Amy Fitzgerald in Egypt, where he wrote Stray Verses, poetry lamenting his loss.  Then, in 1890, another severe blow, his son Richard, aged eight, died. Literature rather than politics became a temporary focus and consolation. 



By the end of 1891, he was back in the House of Lords, earning the reputation of a hard-working, promising Liberal peer.  In 1892, Gladstone won the general election, and offered Houghton the position of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland – or Viceroy of Ireland – as it was then known. This was a challenging position: the Viceroy represented the sovereign, and so must be above party politics, yet he was appointed by the government. His every action was scrutinised by both the Irish people and the parliamentary opposition in London.  Whatever he did, or did not do, would be criticised.  Then there was the expense, as the Viceroy was obliged to keep up a semi-regal state. The life at Dublin Castle had all the panoply of St. James’s Palace, with English Equerries, English portraits on the walls, and the Viceroy presiding with the Irish diamond insignia around his neck. Houghton was described as tall, handsome, with a fine seat on a horse, but rather formal.  As a widower, Houghton found entertaining and functions a challenge.  He wrote to his sister Florence: ‘I shall be the most harassed man in the three kingdoms for the next month or so … I am uncertain as to whether I should be congratulated of condoned with.’ (7.) He did have the consolation of the many race meetings close to Dublin. Horses were a passion and he had owned several winners, he hunted regularly in Ireland. (Later, he held the post of Steward to the Jockey Club, and remained connected until his death). 

It was only ten years since the Phoenix Park murders, which had occurred beneath the windows of the Viceroy’s Lodge. There had been many repressive measures after the murders and there was sporadic violence.  Houghton’s first Christmas in Dublin was marked by dynamite explosions.  All the while, in London, Gladstone continued his battle for Home Rule.  One of Houghton’s duties was writing to Queen Victoria about Ireland; he carefully avoided political detail, and found she enjoyed best sensational stories and strange events.



In 1895 the Liberals were defeated and Gladstone resigned, and Houghton’s spell as Viceroy of Ireland ended. His friend Lord Rosebery became Prime Minister. The previous year, Hungerford Crewe had died, and Houghton became 4th Baron, inheriting estates of around 50,000 acres. The name ‘Crewe,’ was added to his surname, and in 1895, he was created Earl of Crewe.



Photograph of Ladty CreweAt a dinner party with the Asquiths, he met Lady Margaret Etienne Hannah Primrose, whom he had known as a child, as she was Rosebery’s daughter.  Lady Margaret describes the evening: ‘We talked at dinner and the rest of the evening, and  Margot Asquith said afterwards that she immediately prophesied our marriage. We became engaged at the coming-out ball of his daughter, Annabel, who was eight months younger than myself and our marriage was strongly opposed by my grandmother (the Duchess of Cleveland.) She thought the difference in age and three step-daughters were insuperable obstacles to married happiness.  She did not know that age does not affect affinity, and as for the three step-daughters, they became my dearest friends.’ (8.)   The wedding took place at Westminster Abbey, on 20th April, 1899, with crowds in attendance. There was much rejoicing in Cheshire, with all the estate employees and local schoolchildren given a holiday.



In the early years of the twentieth century Lord Crewe’s friendship with Asquith secured him involvement and positions in most  government  committees. He became greatly valued for his calm, balanced judgement and skills in organisation and administration, and his moderate views made him a successful mediator. In 1908, he was appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies, where one of his duties was the appointment of Governors of British overseas territories.  In that same year, he became Leader of the Government Supporters in the House of Lords, and Lord Privy Seal. He was at the centre of government during the constitutional challenges surrounding Lloyd George’s People’s Budget, and the status of the House of Lords. Crewe had reservations about the Budget, but disapproved of Tory peers blocking the Education Act and other progressive legislation. During his career, he supported many reforms, including a shorter day for mine workers, meal provision in schools and old age pensions.

 The death of King Edward VII in 1910 ushered in a new age. Crewe had been on good terms with the king, who attended shoots at Fryston and shared a love of racing, he had not, however, shared Crewe’s Liberal ideas.  Edward VII, cosmopolitan and flamboyant, was very much the King and Emperor, whereas George V had the tastes and habits of many of his subjects. It was his long, challenging reign which established the pattern of monarchy today.



Crewe was Secretary of State for India from 1911-1915, and orchestrated the famous Delhi Durbar of 1911.  This was the first visit of a reigning King Emperor to India. Indeed, never had a king of England journeyed so far from his accustomed sphere, and only one, seven hundred years before had ever set foot in Asia.  All aspects of the Durbar were a tribute to the organisational talents of Crewe.  He accompanied the King and Queen, and it was also the first time a Secretary of State for India had visited the country while in office.  Upon his return, he and Asquith formulated the Government of India Bill, which addressed issues raised during the Durbar visit. The Indian capital was moved from Calcutta to Delhi, and Crewe was instrumental in Commissioning Sir Edwin Lutyens to design New Delhi. Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal was revoked.  Crewe was created Earl of Madeley and Marquess of Crewe.*



1911 was an eventful year for family; in February, Lady Crewe gave birth to a son, their first child. Immediately after the birth, a major fire broke out at Crewe House, which needed fourteen fire engines to subdue. Lady Crewe and the baby were taken to her father, Lord Rosebery’s house in Berkeley Square. Lord Crewe praised his wife’s ‘great pluck and coolness.‘ (9.). In her foreword to James Pope-Hennessy’s biography of her husband, Lady Crewe refers to Lord Crewe ‘being pursued by fire.’ (10.) As a child he was present when Crewe Hall was devastated by fire, and Fyston Hall was later damaged.  After the major fire at Crewe House, there were other incidents at Crewe residencies.  Just three weeks after the fire at Crewe House, Lord Crewe fainted at a dinner party, hitting his forehead and suffering concussion of the brain. In a leading article next day, The Times accused Asquith of putting ‘upon a good man more than he could bear. (11.) 

In the years leading to the Great War, Crewe was part of Asquith’s Cabinet. He was made President of the Council in 1915, and in this year a second child, Mary, was born to Lord and Lady Crewe. During the war years, the restored Crewe House in Mayfair became central to the politics of the age. 

In Cabinet, Crewe was not a prominent vocal contributor like Winston Churchill. He did not enjoy public speaking; his public speeches are described as being ‘full of pregnant pauses'.  When Lord Rosebery heard that his daughter was in labour, he remarked: 'I hope her delivery will not be as long as Crewe’s.’ (12.)There was an apocryphal story that during a long electioneering address by Crewe, a member of the public had died of boredom.



Lord Crewe had been involved in education since 1907 when he became Chairman of the Governing Body of Imperial College, a post he held until 1922. 1922  was a tragic year for the family, as in March, their beloved son Jack Madeley, 'a boy singularly perfect in character and bearing,’ (13.) died after a short and painful illness. The death of a second son was a shattering blow to the Marquess, his interest in parliamentary affairs was dimmed, though he continued to fulfil his duties to Lloyd George and the Liberals. Then, in October of that year, he was offered the post of Ambassador to France, a post which he held until 1928. Lord Crewe knew France well, and his library contained a fine collection of French history and literature.  In Paris, he was at the centre of post-war international problems, with all the challenges this posed. One of his many achievements was setting up a fund for the creation  of a British Institute in Paris, now known as the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). But by 1927, Crewe was in his seventieth year, and wished to return to England. Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain persuaded him to stay another year, and in 1928, sent him a warm personal tribute, praising his efforts in the early years of his posting, when relations with France were near breaking point: ‘You have taught me to understand Asquith’s saying that  ‘Crewe has the best judgement of all my colleagues.’ (14.)

In the years following his retirement from Paris, Crewe turned his attention to literature. His father-in-law, Lord Rosebery, had died in May 1929, and Crewe set about researching his papers to compose a two volume biography of his friend. He also had more time to attend race meetings and the country pursuits which he enjoyed. One of his friends remarked that ‘one of the most memorable things about him was the intense pleasure he took from the simplest pastimes and the most modest pursuits.’ (15.)

Life in England had changed considerably in the years following the Great War, and especially in the 1930s. As early as 1910, the Land Tax had inflicted unprecedented taxes on land and incomes of the wealthy. The Marquess had no male heirs to succeed to the estates and title. In 1931, he offered the Crewe Hall estate to the Cheshire County Coucil, but they declined. He began negotiations with the Duchy of Lancaster, as he was determined that his tenants would not be disadvantaged. Crewe Hall and most of the estates with the exception of  Madeley Manor and a few other villages and farms became Crown possessions and responsibility.



Lord and Lady Crewe began looking for a more modest country house close to both London and Epsom, with its famous racecourse. They discovered West Horsley Place in 1931, and moved in, filling the house with furniture and books from Fyston Hall. The house was renovated and brought up to date, with water and electricity installed throughout. Crewe Hall in Mayfair was sold, and the Crewe’s bought Argyll House, in Chelsea, where they installed their heirlooms such as paintings by Gainsborough, Romney and Lawrence.

The Marquess found the international and domestic scene disquieting, and was deeply saddened by the death of George V.  At the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937, he was Lord High Constable and his daughter Mary, who had married the 9th Duke of Roxburgh in 1935, carried the canopy of the Queen. The Second World War came as no surprise to Crewe, who was writing a series of articles for The Times when the events occurred.

In May 2020, there was a very special discovery at West Horsley Place of a number of letters written by evacuee children to Lord and Lady Crewe thanking them for the wonderful Christmas they had enjoyed at the house.

Lord Crewe survived the war, but died peacefully at West Horsley Place  on the 20th  June, 1945, in his book-lined room which overlooked the gardens.

 In Hansard there are many tributes to the Marquess.  In his speech Viscount Cranbourne praised: ‘his courage, integrity and complete selflessness……My Lords, what is the supreme test of greatness? It is not that it should be said of a man that he did this or that, but that one should say: ‘I should like to have been that man.’ Few of us who knew him would not like to have been Lord Crewe. ‘ (16.)



  1. Hansard, Vol. 137, 22nd August, 1945. Viscount Samuel       


  1. James Pope- Hennessy, Lord Crewe: The Likeness of a Liberal, London: Constable & Co. 1955 p.10
  2. Ibid: p.11
  3. Ibid: p.14
  4. Ibid: p.18
  5. Ibid: p.28
  6. Ibid: p.36
  7. Margaret Crewe, Foreword. Lord Crewe: The Likeness pf a Liberal, xiii
  8. James-Pope Hennessy, Lord Crewe: The Likeness of a Liberal, p.92
  9. Margaret Crewe, Foreword, Ibid. xii
  10. James Pope-Hennessy, Ibid: p.90
  11. Ibid: p.92
  12. Ibid: p.153
  13. Ibid: p.172
  14. Ibid: 174
  15. Hansard, Vol.137 Ibid. Viscount Samuel

     Pope-Hennessy, James, Lord Crewe: 1858-1945  The Likeness of a Liberal, London: Constable & Co, 1955

    Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Milnes, Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe


    Wikipedia: Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe


    Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, Walter Frederick Osborne, © National Portrairt Gallery

    Sibyl Crewe-Milnes, portrait on porcelain

    Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, Harry Furniss, pen and ink, 1880s-1900s ©NPG

    Margaret Etienne Hannah ('Peggy') Crewe-Milnes (née Primrose), Marchioness of Crewe, Lallie Charles, photogravure, published 1909 © NPG

    Delhi Durbar, 1911

    Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, Walter Stoneman,bromide print, October 1938


    Statement on the Legacy of Colonialism and Slavery

    The legacy of colonialism and the history of slavery is deeply interwoven into the history of The British isles. A significant number of houses, gardens and parklands including West Horsley Place were created or remodelled as expressions of the taste and wealth, as well as power and privilege that derived from colonial connections and in some cases from the trade in enslaved people. We believe in honestly and openly acknowledging and sharing those stories in order to do justice to the true complexity of our history and the sometimes-uncomfortable role that Britain, and Britons, have played in global history.